5 New Jersey officials, candidates face political corruption charges

TRENTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Five current and former public officials and political candidates in New Jersey were served criminal complaints, accusing them of taking bribes in a corruption investigation.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the criminal complaints on Thursday.

The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability's investigation began in early 2018 and focused on political figures in Hudson and Morris counties.

Five current and former public officials and political candidates in New Jersey were served criminal complaints, accusing them of taking bribes in a corruption investigation.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the criminal complaints on Thursday.

The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability's investigation began in early 2018 and focused on political figures in Hudson and Morris counties.

Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas and former Assemblyman Jason O'Donnell were among the five people served and allegedly took thousands of dollars in bribes from a tax attorney in the form of campaign contributions.

In return, the defendants allegedly promised the tax attorney, that they would continue to hire his law firm for government legal work.

Sudhan Thomas, as he was preparing to run for city council, is alleged to have accepted $35,000 in bribes.

In one conversation, prosecutors reveal that Thomas offered the tax attorney a special council position in real estate in return for that money.

Envelopes and paper bags filled with cash - and even a coffee cup stuffed with cash - were delivered to the defendants at restaurants, parking lots, a political fundraiser, and a campaign headquarters.

Other times the tax attorney offered checks from illegal "straw donors" - individuals reimbursed to write checks to the defendant's campaign in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations.

The five defendants were charged separately in criminal complaints with second-degree bribery in official and political matters:

Sudhan Thomas - Jersey City School Board President - charged with accepting $35,000 in cash bribes, $10,000 delivered on one date and $25,000 delivered on a second date.

Jason O'Donnell - Former State Assemblyman and Former Bayonne Mayoral Candidate - is charged with accepting a $10,000 cash bribe. O'Donnell allegedly solicited $10,000 in "street money" for his mayoral campaign from the cooperating witness. In return, O'Donnell allegedly agreed to provide the cooperating witness with tax work from the City of Bayonne if elected mayor. O'Donnell allegedly accepted a paper bag containing $10,000 in cash.

John Cesaro - Former Morris County Freeholder - at the time of the alleged criminal conduct, solicited contributions from the cooperating witness for his 2021 campaign for Mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills. Cesaro allegedly accepted an envelope containing $10,000 in cash and $2,350 in checks from the cooperating witness, but later returned the cash, asking the cooperating witness to replace it with checks.

John Windish - Former Mount Arlington Council Member - allegedly accepted a $7,000 cash bribe. Windish allegedly solicited cash from the cooperating witness for his unsuccessful bid for re-election to borough council in June 2018.

Mary Dougherty - Former Morris County Freeholder Candidate - allegedly accepted a bribe of $10,000 from the cooperating witness - initially delivered as cash inside a coffee cup but later converted to checks from "straw donors" - for her unsuccessful campaign for Morris County Freeholder in 2018. In return, she allegedly promised to support the reappointment of the cooperating witness as counsel for Morris County.

"I am a person of great integrity and conscience and I look forward to presenting my side of the story after which I expect to be vindicated," said Dougherty.

The defendants who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct - Thomas, Cesaro and Windish - also are charged with second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior.

Attorney General Grewal said, "This is old-school political corruption at its worst- the kind that undermines the political process and erodes public faith in government. We are working through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to create a culture of accountability in New Jersey, where public officials know they must act with integrity or else face the consequences."

"We are determined to hold public officials and candidates responsible for their actions, no matter their political positions or alliances," said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. "New Jersey has some of the nation's strongest anti-corruption laws, and we will use them to ensure that government officials single-mindedly serve the public interest, not their own selfish interests."

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop said,"I think I can speak for Jersey City that we are all disgusted with these allegations that violate the public trust, and we are thankful for the Attorney General's work here."
The alleged criminal conduct occurred between August and October 2018.

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