Wearing the wire: Matt O’Donnell, Morristown man at center of bribery sting, facing jail time

Matt O'Donnell, pictured in 2018.


The Morristown lawyer who allegedly donned a wire and offered bribes to public figures is facing eight years in jail when the pay-to-play sting is over.

Matt O’Donnell will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit misconduct by a corporate official, according to an agreement he signed with the state Attorney General’s Office on July 30, 2018.

The second degree offense carries up to 10 years in state prison. The state will recommend a sentence of eight years, forfeiture of O’Donnell’s law license, a lifetime prohibition from holding any public position of “honor, trust or profit” in New Jersey, and a 10-year ban on doing business with public entities in the state.

O’Donnell also agreed to plead guilty on behalf of his firm, O’Donnell McCord PC, to false representation for a government contract, also a second degree crime.

It’s not clear when O’Donnell will enter his pleas. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Morristown Green has reached out to his attorney and will update this story with any response.

In an investigation that the Attorney General’s Office says is ongoing, four public officials–a Morris County commissioner, a Mt. Arlington councilman, a Jersey City school board president and a state Assemblyman from Hudson County–were indicted on charges they promised legal work in return for thousands in bribes from a “cooperating witness,” later identified as O’Donnell.

Earlier this month, a judge tossed the indictment of the former Assemblyman, Jason O’Donnell (no relation to Matt O’Donnell), who was accused of taking bribes while running for mayor of Bayonne.  The Attorney General’s Office says it will appeal.

Another defendant who was not indicted, Mary Dougherty, the wife of Morristown’s mayor, was sentenced to probation after pleading to a downgraded charge of falsifying a campaign finance report.

Elizabeth Valandingham, a partner in Matt O’Donnell’s law firm, has pleaded guilty to tampering with public records to land government contracts. She will forfeit her law license and could face a year in jail when sentenced. Friends and relatives she allegedly recruited as “straw donors,” to funnel political contributions for the firm, have received probationary sentences.

Matt O’Donnell, Morristown’s former planning board- and tax appeals attorney, also must make full restitution to anyone who “sustained a loss” from his scheme.  That includes forking over $600,000 the state says he made from municipal contracts he secured through years of illegal contributions via straw donors.

There may be an “upward revision” of that amount to include any illegal profits Matt O’Donnell reaped after he agreed to cooperate in the state investigation.

That could be as much as $6.5 million, according to Leo Hurley, the attorney for Jason O’Donnell.

Additionally, Matt O’Donnell will be required to pay a $250,000 “public corruption profiteering penalty,” according to the plea agreement.

The judge also may impose criminal criminal fines ranging from $150,000 to double the amount of his illegal gains or losses of his victims — whichever is greater.

Matt O’Donnell will need state approval to sell anything worth more than $500 until all penalties are paid.

All conditions require his continued cooperation with the state investigation. He must supply truthful information, records, and any testimony sought by authorities. If he fails to comply, commits further wrongdoing, or attempts to withdraw from the agreement, the state can scrap the deal and prosecute him for any other crimes it suspects him of committing.

Charges could include perjury, false swearing and obstruction of justice, according to the document signed by Pearl Minato, now chief of staff for the state Criminal Justice Division’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

None of this is binding on any civil claims or federal investigations of Matt O’Donnell. State prosecutors interacted with the FBI, according to court testimony.

The one glimmer for Matt O’Donnell is the possibility of admission to the state’s Intensive Supervision Program, a form of probation established in 1983.

Described as “prison without walls,” it’s meant to reduce jail populations by releasing nonviolent offenders, under strict monitoring and curfews, to mandatory work and community service and, if necessary, treatment for addictions.

“The State reserves the right to take whatever position it deems appropriate with respect to any application Defendant may submit for entry into the Intensive Supervision Program,” Matt O’Donnell’s agreement states.

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