Camden, N.J., mayor convicted of corruption

CAMDEN, N.J. - Mayor Milton Milan was convicted Thursday of taking mob payoffs, laundering drug money and stealing campaign funds, becoming the third of the past five mayors of New Jersey's poorest city to be found guilty of corruption.

Milan, 38, was convicted of 14 of the 19 charges against him. He faces nine to 11 years in prison at sentencing April 5.

Federal prosecutors relied on testimony from Ralph Natale, the former boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob and one of the highest-ranking American Mafia figures ever to turn government witness.

During four days on the stand, Natale, 65, patiently explained the workings of the underworld to jurors and said he funneled $30,000 to $50,000 to Milan to steer city contracts to mob-backed businesses.

''I wanted him to feel he had to rely on me and nobody else,'' Natale testified. ''If he had a headache, I would send him an aspirin.''

Natale said he paid for Milan's celebration dinner the night he was sworn in as mayor, and for a Florida vacation for Milan and his girlfriend in 1998.

Convicted drug dealer Jose Rivera told jurors that he loaned Milan $65,000 prosecutors said the mayor later divided into amounts less than $10,000 to avoid IRS scrutiny.

''He was always around me,'' Rivera testified. ''At times people thought he was my bodyguard.''

Prosecutors said Milan accepted money, vacations, automobiles and home improvement work from city vendors or businesses seeking contracts or favors.

Milan was found guilty of fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and other charges. He also was convicted of staging a burglary at his former office to collect nearly $4,800 in insurance payments on office equipment.

Carlos Martir Jr., Milan's lawyer, said after the conviction that Milan was disappointed by the verdict, but he said he is emotionally strong and is prepared to spend time in prison.

''I have tremendous confidence in his ability to withstand this,'' Martir said. ''This is not the end of his life.''

The past decade has been filled with troubles for the desperately poor city of 87,000, a former industrial hub that has lost businesses and population since World War II.

A school board president pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $24,000; homicides soared so much one year that state troopers had to help patrol the streets; and last year, the state stepped in to oversee city finances and is running the city schools.

Milan's predecessor, Arnold Webster, pleaded guilty to illegally paying himself $20,000 in school district funds after he became mayor. Angelo Errichetti, mayor from 1973 to 1981, served more than 2 years in prison for taking a $50,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in the Abscam case.

The attorney general's office will ask a state court to remove Milan from office, said Chuck Davis, a spokesman for the attorney general.

The City Council will then appoint someone to serve out the remainder of Milan's term, which ends June 30.


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