Ballarotto talks wiretapping


Trenton activist says FBI case ‘like Sopranos
Friday, October 12,2012

TRENTON — The two-year federal investigation into Mayor Tony Mack and local steakhouse owner Joseph “Jojo” Giorgianni featured extensive telephone wiretapping and a secret video-recording setup that law-enforcement struggled to install inside Giorgianni’s office, according to federal documents detailing the operation.

The document, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Skahill and dated Oct. 4, was mailed to anyone who Skahill believed was named in a wiretap order or any individual who had his or her telephone communications intercepted in the investigations against Mack and Giorgianni.

City activist Juan Martinez said he and at least 10 others received that letter from Skahill this week.

“I did nothing illegal, but yet my calls were intercepted, and I don’t know what that means,” Martinez said on Friday. “I’m concerned because I have nothing to do with it. I’m not just the only person who got that letter. That’s why I’m concerned. Other people received this letter.”

A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman, Matthew Reilly, on Friday said he had no comment on the Skahill letter.

The letter references an order authorizing the interception of wire and text message communications to the cell phones of Mack and Giorgianni. It refers to Giorgianni’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard office as the “Target Location,” and it says federal agents had difficulty gaining access to Giorgianni’s office to secretly install a closed circuit television for secret surveillance.

On July 15, 2011, a federal court approved the use of a closed circuit TV to be secretly placed inside Giorgianni’s office for the monitoring and recording of oral communications and visual, non-verbal conduct and activities.

The closed circuit TV secret surveillance “did not commence at that time due to law enforcement’s inability to gain entry to the Target Location,” the letter states. The secret surveillance began about Dec. 15, 2011, when the federal agents managed to install the secret video-recording setup inside Giorgianni’s office, according to the letter.

“They know I have nothing to do with Jojo,” Martinez said of the federal prosecutors. “I know of Jojo. I have nothing to do with him. … Me calling the mayor is nothing new. I go back to (former Trenton mayor) Arthur Holland. This is nothing new. The FBI knows that. They should know that.”

Martinez said his telephone conversations with Mack over the last two years have been about city business, especially recreation and housing matters. Martinez also said he talked with the mayor about personal health issues.

“You are putting me on notice that you’ve been listening to my phone calls. You’ve been reading my texts. You know about my health issues,” Martinez said of the prosecutors. “Is this going to be played out in court?”

“How long were they listening to my concerns to the mayor?” asked Martinez, who hasn’t been charged in the case and is only implicated through his intercepted conversations with the mayor.

Giorgianni’s attorney, Jerome Ballarotto, on Friday said it’s common for judges to approve eavesdropping operations like the one prosecutors used against his client Giorgianni, who also faces federal drug charges and weapons offenses.

Ballarotto said there are “very strict guidelines” for wiretapping that the government has to follow.

“If they determine a conversation is not pertinent they have to stop listening and stop recording,” Ballarotto said. “If they aren’t listening to it they can’t record it. They have to record what they are listening to.”

Mack, Giorgianni and the mayor’s brother, Ralphiel Mack, were arrested Sept. 10 on charges they conspired to extort $119,000 from a Hudson County developer. The developer, Harry Seymour, was a federal cooperating witness who the FBI paid to help advance the sting that led to the three arrests.

Both Macks were released from custody on $150,000 unsecured bail. Giorgianni was released on a $250,000 bond secured by property and is on electronically monitored house arrest.

Ralphiel Mack’s lawyer, John Hartmann, on Friday said his client’s phone was never tapped during the FBI’s investigation that began in September 2010.

On May 17, 2011, a federal court authorized the interception of communications occurring over Giorgianni’s phone for a period of 30 days. That 30-day wiretapping order was extended 10 times for additional 30-day periods. Overall, the FBI intercepted Giorgianni’s voice calls and text messages from May 17, 2011, through March 25 of this year, according to Skahill’s letter.

On Feb. 8 of this year, a federal court authorized the interception of communications occurring over Mayor Mack’s phone for a period of 30 days. That order was extended six times, meaning the mayor’s phone conversations and text messages were intercepted from Feb. 8 to July 20, according to the letter.

Federal agents on July 19 rummaged through Mack’s mayoral office during a raid of City Hall, which occurred one day after the FBI executed search warrants at the mayor’s Berkeley Square house, Giorgianni’s Ewing Township home and Ralphiel Mack’s Glen Afton residence.

The FBI wire tapped four telephone numbers in its investigation against the mayor and Giorgianni, according to Skahill’s letter. One of those four listed numbers is Mack’s cell phone and another is Giorgianni’s cell phone.

“We got this letter because they don’t have a choice,” Martinez said, referring to everyone who has received Skahill’s wiretap notice. “That’s probably one of the ground rules. But we don’t know how long they were listening.”

With the letter illustrating the scope of the wiretapping and surveillance used against the mayor and steakhouse owner, “They wanted this bad,” Martinez said of the federal investigators. “It’s amazing when you go through it. It’s like The Sopranos,” he added, referring to the classic HBO drama that depicted the FBI going through great lengths to wiretap Tony Soprano’s basement in an extortion investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has until Dec. 11 to present its criminal case to a grand jury in pursuit of an indictment against Mayor Mack and alleged co-conspirators Giorgianni and Ralphiel Mack. Federal prosecutors could seek a continuance to extend that deadline.

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