UPDATE: Not only did Mary Dougherty lose a Morris County freeholder election three years ago. She also admitted Friday that she accepted an illegal $10,000 contribution to the failed campaign.
What Dougherty didn’t know at the time was that the contributor was working for state prosecutors.
Dougherty, 60, of Morristown was one of five politicos from Morris and Hudson counties snared in the sting, which targeted what state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal called “old school” New Jersey corruption.
Rather than go to trial, she took a deal from the government, pleading guilty Friday via tele-conference with a judge in Morristown to filing a false report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
In exchange, prosecutors dropped a bribery charge and will recommend that Dougherty be sentenced to probation. She also must forfeit the 10 grand to the state, under the terms of the deal.
“Mary has accepted responsibility for an error in judgment today, and is looking forward to moving forward,” her attorney, Matthew Beck, later told Morristown Green. “This action on Mary’s part brings her closer to putting this matter behind her and allowing her and her family to move forward,” Beck said.
SEE: A.G. drops bribery charge; Mary Dougherty pleads to lesser offense (MorristownGreen.com)
Dougherty’s plea comes only three days after Grewal announced that a state grand jury returned bribery indictments against four former New Jersey public officials and political candidates in two counties.
Former Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas, former state Assemblyman and Bayonne mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro and former Mount Arlington Council Member John Windish are charged in separate indictments with pocketing thousands of dollars in bribes from a campaign contributor.
Grewal called the crimes “old-school political corruption at its worst, the kind that erodes public faith in government.”
In exchange for paper bags and envelopes filled with cash, he said, the individual defendants all promised to use their influence to steer “lucrative government legal work” to the contributor, a tax lawyer who’s working with the state.
There were also checks written to their campaigns “in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations” by various straw donors recruited by the tax attorney for that purpose, he said.
Dougherty, a Democrat whose husband is Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, admitted Friday that the donor – reported to be a local tax attorney turned government cooperator -- gave her $10,000 in cash in a coffee cup during her failed campaign, Morristown Green reported.
She returned it, she said, and asked him to instead produce four checks that were each under the $2,600 individual limit for contributions per election per candidate.
Dougherty got four checks for $2,500 each, “made out in the names of different individuals and entities,” Grewal said.
When it came time to file her campaign’s required report of contributions and expenditures with the ELEC, she listed the contributions as individual donations from four separate contributors, the attorney general said.
Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Taylor scheduled Dougherty’s sentencing for March 18.
Meanwhile, the other four continued to be prosecuted by Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo, Trevor Taniguchi and Eric Cohen.
Pearl Minato, who is chief of staff of the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, has assisted, along with Attorney General Anthony Robinson and former OPIA Deputy Chief Jeffrey Manis, Grewal noted.
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