The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the dismissal of an indictment against a former Bayonne assemblyman may stand.
Jason O’Donnell had been one of five people charged in a sting operation by the attorney general’s office in 1989. The state’s cooperating witness, tax appeal attorney Matthew O’Donnell, who is not related to the ex-lawmaker, claims he extracted a promise of legal work in exchange for campaign contributions.
In April, a state appellate court has reversed the dismissal of an indictment against a former Hudson County lawmaker, saying that it is illegal to bribe a candidate even if they hold no public office at the time of the bribe.
The appellate court correctly held that candidates for office may not take bribes in exchange for promising to perform official duties if they are elected,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “That commonsense prohibition is embodied in the plain language of our law, and we look forward to presenting our case before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Jason O’Donnell had been out of the legislature for almost three years when he mounted an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Bayonne in 2018. Prosecutors alleged that he took cash campaign contributions in exchange for making Matthew O’Donnell, the city’s tax appeal attorney.
Judge Mitzi Galis-Menendez dismissed the indictment in June 2021, agreeing that then-U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares was correct in dismissing criminal charges against another ex-Hudson assemblyman, Louis Manzo (D-Jersey City). Linares found that Manzo could not be accused of bribery because he no longer held public office.
Matthew O’Donnell pleaded guilty in October on two counts connected to his use of straw donors to obtain public contracts for his law firm, O’Donnell McCord, that could require him to serve three years in a state prison.
Matt O’Donnell admitted to illegal activities regarding his work as the Mount Arlington borough attorney and as a tax appeal attorney for Morristown, Bloomfield and Morris County.
In a revised plea agreement in March, the former attorney 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 Matthew O’Donnell to serve two three-year prison sentences concurrently.