Sunday, May 16, 2021

Four former New Jersey officials indicted for accepting bribes from a cooperating witness

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Four former New Jersey public officials have been indicted on bribery and misconduct charges after accepting bribes from a cooperating witness, the state attorney general said Tuesday.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement that the defendants sought to sell the authority of their offices “in exchange for an envelope filled with cash or illegal checks from straw donors.”

The defendants are Sudhan Thomas, a former Jersey City school board president; Jason O’Donnell, a former state Assemblyman and one-time Bayonne mayoral candidate; John Cesaro, a one-time Morris County freeholder and John Windish, a former Mount Arlington council member.

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The former officials were indicted in grand jury proceedings earlier this month as well as in January, Grewal said. He had charged them in December.

“The conduct alleged in these indictments is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that erodes public faith in government and that we are determined to root out,” Grewal said.

Thomas, O’Donnell and Cesaro denied the allegations against them in December. Messages have been left with their attorneys. Windish’s attorney couldn’t be reached in December, and a message has been left after the indictment.

The four took thousands of dollars in bribes in 2019 from a cooperating witness in the form of illegal campaign contributions, according to Grewal. They promised the cooperating witness, who is a tax attorney, they would vote or use their office to hire his firm for lucrative government legal work, Grewal said.

Cash-stuffed paper bags and envelopes were then delivered to the defendants by the witness, or the witness offered checks from straw donors, people who were reimbursed after writing checks to a defendant’s campaign, according to the attorney general.

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Paper bags and filled with cash were delivered to the defendants by the cooperating witness at various locations. Other times the cooperating witness offered checks from illegal “straw donors” — individuals reimbursed to write checks to the defendant’s campaign in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations.

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