Defense lawyer Alan Zegas today tackled an underlying element in the corruption trial of former Newark Deputy Mayor Ronald Salahuddin and contractor Sonnie Cooper: race.
“There’s no question that you are a fair and impartial jury,” Zegas said in his summation, but added, “There is not one black face on this jury and not one of you have lived the kind of life that Mr. Salahuddin and Mr. Cooper have lived.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has argued that in 2006 and 2007 Salahuddin used his influence to steer city contracts to benefit Cooper, his alleged business partner.
The defense countered that Salahuddin, who is African-American, was simply advocating for minority participation in city contracts and that Cooper was one of the only viable black contractors in town.
Zegas referred to racially charged comments made on FBI surveillance tapes by the government’s cooperating witness, Nicholas Mazzocchi, and East Ward political boss Joseph Parlavecchio to try to convince jurors that African-Americans still have to fight for work in a city that has had black leadership for decades.
“It is repulsive to hear the government say over and over and over and over that this case is not about minority set-asides or affirmative action,” Zegas said. “That is all it is about.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Bartle said in his closing argument last week that if Salahuddin was just going to bat for minorities, he would not have concealed his dealings, as is suggested on the tapes. In the recorded comments, Salahuddin told Mazzocchi–a major state demolition contractor–he would help him get contracts if he subcontracted with Cooper.
At one point on the FBI tapes, Mazzocchi asked Parlavecchio why he needed to subcontract to black vendors to get city contracts.
“It’s their (expletive) city,” Parlavecchio said. He then used a racial epithet while explaining that Mayor Cory Booker’s administration wanted black vendors on city contracts.
Although Mazzocchi acknowledged paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes over his 30-year career, he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Parlavecchio, who is referred to as a “co-conspirator” in the Salahuddin case, has also not been charged.