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TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that former Morris County freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty pleaded guilty today to filing a false report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) in connection with an illegal $10,000 campaign contribution that she received.
Dougherty, 60, of Morristown, N.J., pleaded guilty to an accusation charging her with false swearing, a fourth-degree crime, before Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Taylor in Morris County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Dougherty be sentenced to a period of non-custodial probation to be determined by the court. She must forfeit the $10,000 that she received as an illegal campaign contribution. Sentencing is scheduled for March 18.
Dougherty is one of five defendants charged in an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) Corruption Bureau which began in early 2018 and focused on political figures in Hudson and Morris counties who allegedly solicited illegal campaign contributions from a cooperating witness, a tax attorney, in return for promised official action to provide him with government work. The other four defendants— former Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas, former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, and former Mount Arlington Council Member John Windish— were indicted within the past month by a state grand jury on second-degree bribery charges. All but O’Donnell are also charged with second-degree official misconduct.
Under New Jersey election law, it is illegal for a person to provide money to another person, known as a “straw donor,” to make a political contribution to a specific candidate. In pleading guilty, Dougherty admitted that during her unsuccessful campaign for Morris County freeholder in 2018, she received a $10,000 cash contribution from the cooperating witness, but returned it and asked him instead to provide her with four checks, each under the $2,600 individual limit for contributions per election per candidate. She admitted that when the cooperating witness gave her four checks, each for $2,500, made out in the names of different individuals and entities, she knew that the full $10,000 contribution was in fact from the cooperating witness.
Dougherty further admitted that when she filed her campaign’s required Form R-1 report of contributions and expenditures with ELEC, she reported that the four individuals and entities named on the checks made contributions of $2,500 each, knowing that the information was false.
Additional details regarding the indictments against Thomas, O’Donnell, Cesaro and Windish are contained in the press release posted at this link:
The indictments against the remaining four defendants are merely accusations and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo, Trevor Taniguchi and Eric Cohen are prosecuting the defendants, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione. OPIA Chief of Staff Pearl Minato, former Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson, and former OPIA Deputy Chief Jeffrey Manis also assisted in the case. Attorney General Grewal commended all of the prosecutors and detectives who conducted and supervised the investigations for the OPIA Corruption Bureau, under the leadership of OPIA Director Thomas Eicher.
Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions. In December 2019, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.
OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption. The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: http://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.
For Dougherty: Matthew E. Beck, Esq., Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, West Orange, N.J.
For Thomas: Matthew Troiano, Esq., Einhorn, Barbarito, Frost & Botwinick, PC, Denville, N.J.
For O’Donnell: Leo J. Hurley Jr., Esq., Connell Foley LLP, Jersey City, N.J.
For Cesaro: Robert Dunn, Esq., Hanlon Dunn Robertson Schwartz, Morristown, N.J.
For Windish: Ricardo Solano, Jr., Esq., Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, Newark, N.J.