In what has become a topsy-turvy city council election in Paterson, N.J., the candidate who was declared the winner in May was arrested Thursday on a charge of witness tampering in a voter-fraud investigation being conducted by the state attorney general and the state criminal justice director.
The candidate, Rigo Rodriguez, 38, was arrested at his home in Paterson
on Thursday morning along with his wife, Lissette, 31. His campaign manager, Juan Jimenez, 45, was also arrested. They were taken into custody by the New Jersey State Police and issued summonses before being released. They were ordered to appear at the Passaic County Superior Court, but a date has yet to be scheduled.
Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor said in a news release that each of the three was charged with third-degree witness tampering but that additional charges may be brought. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 people were arrested on charges of voter fraud.
"It is alleged that after the defendants became aware of an active investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and State Police, they instructed voters as to how to answer police questions, including advising them to lying (sic) to police," a news release from Attorney General Paula Dow and Taylor said.
The investigation stems from the election in which Rodriguez, the incumbent councilman, originally was determined to be the loser to his opponent, Kenneth McDaniel. The result was reversed after 49 uncounted absentee ballots were uncovered. Then McDaniel raised questions of voter fraud, saying that ballots had been faked or tampered with.
In October, Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan ruled that there was no evidence of impropriety in the election, but McDaniel appealed to Dow to investigate. This week, Dow found grounds for fraud, which could result in McDaniel ousting Rodriguez after all.
The 11 people who were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday are accused of falsifying absentee ballots
by writing in the names of voters without their knowledge, according to The Record newspaper. One woman is also accused of voting twice, under her married name and her maiden name. All 11 were issued complaint summonses and released, the attorney general said in a news release. They will be ordered to appear in court at a later date. The case is subject to presentation to a grand jury
for possible indictment.
Rodriguez was quoted by WCBS-TV in New York as saying: "I got nothing to do with it. I'm just a candidate. People voted for me."
When asked if he thought voter fraud had occurred, McDaniel told WCBS: "Oh, yes. No question. There were too many irregularities."
One of the defendants, Dalia Rodriguez, told WCBS: "It's not true. I didn't do nothing wrong."
She said that she supported Councilman Rodriguez but that she was not related to him.
If convicted, the suspects could face penalties of three to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000 or five to 10 years in prison and a fine of $150,000, depending on the charges.