On Thursday, May 30, Dio Braxton, 43, of Hoboken admitted his role in a conspiracy to promote a voter bribery scheme during a 2013 municipal election.
Braxton pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court to an indictment charging him with conspiring allegedly with Hoboken politico Frank “Pupie” Raia and others to use the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2013 municipal election.
This is the third person to plead guilty for their involvement in the vote-by-mail bribery schemes out of the five people indicted so far.
Indictments and guilty pleas
In September the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Hoboken resident, Lizaida Camis, 55, with allegedly using the mail to promote a “voter bribery scheme.”
The complaint alleged that she promised voters $50 if they applied for and submitted vote-by-mail applications in a 2013 municipal election, as well as allegedly instructed them how to vote.
The following October the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the indictment of longtime Hoboken political player Frank “Pupie” Raia, a former councilman and mayoral candidate for his alleged involvement in the same scheme.
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 2013 campaign worker Braxton.
In November, Camis pleaded guilty to Count 2 of an indictment charging her with conspiracy to use the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2013 municipal election in Hoboken. She awaits sentencing.
In January, Hoboken resident William Rojas, 68, was indicted on the charge of allegedly promoting a voter bribery scheme by use of the U.S. mail in 2015.
In May, Matthew Calicchio, 28, pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to using mail to promote voter bribery in the 2013 and the 2015 municipal elections.
The 2013 election
In 2013, 13 candidates ran for six ward council seats, including Frank Raia.
Raia was a candidate on the slate “One Hoboken” with former Board of Education Trustees Peter Biancamano and Britney Montgomery, backed by former Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who was running for mayor at the time. No one else from the “One Hoboken” slate has been charged.
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.
Frank Raia, who is also a local developer, chaired the Let the People Decide PAC at the time. The PAC worked to loosen the rent control laws in town. A referendum was held to weaken those laws, but residents voted to keep them intact.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Frank Raia allegedly directed Braxton and others in 2013 to promise residents $50 if they applied for a vote-by-mail ballot and voted in support of Raia’s city council campaign and a rent control referendum that Raia supported.
Braxton and others allegedly altered some of the ballots to ensure that the ballots were cast for the slate and a “yes” vote on the rent control referendum
After the voters completed mail-in ballots, Braxton and others allegedly working for Raia either mailed or delivered them to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office.
After the election, Braxton and others handed out $50 checks to voters allegedly from an entity hired by Raia’s PAC and distributed them from an office owned by Raia.
Before handing the checks to voters, Braxton and others allegedly working for Raia required the voters to sign declarations stating that they had worked for the campaign, but many of these voters never did.
These declarations were a way to hide the fact that the voters had allegedly been paid for their votes.
Braxton faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 10.
Raia is awaiting trial. The charge against him is an accusation, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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 the guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Farrell of the U.S. Attorney Office’s Special Prosecutions Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.
For updates on this and other stories check http://www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.