CITY COUNCILMAN Jack Kelly secretly recorded for federal investigators conversations with his chief of staff and a generous campaign contributor, according to documents obtained by the
Former chief of staff Chris Wright goes on trial Jan. 27 for corruption charges along with brothers Ravinder and Hardeep Chawla and their attorney, Andrew Teitelman.
In an August indictment, the U.S. attorney accused Wright of using his City Hall post to help real estate development companies run by the Chawla brothers and Teitelman, who was also Kelly's campaign treasurer. In exchange, Wright got cash bribes, free legal advice and a rent-free apartment in the city's tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, the indictment charged.
Kelly helped federal investigators record a telephone conversation with Wright on June 12, 2007, and wore a recording device for a face-to-face meeting with Ravinder Chawla three days later.
Kelly's attorney, George Bochetto, declined to discuss the recordings yesterday.
"I think Jack Kelly responded as you would expect any elected representative to do, which is to cooperate fully," Bochetto said. "If there was a problem, he wanted to be part of the solution. If there was no problem, he wanted to know that, too."
Federal prosecutors and attorneys for Wright and Chawla declined to comment.
Wright's attorney, Lisa Mathewson, challenged the tapes in a legal filing yesterday, writing that the "defendants have identified inaccuracies in the transcripts" and are working with the U.S. Attorney's Office to revise them.
In the recorded conversation with Ravinder Chawla, Kelly repeatedly pressed to see if the developer gave Wright money for help, according to a transcript.
Chawla denied giving Wright money directly, but said he did work with him on some property deals where Wright might have earned a commission. Wright held an outside job as a real-estate agent.
Chawla also noted that Teitelman gave Wright free legal advice and arranged for him to get the free apartment because he was "tight on money" while going through a divorce. Chawla had been set to buy the building where Wright was staying but stepped aside for another buyer.
In their conversation, Kelly repeatedly fretted about being "blindsided" when the media learns of a federal investigation of his office. News of the investigation came out six months later.
Chawla insisted they had done nothing wrong.
"I've been in this for almost 30 years," Kelly told Chawla. "I've got to retire. I've got to protect my integrity and honesty."
Kelly also asked Chawla if Wright ever mentioned getting financial help from Joe Mammana, who made a name for himself offering rewards to help solve local crimes before being charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with tax evasion and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.
Chawla said he had no dealings with Mammana.
"He bullshits a lot," said Kelly, adding that he was disappointed that Mammana might implicate him in the investigation as a way to "work out a deal."
Mammana did just that, according to FBI reports on interviews conducted with him by agents in March and May of 2007. In those reports, Mammana claimed he started giving Kelly cash campaign contributions and tickets to sporting events in 2003.
Mammana listed cash tallies: $2,500 to Kelly in 2003, $20,000 and $38,000 for fundraisers in 2004 along with $3,000 or $4,000 to Wright for Kelly at one of those events, $1,500 for Kelly after he helped resolve a utility bill dispute, $1,000 to Wright to help set up a meeting with another businessman, $1,500 to $2,000 to Kelly after he helped set up a business loan and finally a "couple of thousand of dollars" in 2006.
Bochetto, Kelly's attorney, calls all that "a crock of s---."
Mammana's attorney declined to comment yesterday.
Mammana's claims have not been used in the case against Wright, the Chawlas and Teitelman. He is being held in the Federal Detention Center and his sentencing is set for Feb. 26, after repeatedly being postponed following a guilty plea in March 2007.
Mammana's mother, Hope Mammana, told the Daily News last year that he denied providing any information about Kelly to investigators.
"He said: 'Not a chance in hell,' " Hope Mammana said. "He'd never take his friends down. They could waterboard him and he'd give them nada."
Kelly has not been accused of any wrongdoing. *