By Dave Warner
TRENTON (Reuters) - A New Jersey county judge on Wednesday ordered Trenton Mayor Tony Mack to leave office following his conviction on federal corruption charges earlier this month.
A federal jury last month convicted Mack, 48, on all six criminal charges stemming from a 2010 sting operation involving the development of a parking garage on city-owned property.
"The public has a right to expect the highest conduct from public officials," Mercer County judge Mary Jacobson said in court before ordering Mack to immediately step down.
Trenton City Council president George Muschal was sworn in as acting mayor of Trenton on Wednesday afternoon, according to city clerk Richard Kachmar.
During an hour-long hearing, attorneys for Mack, who was convicted on February 7 of bribery, fraud and extortion, argued that the law required the judge to wait until sentencing in May before ordering him to forfeit his office.
"Surrendering the office at this point would be premature," defense attorney Mark Davis argued in court.
Deputy state attorney general Steven A. Yomtov countered that there was no such legal requirement, and Jacobson concurred.
"It makes no sense for this court to allow for the passing of three or four months for sentencing," Jacobson said.
Mack declined to comment after the hearing.
State law dictates that convicted New Jersey officials cannot hold public office. Mack has refused to step down, so state prosecutors filed a motion recently seeking to have him removed from office.
Prosecutors said that under the kickback scheme, the developers - who were in fact government informants - would buy city property for the garage for $100,000 less than the value of the land, and the Democratic mayor of New Jersey's capital city would receive money in exchange, prosecutors said.
Mack's brother, Ralphiel Mack, was convicted of extortion and bribery after prosecutors said he acted as a bag man to pick up bribe money. Informants offered $119,000, about $54,000 of which changed hands, prosecutors said.
The ousted mayor faces a maximum sentence of 110 years behind bars at sentencing on May 14 by Judge Michael Shipp, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Mack has been accused by critics of nepotism and mismanagement since taking office in 2010 in the crime-plagued, economically depressed city of 85,000 people. He was reportedly deeply in debt at the time of his arrest in 2012.
Acting mayor Muschal's appointment is retroactive to Mack's conviction, which gives him the authority to reverse decisions that Mack has made since his conviction.
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ; Writing by Chris Francescani; Editing by Gunna Dickson)