Former Bergen County, New Jersey, Democratic Chairman’s Prison Sentence for Racketeering Affirmed
PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today upheld the 35-month prison sentence of the former chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization (BCDO), who was convicted at trial for his role in a racketeering scheme involving bribery and fraud, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.
Joseph A. Ferriero, 60, had raised multiple issues on appeal, each of which was rejected in a unanimous, precedential opinion written by Judge Anthony J. Scirica.
Ferriero had argued, among other things, that the evidence convicting him of bribery was insufficient. The Court disagreed, noting that the evidence showed he had agreed to accept payments from a software services company soliciting business from various Bergen County towns, in exchange for recommending the company to those towns. It noted that, as BCDO “party chair, Ferriero’s recommendations carried great weight.”
The Court reached a similar conclusion regarding the sufficiency of the evidence showing Ferreiro had committed fraud. It noted that, in response to an inquiry from one of those towns about who was involved in the software services company, Ferriero had concealed his financial interest in the company’s revenues.
The Court also rejected Ferriero’s arguments that the constitution prevented New Jersey’s bribery statute from applying to his conduct. It held there was no constitutional issue because “New Jersey’s bribery law does not punish legitimate First Amendment activity.” Instead, “[i]t punishes corrupt agreements in which party officials accept payment in exchange for making a particular decision or recommendation, expressing a particular opinion, or voting a particular way . . . . Such corrupt agreements do not enjoy First Amendment protection.”
According to documents filed in this case and the evidence presented at trial:
Ferriero served as the chairman of the BCDO from 1998 until January 2009 and was the sole member of SJC Consulting LLC. The jury found Ferriero accepted bribes in his capacity as BCDO chairman in the course of a scheme involving SJC. Ferriero agreed with John Carrino, a Nutley, New Jersey-based attorney and software developer, that Ferriero would recommend and provide a favorable opinion of the software developer and his companies to various public officials in Bergen County with whom Ferriero had influence. The software developer agreed to pay Ferriero one-quarter to one-third of the gross receipts from any contract obtained because of Ferriero’s efforts. Ferriero’s financial interest in the software developer’s public contracts was completely hidden using two shell companies, one of which was created and incorporated in Nevada for the sole purpose of contracting with and accepting payments from another shell company controlled by the software developer.
In addition to his prison sentence, which will be followed by three years’ supervised release, the Court affirmed the order requiring Ferriero to pay restitution.
The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce P. Keller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Appeals Division in Newark. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Llanes, now Chief of the General Crimes Unit, represented the government at Ferriero’s trial.