Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Horse Sense: Heroes of the Republic as the hammer falls on Hoboken voter fraud

Yesterday's jury verdict convicting Frank "Pupie" Raia of leading a conspiracy to bribe Hoboken's most vulnerable population for their votes hit the Mile Square City like a thunderclap.

Minutes before the verdict just before 3:00 pm, Raia sat in the hallway with a dozen friends and family awaiting his fate. He gingerly lowered himself to a wooden bench steps away from the courtroom and drinking a Diet Coke. His movements were slow and deliberate of a man much older than his 67 years. The strain and toll of the week long trial and indictment issued last Halloween by the US Department of Justice obvious.

A court clerk opened the door announcing into the hall to no one in particular a verdict had been reached. The assemblage of bodies began the long but short sojurn back into the courtroom.

On the right side of the galley behind the defense counsel, a dozen friends and family of Frank Raia hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Alan Zegas moved slowly down the middle through the swinging door, his eyes shot to the left where a media gaggle of the Jersey Journal, the Hudson County View and sat in the second row. He knew what was coming. The jury deliberation time after getting answers to several questions had come too fast.

A burst of activity at the door of youthful energy bound through. One after another a dozen or more young visitors arrived. Likely interns, the announcement of a verdict in the voter fraud bribery scheme trial shot through the courthouse. Now they were filing in fast and furious. In the back row, mayoral aide Jason Freeman sat by his lonesome awaiting the outcome.

Last to arrive, Team Fed. Led by Assistant US Attorney Rahul Agarwal, the moment of truth had arrived. On Monday, their shoes barely touched the ground as they exhibited confidence with every step. Several questions during deliberations from the jury changed that disposition and buoyed the defense. A question about the legality of taking a sealed VBM back to a campaign headquarters gave rise to self-doubt. Assistant US Attorney Sean Farrell appeared tense as did apparent special agents seated nearby.

Judge William Martini asked for the jury to enter and be seated. They quickly walked in, an assembled line like soldiers called to their assigned seats with precision and solemn demeanors. The judge asked for the foreperson of the jury to hand in the verdict. A woman with glasses on the far side of the first row stood and gave the verdict sheet to the clerk. As to the charges, he called for it to be read aloud

"Guilty," the charge rang out. Frank Raia sat stunned and motionless. The color returned to his face minutes earlier with hope drained but he didn't flinch at the announcement. The audience remained silent as the verdict was passed. The judge immediately began a poll of the jurors. Each of the dozen confirmed their decision. After offering quick thanks, the judge had them leave and they quickly filed out. A recess was called soon thereafter and the audience sat transfixed for several moments. It all happened in a flash.

Although an appeal can be expected, on October 3rd sentence will be issued in the same US District Court. The road traveled from the Hoboken 2013 election was a long one. The last indictment of Raia and sidekick Dio Braxton came within days of the five-year Travel Act statute expiring. It caught many off guard as the November calendar appeared so close.

For months going back to 2017, word of the FBI swarming Hoboken had been traveling across the Mile Square in the Hoboken Housing Authority and senior buildings. Reports of the FBI arriving at Fox Hill where Matt Calicchio's grandmother resided and he apparently illegally lived spread. They wanted to talk to him. Eventually, they would find him and see him plead guilty to voter fraud activities in the 2013 and 2015 Hoboken elections.

In 2013, exclusively reported the US Department of Justice were a presence with investigators in Hoboken on Election Day. The rest of the media snoozed and showed no interest, even after another exclusive report appeared the following day showing a large group of mostly minority residents huddled outside 520 Jefferson St., site of the Raia social club. The Feds however took notice and began a lengthy methodical investigation.

Those unnamed FBI, DOJ and OIG HUD investigators led by Assistant US Attorny Rahul Agarwal under the leadership of the 2017 appointed US Attorney Craig Carpenito deserve much appreciation from the Mile Square City.

Assistant US Attorney Rahul Agarwal
Agarwal's fluidity in his closing arguments was nothing short of brilliant. He spoke to the jury without referring to notes as a slideshow flashed up on screens around the courtoom with key portions of testimony. Each slide connected the confessed actions of three now former friends of Raia to the testimony of five Hoboken voters appearing at the trial.

It was a devastating summation and masterful performance, a live teledrama if not a scene out of a Shakespearean tragedy. After almost a decade reporting on voter abuses here in the Mile Square City, justice would finally arrive. For many, especially those involved in the annual elections of the Hoboken Board of Education, it seemed a bridge too far that would never be traveled.

