Beloff Planning To Keep Seat

Posted: June 30, 1986

LONGPORT, N.J. — Philadelphia City Councilman Leland Beloff, saying he is baffled by his arrest Friday on federal extortion charges, plans to continue participating in Council business despite allegations that he tried to bilk developer Willard G. Rouse III out of $1 million in return for paving the way for two ordinances crucial to Rouse's development project at Penn's Landing.

At his home here Saturday, Beloff said there was no reason the arrest should interfere with his service on Council, or his leadership role as chairman of Council's Labor and Civil Service Committee.

"I am staying as an active member of Council," said Beloff, who appeared subdued and dazed by the events of last week.

This could leave him in the position of voting next week on the two Penn's Landing bills which he ordered delayed. The bills put the city's backing behind $16.5 million in loans to Rouse and secured a $10 million federal Urban Development Action Grant.

Plans call for Rouse and Associates to complete the multi-building project at an estimated cost of $700 million to $1 billion.

Although Council recessed for the summer after Thursday's meeting, Councilman David Cohen said yesterday that Council President Joseph E. Coleman has called a special session for July 7 to consider the two bills.

Cohen said the bills likely will be approved, but not without some serious scrutiny. "Under the circumstances, I think it (the Penn's Landing project) deserves a fresh look," he said.

At the time, Beloff, 44, a South Philadelphia Democrat in his first term in Council, and his chief aide, Robert Rego, 42, who also was arrested on Friday, said the bills were held up because they felt Rouse was asking too much of the city and should not be given public subsidies for his development.

However, in a detailed criminal complaint released Friday, federal agents charged that Beloff, Rego and alleged Mafia member Nicholas Caramandi held up the bills because Rouse failed to make an agreed-upon $45,000 installment payment to ensure the bills would be acted on favorably by Council.

After the alleged extortion offer was made, Rouse notified federal authorities and cooperated with them throughout an undercover investigation that culminated in the arrests.

During a 20-minute interview in the den of his Longport home, Beloff, a former actor and prize-fighter - unshaven from his court appearance the day before and clad in a brightly-colored striped bathrobe - offered no explanation or theories for the arrests.

He said the pending complaint restricted him from discussing the case in detail, or elaborating on why he held up the bills, a prerogative given him

because the project is in his Council district.

"I know as much about it as they do," he said, referring to the media and the public. "I'm sure I will be vindicated."

Beloff said he was shocked when federal agents approached him Friday morning as he left his dentist's office.

" 'Are you finished with your dentist's appointment?' " Beloff quoted federal agents as asking him.

"They said I was under arrest . . . It was not the most pleasant of things."

Beloff seemed tired by the affair, and said he was plagued by a constant back pain. He said he hoped his stay at the beach, a frequent retreat for his family, would "get the cobwebs out."

"My head is upside down at this point," he said. "I'm still too numb to feel much of anything." He said Rego also was "a little rocky."

But when Council next convenes, Beloff said, he plans to be there.

Unlike former councilmen Louis Johanson and Harry Jannotti, who took formal leaves of absence from Council following their indictments in the Abscam case, Beloff said of his service on Council, "I don't see where that is an issue at the moment."

Beloff can legally continue to serve on Council unless he is convicted and formally sentenced. The criminal complaint brought Friday must still go before a grand jury, and then to trial if Beloff is indicted.

But in another Abscam parallel, Beloff's decision to keep his chairmanship of the Labor and Civil Service Committee might put Coleman and the rest of Council in the sensitive position of deciding whether to strip him of that leadership role.

While he was awaiting trial on Abscam-related charges, former Council President George X. Schwartz continued presiding at Council sessions, despite constant criticism from Councilmen John Street and Cohen. Schwartz eventually stepped down as president, but kept his Council seat until after his conviction.

On Friday, several Council members called for Beloff to at least give up his committee chair, if not his Council seat, until the case is resolved.

Under new rules adopted last year, it would take a majority vote of Council to remove Beloff as committee chairman.

On Friday, Coleman said through a spokesman the decision would not be made until he talks to Beloff and consults with other Council members. Coleman was in Alabama over the weekend, and could not be reached for comment.

The Penn's Landing proposal calls for construction of $50 million worth of shops, restaurants, outdoor cafes and movie theaters on the Great Plaza. Later, an office tower would be constructed over the retail complex and a hotel would be added at the northern end of the landing.

The project has been lauded by city officials as a way to revitalize the deteriorating waterfront and as a boon to the local economy, since it would be expected to generate 1,200 new jobs and millions of dollars in revenue from tourists.

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