Councilman Charged in $1 Million Extortion
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The indictment of a city councilman on charges he tried to extort $1 million from a waterfront developer should send a message to politicians, an FBI official says.
″That message is that any public official who has larceny in his heart and acts either alone or in concert with criminal conspirators had better reconsider his actions, because the FBI will be on the case,″ said Special Agent Wayne Davis, head of the local FBI office.
According to the indictment, Leland Beloff, a 44-year-old former boxer and state legislator whose late father was a judge, threatened to delay passage of vital legislation needed for projects worth more than $1 billion by developer Willard Rouse in Beloff’s south Philadelphia district.
In a second indictment handed up Tuesday, the councilman was accused of election fraud, including voting more than once, during the November 1984 election. He also was charged with extorting use of a luxury apartment in exchange for his influence.
Beloff maintained his innocence.
″I’m going to continue to do my councilmatic duties,″ he said. ″There isn’t any validity to any of these charges. I’ve just been harassed almost my entire public career by the federal authorities. For what reason, I don’t know.″
Also charged in the extortion case was Beloff’s legislative aide, Robert Rego, 42, and reputed mob associate Nicholas ″Nicky Crow″ Caramandi, 51.
The indictment said Beloff, a two-year councilman, extorted the use of a $945-a-month apartment rent free for two years for a female friend from another developer who wanted the City Council to close a street near his project.
In the election fraud indictment, Beloff, also a ward leader, was accused with his wife, Diane, 28, and two members of the Democratic city committee of conspiracy, voting more than once and giving false information on voter registrations.
The Beloffs, committeewoman Margaret Coyle, 55, and committeeman Charles Pollan, 40, were charged with forging absentee balloting documents in the month before the 1984 general election.
All those indicted but Caramandi, who was arrested Monday, were expected to surrender today.
Caramandi was ordered held without bail Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Richard Powers III, who called him ″a threat to the security and safety of witnesses in the case.″
Beloff was convicted of interfering with a poll watcher in 1974 and was fined $500. He obtained a gubernatorial pardon two years later to run for the Legislature.
If convicted in both cases, Beloff faces a maximum sentence of 130 years in prison and a $440,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Edward Dennis Jr. said Rouse tipped off the FBI last June after Beloff allegedly threatened to stymie Rouse’s Penn Landing projects.
Rouse, through an undercover agent, paid a $10,000 installment on a bribe, but Beloff held up passage of the enabling zoning legislation when a second $90,000 installment was not paid, Dennis said.
Beloff and the other two men orginally were arrested in the case last June, but the charges were dropped to give the grand jury time to complete an investigation.