Yesterday was a mixture of elation and sadness. It was sad that Frank Raia could not leave the political stage and walk away from a political machine abusive and scornful of the most vulnerable people he claimed to represent. Their emancipation is at hand. Let that be a lesson near and far.

Today, let's celebrate the heroes. Take a bow Team Fed, and on behalf of Hoboken, thank you.

Councilman Ruben Ramos: 'Act on this moment for Hoboken'

Official release:

Councilman Ruben Ramos Statement on Guilty Verdict in Raia Trial

Fourth Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos is releasing the following statement on the guilty verdict returned yesterday in the federal fraud trial of longtime Hoboken political figure Frank Raia. During the trial, former Raia operative Matt Calicchio testified that Raia supported the campaign of Tim Occhipinti for Hoboken Mayor in 2013 and ran on his ticket specifically for the purpose of hurting Ramos' chances of winning the mayoral election. 

"What Frank Raia did was wrong and I'm extremely disappointed in his actions, and it's especially disturbing that he exploited some of our city's most vulnerable residents to execute his scheme," said Councilman Ramos. "Frank Raia has contributed to many, many candidates for office here and throughout the state. In order to remove any doubt that I do not condone Raia's actions, I am donating $1,000 that he contributed to my campaign to Community Lifestyle and Amazing Truth, two great local organizations that will ensure that this money will be used to help some of the same residents in the Hoboken Housing Authority who Raia used." 

Community Lifestyle is a program that provides free summer camp for Hoboken Housing Authority families. Amazing Truth Society is a free Karate/Self-Defense program for Hoboken Housing Authority kids. 

Councilman Mike DeFusco challenges NJ pols: Give Pupie money back to a good cause

Official release:

Councilman Mike DeFusco Will Donate $5,400 to the American Legion to Build Housing for Homeless Veterans 
HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Councilman Mike DeFusco will donate $5,400 to the Hoboken American Legion for the organization to continue building housing for homeless veterans. The donation is the exact dollar amount of contributions made by Frank Raia to Councilman DeFusco’s 2017 mayoral campaign. Councilman DeFusco is meeting with Commander John Carey from Post 107 this morning.
“I have long supported legislation that supports our homeless veterans and helps them rebuild from a vulnerable state,” said Councilman DeFusco. “Politics must work for everybody and the money donated to me from Frank Raia in 2017 has no place in my campaign. Illegal vote buying has tainted the electoral process in Hoboken for decades, stripping residents of their right to let their voices be heard. Frank’s conviction should send a strong message that this type of illegal behavior is unacceptable and those guilty of corruption must be held accountable for their actions. I hope the dozens of local and state leaders and Democratic organizations who have also received contributions from Frank Raia will follow my lead by doing the right thing. Giving his donated money to community organizations will make a positive impact on peoples’ lives for years to come."  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Official release:

USAO NJ Seal 3
United States AttorneyDistrict of New Jersey


NEWARK, N.J. – A former candidate for the Hoboken City Council was convicted today of conspiring to promote a voter bribery scheme by use of the mail, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced. 

Francis Raia, 67, of Hoboken, New Jersey, was a candidate for Hoboken City Council in 2013. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to violate the federal Travel Act for causing the mails to be used in aid of voter bribery, contrary to New Jersey state law, during that election. The jury deliberated for one day, following a five-day trial before Senior U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court.

“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 Carpenito said. “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.”

“The health of our democracy relies on the integrity of our electoral system,” FBI-Newark Special Agent-in-Charge Gregory W. Ehrie said. “When people use corrupt methods to work around that system, it deprives every constituent of their right to be heard through their vote.”

According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:
Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail rather than in person. To receive a mail-in ballot, voters must complete and submit to their County Clerk’s Office an Application for Vote By Mail Ballot (VBM Application). After the VBM Application is processed by the County Clerk’s Office, voters receive a mail-in ballot. 

From October 2013 through November 2013, Raia instructed Dio Braxton, Matt Calicchio, Lizaida Camis, and other conspirators who worked for his campaign, to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the November 2013 Hoboken municipal election. The conspirators provided these voters with VBM Applications and then delivered or mailed the completed VBM Applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office.

