PATERSON, NJ – Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman’s wife testified on Tuesday afternoon that she and her husband filed voter registration forms in March 2011 that falsely listed their addresses as 122 Carlisle Avenue.
[Editor’s note: Updated material from Tuesday afternoon’s testimony has been added to the bottom of this story.]
The wife, Zannatul Shuma, testified through an interpreter that she still lived in Totowa at the time she filed the voter registration form and would not move to Paterson for another four months. Moreover, she said that Akhtaruzzaman’s form was false because he had not yet moved to the 122 Carlisle address. Instead, she said, he was living at 109 Carlisle Avenue at that time.
But she only made those admissions after being repeatedly questioned on the issue.
Shuma testified during the second day of the Passaic County Superior Court trial to determine whether her husband failed to fulfill the one-year residency requirement when he ran for Paterson City Council on May 8. The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Aslon Goow, the three-term 2nd Ward councilman who finished second to Akhtaruzzaman in the five-person race.
Shuma’s responses during tough questioning by Goow’s lawyer, Michael DeMarco, frustrated Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan, who at one point described her testimony as “a lot of evasion.’’
When Akhtaruzzaman’s lawyer, Joe Garcia, objected to one of DeMarco’s questions, Brogan overruled the objection, saying, “We’re now in the credibility phase. She keeps evading and contradicting and coming up with new reasons why she didn’t want to move in January 2011.’’
Shuma told the court she and Akhtaruzzaman had been married since January 2001. When asked why he moved to 109 Carlisle Avenue in January 2011, while the rest of his family - his wife, two daughters and mother – stayed at 105 Jefferson Street in Totowa, Shuma said, “He likes to live in Paterson.’’
When asked how she felt about that, she answered, “Well, that was his wish, so I have nothing to say.’’
Shuma testified that during the seven months Akhtaruzzaman lived apart from his family he would visit about once a week, sometimes staying as long as three to five hours, sharing meals with his loved ones but never staying overnight. On Monday, Akhtaruzzaman had testified that his family’s Totowa home was about 1.5 miles away from Carlisle Avenue.
[Editor’s Note: The updated material begins here.]
DeMarco asked Shuma why the rest of the family did not join Akhtaruzzaman at 109 Carlisle Avenue. She gave two reasons. One, she said, was that she did not want to stay at her brother-in-law’s home. The second, she said, was that she did not want to disrupt her daughter’s schooling.
DeMarco then asked Shuma whether she stayed with her children in Totowa in January 2011 to keep her daughter in the borough’s elementary school and to keep her from having to transfer to school in Paterson. “I did not know that,’’ she said.
At another point in her testimony, Shuma said the family stayed in Totowa in January 2011 to avoid the inconvenience of having to transport the now-10-year-old daughter back-and-forth between her school in the borough and home in Paterson. DeMarco later asked her why she was willing to make the Totowa-Paterson school trip after she and her children moved to 122 Carlisle in July 2011. “When I changed my mind,’’ she said, “I did it for my child. I thought it was good for my child.’’
Akhtaruzzaman acknowledged in his testimony on Monday that he likely will have to pay the Totowa school district “fines,’’ or back tuition for sending his daughter to a school in the borough while she lived in Paterson.
Shuma acknowledged under questioning from DeMarco that a Totowa school registration form submitted for the couple’s daughter in the summer of 2011 was false because it continued to list her address as Jefferson Street in Totowa instead of Carlisle Avenue in Paterson.
That was the second time DeMarco was able to get Shuma to admit filing a false document. Earlier, he had grilled her about the voter registration form she filled out on March 10, 2010. That was the documents that said she lived in Paterson, although she was still a Totowa resident.
“So your voter registration form is false, correct?” DeMarco asked.
“I knew I was going to move,’’’ Shuma responded.
“Does the form say you know you’re going to move?’’ he asked.
“I did not pay enough attention,’’ she said.
“Whether you paid attention or not, it’s false?’’
“I did not realize it was false. I was mistaken.’’
At the end of the exchange, Shuma caved in, answering in the affirmative when DeMarco concluded, “It’s false now, isn’t it? We all know it’s false.’’
During Shuma’s testimony, DeMarco accused Akhtaruzzaman of coaching his wife by nodding his head while she was being questioned. “There’s no need to look at your husband, he can’t give you the answers,’’ DeMarco snapped at her.
In response to DeMarco’s concerns, Brogan during an afternoon break in the trial mandated that the husband and wife not be allowed to leave the courtroom together. “One in, one out,’’ he said.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Wednesday at 10 am when Akhtaruzzaman’s lawyer, Joe Garcia, is scheduled to question Shuma. Other witnesses who may be called are the councilman’s brother and sister-in-law, the lawyers said.
Akhtaruzzaman has testified he stayed in a second-floor bedroom at his brother’s Carlisle Avenue home between January 2011 and July 2011, while his wife and daughters remained in Totowa. If that’s true, then Akhtaruzzaman would have been living in Paterson long enough to run for council.
But DeMarco has hammered away at inconsistencies in Akhtaruzzaman’s story in an effort to undermine his credibility.