Embattled Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres will not accept the plea deal of 5-years in state prison offered today by the State Attorney General’s Office in Hudson County Superior Court, sources say. Torres and his attorneys will be awaiting the results of the United States Attorney’s wide ranging investigation into corruption involving the Mayor, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, and Ocean County Republican Party Chairman George Gilmore before they even consider a plea offer.
Under the offer made by Deputy Attorney General Peter Baker, Torres would have to plead guilty to one count of second-degree official misconduct, forfeit his post as Mayor, and agree not to seek future public employment. Any statements made by Torres during a plea allocution and the plea itself would be used against Torres by federal prosecutors and may themselves form the basis of separate federal charges. Torres’s co-defendants, Joseph Mania, Imad Mowaswes, and Timothy Hanlon will likely accept the plea offers of three to five years of probation in exchange for cooperating against Torres.
While Torres may apply for Pretrial Intervention (PTI), a diversionary program that would allow him to avoid prison time, any such applications are likely to be rejected by both the Attorney General’s Office and the judge. The State of New Jersey’s case against Torres will likely be a secondary show if federal prosecutors decide to indict Torres.
The FBI’s November 2016 execution of a search warrant at a building in Paterson, which housed a prisoner reentry program run by McGreevey, has been linked to Torres. Torres used federal funds to pay city employees overtime for renovating the building.
Another FBI probe, which grew out of the federal investigation into Gilmore for tax evasion, suggests that Torres was promised and given a job in Jackson, New Jersey in exchange for legal contracts from the city of Paterson to Gilmore’s law firm.
Baker, the State’s lead prosecutor on the case, is a former Assistant Prosecutor in Hudson County. Baker, who become an attorney in 2006, handled the sentencing hearings of three former Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission employees in 2016. In terms of experience, the State appears to be outmatched by Torres’s attorneys. John Whipple and John Azzarello, well known names in New Jersey’s criminal defense bar, have substantially more trial experience than Baker. Torres has also hired a Newark law firm to supplement Whipple and Azzarello.
Hudson County Judge Sheila Venable set a “plea cutoff date” of September 1st, 2017, however, that means very little in New Jersey Superior Court. Torres could accept a plea in the middle of trial should he choose to do so. Torres will appear again in court on June 19.