Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that Paterson City Councilman Rigo Rodriguez – a candidate for mayor this year – and his wife were indicted today on charges that they engaged in mail-in ballot fraud in the May 2010 Paterson city council election and tampered with witnesses in connection with a subsequent investigation by the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. A former campaign worker also was indicted for alleged mail-in ballot fraud.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment today charging Rigo Rodriguez, 41, of Paterson, and his wife, Lissette Rodriguez, 34, of Paterson, who was a leader of his campaign, with the following counts:
- Conspiracy (2nd degree),
- Election Fraud (2nd degree),
- Mail-In Ballot Fraud (3rd degree),
- Tampering with Public Records or Information (3rd degree),
- Falsifying Records (4th degree),
- Forgery (4th degree), and
- Witness Tampering (3rd degree).
Wilson A. Torres, 32, of Paterson, also is charged in counts 3, 4, 5 and 6.
“The ability of citizens to have their votes counted in fair and open elections is one of our most sacred rights as Americans, and anyone who attempts to manipulate voters and steal their votes, as alleged here, must face criminal prosecution,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We need to ensure the integrity of elections in New Jersey.”
“Rigo Rodriguez took an oath as a city councilman to uphold the law, but we allege that he betrayed his oath and the public’s trust in his effort to retain his council seat,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “It is deeply troubling that a city official would deliberately interfere with a state investigation and counsel witnesses to lie, as we allege.”
During Rodriquez’s bid for re-election to city council as an at-large candidate, Rodriquez and his wife allegedly conspired to have campaign workers illegally act as “messengers” and “bearers” for vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots when they had not been designated by voters to act in those roles. It is further alleged that they had ballots submitted as votes for people who, in fact, never received the ballots, completed them, or authorized that they be cast as votes.
In connection with the scheme, campaign volunteers allegedly would ask voters to complete the vote-by-mail applications but leave the messenger line blank, and the volunteers would then take the applications back to campaign headquarters. At headquarters, the names of messengers not chosen by the voters allegedly would be filled in. These messengers would then pick up the ballots, and instead of delivering them directly to the voters, as the law requires, would take them back to campaign headquarters, where others would take them to the voters, or they would be filled out fraudulently, or, in some cases, they would simply never be delivered. With respect to bearers, the law requires the individual designated by the voter as bearer to take the voted ballot directly to the Board of Elections. But, in this case, the voted ballots again were allegedly taken back to campaign headquarters and handed over to individuals who were not designated by the voter as bearers, compromising the security of the ballots and allowing votes to be lost.
Once Rigo and Lissette Rodriguez learned of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice into alleged ballot fraud, they allegedly spoke to campaign volunteers and voters about how to answer questions from detectives. They allegedly advised the campaign workers and voters to provide false information to the State Police.
Deputy Attorneys General Cynthia Vazquez and Vincent J. Militello of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau presented the case to the state grand jury.
Following the May 2010 city council election, the Division of Criminal Justice received complaints of possible voter fraud. The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau launched an investigation about one week after the election. The investigation was led by Sgt. Brian Murphy of the State Police Official Corruption North Unit and Deputy Attorney General Militello.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Passaic County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear at a later date for arraignment. The indictment is posted with this release at www.njpublicsafety.com.