Mercer County Republican Chairman Roy Wesley today charged that County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello kept an accused thief on the job at the county clerk’s office because he was a political appointee.
Last month, county clerk employee Ishmael M. Raines was charged pocketing fees that residents paid to get or renew passports. Raines failed to process many of the applications, which included sensitive materials like birth certificates, expired passports and social security numbers.
Sollami-Covello told the Trenton Times that, following complaints about passport application materials missing from Raines, he was taken off that duty and that she contacted the inspector general.
Wesley today argued that Raines was a political operative who worked for Sollami-Covello’s 2005 campaign against incumbent County Clerk Catherine DiCostanzo. As such, he said, Raines was given the job as a political appointment.
Wesley said that Raines was paid a little under $2,500 by the Trenton Democratic Committee shortly after Sollami-Covello gave $5,000 to the same organization. Had Sollami-Covello really been concerned about the matter, she would have notified the prosecutor’s office, he said.
“Sollami-Covello’s assertion that she ‘immediately’ reported Raines’ illegal activities is pure bunk. She reported this to the County Administration and Robert Farkas, County Inspector General. Robert Farkas has absolutely no authority to investigate or prosecute criminal matters,” said Wesley. “Sending this information to him was absolutely useless. The County Prosecutor’s office, once notified, was able to make an arrest within two to three weeks.”
Wesley noted that, had Raines, a Philadelphia resident, been a regular employee without connections to local Democrats, his case would have been handled differently.
“They say ‘we did something about it right away,’ but it appears that this guy was hanging around here for a long time,” said Wesley “I think it’s because he’s a political appointee and nobody wanted to rock the boat. I think they were hoping it would go away.”
Sollami-Covello could not immediately be reached for comment, but Mercer County Democratic Chairman Richard McClellan said that Sollami-Covello called the prosecutor as soon as there was any indication of criminal activity.
“I want to thank the Republican County Chairman for allowing me the opportunity to contrast how Democrats deal with problems and how Republicans do,” said McClellan. “When the Republican clerk was thrown out of the office by the voters for losing hundreds of personal documents, they rewarded her by giving her two jobs at taxpayer expense. When the Democrats found out that one of our appointees was doing something illegal, we called the prosecutor and we fired him.”