Charges against Morristown’s Mary Dougherty stun community

Mary Dougherty, co-founder of the Morristown Women in Business. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mary Dougherty, co-founder of the Morristown Women in Business. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Thursday’s news that Mary Dougherty — one of the most visible faces of Morristown–has been charged in a political bribery probe shook longtime friends and associates, who reacted with disbelief.

“It’s impossible for me to even contemplate,” said Stacey Schlosser, a local businesswoman and former member of the Morristown Women in Business, which  Dougherty co-founded in 2013.

Mary Dougherty, a realtor who is married to Mayor Tim Dougherty, is charged with accepting $10,000 in bribes via “straw donors” recruited by an unnamed tax lawyer–listed only as a “cooperating witness”–during her unsuccessful 2018 bid for Morris County Freeholder.

In exchange for the money–originally delivered in a take-out coffee cup–Mary Dougherty promised to support the lawyer’s reappointment as Morris County counsel, according to state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

Political blogs speculated the cooperating witness is Morristown lawyer Matt O’Donnell.

O’Donnell is a special counsel for Morris County. The attorney general’s press release also said a Mount Arlington defendant promised to reappoint the cooperating witness as borough attorney; O’Donnell held that position at the time of the alleged bribe.

Additionally, O’Donnell is a former tax attorney for Jersey City, where another defendant allegedly promised the cooperating witness a job as special counsel for the city’s board of education in exchange for bribes.

O’Donnell is the former Morristown planning board attorney, and a past trustee of the Morristown Partnership, a downtown business organization. He now serves as tax appeals lawyer for the town, and as attorney for several other municipalities. He did not return a call and email from MorristownGreen.com on Wednesday afternoon.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist.), Morristown Mayor and First Lady Tim and Mary Dougherty, former Morris Sheriff Ed Rochford and attorney Matt O'Donnell at reception for Morris St. Patrick's Grand Marshal John Murphy, March 2, 2018. Photo courtesy of Mary Dougherty
Matt O’Donnell, on the far right, with the late state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist.), Morristown Mayor and First Lady Tim and Mary Dougherty, and former Morris Sheriff Ed Rochford, at March 2018 reception for Morris St. Patrick’s Grand Marshal John Murphy. Photo courtesy of Mary Dougherty

A former Mount Arlington councilman, Jersey City’s school board president, a former state Assemblyman from Bayonne and former Morris Freeholder John Cesaro also were charged with similar bribery schemes involving the unnamed lawyer.

Bribery is a second-degree offense carrying maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and $150,000 in fines.  New Jersey public officials caught taking bribes must serve a minimum of five years behind bars.

First Lady Mary Dougherty keeps the raffle going at the Mayor’s 2019 Seniors Holiday Party in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In a statement, Mary Dougherty defended herself as “a person of great integrity and conscience,” adding: “I look forward to presenting my side of the story, after which I expect to be vindicated.”

She is being represented by Matthew Beck, a former Assistant United States Attorney for New Jersey who specializes in defending white collar criminal cases.

Saying he stands by his wife “100 percent,” Mayor Dougherty said she is “a woman of unquestionable character and I have no doubt that the process now underway will demonstrate that.”

While Mary Dougherty frequently accompanies her husband at mayoral events–she helped him at last week’s holiday party for seniors at town hall–she has a strong presence and identity of her own in Morristown.

Her Democratic campaign for freeholder in a Republican county was sparked, she said, by her anger over conditions at a county nursing home where her late mother-in-law spent her final days.

On the professional front, her real estate business has won awards. In politics, she has served as the town’s Democratic chairperson and vice-chair of the Morris County Democrats.

She is former chairperson of the Morristown Planning Board, and has served on the Morristown Housing Authority — where she supported a director’s investigation of potential corruption– as well as on the county’s Preservation Trust Open Space Committee and St. Patrick’s Parade Committee.

Morris Freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty, left, emerges from voting booth on Election Day 2018, as poll worker Kelly Montes keeps things moving. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris Freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty, left, emerges from voting booth on Election Day 2018, as poll worker Kelly Montes keeps things moving. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Presently, Mary Dougherty is a trustee of the Morris County School of Technology, and a former vice president of Mrs. Wilson’s Treatment Center, a Morristown halfway house for women recovering from substance abuse.

