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Atlantic City Mayor Arrested In Corruption Probe

July 27, 1989

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Mayor James L. Usry, a reformist candidate swept into office on the heels of a political corruption scandal, was arrested Thursday on charges of bribery, conspiracy and official misconduct.

Twelve other people, including the City Council president, the chairman of the zoning board and the former housing authority director, also were arrested after an investigation that one official said showed this seaside resort was ″up for sale.″

″Our investigation uncovered the deplorable circumstances in which corruption has reached the highest levels of Atlantic City municipal government,″ state police Superintendent Col. Clinton L. Pagano said at a news conference.

Usry, 67, was elected mayor five years ago after his predecessor was implicated in an influence-peddling scandal and lost a recall election. Usry is also president of the National Conference of Black Mayors.

State Attorney General Peter Perretti Jr. said none of the charges or investigations against Usry and the others involved the casino industry.

A criminal complaint against the suspects, including a 14th person not yet arrested, alleged five separate but overlapping conspiracies. Among them was an attempt to gain control of a lucrative Boardwalk electric cart business and a gift shop franchise at the Atlantic City International Airport.

Usry was charged with bribery, conspiracy, official misconduct and accepting unlawful gifts.

The mayor said nothing in court during a bail hearing; neither he nor his attorney acknowledged reporters’ questions afterward. Usry and the other city officials were released on their own recognizance.

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

Before state police began their roundup Thursday morning, they first went to Usry’s home with a search warrant. Police confiscated $6,000 in cash, alleged to be conspiracy money, Pagano said.

Searches were also conducted at the home of another of those arrested and at two offices belonging to others charged in the case. Books, records and documents were confiscated from those places, Pagano said.

The arrests resulted from an investigation that began in November, prompted by a complaint by Atlantic City businessman Albert Black, the attorney general said. 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 complaints filed this morning in Atlantic County Superior Court charge that the regulation of economic activity in Atlantic City, as administered by those arrested, has been up for sale,″ Pagano said.

The others arrested Thursday included Walter Collette, 61, city council president; Kaleem Shabazz, 52, chairman of the Atlantic City zoning board; Lillian Bryant, 45, Atlantic County freeholder; Gene Dorn, 47, councilman; W. Oscar Harris Jr., 46, former director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority; Harold Mosee, 47, former Atlantic City councilman and an aide to Collette; and Arnold Orsatti Jr., 46, chairman of the Atlantic City council’s transportation committee.

Also charged were Robert McCurdy, 46, former business partner of Harris; Jack Wolf, 57, business consultant; Sylvetta Pilgrim, 44, administrative assistant with the city landlord-tenant affairs board; Ernest English, 32, businessman; and Clarence Gillard, no age or occupation available.

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

Usry was elected overwhelmingly with help from disgruntled white voters and the city’s large black population. He was considered an ally of Gov. Thomas H. Kean and a symbol of the ″politics of inclusion″ that Kean has tried to make a hallmark of his career as a Republican politician.

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