Following what appears to be a disturbing trend in New Jersey politics, the former mayor of Irvington was indicted by federal investigators for accepting a bribe in order to rig bids for state contracts, State Attorney General Anne Milgram announced last week.
Michael Steele, 52, is accused of accepting at least $120,000–possibly a lot more–to rig contracts while he worked as a business administrator for the Irvington Township Board of Education. Steele was the first African-American mayor of the Newark satellite city of Irvington in 1990. He only served one term–failing in his bid for re-election in 1994. However, he continued to work for the city in various capacities, including business administrator.
Steele becomes the third high-profile ex-mayor in recent weeks to be targeted by federal investigators in a penetrating probe of corruption by politicians and other elected officials in the Garden State.
In April, disgraced ex-Newark Mayor Sharpe James was convicted of, among other things, steering city-owned properties to his ex-mistress. James will be sentenced in July and faces between 7 and 20 years in a federal prison. Last month, Orange Mayor Mims Hackett, Jr., resigned after entering a guilty plea of accepting thousands of dollars from an FBI informant as payment for steering city contracts.
According to various court documents, Steele faces nearly a dozen charges by the feds, including bribery, official misconduct and fraud. Steele abruptly resigned from his position with the Board of Education in April after federal investigators intensified their probe of the alleged illicit activities of Steele and others.
Steele has not commented publicly since the indictment, however, his attorney, Peter Still, issued a statement to the media. “Michael Steele has been a public official of good standing for many years and in connection with this matter, he has already been interviewed and has fully cooperated. We anxiously await receipt of the charges and we will address them one by one.”
According to Attorney General Milgram, Steele accepted about $120,000 from a Florida-based janitorial supplies contractor in exchange for ordering nearly $1 million worth of cleaning supplies from the company on behalf of the school district. In another scheme, Steele, allegedly accepted cash from a southern New Jersey company for awarding nearly 30 contracts to the firm worth more than $400,000. The company inflated the prices of various supplies, including surveillance cameras and various construction-related prices to the school district.
“He made it look like the school district was getting a good deal,” Milgram told reporters. In fact, the district was getting a raw deal.”
If convicted on all charges, Steele could face a minimum of five years in a federal prison and fines.