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Former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro

Report: Morris officials reject plea agreement in bribery case

Cesaro, Windish offered five-year prison deal for guilty plea

By David Wildstein, March 26 2020 9:00 am

Three Morris County politicians rejected plea deals in state bribery charges connected to a string operation that used Morristown attorney Matt O’Donnell as a cooperating witness, according to a Morristown Green report.

Former Morris County freeholder John Cesaro and former Mount Arlington councilman John Windish rejected five year plea agreements, according to the local news website.  Cesaro and Windish are both Republicans.

Mary Dougherty, a former Morristown planning board member who was a Democratic freeholder candidate in 2018, turned down a deal that would have meant a four-year prison term.

O’Donnell appeared to be using friends, family and employees as straw donors to gain legal work for his firm.

Cesaro, the Republican former freeholder, is accused of soliciting campaign contributions from the cooperating witness between April and May of 2018, while he was seeking re-election to the Morris County Board of Freeholders.

He is accused of soliciting money for his 2021 bid for Mayor of Parsippany in exchange for tax work from Morris County and an appointment as Parsippany tax counsel if he were to be elected.

The state alleges that Cesaro took an envelope containing $10,000 in cash and $2,350 in checks from the cooperating witness, but later returned the cash and asked that it be replaced with checks.

The charges accuse Cesaro of discussing “straw donors,” an illegal practice in New Jersey.

According to the charges, Cesaro later received two checks for $2,600 each that were described by the cooperating witness as “my straws,” along with an additional $150 check.

Cesaro and the cooperating witness had the following exchange, the state attorney general’s office said:

CW: Johnny, listen, all I want to do is the tax work. That’s all I’m looking to do.
Cesaro: I become mayor, I got your back.

Windish is accused of taking a $7,000 cash bribe he solicited from a cooperating witness for his unsuccessful 2018 re-election campaign.

The state says that when the cash was delivered, they had the following conversation:

CW: “I need you to, I need your commit that I’m your borough attorney and I need more work, John.”
Windish: “You got it.”

Windish lost the June GOP primary.

Dougherty was charged with accepting a $10,000 cash bribe in $100 bills delivered by a cooperating witness in a take-out coffee cup in exchange for support of the reappointment of the cooperating witness as an assistant Morris County Counsel.

O’Donnell is accused of taking a $10,000 cash bribe he solicited for street money for his unsuccessful run for Mayor of Bayonne and promised tax work with the city if he won.

The state says that after the cash was turned over, the witness and O’Donnell had the following conversation:

CW: “I just wanna be your tax guy.”
O’Donnell: “Done.”

O’Donnell’s law firm shut down at the end of January.

He had lost a considerable amount of legal work over the last few weeks after word spread that he has been working with the state attorney general’s office as a cooperating witness.

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