Mary Dougherty, the fifth defendant in a state political corruption investigation, on Friday pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree charge of falsifying a campaign finance report when she was running for Morris County freeholder in 2018.
She will receive probation, for a term to be determined next month by Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor, and pay a $10,000 fine–the amount she was charged with accepting unlawfully.
In return for the plea, the state Attorney General’s office dropped a bribery charge, a second-degree crime that carried a potential prison term of five years.
The fourth-degree offense of “false swearing” carries a maximum sentence of 18 months, but state Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo did not request jail time.
“Mary has accepted responsibility for an error in judgment today, and is looking forward to moving forward,” her attorney, Matthew Beck, told Morristown Green after the brief virtual hearing.
“This action on Mary’s part brings her closer to putting this matter behind her and allowing her and her family to move forward,” Beck said.
Dougherty answered “yes” to questions during the hearing but made no statements.
Probation could range from six months to five years, Judge Taylor said. Also to be determined is whether Dougherty, who is married to Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, can keep her realtor’s license. She also may be barred from seeking public office or holding government jobs.
“I support the decision of my wife. And I love her very much,” said Mayor Dougherty. He has not announced yet if he will run this year for a fourth term.
Four others charged by the state with Dougherty in December 2019– former Morris Freeholder John Cesaro, former Mt. Arlington Councilman John Windish, former Jersey City school board President Sudhan Thomas, and former state Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell–were indicted recently for allegedly taking bribes from a “cooperating witness,” widely known to be Morristown tax attorney Matt O’Donnell, in exchange for promises of future public contracts.
They are contesting the charges.
Mary Dougherty, 60, had been accused of taking $10,000 in a coffee cup from the cooperating witness, and then returning the money and asking him instead to submit it via four $2,500 checks–within the individual legal limit– from “straw donors.”
On Friday, Dougherty acknowledged receiving the cash in September 2018, returning it later, and asking “Person Number One” to provide her with the checks instead.
Person Number One supplied checks from Jason Miller, Michael Cardone, LM Investments Inc. and RF Realty Inc., on Oct. 12, 2018, Dougherty confirmed under questioning by her attorney. On Oct. 26 of that year, she signed a state campaign finance report certifying that those contributions were legitimate.
“But you knew that the form, as it reported contributions received by you, was not true, is that correct?” Beck asked as part of the plea proceeding.
“Yes,” Dougherty answered softly.
State election records show Miller, of Kinnelon, and Cardone, of Denville, as working together in a Livingston consulting firm.
Miller’s only other listed political contribution was $50 to a 2010 Trenton mayoral race. Prior contributions by Cardone, who also has owned a construction business, according to state records, were to Republican Assembly and freeholder (now commissioner) candidates in Morris County.
RF Realty is listed as a Warren firm. A preliminary search of election finance reports found no further details about RF Realty, or any listing of LM Investments.
‘GRATEFUL’ TO STATE
Mary Dougherty wore a dark blazer and appeared attentive, eager to cooperate, and a bit nervous as she sat next to her attorney during the Zoom hearing.
Long active in municipal and county Democratic politics, Dougherty was unsuccessful in her freeholder campaign. She entered the race, in a Republican county, because she was angry about conditions in a county nursing home where her late mother-in-law spent her final days, she said at the time.
Over the years, she has volunteered for numerous charitable organizations, chaired the Morristown planning board, and taught Sunday school at Assumption Church.
“She’s an incredibly impressive woman, a really good, decent human being, and I am immensely proud to represent her,” said Beck, noting that Mary Dougherty was “grateful that the state was willing to re-evaluate its case” against her.
At least one of the other defendants, meanwhile, has indicated he will seek a dismissal of charges based on the state’s plea deal with Matt O’Donnell.
An attorney for Jason O’Donnell contends the state allowed Matt O’Donnell to continue practicing law and billing municipalities while he was part of a pay-to-play sting operation — an operation he allegedly entered after admitting wrongdoing. The Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Morristown Green.
Morristown was among many towns where Matt O’Donnell did business. After a stint as planning board attorney, he handled tax appeals for the town. He was dumped after the state case became public.
Matt O’Donnell’s law partner, Elizabeth Valandingham, also is facing official misconduct charges. She has denied the allegations.