TRENTON – A legislative aide who worked in the office of state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan and former Assemblyman Neil Cohen has been charged with tampering with at least 20 absentee ballots to influence the outcome of a hotly contested 2006 primary election.
Roselle Borough Council President Jamel Holley is facing a single charge of illegally filling out absentee ballots of voters after a lengthy investigation by Detective Sgt. John R. Pizzuro of the State Police Official Corruption Bureau.
Holley waived his right to be indicted by a grand jury and agreed to be charged by accusation. The accusation was entered before Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Mercer County.
Holley’s alleged actions tainted the election so badly, that the nomintion of candidate Rosemarie Bullock was thrown out by the New Jersey Superior Court, in a case upheld by the Appellate Division.
Instead, Christine Dansereau was declared winner of the Democratic Party nomination for Fifth Ward Borough Council going into the 2006 general election, after dozens of citizens helped sort through absentee ballots as witnesses to the voter fraud.
Dansereau appeared to be the winner as results were tabulated in her favor 279 to 211 at polling places but 54 of 62 absentee ballots cast were for Bullock, putting the machine-backed contender 284 to 265 ahead of the insurgent.
Superior Court Judge John Malone, a former county Democratic chairman whose wife is a top aide to Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, called Dansereau’s case ”convoluted, contradictory and confusing” when he dismissed her complaint challenging the results.
An appellate panel reversed Malone’s decision to dismiss the matter, then following a six-day trial in September 2006 before another judge, during which 38 witnesses testified, the court invalidated 31 absentee ballots and declared Dansereau the victor of the Democratic primary.
Some observers have questioned why it took so long to act against this apparent attack on the integrity of the electoral process, which was described as a clear case of ballot fraud.
“Some voters testified they had never met Holley or did not know who he was but his name appeared as the bearer of their absentee ballots,” according to a subsequent Appeals Court ruling. “The majority of the voters had no idea how their ballots ultimately got to the Board or how many messengers were involved in the transport; their sealed or unsealed ballots were left at home or in their personal mailbox for pick-up by unknown persons, given to neighbors, campaign workers, or unknown men and women. Somehow their ballots ended up at the Board, twenty-three of them signed by Holley.”
In contrast with the three-year inquiry into Holley’s documented offenses, it took only a few weeks for Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow to charge 2009 Roselle council candidate Marc Baltimore with voting twice in the June 2, primary election.
It is unclear how Baltimore even could have violated the law, since Election Board workers typically mark the record book to prevent someone from voting at a polling place if that voter already cast an absentee ballot, but Romankow claims the candidate voted at the polls after submitting a ballot by mail.
Unlike Holley, Baltimore is not allied with the Lesniak political machine, run locally by Union County party boss Charlotte DeFilippo.
Tina Renna, a frequent critic of corruption in the county, attributed Baltimore’s legal woes to being on the wrong side of the political machine.
Sources say Holley was moved out of the legislative office and into a job at the Union County Office of Economic Development after Lesniak exploded over the potential impact of the voting crimes as he, Cryan and Cohen sought re-election in 2007.
It was later reported that Lesniak set up a legal defense fund for DeFilippo, who is being investigated in connection with illegalities related to a title insurance company she co-owned with Cryan.
DeFilippo’s close associate, Rosemary McClave, was charged with stealing money from Cohen’s election fund to use for personal expenses, but avoided prison by participating in a pre-trial intervention program that will prevent her prosecution and leave her employed as the municipal chief financial officer in Teterboro.
Not every political insider has been shielded from criminal prosecution. Cohen was charged been with using a legislative office computer to access child pornography.
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