The federal trial of Mayor Felix Roque and his son, Joseph, who allegedly conspired to break into an anti-Roque website, will continue this coming week now that both sides have laid the groundwork for their cases.
Although District Court Judge Kevin McNulty originally estimated the case would take 10 days to hear, some aspects of the case went more quickly than anticipated. Jury selection, which started on Sept. 12, took only one day, allowing both sides to present opening arguments on Sept. 13.
Federal prosecutors allege that Joseph Roque hacked into a website run by Freeholder Jose Munoz on Feb. 8, 2012, and used the site to gain access to information about people opposed to Roque. The mayor has been accused of conspiring with his son and additionally has been accused of attempting to intimidate people associated with the website.
The indictment said there were five victims, two of whom testified on Sept. 19, saying they had felt threatened. But the defense appears to have made the case that some of what was thought to be intimidation may have actually been legitimate government communication.
Prosecutors brought in experts from Google internet search network to show that Joseph had sought out information on how to hack into the website and its associated emails, and that Joseph had allegedly used his smart phone to do so.
The prosecutors are seeking to prove that Joseph Roque operated with Mayor Roque’s consent and updated the mayor on the hacking.
John Azzarello, Joseph’s attorney, denied that Joseph and Mayor Roque conspired, and said no harassment had taken place.
Azzarello described the mayor as being attacked by political sharks and said Joseph was simply trying to find out who behind the website attacks. The defense appears to be making a case that Mayor Roque found out about the hacking and scolded his son for the actions.
The proceedings have revealed several key factors not previously known, such as the fact that Munoz, prior to the website being hacked, was working as an informant for the FBI on other cases. The judge ruled that information related to those other cases would not be revealed in this trial.
One or more of the alleged victims of harassment were expected to testify on Sept. 19 and then the trial will resume this week, when the prosecution will attempt to make its case that Joseph and Mayor Roque conspired.
Observers at the trial said the jury appears to be more interested in facts than emotion, giving the edge to the prosecution. But the case will rest largely on the ability of the prosecutors to show that Mayor Roque knew about and condoned the actions of his son, something the defense has refuted.
Some observers believe the prosecutors have good evidence against Joseph, but the case against Mayor Roque will hinge on communications between father and son.
If found guilty of the most serious charges, both men could face jail time and fines, and Mayor Roque would be required to relinquish his public office, two private attorneys said.
Wiley gets petitions to recall Roque
Meanwhile, after more than a year of gathering signatures for a petition to recall Roque, Commissioner Count Wiley and his allies brought petitions to Town Hall on Sept. 18, asking to recall Roque, Fior D’Aliza Frias, Caridad Rodriguez, and Ruben Vargas. Wiley and the four others make up the town’s five-member board of commissioners. (In the mayor/commissioner form of government, Roque is a mayor and commissioner at once.)
Wiley, who was elected on Roque’s ticket in 2011, broke with the mayor in early 2012, resulting in a continued power struggle and continued conflicts at commissioners meetings over policy, hiring practices, and contracts.
Wiley called for a recall in August, 2012, after Roque and the commissioners voted to remove him as commissioner of public safety and other issues.
Wiley said his team of workers had to overcome a number of obstacles and alleged intimidation of his team members to come up with the required number of signatures, he said.
Based on the last election, which saw 21,030 voters come to the polls, Wiley needed to collect 25 percent or about 5,257 signatures of registered voters. He brought 6,500 to the city clerk to be processed.
The city has 15 days to review these signatures for validity, and then Wiley will have another 15 days to correct any deficiencies in the process.
At that point, the clerk would set a date for the recall election, which could be in December, but most likely not occur until after the New Year in January or February.
Wiley said his team actually collected signatures twice and had to seek out voter lists that went back several presidential elections to make certain that the signatures were valid.
“The list the county supplies is full of mistakes,” he said. “We found a number of people on it that are dead or have moved.”