Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on Braker’s return.
William Braker’s life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
The former deputy director of the Jersey City Police Department and one-time Hudson County freeholder theoretically could be enjoying his retirement, spending time with his daughter, son, and four grandchildren, and living out the rest of his days on his pension.
Instead, he stays in the privacy of his Claremont Avenue home, most times venturing no farther than his front porch. Friends and family run errands for him.
“I am too embarrassed to even step out my front door,” Braker said in an exclusive interview with the Jersey City Reporter last week. “Even after I got out of prison, I feel like I’m still in prison.”
That’s the cost of spending nearly three years in federal prison, with time reduced for good behavior. Braker was released in late January of this year.
In December of 2004, Braker was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for extorting $3,000 in payments from a county vendor. The same investigation ensnared former County Executive Robert Janiszewski, who wore a wire for the government in order to catch other local politicians, contractors and developers accepting or offering bribes.
Braker ended up serving a sentence for “interference with commerce by threat or violence,” different from what he was initially indicted for. Specifically, he was indicted with three counts of attempted extortion under color of official right, which is defined by U.S. federal guidelines as the wrongful taking by a public officer of money or property not due to him or his office without force, but through the influence of his public office.
What Braker did, according to federal authorities, was take bribes between June 1999 and September 2000 from “a vendor of psychiatric services” who wanted a contract with the Jersey City police department and Hudson County government.
Many of these meetings were audio and video taped by the feds with the “vendor,” who turned out to be disgraced Union City psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Sandoval. Sandoval, like Janiszewski, wore a wire as a cooperative informant in the federal government’s case against Braker.
The county freeholders voted on Sandoval’s contract and others, sometimes with Janiszewski’s recommendation.
Braker achieved notoriety when the press reported during one of his meetings that he demanded money and the drug Viagra, which he later claimed was just “a joke.”
What isn’t funny is that Braker claims that he shouldn’t have been put behind bars.
Braker said he tried to retract his guilty plea, but the judge would not let accept the retraction or let him face a trial by jury.Feels he was wronged
“Like other corrupt public officials we’ve seen, Mr. Braker seems unwilling or unable to recognize his criminality,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie on Dec. 22, 2004, the day when Braker was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Lifland (now retired).
Christie added, “For that, he’s earned more prison time, which is appropriate and should stand as a lesson to other corrupt individuals.”
What Christie was referring to specifically was the fact that Lifland sentencing Braker to the 41-month term rather than a shorter sentence after Braker tried to retract his guilty plea, which Lifland saw as evidence of Braker failing to accept responsibility for his crimes.
Braker looks back at the sentencing with bitterness, claiming he “did not extort money from anyone” and that he was persuaded to plead guilty by his attorneys representing him at the time, as well as his brother, who is also an attorney.
“They said ‘The best thing for you to do is to plead guilty and we’ll get you 18 months in jail and you’ll save your pension, and that will be the important thing,’ ” Braker said.
“My brother was telling me ‘Plead guilty, plead guilty and save the family name’.”
Braker continued, “After I pleaded guilty, I said to myself, ‘This is wrong, I’m pleading guilty to a crime I did not commit. I can’t stand this.’ I didn’t extort a dime from anyone. I accepted money from Sandoval, but there was no quid pro quo, and I didn’t strong-arm anyone. That was a donation to my civic association.”
Braker said he wrote a letter to Lifland stating his innocence and requesting a trial by jury. His request was denied on the grounds that he did not profess his innocence in the letter, he said. Bad advice
Braker claims he found out while in jail that his attorneys’ advice was at the behest of his brother, who wanted Braker to go to jail due to resentment over his brother’s politics. He also claimed Judge Lifland should not have sentenced him for an offense that he did not commit.
While it sounds like a cliché for a convicted criminal to claim he was a victim of forces working against him, Braker believes he can convince a skeptical public that he was not a corrupt politician, as people have been led to believe.
Meanwhile, Braker waits to shine a light on what he says really happened. In future editions of the Jersey City Reporter, Braker will explain why he should have not served time in jail, and will talk about life in prison.
Comments on the story can be sent to email@example.com