Bloomfield Township Councilman Elias N. Chalet pleaded guilty today to soliciting and accepting a bribe of $15,000 from a business owner, promising the owner that he would use his position on the council to ensure that the township went ahead with its planned purchase of the man’s commercial property.
Chalet, 55, of Bloomfield, N.J., who is the councilman for Bloomfield’s First Ward, pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of bribery in official and political matters before Superior Court Judge Martin G. Cronin in Essex County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Chalet be sentenced to five years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility under New Jersey’s Anti-Corruption Statute. He must forfeit $15,000 in funds, representing the bribe payments he accepted. He also must forfeit his public position and will be permanently barred from elected office and public employment in New Jersey. Chalet was arrested on Nov. 16, 2015. The bribery charge was contained in a Jan. 29, 2016 state grand jury indictment.
Deputy Attorneys General Brian Faulk and Cynthia Vazquez took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Chalet was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption North Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
“This guilty plea carries a substantial prison sentence and serves as a powerful warning to other dishonest officials like Chalet who might consider putting the authority of their public office up for sale,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Chalet’s brazen solicitation of a $15,000 bribe was old-school corruption at its worst. Fortunately, Chalet’s target didn’t simply accept his crooked offer – he recorded it for our detectives.”
“Councilman Chalet took an oath to serve the people of Bloomfield with honesty and integrity, but he did the opposite, corruptly serving himself and selling out the people of his township,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Conduct like Chalet’s, which undermines good government and erodes public trust, must be met with stern punishment.”
“Elias Chalet attempted to use his elected position to intimidate, bully, and ultimately force his victim to give him $15,000 in cash,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “This guilty plea is the result of great work by State Police detectives, our partners, and Chalet’s would-be victim, who worked with detectives to help put an end to his corruption.”
Chalet initially met with the business owner on Oct. 8, 2015 in front of Chalet’s real estate office on Broad Street in Bloomfield. Chalet told the business owner that the township’s planned purchase of his commercial property would go through only if the owner gave Chalet $15,000 in cash. The business owner promptly reported this to the New Jersey State Police, and the state commenced its investigation.
In a subsequent meeting on Oct. 21, 2015 at Chalet’s real estate office, Chalet again discussed that the business owner would pay $15,000 in return for Chalet ensuring and facilitating that the property be purchased by the township. That meeting was recorded. Chalet and the business owner agreed the business owner would make an initial payment of $10,000 in cash, with the balance of $5,000 to be paid after the township purchased the property. While Chalet initially asked the business owner to pay the cash through a middle man, Chalet ultimately agreed to receive the payments directly.
The bribe payments were made at Chalet’s real estate office. Chalet accepted the first cash payment of $10,000 from the business owner on Oct. 23, 2015. Chalet was arrested on Nov. 16, 2015 at his real estate office after he accepted the remaining $5,000 in cash from the business owner. Those meetings also were recorded. The vote on the purchase of the business property was scheduled for the day Chalet was arrested. He was arrested before the vote.
When the New Jersey State Police moved to arrest Chalet minutes after he accepted the final cash payment of $5,000, Chalet remained locked in his real estate office for approximately 45 minutes, refusing to respond to a detective who repeatedly knocked on the door and a window of the office.
Relatives of Chalet approached detectives at the scene and tried to reach Chalet on his cell phone. They reported that Chalet was in the bathroom. It is believed that Chalet flushed the $5,000 in cash down the toilet to prevent State Police detectives from finding it when they searched his office after his arrest.
Chalet was lodged in the Essex County Jail before being released on $100,000 bail.
Attorney General Porrino commended the detectives and attorneys who investigated and prosecuted the case for the State Police Official Corruption North Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Former Deputy Attorney General Jane Khodarkovsky presented the case to the state grand jury. Deputy Attorneys General Faulk, Vazquez and Khodarkovsky prosecuted the case under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione, Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Manis, Deputy Bureau Chief.
Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities confidentially. The public can also log on to the Division webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.
Attorney General Porrino today announced a new Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. The Attorney General also announced an Anti-Corruption Whistleblower Program that will allow lower-level defendants in a corruption scheme to avoid prosecution potentially if they are responsible for initially bringing the crime to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office and provide information that leads to the successful prosecution of higher-level defendants. A press release on these programs was issued today and is posted on the Attorney General’s website www.njpublicsafety.com.