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Bid Rig III:  The Elwell veridct

Howes & Howes has been following the Bid Rig III trials, guilty pleas and appeals.  Many of the cases involved in this massive FBI sting operation are related to candidates and the acceptance of money during a campaign by the candidate or a campaign operative, and have implications for New Jersey campaigns.  Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell faced three count federal indictment which charged him with conspiracy, attempt and acceptance of a corrupt payment.  On July 6, 2011, the jury rendered its verdict.

It was a mixed verdict for former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell.  The federal jury sitting in Newark acquitted him on two counts.  The jury found him not guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right and attempted extortion under color of official right.  The jury found the ex-mayor guilty on count three, acceptance of a corrupt payment.  When one considers the defense presented, this is the best possible outcome for Elwell.

Elwell’s defense was that he believed that the old Hudson County cash-in-the-envelope was a campaign contribution.  He even detailed how the $10,000 could have been allocated to fit under New Jersey campaign finance limits.  That is, since there were limits to how much he could accept for his mayoral campaign, $10,000 would violate those limits.  His defense was that some of the money would be attributed to his campaign, some to the local party committee and some to other affiliated campaign committees.  His defense team also implied that an Elwell ally would find ways to put those funds into those different accounts.

The stumbling blocks for that defense is that New Jersey election law forbids cash donations in excess of $300.00.  Thus, no matter how the funds were allocated, and no matter what route they took to get to the campaign accounts, they could be considered a corrupt payment since they exceeded the $300 cash limit many times over.  In other words, the verdict is consistent with the jury believing the Elwell defense of “it was a campaign contribution”, yet believed that the money would have to be “laundered” to get into campaign accounts without violating legal limits, or worse yet, used directly in the campaign without being declared.


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