Hoboken political operative Matt Calicchio is the latest individual to become ensnared by the federal probe into vote-by-mail fraud, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Calicchio, 28, of Hoboken, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court this morning to a charge of using the mails to promote voter bribery from 2013 to 2015 in municipal elections in Hoboken.
This makes him the fifth person to be either indicated or plead guilty in connection to vote-by-mail fraud investigations into the 2013 mayoral race and the 2015 ward council races.
In November 2013, Calicchio, Lizaida Camis, Dio Braxton and others â€“ at Frank Raiaâ€™s direction â€“ participated in a scheme to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots for the November 2013 Hoboken municipal election, authorities said.
Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail. They must complete and submit to their county clerkâ€™s office an Application for Vote by Mail Ballot (VBM Application).
The clerkâ€™s office processes the application and sends the applicant a mail-in ballot.
After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the Hoboken voters, Camis and others went to the votersâ€™ residences and, in some cases, instructed the voters to vote for a rent control referendum that Raia supported, according to court documents.
As HCV previously reported, Raia was the chairman of the political action committee Let the People Decide, a PAC that sought to loosen the city’s rent control laws via a referendum question.
Camis and others promised the voters that they would be paid $50 for casting their mail-in ballots and told them that they could pick up their checks after the election at Raiaâ€™s office in Hoboken, officials said.
Raia then instructed Calicchio, Camis, and Braxton that if the ballots did not come back open, the voters would not get paid.
Braxton, Camis and others then checked the ballots to ensure that the voters had voted for the correct slate of candidates, including for Raia, and that they had voted for the referendum that was favored by Raia.
Calicchio and others mailed certain of the completed ballots to the Hudson County Clerkâ€™s Office. After the election, the voters received $50 checks from an entity associated with Raia.
In November 2015, Calicchio and Willie Rojas agreed to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the November 2015 Hoboken municipal election in favor of a certain candidate for City Council.
The candidate, who is not identified, told Calicchio that the candidate wanted to win at all costs, and the candidate further indicated that everyone who voted by mail would get paid, authorities said.
According to the criminal complaint, two candidates benefitted from the VBM scheme, but few identifiers are provided: candidate 1 was said to have Calicchio and Rojas working for them, while candidate 2 is only described as the chair of their own election committee.
Rojas then provided voters with VBM Applications, told the voters that they would get paid $50 for casting mail-in ballots, and then delivered the completed VBM Applications to the Hudson County Clerkâ€™s office.
After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, Rojas went to the votersâ€™ residences to collect the mail-in ballots.
Calicchio and Rojas then checked the ballots to ensure that they had been cast for their candidate, and Calicchio signed an affidavit for each ballot falsely stating that he had assisted the voters in completing their ballots.
After the election, the candidate handed Calicchio an envelope with $50 checks, and Calicchio passed the envelope to Rojas, who gave the checks to the voters.
The count to which Calicchio pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2019.
Camis previously pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and is awaiting sentencing.
Meanwhile, Braxton and Raia were previously indicted and Rojas was previously charged by complaint.
Raia, a longtime Hoboken political, perennial candidate for office and former chair of the North Hudson Sewerage Authority, was indicted with Braxton on Halloween.
He has pleaded not guilty, and through his attorney, asked for the list of federal informants pertaining to the case back in February.
As of this writing, their trial is scheduled to begin on June 11th.
In a statement, Mayor Ravi Bhalla called the whole situation “shameful” and for anyone involved to “be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
â€œThe cash for votes scheme as outlined by the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s office is an unfortunate reminder that corruption and dark special interests still play an outsized role in our municipal elections,â€ Bhalla said.
â€œItâ€™s shameful that candidates for public office have been accused of bribing voters, and if true, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I commend all law enforcement personnel for their continued efforts at holding corrupt candidates and elected officials in Hoboken accountable for any and all crimes that were committed.â€
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a comment from Mayor Ravi Bhalla.Â