Posted July 30, 2008 – One of New Jersey’s most powerful political icons, former Newark Mayor and State Sen. Sharp James, will spend more than two years behind bars for facilitating his flamboyant lifestyle with his city-supplied credit card.
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On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Martini ordered James, who had long been on the radar screen of prosecutors because of his penchant for flaunting the trappings of the rich and famous, to 27 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for fraud and conspiracy.
The sentence, which marked the crash of the Garden State’s political king, was blasted by both the prosecution, which thought it was much too lenient, and the defense, which argued that it was far too harsh for a lifelong public servant. Martini said that the term was consistent with other high-profile politicians in the state who had landed on the wrong side of the law.
Slapping the lawmaker with a decade-long prison term would have been “an extreme injustice,” Martini said, adding that “I have a track record here of a man who is 72 years old who accomplished a lot in his life." But attorney Christopher Christie promised to appeal, declaring, "I am confident, as I have been right from the beginning, that when this case is examined fully and dispassionately, we will get the appropriate result – even more appropriate than the one we got here today.”
Before Martini delivered his decision on James’ fate, the defendant said, "If I made a mistake, your honor, it was not of malice or intent. I would never do anything to hurt the city of Newark or the people of Newark."
But the judge was not convinced.
He found that James had kept it a secret that he was romantically involved with the 39-year-old Tamika Riley, whom he assisted in buying nine city-owned plots, a veritable cash cow, at bargain-basement prices. He sentenced Riley to 15 months in prison. Both must begin serving their time on Sept. 15.
During his 20-year run as Newark’s mayor, James was known for his flashy lifestyle, which was saturated with such luxuries as yachts, Rolls-Royces, eight properties and millions in the bank – quite an accumulation for a career politician. City records revealed that over the years he spent thousands on travel and fine-dining, often with female associates.