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Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia. Photo: Facebook.

Attorney General issues subpoena for Edison racist flyer records

Grand Jury empaneled to probe 2017 mailer in New Jersey’s 5th largest municipality

By David Wildstein, March 19 2021 7:33 pm

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office today subpoenaed Edison Township for documents related to an anonymous racist flyer in the 2017 election and empaneled a grand jury to determine if anyone will be charged.  The New Jersey Globe has obtained a copy of the subpoena.

The subpoena follows calls by local officials, including Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, Council President Robert Diehl, Councilman Sammy Joshi and Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) for state prosecutors to identify the culprit behind what has become a 40-month-old cold case.

On a tape obtained by the New Jersey Globe, Councilman Ajay Patil said he witnessed Satish Poondi, a partner at the Wilentz law firm, assembling that racist mailer at the home of the Democratic Municipal Chairman, Mahesh Bhagia, in 2017.

Bhagia is now the pick of the local Democratic organization as their candidate for mayor.

In the final days of the 2017 campaign, some Edison voters received a mailer promising to “Make Edison Great Again,” and alleging that the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”

Earlier this week, Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey and six members of the township council scolded Grewal for his failing to investigate the unsolved mystery even after a detective from his office told the local police chief in January 2018 to stand down because the attorney general’s office was taking over the investigation.

Since then, Lankey, Council President Robert Diehl, and others have said they have not been contacted by state or county prosecutors for interviews or to turn over evidence they have gathered.

“After years of hard work by the Town Council investigative committee that I am proud to be a part of, it’s incredibly gratifying to see the Attorney General’s Office finally act and take this important step towards justice being served against Mahesh Bhagia and his co-conspirators in this racist, reprehensible act,” said Joshi, a candidate for the Demcoratic mayoral nomination.

A U.S. Postal Inspector last year identified a group of individuals now known as the Edison Eight —former Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Shariq Ahmad; Board of Education President Jerry Shi; school board member Mohin Patel; Raj Bhagia, the brother of local party; Aloysius Dsouza; Joseph Dsouza; Patil and Poondi— as having some involvement in the mailer, but it’s not clear whether the matter has spawned any other investigations.

Diehl said he and Gomez attended a November 5 meeting with U.S. Postal Inspector David Comer where Patil admitted his role.

Joshi wants open mayoral primary

“While the investigation is ongoing, it’s crystal clear that Mahesh Bhagia cannot be allowed to represent our Democratic Party after he was directly implicated in this heinous crime,” Joshi said. “I am calling on Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe to override the deeply flawed process of the municipal Democratic committee that Bhagia himself chairs and hold an open primary for mayor. Especially in this current terrifying climate we cannot allow our Democratic Party to be tainted by the presence of someone like Mahesh Bhagia who willingly fomented anti-Asian racism for his own political gain — Chairman McCabe must act to protect our party.”

The subpoena, approved by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, was requested by Special Assistant New Jersey Attorney General Michael McDonald of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

Steven Barnes, a spokesman for the attorney general, had no comment on the subpoenas and would not say if Grewal has recused himself.

This story was updated at on March 20, 2021 at 11:59 AM to reflect Grewal’s no comment. 

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