U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, who was instrumental in the Janiszewski conviction, said that Davila-Colon has been charged in a five-count indictment. She allegedly acted as a conduit for bribe payments to Janiszewski from a vendor who had contracts to provide psychiatric services at several county-owned facilities.
Early in October, Janiszewski appeared in federal court and admitted that he had accepted bribes at various times in the mid-1990s. He specifically said that he received $20,000 from psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Sandoval in four $5,000 payments. Janiszewski said that County Freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon gave him two of the payments on behalf of Sandoval, with whom Davila-Colon had a close relationship. Janiszewski did not publicly disclose any of the parties from whom he received the other $80,000.
The five-count Davila-Colon indictment issued Oct. 30 claims that the freeholder allegedly passed two $5,000 cash payments to Janiszewski at events in September and October, 1999. She also allegedly had discussions with both Janiszewski and the vendor (the recent indictment mentions "the vendor" but does not specifically name Sandoval) about the cash payments and the vendor's contracts, which were coming up for renewal. At one point, according to the indictment, Davila-Colon allegedly suggested including an envelope with the cash a note to Janiszewski inquiring about the status of the vendor's contracts.
Although not available to comment on the indictment, Davila-Colon issued a statement to the press through her attorney. She hinted the indictment's timing may have a political motivation.
"I find it very disconcerting that this indictment has been handed up five days before the [freeholder] election," she said in her statement. "I would like to take this opportunity to assure the citizens of Hudson County that I am not guilty of these charges and intend to fight them to the fullest extent possible."
Davila-Colon had spoken to the Reporter before the Oct. 22 freeholder caucus, disputing she had any knowledge of payments.
"I did not give any money to anybody," she said.
During several other interviews since Janiszewski's statements, Davila-Colon maintained her innocence.
Peter Willis, Davila-Colon's attorney, could not be reached for comment by press time, although when reached earlier this month after Janiszewski's statement in court, Willis said Janiszewski's claims are "absolutely untrue."
According to Clifford Kuhn Jr., attorney for Dr. Sandoval, his client is "not the target of any investigation." Kuhn said, "Dr. Sandoval has not been charged with anything and is not going to be."
Sources have said that Sandoval was the informant who helped the federal government close in on Janiszewski. Sources say that after federal officials confronted Janiszewski, he was wired in an attempt to catch other political players.
Indictment claims freeholder was part of a scheme
The indictment also alleges that Davila-Colon resisted the vendor's suggestion that he personally pass the cash to Janiszewski, telling him that her participation as Janiszewski's intermediary was necessary because "If he goes down, I go down" and "My career is on the line and his is too . . . if we go, we both go down."
The indictments charge that Davila-Colon was "part of a scheme to defraud the Hudson County government and the citizens of Hudson County of their right to the honest services of their elected officials - herself and Janiszewski."
This allegedly includes mail fraud, in that the U.S. mail was used to further the scheme to conceal the corrupt payments made to Janiszewski.
The indictments also claim that Davila-Colon "aided and abetted Janiszewski's attempted extortion."
Under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the judge to whom this case is assigned would, upon conviction, determine an actual sentence based upon a formula that takes into account the severity and characteristics of the offense, and the defendant's criminal history, if any.
If convicted, Davila-Colon will serve her sentence without an option for parole. Parole has been abolished in the federal system. Under sentencing guidelines, defendants who are given custodial terms must serve nearly all that time.
Davila-Colon, the longest sitting freeholder, was elected for the first time in 1985, and served as the freeholder chairperson for two years during that term. She was the first Latina freeholder in the state of New Jersey. She has also served as a staff member for former Rep. Frank J. Guarini (D-14th Dist.), Rep Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) and is currently a staff member for U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli.
Indictment won't remove Davila-Colon's name from ballot
State Senator Bernard Kenny (D-31st Dist.), who serves as the County Democratic Committee chairman, said the indictment would not affect Davila-Colon's position on the ballot in the Nov. 5 election.
This differs from Bill Braker, one of the other Jersey City freeholders, who resigned earlier this month in the wake of the Janiszewski guilty plea. Although Braker has also denied wrongdoing and has yet to be charged with anything, he issued a letter of resignation effective Nov. 11. This created some concern for the Democratic Party about naming a replacement. The committee has 35 days to meet from after Nov. 11 to name a replacement for the term that ends on Dec. 31, 2002. If Braker is re-elected, they have 35 days from Jan. 1 to meet again and name someone to fill his post until a special election can be held in November, 2003. If Braker wins, he can choose to take his seat on Jan. 1.
"We would have to get another resignation from him to replace him," Kenny said. "Bill Braker would have every right to take that seat since he has not been convicted of anything."
Davila-Colon will remain the Democratic nominee despite the indictment. Unless she resigns or is convicted, she can keep her seat.
"She has maintained her innocence right from the beginning," Kenny said. "And the Democratic Party will support her in this election."
During a telephone interview last week, Braker also maintained his innocence.
"In my mind I am guilty of nothing," he said, vowing to fight whatever charges he might face in the future. "I am not going to plead guilty to anything."
News accounts had reported Braker as planning to plead guilty to charges that he also accepted bribes from a vendor doing business with the county.
Several sources claim an indictment could be issued against Braker as early as this week. Bobbie Morgan, Braker's aide, has been named as a possible replacement as freeholder. Sources claim that the short list being considered includes Willie Flood - former county Democratic County chairperson, and Melissa Holloway, a former Jersey City councilperson.
The nine-member county freeholders' board is the county version of a city council, making policy and approving contracts for county facilities like the jail and courthouse. Freeholders are elected to three-year terms.