“She’s an incredibly warm and caring human being…who just wants to do well and make everyone’s life better,” Stacey Schlosser said.

For more than two decades, Mary Dougherty has taught catechism classes at Assumption Church.

“I have the greatest respect for Mary Dougherty and Tim, her husband, the mayor, and I don’t believe the allegations,” said the church pastor,  Monsignor John Hart.

“Mary teaches religious education and she is an outstanding volunteer and parishioner. I believe she will be vindicated,” he said.

The church’s director of religious education, Linda Macios, described Mary Dougherty as “a longtime parishioner,  a revered volunteer catechist and a loyal friend. I do not believe these allegations to be true.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty and Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty enjoy prime vantage point at the 2019 Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Laura Cummings, executive director of the Southeast Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, where Dougherty has been a trustee for more than 20 years, said the news did not square with the woman she has come to know at the water utility.

“I’ve known her for six years, and know her to be a person of very high integrity. It doesn’t make any sense,” Cummings said.

Patrice Picard, executive director of Cornerstone Family Programs, said Mary Dougherty always has been a staunch supporter of the nonprofit.

“These are allegations. We’ll see what happens,” Picard said. “She’s been a great member of the community. She’s always been good to us. I’m sorry she’s going through these difficult times.”

This story has been updated to include information pertaining to the identity of the cooperating witness.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Should the allegations against Mary Dougherty prove to be valid, then there is only one motivating factor and it is called GREED! Namely, as a result of payoff payments (quid-pro-quo). Sound familiar!
    As for the comments from Monsignor Hart of Assumption Church they are decidedly naive. You would think he would have insight into the failures of human behaviour. He should look no further than the institution he represent, i.e. the Catholic Church, one the most corrupt organizations not only in the U.S.A., but in the world. I suggest he read the front page of today’s (12/28) Star Ledger regarding payoffs and GREED for a number of Catholic hierarchy “to look the other way”. Those payoffs went to the highest levels of the Vatican.

  2. I mean, shocking or no?

    I hope one day someone will take a close look at all the zoning variances and other little developer favors and start asking questions about the hows and whys of that. Like our statehouse, I feel like many of our Dems are DINOs who put personal gain ahead of public service.

    So much of NJ politicking happens with little to no press attention, of course people are going to grab all they can.

  3. Not surprised of the response from the Assumption Church, for decades no one believed that altar boys were being molested, but we all know how that turned out.

  4. The politicians in Morristown spend your money like it’s water flowing from a spigot. Taking example from our President, looks like she has chosen the road less traveled…

  5. The Dougherty’s have done a lot for our community. I hope for a speedy resolution to this in the courts so we can move on.
    Cece

  6. The County of Morris has pay-to-play laws limiting donations from professionals such as lawyers to $300 if the professional seeks a contract for services or already has a contract. Hence, the paper cup of cash, the use of straw donors became the vehicles to make a large donation.

  7. Matthew Odonnell seems like a crooked political attorney who got caught and is trying to entrap others as a way to escape justice for his crimes. If Dougherty was corrupt then how come ODonnell couldnt come up with any past offenses. Odonnells law firm should be investigated.

  8. Count me in the NOT surprised camp – at the allegations, at some of those lining up to declare her innocence, or the lack of connection being drawn between the many gov’t positions, paid and not, she’s held while her husband has been in office.

  9. If truth seeker would attend the Parking Authority meetings, he or she would understand how the MPA operates and that their. negotiations with Bakod Holdings involved logistics related to the location and not the approval

  10. Ironic that O’Donnell d/b/a Bakod Holding, 45 Morris St received final approval from Morristown Planning Board around the same time $10,000 was passed off in a coffee cup. Bakod Holding also reached agreements with Morristown Parking Authority at their last meeting regarding Lot 10.

  11. Is this article reporting or supporting? The bias is fairly obvious. How many people “not in support” of Team Dougherty we’re interviewed?

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