TRENTON, NJ - Morristown resident Elizabeth Valandingham, an attorney, pleaded guilty today to tampering with public records to conceal an illegal straw donor scheme, announced Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Valandingham pleaded guilty to an accusation charging her with third-degree tampering with public records or information before Superior Court Judge Robert Hanna in Morris County. She was charged in connection with conduct that occurred between 2012 and 2017 at the law firm where she worked, according to officials. One of her duties at the law firm was to prepare and submit annual proposals to various municipalities in order for the firm to garner public contracts for legal services, they stated.
The investigation by OPIA revealed that between 2013 and 2016, Valandingham submitted proposals to the Township of Bloomfield to provide legal serves for the years 2014 through 2017. Bloomfield required the firm, as a material part of each submission, to disclose any reportable political contributions the firm made in the previous year to an enumerated list of candidates and party committees. For each year, Valandingham indicated the firm made no political contributions, and Bloomfield awarded the firm its contracts for legal services, valued in the aggregate at approximately $120,000. The firm, in fact, made political contributions in each of the years in question through straw donors.
The investigation revealed that Valandingham, along with an unnamed co-conspirator, recruited friends and family members to act as straw donors—people who made political contributions and would subsequently be reimbursed in cash by the firm for those contributions. In total, during the time that Valandingham indicated that the firm made no contributions, the firm made tens of thousands of dollars in straw contributions
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to a term of probation conditioned upon her serving 364 days in the county jail, according to the Attorney General's Office.
She must forfeit her law license and pay a $75,000 public corruption profiteering penalty, according to the plea. She also will be debarred from any public contracts for a period of 10 years.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 25.
“By recruiting straw donors and falsifying contract proposals and ELEC reports, this defendant tried to evade our campaign finance and pay-to-play laws,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will not tolerate those who engage in criminal conduct to skirt these important laws, which are meant to stop politically connected firms from purchasing public contracts with campaign contributions.”
“Fair elections and open public contracts are vital to our democracy, and that is why we have strong laws to safeguard them,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “This guilty plea reflects our determination to hold dishonest operators accountable if they break those laws and threaten to undermine those critical bulwarks of good government.”