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Accused politician to testify

Ex-Rep. L. Harvey Smith was arrested in the Operation Bid Rig N.J. corruption sting.

NEWARK, N.J. - The government rested its bribery and extortion case against former Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith on Tuesday after jurors heard testimony that Smith called state officials and a lawmaker on behalf of a developer-client.

Smith, a veteran political figure who served in the Assembly and ran unsuccessfully for Jersey City mayor last year, is accused of taking $15,000 from informant and disgraced real estate speculator Solomon Dwek in exchange for help with purported building projects in Smith's district.

Smith is expected to testify Thursday, and the jury will likely begin deliberations next week. He was one of 46 people arrested last year in Operation Bid Rig, a federal corruption and money-laundering sting in which Dwek secretly recorded hundreds of meetings with public officials and members of Orthodox Jewish communities in New Jersey and New York.

About half the defendants have pleaded guilty. Three have been convicted and one, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, was acquitted. Smith is the fifth to go to trial.

Former commissioners of the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation testified Tuesday that Smith telephoned them regarding property in Bayonne that Dwek said he planned to develop.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly's transportation committee, testified that Smith called to see if Wisniewski could represent an unnamed client of Smith's in a land-use application in Bayonne.

Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) said he could, but then reversed course when Smith said it might involve going in front of the DOT, a clear conflict of interest for Wisniewski.

When questioned by defense attorney Peter Willis, Wisniewski said Smith never pressured him and he didn't consider Smith's request unethical. Wisniewski acknowledged that Assembly members can contact state agencies on behalf of constituents' projects as long as no money is involved.

The government argues that even if Smith's conversations with state officials were within ethics guidelines, accepting pay in exchange for his influence would be illegal.

"Nobody is saying the conversations were illegal per se," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Moser told U.S. District Judge Jose Linares with the jury out of court.

The government also alleges Smith laundered money by taking a $5,000 campaign donation from Dwek last July and giving it to another man, former Jersey City housing official Edward Cheatam, to divide into smaller amounts to avoid breaking campaign-finance laws.

Cheatam's niece testified she took $2,500 and bought five $500 money orders, and another man testified he took $2,500 in cash from Cheatam and converted it into a check.

Willis has argued that the government hasn't proven that Smith knew the money was being divided up.

Smith allegedly received another $10,000 in cash in a FedEx envelope outside a Hoboken diner.