Two Hudson County Officials Busted in Corruption Sweep

Sudhan Thomas.

A former Bayonne Assemblyman and the outgoing Jersey City School board president were two Hudson names among five public figures charged with taking bribes.

Jason O’Donnell, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Bayonne and served as that city’s Public Safety director for almost a decade, was among five people charged with accepting bribes.

Sudham Thomas, former board president of the Jersey City Jobs Training Program, and current school board president, was also charged.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that five current and former public officials and political candidates in New have been charged with taking bribes in a major investigation of political corruption in Hudson and Morris counties conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).

The five defendants are charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of campaign contributions.  In return, the defendants allegedly promised the cooperating witness, who is a tax attorney, that they would vote or use their official authority or influence to hire or continue to hire his law firm for lucrative government legal work.  Envelopes and paper bags filled with cash – and even a coffee cup stuffed with cash – were delivered to the defendants by the cooperating witness at restaurants, parking lots, a political fundraiser, and a campaign headquarters.  Other times the cooperating witness offered checks from illegal “straw donors” – individuals reimbursed to write checks to the defendant’s campaign in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations.

Thomas recently came under fire for allegedly making out checks from jobs program account but was never charged with wrong-doing.

Others charged in the sweep include John Cesaro, a former Morris County freeholder, John Windish, a former Mount Arlington Council member and Mary Dougherty, a former Morris County Freeholder candidate

The defendants who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct – Thomas, Cesaro and Windish – also are charged with second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior.

“We allege that these political candidates were all too willing to sell the authority of their public office or the office they sought in exchange for an envelope filled with cash or illegal checks from straw donors,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that undermines the political process and erodes public faith in government.  We are working through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to create a culture of accountability in New Jersey, where public officials know they must act with integrity or else face the consequences.”

The defendants were charged in an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability which began in early 2018 and focused on political figures in Hudson and Morris counties who allegedly solicited illegal campaign contributions from the cooperating witness in return for promised official action to provide him with government work.

“These cases reflect one of OPIA’s core missions, which is to root out corruption and misconduct in state and local government and related elections,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher.  “We are determined to hold public officials and candidates responsible for their actions, no matter their political positions or alliances.  New Jersey has some of the nation’s strongest anti-corruption laws, and we will use them to ensure that government officials single-mindedly serve the public interest, not their own selfish interests.”

Thomas, who was apparently also raising funds for a possible run for city council in 2021, is charged with allegedly accepting $35,000 in cash bribes, $10,000 delivered on one date and $25,000 delivered on a second date.

Thomas allegedly agreed, in return for the cash payments, to arrange for the cooperating witness to be hired as a special counsel for the Jersey City Board of Education.  Thomas and the cooperating witness allegedly discussed specific work projects that the cooperating witness would receive from the board of education.

The alleged criminal conduct occurred between May and July 2019.  Thomas lost his bid for re-election to the Jersey City School Board in November, and his term on the Board ends at the end of December.

Thomas was not available for comment.

Former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Bayonne in 2018, is charged with accepting a $10,000 cash bribe.  O’Donnell allegedly solicited $10,000 in “street money” for his mayoral campaign from the cooperating witness.  In return, O’Donnell allegedly agreed to provide the cooperating witness with tax work from the City of Bayonne if elected mayor.

O’Donnell allegedly accepted a paper bag containing $10,000 in cash from the cooperating witness at his campaign headquarters.

Ironically, O’Donnell was spared prosecution in the 2009 Big Rig III investigation, when he was approached in the parking lot of the Chart House in Weehawken and refused a bribe.

Although not available for comment, O’Donnell in response to the Big Rig III bribe offer said, “Anybody who takes an offer from someone in parking lot asking for trouble. You have to know that something is wrong in a situation like that.”

O’Donnell failed to file required campaign reports with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) disclosing the $10,000 contribution. The alleged criminal conduct occurred between April and May 2018.

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