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 Hobokenhorse.com 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, Hobokenhorse.com 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.