Defense gives summation in James corruption trial
Federal prosecutors presented no evidence that former Newark Mayor Sharpe James participated in sweetheart land sales to a girlfriend, his defense lawyer told a federal jury at his corruption trial on Tuesday.
James is accused of arranging for the sale of nine city-owned properties at a discounted rate of $46,000 to Tamika Riley from 2001 to 2005. Riley quickly sold them for $665,000 without ever starting required rehabilitation work on most of them, prosecutors said.
Former Mayor Sharpe James, 72, and Tamika Riley, 39, both face fraud and conspiracy charges. Riley also is charged with tax evasion.
Among the 33 prosecution witnesses, "Not one witness has testified that Sharpe James was involved in any wrongdoing whatsoever," lawyer Thomas Ashley said in his summation. No evidence showed that James assisted Riley or even had knowledge of her transactions, the lawyer added.
The defense for James has stressed that the Newark City Council, not the mayor, had final approval over the sales. They presented only two witnesses, both members of the council, who said James never tried to influence their decisions.
In his summation, Riley's lawyer Gerald Krovatin said his client was determined to make a difference when she came to Newark in 1999. Buying those properties was part of that plan, he said.
"Just 30 at the time, hardworking, ambitious, eager to succeed," Krovatin said.
He denied she was treated differently because of her "intimate" relationship with James, a married man.
"She didn't get any special treatment, she wasn't handed the keys to the city, she went through the process," Krovatin said.
He also maintained that the affair lasted just six months, to fall 2002, citing testimony from two of Riley's longtime friends.
Prosecutors presented witnesses who suggested the affair lasted several years, with one saying it started around 2000 and went to2006.
Krovatin also blamed Riley's real estate lawyers, noting that one admitted he failed to tell Riley that she was required to rehabilitate properties before selling them.
Prosecutors have claimed Riley was unqualified to participate in the redevelopment program because she lacked experience and had little money.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations later in the week.
The jury heard testimony from 41 witnesses over five weeks, but not from James or Riley, a publicist who once ran a clothing boutique near City Hall, where James led the state's largest city for 20 years. The trial is taking place at federal court in Newark, just a block away.
Prosecutiongives closing arguments in James trial