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School official admits bribes

Pleasantville's board president, one of 11 people arrested by the FBI, pleads guilty.

The president of the Pleasantville Board of Education pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted extortion, admitting that he accepted a series of bribes in an FBI contract-rigging sting that began in Atlantic County and spread to several North Jersey communities.

James Pressley, 23, entered his plea during a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Jerome R. Simandle in Camden.

Pressley was one of 11 public officials, including five current or former members of the problem-plagued Pleasantville Board of Education, caught up in the investigation dubbed "Operation Broken Boards."

Others charged included two North Jersey assemblymen and the mayor of Passaic. Most have pleaded guilty or are negotiating plea deals with authorities.

The FBI, using a front company called Coastal Solutions LLC and two cooperating witnesses, sought insurance and roofing contracts from board of education and municipal officials in exchange for cash payments.

Wiretapped conversations and video surveillance backed up the charges contained in arrest warrants made public in September.

Pressley was charged with accepting $40,800 in exchange for promising to steer contracts to the FBI undercover operatives.

He was secretly recorded working out the deals and accepting the cash at a series of meetings in parking lots and restaurants in Atlantic County between June and September 2006.

Pressley, who pleaded to a one-count criminal information, remains free on a $200,000 bond pending sentencing on March 20. He faces a maximum sentence of 57 months under federal sentencing guidelines.

The Broken Boards investigation is one of two high-profile FBI probes that have nabbed elected officials in Atlantic County in the last two years.

The other, Operation Steal Pier, has focused on the Atlantic City Council and has resulted in guilty pleas from seven defendants, including three former city council members.