New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Thursday that four men have been charged with fraud related to the recent municipal election in Paterson, which was conducted via mail-in ballots only.
Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, Councilman-Elect Alex Mendez, and two other men have been charged with criminal conduct in connection with the May 12 special election.
An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability began when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service alerted the Attorney General’s Office that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson. Numerous additional ballots were found in a mailbox in nearby Haledon.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all voting in the May 12 elections in New Jersey was done by mail-in ballots.
Many of the charges against the men are related to the improper collection of mail-in ballots. A voter who receives a mail-in ballot completes the ballot themselves and then returns the ballot by mailing it, placing it in a specially designated “drop box,” or delivering it to the county board of elections. New Jersey also allows a voter to provide the completed ballot to a “bearer,” who must complete the bearer certification on the ballot envelope in the presence of the voter and then return the ballot on behalf of the voter. Under state law, a bearer may collect and deliver ballots for no more than three voters in an election, and a candidate in the election is never permitted to serve as a bearer.
Jackson allegedly violated state election laws as a candidate by approaching one or more voters in Paterson in the district where he was running and collecting their official mail-in ballots for delivery to the Passaic County Board of Elections. These mail-in ballots were allegedly delivered to the board of elections without information identifying the bearer, in violation of state election laws. Jackson allegedly procured and had in his possession more than three official mail-in ballots that were neither his own ballots, nor ballots for which he was identified as an authorized bearer. He allegedly received the official mail-in ballot of one voter without the ballot having been voted or sealed, and that ballot was then delivered to the board of elections in a sealed envelope without information identifying the bearer.
Mendez allegedly violated state election laws as a candidate by approaching one or more voters in Paterson in the district where he was running and collecting their official mail-in ballots for delivery to the Passaic County Board of Elections. The mail-in ballots were delivered to the Board of Elections without information identifying the bearer in violation of state election laws. In addition, Mendez allegedly procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications, which he knew to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent. He allegedly knew that the person was not eligible to vote in the election district identified on the application.
Shelim Khalique allegedly violated state election laws by approaching a residence and collecting official mail-in ballots from one or more voters that were subsequently were delivered to the Passaic County Board of Elections, without information identifying the bearer. Khalique and the bus company he owns, A-1 Elegant Tours, Inc.were also charged with contract fraud and other crimes in a separate investigation.
Abu Razyen allegedly violated state election laws by procuring and possessing more than three official mail-in ballots that were not his own. Investigators obtained a USB drive containing a video of Razyen holding and flipping through a stack of more than three official mail-in ballot outer envelopes that did not have the bearer portion completed. The video confirmed that Razyen had collected the mail-in ballots.
Jackson faces charges including fraud in casting a mail-in vote, unauthorized possession of a ballot, tampering with public records, and falsifying records. Mendez faces a second degree charge of election fraud, fraud casting a mail-in vote, unauthorized possession of ballots, false registration, tampering with public records, and falsifying records. The other two men face charges including fraud in casting a mail-in ballot and unauthorized possession of ballots.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” Grewal said of the charges. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
The investigation was conducted by prosecutors and detectives in the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability Corruption Bureau, under the leadership of Office of Public Integrity and Accountability Director Thomas Eicher.
“The residents of New Jersey have a right to free and fair elections, and we will ensure that happens,” said Eicher. “Our office’s criminal investigations complement a number of other safeguards that New Jersey has implemented to ensure the integrity of our elections.”
The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: https://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.
In New Jersey, the Secretary of State serves as the chief election official. For information about measures taken by the Department of State’s Division of Elections to address voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: https://nj.gov/state/elections/covid-19-resources.shtml.
The May 12 municipal elections were conducted pursuant to New Jersey election law and Executive Order No. 105 (2020). Residents with concerns about voting and elections are encouraged to call the Division of Elections at its Voting Information and Assistance Line: 877-NJVOTER (877-658-6837).