The key to the investigation was an Orthodox Jewish real-estate developer, according to a person familiar with the matter. Solomon Dwek was arrested on bank-fraud charges in 2006 and was forced to seek bankruptcy protection for himself and his companies, which owned about 300 residential and commercial properties. Mr. Dwek, 36 years old, a religious-school head and philanthropist from Ocean Township, was charged with defrauding PNC Bank out of $25 million. Mr. Dwek remained free on a $10 million bond. A lawyer for Mr. Dwek couldn't be reached for comment.
To ensnare most of the defendants, the Federal Bureau of Investigation used Mr. Dwek to attempt to bribe numerous public officials in New Jersey, including Hoboken and Jersey City, according to a person familiar with the matter. The probe roped in several other real-estate developers who also wanted to bribe officials. The criminal complaints unsealed Thursday referenced an unnamed "cooperating witness" who represented himself as a real-estate developer seeking to pay bribes. A person familiar with the matter said Mr. Dwek is the witness.
The probes using Mr. Dwek began in mid-2007. The informant often wore a wire and was followed by FBI agents who videotaped his encounters with the probe's targets, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
It's unclear whether Dwek was also the cooperating witness who pretended to be trying to buy a human kidney on behalf of his sick uncle, from Issac Rosenbaum, who has now been charged with trafficking in human organs.
In one sense, the fact that the Feds used a witness who was facing his own legal jeopardy to concoct fictitious plots that ensnared the defendants -- reminiscent of what we learned about the Newburgh Four "terror" plot -- makes this story less eye-popping than if it concerned a network of genuine pre-existing schemes.
But hey, we're not complaining.