Attorney General seeks to seal court records in case connected to Matt O’Donnell
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has sealed the court records to dismiss a charge against a former Hudson Council official. This reinforces the mysterious circumstances surrounding Matthew O’Donnell, the state’s cooperating witness in a political corruption operation.
The New Jersey Globe first reported the existence of a June 2018 objection agreement on February 16, 2021, after it was upheld by Assistant Attorney General John Nicodemo during a trial before Supreme Court Justice Mitzi Galis-Menendez.
The attorney general filed a record-sealing motion on March 24, two days after the New Jersey Globe requested copies of public court records relating to charges against Jason O’Donnell, who is unrelated to the cooperating witness.
Justice spokesman Pete McAleer said the courts administrative office lacks a copy of pleadings filed by prosecutors and a defense attorney or an order to seal filings pending a hearing.
“There is no order. The order submitted had to be edited because it contained personal identifiers, ”said McAleer. “The parties withdrew the pleadings to handle the editorial work. We don’t have the job. “
Since the attorney general’s pleadings are not on file with the courts, it is not immediately clear whether the state is attempting to seal records under a court rule that “carries the risk of prosecution” – which may indicate that the state has not yet investigated Completed in connection with Matthew O’Donnell’s collaboration.
In October 2020, ten months after Grewal announced a corruption charge against five former elected officials and candidates, a state grand jury subpoena was served in West Caldwell, where O’Donnell was the longtime tax complaint attorney. The New Jersey Globe received a copy of the subpoena.
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta told the New Jersey Globe that he was unaware that O’Donnell had reached a plea agreement after reading a published report.
“I didn’t know any offers or anything,” Tempesta said.
The courts have provided a copy of a protection order preventing public access to discoveries. This is usually associated with unedited confidential personal identifiers and unrelated to attempting to seal public records.
Nicodemo admitted that his cooperating witness – widely identified as Matthew O’Donnell – has not yet made a plea of guilt and that the Attorney General has not notified the State Office of Attorney Ethics.
While Grewal announced charges against five former elected officials or candidates in December 2019,
Prosecutors cite rules governing public access to court files.
A judge can seal court files “for good cause,” but the Attorney General must demonstrate that disclosure would clearly and seriously harm an individual, or that an individual’s interest in privacy outweighs the presumption that the public has a right to see court files.
Under the agreement, the state has now allowed the witness, widely known as Morristown attorney Matt O’Donnell, to become the recipient of a significant amount of public money, even after acknowledging an unspecified crime.
Since entering into an appeal agreement, O’Donnell has been billing government agencies for tax complaints – which sometimes prevented other companies from getting their jobs – and representing the state of New Jersey in its role as local district attorney in court.
O’Donnell has agreed to return profits from illegal activities, but the state doesn’t know how much that is. Despite his 32 month old pledge with the state, he remains a respected lawyer.
Prosecutors have charged ten other people, including Elizabeth Valandingham, Matthew O’Donnell’s former legal partner.
Mary Dougherty, a former Morris County freeholder candidate charged with cash contributions, pleaded guilty on March 18 of filing a false campaign report. She was sentenced to one year probation.
Two of the low-end O’Donnell program participants – Suzanne Gayet and Erin O’Reilly – have already agreed to participate in the state investigation program that will allow them to avoid any danger of jail as long as they stay out of trouble for a certain period of time.
Prosecutors alleged Valandingham and an unnamed co-conspirator who believed he was O’Donnell were recruiting friends and family members to act as straw donors.
The New Jersey Globe first reported in December 2019 that an anonymous whistleblower contacted law enforcement in June 2017 over allegations that O’Donnell and Valandingham used straw donors to direct money to local candidates he was preparing for tax complaint proceedings.
The whistleblower told state and federal agencies that the two attorneys had transferred substantial amounts from relatives, employees and friends who made major campaign contributions.
The attorney general later effectively upheld the report, saying the company had used straw dispensers, which would later be reimbursed for their contributions in cash to help secure the legal work.
Valandingham turned down a plea deal that included three years in prison last summer.
A week before Christmas 2019, the state charged five current and former elected officials and candidates – including Jersey City Education Committee President Sudhan Thomas, former Morris County’s freeholder John Cesaro, and former Mount Arlington Alderman John Windish – with bribes Accepted as part of an investigation into political corruption by the Attorney General.
O’Donnell McCord law firm closed in 2020 after losing most of its public clients.
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