U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini’s courtroom was buzzing this afternoon as four different witnesses took the stand in Frank Raia’s Hoboken vote-by-mail trial including a former county board of elections worker and a political consultant who helped provide payroll for Raia’s campaign.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
After former Raia political operative Matt Calicchio revealed that he worked for 5th Ward Council candidate Eduardo Gonzalez in 2015 during the morning session, Brian Cardino, who was the senior elections clerk investigator in 2013, took the stand.
He testified that the Hudson County Board of Elections consistently keeps tallies of when vote-by-mail ballots are mailed out, as well as when they’re returned, as Calicchio had previously stated.
According to Cardino, this practice is standard, occurring during every election cycle, and that every candidate for office is privy to these tallies.
Afterwards, two respective voters Patricia Tirado and Latasha Swinton, took the stand and both testified that they were paid $50 in exchange for their votes.
In the case of Tirado, she said that although the Let the People Decide super PAC paid her $50 to be a “field worker,” despite not doing any any sort of election work.
“Because I voted by ballot,” she said, in response to Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal’s question as to why she was paid $50.
Alan Zegas, Raia’s defense attorney, questioned why she had previously said during grand jury testimony that she had worked the campaign regarding the rent control ballot question.
â€œAt the time my memory was kind of short. Now I do: Iâ€™ve seen the ballot, Iâ€™ve seen the check … [I recall] the reason why I was paid,” she said.
Meanwhile, Swindon said “the church lady,” later identified as Lizaida Camis, one of the campaign workers who already pleaded guilty to vote-by-mail fraud, provided her with the ballot and received a $50 check from Bluewater Consulting in exchange for her vote.
“Ms. Swindon: did you actually do any work for any campaign in 2013?,” questioned Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean Farrell.
“No,” she answered. “Do you know who Ryan Yacco is?” “No,” she repeated, later stating that she signed a declaration claiming she worked for Let the People Decide simply so she would get paid.
However, on cross examination, Swindon contradicted herself by claiming she did actually help the campaign by passing out fliers.
On the topic of Let the People Decide, former PAC treasurer Andrew Canonico spent about 90 minutes on the stand.
He claimed that Raia called all the shots for the PAC, despite the fact he signed off on the paperwork – which was actually prepared by Bayonne politico Jack Butchko, according Canonico.
Canonico indicated that Raia removed his name from the PAC in 2013 when he decided to run for office, but was still in charge.
“For all intents and purposes, was he still running that PAC?,” Farrell asked “Yes,” Canonico said.
“So your understanding was that he could still run it, but he couldnâ€™t sign documents,? the defense continued. “That was my understanding, yes,” the witness said.
However, Zegas reminded the court that Canonico said he trusted Raia and asked him directly if he thought he would ask him to sign falsified documents.
You donâ€™t believe he would ever do anything to hurt you,” Zegas inquired. “No,” responded Canonico. “He wouldnâ€™t give you documents falsified, would he?, “No,” Canonico stated.
“You wouldnâ€™t sign a check if you believed the person didnâ€™t work did you?,” Zegas continued, “No,” Canonico repeated.
The owner and co-founder of the now defunct Bluewater Operations, Ryan Yacco, was the last witness for the day and said that either Jamie Cryan, the One Hoboken campaign manager, or Raia reached out for him to run payroll for the election.
On October 29th, 2013, Bluewater received a $15,000 check from Let the People Decide. When Farrell asked what it was for, Yacco has happy to provide a succinct explanation.
â€œThat was a deposit in order to write checks to a list of people they provided to us,” Yacco stated.
Yacco continued that Bluewater likely paid around 300 or 400 workers in connection to the One Hoboken and/or the Let the People Decide campaigns, and although the government argued this tactic was used to circumvent New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission laws, Zegas saw it another way.
“In many cases, the campaign does not have time to write the checks, correct?,” Zegas questioned.
“In many cases, yes,” Yacco said calmly. “The main purpose of the payroll services is that most campaigns arenâ€™t set up to distribute automated checks. I was not doing recruiting, or training or deployment, just providing the checks for the workers provided.”
Court resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m.