Steak shop owner who pleaded guilty in Trenton mayor's corruption case gets 6-year sentence

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TRENTON, New Jersey — A steak sandwich shop owner who compared himself to Boss Tweed was sentenced Friday to 6 1/2 years in federal prison for his roles in a prescription drug-dealing network that operated out of his shop and a bribery scheme that brought down the mayor of the state's capital city.

Joseph "JoJo" Giorgianni pleaded guilty last year. His voice on surveillance recordings was a key part of the U.S. District Court trial this year of Trenton's then-mayor, Tony Mack. Giorgianni was a middleman in a government sting to bribe the mayor to help with a phony parking garage project. Government lawyers said he used code words "cheesesteaks" and "Uncle Remus" to tell Mack he had bribes for him.

In court Friday, the 64-year-old had little to say.

"I'm very sorry," he told Judge Michael Shipp, "and my lawyer said everything. I'm sorry I hurt my city."

Also sentenced in a separate proceeding Friday was former city municipal worker Charles Hall III, a co-conspirator in the scheme, who pleaded guilty last year to extortion conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. Hall received a four-year prison term.

Giorgianni was willing to testify against Mack, who is now in federal prison, but he was never called to the witness stand.

His lawyer Jerome Ballarotto argued that he should be kept under house arrest rather than sent to prison, saying he was not likely to commit further crimes, he had been punished already through signs found in Trenton with his nickname and an image of a rat, and his help was a key to the government's case against Mack.

"If it wasn't for Joe Giorgianni," Ballarotto said, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman "would have been standing on the steps of this courthouse and apologizing to this city for why he couldn't rid them of a crooked politician."

Ballarotto also argued that Giorgianni has a personality disorder that makes him think he's more important than he is. That led him to participate in "cockamamie schemes" and brag that he was Trenton's version of 19th-century New York City political boss William Tweed, the lawyer said.

A government lawyer, Eric Moran, said anyone who tries to bring a Tammany Hall political style to a city should not avoid prison time.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor, though he said he did give Giorgianni a lighter sentence because of his health problems and his cooperation.

"It is clear that Mr. Giorgianni has the criminal propensity of a much younger man," the judge said, later adding, "From the recordings played during the trial, it's is clear that Mr. Giorgianni not only disregards the law, he revels in breaking it."


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