Thursday, June 27, 2019

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher Announces Re-Election Bid as Hoboken’s Second Ward Representative

Official release:

Dear neighbors, family and friends, 

This July is a special month for me not only because it is the anniversary of when I started calling Hoboken home 25 years ago, but it also marks four years since I decided to throw my hat into the ring and run for City Council as the Second Ward’s representative. It was with the support from many of you that I won my first election and it is your continued support and engagement that has allowed us to accomplish great things together for Hoboken ever since. I would love for you to join me on Monday, July 15th at Madison Bar and Grill to help me celebrate these important July milestones, but more importantly to help me kick off my re-election campaign!
Beginning today, I am officially running for re-election so that we can continue working together to make our Hoboken the best place to live for all of us.
I am incredibly proud of our track record because by working together we have touched on so many issues that have made a positive impact on Hoboken. To name a few: 
  • Saving taxpayers $30 million and putting an end to water main breaks by renegotiating our Suez contract to give Hoboken enough funds to upgrade our entire water system.
  • Making Hoboken’s main street safer, more resilient and beautiful by completing the Washington Street Redesign and bringing back community sidewalk patrols.
  • Defending our waterfront against private and commercial interests so that both the proposed Monarch and the former Union Dry Dock sites are developed as open space for public use and enjoyment.
  • Keeping taxes low and ensuring fiscal discipline as Chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee by eliminating wasteful and excess spending while maintaining essential city services and supporting public safety.
  • Advocating for our most vulnerable and long-standing residents to prevent displacement by hiring a tenant advocate, supporting an amendment to rent control laws that are favorable to tenants and extending PILOTs on low-income housing units. 
  • Executing on a pedestrian safety plan for the 2nd Ward that includes traffic calming initiatives and upgrades to a dozen intersections.
  • Adding a new dog park to the 2nd Ward in a neighborhood that has seen the highest residential and pet density increases throughout the entire city. 
  • Coordinating with the Board of Education to prioritize the massive enrollment wave in our school district, which has seen a 59% increase in grades Pre-K 3 to 6th in just eight years, in all planning and redevelopment actions the City undertakes.
  • Fighting for and securing over $5 million in revenue for our city from private developments, including the Hilton Hotel project, by delivering financial expertise to redevelopment negotiations so the City is no longer the underdog.
  • Supporting greater investment in resiliency as the lead Council voice on Rebuild By Design and backing the resiliency initiatives in the South West and North West Parks. 
We still have more to do, but even more important is what lies ahead. We need to tackle together the issues being created by e-Scooters and create more of a culture of pedestrian safety in Hoboken. We need to find ways to continue supporting the success of local businesses and ensure their longevity in our City.  But the biggest issue to me that lies ahead of us is making sure all future development addresses our community needs and makes sense for Hoboken.  
I feel strongly in the power of working together to reach our common goals, which is why I hope you will join me to celebrate our achievements as I begin my re-election campaign on July 15. I understand some of you may have summer plans, but I am sure I will see you at a community event or knocking on doors with me soon. 
Hoboken deserves leaders who advocate for their neighbors and I truly believe I have successfully been that voice for the past three and a half years.  With your continued support, we can keep working together to protect and improve our Hoboken.
Thank you so much for your support!  Please forward this to everyone you think would be interested and feel free to reach out to me anytime at 201/208-1674.  I hope to see you on the 15th 

Frank Raia political hangover begins with a trail over a decade long

The political hangover in Hoboken is underway after the blockbuster conviction out of federal court in Newark for one Frank Raia.

Cue the Monty Python and the Holy Grail retreat, run awaaayyyyyyyy!

Councilman Mike DeFusco was quickly joined by Councilman Ruben Ramos yesterday in getting ahead of any affiliation with the Pupster. Both elected to announce donations to local causes of Raia political contributions in the immediate aftermath.

Frank Raia chats in the back of City Council chambers with Michelle Russo
as his VBM soldier Dio Braxton center watches a 2011 council meeting.
Raia's political influence was directly connected to his VBM activities during elections.

