Five current and former elected officials and candidate— including Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas and former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro—have been charged with taking bribes as part of a major investigation into political corruption by the state attorney general’s office.
Former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne), former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish, and former Morris County freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty were also charged with second-degree bribery.
‘Old school political corruption at its worst’
Thomas, Cesaro and Windish, who were serving in public office at the time they allegedly accepted bribes, were also charged with second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior.
“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 Gurbir 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.”
Thomas, a close ally of Mayor Steven Fulop, lost his bid for re-election to the school board last month. He is accused of accepting $35,000 in cash bribes in exchange for hiring a cooperating witness to serve as special counsel to the Jersey City Board of Education.
According to Grewal, Thomas specifically discussed work projects that the cooperating witness would receive from the school board.
During a conversation about cash payments in advance of delivery, the Attorney General reported the following exchange between Thomas and the cooperating witness:
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.
The alleged criminal conduct occurred between May and July of this year.
Cesaro, the Republican former freeholder, is accused of soliciting campaign contributions from the cooperating witness between April and May of 2018, while he was seeking re-election to the Morris County Board of Freeholders.
He is accused of soliciting money for his 2021 bid for Mayor of Parsippany in exchange for tax work from Morris County and an appointment as Parsippany tax counsel if he were to be elected.
The state alleges that Cesaro took an envelope containing $10,000 in cash and $2,350 in checks from the cooperating witness, but later returned the cash and asked that it be replaced with checks.
The charges accuse Cesaro of discussing “straw donors,” an illegal practice in New Jersey.
According to the charges, Cesaro later received two checks for $2,600 each that were described by the cooperating witness as “my straws,” along with an additional $150 check.
Cesaro and the cooperating witness had the following exchange, the state attorney general’s office said:
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 is accused of taking a $7,000 cash bribe he solicited from a cooperating witness for his unsuccessful 2018 re-election campaign.
The state says that when the cash was delivered, they had the following conversation:
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.”
Windish lost the June GOP primary.
Dougherty was charged with accepting a $10,000 cash bribe in $100 bills delivered by a cooperating witness in a take-out coffee cup in exchange for support of the reappointment of the cooperating witness as an assistant Morris County Counsel.
O’Donnell is accused of taking a $10,000 cash bribe he solicited for street money for his unsuccessful run for Mayor of Bayonne and promised tax work with the city if he won.
The state says that after the cash was turned over, the witness and O’Donnell had the following conversation:
CW: “I just wanna be your tax guy.”