Jonathan Dienst, chief investigative reporter for NBC News’ I-Team, along with reporters Ashley Chaparro and David Paredes, recently alleged that North Bergen public workers are committing voter fraud in municipal elections.
But spokespersons for the township took issue with the I-Team’s allegation, based on the fact that three public employees its reporters named were registered to vote in North Bergen.
All three were renters, homeowners, or said they were living part-time with relatives during each election in which they cast a vote at a North Bergen polling station.
The I-Team said that an anonymous North Bergen school employee told them that public workers inside and outside the school system are being “pressured” to maintain addresses in North Bergen to vote in municipal elections, even if they live elsewhere.
No sources went on record with the I-Team or any other news organization to back up that anonymous claim.
Registering and voting in one municipality, even if one lives in multiple towns, doesn’t constitute voter fraud in New Jersey. You can live part time in two different towns and still vote legally in one of them, but not both.
According to New Jersey election law, residents can only register to vote for local elections in one municipality, even if they live in two places.
It is illegal, however, to register as a voter in more than one New Jersey municipality.
The I-Team did not accuse public workers of committing voter fraud through dual registration. Nor did it accuse public workers of casting votes while unregistered.
“The I-Team obtained a database that included the names and addresses of 649 North Bergen Board of Education workers,” the I-Team report said. “It was not possible to verify the addresses of each one, and hundreds do in fact live in North Bergen. But the addresses of sixty-one employees who listed an out of town address in the database were analyzed.”
The I-Team said that it visited a number of those homes, and alleged that it found circumstantial evidence that the owners don’t actually live full-time in North Bergen residences, despite being registered to vote in North Bergen.
The I-Team named a few examples out of “nearly a dozen cases,” in which public workers did not live in North Bergen, despite owning homes in the town and declaring themselves residents on voter registries.
North Bergen fires back
The I-Team alleged that a music supervisor at North Bergen High School, George Haviland, might have voted fraudulently because he purchased a house in Bergenfield in 1999, though he also owned a home in North Bergen which he inherited through his family.
It based its claim that Haviland was a full-time Bergenfield resident on one reported sighting of Haviland leaving his Bergenfield home, and that his son reportedly goes to school in Bergenfield’s district.
The I-Team provided details that contradicted their own accusations against Haviland. The I-Team reported that Haviland owned a home in North Bergen during every local election he participated in. Haviland has not voted in North Bergen since selling the house in 2017, the I-Team said.
Vision Media, a public relations firm that represents the township and Mayor Nicholas Sacco’s political campaigns, told the I-Team that Haviland’s voting record was clean and said he lived in the North Bergen home part-time while also living in Bergenfield.
Vision Media said in a statement that Haviland’s use of both residencies is “completely legitimate and quite common.”
Despite having sold the North Bergen house in 2017, Haviland was allegedly registered to vote in North Bergen until Aug. 1 this year.
Haviland did not vote since selling his home, according to both the I-Team and Vision Media.
Dienst made similar allegations about North Bergen Housing Authority (NBHA) employee, 24-year-old resident Drew Micucci, whose voting address was listed as a 73rd Street home owned by Sanzari Brothers, LLC, a company run by the two brothers of NBHA Director Gerald Sanzari.
Micucci declared himself a resident of North Bergen well before the May 14, 2019, municipal election in which he voted. But the I-Team reported that an anonymous source alleged that Micucci lived in a home in Bergen County at the time.
Vision Media’s Paul Swibinski told the I-Team, “This 24-year-old young man just rented his own apartment for the first time, registered to vote, and legally voted in the May 2019 municipal election.”
The I-Team also accused North Bergen Police Detective Mark Francin of voter fraud.
The I-Team said that Francin’s voter registration lists a condominium his parents owned until 2010, but voted 14 times since then.
According to Swibinski, Francin was living with his parents part-time in a separate North Bergen home for every municipal election he voted in between 2010 and 2014. Francin hasn’t voted since 2014, Swibinski said.
“[I-Team reporters]Dienst and Paredes were told that Detective Francin has not voted in many years and no longer considers himself a voter,” Swibinski said. “But they decided to go ahead and smear this officer’s good name anyway just to advance their phony story.”
“When veteran journalists deliberately omit a key fact, and don’t care about the damage their dishonest reporting causes, this so-called I-Team more closely resembles a Lie Team,” Swibinski said.
He said that Francin is considering legal action against NBC News based on the voter fraud accusations.
A reporter from the I-Team asked U.S. Attorney Craig Carpentino at an unrelated press conference if his office was carrying out any investigations based on the I-Team’s allegations.
“We obviously are aware of the news articles that have been written, but we don’t comment on whether or not we have any open investigations or what the progress of those investigations are,” Carpentino told the I-Team.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office reportedly did not respond to the I-Team’s requests for comment.
In 2018, NBC’s I-Team investigated former North Bergen Housing Authority employee Geoff Santini, and alleged Santini showed up to his job as head of NBHA’s security for only a few hours each week for an annual salary of $81,000. Meanwhile, he ran a West New York-based animal control company that contracted with multiple towns in Hudson County.
Shortly after that report was published, NBHA Executive Director Gerald Sanzari terminated Santini’s employment after an internal investigation.
It was widely reported that he lost several municipal animal control contracts shortly after the confirmation of the low-show job, and it was widely reported at the time that the FBI probed his animal control business.