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Former Prosecutor Charged With Aiding False ConfessionClifford Minor, a former Essex County, N.J., prosecutor and Newark chief judge, has been indicted on charges of accepting a $3,500 bribe for arranging a false confession in a gun possession case, federal officials said Thursday. Minor, who runs a criminal defense practice in Newark, was part of a plan to have one man serve as the "fall guy" for another, officials said. Minor and two accomplices have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges. If convicted, Minor could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
New Jersey Law Journal2010-09-27 12:00:00 AM
Clifford Minor, a former Essex County, N.J., prosecutor and Newark chief judge, has been indicted on charges of accepting a $3,500 bribe for arranging a false confession in a gun possession case, federal officials announced on Thursday.
Minor, 67, who runs a criminal defense practice in Newark, was part of a plan to have one man serve as the "fall guy" for another, officials said.
He and two accomplices have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges before U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise.
The indictment alleges that in July 2007, at the Essex County Jail, Minor met with Abdul Williams of East Orange, N.J., who was charged with possession of a gun and, as a convicted felon, faced a lengthy prison term.
Minor then accompanied Jamal Muhammad, 32, of Newark, to the Newark Police Department, where Muhammad confessed to possessing the gun and Minor posed as Muhammad's counsel, even though they met for the first time earlier in the day, the indictment says. Muhammad agreed to accept $1,500 for making the phony confession, says the indictment, which alleges the co-conspirators arranged the scheme through in-person meetings and telephone conversations.
In December 2009, a grand jury subpoenaed Minor to produce documents in connection with his representation of Muhammad. Instead, Minor voluntarily met with FBI investigators and prosecutors the next month. But officials said that during those discussions, Minor made several false statements, including that he had not communicated with Williams about Muhammad, though their telephone conversations from the jail had been recorded.
Minor allegedly produced a fraudulent $500 retainer agreement between him and Muhammad, and said had no indication that Muhammad's false statement had been made in return for any type of consideration, officials said.
In making those false statements, he allegedly obstructed the grand jury proceeding and the federal investigation.
Minor was charged with one count each of conspiracy to use an interstate facility to engage in bribery, use of an interstate facility to engage in bribery, obstruction of an official proceeding, falsification of records, and perjury and making false statements to authorities.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said at a news conference announcing the indictment that it did not appear that Minor knew Williams or Muhammad before meeting with them in July 2007.
Williams has been in jail awaiting trial on the weapons charge. Muhammad was denied bail and Minor was released on $250,000 bail.
Williams was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and he and Muhammad were charged with conspiracy to use an interstate facility to engage in bribery and use of an interstate facility to engage in bribery.
Minor could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for allegedly taking a bribe to help facilitate a false criminal confession.
Fishman said at the news conference that the charges were "appalling" for a holder of public office.
"Clifford Minor allegedly sold his oath as a lawyer for $3,500 to help a violent, convicted felon avoid criminal charges. And then, making his deception even worse, he allegedly chose to lie about his role to prosecutors and agents of the FBI," Fishman said.
Minor is represented by Stephen Turano of Tacopina Seigel & Turano in New York, who did not return a call seeking comment. There was no answer at Minor's office late Thursday afternoon.
Minor, a former Newark police officer, was appointed by Mayor Kenneth Gibson to the municipal court in 1985 and Sharpe James subsequently elevated him to presiding municipal court judge.
Minor was a controversial figure in Essex County both before and after becoming Essex County prosecutor in 1992. When Gov. Jim Florio nominated him, the New Jersey State Bar Association's Judicial and County Prosecutor Appointments Committee refused to give him a "qualified" rating, partly because of a lack of trial experience. The committee reconsidered and Minor was appointed. He served as prosecutor for a five-year term, ending a month early in 1997.
In 1998, a state attorney general audit showed that Minor had distributed $200,000 from the state's asset forfeiture program to community groups, businesses and churches -- largely to assist urban youths -- rather than the city or the police department and that he used $2,300 for staff golf outings from July 1992 to November 1997.
Attorney General Peter Verniero said at the time that the funds should have been used for criminal investigations, and that such disbursements are subject to the approval of the Division of Criminal Justice.
But Minor was not charged with violating any state regulations in the distribution of the money.