Home>Highlight>Judge rejects attorney general’s request that Valandingham serve jail time

Elizabeth Valandingham, a former law partner of Matt O'Donnell, the state's cooperating witness in a corruption sting.

Judge rejects attorney general’s request that Valandingham serve jail time

By David Wildstein, November 06 2021 6:19 pm

The former law partner of the state’s cooperating witness in a small fish political corruption sting operation, Matthew O’Donnell, was sentenced to three years’ probation and community service.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hanna rejected the state attorney general’s office recommendation that Elizabeth Valandingham be sentenced to 364 days in the county jail.

O’Donnell, a Morristown tax appeal attorney, pleaded guilty to using straw donors to make campaign contributions and to falsifying disclosure records in pursuit of lucrative public contracts.

Valandingham has admitted to her role in an O’Donnell-led scheme to submit fraudulent proposals to public entities.

In a bid to convince Valandingham to cooperate, state prosecutors charged several of her family members and friends who had unwittingly lent their personal checkbooks to O’Donnell, who made campaign contributions in their name and then used his law firm, O’Donnell McCord, to reimburse them.

O’Donnell appears to have committed additional crimes after he entered into a plea agreement with the New Jersey attorney general’s office on July 30, 2018, and while he was the state’s cooperating witness in five small fish political corruption sting operations, court records show.

O’Donnell had initially agreed to seven-year state prison term,  but a revised plea agreement he signed more than three years later appears to acknowledge more criminal acts beginning about five weeks after he signed his first plea — and eight months after he began cooperating with prosecutors.

Despite that, it appears prosecutors offered O’Donnell a better deal that the one he got three years ago: three years in prison instead of seven.

That could mean O’Donnell, caught continuing to violate laws while serving as the government’s key witness in the upcoming prosecutions of at least three former elected officials, might have stepped up his level cooperation – something that could lead to charges against additional current or former public officials or former candidates.

It’s not clear whether Hanna’s rejection of the attorney general’s recommended sentence is a harbinger of how another Morris County judge might view O’Donnell’s plea agreement.  Judge Stephen Taylor is under no legal obligation to accept the deal worked out between O’Donnell and Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo.

Trials for three individuals snagged in the sting operation – former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, and former Mount Arlington Councilman John Cesaro – have not yet been scheduled.   All three are scheduled to appear before Taylor this month.

Valandingham will lose her law license and will face a 10-year debarment from public contracts.  She’ll was also sentenced to 324 hours of community service and a $75,000 fine.

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