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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ex-Officer Convicted of Corruption May Avoid Jail

Ex-Newark police officer convicted of corruption, but may avoid jail time 
The Star-Ledger by Alexi Friedman  -  May 11, 2012
Former Newark Police Officer Darious Smith was arraigned in Newark in 2004. Smith was convicted of shaking down drug dealers for cash, narcotics and guns, but it is unlikely he will face jail time. 

NEWARK, NJ —  Former Newark Police Officer Darious Smith had just been convicted of plotting with colleagues to steal cash, narcotics and weapons from drug dealers. But the expression on his face today didn’t tell the story of a man now staring at a possible 10-year prison sentence. "God is great," the 41-year-old said with a smile outside the Newark courtroom, his parents and attorney at his side. The jury found Smith guilty of conspiracy to commit official misconduct, official misconduct and theft. But because it also found the amount he took was less than $200, Smith may avoid prison altogether. He was also acquitted of four lesser charges. The most serious count of second-degree conspiracy may get bumped down to third-degree, which carries a prison term of up to five years, but also the presumption of non-incarceration for first-time offenders. If the conviction remains second-degree, Smith, who has no prior criminal record, faces up to 10 years in prison. The veteran officer, who has been suspended since he was indicted in 2004, also would have been immediately handcuffed and taken into custody. But Superior Court Judge Peter Ryan allowed Smith to walk out of the courtroom with bail continued. State Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Vazquez, who prosecuted the case, did not object. Addressing the court after jurors filed out, Ryan called it a "legal impossibility that (Smith) be found guilty of conspiracy in the second-degree. He has to be found guilty in the third-degree." The judge set June 15 for attorneys to file briefs in support of their positions. Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said its appellate section in the Division of Criminal Justice reviewing the issue but the second-degree conspiracy count may survive intact. Smith’s lawyer, Raymond Beam Jr., also said he will seek a new trial but did not provide an explanation. Sentencing is set for July 13. Smith’s case was part of a larger investigation by the state and Newark police that covered 2002 to 2004 and yielded similar allegations of corruption against a half-dozen city officers. The jury forewoman read the verdict just before 4 p.m., after more than two days of deliberations in a trial that stretched three weeks. Smith, clad in a gray suit with matching pink shirt and tie, was acquitted of four lesser counts of tampering with public records and falsifying records, for allegations he lied on his police reports. The charges stem from two incidents in 2003 and two in 2004, in which the Attorney General’s Office alleged Smith stole from and extorted drug dealers. Five witnesses who testified for the state accused Smith of stealing cash from drug dealers, planting drugs and guns on them and making false arrests. One of the witnesses was Lawrence Furlow, Smith’s former partner on the force who faces identical criminal charges. The state has tried Furlow twice, both times ending in hung juries. His third trial is scheduled for next week, but will likely be pushed back. Beam told jurors the witnesses, including Furlow and Dudley, should not be trusted because they were either corrupt cops or drug dealers who cut deals with the state to testify against his client. Furlow backed out of a deal he had brokered with the state. Outside the courtroom, Beam said he was disappointed with the guilty verdict but noted that it showed jurors "didn’t believe some of the state’s case. So they compromised." "This police officer betrayed the honor of his uniform and badge by using both to commit crimes," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement.

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