FBI witness Solomon Dwek testifies in corruption trial of Jersey City deputy mayor
By Joe Ryan • New Jersey Star-Ledger
JERSEY CITY -- Solomon Dwek, the prolific government informant at the crux of last year’s epic FBI sting, made his debut on the witness stand today and calmly admitted to more than a decade of misdeeds including mortgage fraud, tax evasion, paying off public officials and rigging auctions for his father’s non-profit religious school. He even told of bribing his rabbinical school math teacher.
"I got my diploma for high school that way," Dwek said.
The admissions from the 37-year-old failed real estate developer came in federal court in Newark on day one of testimony in the trial of Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. She is accused of accepting $20,000 in illegal campaign contribution from Dwek, who posed as a developer trying to bribe public officials in exchange for building permits.
She was charged in July along with three mayors, two state legislators, five rabbis and scores of others in a probe built almost entirely around Dwek, who spent more than two years secretly working for the FBI after being charged with bank fraud in 2006. He plead guilty to that charge in 2009 and faces roughly between nine and 11 years under the terms of his plea deal.
Using a tiny camera — possibly disguised as a button on his collar — Dwek dove into his undercover work. He talked fast and worked frantically, shuttling between pancake houses, synagogues and steak joints as he offered targets FedEx envelopes full of cash.
But yesterday on the witness stand, Dwek speech was measured and slow. He leaned toward the microphone, occasionally licking his lips and squinting his eyes as he answered questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra L. Moser about his crimes before becoming an informant.
"How much did you personally profit from these real estate frauds," Moser asked.
"Many millions of dollars," Dwek said.
The only time Dwek’s composure appeared to wane was under brief questioning from Beldini’s lawyer, Brian J. Neary, who during his opening statement condemned prosecutors for building their case around the mastermind of a Ponzi scheme. The attorney inquired about the authenticity of the video tapes, and the witness fidgeted in his chair and adjusted his yarmulke.
"I performed … My voice is heard ... They are real," Dwek said, shrugging his shoulders.
"You just mentioned that sometimes you performed on those videos," Neary said.
"Objection," Moser said.
Dwek, who is scheduled to resume testimony today, spent more than 90 minutes on stand, telling jurors of his long and sordid path toward becoming an FBI informant. He grew up the son of prominent rabbi in Monmouth County and attended rabbinical school in The Bronx. But he never wanted to be a rabbi, he said, he just wanted the religious pedigree. Before graduation, Dwek and 14 classmates paid a math teacher $50 each for a passing grade, he said.
Dwek began buying real estate at the age of 17 with help from a family friend, he said. By his 20s, he was raising money for his father’s school, Deal Yeshiva, where he was vice president. In 1999, Dwek said he began laundering money for several donors who wanted tax write offs for making fake donations, he said.
By 2004, Dwek was running a wild Ponzi scheme, recruiting between 40 and 80 people to invest in properties that sometimes didn’t even exist, he said. He told of faking mortgage documents, deeds and closing documents. He said defrauded and family and friends. And along the way, Dwek said he paid off up to 24 public officials.
"If someone could help me with my real estate business I would bribe them," Dwek said. Sometimes those bribes were free tickets to the annual Deal Yeshiva auction, which featured fur coats, cars and fine jewelry, he said.
Then in 2006, Dwek was arrested for bouncing two $25 million checks. A few months later, he was working for the FBI.
[Hat Tip: WSC.]