Sudhan Thomas, Ex-JCBOE President & Jason O’Donnell, Ex-Assemblyman Among 4 Indicted For Allegedly Taking Bribes, Another Still Facing Bribery

Attorney General Grewal Announces Indictments Against Four Former Public Officials and Political Candidates Charged With Taking Bribes

Three Defendants Facing Official Misconduct Charges

 Thomas Indictment | O’Donnell Indictment | Cesaro Indictment | Windish Indictment

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Tuesday that four former public officials and political candidates in New Jersey – including former Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas and former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell – have been indicted by a state grand jury on charges that they allegedly took bribes in a major investigation of political corruption in Hudson and Morris counties conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).

The four defendants were initially charged by complaint-summons in December 2019. A fifth defendant, Mary Dougherty, continues to face a bribery charge filed by complaint-summons at that time.

The four defendants are charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of illegal 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 were delivered to the defendants by the cooperating witness at various locations.  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.

The following four defendants were charged as follows in four separate indictments returned by the state grand jury on Jan. 20, Jan. 27, and Feb. 3:

Sudhan Thomas, 45, of Jersey City, N.J. –  Former Jersey City School Board President

  • Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
  • Pattern of Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
  • Bribery in Official and Political Matters (2nd Degree)
  • Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant (2nd Degree)

Jason O’Donnell, 49, of Bayonne, N.J. – Former State Assemblyman and Former Bayonne Mayoral Candidate

  • Bribery in Official and Political Matters (2nd Degree)

John Cesaro, 49, of Parsippany, N.J. – Former Morris County Freeholder

  • Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
  • Bribery in Official and Political Matters (2nd Degree)
  • Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant (2nd Degree)
  • Tampering with Public Records or Information (3rd Degree)
  • Falsifying or Tampering with Records (4th Degree)
  • Concealment or Misrepresentation of Contributions or Expenditures (4th Degree)

John Windish, 68, of Mount Arlington, N.J.  – Former Mount Arlington Council Member

  • Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
  • Bribery in Official and Political Matters (2nd Degree)
  • Acceptance or Receipt of Unlawful Benefit by Public Servant (2nd Degree) 

“These indictments are an important step in our prosecutions of these defendants,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We allege that these former political candidates agreed 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. The conduct alleged in these indictments is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that erodes public faith in government and that we are determined to root out.”

“These cases reflect one of OPIA’s core missions, which is to uncover and prosecute corruption in state and local government and related elections,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “Three of these defendants face potential mandatory minimum sentences for official misconduct in accepting bribes. New Jersey has some of the nation’s strongest anti-corruption laws, and we will use them to hold government officials accountable if instead of honestly and faithfully serving the public interest, they betray their duty by corruptly serving their own interests.”

Mary Dougherty, 60, of Morristown, N.J., a former candidate for Morris County freeholder, continues to face a charge of second-degree bribery in official and political matters filed by complaint-summons on Dec. 19, 2019.

The defendants were charged in an investigation by the OPIA Corruption Bureau 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.

Additional details regarding the alleged conduct of the defendants, as set forth in the criminal complaints initially filed against them, are contained in the press release posted at this link:

https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases19/pr20191219a.html

Deputy Attorneys General John A. Nicodemo, Trevor Taniguchi and Eric Cohen are prosecuting the defendants, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and Counsel to the Director Anthony Picione. OPIA Chief of Staff Pearl Minato, former Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson, and former OPIA Deputy Chief Jeffrey Manis also assisted in the case. Attorney General Grewal commended all of the prosecutors and detectives who conducted and supervised the investigations for the OPIA Corruption Bureau, under the leadership of OPIA Director Thomas Eicher.

Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.  The second-degree charges against those who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct – Thomas, Cesaro, and Windish – carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without eligibility for parole under New Jersey’s enhanced penalties for official corruption. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions. In December 2019, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.

OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption.  The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: http://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.


Defense Attorneys

For Thomas: Matthew Troiano, Esq., Einhorn, Barbarito, Frost & Botwinick, PC, Denville, N.J.
For O’Donnell: Leo J. Hurley Jr., Esq., Connell Foley LLP, Jersey City, N.J.
For Cesaro: Robert Dunn, Esq., Hanlon Dunn Robertson Schwartz, Morristown, N.J
For Windish: Ricardo Solano, Jr., Esq., Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, Newark, N.J.
For Dougherty: Matthew E. Beck, Esq., Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, West Orange, N.J.

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