TRENTON - A federal jury ruled yesterday against a man who says he helped

The Sopranos

creator David Chase develop ideas for the hit HBO mob drama.

The jury dismissed the claims of Robert Baer, ruling the aspiring writer and former prosecutor was not owed anything for help he provided while Chase wrote an early draft of the pilot.

Chase's lawyers hugged after hearing the verdict, which came after less than two hours of deliberations on the trial's fifth day.

Minutes after the verdict, Chase said the proceeding held little suspense for him. "I was not worried," he said.

"In show business, there are way too many cases like this," Chase said. "I tried to help him out with his writing, but it didn't work."

Baer claimed a "moral victory" because the jury determined he had performed services for Chase with a reasonable expectation of compensation. But the jury awarded no money because it found Baer did not prove he had a reasonable expectation of being compensated by Chase.

Baer claimed he arranged meetings with police and prosecutors during a three-day tour of New Jersey mob sites in 1995 and engaged in subsequent conversations - sparking ideas for what became the hit HBO mob drama that ended in June.

Both men testified that Baer turned down compensation from Chase three times. But Baer claimed Chase agreed to "take care of him" if the show was a hit. Baer said no monetary figure was ever discussed. Chase never offered him a writing job on the show.

Chase said that Baer himself was not an expert in the Mafia, and that Baer introduced the Emmy-winning writer-producer to people with knowledge. When Chase rewrote

The Sopranos

pilot after it was rejected by Fox and other networks, he turned to "a true Mafia expert," Dan Castleman, his defense maintained.

Castleman, chief of the Manhattan district attorney's investigations division, testified that he provided free consulting services to Chase, over several dozen phone calls, as Chase worked on rewriting the pilot.

Castleman didn't enter into a contract as a technical adviser with HBO until after the pilot was written. He was paid $3,000 for help in filming the pilot, and got $1,000 for each of the 12 subsequent episodes in the first season. He declined to say how much he was paid for his role throughout the five seasons that followed until the show ended.

Castleman also eventually appeared on the show nine times in the role of a federal prosecutor, and prosecuted Tony's uncle, Corrado "Junior" Soprano, in his federal trial in Newark.