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Angelo Errichetti dies; ex-Camden mayor was Abscam figure [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

By Edward Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 17--Angelo J. Errichetti, 84, a former Camden mayor and state senator who was South Jersey's premier Democratic power broker in the decade before his 1981 bribery conviction in the Abscam scandal, has died after a long illness. He had been living in Ventnor, N.J.

During two mayoral terms, starting in 1973, he built a reputation as an unflagging booster for his hometown, where his father, a Neapolitan immigrant, stoked coal at the shipyard to feed seven children.

Mr. Errichetti's efforts to revive Camden's moribund economy were said to occupy 12 hours on a typical day, yet he took on a second office simultaneously. In 1976, he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate, and he ran for and won a full term the next year.

His story will be told in the film American Hustle, scheduled for release in December. He will be portrayed by Jeremy Renner in the movie about Abscam, which also stars Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro.

"He exemplified what a mayor should be," said Richard Cinaglia, whom Mr. Errichetti appointed as the city's comptroller and director of finance. "He was passionate about Camden and gave everybody a sense that the city was coming back."

Former Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, who was a PTA parent and committeewoman when Mr. Errichetti urged her toward city government, noted his "real compassion" for his constituents.

"I learned [from him] to love the people," said Faison, who spent 16 years on City Council and nine as mayor.

Mr. Errichetti was a "significant mentor and friend," said George E. Norcross III, chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden, a Democratic Party leader, and a managing partner of Interstate General Media, owner of The Inquirer.

"Having known him from the time I was a teenager, he was a larger-than-life political and governmental leader in this region and the state," said Norcross, whose younger brother, Donald, now holds the Senate seat Mr. Errichetti once occupied.

"I would say his political genius was, in part, the reason southern New Jersey was the beneficiary of many initiatives during his tenure in government," George Norcross said.

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"He had much to do with public transportation funds, funds for universities, particularly Rutgers in Camden, and he was in part responsible for the medical school in Camden," Norcross said. "He made South Jersey relevant in the state, and his governmental and political relationships allowed him to be successful."

However, Mr. Errichetti's career in elected office, indeed in South Jersey politics, ended ignominiously. He was the first figure to emerge, red-handed on tape, in the 23-month FBI sting known as Abscam, short for "Abdul scam" after a fictitious company name.

He served as the unwitting liaison between federal agents masquerading as wealthy Arabs and public officials on the take. The fake sheikhs gave them hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for their influence in purported U.S. investments.

In the first of a few appearances before the FBI's hidden cameras, Mr. Errichetti accepted a $25,000 cash down payment on a $400,000 fee to pull strings on projects involving a New Jersey casino and the Camden seaport.

During the Abscam trials of 1980 and '81, Mr. Errichetti was among 19 men convicted, including six House members and U.S. Sen. Harrison A. Williams (D., N.J.). Sentenced to six years in prison for bribery and conspiracy, Mr. Errichetti was paroled after 32 months at a federal reformatory in Connecticut, where he roomed with the Unification Church leader the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Of the Abscam defendants, "I was first in and last out," the perennially dapper Mr. Errichetti quipped to reporters upon his release in 1986 at age 57.

"I'm free and clear in every respect. . . . Whatever grandiose power I had or did not have, it's over. I regret my involvement and the mistake I made," he said.

Any mistakes were history Friday as Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at all municipal buildings on the day of the funeral, which had not yet been announced. "Today we mourn the loss of a dear friend and a true Camden gentleman," she said.

"He treated everybody he encountered in a warm and personal manner and he strongly believed in making sure our residents were engaged in governmental and community activities," she said.

Born into Depression-era poverty, Mr. Errichetti attended Camden High School, where he gained a measure of celebrity as an all-state football halfback. He briefly took courses at Rutgers University.

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After working in a family dry-cleaning store and running a real estate and insurance business, Mr. Errichetti signed on as a seaman with the Coast Guard.

By 1961, he had gotten his first tantalizing taste of politics as administrative assistant to Mayor Alfred Pierce, and he never looked back. He soon was appointed the city's purchasing agent, and in 1965, public works director. That year he became Camden's Democratic chairman, a seat he held until 1981.

"I would say his greatest achievement was prior to becoming mayor, when he was instrumental and played a major role in quelling rioting in Camden, and bridging the gap between the African American and Latino communities," George Norcross said

Elected mayor in 1973, Mr. Errichetti immersed himself in a mission to reverse the fading fortunes of the city of 100,000 people and shrinking. For seven years, he submitted budgets without tax increases.

"I thought we should increase taxes, and he absolutely refused to do it. . . . People loved him," Cinaglia said.

When Mr. Errichetti ran for a second term in 1977, voters rewarded him with an 88 percent landslide victory.

In the wake of Abscam, Mr. Errichetti resigned his Senate seat and his grip on local politics slipped.

In recent years, Faison said, she met Mr. Errichetti at an event and was impressed with how he had put Abscam behind him. "He seemed to get over it," she said, "and was ready to be with people again."

Mr. Errichetti is survived by a daughter, Michele. He was predeceased by his wife, Dolores.

--

Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Kathleen Tinney contributed to this article.

___

(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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