TRENTON, NJ - Former Bayonne mayoral candidate Jason O’Donnell was among five public officials charged with taking bribes Thursday. O’Donnell also served as director of public safety under Mayor Mark Smith and represented Bayonne in the New Jersey General Assembly.
According to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, O’Donnell’s alleged wrongdoings were part of a major investigation of political corruption in Hudson and Morris counties conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
A total of five defendants are charged with taking thousands of dollars in bribes from a cooperating witness in the form of 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 – 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, the statement by Grewal said.
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.
“We allege that these political candidates were all too willing 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,” said Grewal. “This is old-school political corruption at its worst— the kind that undermines the political process and erodes public faith in government. We are working through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to create a culture of accountability in New Jersey, where public officials know they must act with integrity or else face the consequences.”
O’Donnell, who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Bayonne in 2018, is charged with allegedly accepting a $10,000 cash bribe. The charges state that as a candidate he sought the funds in “street money” for his mayoral campaign between April and May, 2018.
In return, O’Donnell allegedly agreed to provide the cooperating witness with tax work from the City of Bayonne if elected mayor. The “street money”, according to the statement, was delivered by the cooperating witness in a paper bag at his campaign headquarters, and failed to file required campaign reports with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) disclosing the contribution. The alleged criminal conduct occurred between April and May 2018.
O’Donnell did not respond to a request for comment.
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