Incumbent Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas, an Indian American, is among five former and current public officials and political candidates in New Jersey who have been charged with taking bribes following a major corruption investigation, the state’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, announced on Thursday.
The five defendants are charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of campaign contributions, Grewal said, reported NBC News. 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, according to Grewal.
Other times the cooperating witness offered checks from illegal “straw donors” – which are individuals reimbursed to write checks to the defendant’s campaign in amounts that complied with the legal limit on individual donations, NBC News reported.
Thomas, who at the time of his conduct also was preparing to run for Jersey City Councilman in 2021, is charged with accepting $35,000 in cash bribes, $10,000 delivered on one date and $25,000 delivered on a second date, according to prosecutors.
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, reported NBC.
Thomas’ alleged conduct took place between May and July 2019. Thomas lost his bid for re-election to the Jersey City School Board in November. His term on the Board ends at the end of December.
Thomas’ attorney did not immediately respond to NBC 4 New York’s email request for comment.
New Jersey Globe reported Mark Matzen, a spokesman for Fairer NJ, said he had expected charges against Thomas but was surprised by the extent of official’s alleged crimes.
“The mission of Fairer NJ is ensuring our children get the best education possible and that our schools have a secure, stable and reoccurring financial backing,” Matzen said. “None of that is possible without new leadership. That is good for Jersey City’s parents, children, residents and businesses.”
According to Ballotpedia, Thomas won his incumbent seat in the at-large general election on November 8, 2016. He was part of the Education Matters slate of candidates.
Three of the nine seats on the Jersey City Public Schools Board of Education were up for at-large general election on November 8, 2016. No incumbents filed for re-election. Ten candidates filed in the race, including former candidate Gina Verdibello and former board member Angel Valentin. They faced eight newcomers: Asmaa Abdalla, Mussab Ali, Luis Fernandez, Kimberly Goycochea, Natalia Ioffe, Mark Rowan, Sudhan Thomas, and Matthew Schapiro.
Valentin, Fernandez, and Thomas won in the general election. Three candidates filed in the race but withdrew their candidacy and did not appear on the ballot: Dominique Lee, DeJon Morris, and Jose Vasquez, reported Ballotpedia.
Thomas was endorsed in the election by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D), the Jersey City Police and Firefighter Department unions, and the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA). He was also endorsed in the election by New Jersey Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) and the College Democrats of New Jersey.
NBC News reported that apart from Thomas, former State Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Bayonne in 2018, is charged with accepting a $10,000 bribe. O’Donnell allegedly solicited $10,000 in “street money” for his mayoral campaign from the cooperating witness.
O’Donnell allegedly accepted a paper bag containing $10,000 in cash from the cooperating witness at his campaign headquarters. In return, O’Donnell allegedly agreed to provide the cooperating witness with tax work from the City of Bayonne if elected mayor.
Additionally, Former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro was also charged following the investigation. Cesaro, who was a sitting county freeholder at the time of the alleged criminal conduct, solicited contributions from the cooperating witness for his 2021 campaign for Mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills, reported NBC News.
Cesaro allegedly accepted an envelope containing $10,000 in cash and $2,350 in checks from the cooperating witness, but later returned the cash, asking the cooperating witness to replace it with checks.
Former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish allegedly accepted a $7,000 cash bribe. Windish allegedly solicited cash from the cooperating witness for his unsuccessful bid for re-election to borough council in June 2018. In return, Windish allegedly promised that he would support the reappointment of the cooperating witness as borough attorney.
According to prosecutors, Windish accepted an envelope containing $7,000 in cash from the cooperating witness.
Also, Mary Dougherty, a real estate agent from Morristown, allegedly accepted a bribe of $10,000 from the cooperating witness – initially delivered as cash but later converted to checks from “straw donors” – for her unsuccessful campaign for Morris County Freeholder in 2018, prosecutors say. In return, she allegedly promised to support the reappointment of the cooperating witness as counsel for Morris County.