A law partner of Matt O’Donnell, the Morristown attorney at the center of a state corruption probe that has ensnared several political figures including the wife of Morristown’s mayor, has been charged with scheming to bypass campaign finance laws to secure lucrative municipal contracts for the firm.
Elizabeth Valandingham, 47, of Morristown, is accused of making false representations for government contracts and misconduct by a corporate official, both second-degree offenses, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Friday.
Valandingham denies the accusations.
The state alleges that Valandingham– who skated as “Lawless Lizzie” with the Jerzey Derby Brigade roller derby team– procured legal work from Bloomfield and Mt. Arlington after falsely attesting that her firm had made no campaign contributions to candidates in those towns.
State investigators say the firm did in fact make contributions– through friends and family members recruited as “straw donors” by Valandingham and an unnamed co-conspirator.
These donors would make contributions, and get reimbursed later by the firm, where she was a partner, according to an affidavit filed by authorities.
Bloomfield paid the firm $120,000 for legal services between 2013 and 2017; starting in 2012, the firm made $37,500 in straw contributions, according to the state.
The firm was paid more than $470,000 from Mt. Arlington in 2017, a year after Valandingham’s straw donors contributed $7,500 to borough officials, the charges contend.
Speaking through her lawyer, Valandingham proclaimed her innocence.
“Elizabeth is a well respected attorney and those that know her, recognize that these allegations are unfounded,” Anthony Iacullo said in a statement. “While she begins preparing for her defense, Elizabeth also looks forward to being vindicated as to all charges.”
Second-degree crimes carry maximum sentences of 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines upon conviction. Valandingham is scheduled to appear in Superior Court, Morristown, on July 16, 2020.
Her alleged crimes are not directly related to bribery cases pending against five others in this investigation, Grewal said in his statement.
Mary Dougherty, who is married to Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty; former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro; ex-Mt. Arlington Councilman John Windish; former state Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell of Bayonne; and former Jersey City school board President Sudhan Thomas were charged in December with accepting bribes in return for promises of government work to a “cooperating witness,” known to be Matt O’Donnell.
All of those defendants except Thomas were offered deals that would have carried jail time in exchange for guilty pleas; all rejected the offers in March.
An attorney for Mary Doughery has said he expects her to be exonerated at trial. Authorities allege she accepted checks signed by straw donors after returning $10,000 in cash delivered in a coffee cup by the cooperating witness, during her unsuccessful 2018 Morris County Freeholder campaign.
Matt O’Donnell, believed to be unrelated to Jason O’Donnell, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
After the investigation was announced, Matt O’Donnell’s firm, O’Donnell McCord, was dropped by numerous municipalities, including Morristown, where he represented the town in tax appeals. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The cases are being prosecuted by the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, created by the attorney general in 2018 to fight corruption and restore confidence in government.
Tips can be reported at 1-844-OPIA-TIPS; the state offers rewards of up to $25,000 for information leading to convictions related to public corruption.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Elizabeth Valandingham’s attorney. Correspondent Marion Filler contributed to this report.