Home>Feature>State allowed cooperating witness to bill taxpayers millions after admitting to crime

Attorney Matthew O'Donnell, the state's cooperating witness in a public corruption sting operation.

State allowed cooperating witness to bill taxpayers millions after admitting to crime

State will recommend 8 year prison term for Matt O’Donnell, plea agreement says

By David Wildstein, April 09 2021 12:01 am

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal permitted the state’s cooperating witness in a corruption probe, Matthew O’Donnell, to bill millions of dollars in fees to municipal and county governments as a tax appeals attorney even after admitting to crimes that could result in a prison sentence.

O’Donnell agreed to plead guilty to one count of second degree Conspiracy to Commit Misconduct by a Corporate Official and forfeit $600,00 he made through an elaborate scheme that used illegal straw donors and cash contributions to obtain lucrative taxpayer-funded legal contracts.

The state will recommend that O’Donnell serve eight years in a state prison, according to a plea agreement obtained by the New Jersey Globe through a document request from the state judiciary.

But prosecutors and O’Donnell also agreed that the forfeiture amount would be “be subject to an upward revision to account for prospective profits that the defendant derives from illegal activities occurring after the date of this agreement but in connection with his cooperation.”

The prosecution of O’Donnell has been going on for nearly four years.

“Matt O’Donnell learned in late 2017 that he was under investigation based on evidence that we had gathered from summer on,” Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo said in an email to a defense attorney that is part of the official record.

O’Donnell entered into a plea agreement on July 30, 2018 that included a permanent disqualification from holding any public position “at the time of this plea.”

Still, prosecutors allowed O’Donnell to serve as municipal attorney in East Hanover and Mount Arlington and as a tax appeal counsel for about 18 other government entities for another 17 months, departing only when he was identified as a cooperating witness and was dropped by most of his clients.

During that time, the state allowed O’Donnell’s criminal enterprise to continue while he billed taxpayers an estimated $4.6 million.

As a cooperating witness, O’Donnell continued to make illegal contributions to candidates and influence elections,  this time under the watch of the state attorney general.

O’Donnell has not yet been charged with any crime.

Records show that O’Donnell agreed to be debarred from doing any business with a New Jersey government entity for ten years, effective at the time of his plea in 2018.  He remains an attorney in good standing.

Nicodemo acknowledged that O’Donnell met with prosecutors under a proffer agreement in January 2018 and said there were meetings before that with O’Donnell’s attorney, Thomas R. Calcagni, and the state attorney general’s office.

O’Donnell agreed not apply to the Pretrial Intervention Program but is permitted to seek participation in the Intensive Supervision Program, a sort of prison without walls that allows offenders to remain in their community.

According to the plea agreement, O’Donnell faces a $250,00 public corruption profiteering penalty and a fine of up to $150,000.

Matt O’Donnell Plea Agreement
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