Home>Judiciary>Supreme Court turns down O’Donnell’s bid to halt civil lawsuit

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

Supreme Court turns down O’Donnell’s bid to halt civil lawsuit

By David Wildstein, September 27 2022 6:20 pm

A civil lawsuit against the state’s cooperating witness in what is so far a small fish corruption sting operation that began nearly four years ago may proceed concurrently with his criminal matter, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled.

The Township of Holmdel alleges that Matt O’Donnell overbilled taxpayers for his work as their tax appeal counsel.  They are seeking discovery that might put new information about his illegal activities into view before he has testified against three former elected officials facing criminal trials.

In an argument supported by the New Jersey attorney general’s office, O’Donnell’s attorney argued that media attention could pollute the jury pool when trials  of former Morris County Commissioner John Cesaro, former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas, and former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish, and potentially impede the state’s prosecution of others.

O’Donnell pled guilty to using straw donors to obtain public contracts last year.

Superior Court Judge Linda Grasso Jones had refused O’Donnell’s bid to delay the civil proceedings, and the appellate judges – Clarkson Fischer, Jr., Mary Gibbons Whipple, and Francis Vernoia – affirmed her ruling.

The appellate judges said that typical competing interests when the defendant in a civil action is also facing criminal prosecution does not exist in this case because O’Donnell has already entered a guilty plea as part of his cooperation agreement with state prosecutors.

In a revised plea agreement signed in September 2021, O’Donnell admitted guilt to one count of second-degree conspiracy to commit misconduct by a corporate official and one count of third-degree conspiracy to commit tampering with public records and information.  While the statutory maximum sentence is 15 years, the attorney general’s office has agreed to a deal that requires O’Donnell to serve two three-year prison sentences concurrently.

O’Donnell has agreed to be debarred and to a ten-year ban on any business relationship with the state.  He’ll need to pay full restitution to victims and forfeit $600,000 that came from his use of straw donors and illegal cash contributions.   O’Donnell has also agreed to pay a $250,000 public corruption profiteering penalty and a lifetime ban on public employment.

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