A Belleville man was convicted last week of election fraud for submitting phony absentee ballots while working on the 2007 election campaign of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced.
A Mercer County jury also convicted John Fernandez, 61, of tampering with public records, forgery and conspiracy. Fernandez faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 30.
Fernandez took part in a conspiracy involving “messenger ballots,” which were used by those who are homebound due to illness or for other reasons. Fernandez solicited the ballots on behalf of those not qualified to receive them, then submitted the ballots to the board of elections even though the named voters themselves had never actually voted.
Fernandez was charged in 2009 along with other defendants in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Corruption Unit. The defendants were charged in multiple indictments related to absentee ballots they collected and submitted as workers for Ruiz’s 2007 campaign for the New Jersey Senate. Four other defendants previously pleaded guilty, and another three forfeited their public positions and were admitted by the court into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.
On March 3, 2010, another defendant, Gianine Narvaez, 39, also of Belleville, a former data processing technician for the Essex County Commissioner of Registration and Superintendent of Elections, pleaded guilty to third-degree charges of absentee ballot fraud and tampering with public records or information. She is awaiting sentencing.
Two other defendants, Edwin Cruz, 50, of Newark, and Rocio Rivera, 52, of Washington in Hunterdon County, pleaded guilty last year. Cruz pleaded guilty to third-degree tampering with public records or information, and Rivera pleaded guilty to third-degree absentee ballot fraud. They are awaiting sentencing. The state will recommend that each be sentenced to a term of probation. Rivera forfeited her job in the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. Angel Colon, 49, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree election fraud and was sentenced in January 2012 to five years of probation. The state has appealed his sentence, arguing that he should have received a sentence of five to 10 years in prison based on his guilty plea.
Ruiz’s husband, former Essex County Freeholder Samuel Gonzalez, was also charged in the case. In March 2011, he agreed to forfeit his seat on the freeholder board and was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). Two other defendants forfeited jobs with the City of Newark or Essex County and entered PTI.