State authorities on Thursday charged a sitting Paterson councilman, a councilman-elect and two other men with rigging a May 12 special election.
Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson and Councilman-Elect Alex Mendez conspired with Shelim Khalique of Wayne, and Abu Razyen of Prospect Park to play fast and loose with mail-in ballots made necessary for all voting in the special election due to the coronavirus pandemic, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
It began, he said, when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service alerted the Attorney General’s Office that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson.
More were found in a mailbox in nearby Haledon, Grewal added.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” the attorney general said. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
According to Grewal, both Jackson, 48, and Mendez, 45, violated state election laws as candidates by “approaching voters in district where [they were] running and collecting their official mail-in ballots for delivery to the Passaic County Board of Elections.
“These mail-in ballots were delivered to the Board of Elections without information identifying the bearer, in violation of state election laws,” the attorney general said.
Jackson also obtained “more than three official mail-in ballots [that] were neither his own ballots, nor ballots for which he was identified as an authorized bearer,” Grewal said.
Jackson also “received the official mail-in ballot of one voter without the ballot having been voted or sealed, and that ballot was subsequently delivered to the Board of Elections in a sealed envelope without information identifying the bearer,” he said.
Mendez, meanwhile “procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications [that] he knew to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent, in that he knew the person for whom the application was procured was not eligible to vote in the election district identified on the application,” Grewal said.
Khalique, 51, violated state election laws, he said, by collecting mail-in ballots without identifying the bearer.
Grewal noted that Khalique and the bus company he owns, A-1 Elegant Tours, Inc. (doing business as Eastern Star Transportation) were charged today with contract fraud and other crimes in a separate joint investigation by the state Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA), the New Jersey State Police and the Essex and Passaic County prosecutor’s offices.
Razyen, 21, violated state election laws, he said, by “procuring and possessing more than three official mail-in ballots[that] were not his own and for which he was not identified as an authorized bearer.
“Investigators obtained a USB drive containing a video of Razyen holding and flipping through a stack of more than three official mail-in ballot outer envelopes that did not have the bearer portion completed,” Grewal said. “The video confirmed that Razyen had collected the mail-in ballots.”
The defendants were charged with various fraud and public records tampering offenses, the attorney general said, following an investigation by the OPIA.
BACKGROUND: Generally speaking, a voter who receives a mail-in ballot completes the ballot themselves and then returns the ballot by mailing it, placing it in a specially designated “drop box,” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections.
However, New Jersey also allows a voter to provide the completed ballot to a “bearer,” who must complete the bearer certification on the ballot envelope in the presence of the voter and then return the ballot on behalf of the voter.
Under state law, a bearer may collect and deliver ballots for no more than three voters in an election, and a candidate in the election is never permitted to serve as a bearer.
ALSO SEE: A Paterson-based school bus company owner from Wayne and his manager hired criminals as drivers – including a registered sex offender – and covered it up, state authorities charged.
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