The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced on Oct. 31 the indictment of longtime Hoboken political player Frank “Pupie” Raia — a former councilman, mayoral candidate, and current real estate developer — for his alleged involvement in a vote-buying scheme in Hoboken in 2013.
Raia, 67, has been involved in Hoboken politics for decades. He was charged with “conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery” along with Hoboken resident and 2013 campaign worker Dio Braxton, 43.
Raia allegedly “directed” Braxton and others to promise voters that they would be paid $50 if they cast mail-in ballots in Hoboken’s 2013 race, in which he was an at-large council candidate on a slate labeled One Hoboken.
During that election, there was a race for mayor and for three at-large council seats.
Raia was running on the “One Hoboken” council slate with former Board of Education Trustees Peter Biancamano and Britney Montgomery, backed by former Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who was running for mayor. No one else from the “One Hoboken” slate has been charged. Ultimately the winners of the election were Mayor Dawn Zimmer and council members James Doyle, Ravi Bhalla, and David Mello. A third group also ran, with Councilman Ruben Ramos for mayor at the head of that slate.
According to the complaint, Raia also chaired the Let the People Decide PAC, which worked to loosen the rent control laws in town. A referendum was held to loosen those laws, but ultimately, residents voted to maintain their rent control laws.
Raia’s indictment comes after the indictment of Hoboken resident and campaign worker Lizaida Camis in September. She was charged with a violation of the Travel Act for allegedly using the mail system to aid voter bribery.
According to the complaint, Braxton and Camis allegedly promised voters they would be paid $50 by check if they applied for and submitted a mail-in ballot, “at Raia’s direction.”
The complaint states that some “of the co-conspirators visited the voters at their homes and instructed them to vote for the slate and vote yes on the rent control referendum.”
The complaint additionally states that “Braxton and others altered some of the ballots to ensure that the ballots were cast for the slate and a yes vote on the Rent Control Referendum.”
It also says that the PAC, at Raia’s “direction”, paid a company to print the checks for the voters, which were then distributed at an office Raia owned in Hoboken.
Maintaining his innocence
Raia did not return calls for comment. But his attorney, Alan Zegas, said Raia was “rather surprised” by his indictment. The lawyer noted Raia’s positive contributions to the community.
“He has been a giving member of the community and done many good deeds in Hoboken, including starting a charter school,” said Zegas.
Raia, a self-made millionaire, has served on the Board of Education, the Hoboken City Council, and the North Hudson Sewerage Authority. He also helped found HOPES, a local non-profit that provides early childhood education services and other services to those in need. Last year the organization named their new annex near Third and Garden streets after him.
As a developer, he has rehabbed buildings such as the Citadel in the center of town and more recently was involved with development in the city’s formerly industrial northwest section.
He also holds a birthday party for himself every year on the waterfront, open to all. Politicos from all factions of local politics have attended.
Zegas said, “He plans to maintain his innocence and will plead not guilty when we adjourn court.”
No court date for his arraignment had been scheduled by press time.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla said the recent indictment proves “what Hoboken voters have known for years – vote by mail fraud extends all the way to public figures and those who run political campaigns.”
“If true, Mr. Raia and any other public officials participating in voter bribery must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Bhalla. “Paying people for votes is a serious breach of our electoral integrity, and sadly remains a part of Hoboken’s elections.”
In an email to constituents, Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said people weren’t surprised by the indictments of Raia and Braxton.
“They have definitely both been names that have been talked about as being behind these type of efforts across many campaigns over the years – not just in 2013,” she states in the email. “I just think people are surprised that the powers that be finally did something about it. “
Rumors of alleged vote-buying have persisted in almost every Hoboken election and, over the years, various government entities have announced investigations into voter schemes, but they’ve rarely borne fruit.
For more information on past investigations see the sidebar of our Oct. 25 cover story “A political whodunit in Hoboken.”
Raia has run for various offices since the 1980s, particularly in the 3rd Ward. He served on the City Council for a few months in the mid-’80s.
Current 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo did not return a call for comment.
If found guilty, Raia and Braxton each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com or comment online at hudsonreporter.com