Cesaro Rejected Pre-Indictment Offer in State Bribery Charges

The race changed last month when Attorney General Gurbir Grewal charged former Freeholder John Cesaro, with accepting a bribe from a cooperating witness, attorney Matthew O’Donnell. As of now Cesaro did not drop out of the race to return to the freeholder board

MORRIS COUNTY — Former Parsippany-Troy Hills Councilman and Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, Esq. facing state bribery charges, rejected a pre-indictment offer on Wednesday that would have carried jail time in exchange for guilty pleas, according to MorristownGreen.com.

State prosecutors placed his offer on the record with Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor, in a proceeding conducted via video- and phone conference. The Morris County Courthouse is closed to the public this week because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cesaro was offered five years, with two years of parole ineligibility.

Additionally he would have forfeited the alleged bribe monies, paid anti-corruption penalties, and been barred permanently from public office or public employment, said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal

In December, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that five current and former public officials and political candidates – including Parsippany Attorney John Cesaro – have been charged with taking bribes in a major investigation of political corruption in Hudson and Morris counties conducted by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).

Cesaro, who held public office at the time of the alleged conduct was also charged with second-degree acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by a public servant for official behavior.

Cesaro, who was a sitting county freeholder at the time of the alleged criminal conduct, solicited contributions from the cooperating witness for his 2021 campaign for Mayor of Parsippany-Troy Hills. Cesaro allegedly accepted bribes from a cooperating witness, Morristown Attorney Matt O’Donnell, in return for which he promised to secure more tax work from Morris County for the cooperating witness and make him tax counsel for Parsippany-Troy Hills if elected.

Cesaro allegedly accepted an envelope containing $10,000 in cash and $2,350 in checks from the cooperating witness, but later returned the cash, asking the cooperating witness to replace it with checks. The two allegedly discussed using “straw donors.” Under New Jersey election law, it is illegal for a person to provide money to another person, known as a “straw donor,” to make a political contribution to a specific candidate. At a later fundraiser, Cesaro accepted two checks for $2,600 each – the individual limit for contributions per election per candidate – which the cooperating witness described as “my straws,” along with another check for $150.

Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions. Earlier this month, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.

Cesaro is represented by Robert Dunn, Esq. The judge scheduled a follow-up review for June 11.

Editor’s Note: An arrest or the signing of a criminal complaint is merely an accusation. Despite this accusation, the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until he or she has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.