The Strange and Ragged Road to Hudson County


The house in North Bergen doesn’t really stand out. That’s not a criticism, just a fact.

Nonetheless, the house on a typically-crowded Hudson County street may indirectly be part of a state corruption case against five New Jersey politicians, including John Cesaro a one-time Morris County freeholder. Call it a bizarre tidbit in a state known for bizarre and peculiar politics.

Indictments were reported Tuesday against four individuals on bribery charges.

Essentially, they are charged with taking bribes from a “cooperating witness,” who was looking for legal work. That witness has not been identified by the state, but is believed to be Matt O’Donnell, a Morristown lawyer whose firm has a history of doing public work.

The four indicted were Sudhan Thomas, a former Jersey City school board president, Jason O’Donnell, a former state assemblyman from Bayonne, John Windish, a former councilman in Mount Arlington and Cesaro.

Also charged in the case was Mary Dougherty, a former Morris County freeholder candidate and the wife of Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty. Those charges remain, although she has not been indicted. The original charges in the case date back to December, 2019.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office said information supporting charges against each individual is presented separately to a grand jury, which takes time.

Matt O’Donnell is the seeming connection among a group of Hudson and Morris county politicians who ordinarily would have no seeming connection.

This is a bipartisan endeavor.

Thomas, Jason O’Donnell and Dougherty are Democrats; Windish and Cesaro are Republicans.

All five are accused of taking money ranging from $7,000 to $35,000 from an individual now identified as Person Number One. Previously, the state AG identified him as a “cooperating witness.” In all cases, the man believed to be Matt O’Donnell, was looking for legal work in exchange for cash.

Of the four people indicted, Cesaro was the only one also charged with concealing or misrepresenting


campaign contributors.

This eventually gets us to Hudson County.

Candidates must file periodic financial statements with the Election Law Enforcement Commission detailing contributions and expenses.

The indictment of Cesaro points to a filing he made with ELEC on June 25, 2018, which would have been the post-20-day report after that June’s primary. Cesaro ran and lost that year for the party’s freeholder nomination. The indictment alleged that the “report contained false information regarding the identities of campaign contributors.”

Among the report’s itemized contributions of $2,600 was one from a “Miguel Diaz” in North Bergen. There was no employment information listed on the report for Diaz, as is requested.

I’m a Union City native who likes going back to Hudson County, so I visited the house today.

No one was home; the mailbox identified the occupants as the Gutierrez family. OK.

The report was filed in 2018 and people move.

But when an indictment accuses someone of falsifying a campaign financial statement and that statement reports a $2,600 contribution from a guy in North Bergen to a freeholder candidate in Morris County, it just may raise suspicion.

Surely, there will be more to come here in a number of ways.

Cesaro’s attorney, Robert Dunn, describes his client as a well respected man. Saying he’s heard only good things about him. Dunn said he will defend Cesaro “vigorously.”

Another wrinkle here concerns Matt O’Donnell – the now “person number one.”

It reportedly surfaced in court this week that O’Donnell entered into a plea agreement with the state back in 2018, but was still permitted to keep working on the public payroll. Of course, he also used his time to allegedly pay off public officials, which brings us to where we are today.

Nonetheless, the idea that he was still working for the government is not something defense lawyers are going to forget.

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