Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr., and Weysan Dun, FBI special agent in charge in Newark, at today’s news conference.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

FBI agents this morning raided 54 homes and offices in New Jersey and New York and arrested a total of 44 people, including five Syrian Jewish rabbis, three mayors, a state assemblyman, and an array of other political officials and people from the Syrian and ultra-Orthodox communities on an array of charges ranging from extortion and bribery of public officials to money laundering and, in one grisly instance, conspiracy to traffic in human organs—specifically, a kidney.

The arrests, which the FBI characterized as part of a decade-long investigation into political corruption in New Jersey, grew out of what appears to be intense cooperation between investigators and one man: Solomon Dwek, a real-estate developer and scion of a prominent Syrian Jewish family in Monmouth County who was arrested in May 2006 on suspicion of trying to swindle $50 million from PNC Bank in a check-kiting scheme.

Dwek—referred to in court documents as a “cooperating witness”—first led investigators to members of his own community, including Saul Kassin, the 87-year-old head of the tight-knit Syrian community and chief rabbi of Shaare Zion, the largest Syrian congregation, and Eliahu Ben Haim, the principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob, in Deal, New Jersey, before moving on to political figures. (A message left with an Ohel Yaacob administrator was not returned; a woman who answered at the Deal Yeshiva, which was also raided, told this reporter “never to call again.”)

According to a criminal complaint, Dwek, working with undercover agents, laundered $3 million through various synagogue-affiliated charities with help from the rabbis, who would accept checks and then would arrange for “clean checks” or cash to be made available, sometimes via wire transfers from Israel, sometimes via a Swiss bank, for cuts of five or 10 percent. At the same time, Dwek led investigators to a source in Brooklyn who allegedly agreed to broker a deal for a kidney from an Israeli, for $160,000.

At that point, with Dwek having proven so useful to investigators targeting the Syrian Jewish community, the FBI and IRS apparently decided to go for broke: rather than stopping with the money laundering claims, they co-opted Dwek into a decade-long probe against New Jersey’s legendarily corrupt political swamp. An official, speaking at today’s press conference, praised Dwek’s efficiency: “One person was able to deal with these people throughout New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York.”

Rabbis Charged with Illegally Laundering $3M [Asbury Park Press]

9 Complaints Alleging Money Laundering Released
[Asbury Park Press]
Mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, Several Rabbis Arrested [Bloomberg]
Previously: Rabbis Arrested in N.J. Corruption Probe