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5 From North Jersey Busted In Lucrative Political Bribery Scheme With Morristown Lawyer

State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal
State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Photo Credit: PHOTOS: Darren Sucorowski

Five North Jersey residents were busted in a major political corruption case that has already produced charges against public officials and political candidates from Hudson and Morris counties.

Last month, state officials said Elizabeth Valandingham, 47, had prepared and submitted proposals for the law firm where she worked to the township of Bloomfield for legal services between 2012 and 2016, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.

Valandingham said the company hadn’t made any political contributions. She was lying, Grewal said.

Valandingham and an unnamed co-conspirator “recruited friends and family members to act as straw donors,” the attorney general said.

The following five individuals charged Thursday made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to various candidates and party committees, only to be reimbursed by the law firm Valandingham worked for with cash deposits, Grewal said.

  • Vanessa Brown, 40, of West Caldwell
  • Christopher Brown, 37, of West Caldwell
  • Ricardo Balanzateguimaldo, 40, of Bogota
  • Erin O’Reilly, aka Erin DeMauro, 41, of Lincoln Park
  • Suzanne P. Gayet, 63, of Boonton

Each one was charged yesterday by complaint-summons with fourth-degree concealment or misrepresentation of contributions.

During the course of the scheme, the straw donors collectively contributed and were reimbursed in cash for approximately $239,000 worth of donations, Grewal said.

“New Jersey’s campaign finance and pay-to-play laws are designed to ensure that law firms and other contractors cannot purchase an unfair advantage in the competition for public contracts by making undisclosed or overly large campaign contributions,” said Grewal said. 

“We are determined to hold individuals accountable if they seek to distort the political process and public contracting by making illegal contributions through the type of straw donor scheme alleged here.”

Valandingham and the accused straw donors are charged in connection with conduct that is not directly related to the bribery allegations against those other five defendants, Grewal said.

The investigation is being conducted by the OPIA Corruption Bureau, under the leadership of OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo and Anthony Robinson are prosecuting the cases, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and Counsel to the Director Anthony Picione.

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