Hoboken developer and politico Frank “Pupie” Raia has been sentenced to three months in prison after he was convicted of “conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery” in connection with a 2013 municipal election on June 25.
Raia was at the center of a vote-by-mail bribery scheme in which he directed campaign workers to pay residents $50 for voting for his council slate and for a referendum that would have weakened rent-control laws at the time.
Raia has been involved in Hoboken politics for decades. He has served on the school board, the city council in the 1980s, and has also served on the North Hudson Sewerage Authority.
He’s a major donor to Hopes, Inc. and former chair of their board of directors. His name is above the door of their annex on Third and Garden streets. Those who don’t know him well may just know him as the guy who held a birthday party for himself every year at Sinatra park open to all.
The case and collaborators
In 2013, Raia was a candidate for Hoboken City Council. During that election, there was a race for mayor and for three at-large council seats as well as a referendum which if passed would have weakened rent control laws.
Raia was running on the “One Hoboken” slate with former Board of Education Trustees Peter Biancamano and Britney Montgomery, and they were backed by former Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who was running for mayor. No one else from the “One Hoboken” slate has been charged.
The winners of the election were Mayor Dawn Zimmer and then 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.
During that time Raia chaired the Let the People Decide PAC, which worked to loosen rent-control laws. A referendum was held to weaken those laws, but residents voted to maintain the restrictions.
According to court documents and the evidence at trial, from October 2013 through November 2013, Raia instructed Hoboken residents Dio Braxton, Matt Calicchio, Lizaida Camis, and others who worked for his campaign, to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if they applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the 2013 municipal election.
These workers provided these voters with vote-by-mail applications and then delivered or mailed the completed VBM applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office.
After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, Raia directed workers to go to the voters’ residences and instruct them to vote for Raia and in favor of the referendum loosening rent-control laws.
These workers 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.
Raia and his workers, including Braxton, Calicchio, Camis, and others, checked the ballots to ensure that voters had voted the way they were instructed. They were also instructed to sign declarations stating that they had been paid in exchange for working on the campaign when they hadn’t.
After the election, the voters received $50 checks from a political consulting firm that was paid by Raia’s PAC.
Those $50 checks were never disclosed on Raia’s publicly filed PAC election reports.
Braxton and Camis previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy, and Calicchio pleaded guilty to violating the federal Travel Act.
After Raia’s conviction, his attorneys filed a motion for a retrial but the motion was denied.
The felony charge could have resulted in a prison term of up to five years and a $250,000 fine, but according to court documents, Raia will serve three months in prison and one year of supervised release. He will also have to pay a fine of $50,000 plus any interest by Jan. 2.
Raia won’t have to report for his sentence until next year.
According to court documents. the court also recommended that Raia be sent to a facility “that can handle his many health issues.”
After his three months, he will be on supervised release for one year.
U.S. Judge William Martini said his sentencing was based in part to the number of letters sent to the court on Raia’s behalf, which reflected Raia’s charity over the years.