Man pleads guilty in alleged Hoboken voter bribery scheme

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According to an announcement by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito  Hoboken resident Matthew Calicchio, 28,  admitted to promoting a voter bribery scheme in two city elections.

Calicchio, plead guilty on May 7 before U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court to an information charging him with using the mails to promote voter bribery from 2013 to 2015 in municipal elections in Hoboken.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court in November 2013, Calicchio, Lizaida Camis, and allegedly Dio Braxton and others, allegedly at Frank Raia’s direction, participated in a scheme to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots for the November 2013 Hoboken municipal election.

During that election, there was a race for mayor and for three at-large council seats. Raia was an at-large council candidate on a slate labeled One Hoboken. A referendum was held to loosen rent control laws, which Raia allegedly supported, but residents voted to maintain their rent control laws.

Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail. They must complete and submit to their county clerk’s office an Application for Vote by Mail Ballot. The clerk’s office processes the application and sends the applicant a mail-in ballot.

According to the announcement, after the mail-in ballots were delivered to the Hoboken voters, Camis and others allegedly went to the voters’ residences and, in some cases, instructed the voters to vote for a rent control referendum that Raia supported. Camis and others allegedly promised the voters that they would be paid $50 for casting their mail-in ballots and told them that they could pick up their checks after the election at Raia’s office in Hoboken. Raia allegedly instructed Calicchio, Camis, and Braxton that if the ballots did not come back open, the voters would not get paid. Braxton, Camis and others then allegedly checked the ballots to ensure that the voters had voted for the correct slate of candidates, including for Raia, and that they had voted for the referendum that was favored by Raia. Calicchio and others allegedly mailed the completed ballots to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office. After the election, the voters received $50 checks from an entity allegedly associated with Raia.

In November 2015, Calicchio and Hoboken resident Willie Rojas allegedly agreed to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the November 2015 Hoboken municipal election in favor of a certain candidate for City Council. The candidate, who is not named in the court documents, allegedly told Calicchio that the candidate wanted to win at all costs, and the candidate further indicated that everyone who voted by mail would get paid. Willie Rojas allegedly provided voters with VBM Applications, told the voters that they would get paid $50 for casting mail-in ballots, and then delivered the completed VBM Applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office. After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, Rojas allegedly went to the voters’ residences to collect the mail-in ballots. Calicchio and Rojas then allegedly checked the ballots to ensure that they had been cast for their candidate, and Calicchio signed an affidavit for each ballot allegedly falsely stating that he had assisted the voters in completing their ballots. After the election, the candidate allegedly handed Calicchio an envelope with $50 checks, and Calicchio passed the envelope to Rojas, who allegedly gave the checks to the voters.

The count to which Calicchio pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2019.

Camis previously pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and is awaiting sentencing. Braxton and Raia were previously indicted, and Rojas was previously charged by complaint.

The charges against them are merely accusations; they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

“The cash for votes scheme as outlined by the U.S. Attorney’s office is an unfortunate reminder that corruption and dark special interests still play an outsized role in our municipal elections,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “It’s shameful that candidates for public office have been accused of bribing voters, and if true, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I commend all law enforcement personnel for their continued efforts at holding corrupt candidates and elected officials in Hoboken accountable for any and all crimes that were committed.”

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, and special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Farrell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division.