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Monday, February 8, 2010

Reasonable Doubt As To Ed Cheatam; Why Leona Beldini Might Be Acquitted

The jury deliberations in the federal criminal trial of Jersey City deputy mayor Leona Beldini begin Tuesday morning. The federal government has argued that the appearance of Beldini on tape agreeing to "flip the pile" and cut through "red tape" is proof of her guilt on bribery and official corruption charges. They might prevail.   Certainly, Beldini's reputation has taken a beating.  Even if acquitted, she has been shown to keep extremely poor company and willing to conduct business the Hudson County way, which is to say, to extend special favors.  Even if her conduct is not found to be "criminal," she appeared to be too close to the ethical netherworld of the special treatment which is the hallmark of New Jersey government and the absolute bane of its citizenr.

I believe the federal prosecutors could have emphasized more Beldini's potentially huge windfall from the phantom real estate development, to wit, her being "granted" the exclusive right to broker all the units in the development.  The real estate commission could easily run into the millions of dollars. Perhaps the press reports (and it is good to see this case get the intense coverage it deserves) have focused on more salacious details of the case.

The key is whether the jury considers why two people on the tape did not testify. Jersey City mayor Jerramiah Healy and Hudson County affirmative action director Ed Cheatam both made appearances on Solomon Dwek's version of Candid Camera. Neither appeared as a witness. More peculiar, Cheatam has pleaded guilty, but did not testify, unlike his fellow admitted-felon (and in a heap more trouble) Dwek.

In this observer's mind, the fact that Cheatam was integrally involved in and directly implicated in the meetings (and by his own words on tape), when combined with his nonappearance on the stand and the fact that his absence presents a stark contrast to Dwek's presentment on the stand under similar circumstances (both need a break on sentencing), raises reasonable doubt.   It certainly raises the question as to why the U.S. Attorney's Office had less than full confidence in Cheatam in the role of cooperating witness / supporting actor.

Of course, I am no ordinary observer.

I presume one of two theories.  The first theory is that the government was afraid Cheatam might hurt their case and raise the reasonable doubt sufficient for a conviction. Remarkable, given Dwek's performance. Dwek was essential because of the tapes. But does this mean the government preferred Dwek as a witness?

The second theory is that the government intentionally withheld Cheatam from this case in order to save him for more prominent defendants.  However, this theory rests on the premise that the government was able to choose which case(s) to bring first, which it was not able to do with Beldini because her attorney Brian Neary pushed from the get-go for a "speedy trial."   This pressured the government to prepare her case first before other defendants.  

If the second scenario holds true, then the reasonable doubt theory becomes far weaker.

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