Home>Campaigns>O’Donnell straw donor to enter PTI after cooperating with prosecutors

Christopher Brown, the brother-in-law of Matt O'Donnell's former law partner, Elizabeth Valandingham, appears in court virtually on April 6, 2021. (Photo: Zoom/New Jersey Globe.)

O’Donnell straw donor to enter PTI after cooperating with prosecutors

Brother-in-law of O’Donnell law partner gave thousands to candidates

By David Wildstein, April 06 2021 10:11 am

Christopher Brown, one of the alleged straw donors used by the state’s cooperating witness in a political corruption probe, is set to join the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) after agreeing to assistant prosecutors with their investigation.

Brown is the brother-in-law of Elizabeth Valandingham, the former law partner of the top state witness, Matthew O’Donnell.  Valandingham faces charges that she lied to investigators about alleged pay-to-play allegations.

Deputy Attorney General Trevor Taniguchi told Judge Robert Hanna that the state was satisfied with the level of Brown’s cooperation.

PTI might spare Brown, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 102, any criminal record.  The charges against him will be dismissed if he successfully completes the program.

Along with his wife, Vanessa, Brown allegedly contributed more than $107,000

Most of these contributions were in large amounts that appear to match some of the places where O’Donnell’s law firm, O’Donnell McCord, received legal work.

Christopher Brown send nearly $8,000 to Bloomfield, $2,500 to Fulop-connected committees, $2,600 to the Monmouth County Republicans, and $2,600 to Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor.

Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo acknowledged last week that there are ongoing investigations related to a cooperation agreement O’Donnell and his law firm entered into with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office in June 2018.

A defense attorney in the case, Leo Hurley, said that O’Donnell proactively offered up a list of people he felt the state could build a case against.  He also said that the state came up with their own list of individuals they asked O’Donnell to contact as part of their investigation.

Two of the low-end participants in the O’Donnell scheme – Suzanne Gayet and Erin O’Reilly – have already agreed to participate in PTI.

Prosecutors alleged that Valandingham and an unnamed co-conspirator strongly believed to be O’Donnell, recruited friends and family members to act as straw donors.

The New Jersey Globe first reported in December 2019 that an anonymous whistleblower contacted law enforcement in June 2017 about allegations that O’Donnell and Valandingham used straw donors to funnel money to local candidates he was pitching for tax appeal work.

The whistleblower told state and federal authorities that the two lawyers moved substantial amounts of money through relatives, employees and friends who have made large campaign contributions.

Valandingham rejected a plea deal that included three years in prison last summer.

After she rejected the deal, Grewal filed criminal charges against relatives and friends of Valandingham, including her sister, two brothers-in-law, a friend, Suzanne Gayet, and Erin O’Reilly, who has close ties to O’Donnell

Gayet and O’Reilly have already been admitted to PTI.

Vanessa Brown is scheduled to appear in court next week.

One week before Christmas 2019, the state charged five current and former elected officials and candidate— including Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas and former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro—with taking bribes as part of an investigation into political corruption by the state attorney general’s office.

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