Calls for others to join in have been met with steely silence. Frank Raia's money and ensuing political influence was a staple of Hoboken politics. In the wards where the Hoboken Housing Authority and senior buildings reside, his Vote by Mail operational power extended deep and Hoboken political incumbents and climbers paid homage.

With the exception of Jen Giattino in the sixth ward, Tiffanie Fisher in the second and mostly Peter Cunningham in the fifth ward, almost every other ward officeholder was engaged, influenced or beholden going back more than a decade to the ever-expanding political ego residing within Frank Raia and his checkbook.

Yesterday, the Jersey Journal dug into the history of Raia's influence with the rampant use of Vote by Mail ballots. The usage greatly expanded through laws enacted under former NJ Governor Jon Corzine in 2009. Spanning the rise of Pupie power more than a decade back, the story points to Mayor Ravi Bhalla most recently and his praise of Raia back to Dawn Zimmer more than a decade ago.

Raia’s influence was widespread and he had many political alliances over the years. As a councilman in 2016, Mayor Ravi Bhalla called Raia an asset to the city. And former Mayor Dawn Zimmer backed him for his run for county freeholder in 2008.

Back to 2007, ELEC campaign reports show Hoboken elections replete with campaigns paying Hoboken residents $37.50 to $50 on average with campaign "captains" or local organizers recruiting within the Hoboken Housing Authority earning hundreds and on rare occasions, thousands more.

The examples are legion in Hoboken municipal and Board of Education campaigns in almost every election year since. Some of the witnesses appearing in the federal trial appear on various campaign reports over years. From Dawn Zimmer in 2007 and 2009 to Tim Occhipinti in 2015 and Mike DeFusco in 2017, the Hoboken tradition using Vote by Mail in questionable voter tallies is seen over and over.

As one example, Tracy Stepherson who testified to her $50 payment in the 2013 Hoboken election appears repeatedly on Dawn Zimmer ELEC reports in the 2009 election cycle.

That year, Hoboken saw two elections for mayor, one in the spring and one in the fall with the departure of 30-day mayor Peter Cammarano arrested for receiving $25,000 in bribes from an FBI informant posing as, wait for it... a developer.

But the pattern is self-explanatory. Here's one November payment for $100 for "Get Out the Vote Support" in early November:

Yet another payment, this one for $50 later in the same month:

And yet another for $40.

Another Hoboken resident who testified also appears on a 2009 Dawn Zimmer campaign report, Latasha Swinton:

Although some repeatedly point to Raia and Zimmer in an elevator on video back in 2007, he was an opposition candidate for mayor against Zimmer in 2009. So while Raia is most often the common link in all these payments, it's not always the case.

Hoboken acted as if it was immune to any law enforcement across many years as the rampant epidemic of Vote by Mail abuses dramatically grew.

Talking Ed Note: The Feds are clamping down in Hoboken so all those paid political operatives pushing their party line might want to be more mindful of their own glass houses. The only thing saving some is the statute of limitations.

For months, there's been an effort pointing at Councilman Ruben Ramos alleging he was the candidate who Matt Calicchio worked for in 2015. Ludicrous on its face, it didn't stop their foaming. Those efforts from the Ravi Bhalla campaign and paid political operatives have not diminished with their being wrong since.

They've morphed with a "we'll get them" yet as they seek to target the core remnants of the demolished Reform Movement: Jen Giattino, Tiffanie Fisher and Peter Cunningham for their Hoboken-centered stance on the issues.

A year ago, the same political operatives claimed all three took orders on the council but now it's a different kind of tarnish they wish to inflict leading to the November ward elections.

None of them however are on record at any public event calling Frank Raia an "asset to Hoboken."
Only Ravi Bhalla can stand up and own that declaration.

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 sojourn 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 Attorney 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 slide show flashed up on screens around the courtroom 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.”

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Frank Raia makes last desperate play at his voter bribery trial

With the defense taking less than a day, Frank "Pupie" Raia took the witness stand in Newark at his federal trial to defeat the testimony of former political allies and friends against him.

He pointed the finger right back at those who accused him of being the Vote-by-Mail king in a voter bribery scheme.

