One of the local businessmen linked to the Mercer County corruption probe unfolding in federal court acknowledged yesterday that his rampant gambling habit led to many of the alleged illegal activities under scrutiny by investigators.
Alex Abdalla, 52, who has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation, spoke about his addiction to casino gambling and illegal sports betting during testimony yesterday in the case against Harry Parkin, chief of staff to former Mercer County Executive Robert D. Prunetti.
The Washington Township man said he desperately searched for cash after he amassed $500,000 in gambling debt – primarily from illegal betting – while he was the owner of the county’s recycling hauler.
“I had a gambling problem,” he said.
Abdalla, who cooperated with the government investigation, testified he bribed former Ewing Mayor Al Bridges in 2000 to try to get demolition work on the former General Motors Corp. site in the township.
Though those efforts to make extra money weren’t successful, Abdalla said he was able to get investors, including Parkin, to loan money to his company, Central Jersey Waste & Recycling.
Abdalla testified he didn’t tell Parkin about his gambling problem when the county official made a $150,000 loan to the business in October 2000 while Parkin was chief of staff.
Abdalla said he spent half of Parkin’s loan on his own gambling debts and outstanding bank loans.
Unknown to Parkin, Abdalla routinely took as much as $50,000 at a time from the company to cover his debts.
“I was bleeding the company,” he said.
Abdalla was the second alleged co-conspirator to testify against Parkin, who is accused of using his county job to foster his financial interest in the recycling company.
James Lambert, a former county employee, spent seven days on the stand outlining the trio’s alleged plans to take control of the recycling company while it was under county contract.
Abdalla, who faces 18 years in prison on four charges tied to the probe, began his testimony by telling jurors he was hooked on poker online uang asli gambling, specifically sports betting, when he got the county contract in 2000.
“I would say I was very unsuccessful (at gambling),” he said.
Abdalla said he often dealt with large quantities of money, noting his weekly salary ranged from $2,500 to $5,000.
“I lived a high lifestyle – drove a nice car, had a nice home and went on vacations,” he said.
Abdalla said he only stopped gambling in 2001 after he signed a management deal that gave control of the company’s operations to two other men.
“I knew there was no way I was getting money out of that company anymore,” he said.
A frequent Republican donor, Abdalla said he knew Parkin before he got the county recycling contract in 2000 because he did some demolition work at the Sovereign Bank Arena site, a hallmark of the Prunetti administration.
“If it was an executive ball or whatever kind of political fund-raiser, I would see (Parkin),” Abdalla said.
Abdalla, who wore a recording device to secretly tape conversations with Parkin, also described many secret tapes to the jury yesterday, the eighth day of testimony in the Parkin case.
In those recordings, Parkin talks about his plans to use his job to assure other demolition work near the arena was approved and ultimately given to Abdalla to boost the company’s finances.
Parkin said on tape he was worried that Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer would not support plans to demolish some buildings around the arena so he asked Prunetti to speak to him about it.
“We wanted Palmer not going south,” Parkin said on a recording made in August 2001 in Lorenzo’s Cafe. “So I had Bob talk to him a week ago. . . .”
The prosecution previously acknowledged Prunetti was unaware of Parkin’s alleged loan.
Abdalla and Parkin also discuss on one of the tapes many other aspects of the alleged scheme at the heart of the corruption probe.
Many of those topics, including plans to secure demolition work at the Trenton-Mercer Airport, also were discussed in tapes recorded by Lambert that were played in court last week.
Two other people also testified for the prosecution yesterday in court.
Patrick Ryan, CEO of Yardville National Bank, said Parkin and Lambert approached him about Parkin’s plans to loan money to Central Jersey in early 2001.
“I said to Harry, `I don’t believe you should make an investment or loan to this company because it would be a business conflict for you,’ ” Ryan said.
A representative of the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards also testified that Parkin failed to file a financial disclosure form in 2002 while he was on the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
Parkin faces 80 years in prison on 12 counts of mail fraud and an attempted extortion charge.
The trial will be in recess today and tomorrow because of court scheduling problems. Following the President’s Day holiday, testimony is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Fisher Federal Building, 402 E. State St., Trenton.