After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, at Raia’s direction, the conspirators went to the voters’ residences and instructed them to vote for Raia and in favor of a ballot referendum that Raia supported that would have loosened rent control restrictions in Hoboken. The conspirators 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 Raia’s office in Hoboken. Raia and his workers, including Braxton, Calicchio, Camis, and others, checked the ballots to ensure that voters had voted the way that they had instructed them to vote. Raia and his workers also had the voters sign declarations falsely stating that they had been paid in exchange for working on the campaign, when in fact the voters had been paid for their vote. After the election, the voters received $50 checks from a political consulting firm that was paid by Raia’s political action committee. Those $50 checks were never disclosed on Raia’s publicly filed political action committee election reports.

Braxton and Camis previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Braxton is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 10, 2019, and Camis’ sentencing date has yet to be scheduled. Calicchio previously pleaded guilty to violating the federal Travel Act and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 12, 2019. Raia, Braxton, Calicchio, and Camis each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ehrie in Newark, and special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi, with the investigation leading to today’s verdict. 

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Farrell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division. 

Defense Counsel: Alan Zegas Esq., Summit, New Jersey

BREAKING: One verdict for Frank Raia in his voter bribery trial: GUILTY!


Jury declares: Frank "Pupie" Raia guilty of
directing voter bribery scheme

US Department of Justice & FBI smash Old Guard voter fraud operation in Hoboken 

Frank Raia stunned with verdict

Newark Federal Court: Before well over a dozen family, friends, and Hoboken voter fraud critics, Frank "Pupie" Raia was declared guilty of directing a conspiracy in a massive voter bribery scheme today in Hoboken's 2013 election.

The jury delivered its verdict on the second day of deliberations after requesting the testimony to review  four of the five Hoboken voters who testified how they offered their VBM (Vote by Mail ballot) to soldiers of Raia's social club in exchange for $50.

Raia, who held lifelong aspirations to be Hoboken mayor lost that bid in 2009. He returned seeking a pivotal City Council seat in 2013 backing a ballot question limiting rent control losing on both fronts.

He faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing on October 3rd.

With closing arguments Monday, the US Department of Justice repeatedly referred to the testimony of former friends of Raia as evidence corroborating with five Hoboken voters who also testified to a voter bribery scheme using the mail to perpetrate voter fraud. The references to Matt Calicchio, Michael Holmes and Freddie Frazier were called "consistent" to the allegations in the indictment against Raia.

Defense counsel Alan Zegas undermined the testimony of the three at every turn spending most of his time focusing on Matt Calicchio who he deemed not credible based on contradictions about his interviews with the FBI, grand jury and court testimony. "He's simply not credible," he concluded.

The defense added that Calicchio would benefit in his guilty plea because he wanted the government to write a letter for a reduced sentence in September. Of Holmes and Frazier, he added they both would avoid prosecution based on the government being pleased with their testimony against his client.

"Frank Raia doesn't know who is doing what," Zegas said of the campaign payments. He didn't offer how others funded the payments including over $20,000 paid to Bluewater, used mostly for voter payments of $50 per person.

Asst. US Attorney Rahul Agarwal presented a number of slides with key testimony of the three and highlighted with a slideshow how they were supported by the testimony of five Hoboken voters - all residents of the housing authority.

Referring to Michal Holmes he said, "You heard from Big Holmesy" and an order to get the paid votes, where Holmes said "Frank told us to do it."

Near the end of his closing argument, Agarwal pointed to Raia's wealth saying, "Money might matter out there but it doesn't matter here. What matters here is evidence."

The last word to the jury came from Asst. US Attorney Sean Farrell. He ripped into the defense on the payments to the paid voters saying the money could not have come from underlings of Raia who was, in fact, the underwriter.

"The money came from the defendant's PAC," Farrell indicated which is not contested.

Bluewater Operations became a contentious point as Zegas said Raia testified that it was not his idea to hire the firm to cut checks to voters but 2013 mayoral candidate Tim Occhipinti.

The defense also highlighted Raia did not give credence to his former allies and ignored their testimony as they were "lying about him." Of Matt Calicchio, Raia dismissed his campaign role saying he "worked for Beth Mason."

In the week long trial, the US Department of Justice prosecutors led by Rahul Agarwal and Sean Farrell presented almost a half dozen Hoboken voters out of the Hoboken Housing Authority paid $50 in exchange for turning over mostly unsealed Vote-by-Mail paper ballots to Raia directed underlings.

Key eyewitness testimony featured three Raia allies flipped by the government: Matt Calicchio, Michael Holmes and Freddie Frazier. Collectively, they sealed his fate as they testified to a coordinated voter bribery scheme operation focused on Hoboken's subsidized housing buildings and headquartered out of the Raia social club at 520 Jefferson St.

