Home>Highlight>Holmdel sues cooperating witness Matt O’Donnell, alleging overbilling

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

Holmdel sues cooperating witness Matt O’Donnell, alleging overbilling

Township seeks return of $373k in legal fees, some of it paid after he admitted undisclosed crime to prosecutors

By David Wildstein, September 01 2021 6:04 pm

A Monmouth County municipality has filed a lawsuit against their former tax appeal attorney, Matthew O’Donnell, alleging that he overbilled taxpayers while he was the state’s cooperating witness in a corruption sting operation.

In court papers filed on Wednesday, the Township of Holmdel claims that their own internal reviews “have yielded evidence that … (O’Donnell) overcharged” the municipality and other government entities for legal work.

Holmdel alleges that O’Donnell has been “unjustly enriched” as a result of his “fraudulent and criminal activities” are seeking to recoup “extraordinary overpayments” to him and his former law firm, O’Donnell McCord.

O’Donnell served as Holmdel’s tax appeals counsel from 2016 to 2019, billing $373,134 during that time.  The new firm hired by the municipality in 2020, Gluck Walrath, charged less than half the average annual billing by O’Donnell.

The township is also seeking punitive damages.  They also want to hold O’Donnell personally liable for the monies in the event that the law firm is defunct.

Holmdel is being represented by Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Koutsouis & Connors.

O’Donnell and his firm billed an estimated $6.5 million to county and local government entities after he entered into plea agreements with the state attorney general in July 2018.

The North Caldwell lawyer agreed to plead guilty to one count of second degree Conspiracy to Commit Misconduct by a Corporate Official and forfeit $600,00 he made through an elaborate scheme that used illegal straw donors and cash contributions to obtain lucrative taxpayer-funded legal contracts.

The state will recommend that O’Donnell serve eight years in a state prison, according to a plea agreement obtained by the New Jersey Globe through a document request from the state judiciary.

But prosecutors and O’Donnell also agreed that the forfeiture amount would be “be subject to an upward revision to account for prospective profits that the defendant derives from illegal activities occurring after the date of this agreement but in connection with his cooperation.”

O’Donnell entered into a plea agreement on July 30, 2018 that included a permanent disqualification from holding any public position “at the time of this plea.”

Still, prosecutors allowed O’Donnell to serve as municipal attorney in East Hanover and Mount Arlington and as a tax appeal counsel for about 18 other government entities for another 17 months, departing only when he was identified as a cooperating witness and was dropped by most of his clients.

During that time, the state allowed O’Donnell’s criminal enterprise to continue while he billed taxpayers an estimated $4.6 million.

As a cooperating witness, O’Donnell continued to make illegal contributions to candidates and influence elections, this time under the watch of the state attorney general.

O’Donnell has not yet been charged with any crime.

Records show that O’Donnell agreed to be debarred from doing any business with a New Jersey government entity for ten years, effective at the time of his plea in 2018.  He remains an attorney in good standing.

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