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Albio Sires

Hudson County Politics Message Board

'Trustworthy' friends appointed, Sires says

Published 4/11/04 in the Asbury Park Press
By TOM TRONCONE
STAFF WRITER

West New York is a town whose recent past is steeped in scandal and corruption. It is a town that has been under federal investigation for the past decade.

Located across the Hudson River from New York, the town has been a hotbed of illegal gambling controlled by reputed Cuban organized crime figures.

Since 1998, a police chief and more than a dozen officers have been convicted or pleaded guilty to running the town as if it were their own criminal enterprise. Cops were charged with stealing, shaking people down or taking kickbacks.

Mayor Albio Sires, who is also the speaker of the General Assembly, said he blew the whistle on the police department corruption weeks after taking office in 1995.

But even Sires has not been immune from allegations of misconduct.

Former Police Chief Alexander Oriente said in 1998 interviews with the FBI and in testimony against other police officers that he started paying $2,000-a-month kickback money to a top Sires aide, Rene Abreu, shortly after the mayor took office.

Sires has never been implicated by federal authorities in any criminal activity, and unwaveringly maintains that the corruption predates his administration.

"This has been going on for eight years," Sires said. "I was the one who reformed -- changed the way they do business in town. I inherited a mess. And if you look today, that police department today is 100 times better than it has ever been."

Sires said he went to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office to help rein in an out-of-control police department.

At the trial of four West New York police officers, Oriente testified that he passed along $2,000 a month.

Defense lawyer Peter Willis asked Oriente: "Do you become the middleman between the gamblers and the administration, Mr. Mier, Mr. Abreu, the mayor, for the collection of monies?"

Oriente answered: "Yes."

Q: "Cash monies?"

A: "Cash monies."

Abreu was indicted in May 2002. The U.S. Attorney's Office charged that Abreu and another man, Manuel Mier, took payments from Oriente while telling Oriente that they "were acting on behalf of a high-level West New York public official."

Sires said he presumes that he is the unnamed public official, but denies accepting any protection money. He said he has never been contacted by the FBI about the probe.

"They're doing their job and they are following up on every kind of lead," Sires said. "Nobody has ever implicated me in anything. I think after eight years, if I was implicated in anything, I think by now, two U.S. Attorneys later, I think I would have heard something."

Sires said Oriente has a vendetta against him for helping to shut down Oriente's criminal kickback operations. Sires also helped deny Oriente his police pension in 1998 and refused to allow West New York to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars of unused sick and vacation time when he retired.

With the indictment of Abreu, the FBI comes precariously close to Sires. Abreu not only was a top aide to Sires, but he also was a principal fund-raiser and also a business client with Sires' A.M. Title Agency Inc., Union.

In copies of FBI agents' interview notes obtained by Gannett New Jersey, Oriente discloses to agents that when it was obvious Sires would become the town's new mayor in 1995, Abreu contacted Oriente in an attempt to convince Oriente to support Sires. During a subsequent discussion between the two men, Abreu referred to the protection of gambling machines and prostitution, Oriente told the agents.

He said Mier later expressed regret about the timing of the conversation, according to an agent's report.

"Both Mier and Oriente were of the opinion that this should not have been discussed until after the election," the interview notes state.

According to the interview notes, authored by FBI Special Agent William C. Monks, Ori-ente had another conversation with Abreu and Mier around the 1995 election in which Sires took control of the town.

During that meeting, Oriente told Abreu that he could get protection money from reputed Cuban mob boss Jose Grana should Oriente "have the sup-port of the administration."

"Abreu then said that that $2,000 would be our cut," the agent wrote. The report contin-ues, "Oriente believed that Abreu's use of the word 'our' was a reference to Abreu, Mier and Mayor Albio Sires."

Oriente said he told Grana that Grana had to pay the new ad-ministration for protection, ac-cording to the interview re-ports.

Although Oriente has been dis-credited by the Sires adminis-tration, one former police offi-cer who wore a wire -- a hidden electronic recording device -- for the FBI for 18 months dur-ing the bureau's investigation of the police department, backs up Oriente's story.

"There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever the meetings took place," said former officer Ri-chie Rivera. "In fact, I followed (Oriente) to some of those meet-ings."

Oriente also told agents that after police raided the gam-bling den of a Grana rival at Grana's request, Oriente was visited by Police Sgt. Jesus Ji-menez, who was then working as an aide to Sires.

Jimenez asked Oriente to "go easy" on the cafe's owner, ac-cording to the report. The re-port reads, "Oriente knew based on this conversation that Jimenez had the backing of the mayor and was conveying a message for the mayor."

Sires wouldn't comment on spe-cifics of the allegations other than to say he has broken no laws.

Mier admitted in federal court in 2002 that he acted as a mid-dleman between Oriente and Abreu, but he did not implicate the mayor directly in his guilty plea to extortion and conspira-cy charges. He did tell the judge that it was his under-standing that the money he funneled from Oriente went to Abreu because of Abreu's rela-tionship with a high-ranking town official. The money, Mier said, ensured Oriente's job se-curity.

Mier is now cooperating with authorities.

Both Mier, Oriente and as many as seven Abreu associ-ates named in his indictment could be called to testify at Abreu's trial, which started last week.

Reached at home, Oriente de-clined comment until after the Abreu trial.

Sires declined to talk at length about his relationship with Abreu because of Abreu's fed-eral corruption trial. Abreu, in addition to the kickback allega-tions, is charged with numer-ous counts of mortgage fraud.

Sires did say that he and Abreu were once close friends. He and his partner in their title agen-cy, A.M. Title in Union, both said that Abreu was once a business client who paid them to research titles for properties before a sale was finalized.

Neither Sires nor his partner, Ada Morell, said they knew whether their company did ti-tle work for Abreu specifically on the properties listed in Abreu's mortgage fraud indict-ment.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's Office would com-ment on the West New York investigations.

Sires said he wants people to know he has always worked to put West New York first. It's his hometown, a place in which he takes only pride.

"Just for the record, I am above reproach," Sires said. "Nobody has ever, y'know, said anything about me for the nine years that I've been here."

Tom Troncone: (732) 643-4050 or ttroncone@app.com

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