Also named by the three as participants in the Raia directed voter bribery scheme: Liz "Church Lady" Camis, Dio Braxton, and Ana Cintron.

FBI operations specialist Jacqueline Matthews offered numerical details to the systematic targeting of Hoboken's most vulnerable population last Wednesday. She testified how more than several hundred Hoboken residents received checks for $50 from either the Raia PAC, "Let the People Decide" or Bluewater Operations.

Matthews stated a mere 15 of 378 paid VBM voters did not reside in Hoboken subsidized housing.

Frank "Pupie" Raia pictured here getting bad news on election night in 2013 received more bad news today.
He's declared guilty of leading a massive voter bribery scheme across Hoboken's subsidized housing.
Fellow "One Hoboken" slate underwriter and former councilwoman Beth Mason is pictured rear right.
copyright 2019 - all rights reserved

Judge William J. Martini who managed the trial proceedings will execute sentencing. He was nominated a US District judge by President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2002. His most high profile corruption case until the Hoboken voter bribery case was for former Newark Mayor Sharpe James.  He sentenced the former Newark mayor to a 27-month prison term for corruption.

Matt Calicchio, a years-long political operative employed by former councilwoman Beth Mason during most of his years of acknowledged illegal activities will face sentencing for his confessed participation in the voter bribery scheme in the 2013 and 2015 Hoboken elections September 12th.

Indications at trial and earlier arrests suggest the Feds are continuing to investigate the Hoboken 2015 election.

The 2013 "One Hoboken" campaign slate that will live in infamy. From left: Council candidate Frank "Pupie" Raia, council candidate Britney Montgomery Cook, underwriter and former councilwoman Beth Mason, mayoral candidate Tim Occhipinti, and council candidate Peter Biancamano. 

Related: The exact same pattern of voter payments and Vote by Mail ballots in Hoboken subsidized housing detailed in testimony on the 2013 Hoboken election by FBI operations specialist Jacqueline Matthews was first reported here in 2010 and the Observer

Similarly, it's been documented in the Hoboken 2015 election: 

FBI arrest threatens extinction level event for Hoboken voter fraud

Jury hears witness testimony reread on day six of the Frank "Raia" Trial

It's day six and the jury heard all the requested witness testimony. Another question submitted requested Judge William Martini go over the charging instructions for the jury.

Judge Martini went through an abreviated charging instruction focused on select portions. He detailed: acting on fact, deciding yourself based on evidence, witness credibility and weighing it individually.

The jury went to lunch at 12:30 and renews efforts on deliberations.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Jury deliberates into day two with questions in Raia trial

Closing arguments this morning from the prosecution and defense in day five of the Frank Raia bribery scheme trial led to afternoon jury deliberations before being later adjourned by Judge William Martini in US federal court today.

The jury requested witness testimony from four of five Hoboken paid Vote by Mail voters: Latasha Swindon, Marquitha Allen, Patricia Tirado, and Tracy Stepherson.

In addition, the jury requested the witness testimony of the treasurer of the Raia PAC "Let the People Decide" Andrew Canonico and Brian Cardino, a former Hudson County Board of Elections investigator.

Judge William Martini discharged the jury at about 12:45 where they would have lunch ready and begin deliberations. On receiving the request for witness testimony details and later, two succeeding questions, he opted to see the jury adjourn.

The first question from the jury asked if a sealed ballot can be brought by a bearer to a campaign office?

The judge appeared hesitant to give an incorrect answer saying, "It would be unfair to say you can't take (sealed) ballots back" before mailing them and not to give the jury an answer "would be grossly unfair."

Asst. US Attorney Rahul Agarwal seemed uncomfortable with the assessment stating, "there's no testimony" in the record to that conclusion.

The testimony of Hilda Rosario, the supervisor for the Hudson County Board of Elections was read and reread briefly. "Can they (the bearer) take it (the VBM) anywhere?" Her answer: "no."

The judge heard Asst. US Attorney Sean Farrell reiterate Rosario's position conveying government agents had checked with her on the break confirming this was, in fact, the case.

Sharply differing with the prosecution, Frank Raia lead defense counsel Alan Zegas. "It's beyond the scope of the record," he said before dissenting further adding he thought the VBM could be taken to a campaign headquarters.

All of which led to Judge Martini expressing a willingness to further explore the issue in the morning when witness transcripts would be made available. He hoped to have the respective counsel agree to a response for the jury.

