NEWARK - (AP) - Closing arguments began Monday in thecorruption trial of a long-serving New Jersey politician whosponsored nearly two-dozen ethics bills on corruption, campaignfinance and election reform during his tenure.
Prosecutors say former Perth Amboy mayor and state AssemblymanJoseph Vas conspired with a political aide to engage in illegalcampaign activities and use Vas' political position for personalfinancial gain.
The Middlesex County Democrat faces charges he accepted illegalcampaign contributions and schemed with co-defendant and formermayoral aide Melvin Ramos to funnel money through people whoallegedly were given funds to make political contributions.
Vas is accused of accepting $30,000 from a developer that wasdivided up into smaller amounts and contributed by straw donors,and of wrongly benefiting from the flip sale of a property in PerthAmboy, where he served as mayor for nearly 20 years.
The trial largely focused on Vas' role in the purchase of a12-unit residential apartment building in Perth Amboy, a propertyprosecutors claim Vas sold less than five weeks after purchasing it- at a profit of nearly $300,000. The inflated price was allegedlyagreed to in exchange for a promise that Vas would use hispolitical position to steer lucrative affordable housingdevelopment funds to the buyer for renovations.
"It's not simply about the mayor making a profit," saidAssistant U.S. Attorney Brian Howe. "What this case is about isthe city of Perth Amboy's number one and number two, acting intheir self interest, and not the people's interest."
Vas' lawyer, Alan Zegas, said in closing statements that Vasnever took a dime of taxpayer's money. He said the residentialbuilding had been sold at a fair market price after a legitimatevaluation, and that there are no laws prohibiting a mayor fromselling property at a profit, "even a steep profit," Zegas said.