An ongoing corruption probe in New Jersey has led to another arrest by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). That word comes from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who says 47-year old attorney Elizabeth Valandingham of Morristown is the sixth person arrested in connection with the investigation. All of the accused are former, elected public officials or candidates for public office who have been charged with taking bribes.
Among the previous people charged in the probe are former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell of Bayonne and former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas.
Valandingham, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office, was served on Wednesday, June 17 with complaint-summonses that accuse her of second-degree misconduct by a corporate office and second-degree false representation for government contracts.
According to the press release from Attorney General Grewal, “the charges against Valandingham relate to alleged conduct between 2012 and 2017 at the law firm where she worked. One of her duties at the law firm was to prepare and submit annual proposals to various municipalities in order for the firm to garner public contracts for legal services.”
The release goes on to say, “between 2012 and 2016, Valandingham submitted proposals to the Township of Bloomfield to provide legal serves for the years 2013 through 2017. For each submission, Bloomfield required the firm, as a material part of its submission, to disclose any reportable political contributions the firm made to an enumerated list of candidates and party committees. For each year, Valandingham indicated the firm made no political contributions, and for each year, Bloomfield awarded the firm its contracts for legal services, valued in the aggregate at approximately $120,000.It is alleged, however, that in each year for which Valandingham indicated no reportable political contributions, the firm in fact made contributions.”
The Attorney General’s Office “alleges in the complaints that Valandingham, along with an unnamed co-conspirator, recruited friends and family members to act as straw donors— people who made political contributions and would subsequently be reimbursed in cash by the firm for those contributions. It is alleged that, in total, during the time that Valandingham indicated that the firm made no contributions, the firm made tens of thousands of dollars in straw contributions.”
Back in 2016, Valandingham allegedly “submitted a proposal for legal services to the Borough of Mount Arlington for the year 2017. Mount Arlington required that Valandingham certify that the firm made no reportable political contributions in the year preceding the award of the contract. She certified that no reportable contributions were made in 2016, and the borough awarded the firm a lucrative contract, earning the firm in excess of $470,000. It is alleged that, in fact, Valandingham made contributions through her straw donors to Mount Arlington officials in the amount of $7,500 in 2016”, according to the press release issued by the Attorney General.
The previously charged defendants, including O’Donnell and Thomas, “face pending charges of second-degree bribery in official and political matters for allegedly 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.”
The new charges against Valandingham are in connection with conduct that is not directly related to the bribery allegations against the other five defendants in the case.
If the accused suspects are found guilty, second-degree crimes carry sentences of between five and ten years in state prison. In addition, they carry a fine up to $150,000. Valandingham does not yet have a defense attorney.Valandingham-Compaint-Summons