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Cooperating witness O’Donnell used straw donors, whistleblower said in 2017

Relatives, friends connected to O’Donnell law firm made huge contributions to tax appeal firm clients, records show

By David Wildstein, December 20 2019 5:56 pm

An anonymous whistleblower contacted law enforcement in June 2017 about allegations that Morristown attorney Matthew O’Donnell used straw donors to funnel money to local candidates he was pitching for tax appeal work, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

O’Donnell was identified yesterday as the cooperating witness in a sting operation announced by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Thursday.

The whistleblower told state and federal authorities that O’Donnell and his law partner, Elizabeth Anne Valandingham, have moved substantial amounts of money through relatives, employees and friends who have made large campaign contributions.

Valandingham’s sister, Vanessa Brown, and her brother-in-law, Christopher Brown, have contributed more than $107,000 to New Jersey candidates since 2010,  according to records filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Most of these contributions were in large amounts that appear to match some of the places where O’Donnell’s law firm, O’Donnell McCord, received legal work.

Vanessa Brown lists her occupation as an artist and her residence as garden apartment in Verona.  Her husband, who works for IBEW Local 102, uses an Elmwood Park address on ELEC reports.  In one instance — for a contribution to Monmouth County Freeholder Thomas Arnone – Christopher Brown lists his employer as O’Donnell McCord and uses the law firm address.

Vanessa Brown declined to discuss her campaign contributions when the Globe reached her on Friday.

“Right now, I’m driving with my kids,” she said.  “It’s my father’s birthday.”

She promised to call back but has not.  If she does, this story will be updated with comment.

Jacqueline and Paul DeCamara, described as longtime friends of O’Donnell, have contributed nearly $50,000 to O’Donnell McCord clients.

Jackie DeCamara is an executive at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, reports show, but she additionally listed O’Donnell McCord as her employer in at least one campaign donation.

There are some oddities to the DeCamara contributions.

Court records show that the DeCamara’s declared bankruptcy in 2011, stating that they had $210 in cash.

Despite those filings, they donated $2,600 to the Morris County Republican Committee four days later, and a couple of weeks after that, sent $5,200 to the Bloomfield Democratic County Committee.

Later that year, DeCamara contributed $5,200 to Steven Fulop, then a Jersey City councilman. Since then, they have contributed another $9,000.

Vanessa Brown contributed $2,600 to the Morris GOP, over $15,000 to the Bloomfield Democrats and their candidates, $500 to Monmouth County GOP Chairman Shaun Golden,  and $2,600 to Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty.

She contributed over $10,000 to Fulop.

Christopher Brown send nearly $8,000 to Bloomfield, $2,500 to Fulop-connected committees, $2,600 to the Monmouth County Republicans, and $2,600 to Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor.

Richard Balanzategui, who works at the Hackensack Home Depot, has also made thousands in political contributions.  He is married to another one of Valandingham’s sisters and in some contributions – including $1,500 to the Monmouth GOP – he listed O’Donnell McCord as his employer.

O’Donnell connected donors also sent more than $8,000 to West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta, a Republican who rarely faces a Democratic opponent.  Large contributions were also made in West Orange.

Another contributor connected to O’Donnell, Erin O’Reilly, donated more than $33,000 to most of the same candidates as the others.

Valandingham did not immediately return a 3:13 PM call seeking comment.

Paul DeCamara did not immediately return a 5:46 PM call seeking comment.

Tempesta did not immediately return a 5:52 PM call seeking comment.

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