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Court Reverses Sharpe James’ Conviction

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A federal appeals court Thursday reversed one of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James’ corruption convictions in a ruling that likely will have more significance for other cases on appeal because James has already served his sentence.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out James’ conviction for so-called “theft of honest services” fraud, prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that narrowed the definition of that statute to apply only to cases in which defendants took bribes or kickbacks.

James’ four other fraud and conspiracy convictions remained unchanged.

A jury convicted the longtime mayor of New Jersey’s largest city in 2008 of illegally steering sweetheart land deals to his then-mistress, Tamika Riley. Riley flipped the nine lots and made $665,000 for a $46,000 investment without starting required rehabilitation work on most of them, prosecutors alleged.

Both were sentenced to federal prison terms, James to 27 months and Riley to 15 months, and both were fined as well. Riley served her term; James was released last spring to serve out the remainder of his sentence in a halfway house.

“In the post-Skilling landscape, this is a very significant opinion for honest services fraud,” said James attorney Gerald Krovatin, referring to the Supreme Court ruling in a case involving former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.

“This shouldn’t have any practical effect on either Mayor James or Tamika Riley because they both served the sentences that were imposed,” Krovatin added. “But this is one of the first, if not the first, cases that the Third Circuit has written on the impact of Skilling.”

Prosecutors also had argued in front of the Third Circuit in Philadelphia last April for a longer sentence for James, and claimed that U.S. District Judge William Martini didn’t give adequate weight to the amount of money Riley made on the land deals when he sentenced James. James’ lawyers contended he didn’t directly benefit financially from the deals.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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