In Brief

Newark mayor, ex-campaign treasurer fined $30K over election law violations

By: - December 1, 2021 12:41 pm

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaking at a campaign rally in Newark in October 2021. [Danielle Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and a former campaign staffer who in 2018 pleaded guilty to embezzling over $220,000 in campaign funds were fined more than $30,000 for the finance violations, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission announced Wednesday.

The commission found 264 reporting violations in disclosures submitted by Frederick Murphy, who served as treasurer for Baraka’s 2014 mayoral bid.

Murphy was sentenced to 30 months in jail in 2018 after being admitting he embezzled funds from campaign accounts belonging to Baraka and his slate of council candidates by cashing checks bearing forged signatures belonging to consultants and vendors in what prosecutors described as a layered fraud scheme.

Baraka, a Democrat in his second term leading New Jersey’s largest city, told the commission he was not aware of Murphy’s violations, which included tax evasion, wire fraud, and bank fraud charges.

The campaign’s alleged campaign finance violations — Baraka, Murphy, and ELEC entered a consent order that did not include an admission of guilt — included nearly $185,000 in improperly reported contributions and just over $23,000 in expenditures reported late.

Per the commission, Baraka was late to report $156,724 in contributions and entirely failed to report $13,287 in donations. Another $9,400 in political donations were reported without all details required under the state’s campaign finance disclosure rules.

In some cases, the filings were amended to disclose unreported contributions more than eight years after their due date.

The Newark mayor’s 2014 bid also received $5,544 that exceeded statutory contribution limits, according to the final decision.

Baraka and Murphy were jointly fined $37,993 for the breaches, though that was reduced to $30,394. A separate $300 fine leveled at Baraka for the untimely filing of a document designating a campaign treasurer was reduced to $240.

ELEC penalties are often reduced when final decisions are issued, and the fines levied against Baraka and his former treasurer have been paid in full.

Angelo Genova, who represented Baraka in the ELEC matter, was gratified by decision, seeing it as an ultimate vindication of claims that Baraka and other officials on his campaign were complicit in Murphy’s scheme.

“While ELEC imposed modest fines for technical violations, all of which have since been cured by amendments to campaign reports, these fines are far less than might have been assessed,” Genova said in a statement. “More importantly, this settlement acknowledges that the Mayor and his campaign committee, having denied any improper conduct on their part, were victims of the wrongful behavior of his campaign treasurer whose conduct precipitated this ELEC complaint.”

The commission released final decisions against 10 other individuals Wednesday, including five candidates for local office, four school board candidates in Perth Amboy, and Gina Tessaro, a Republican who ran for Assembly in the 37th District in 2019. Tessaro was fined $300 for filing a candidate sworn statement 885 days after it was due. She has paid the fine.

Ed Forchion, a marijuana advocate known widely as NJ Weedman, was the subject of one of the 74 complaints ELEC approved late last month and released to the public Wednesday. The state agency alleges Forchion, who ran for Assembly in the 15th District in 2019, failed to file a sworn candidate statement and pre- and post-election campaign finance disclosures.

The alleged violations expose the Trenton resident to up to $8,600 in fines, though penalties levied by ELEC are often reduced when final decisions are issued, and such decisions often do not arrive for months.

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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.

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