After about a day-and-a-half of deliberations, a federal grand jury has convicted longtime Hoboken political Frank Raia of vote-by-mail fraud in connection to the 2013 municipal elections.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal reminded the jury that former Raia loyalists/operatives, who the government routinely referred to as “captains,” Matt Calicchio, Michael Holmes and Freddie Frazier, all testified Raia put them up to offering low-income residents $50 in exchange for their vote-by-mail ballot in 2013.
In that race, Raia ran on the “One Hoboken” ticket headed by then-4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti and also sought to have a ballot question, which would have loosened the city’s rent control laws, approved.
A good portion of the trial focused around the Let the People Decide super PAC, an entity that was controlled by Frazier and Andrew Canonico, a childhood friend of Raia, but they both testified that Raia was still the driving force behind the organization.
While several witnesses testified as part of a cooperation agreement, that did not seem to matter to the jury, who were obviously not swayed by Raia’s proclamation that “I never bought a vote in my life!” during his own testimony on Thursday.
The jury spent their morning, from about 9:30 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m., listening to a court reporter read testimony from six witnesses.
Those witnesses were Brian Cardino; a former Senior Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Investigator, Andrew Canonico; the treasurer for Let the People Decide and four voters: Latasha Swinton, Marquitha Allen, Patricia Tirado, and Tracy Stepherson.
Afterwards, U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martini read back to the jury charge number 27, which pertained to assessing the credibility of witnesses.
To that point, Martini told the jury that they had to review the opportunities and abilities the jury had to evaluate the circumstances of which they were testifying, noting that “you may decide that the witness is not worthy to believe.”
Martini scheduled Raia’s sentencing date for October 3rd at 10 a.m., where he faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla applauded the jury’s decision, stating it’s the first step to moving on “from the corrupt politics of the past.”
“Today’s guilty verdict is an affirmation that no one is above the law, and those that commit voter fraud will be exposed and brought to justice,” Bhalla said in a statement.
“Given the revelations exposed by the trial that additional criminal activity took place in 2015 and other election cycles, further investigation by law enforcement will help ensure that voter fraud is rooted out of Hoboken once and for all. It is long past time for a clean break from the corrupt politics of the past.”
Additionally, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who attended parts of the trial, expressed a similar sentiment about the verdict.
“There are a lot of people today saying ‘finally.’ This is a decisive moment of Hoboken and hopefully the end of the ‘paying for votes’ schemes that have impacted the results of our local elections for years.”
Raia, along with some friends and family, were silent after the verdict was read and immediately exited the courthouse.
Alan Zegas, Raia’s defense attorney in the case, declined to comment on the verdict and family members placed a suit jacket over Raia’s head as they walked out of the courthouse to ensure that press could not get a clear picture of his face.
“The defendant in this case tried to rig a Hoboken municipal election by voting multiple times, both for himself and for a ballot question that he supported,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement.
“He did so by deploying his loyal foot soldiers to buy votes from people who he thought were in need of money, and then creating a phony cover story to conceal his tracks. Fortunately, neither federal law enforcement nor the jury was fooled. Today’s verdict underscores this Office’s continued dedication to uncovering, investigating and prosecuting acts of corruption at every level of New Jersey government.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.