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For upstart mayor, it all began at the Malibu Diner

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Pete Cammarano was running for mayor of Hoboken this spring when he told an FBI cooperator posing as a corrupt developer he had the election sewn up.  “I could be indicted, and I’m still gonna win 85 to 95 percent” in a runoff, he said, during a secretly recorded conversation at the waterfront city’s popular Malibu Diner.

With him was another FBI operative and Michael Schaffer, a commissioner with the Hudson County Utilities Authority.

For dessert, Schaffer collected a check stuffed with cash for Cammarano from the trunk of the cooperator’s car, the government said. It wasn’t the first time — and wouldn’t be the last.

The 31-year-old upstart had been mayor all of three weeks when FBI agents arrested him and Schaffer this morning on charges of pocketing $25,000 in bribes.

The payoffs began back in April, the government said, and continued with a $10,000 handoff last Thursday after Cammarano complained that his campaign had outspent his “street money” account by $19,000.


Another meeting was scheduled for this week. But the government rendered that point moot with a massive sweep this morning, rounding up 44 people on various corruption and money-laundering charges.

READ: Cooperator helps nab officials in biggest NJ corruption bust ever

ALSO: The official U.S. government news release

AND: Roster of community leaders becomes a perp walk

“To the extent there’s a pro-development person in this [mayoral] race, that’s me,” Cammarano was recorded as saying in an April 27 conversation, which included another FBI operative.

The FBI’s cooperator wanted assurance that if he was to “come over here, you know, and I wanna do, eh, I need a zone change, I need something, I wanna make sure that I, you know, you, you’re my man.”

Cammarano: “You can put your faith in me.”

He then asked whether Cammarano would be able to put matters “on the agenda in the nex–-, within thirty days or sixty days or do I have to wait six months, eight months or a year? . . . What’s the process?”

Cammarano: “It can go on the agenda just as soon as there’s a sponsor for it . . . That happens like that.”

“So, if you sponsor it, boom?” the would-be developer asked.

“Yeah,” Cammarano said.

“I promise you . . . you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be treated like a friend,” he added.

“I’m gonna give [Schaffer], uh, five thousand to start, and then after the election I’ll do another five thousand,” the would-be developer promised, according to a transcript of the recording.

“Okay,” Cammarano responded. “Beautiful.”

“Just make sure my name is not, uh . . ..,” the “developer” said.

“No, no, no,” Cammarano insisted.

Outside the diner, the would-be developer opened the trunk of his car, pulled out an envelope stuffed with $5,000 in cash and gave it to Schaffer.

“I told Pete that, uh, I’ll give him another five after the
election, and if you need anything before, call me,” he said. “Just make sure he gets my stuff, uh, expedited.”

“I certainly will,” Schaffer replied.

Schaffer then drove off with the envelope, while Cammarano left on foot, the complaint says.

Days later, an FBI operative called and asked Schaffer whether the mayor-to-be was happy with the contribution.

“Oh, loved it. Loved it. Loved him,” Schaffer replied in the taped conversation.

He also said Cammarano told him: “Michael, the way I operate politics, anybody who helps me, I help them. That’s the way I operate.

“And if you’re not there the first round, I don’t need ya’ the second round.’”

Then came another call, in which the FBI operative and Schaffer discussed the mayoral campaign.

Again, they met at the Malibu, this time on May 8.

The  cooperator told Cammarano he would give Schaffer “five thousand green,” just like “the last time.”

Cammarano: “Okay.”

Coooperator: “Don’t put my name – like last time.”

Cammarano nodded and said: “Understood. Understood.”

When the would-be developer began talking about other project, Cammarano repeatedly replied: “I’ll be there.”

The cooperator offered to make another contribution the following Wednesday — the day after Election Day.

“Maybe after, uh, we sleep in a little bit on Wednesday,” Cammarano replied, as everyone around the table laughed.

In the parking lot outside, Schaffer reassured the FBI cooperator: “Don’t worry, he’ll keep his word.”

He then collected another envelope with $5,000 in cash.

As he began to express concerns again, Schaffer cut him off.

“When we get elected, we put our friends on the boards so we know we get the – ,” he said. “Don’t listen to these morons who say put this environmentalist on, but they’re, they’re all f*cking kooks.”

The cooperator went back inside and told Cammarano “I gave that, uh, en-, envelope to, uh, uh, Mike.”

“Excellent,” Cammarano responded.

The would-be developer asked when Cammarano would be sworn as mayor, to which he replied “July 1st.”

“So, we’ll wait till August or September or something to come in or something,” Dwek said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Cammarano said, before leaving.

At yet another meeting, this time May 19, Cammarano boasted that he had a runoff election locked up.

“Nothing can change that now,” he was recorded saying. “I could be, uh, indicted, and I’m still gonna win 85 to 95 percent of those populations.”

They did the exact same dance once again, with the cooperator giving Schaffer the money, Schaffer pocketing the envelope and the cooperator seeking — and receiving — reassurances from the mayor-to-be that his projects would be expedited and his name would be kept out of it.

Cammarano also went on to say that he’d been “breaking down the world into three categories.

“There’s the people who were with us, and that’s you guys.
There’s the people who climbed on board in the runoff. They can get in line. . .

“And then there are the people who were against
us the whole way. They get ground . . . They get ground into powder.”

As he accepted the envelope with cash, Schaffer told the cooperator: “I trained [Cammarano] well.”

“[A]fter the election,” we’ll do another five thousand,” he replied.

Schaffer: “Okay, very good.”

Sure enough, on June 23, the group reconvened at the Malibu.

“We understand you got a [campaign] debt,” the FBI operative told the new mayor.

Cammarano  nodded.

The operative then told him they’d come “to see how we can help you.” He told the mayor: “You’ve got to tell us somewhere in the neighborhood of what you need.”

Cammarano said his campaign “wrote street money checks [of] basically $19,000 beyond what was in the account on election day.”

Cammarano said he’d obtained a “bridge loan . . . for $20,000″ to pay back those whose checks had bounced as a result of the overdraft.

The cooperator agreed to give him $10,000 as soon as Schaffer was around.

“I appreciate it,” Cammarano said.

“Just make sure, you know, you don’t forget me,”
the bogus developer said.

“We’re going to be friends for a good long time,” Cammarano told him.

Just last Thursday, the group met again, with Schaffer joining them.

The cooperator vaguely referred to several properties in town, including a residential building on Observer Highway that could go “higher” and “wider,” with the necessary approvals. He asked the mayor whether he had his support.

“Yes, wholeheartedly,” Cammarano responded.

In what may become one of the most understated of criminal statements, the cooperator responded:

“At least I bet on the right horse this time.”

At that point, he agreed to give Cammarano and Schaffer twenty [thousand] altogether…. ten now. And then we’ll meet again, you know, and next week or something, I’ll do the other ten.

“This way, you know, we’ll be in good graces.”

Moments later, the FBI complaint says, an envelope fatter than those before was exchanged.

When the cooperator began to repeat his concerns about being identified, Schaffer again cut him off.

“I  know,” he said laughing. “I know the drill.”

They agreed to meet this week. But the FBI had enough evidence. Cammarano and Schaffer were hauled in this morning.

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