New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has announced that four former public officials and political candidates, including former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas and former Bayonne State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, have been indicted by a state grand jury on charges that they allegedly took bribes in a major investigation of political corruption conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
This comes after the four men were initially charged by complaint-summons in December of 2019.
According to the AG’s Office, they are charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of illegal campaign contributions.
In return, the former public officials allegedly promised the cooperating witness, who is a tax attorney, that they would vote or use their official authority to hire or continue to hire his law firm for lucrative government legal work.
The cooperating witness delivered envelopes and in some instances paper bags filled with cash to the defendants at various locations.
The cooperating witness also offered checks from illegal “straw donors” or individuals who were reimbursed to write checks to the defendant’s campaign in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations.
According to the Jan. 27 indictment, former Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas, 45, is charged with Official Misconduct in the second degree, Pattern of Official Misconduct in the second degree, Bribery in Official and Political Matters in the second degree, and Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant in the second degree.
Former Bayonne Mayoral Candidate and State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, 49, is charged with Bribery in Official and Political Matters in the second degree, according to the Feb. 3 indictment.
According to the Jan. 27 indictment, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, 49, of Parsippany, is charged with Official Misconduct in the second degree, Bribery in Official and Political Matters in the second degree, Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant in the second degree, Tampering with Public Records or Information in the third degree, Falsifying or Tampering with Records in the fourth degree, and Concealment or Misrepresentation of Contributions or Expenditures in the fourth degree.
Former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish, 68, is charged with Official Misconduct in the second degree, Bribery in Official and Political Matters in the second degree, and Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant in the second degree, according to the Jan. 20 indictment.
“These indictments are an important step in our prosecutions of these defendants,” said Grewal. “We allege that these former political candidates agreed to sell the authority of their public office or the office they sought in exchange for an envelope filled with cash or illegal checks from straw donors. The conduct alleged in these indictments is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that erodes public faith in government and that we are determined to root out.”
“These cases reflect one of OPIA’s core missions, which is to uncover and prosecute corruption in state and local government and related elections,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “Three of these defendants face potential mandatory minimum sentences for official misconduct in accepting bribes. New Jersey has some of the nation’s strongest anti-corruption laws, and we will use them to hold government officials accountable if instead of honestly and faithfully serving the public interest, they betray their duty by corruptly serving their own interests.”
Facing prison time
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree charges against those who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct – Thomas, Cesaro, and Windish – carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without eligibility for parole under New Jersey’s enhanced penalties for official corruption.
Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The charges are merely accusations. The former officials are presumed innocent until proven guilty.