Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty has been charged with taking $10,000 in bribes during her unsuccessful 2018 campaign for Morris County Freeholder.
State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Thursday announced that Dougherty, a realtor who is married to Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, has been charged with the second-degree offense along with four other officials from Morris and Hudson counties, including former Morris Freeholder John Cesaro.
“While I intend to defend against these allegations in the courtroom and not in the press, I will say that I am a person of great integrity and conscience and I look forward to presenting my side of the story, after which I expect to be vindicated,” Mary Dougherty said in a statement.
Bribes were taken in the form of campaign contributions from a cooperating witness — a tax attorney– in exchange for promises to hire or continue to hire his law firm for lucrative government legal work, the state alleges.
The cooperating witness allegedly delivered $10,000 in cash in $100 denominations in a take-out coffee cup to Mary Dougherty at a restaurant, between August and October 2018.
In return, the state alleges, she pledged to support the lawyer’s reappointment as Morris County counsel.
Later, Mary Dougherty allegedly returned the cash, asking that it be replaced with four checks, each at the $2,600 individual campaign contribution limit. The cooperating witness told Dougherty he would use “straw donors”— giving the returned $10,000 in cash to four individuals to write the checks, according to the attorney general.
“These are my straws… so I just need your support for my reappointment. Don’t forget me,” the cooperating witness allegedly told Dougherty when he delivered the checks at the same restaurant.
“I won’t. I promise. A friend is a friend, my friend,” Dougherty responded, according to the state.
The bribery charge is a second-degree offense that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines upon conviction.
Mary Dougherty said she learned of the charge on Thursday.
She is active in the Morristown community, teaching Sunday school at Assumption Church. A co-founder of the Morristown Women in Business networking group, she also serves on the board of the Southeast Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority and is a past member of the Morristown Housing Authority.
Mary Dougherty is frequently at her husband’s side at events in Morristown, most recently at the mayor’s annual town hall holiday party for senior citizens.
Mayor Tim Dougherty said he supports his wife “100 percent.”
“My wife Mary is a woman of unquestionable character and I have no doubt that the process now underway will demonstrate that,” he said.
In addition to Mary Dougherty and Cesaro, the state charged Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas; former Mount Arlington Council Member John Windish; and Jason O’Donnell, a former state Assemblyman and former Bayonne mayoral candidate.
“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 in a statement.
“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,” he said.
The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability began its investigation of Morris and Hudson officials in 2018.
Cesaro, Windish and Thomas, who held office at the time of the alleged crimes, face an additional second-degree charge of acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior.
Cesaro allegedly solicited bribes for his 2021 mayoral campaign in Parsippany-Troy Hills, in exchange for securing more county tax work for the cooperating witness, along with a promise to make him Parsippany’s tax counsel if elected.