A grand jury empaneled to probe the construction an adult cricket field at a public school has subpoenaed records from the Edison Board of Education that appear to center around political allies of controversial Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia.
An investigation by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office centers around a $100,000 cricket pitch that was constructed by the Edison Board of Education at the Woodrow Wilson Middle School on behalf of a politically-connected private, semi-professional league. The school board, around 2019 and 2020, developed other cricket fields for adult use.
The New Jersey Globe has obtained a copy of the May 10 grand jury subpoena seeking incoming, outgoing and deleted emails from three school board members tied to Bhagia – Mohin K. Patel, Jerry Shi and Shannon Peng – as well as school board members Shivi Prasad-Madhukar and Biral Patel, former school board members Yuna Chen and Elizabeth Conway, and Dr. Bernard F. Bragen, Jr., the superintendent of schools, between January 2019 and December 31, 2021.
The identity of the defendant in the grand jury probe was redacted on the subpoena by the prosecutor’s office.
Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the subpoena said the cricket pitch was paid for by the Board of Education at the suggest of Mohin Patel, Shi and others as a way of currying favor with community members in advance of the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary.
Last year, Shi, Peng and Mohin Patel appeared on a Zoom meeting with cricket league members and pledged to support added services for the field, the source said. At the same meeting, they reportedly made a pitch for support for Bhagia, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor of Edison.
Cricket pitches were maintained by the Board of Education, who cut the law, maintained the turf, and even drew up league schedules and tournaments for nearly 50 individual cricket teams who used the school facilities, sometimes for travel league games. In a sweetheart deal, teams were charged just $50 to use the fields for their five-month season – a money-losing proposition for the public schools.
At the same, middle school students were essentially locked out of using the facility.
The prosecutor’s office is also seeking “any other data that is able to be preserved regarding email correspondence” in 2019 and 2020. The subpoena seeks current or past accounts of the individuals, “or any entity acting for them.”
The subpoena also seeks copies of all Edison Board of Education purchase orders, work request receipts, feedback forms, and a list of all checks written in 2019 and 2020. It also seeks minutes of all Finance and Facility committee meeting minutes during that same time period.
The prosecutor’s office also wants copies of all Edison Board of Education policies and procedures.
The subpoena was signed by Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone and the clerk of the Superior Court.
A prominent player in the cricket league controversy is Vijay Diddekunta, also known as Vijay Dy, a leader of the Edison Cricketing Fraternity and the organizer of several cricket leagues in the township.
Public records show Diddekunta linked to an address in Edison associated with the Harshi Construction LLC, which sources say was the recipient of a no-bid public contract from the Edison Board of Education to build the cricket pitch at the Woodrow Wilson school.
The school board has proposed raising the permit fees for adult leagues to use their fields from $50 to $500 as a way of offsetting costs. Diddekunta was among the cricket league leaders to attend local government meetings last month in opposition to the fee increase.
Councilman Ajay Patil, a Bhagia ally, has led opposition to the increase.
It’s not clear if the cricket pitch probe is directly connected to the Edison Eight, a group of local politicians connected to a racist flyer mailed anonymously to voters in 2017. The xenophobic flyer alleged that the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town,” and suggested that if two Asian American candidates won, they would build cricket fields.
Bhagia, Shi, Patil and Mohin Patel were part of the Edison Eight, according to a U.S. Postal Inspector report. Patel, the treasurer of the Edison Democratic Organization, ran for State Senate in last year’s primary on a slate with Bhagia. Both were unsuccessful. Peng lost a bid for township council on the Bhagia slate.
In March 2021, Bhagia filed a campaign account with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission with Patel as his treasurer, but he never filed any reports.
Diddekunta, Peng, Patel and Bhagia did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Shi, reached briefly, declined the call. A spokeswoman for the Middlesex County Prosecutor declined comment.