A former Bloomfield councilman is set to serve five years in prison for accepting $15,000 in bribes, a portion of which he attempted to flush down the toilet as federal investigators moved to arrest him at his business.
Elias Chalet, 56, who last year admitted to accepting two separate bribe payments, was placed in handcuffs as family members looked on during his sentencing at Superior Court in Newark on Thursday.
Chalet expressed remorse, and his attorney, Peter W. Till, sought to have Chalet’s previously agreed-on sentence reduced because the former councilman has had recurring strokes . Judge Martin Cronin, however, said the state can accommodate Chalet’s medical condition in prison.
“He was given a public trust to maintain, and he betrayed that public trust for a bag of cash,” Cronin said at sentencing. “That’s the bottom line.”
In May 2017, Chalet admitted to accepting the bribes in two separate payments from a local businessman in exchange for ensuring the township’s purchase of the man’s commercial property. He pleaded guilty to second-degree bribery in official or political matters.
During a visit with the businessman, which was secretly recorded, Chalet flushed the final bribe payment down his toilet as investigators moved in to arrest him on Nov. 16, 2015 at his real estate office, authorities said.
Chalet said taking the bribes was a “freak of nature,” and something he had never done before.
“That was a lack of judgment, and that was a dark day,” he said. “It will never be repeated. I am sorry for what I did, your honor, absolutely.”
Till argued for a reduction to the the five-year sentence because of Chalet’s heart condition.
“That recommendation has to come from you,” Till told the judge. “And it has to be very, very severe. Otherwise, I will have a client dying in jail.”
Chalet has had recurrent strokes, which are absolutely incredible for anyone to withstand, Till said. A court order will ensure Chalet’s medicine and medical equipment are accessible to him in prison, Cronin said.
Even after Cronin issued the sentence, Till argued that Chalet’s incarceration should be delayed for another week. But Cronin denied that too. There is a public interest in detaining him immediately, the judge said.
Three sheriff’s officers surrounded Chalet and walked him out a side entrance to the courtroom.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges of second-degree official misconduct, second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior, fourth-degree tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and fourth-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution.
At his guilty plea, last year, Chalet presented $15,000 in restitution.
Then the New Jersey Attorney General, Christopher S. Porrino, used Chalet’s plea as an opportunity to publicize an anti-corruption reward program offering $25,000 for tips from the public that lead to a conviction.