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11 N.J. Officials Charged in Federal Sting

February 23, 2005

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Eleven local officials in northern New Jersey _ including three small-town mayors _ have been charged in a federal corruption sting.

Ten of the Monmouth County officials were accused Tuesday of extorting cash bribes and free work from a contractor who was working undercover for the FBI, and the other was charged with money laundering, prosecutors said.

The officials face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 each.

The arrests were the latest in a series of corruption cases around the state. Christopher Christie, U.S. attorney for New Jersey, who has made corruption a key priority, said 76 public officials have been charged or convicted over the past three years.

``There’s an epidemic in New Jersey of public corruption, people selling their offices for envelopes of cash,″ he said.

Among those arrested Tuesday were the mayors of Hazlet, Keyport and West Long Branch, small, blue-collar towns along the Jersey shore south of New York City.

According to the complaints, one defendant, Middletown Committeeman Raymond O’Grady, was caught on tape bragging to an undercover officer that he would never get caught because ``I could smell a cop a mile away.″

The complaint also said that Hazlet Mayor Paul Coughlin was brought into the scheme after being assured by an unnamed official that ``nobody watches, nobody hears, nobody sees.″ According to the court documents, Coughlin replied, ``I’m on board.″

Most of the defendants’ lawyers declined to comment after a hearing Tuesday, but West Long Branch Mayor Paul Zambrano’s attorney, Eugene LaVergne, said his client is innocent and is ``looking to resolve this as quickly as possible.″

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