4 Hoboken council members ask AG and FBI to probe Bhalla allegations from lawsuit


Four Hoboken City Council members are calling on the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the FBI to probe allegations of criminality made by former Health and Human Services Director Leo Pellegrini in a lawsuit that came to light last week.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“We are here today to call for the attorney general and the federal authorities to investigate the allegations against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and potentially other Hoboken elected officials and government officials as well,” 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos said at a podium in front of City Hall late this afternoon.

“As you all know, last week a former city director filed a lawsuit that included serious and troubling allegations against Mayor Ravi Bhalla. We are not here today to talk about the merits of the legal case or anything specifically tied to the former director.”

He continued that he was concerned about the quid pro quo allegations related to cannabis dispensaries and municipal contracts made by Pellegrini, as HCV first reported, with his court filing also claiming instances of retaliation and defamation – all of which the city has denied, also highlighting that Pellegrini is being investigated for his own alleged criminality.

“As elected officials and residents of the City of Hoboken, if any wrongdoing took place in our city, no matter who is doing it, we have to call for an investigation. It’s our duty and we called for an investigation, just as we called for an investigation when the director and his alleged wrongdoing that led us to this meeting today,” Ramos added.

Standing with Ramos was Council President Jen Giattino, who did not speak during the short presser, 1st Ward Councilman Paul Presinzano, and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.

“As the newbie up here, it’s really important to me that taxpayer dollars are well protected, that residents know what’s going on inside City Hall, and that if there are things that are awry, that they’re identified and corrected,” Presinzano said.

Additionally, Fisher, who has fought against the opening of Story Dispensary in her ward, said that the allegations of Bhalla doing political favors for Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (his wife co-owns the dispensary building) have been referred to the AG’s Office by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Pellegrini expressed support for Story at the February 24th, 2022 Hoboken Cannabis Review Board meeting (he claimed in the lawsuit Bhalla pressured him to vote yes), according to an audio recording of the session.

“I want to echo the sentiments of my colleagues … I believe that members of the public are not aware of the process. And the process is pretty simple, the members of the city council voted this unanimously to have cannabis across the City of Hoboken,” he said at the time.

” … It was an education process tonight and I thought they [Story] did a great job. There were some concerns that I had, and some concerns that members of the public expressed to me were answered today.”

Bhalla spokesman Rob Horowitz wrote off the event as political nonsense to bolster the re-election bid for U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez, who Bhalla is challenging in the June 4th primary.

Presinzano, Fisher, and Ramos have endorsed Menendez for a second term.

“These baseless allegations are based on a frivolous lawsuit with meritless claims by a disgruntled former employee who lost his job because of serious allegations of wrongdoing, identified by respected former federal prosecutor Matt Boxer, and who is currently under criminal FBI investigation,” Horowitz added, referring to the May 1st, 2023 memo from Boxer to city officials that only HCV has obtained a copy of to date.

He continued that despite Pellegrini claiming Bhalla’s law firm, Schenck, Price, Smith & King LLP, received a contract from the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency due to aiding the dispensary tied to Fulop, that is all fiction at best.

“The well-qualified law firm–where Mr. Bhalla serves as of counsel–has a proven track record representing different local government entities throughout New Jersey and was selected in a competitive process by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency—and Mr. Bhalla has received not a dime in compensation as a result of that selection,” Horowitz added.

“Additionally, the selection process for Hoboken cannabis dispensaries was handled professionally and according to all legal and ethical requirements.”

A copy of a resolution from the April 19th, 2022 JCRA meeting shows that a one-year contract not to exceed $50,000 was awarded to the firm for special legal services by the JCRA.

Horowitz also stated that the city has not yet been served by Pellegrini, who resigned abruptly last May, which he said was further evidence this was all well-orchestrated to assist Menendez.

“Their goal is clear – sully the mayor’s good name and damage his political prospects. I am confident that the people of Hoboken will see this political stunt for what it is,” 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, who ran on Bhalla’s ticket twice and endorsed him for Congress, added.

In the court filing, which has a docket number but does not explicitly mention serving the city, Pellegrini also claimed that city directors were told not to speak to Fisher and Giattino at the direction of Bhalla’s top appointees, as well as that he had choice words for former Mayor Dawn Zimmer over thanking Pellegrini for his service.

Spokespersons for the FBI and AG’s office both declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

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  1. On behalf of our Ravi Bollards team: Jason, Veejay, Little Emily and Toxic Avenger, I call upon all my friends in Newark to not contact me in this investigation.

    As stated and on the advice of counsel, I look forward to cooperating with law enforcement while maintaining my political viability. The rest of these people are goners.

  2. I’m torn between whether it’s bravado or genuine stupidity that the Bhalla bots still think Leo is being investigated when the target has almost certainly been Ravi (and Fulop) from the get go. The feds would never have any interest in Leo except as a road to Ravi. There is literally no one with any LE experience who wouldn’t understand that.

  3. This 5th ward resident is happy to see that Ravi is finally being called out for some of his ethically questionable behavior. Some of the people of Hoboken see this pretty clearly, Phil.

  4. POLL: When Ravi gets crushed in 3 weeks does he…..
    A) Resign
    B) Finish his term and resign
    C) Run for another term
    D) Appoint himself to Johnny P2P Allen’s Assembly seat he ran for several times
    E) Go to prison

  5. FBI should investigate every council member mentioned above in the particular involvement, from Super Fishy Fisher, the Italian water guy Pellegrino, all the way too slippery Ravi…. Looks like crooked politicians going after other crooked politicians.

    • Your moral equivalence is suspect. Ravi is more than slippery. If the NJ Supreme Court had issued its decision to suspend his law license earlier for disappearing with an employee lawyer’s retirement funds, he’d never would have made it to the mayor’s office. The criminal allegations here against Ravi are equally if not more serious.

      Your comparison to Councilwoman Fisher is weird. She treats the part time council role as a full-time job and declined City Council health benefits paying for her own health plan. Not sure if that is still the case but that’s anathema to a crooked politician. Smarten’ up!