|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that the Appellate Division of State Superior Court today ruled in favor of the Division of Criminal Justice that a Newark man who pleaded guilty to submitting fraudulent absentee ballots while working for the 2007 campaign of Teresa Ruiz for the New Jersey Senate must be sentenced to state prison.
Angel Colon, 50, of Newark, pleaded guilty on July 29, 2011 to a charge of second-degree election fraud in a case filed by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Second-degree offenses carry a presumption of a state prison sentence. Colon admitted that he fraudulently submitted absentee “messenger” ballots on behalf of voters who never received the ballots or had an opportunity to cast their votes. The investigation revealed that, in at least one instance, it resulted in a voter being turned away at a polling place.
At Colon’s sentencing in Superior Court in Mercer County on Jan. 19, 2012, Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello requested a sentence of three years in state prison, consistent with the plea agreement. However, Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Sumners Jr. instead sentenced Colon to five years of probation, over the state’s objection, finding that the defendant had overcome the presumption of imprisonment attached to his second-degree conviction. The Division of Criminal Justice appealed the sentence.
Appellate Division Judges Joseph Yannotti and Richard S. Hoffman today ruled that the record did not support the trial court judge’s finding that imprisoning the defendant would result in “serious injustice.” The appellate judges declared that the trial judge’s decision to impose a probationary sentence represented “a clear abuse of discretion.” The Court sent the case back to the trial court to resentence Colon to a term of imprisonment.
“This is an important ruling because it reaffirms the serious nature of the crime committed by this defendant,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “We need to send a strong message that we will not tolerate any attempt to tamper with the election process in New Jersey and violate the right of our citizens to cast their votes in fair elections.”
“Election fraud is a second-degree crime under New Jersey law, and we are gratified that the Appellate Division recognized that justice in this case means a state prison sentence,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute election fraud in order to safeguard the integrity of elections in New Jersey.”
Deputy Attorney General Ashlea D. Thomas handled the appeal for the Appellate Bureau of the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello prosecuted Colon, who 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. They were charged with tampering with documentation for messenger ballots and fraudulently submitting such ballots as votes in the Nov. 6, 2007 general election. Ballots were fraudulently submitted on behalf of residents who never received them or had an opportunity to cast their votes.
The investigation was led for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau by Deputy Attorney General Militello, Sgt. James Scott and Lt. Lisa Shea. It was conducted for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Corruption Unit by former Assistant Prosecutor Brandon Minde, Lt. David Sanabria and Detective Elizabeth Bazan. Valuable assistance was provided by Analyst Kathleen Ratliff and all of the detectives in the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau North.