There’s a reason New Jersey is colloquially known as The Soprano State.
A bipartisan group of public officials in the state were arrested Thursday for taking thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for political favors. Three Democrats and Two republicans were charged after an investigation by New Jersey’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the arrest in a press release.
“We allege that these political candidates were all too willing 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,” said Attorney General Grewal. “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.”
Here’s what led each one to be arrested:
Thomas, a registered Democrat and the Jersey City School Board president, was charged with accepting $35,000 in cash bribes in exchange for allegedly agreeing to hire the payer as a special counsel for the school board. The person who paid the bribes is referred to in the press release as “the cooperating witness (CW).” At one point the CW and Thomas exchanged messages relating to the bribes:
CW: Make me special counsel for …
Thomas: Real estate.
CW: Yeah, real estate… that’s perfect.
Thomas: Yeah, nobody questions anything… nobody questions all of that stuff.
O’Donnell, a former Democrat State Assemblyman, has been charged with accepting a $10,000 cash bribe – delivered in a paper bag – that he solicited from the CW. In exchange for the money, O’Donnell allegedly agreed to hire the CW for city tax work if he won his mayoral race in Bayonne. After accepting the money, the two exchanged the following messages:
CW: “I just wanna be your tax guy.”
Cesaro, a now-former Republican Morris County Freeholder, was charged with soliciting contributions from the CW for his expected 2021 campaign for mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills. Cesaro is a accused of accepting bribes from the CW in exchange for tax work for Morris County and Parsippany-Troy Hills if Cesaro were elected.
Cesaro allegedly accepted an envelope filled with $10,000 cash and $2,350 in checks. He later returned the cash and asked for it to be replaced with checks. The two discussed using “straw donors” to hide the money, which is illegal in New Jersey. Cesaro accepted two checks from the CW for $2,600 each, described by the CW as “my straws.” Before the checks were delivered, the two exchanged the following messages:
CW: Johnny, listen, all I want to do is the tax work. That’s all I’m looking to do.
Cesaro: I become mayor, I got your back.
Windish, a former Republican councilman for Mount Arlington, allegedly accepted an envelope containing $7,000 in bribes from the CW during his unsuccessful re-election bid. Windish allegedly agreed to reappoint the CW as borough attorney. After the money was delivered, Windish allegedly had the following conversation with the CW:
CW: “I need you to, I need your commit that I’m your borough attorney and I need more work, John.”
Windish: “You got it.”
Dougherty, a real estate agent in Morristown who was running for Morris County Freeholder in 2018, allegedly accepted a $10,000 bribe from the CW in exchange for reappointing the CW as counsel for Morris County. After the money was received, the two had the following exchange:
CW: “These are my straws… so I just need your support for my reappointment. Don’t forget me.”
Dougherty: “I won’t. I promise. A friend is a friend, my friend.”