5 more charged in NJ corruption sting: $239K in straw donations
State prosecutors have charged five more people in a corruption investigation that has ensnared a dozen individuals involved in political campaigns from Monmouth to Passaic counties and points in between.
The latest defendants have been accused of working with Morristown attorney Elizabeth Valandingham to make straw-donor contributions to political campaigns, both Democratic and Republican.
Straw donors are reimbursed for making political contributions. The funneling practice is illegal because it is used to hide the source of campaign contributions.
In this case, state prosecutors said Valandingham’s law firm paid the straw donors about $239,000 in cash to make contributions to certain campaigns over the years.
In June, Valandingham, 47, was charged with getting government contracts from Bloomfield and Mount Arlington after lying about not making political contributions to officials in those municipalities. Investigators said Valandingham had hid the contributions with the use of straw donors.
Prosecutors have not said whether any of the recipients of the donations were aware of the scheme.
The latest busts are an extension of a wide-ranging investigation that last year busted five political officials and led to allegations that the wife of Morristown’s mayor took a cash bribe delivered in a coffee cup at a restaurant.
The state Attorney General’s Office charged these five alleged straw donors with fourth-degree concealment of contributions:
- Vanessa Brown, 40, of West Caldwell
- Christopher Brown, 37, of West Caldwell
- Ricardo Balanzateguimaldo, 40, of Bogota
- Erin O’Relly, aka Erin DeMauro, 41, of Lincoln Park
- Suzanne P. Gayet, 63, of Boonton
A New Jersey 101.5 review of Election Law Enforcement Records found about $97,000 in contributions reported by Vanessa Brown over a number of years to Republicans in Morris Township, West Caldwell, Holmdel, Mount Arlington, Monmouth County and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso; and to Democrats in Newark, Irvington, East Orange, Belleville, Bayonne, former Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, Paterson Mayor Andrew Sayegh, former West New York Mayor Feliz Roque and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Prosecutors did not say whether any of these contributions were made as straw donations.
Nearly $40,000 in contributions were reported by O’Reilly or DeMauro over the years to Democrats in Bloomfield, Madison, Belleville, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Paterson Mayor Andrew Sayegh, Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp and Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty; and to Republicans in West Caldwell, Mount Arlington and Livingston. Prosecutors did not say whether any of these contributions were made as straw donations.
Gayet reported nearly $30,000 in contributions over the years to Democrats in Belleville, Irvington, Jersey City, Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, former Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, former West New York Mayor Felix Roque and Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse; and to Republicans in Mount Arlington, West Caldwell and Monmouth County. Prosecutors did not say whether any of these contributions were made as straw donations.
Second-degree bribery charges filed last year are pending against former Jersey City school board president Sudhan Thomas, former Democratic assemblyman and Bayonne mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell, former Republican Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, former Republican Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish and former Democratic Morris County freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.