In Brief

Criminal charges for Passaic surrogate over estate dispute involving friend

By: - August 27, 2021 2:59 pm

Acting state Attorney General Andrew Bruck announced the charges Friday. (Courtesy of the state of New Jersey)

This story was updated with comment from an attorney for Toledo at 4:03 p.m. on Aug. 27.

State authorities lodged a criminal charge against Passaic County Surrogate Bernice Toledo claiming she falsified a judgement during an estate dispute to benefit a personal friend.

Toledo, 51, a Democrat, faces a single count of fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records, a crime carrying penalties of up to 18 months of imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000, acting state Attorney General Andrew Bruck announced Friday.

The criminal investigation into Toledo, conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, was launched after a referral from the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s disciplinary arm.

The ACJC filed a complaint against Toledo in January 2020 claiming she concealed her decades-long relationship with a man, Keith Stewart, whom she named to be the administrator of a $600,000 estate. Toledo passed over a relative of the deceased to do so. Steward and the dead man were unrelated.

The panel further alleged Stewart was involved with Toledo’s 2016 re-election campaign and attended more than one fundraiser for the surrogate. They had socialized at other events and exchanged no fewer than six phone calls in the six months preceding a June 6, 2017, hearing about the estate, the committee said.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Carletta, a partner at the O’Toole Scrivo law firm who is representing Toledo in the criminal case, denied the accusation on his client’s behalf.

“The charges against Surrogate Toledo are entirely baseless. In her role on the bench, Judge Toledo is a dedicated public official who has served Passaic County and the people of New Jersey for the last decade with honor and integrity,” he said. “We ask there be no rush to judgment, as we look forward to her complete exoneration of the pending allegations.”

The surrogate denied any wrongdoing in an answer to the ACJC’s January 2020 complaint.

In February, Toledo announced she would not seek a third term as surrogate.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.