PATERSON, N.J. — New Jersey’s Attorney General filed charges against four men, including two sitting city councilmembers in Paterson, for electoral fraud in connection with a May 12, 2020 special election.
The May 12 special election in Paterson was conducted entirely by mail-in ballots which Councilman Michael Jackson and then Councilman-Elect Alex Mendez are charged with improperly collecting.
An investigation by Grewal’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability began when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service alerted the attorney general’s office that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson. Numerous additional ballots were found in a mailbox in nearby Haledon.
Generally speaking, a voter who receives a mail-in ballot completes the ballot themselves and then returns the ballot by mailing it, placing it in a specially designated “drop box,” or delivering it to the County Board of Elections. However, New Jersey also allows a voter to provide the completed ballot to a “bearer,” who must complete the bearer certification on the ballot envelope in the presence of the voter and then return the ballot on behalf of the voter. Under state law, a bearer may collect and deliver ballots for no more than three voters in an election, and a candidate in the election is never permitted to serve as a bearer.
It is alleged that Jackson and Mendez violated state election laws as candidates by approaching one or more voters in Paterson in the districts where they were running and collecting their official mail-in ballots for delivery to the Passaic County Board of Elections. It is further alleged that these mail-in ballots were delivered to the Board of Elections without information identifying the bearer, in violation of state election laws.
Mendez and Jackson, as well as Shelim Khalique, 51, and Abu Razyen, 21, are charged with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots during the election.
In addition, Jackson, 48, and Mendez, 45, allegedly procured and had in their possession official mail-in ballots which were neither their own ballots, nor ballots for which they were identified as an authorized bearer. Mendez also allegedly procured or submitted one or more voter registration applications, which he knew to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent, in that he knew the person for whom the application was procured was not eligible to vote in the election district identified on the application.
Lastly, Jackson allegedly received the official mail-in ballot of one voter without the ballot having been voted or sealed, and that ballot was subsequently delivered to the Board of Elections in a sealed envelope without information identifying the bearer.
Khalique allegedly violated state election laws by approaching a residence in Paterson’s 2nd Ward and collecting official mail-in ballots from one or more voters which subsequently were delivered to the Passaic County Board of Elections without information identifying the bearer. In addition, Khalique and the bus company he owns, A-1 Elegant Tours, Inc., d/b/a Eastern Star Transportation, LLC, were charged today with contract fraud and other crimes in a separate investigation by OPIA, the New Jersey State Police, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Razyen is accused of having violated state election laws by procuring and possessing more than three official mail-in ballots which were not his own and for which he was not identified as an authorized bearer. Investigators obtained a USB drive containing a video of Razyen holding and flipping through a stack of more than three official mail-in ballot outer envelopes that did not have the bearer portion completed. The video confirmed that Razyen had collected the mail-in ballots.
Jackson and Mendez are both charged with mail-in vote fraud, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with public records. Mendez also faces charges off election fraud and false registration or transfer.
Khalique and Razyen are charged with fraud in casting mail-in votes and unauthorized possession of ballots. Khalique also faces tampering and falsifying records charges.
The case briefly became national news during the 2020 Election cycle when then-President Donald Trump’s campaign cited the Paterson case in its unsuccessful lawsuit to stop New Jersey’s vote-by-mail plan for the presidential election.
“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”
PIX11 News reached out to attorneys for all four defendants as well as Mayor Andre Sayegh and the city’s public information office.
“These indictments reaffirm the seriousness of the crimes for which the defendants are accused,” said Mayor Sayegh through a spokesperson. “I remain hopeful that justice will be served on behalf of the residents of Paterson.”
Jackson’s attorney, Theodore Kyles, told PIX11 News that “I have read news accounts of the charges but I have not yet seen the actual indictments and so I cannot comment until I see them.”
Khalique’s attorney, Joseph Rotella, sent PIX11 News a statement on Thursday.
“The defendant denies the allegations contained in the indictment and believes that this is a politically motivated prosecution,” Rotella said. “That the business was conducted lawfully, in the same manner as similar transportation companies, but the charges in this matter are politically based and look forward to presenting the facts to a jury.”
We have yet to back from representatives of the other defendants.