"I wasn't involved in what they were doing," Raia offered by way of a defense.

Raia was responding to a trio of government witnesses who flipped and pled out for a reduced sentence (Matt Calicchio) or agreed to testify in lieu of prosecution (Michael Holmes & Freddie Frazier).

The government screws turned and turned hard.

Frank Raia (l) with Freddie Frazier and Patty Waiters at this 2016 City Council meeting up for another NHSA term.
He's up for a different kind of term in Newark on trial for allegedly directing a voter bribery scheme.

Read the rest of the breaking coverage this afternoon at the Hudson County View:

FBI to Hoboken voter fraudsters, class is in session

Yesterday at the Frank Raia voter fraud trial, the US Department of Justice conducted a master class how to expose and take down a virulent, targeted voter bribery scheme.

Sandwiched between two flipped Raia Social Club election soldiers and a NJ ELEC campaign investigative director, one FBI Happy Warrior operations specialist.

She presented a 2013 version of a 2010 investigative report highlighted in a NY Observer feature bringing the Hoboken tradition of voter fraud out of the shadows.

Bravo Jackie Matthews!

More to come.

12:10 Update

First, a brief update exclusive as the prosecutors officially rested their case electing not to bring further witnesses and specifically noted to Judge Martini late Wednesday they were withdrawing the anticipated testimony of Liz "Church Lady" Camis.

Bayonne based political operative Jack Butchko testified as a witness for defendant Frank Raia Thursday morning. He alleged Matt Calicchio had a falling out with Raia prior to the 2013 campaign and performed no role in the campaigning. That puts his testimony squarely in conflict with Michael Holmes and Freddie Frazier who both intimated that Calicchio was part of the Raia campaign efforts in the same year, specifically to buy votes for $50 using Vote by Mail.

Contradicting Butchko, defense witness Anthony Petrosino who was sitting for days in the courthouse hallways awaiting his opportunity to be a witness in the trial. He contradicted Butchko saying Calicchio was in fact around for the 2013 campaign in his later testimony.

Also testifying as character witnesses for Raia: Father Alex Santora the old guard priest at Our Lady of Grace, Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman where Raia has built affordable housing and Frank Leanza, an attorney who has worked for the North Hudson Sewerage Authority in Hoboken.

Leanza's name last came up in 2016 when the NHSA seat was highly contested between Raia and Hoboken reform advocate Kurt Gardiner. Alleged conflicts of interest between Raia and Leanza erupted in that appointment contest.

Then-councilman Ravi Bhalla lobbied hard for Frank Raia to get another five-year term. He came up short, flipped his council vote and followed with a bizarre lecture in the council meeting at Gardiner, displaying his unhappiness with the reform upset victory.

Hudson County View wrote of the pending voiced bitterness by Ravi Bhalla ON BEHALF of Frank Raia:

... Ravi Bhalla gave a long-winded speech about how Raia was more than qualfied for the position and is, and hopefully will continue to be an asset to the City of Hoboken - whether or not he's reappointed.

At the rate of witness appearances; it appears the jury may hear closing arguments on Monday. Meanwhile, everyone awaits the final word on whether Frank Raia will take the stand in his own defense.

Afternoon update: As noted in the comments, Frank Raia did take the stand today. Expect our Mile Square View colleagues at Hudson County View to detail the testimony first.

On Monday, closing arguments will then follow with Judge Martini turning the case over to the jury for deliberation.

Migdalia Pagan Milano Calls on DeFusco to Remove Ryan Yacco from his Council Campaign

Official release:

Migdalia Pagan Milano, a candidate for Ward 1 Council, today called on Councilman Mike Defusco to remove his campaign manager, political consultant Ryan Yacco from his Council campaign.

Yacco’s and  Matt Calicchio’s testimony in the Frank Raia vote buying trial yesterday revealed that Yacco through his firm, Bluewater Operations was at the center of the vote buying scheme, writing more than $15,000 worth of checks to individuals paid $50 each to vote for Raia and against rent control.  According to witness testimony, the money was funneled through Yacco’s firm as a way to hide the transactions and avoid campaign finance reporting requirements.

