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Elizabeth Valandingham, a former law partner of Matt O'Donnell, the state's cooperating witness in a corruption sting.

O’Donnell ex-law partner charged with lying about campaign contributions

Elizabeth Valandingham accused of using straw donors to secure government contracts

By David Wildstein, June 19 2020 4:18 pm

The former law partner of Matthew O’Donnell, the state’s cooperating witness in a sting operation that resulted in corruption charges against five former officials and candidates last December, has been charged with lying about alleged pay-to-play violations.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has accused Elizabeth Valandingham of not being truthful about making campaign contributions aimed at helping her now-dissolved law firm, O’Donnell McCord, obtain public contracts to do tax appeal work.

Valandingham, was charged second-degree false representation for government contracts and second degree misconduct by a corporate official.

After O’Donnell was identified as the cooperating witness, most of the firm’s public clients dropped their contracts with him.  He stepped down as municipal attorney in East Hanover and was replaced as municipal attorney in Mount Arlington.

The attorney general’s office said that Valandingham was responsible for preparing and submitting proposals to government entities to secure legal services.

According to state prosecutors, Valandingham did not disclose campaign contributions made in Bloomfield or Mount Arlington, even though the firm had.

The state alleges that Valandingham, along with an unnamed co-conspirator – strongly believed to be O’Donnell — recruited friends and family members to act as straw donors.

Valandingham intends to plead not guilty, her attorney said.

“Elizabeth is an excellent attorney and did nothing wrong and denies all allegations contained within the criminal complaints. She is supported by her friends and family and all those that know her,” said Anthony J. Iacullo, Valandingham’s attorney.  “Elizabeth looks forward to establishing her innocence in a court of law.”

The New Jersey Globe reported last December that an anonymous whistleblower contacted law enforcement in June 2017 about allegations that Donnell and Valandingham used straw donors to funnel money to local candidates he was pitching for tax appeal work.

The attorney general’s office effectively confirmed the report, saying that the firm used straw donors who would later be reimbursed in cash for their contributions in order to secure legal work.

The whistleblower told state and federal authorities that the two lawyers 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.

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.

Reached at her office at Trump National on Friday afternoon, DeCamara declined comment.

“That was ten years ago. I don’t know anything about it, nor do I care,” she said.

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.

The charges against Valandingham are not related to bribery allegations made against the five former officials or candidates, the attorney general’s office said.

Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.

The Star-Ledger first reported the charges filed against Valandingham.

This story was updated at 6:41 PM with comment from Iacullo.

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