Corruption Jersey style: Councilman may join long list of crooked officials
Rich Leonard – Roseland combo.jpg
Roseland Councilman Richard Leonard is accused of proclaiming his intent to vote down a redevelopment designation for a local business until its owners agreed to pay for snow to be cleared from the parking lot of his own business. (NJ Advance Media file photos)
By Thomas Moriarty | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
When the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office charged a Roseland councilman last month with conspiring to commit official misconduct, he joined a long line of municipal officials in the Garden State called to account in court for their alleged misuse of power.
That councilman, Richard Leonard, is scheduled to make his first appearance in state Superior Court Thursday on accusations he proclaimed his intention to vote down a redevelopment designation for a business neighboring his own unless its owners paid to clear snow from his parking lot.
The prosecutor’s office said several of Leonard’s fellow council members heard him issue the alleged threat — detailed in the criminal complaint filed against him — and that Leonard later abstained from a vote on the redevelopment designation after resolving the issue.
Over the past decades, countless municipal officials in the Garden State have been charged by local, state and federal authorities with offenses ranging from records tampering to bribery, many of those cases resulting in negotiated guilty pleas. Many of those cases involved the straightforward misuse of public employees and resources for personal gain.
New cases of abuse of public funds may still be taking place. A number of current ongoing investigations into corruption at the municipal level — including an FBI probe of the suspected misuse of federal funds in Orange — have been confirmed through search warrants, subpoenas and other legal documents obtained by reporters.
Here are some of the most noteworthy recent cases of municipal officials, both elected and not, accused of abusing their public positions in New Jersey:
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills 2, injures 12 in Passaic, mayor says
Then-Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco addresses reporters on Dec. 6, 2014, after carbon monoxide poisoning killed two people and injured 12 others at a music studio in the city. (Justin Zaremba | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Mayor demanded bribes from developers
Alex Blanco’s term as mayor of Passaic came crashing down in November 2016 when he pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge, admitting he had used an intermediary to demand bribes from the developers of two low-income housing projects.
Federal prosecutors said Blanco had demanded the bribes as a condition of releasing federal Housing and Urban Development funds for the developments. The developers eventually went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Blanco agreed to cooperate after the FBI confronted him with the evidence.
Former Passaic mayor sentenced for bribery scheme
Alex Blanco, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Newark with his attorney Joseph Hayden, right, after being sentenced on April 18, 2017, to more than two years in prison for bribery. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
The state Attorney General’s Office arrested Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet in 2015 after a local business owner reported Chalet was demanding $15K to ensure the township purchased the man’s property. (File photos)
Councilman flushed away his public servant role, and third of the bribe money
Former Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet is scheduled to be sentenced on July 12 after admitting in state Superior Court to having demanded $15,000 from a local business owner to guarantee that the township would purchase his property.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which arrested Chalet in November 2015, said the business owner immediately went to the authorities and recorded his deliveries of cash for investigators. When detectives moved in to arrest Chalet after the business owner’s final $5,000 payment, authorities said, Chalet locked himself in the office and flushed the cash down the toilet.
Bloomfield councilman pleads guilty to bribery charge
Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet, center, takes the oath before pleading guilty to bribery charges on May 9, 2017, before Superior Court Judge Martin G. Cronin in Newark. (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Chalet’s case had been scheduled for trial in front of Judge Martin G. Cronin in Newark, but in May 2017 he opted instead to make a deal with the state, pleading guilty to a second-degree charge of bribery in exchange for a five-year prison term.
He immediately forfeited his council seat as condition of the plea.
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