Migdalia Pagan Milano said, “I call on Councilman DeFusco to remove Ryan Yacco from his campaign.  Mr. Yacco was at the heart of an illegal vote-buying scheme. We must send a message that this kind of blatant political corruption is no longer tolerated in Hoboken.”

Migdalia Pagan Milano is a lifelong resident who began working with the community as an assistant in the Cultural Affairs Department for the City for Hoboken. She was instrumental in organizing Hoboken’s first Pride week. Currently, Migdalia works in the newly reconstituted Department of Constituent Affairs where she effectively finds solutions to residents’ day to day issues. 

Ryan Yacco is DeFusco's campaign manager and served in that capacity in his Mayoral campaign as well. He also worked on Peter Cammarano's mayoral campaign.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Frank Raia Social Club flips on him at his voter bribery trial

Raia Old Guard insider sums up blistering testimony out of the gate Wednesday in Newark: 
"If they vote, they will get paid. If they didn't work, they still get paid."

In a series of body blows on day three of his trial, Frank "Pupie" Raia saw his social club on Jefferson Street flip on him as the government delivered a devastating set of witnesses against him Wednesday.

Michael Holmes as seen in this
vintage 2011 photo.
The federal trial with Raia a defendant for a bribery scheme involving the use of the mail took a deadlier turn with Mike Holmes opening the proceedings as a witness for the government.

His testimony was akin to having a lead pipe smacked against the knees.

"My role was to get as many Vote-by-Mail as I could get," Holmes said before offering further incriminating testimony how he illegally helped voters fill out ballots for his team as directed by Raia.

Told to bring the voter ballots to the social club opened, Holmes said he refused to do so as it was illegal. He followed with an admission he took care to see the votes were cast for the One Hoboken slate underwritten by Raia and former councilwoman Beth Mason in addition to the ballot question on rent control.

He further confessed he told voters if they voted they would get paid $50,  repeatedly stating when questioned and sometimes when not, "If they didn't work they still got paid."

On the question of why he did it from Assistant US Attorney Rahul Agarwal, he answered bluntly, "That's what Raia wanted."

Some on the jury look appalled even as similar testimony was offered a day earlier by Matt Calicchio who Holmes described as a friend.

Holmes further testified to others who were operating to get Vote by Mail ballots with an expectation of payment in the Raia club naming Matt Calicchio, Anna Cintron, Liz "Church Lady" Camis, Dio Braxton and Freddie Frazier.

Holmes admitted he had a cooperation agreement to testify in the case saying if he testified truthfully, "Nothing happens to me. (I) Walk out the door not being charged with a crime."

Talking Ed Note: More on the bad day for Pupie in Newark to come. Freddie Frazier another club member friend was the last witness to testify and like Michael Holmes, spoke of a cooperation agreement if he testified truthfully in lieu of prosecution.

The Feds put a clamp on Raia's social club in a big way. In essence, they flipped the club insiders connected to Hoboken politics - all of them.

As a result, the agita is breaking out all over Hoboken.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Carpet bombing over 2013 Hoboken election continues in Frank Raia voter bribery trial

Day two did not disappoint as a stone-faced Frank Raia took it on the chin most of the day as one former political operative ally and two Hoboken residents offered details pointing to his role as the maestro in a voter bribery scheme in the 2013 Hoboken election.

First, the Hudson County View blew the lid off questions swirling around which 2015 council candidate unnamed in a Department of Justice filing is connected to Matt Calicchio, a long time political operative who most recently worked for former councilwoman Beth Mason.

Assistant US Attorney Rahul Agarwal asked which council candidate he worked for in 2015 and the two words erupted like a neutron bomb in Hoboken: Eduardo Gonzalez.

Calicchio has admitted his guilt for participating in a voter bribery scheme for both the 2013 and 2015 election. He savaged Raia throughout his testimony on day two detailing systematic payments for votes using Vote by Mail ballots centered at 520 Jefferson Street, the Raia Social Club.

