NEWARK, N.J. - Three New Jersey mayors, two state lawmakers, a deputy mayor and five rabbis were among 44 people charged Thursday in a two-track corruption and international money-laundering probe, the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey announced. The investigation began as a probe into a money-laundering ring that allegedly trafficked in goods as diverse as human organs and fake designer handbags. Based on information from a cooperating witness, the probe then widened to government corruption when the witness approached public officials about bribes, the attorney's office said in a statement. FBI and IRS agents arrested most of the suspects Thursday morning in what is being described as one of the biggest investigations of its kind in New Jersey history. "New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation," said Ed Kahrer, who heads the FBI's white collar and public corruption investigation division. "Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state." At one point Thursday morning, cars were backed up four deep with suspects outside the FBI's Newark office. One agent slowly walked an elderly rabbi into the building. Central to the investigation was the cooperating witness, an informant who was charged with bank fraud in 2006 and who posed undercover - including as a real estate developer hoping to build projects and win public contracts, according to documents in the case. "This investigation has once again identified a corrupt network of public officials who were all too willing to take cash in exchange for promised official action," acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra said in a statement. "It seemed that everyone wanted a piece of the action." Those arrested included: Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, charged with accepting $25,000 in cash bribes from an undercover cooperating witness. Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, charged along with an aide of taking $15,000 in bribes to help get approvals from high-level state agency officials for building projects. Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, charged with accepting a $10,000 bribe. Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, charged with taking a $10,000 bribe. Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, charged with agreeing to accept a $10,000 corrupt cash payment for his legal defense fund. Former Assemblyman Louis Manzo, charged with taking $27,500 in corrupt cash payments for use in his failed Jersey City mayoral campaign. Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, charged with taking $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions. Eliahu Ben Haim, a rabbi at a synagogue in Deal, N.J., charged with money laundering. Saul Kassin, the chief rabbi of a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with money laundering. Edmund Nahum, the principal rabbi of a synagogue in Deal, charged with money laundering. Mordchai Fish, a rabbi at a synagogue in Brooklyn, charged with money laundering of proceeds derived from criminal activity. His brother Albert Schwartz, also a rabbi, was charged as well. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the investigation initially focused, with the help of the cooperating witness, on a money-laundering network operating between Brooklyn, Deal and Israel. The network is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars through charities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey. The organ trafficking allegedly involved patients paying middlemen to find willing donors in Israel. Investigators allege that the suspects had donors and patients lie to hospitals by saying that they were related. Hospitals would do the operation unaware that cash payments were part of the deal. Secret recordings made The attorney's office said investigators made secret recordings of some of the defendants. According to court documents, Cammarano met with the cooperating witness who said he was giving Cammarano's election campaign $5,000 and wanted to make sure he had his support with "some properties we're working on." Cammarano is quoted as responding, "I'll be there." NBC affiliate WNBC reported the documents also show defendant Michael Schaffer, a commissioner with the North Hudson Utilities Authority, as saying he was told by Cammarano that "the way I operate politics, anybody who helps me, I help them. That's the way I operate. And if you're not there the first round, I don't need ya' the second round." In another case, an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness allegedly spoke with defendant Issac Rosenbaum about procuring a liver for the undercover agent's sick uncle. "Let me explain this to you," Rosenbaum allegedly said in the taped conversation. "It's illegal to buy. It's illegal to sell. They are going to investigate him [the donor], not you, not your uncle. He's going to speak to a social worker and a psychologist to find out why he is doing it … and it is our job to prepare him." Rosenbaum allegedly set the cost at $160,000 - half of it up front, according to court papers. Two of the Rabbis involved, Mordchai Fish and his brother Albert Schwartz, also had conversations taped, according to court transcripts. Authorities on Thursday also searched a synagogue in Deal, N.J. Mike Winnick was praying inside the Deal Synagogue when it was raided by FBI, IRS and Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office agents. "Everyone was looking at each other, like, 'What's going on here?' " he said. Nearby, FBI and IRS agents removed several boxes from the Deal Yeshiva, a school that educates the children of Sephardic Jews. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has fought corruption in New Jersey's largest city, said it's "an unbelievable morning so far." Gov. Jon Corzine reacted to the probe Thursday morning with a statement saying: "Any corruption is unacceptable - anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated." In recent years, New Jersey has seen more than 130 corruption-related convictions of public officials. Earlier this month, prosecutors alleged that Assemblyman Joseph Vas, a former Perth Amboy mayor, engaged in a scheme with a political adviser to funnel money through people who were given funds to make contributions. Vas had previously been accused of using his political influence to further a real estate deal that netted him nearly $300,000.