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Atlantic City Mayor Arrested in Corruption Probe

July 28, 1989

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ The seaside resort that once looked to Mayor James L. Usry to end a legacy of corruption has seen him and 13 others charged in conspiracies that include bribes, illegal gifts and extortion.

The City Council president and zoning board chairman also were among those arrested on corruption charges Thursday after an eight-month state investigation. A 14th person has not yet been arrested.

″We’ve been the laughingstock of the country for a long time,″ said Republican Assemblywoman Dolores Cooper, who lost the last non-partisan mayoral election to Usry. ″This sets us back another decade.″

Usry, president of the National Conference of Black Mayors, was elected Atlantic City mayor five years ago as a reformist candidate after his predecessor was implicated in an influence-peddling scandal and lost a recall election.

The 67-year-old Republican mayor is charged with bribery, conspiracy, official misconduct and accepting unlawful gifts.

A criminal complaint against the 14 people alleged five overlapping conspiracies, including an attempt to gain control of a lucrative Boardwalk electric cart business and a gift shop franchise at the Atlantic City International Airport. The carts are used by tourists to travel the Boardwalk.

State police Superintendent Col. Clinton L. Pagano said the complaints ″charge that the regulation of economic activity in Atlantic City, as administered by those arrested, has been up for sale.″

State Attorney General Peter Perretti Jr. said none of the investigations involved the casino industry.

The mayor said nothing in court during a bail hearing. Usry and the other city officials were released on their own recognizance.

Attorneys from the state Division of Criminal Justice are expected to present a case to a state grand jury within several weeks. Usry and the others do not have to forfeit their public offices on the basis of a criminal complaint, Perretti said.

In a search of Usry’s home on Thursday, police confiscated $6,000 in cash, alleged to be conspiracy money, Pagano said.

Usry is in his second term as mayor. He won his first term on May 13, 1984. His predecessor, Michael Matthews, was ousted in a recall election. Matthews was found guilty in an influence-peddling scheme involving casino-zoned land, and and was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for extortion.

Usry was swept into office with help from disgruntled white voters and the city’s large black population. He was considered an ally of Gov. Thomas H. Kean.

According to the attorney general, the arrests resulted from an investigation that began in November, prompted by a complaint by Atlantic City businessman Albert Black. Black said some city officials had demanded a bribe from him to get a business proposal approved by the zoning board.

The initial investigation involved bribery and influence peddling by some members of the City Council and zoning board, officials said. That probe led to investigations against the mayor and others on similar charges.

The others arrested Thursday included Walter Collette, 61, City Council president; Kaleem Shabazz, 52, chairman of the Atlantic City zoning board; Lillian Bryant, 45, an Atlantic County freeholder; Gene Dorn, 47, councilman; Arnold Orsatti Jr., 46, chairman of the Atlantic City council’s transportation committee; and Sylvetta Pilgrim, 44, an administrative assistant with the city landlord-tenant affairs board.

Also charged were: W. Oscar Harris Jr., 46, former director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority; Harold Mosee, 47, former councilman and an aide to Collette; Robert McCurdy, 46, a former business partner of Harris; Jack Wolf, 57, a business consultant; Ernest English, 32, a local businessman; and Clarence Gillard, no age or occupation available.

The 14th person, Barbara Woodall, was out of the state Thursday. The 49- year-old candidate for Atlantic County freeholder faces charges of campaign contribution violations and conspiracy.

Black, a lifetime resident of the Atlantic City area and the manager of a local Wells Fargo security agency, said he filed the complaint that started the probe because he wanted to give the casinos a chance to restore the city of his youth to something more than glitzy gaming halls ringed by poverty.

″I would like Atlantic City to be a respected town - not for people to say there’s a bunch of scumbums here,″ he said.

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