In great detail, Calicchio discussed a team of people altering ballots in the club stating, "Mr. Raia was giving the orders." Two of the people, Liz Camis, and Dio Braxton have already pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the voter bribery scheme and are expected to testify on behalf of the government.

Eduardo Gonzalez seen here as a commissioner
on the Hoboken Housing Authority was named
by Matt Calicchio today as a council candidate he
worked for in the 2015 election. 
Gonzalez in two interviews earlier this year with denied any role in voter fraud activities connected to the 2015 Hoboken ward races.

He is a two time failed council candidate who served on the Hoboken Housing Authority, mostly backing the controversial former HHA Director Carmelo Garcia, also a failed council candidate in 2015. Gonzalez also ran for a City Council at-large seat in 2013.

Calicchio mixed it up often with Raia defense counsel Alan Zegas who attempted to paint a picture of legality on checks issued to hundreds of "campaign workers."

But Calicchio would have none of it. He contradicted the defense counsel indicating he personally saw Frank Raia make additional cash payments to Camis and Braxton.

"You didn't see that," the defense counsel retaliated. "I did," Calicchio responded and said Raia pulled out a wad of cash dishing off an unknown amount to Camis.

In addition to eyewitness testimony and admission he himself handled 24 Vote-by-Mail ballots in 2013, Calicchio explained how NJ campaign laws were circumvented to not list all the paid voters on campaign reports.

"Frank wanted to hire somebody to write the checks so he didn't have to" pointing to the role of Bluewater Operations, a now defunct political consulting firm according to Ryan Yacco, a principal and founder who testified end-of-day to doing payroll for "a list provided" of alleged campaign workers. Yacco stated he spoke to Raia two or three times in 2013 downplaying the role of the payroll process saying campaigns didn't have time to write checks but he verified no work for the issued checks.

Pointing back to Raia leading "a coverup," Calicchio also testified declarations signed by paid voters promising to do work for the campaign was a ruse.  "They signed the form a day after the election."

After contradictory grand jury testimony was exposed in the first of two appearances back to 2017, Calicchio explained to the prosecution he didn't want to get himself or others in trouble as a reason for lying. "Time to come clean and tell the truth and move on with my life," he said matter-of-factly.

Zegas took exception with this high-minded position ending his questions asking, "You don't want to go to jail?"

Without missing a beat, Calicchio responded "yes."

Matt Calicchio hams it up for the camera at a 2013 City Council meeting.
He was a star witness today for the government in the Frank Raia trial in federal court in Newark.

Talking Ed Note: There's more on all this as the Hudson County View filed its second story of the day at the link:

Two Hoboken Housing Authority residents testified to their being paid $50 each for their VBM ballot with the latter inconsistent on participation handing out campaign flyers.

The government continues its case and indicated it has more voters and two campaign captains to testify. Hoboken politico Michael Holmes, a long time politically active resident's name came up numerous times leading to speculation he may be a witness in the trial.

The mayor's office had two of its three aides present. Chief of Staff John Allen and Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman were in attendance most of the day at the Newark trial. A highly placed source outside Hoboken responding to the suggestion they were there to see Holmes testify noted, "they want to see if Holmes names (Councilman) Michael Russo. If he does, they'll tell Ravi (Bhalla) and then run a candidate in the third ward council race this November."

So the Ravi-Russo Alliance is potentially facing a possible double cross. The more you know...

Update: The Jersey Journal also in attendance filed this story on the events of day two in the trial, required reading:

Monday, June 17, 2019

Bombs drop on day one of Frank "Pupie" Raia voter fraud trial

Jury selection went off without a hitch Monday morning paving the way for opening arguments in the Frank "Pupie" Raia voter fraud bribery trial in Newark federal court.

The first government star witness against Raia: Matt Calicchio. The longtime Old Guard political operative who was an employee for most of the time with Beth Mason under scrutiny in the 2013 and 2015 Hoboken elections.

He will be sentenced for his admission in the voter fraud bribery scheme using the mail in September.

Frank "Pupie" Raia in this 2011 photo at a City Council meeting on the topic of saving the local hospital. 