While the rules of Vote by Mail were changed in 2014 following a trial in Hudson Superior Court on the civil case brought by Raia and the Mile Square Taxpayers Association in the 2013 ballot question on rent control; no discussion specifically addressed the issue of chain of custody.

A jury question on bringing sealed ballots to a campaign HQ
didn't address "chain of custody" governance at the federal trial
of Frank Raia on an alleged voter bribery scheme this afternoon.

Talking Ed Note: In 2007, the "do-over" fourth ward city council election between Dawn Zimmer and Chris Campos saw the latter seek to challenge her absentee ballots on chain of custody. One such challenge involved a spouse mailing the ballot of another.

The trial recommences at 9:30 Tuesday where this jury question plus another on whether a campaign operative may "instruct" a voter how to fill out a ballot is considered.

Pupie plea: "Let's make a deal!"

Last Thursday, Frank "Pupie" Raia took to the witness stand to rebut the testimony of former friends and allies alleging he masterminded a massive voter bribery scheme in Hoboken during the 2013 election.

It may not have turned out as well as hoped.

According to well-placed Hoboken sources, the defense team led by attorney Alan Zegas is seeking to make a deal on behalf of his client with the Department of Justice prosecutors.

There's only one problem; the Feds aren't interested.

Frank Raia defense counsel Alan Zegas.

Zegas navigated the infamous BridgeGate case for his client David Wildstein who escaped serving jail time in 2017 by flipping on others in the Christie Administration. He's facing a higher bar with this case.

Federal prosecutors led by Asst. US Attorneys Rahul Agarwal and Sean Farrell presented a strong case of witness testimony against Raia building to a crescendo with a third friend and former ally, Freddie Frazier, closing out the government's case Wednesday afternoon.

After admitting he changed his initial denials to the FBI confessing to his role in a wide-ranging voter fraud bribery scheme, Frazier was asked why he did it by Asst. US Attorney Sean Farrell.

"That's what I was told by Mr. Raia," he said adding that he conveyed to voters they would be backing the "One Hoboken" slate where Raia appeared as a council candidate because "he wanted it real bad." The rent control ballot however which Frazier opposed, was communicated as "optional."

Frazier would admit to delivering the controlled Vote by Mail ballots to the county board of elections and mailing others. He testified that he drove another participating member of the bribery scheme, Liz Camis, to a mailbox on more than one occasion so she could mail her collected ballots in Raia's car.

He then "gave the list of voters... to Mr. Raia" of who to pay with checks of $50 "usually a day after the election."

That's 520 Jefferson and this exclusive photo shows a lineup of people outside waiting to go inside and sign
declarations after the fact with checks allegedly paying $50 for each vote on November 6, 2013, a night after the
Hoboken mayoral election.

Stay tuned here for important updates at the federal trial today.

Talking Ed Note: A word of thanks to readers new and old, especially those who have supported this website over years. Kind thanks for all the encouragement in recent days covering election abuses back to 2009. While not able to get back to everyone who reached out, the mail has been read and is well-received.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Sign of the Times: End of an era

On Monday, the jury in the federal trial of Frank Raia will hear closing arguments and begin deliberations in his alleged Vote by Mail bribery scheme.

Regardless of their decision, it's the end of an era in Hoboken.

Councilman Mike DeFusco Announces Campaign Team for 2019 Re-Election Bid

Official release:

Councilman Mike DeFusco today announced David Gracin will serve as the campaign manager for his 2019 City Council re-election. Gracin is a seasoned Democratic political operative who served as the field director during Councilman DeFusco’s 2017 mayoral run. Ray Ferraioli, one of New Jersey’s top Democratic fundraisers, will lead fundraising efforts.
Also rejoining Councilman DeFusco’s campaign team is Vision Media Marketing Inc., whose clients include the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, the Hudson County Democratic Organization, State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. Vice President Phil Swibinski will serve as a consultant and strategist and Caitlin Mota will serve as Councilman DeFusco’s campaign spokeswoman.
“Serving as Hoboken’s First Ward Councilman for the past four years has been both a privilege and honor,” said Councilman DeFusco. “I’m excited that my core team from the mayoral campaign will be joining me again this year to continue the push to bring new energy and new ideas to Hoboken. David is a well respected campaign professional who has successfully elevated candidates across the country into public service. Our entire team shares my commitment to good government and I’m confident with their support and guidance we will continue to build a better Hoboken.”