Snitch who snared NJ politicians gets 6 years

NEWARK, N.J. -- A federal judge sentenced the informant in New Jersey's biggest corruption sting to six years in prison on Thursday, ignoring recommendations from the government to impose a lighter sentence to encourage future informants to cooperate.

Solomon Dwek, a 40-year-old disgraced real estate investor, pleaded guilty in connection with a $50 million bank fraud. After his arrest in 2006, he wore a wire for the government and wound up incriminating more than 40 politicians and members of his own Orthodox Jewish community over the next three years.

Dwek faced a maximum of 40 years in prison for bank fraud and money laundering but was expected to get far less because of his cooperation with the government. His plea agreement called for a nine- to 11-year sentencing range, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren argued for a substantial reduction from that, to a three- or four-year sentence.

U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares praised Dwek's cooperation but declined to give Dwek a bigger sentence reduction because of the seriousness of his crimes.

Dwek looked gaunt in his prison uniform Thursday, compared with the rotund figure who testified at several trials in 2010 and appeared on dozens of videotapes offering money to politicians while posing as slick-talking developer David Esenbach.

Sobbing frequently during a rambling, hourlong mea culpa to the court, Dwek described how his wife and six children have been ostracized and threatened by their Orthodox Jewish community since his cooperation became public. His children have been kicked out of several schools because of their association with him, he said.

"I will live with pain the rest of my days," he said. "I knew I would be subject to retaliation, directed toward me. One thing I never imagined was that my wife and kids would suffer damage, exile and mental and physical torture that they suffer every single day.

"I lost everything," he said at one point. "I have nothing, I own nothing. That's my punishment and I deserve it."

Dwek admitted that in 2006 he tried to deposit two $25 million checks to separate PNC Bank branches that were drawn on a closed account. Linares noted that the exchange came at a time when Dwek's admitted real estate Ponzi scheme, estimated to have created $135 million in losses, was unraveling. Dwek was never charged with running the scheme.

"This crime is very serious, and done in a very brazen manner," Linares said. "The reason for the crime was tied in to other frauds Mr. Dwek was involved in, involving by his own admissions hundreds of properties and millions and millions of dollars. The volume of criminal activity has to be juxtaposed with the volume of cooperation."

Linares sentenced Dwek to five years of supervised release after he is freed from prison. He also ordered him to pay $22 million in restitution to PNC Bank.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman had hoped for a lighter sentence that would have sent a message to potential cooperators.

"You never know what a particular sentence is going to be, but we wanted to send the message that we would ask for that reduction," he said. "It's very important to send a signal that people who cooperate extensively deserve a big break."

Dwek was free after his arrest until last year, when Linares revoked his bail and sent him to jail to await sentencing. At that hearing, Linares referred to Dwek as an "extremely cunning liar."

In comments to the judge Thursday, McCarren praised Dwek's cooperation and said none of the cases would have been brought were it not for information he provided. More than three-quarters of defendants pleaded guilty or were convicted by juries.

"His cooperation was simply off-the-charts extraordinary," McCarren told Linares, citing the convictions of rabbis who admitted laundering millions of dollars and a man who pleaded guilty to trafficking in human kidneys.

Charles Uliano, Dwek's lawyer, filed a motion two weeks ago to have a further sentence reduction because, in the opinion of a psychiatrist, Dwek suffers from mental illness. But Linares didn't factor that into his decision.

"It wasn't what we were hoping for, but at least the judge gave us a downward departure and recognized his cooperation," Uliano said after the sentencing.