Newark Corruption Trial: Attorney for City Contractor Says Race Is Key Issue

David Giambusso, Star-Ledger, October 11, 2011

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.

{snip}

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.

{snip}

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  • Question Diversity

    It’s perfectly obvious what Zegas is doing — He anticipates a guilty verdict, and he’s grasping on to anything that he thinks the Federal Appellate Courts could use to nullify the guilty verdict. In other words, he’s already prepping an appeal.

  • Detroit WASP

    “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.”

    Kwame Kilpatrick (former mayor of Detroit) tried to pull the race card by claiming there weren’t enough blacks on his jury during his corruption trial. The black DA countered by saying, (paraphrasing) they tried to get as many blacks in the jury pool as possible but blacks simply do not show up for jury duty!!! lol The fun never ends.

  • Richard Zuckerman

    Maybe the affirmative action race issue would affect his sentence, but as to his guilt…

  • WR the elder

    Affirmative action and racial set asides should themselves be illegal. So they should be useless as a defense.

  • gerry

    The whole state is rotten with corruption. Why wasnt Mazzocchi on trial? Because he is protected. Admitting to hundreds of thousands in bribes, gets him a pass. The true total is undoubtedly millions. Him and the real boss of NJ, Sanzari, call the shots. Just keep yer mout shut, you’ll go far. Just ask Fatso Christie. He’ll be America’s first Mafia president.

  • Anonymous

    If all men are created equal why does one race need help to obtain anything in life? No one and I mean no one ever gave me an advantage because of my skin color, but then again I’m White and I have my White privledge to fall back on (yeah right).