Saying too many New Jersey politicians seem to be "hellbent on corruption," a federal judge today took the unusual step of rejecting federal prosecutors' pleas for leniency and sentenced the former mayor of Ocean Township to nearly five years in prison.
Terrance Weldon, 59, managed to stay out of prison since pleading guilty to corruption charges nearly five years ago by cooperating with federal prosecutors against his accountant, a local official, a developer and an engineer.
Federal prosecutors said Weldon's help was substantial, and argued that he should serve less than the 51 to 63 months he faced under federal sentencing guidelines.
But Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls said he was unimpressed with Weldon's cooperation, likening it to Al Capone ratting out his driver.
"He is the kingpin," Walls said. "Weldon is the one who has done the greatest damage."
Walls said he had received letters from members of the public who were outraged that Weldon, who also served as the city manager of Asbury Park, had remained free for so long while he cooperated with the government.
The judge also said that he was amazed that despite the parade of public officials he has sentenced to prison over the years, new corrupt politicians keep winding up before him. He said he hoped - though wasn't necessarily confident - that a stiff sentence for Weldon would act as a deterrent.
"As far as I'm concerned, the commission of such crimes deserve severe punishment," Walls said, adding that people are walking into voting booths to exercise their right to vote and instead electing "thugs" who violate the public trust.
Before Walls denied prosecutors' motion for leniency, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren said that doing so would send a message to other potential cooperators that it wasn't worth doing so.