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Republican State Senate candidate Chris Auriemma. (Photo: Chris Auriemma.)

Democrats call for criminal probe into petitions filed by Bergen GOP candidates

36th district Senate, Assembly candidates withdrew on the eve of a court hearing to determine if their petitions were valid

By David Wildstein, May 26 2021 9:48 am

The campaign arm of the New Jersey Senate Democrats has asked Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to launch a criminal investigation into nominating petitions filed by Republican legislative candidates in the 36th district.

Senate candidate Chris Auriemma and Assembly candidates Craig Auriemma and Ana Castillo dropped out of the race days after the filing deadline and on the evening before a judge was set to hear a challenge to their petitions.

“Based upon a review of the nominating petitions and affidavits submitted along with them, it appears that these individuals may, individually or collectively, have engaged in election fraud in violation of New Jersey law,” said Michael Muller, a senior advisor to New Jersey Senate Democratic Majority.  “The nominating petitions contain false and inaccurate certifications.”

Muller claims that the signature pages for the Assembly candidates are “identical photocopies” of the Senate petitions.

“The circulator of these signature sheets, who signed the affidavit for both of these nominating petitions, was Chris Auriemma,” Muller said.  “Each petition was ‘duly sworn upon his/her oath that this petition is signed by each of the signers thereof in his/her own proper handwriting.’”

According to Muller, the affidavits were notarized by Craig Auriemma.

“All three are thus implicated in this potential fraud,” Muller charged.

In New Jersey, it is a potential crime to submit a false nominating petition.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig and Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Mussella are also copied on the letter to Grewal.

This is at least the second referral to the attorney general over petitions filed for the June 8 primary election.

After an administrative law judge found Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lisa McCormick’s nominating petitions to be fraudulent in their entirety, New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way referred the matter to the attorney general’s office for a potential criminal probe.

The decision by Auriemma, Auriemma and Castillo to drop out of the race leave Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Assemblymen Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) and Clinton Calabrese (D-Cliffside Park) without GOP opposition in the 2021 general election.

Chris Auriemma, an Iraq combat veteran and volunteer firefighter, had sought to take on Sarlo in the heavily-Democratic legislative district, but his nominating petitions faced a series of problems.

Bergen County Democrats had alleged that Auriemma didn’t have the requisite number of legal signatures needed to get on the ballot.

Neither did the State Assembly candidates on his ticket: his brother, Craig Auriemma, and Ana Castillo.

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