Diving Deeper into The Attorney General’s Office Charges

Cesaro

Thursday’s explosive announcement from the state Attorney General charging three Morris County politicians and two Hudson County pols with taking bribes cited the work of a “cooperating witness,” which is pretty standard.

But what is not at all standard is that the state AG may have – unwittingly one presumes – identified the “cooperating witness.”  Crazy stuff, no?

In detailing the alleged offense of former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish, the release says that “Windish allegedly promised that he would support the reappointment of the cooperating witness as borough attorney.”

This took place in 2018. So, the AG’s release says the “cooperating witness” is seeking reappointment as borough attorney. Stating the obvious, that means the cooperating witness and the Mount Arlington Borough Attorney in 2018 are one in the same.

And that individual is Matthew O’Donnell of Morristown. O’Donnell is well known in political circles as a tax and real estate lawyer.  He also remains borough attorney in Mount Arlington, according to public records.

He did not respond to a request to shed light on the matter.

Neither did the state Attorney General’s office. It’s impossible to say if the AG’s office did this deliberately, or if it was just an example of clumsy writing.

At any rate, this peculiarity adds a layer of intrigue to a case that conjures up images (on a smaller scale) of Solomon Dwek and the U.S. Attorney days of Chris Christie when it was pretty common to hear about politicians foolish, or perhaps cocky, enough to take wads of cash from those seeking favor.

From a Morris County point of view, this has a bipartisan flavor.

Three people were charged – Republican John Cesaro of Parsippany, The Republican Windish of Mount Arlington and Democrat Mary Dougherty of Morristown.

There are stories about all of them.

Cesaro, according to the AG’s release, solicited money for a 2021 run for Parsippany mayor against Democrat Michael Soriano. He is accused of accepting more than $12,000 in cash and checks in return for a promise to give the cooperating witness, or CW in the state’s lingo, tax work.

While the 2021 mayor’s race was under discussion here, Cesaro has popped up as a likely candidate for freeholder. A convention is on tap for January to replace Freeholder Heather Darling who will become county surrogate. Generally speaking, corruption charges are not good for a candidate’s resume.

Tayfun Selen of Chatham Township, another interested freeholder candidate, said only that the charges against Cesaro were “very sad.”  David Scapicchio of Mount Olive, a former freeholder, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Cesaro’s attorney, Robert Dunn, said simply that his client denies all the allegations.

Dougherty is the wife of Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and also a member of the state Democratic Committee. That means she would have had a vote for state chair if a battle between John Currie and Leroy Jones developed. Dougherty would have been on the side of Currie, who had been endorsed by Gov. Phil Murphy. But now that Currie and Jones have worked out a way to settle their dispute without bloodshed, metaphorically speaking, that intrigue is over.

The allegations against Dougherty stem from her 2018 run for freeholder.  In what seems to be a theatrical touch, she allegedly accepted $10,000 in cash from the CW – money that was, if you can believe it, stuffed into a take-out coffee cup, presumably minus the coffee. Later, as with Cesaro, some of the cash was converted to checks, according to the state.

In return, Dougherty promised to support the reappointment of CW as a “counsel for Morris County.” This should have been a red flag for someone. Even if Dougherty and her two running-mates at the time had been elected, Democrats would not have controlled the freeholder board, so the ability of her to appoint anyone would have been questionable. Dougherty, by the way, came closer to winning a freeholder seat than a Morris County Democrat has come in years.

She issued the following statement through her lawyer, Matthew Beck – “I learned today that I have been charged with campaign finance related offenses in connection with my 2018 campaign for Morris County freeholder. While I intend to defend against these allegations in the courtroom and not the press, I will say that I am a person of great integrity and conscience and I look forward to presenting my side of the story after which I expect to be vindicated.”

Windish is accused of accepting a $7,000 cash bribe from the “cooperating witness” as we mentioned above. He does not yet have a lawyer, according to the AG’s office.

Two interesting things here.

One is that the alleged bribe money did Windish no good – he lost in the June, 2018, GOP primary.

The second thing is the amount of money involved, which should have told Windish that something was amiss.

Seven thousand dollars for a council race in Mount Arlington? There are only about 5,000 people in the entire town.

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2 responses to “Diving Deeper into The Attorney General’s Office Charges”

  1. Wow! You mean to tell me that soliciting political donations in exchange for the promise of a job or a contract is a crime? Who knew? Thought it was just the good ole game of politics. If this is in fact considered bribery, how many other elected officials, state chairman and county chairman should be arrested and charged? There a lot of reorganization meetings coming up. Perhaps the AG’s Office should take a look at a few of those agendas. If he needs help, I can make a few recommendations to start with.

  2. well, here’s a scenario which is a gray area – suppose the politician already favors the contractor/job seeker. From the politician’s viewpoint, he/she would hire that contractor if he/she gets elected to that office, no matter whether or not the contractor gave any money. But the only reason that contractor wanted to give money was to get the politician elected. You can’t really prove it, but in most cases, the election results are predictable, so the donor is not trying to sway the election, but rather to buy influence with the inevitable winner.

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