The Plot Thickens: Russo's Missing $18K

The trail ends here- the final 'Russo for Hoboken' ELEC  for July 15, 2008 .  Russo tells Dwek $5,000 bribe should be deposited in this account, making it active in April 2009.  

You know the old saying '2 heads are better than one'.

GA's blessed with a friend who's been puzzling over the Russo-Dwek transcript with me, searching for clues to what really happened after the April 29, 2009 meeting.

DID he (Russo) or DIDN'T he take Dwek's $5,000 bribe?

Remember the FBI's narrative to the authors of The Jersey Sting was that he never pursued the money.  And that may suffice  for those who believe the Feds gave those authors full access to the (ongoing) Bid Rig criminal investigation.

I don't.

Neither does my friend- who I'll call The Head, because  he's like my second head- much better than one, and helped connect dots in this Hoboken tale of  political corruption.

Here's what The Head was thinking:
On pages 77-78 of the transcript, it is agreed that Dwek will give Maher Khalil $5,000 for Russo, and that Russo and Khalil will work out the details about how the money will be given to Russo.

This is consistent with Khalil’s role as “bag-man” in other cases.

For example, Khalil got 3 $10,000 cash payments from Dwek earmarked for Mariano Vega, the JC Council President. The payments were laundered by Khalil into campaign contributions through straw donors.

The discussion on pages 77-78 makes clear an agreement to do the same with Russo. The deal had already been worked out. Khalil would get the cash and launder it through straw donors into contributions to Russo for Hoboken.

Keep in mind that Russo was not actually running for anything. He was going to take over the City through his control of Mason’s Council slate.

This explains the discussion as to how to make out the checks.

Khalil says on page 78 “From Maher, Mike Russo’s involved. I should put Mike Russo. It – and then from there you contribute to –“.

What Khalil is saying is that the money would go to Russo rather than to the actual campaign (Mason’s ticket) since Russo is who they were dealing with. Russo could then give it to the appropriate campaign account where it was needed for use in the upcoming election – presumably the Mason’s ticket account – something Russo likely had no intention of ever doing.

Russo answers “Its Russo for Hoboken, is the account” making clear that the money should go to him as suggested by Khalil.

Given this – the real question is  whether Russo received contributions laundered through straw donors by Khalil as agreed upon at the meeting with Dwek.

Based on the transcript, it’s clear that was the intent at the time of the meeting with Dwek.

If he did, then he took a bribe and the only plausible explanation for the failure to prosecute is that Russo has entered into a cooperation agreement with the Feds.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell because the account Russo referred to – Russo for Hoboken – has only 2 ELEC filings available on ELEC’s website – 7/15/08 and an amendment to that filing on 9/15/08.

Oddly, that filing seems to indicate the existence of prior filings that aren’t up on the ELEC website since it shows amounts from “prior periods.”

The 7/15/08 filing shows an account balance of $18,420.81.

There are no filings after that so there are no filings covering the period when the bribe money would have been received. The $18,420 that was in the bank at that time has never been accounted for in an ELEC filing. The Russo for Hoboken account – Commerce Bank Account  #3451279037 – the account that Russo asked the Dwek bribe money be deposited into – just vanished.

When Russo ran for Council in 2011, he opened a new account called 'Russo for Council' and did not transfer in any balance from the missing Russo for Hoboken account.

Since the Russos, unlike others, have always scrupulously filed their ELEC reports, this is extremely odd.
Did I tell you that 2 heads were better than one?

No ELECs filed for the account that Russo directed  Dwek to route the $5,000 into.

How do we know this?

And nothing on file since. 

So the plot thickens.

An  $18,420.81 cash deposit last seen in 2008 on an account that was still active at the time of the Russo-Dwek meeting in April 2009.

You can bet your tuchas the Feds were watching that account like a hawk.  Money coming in.  Money going out.

Is there any reason to explain the lack of reporting on an active account that contained a large cash balance?  

When 'Russo for Hoboken' 'disappeared' where did the money go?   If it wasn't transferred into the 2011 'Russo For Council' account, what happened to it?


At a minimum, Russo's got a conspicuous ELEC law violation. 

But... if Khalil did get that money into  Russo's account, as the transcripts indicate he was determined to do with Russo in agreement, then it's as The Head imagined:
"the only plausible explanation for the failure to prosecute is that Russo has entered into a cooperation agreement with the Feds."
So did he or didn't he?

All GA can say is the smell just got stronger.


  1. Now that is detective work! Can we at least get Russo for ELEC violations or misuse of campaign funds (I assume the 18k+ went into his pocket, if the FEDs didn't nab him ).

    Someone should ask for an explanation of what happened to those funds at council. I bet the story will be of the same quality of his tale of getting into Church Towers.

  2. Wow, something fishy is going on here for sure! Awesome detective work.

  3. What's the tie-in, I wonder, the the closing of the Civic Association. Did the checks come from Russo For Hoboken? Was the bank informed that Russo's tax exempt status was compromised and was he no longer able to bankroll such an organization.

    Any attorneys out there who can shed some light?

  4. A couple of things catch my attention:

    1. That someone (the information redacted by GA) was curious about this campaign account in early 2009, before any of the Dwek as Fake Developer stuff became known to the public.

    2. That ELEC confirmed that Russo took illegal donations from two LLCs, but decided not to do anything about it until after the 2009 municipal election and evidently unless someone requested that they again investigate.

    I'm not shocked by #2 in terms of ELEC's utter lack of interest in pursuing violations. The Sun also rises in the east if anyone's wondering. But it is disheartening (ELEC, not the Sun - I like the Sun). At the very least, shouldn't they consider that a candidate be asked to return illegal donations that turn up?

    It's like if your house is burglarized and you bring the police your surveillance camera footage clearly showing who broke in - let's say the burglar has his name and cell phone number printed on his shirt in large letters - and the police say, "Nice footage! Check in with us again in a few months. What kinda camera you got, by the way?"

  5. If it is as we all imagined, and that the Feds gave Russo a deal, could someone tell me whether they could still arrest him on these charges? I mean if he is not holding up his end of the deal and the evidence is solid which, even as an outsider, it looks solid to me, then can't they still go after him?


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