Home>Highlight>Government witness told grand jury that he didn’t consider ex-legislator a public official

Superior Court Judge Mitzi Galis-Menendez on April 1, 2021. (Photo: Zoom/New Jersey Globe.)

Government witness told grand jury that he didn’t consider ex-legislator a public official

By David Wildstein, June 09 2021 8:36 pm

A detective for the state attorney general’s Office of Public Integrity told a grand jury in 2019 that he did not consider a former legislator charged with official misconduct to be a public official.

The testimony of Det. Ross Portner involved the role of the state’s cooperating witness, tax appeal attorney Matthew O’Donnell, in an undercover sting operation that resulted in the indictment of Jason O’Donnell (no relation), a former assemblyman from Bayonne.

Superior Court Judge Mitzi Galis-Menendez dismissed the charges against  Jason O’Donnell after determining that as a private citizen who held no government position, he was improperly charged under New Jersey’s bribery statute.

The portion of the grand jury transcript included in Galis-Menendez’s decision noted that “the state elicited testimony from Det. Portner which established the fact that the defendant was not a public official or a public servant, but was instead a ‘candidate’ running for mayor of the city of Bayonne.”

“During the timeframe of the investigation, was (Defendant) a public official?” prosecutors asked Portner.

“No,” he said.

Portner’s statement had previously been under seal at the request of state prosecutors and had been blocked from public release until the judge included it in her order.

A footnote included by Galis-Menendez said that it was “important to note that the indictment does not specifically list which subsection” of the statute that O’Donnell was indicted under, but that the “language used in the indictment mirrors” the statute.

The attorney general’s office has said they will appeal the ruling, according to a spokesman, Peter Aseltine.

O’Donnell served in the legislature from 2012 to 2016.

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