Central figure in Morristown bribery case is losing town gig

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It looks like Morristown Attorney Matt O’Donnell, the central figure in a political bribery case that has implicated the mayor’s wife, won’t be working for the town anymore.

The town council is poised on Tuesday to replace O’Donnell’s firm as special tax appeals counsel with the Warren firm of former Governor and former state Sen. Donald DiFrancesco.

Attorneys from DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum will be paid $150 an hour. Martin Allen of that firm represented Morristown in its landmark 2015 tax settlement with the parent company of Morristown Medical Center. The nonprofit agreed to pay the town approximately $26 million over a decade.

O’Donnell’s replacement is listed among municipal appointments for consideration by the council at the town’s annual reorganization meeting.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal describes his Immigrant Trust Directive in Morristown, Feb. 5, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, speaking in Morristown, February 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

These are mayoral selections that the council may approve or reject; every year, they are approved with little or no discussion.

When asked to comment, however, Mayor Dougherty said he has been advised by the town attorney to recuse himself “from all matters related to recommendations to the town council of tax appeal attorneys.”

He referred questions to town Attorney Vij Pawar, who did not immediately respond to Morristown Green’s request for comment on Sunday evening. Council President Toshiba Foster also did not immediately respond.

O’Donnell, who has represented Morristown for years in tax appeal cases, has not responded to several requests for comment from Morristown Green.

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
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, far right, at reception for Morris St. Patrick’s Grand Marshal John Murphy, March 2, 2018. Photo courtesy of Mary Dougherty
‘COOPERATING WITNESS’

Although not mentioned by name, O’Donnell appears to be the “cooperating witness” in last month’s criminal complaint by state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

The complaint alleges the cooperating witness delivered $10,000 in a takeout coffee cup to Mary Dougherty during her unsuccessful 2018 run for Morris County Freeholder, in exchange for a pledge of county work if she won.

Mary Dougherty served on the planning board in the late 2000s when O’Donnell was the board attorney. She has said she will be vindicated in court.

If convicted of accepting bribes, a second-degree crime, she could face up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.

Authorities also contend the same cooperating witness paid tens of thousands of dollars  for similar promises from 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.

Some of the money allegedly was funneled through “straw donors,” to circumvent limits on individual campaign contributions.

The attorney general’s complaint also cites an “Individual 1” who allegedly received cash–some of it in a coffee cup–from the cooperating witness since 2011, while that cooperating witness received work from the town. Individual 1 allegedly reached out to the cooperating witness on Mary Dougherty’s behalf.

Mayor Tim Dougherty, who says he supports his wife “100 percent,” has told Morristown Green he is not Individual 1.

Morristown is not the only place cutting ties with O’Donnell McCord, O’Donnell’s firm, in the wake of the bribery case.

Morris County, Mt. Arlington, Bloomfield, Wall and Manalapan have opted not to reappoint, according to The New Jersey Globe, a political blog. Jersey City dropped O’Donnell as its tax appeal lawyer last year.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Also, PLEASE, someone dish on where these cups of cash were exchanged. What Morristown restaurant do the movers and shakers do their bribes at???

  2. I’m curious about the First Lady’s straw donors. Based on public info, it’s from this list, as these are all the $2,500 contributors to her run for freeholder:

    – RF Realty (Warren, NJ)
    – LM Investments/Anthony Norton (Fairfield, NJ)
    – Miller & Cardone Consulting/Jason Miller (Livingston, NJ)
    – Miller & Cardone Consulting/Michael Cardone (Livingston, NJ)
    – Re/Max Select/Rob Lyszczarz (Westfield, NJ) – of note this was a few weeks later than the others, also of note he’s one of the owners of the “Select” group that also owns Dougherty’s real estate office

  3. Individual #1, whomever you may be, spare yourself the embarrassment, save face and resign immediately.

  4. Low information, uninformed voters like Guy above crack me up. Here are a couple of names he may want to look up: Chris Collins, Duncan Hunter, Robin Hayes, Bill Beroni to name just a few. To think Republicans are above the Frey is laughable.

  5. This council is the most unethical group I’ve ever come across. They think by going along with Doughertys actions that they have no responsibility for his actions. This is not the case they are enablers. There are no checks and balances. If you buck Dougherty your out.

  6. Correction…sorry, collected payoffs for ONE decade (typing too fast). Ten years of cash bribes in Morristown

  7. Can anyone guess who “Individual 1” might be? Keeping in mind that “Individual 1” received cash payoffs for almost TWO decades to ensure the cooperating witness received work from the town of Morristown.

    “The attorney general’s complaint also cites an “Individual 1” who allegedly received cash–some of it in a coffee cup–from the cooperating witness since 2011, while that cooperating witness received work from the town. Individual 1 allegedly reached out to the cooperating witness on Mary Dougherty’s behalf.”

    Last clue….”These are Mayoral selections that the council may approve or reject; every year, they are approved with little or no discussion.”

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