Elected officials and political candidates from two counties face charges of bribery stemming from a probe into public corruption, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said Thursday.
Accused of charges of second-degree bribery are Sudhan Thomas, the president of the Jersey City Board of Education; Jason O'Donnell, a former member of the state Assembly who also once ran for mayor of Bayonne; John Cesaro, a former Morris County freeholder; Mary Dougherty, who ran for a seat on the Morris County Freeholder Board; and John Windish, who has served on the council in Mount Arlington.
The investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability found that the officials and candidates from Hudson and Morris counties were paid off by a cooperating witness, a tax attorney, authorities said.
In exchange, the officials promised to hire the tax attorney's firm for public work, authorities also said. The cash came in paper bags, envelopes and in one instance a coffee cup. The hand offs took place in parking lots, at campaign events and at other times, the attorney general's office said.
The attorney also funneled payoffs through straw donors to the candidates' political campaigns, according to authorities.
"We allege that these political candidates were all too willing to sell the authority of their public office or the office they sought in exchange for an envelope filled with cash or illegal checks from straw donors,” said Grewal.
This is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that undermines the political process and erodes public faith in government. We are working through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to create a culture of accountability in New Jersey, where public officials know they must act with integrity or else face the consequences.”
Grewal released portions of conversations that allegedly took place between the witness and the defendants, including Thomas, who received a total of $35,000 as he planned to run for a seat on the Jersey City council. Thomas was going to make the witness counsel for real estate matters and assured the attorney that "no one ever checks that stuff," according to an excerpt of the conversation provided by Grewal's office.
In another conversation, O'Donnell simply replied "done" when the attorney asked to be Bayonne's "tax guy," according to authorities. O'Donnell is accused of soliciting a $10,000 bribe that he allegedly received in cash placed in a paper bag.
Last year, Cesaro allegedly told the attorney "I have your back" and asked that more than $10,000 in cash be handed over to him using straw donors to his campaign for mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills.
Windish is accused of accepting $7,000 and promised to support the attorney's reinstatement as borough attorney for Mount Arlington.
"A friend is a friend, my friend," Dougherty allegedly said to the attorney when she accepted $10,000 in fraudulent donations to her campaign for Morris County freeholder last year.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree charges against those who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct – Thomas, Cesaro, and Windish – carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without eligibility for parole under New Jersey’s enhanced penalties for official corruption.
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