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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.