Wednesday, April 14, 2021

N.J consultant admits to bribing former assemblyman Willis Edwards

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Federal authorities said a Union County consultant admitted Wednesday to making “corrupt payments” to an Orange Township public official as a reward for that public official’s favorable treatment in connection with a municipal project.

According to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, Jeanmarie Zahore, 56, of Rahway, pleaded guilty to making corrupt payments to an agent of a local government receiving federal funds, whom Zahore identified as Willis Edwards III.

On Sept. 29, 2020, Edwards, the former acting business administrator for Orange, was charged in a superseding indictment in connection with payments allegedly made by Zahore, as well as other charges.

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According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Zahore was the sole owner of JZ Nettech, a computer consulting business which he operated out of his residence in Rahway.

On Sept. 15, 2015, the Orange City Council passed a resolution awarding JZ Nettech, without competitive bidding, a $350,000 emergency contract to install a computer networking system at a municipal complex that housed the Orange Municipal Court and the Orange Police Department. (the “Municipal Complex Project”).

Edwards, as an Orange public official, assisted Zahore in obtaining the contract for the Municipal Complex Project and facilitated the payment of money from Orange to JZ Nettech in connection with the Municipal Complex Project.

Edwards agreed to arrange an advance on the money from Orange for Zahore because Zahore did not have the money to begin working on the Municipal Complex, federal prosecutors said. At Edwards’s instruction, on Sept. 18, 2015, Zahore emailed an Orange employee an invoice for $115,000 in connection with Municipal Complex Project to obtain an advance payment for himself. Typically, vendors are not pre-paid by Orange to purchase supplies for a project.

According to federal authorities, on Sept. 18, 2015, Zahore received a check from Orange for $115,000 payable to JZ Nettech and deposited that check into JZ Nettech’s bank account. Shortly after receiving the $115,000 Orange check, Zahore and Edwards went out together at night to celebrate the award of the $350,000 contract to JZ Nettech.

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In October and November 2015, authorities said Zahore received two additional payments from Orange in connection with the Municipal Complex Project, one for $140,000 and the other for $95,000. On more than one occasion Edwards told Zahore, in substance, that Edwards had taken care of Zahore and that Zahore should consider that and do something. Zahore reportedly understood those comments by Edwards to be solicitations and demands that Zahore pay Edwards to reward Edwards for Edwards’s assistance in connection with the Municipal Complex Project.

In November 2015, Zahore gave Edwards approximately $10,000 in cash. After accepting the cash payment, Edwards indicated that he was disappointed with the amount and expected more. Zahore made a second cash payment to Edwards for approximately $10,000. Zahore made those two cash payments with the intent to reward Edwards for his assistance.

Federal officials said the charge to which Zahore pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain to the defendant or loss to the victims. Sentencing is scheduled for March 3, 2021.

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