Paterson Councilman Michael Jackson and Councilman-elect Alex Mendez have been charged with tampering with vote-by-mail ballots in the May 12 municipal election, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced today.
Jackson and Mendez are accused of fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records, and falsifying or tampering with records. Mendez was also charged with election fraud and false registration.
After a recount, Mendez led incumbent William McKoy by 240 votes in Paterson’s 3rd Ward. Jackson defeated Nakia Redmon by 245 votes.
In the 2nd Ward, incumbent Shahin Khalique and challenger Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman are tied at 1,730 votes each after a recount.
Shelim Khalique, the brother of Shahin Khalique, and Abu Razyen were also charged.
Prosecutors allege that Jackson approached one or more voters in the ward where he was seeking re-election, and collecting their VBM ballots for delivery to the Passaic County Board of Elections without identifying the bearer.
They say that Jackson each had more than three ballots in his possession that were not his own, and one that was not voted for sealed – and that the incomplete ballot was eventually delivered to the Board of Elections.
Mendez is also accused of approaching one or more voters in his ward and collecting their VBM ballots and then having them delivered to the Board of Elections without legally required bearer information.
According to prosecutors, Mendez procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications he knew to be fake.
Khalique is also accused of approaching 2nd Ward residents and collecting VBM ballots and returning them to election officials without bearers.
As part of a separate investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, the state has charged Khalique with contract fraud and other crimes related to school bus and transportation companies he owns.
Khalique is charged with employing school bus drivers without commercial driver’s licenses, suspended licenses or criminal records. One former driver was a registered sex offender.
A May 31 surprise inspection found that almost all of Khalique’s school buses were unsafe. The company had more than $1 million in bus contracts with multiple public school districts.
Prosecutors allege that the 21-year-old Razyen also obtained more than three VBM ballots that were not his.
The attorney general’s office said that investigators obtained a USB drive that contained a video of Razyen holding and flipping through a stack of more than three official mail-in ballot outer envelopes that did not have the bearer portion completed.
The video, the state says, confirmed that Razyen had collected the mail-in ballots.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
Confirmation of a law enforcement investigation came on Election Day after the U.S. Post Office reported that close to 900 ballots that appear to have been mailed in bulk from three individual mailboxes, including more than 300 rubber-banded together form a mailbox in neighboring Haledon.
Mendez, who ran for mayor in 2018, is a former at-large councilman and political rival of Mayor Andre Sayegh. The conventional wisdom is that Mendez challenged McKoy to set up another run for mayor in 2022.