Eight top Edison political leaders, including a councilman, a school board member, and a partner at the Wilentz law firm, and a former Democratic municipal chairman have been implicated in a conspiracy involving a racist campaign flyer after an investigation by the U.S. Postal Service.
The Edison Township Council held an emergency committee of the while meeting on Wednesday night to discuss allegations that then-Board of Education candidate Jerry Shi was part of a group that designed and distributed a racist mailer that targeted himself and his running mate in an apparent bid to boost turnout from the South Asian community in 2017.
The mailer – “Make Edison Great Again” – urged voters to “Stop Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel from taking over our school board.”
“The Chinese and Indians are taking over our Town! Chinese School! Indian School! Cricket Fields,” the flyer said. “Enough is Enough.”
Now the Edison Eight — Councilman Ajay Patil; Wilentz partner and Biden delegate Satish Poondi; former Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Shariq Ahmad; Mohin Patel, the apparent winner of a school board seat in Tuesday’s election; Raj Bhagia, the brother of Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia; Aloysius Dsouza; Joseph Dsouza; and Shi – face a possible criminal investigation.
The explosive probe, which the New Jersey Globe has learned is now in the hands of federal and state law enforcement, was first reported by the Home News Tribune.
Chandrakant Patel, chair of the Indian Business Association, told postal inspectors that Shi, Patil, Poondi, Ahmad, Patel and three others met at a restaurant and discussed the mailer, the report said.
Patil and Councilman Robert Diehl met with postal inspectors this morning, and Patil acknowledged his role, the NJ Globe has learned.
Shi and Patel have denied the claims.
Patil disputed the level of involvement in the alleged conspiracy, claiming he and others never attended a meeting at Chowpatty to discuss the flyer.
“No such meeting ever took place, and in fact I have never met with this group at Chowpatty, he said.
Instead, Patil detailed what he told the postal inspector.
“During my statements with authority I corroborated the presence of two employees at Chowpatty Restaurant, when I saw some flyers being assembled and prepared for mailing, which I did not immediately recognize as the flyers in question,” Patil said. “But some of my statements may have been misinterpreted. I did not say that I saw all of the named individuals in the report at the restaurant.”
In a statement, Patil said that he only saw two of the other seven individuals working on the flyer.
“I did visit Chowpatty Restaurant in late October, and I observed a mailing being prepared, although I did not participate in anything that was happening and left the place immediately,” stated Patil. “I saw a few workers — who I now assume included Aloysius and Joseph D’Souza — assembling the mailer. These were the people whose presence I was corroborating.”
This story was updated on November 6 with comment from Patil.