According to the first-hand report from the Hudson County View:

Calicchio, the government’s first witness, pleaded guilty to participating in vote-by-mail fraud last month in connection to the 2013 and 2015 municipal elections in Hoboken.
He said that he worked at Raia’s direction in 2013 and that a different candidate for office directed him in 2015, but the government moved the line of questioning along before he could state who that was.
Calicchio faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison along with a $250,000 fine and noted that he’s required to tell the truth as part of his cooperation agreement with the government (the agreement will be voided if he is caught lying under oath).
Another portion of Calicchio's testimony alleged Raia formed a third mayoral ticket to undercut mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos thus aiding former mayor Dawn Zimmer in the same election.

Talking Ed Note: Day two of the trial is expected to see more testifying from Matt Calicchio. He may be followed with a surprising Old Guard soldier testifying on behalf of the government.

Related: The 2013 report on breaking the story:

520 Jefferson St - payoffs for votes?

BREAKING: Frank "Pupie" Raia trial begins today

The short one-week reprieve is over and Frank "Pupie" Raia begins his trial in federal court today charged with leading an alleged voter bribery scheme by use of the mail.

Jury selection is underway this morning and opening arguments may be heard in United States vs. Francis Raia before Judge Martini in Newark.

Frank "Pupie" Raia in better times as seen in this 2013 photo with former councilwoman Beth Mason who teamed up
with him in the 2013 Hoboken election. He's facing federal charges at trial for allegedly leading a voter bribery scheme that year.

Raia or as he's more commonly called Pupie in Hoboken faced indictment back on Halloween. The US Department of Justice in Newark stated in its release:

From October 2013 through November 2013, Raia instructed Braxton and other conspirators to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots in the November 2013 Hoboken municipal election. Conspirators provided these voters with VBM applications and then delivered the completed VBM Applications to the Hudson County Clerk’s office. 

After the mail-in ballots were delivered to the voters, the conspirators went to the voters’ residences and, in some cases, instructed the voters to vote for Raia and in favor of a ballot referendum that Raia supported relating to rent control. 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. Bank records show that voters living in Hoboken received $50 checks from an entity hired by Raia’s political action committee.

As a result, Raia, 67 faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge.

Councilman Mike DeFusco Plan Will Bring Small Business Kiosks, Pop Up Shops to Hoboken’s Waterfront

Official release:

For years, empty kiosks have gone unused on Hoboken’s waterfront, but now Councilman Mike DeFusco is helping spearhead a plan to bring small businesses and pop up shops to reinvigorate those run-down spaces on Pier A. An ordinance being co-sponsored by Councilman DeFusco and Council Vice President Ruben Ramos will update zoning definitions, permitting Hoboken-based small businesses to utilize new and existing kiosks on the waterfront to expand their visibility and activate the waterfront all year long.
“I have always believed in establishing innovative and proactive policies to help small businesses succeed in Hoboken, which is why I’m excited to introduce legislation to help activate neglected kiosks,” said Councilman DeFusco. “We as a local government should be capitalizing on public spaces and placemaking to make our city a more vibrant and welcoming place for makers, creators and innovators. I’m looking forward to working with the entire City Council and mayor to reinvigorate kiosks and implement a plan to make our waterfront an ever more desirable place to grab a cup of coffee while supporting small businesses.”
This is the latest initiative sponsored by Councilman DeFusco to encourage innovators, creators and makers to invest in Hoboken. Last month, the City Council gave final approval to Councilman DeFusco’s Small Business Expansion Plan that updates zoning and establishes new business districts to bring new mom and pop shops, restaurants and hubs to Hoboken’s neighborhoods.
“Growing up in Hoboken, we never had the opportunity to access open space along our own waterfront,” said Council Vice President Ruben Ramos. “I have always been proud to have helped lead the push to responsibly develop our waterfront and create a place that everyone can enjoy. Now we have the opportunity to do more by supporting local businesses. Activating kiosks is a sensible plan that will help bring an economic boost to our city and I’m excited to one day soon enjoy the new charm of our waterfront with my family.”