Mayor David Delle Donna and his wife, Anna Delle Donna, have pleaded not guilty to the charges through their individual attorneys.
A sullen and solemn Delle Donna was escorted on Friday, Sept. 28, into a United States federal courtroom in Newark with his hands and ankles bound in shackles.
He and his wife had been indicted by a grand jury earlier that day on charges that they used their official positions in the town to help a bar owner and received a litany of gifts from the bar owner, including cash for cosmetic surgery and cash during trips to Atlantic City.
The gifts allegedly also included several bottles of Grand Marnier liqueur and a terrier dog. The value of the dog is estimated at $1,000.
An indictment is not a determination of guilt or innocence, but is merely a decision that there is enough evidence for a matter to go to trial.
Both David Delle Donna, 49, and his wife, Anna, 58, a member of the town's Planning Board, face two counts on the indictment, which accuses them of "diverting cash contributions intended for political campaign committees."
The indictment alleges both Delle Donnas of one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion.
The mayor and his wife appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Claire C. Cecchi.
Must get mental health counseling
Both Delle Donnas have secured experienced and well respected attorneys for representation. Anna Delle Donna has hired Hoboken-based criminal attorney Brian Neary, while David Delle Donna has placed his case in the hands of Secaucus-based Ralph Lamparello of Chasen, Leyner and Lamparello, the firm that has several local municipalities as clients.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Calcagni is representing the state in the case.
Each count of the indictment holds a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.
The judge released the Delle Donnas on an unsecured bond of $100,000 each. They were ordered by the court to surrender all travel documents, like passports, and limit their travel to inside the state of New Jersey. They were also ordered to surrender any and all firearms that they might have owned.
Two hunting rifles that Delle Donna owned years ago were already taken as part of the FBI's raid on his home last January.
As part of the terms of her release, Anna Delle Donna was ordered to attend court-imposed mental health counseling. According to sources, Anna Delle Donna is on permanent disability for mental issues and collects Social Security.
The case was turned over to U.S. District Court Judge Harold Ackerman, who is the senior judge in the Newark-based district and has handled several political corruption cases in the past. The Delle Donnas await a date for arraignment on the charges. None of the attorneys involved in the case would make a comment to the press after the hearing.
After posting bail, the Delle Donnas left the federal courthouse in Newark, hand in hand, amid the horde of television news gathering media trying to jockey for position to get a comment from the Delle Donnas. They declined to speak to any members of the media and were followed frantically to Neary's car. The three then drove off together.
Delle Donna's comments
When news of the FBI raid on Delle Donna's home first broke last January, the mayor vowed his innocence and said so in an exclusive interview with The Hudson Reporter newspaper chain.
"I don't believe I've done anything illegal," Delle Donna said in January. "I don't claim to be perfect, but I don't think I've done anything wrong. I'm asking people to reserve their judgment until everything is complete."
He added, "I understood when I entered the public eye that things like this could take place, that there are people who want to look at you different ways at different times ... We live our lives based on the premise that we're supposed to always try to help people when you're a public servant. I have always had a very open-door policy here. I welcome people into my home, sometimes people I barely know, because they've come to me for help. And in the past, I've gone out of my way to help. I'm just disappointed that some of that help can be misconstrued as being illegal. I'm a hands-on guy and I'm involved in every aspect of the town. I try to help everyone. I guess I get hurt for helping too much."
The charges allege that the Delle Donnas conspired to divert campaign contributions from various campaign committees, including David Delle Donna's mayoral campaign fund and the campaign committees of the other Democratic ticket members who ran with Delle Donna during his last run for mayor in 2004.
The indictment names three sources of the campaign contributions, namely a local bar owner and operator, a real estate developer, and a town fire official.
Who is named
Although she is not officially named in the indictment, the bar owner is believed to be Luisa Medrano, who was indicted on charges of human trafficking in 2005 and is awaiting a sentence after pleading guilty to several charges.
Medrano owned bars in Union City as well as Guttenberg, where refugees from Honduras allegedly were forced to work long hours and allegedly even performed sexual services to customers, provided they paid additional money for the "special beer" that was served in the bars.
The young girls were allegedly told by bar personnel that if they didn't perform the special acts, like dancing on customers' laps, they would be forced to go back to their native land.
Medrano, who was a personal friend of Anna Delle Donna, pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Officials would not reveal whether Medrano was the one who was named in the indictment and whether she was cooperating with the federal officials in the Delle Donna investigation. But it is strongly believed to be Medrano, because of her personal association with Anna Delle Donna.
Just prior to her arrest in 2005, Medrano had received another approval from the town's Alcohol Beverage Control board - headed by Mayor Delle Donna - to open another bar on the corner of 71st Street and Park Avenue.
Medrano still holds the licenses to two establishments. One is the former Puerto de la Union on Bergenline Avenue, which has since been closed. The other establishment, set to have been called the Tequila Bar, never opened, but serves as a storage facility for other alcohol-related businesses still owned by Medrano.
Medrano is reportedly cooperating with the federal investigators in the case in order to receive a more lenient sentence.
The charges state that in exchange of receiving the benefits and payments, the Delle Donnas agreed to assist the bar owner in question, including incidents that the bar owner was having with the Police Department, attempting to gain a variance on a residential property, and the dismissal of several summonses and citations for improper storage and trash disposal.
The alleged payments, which began in 2002 and went through 2005, included $2,000 for cosmetic surgery for Anna Delle Donna, several thousand dollars for Anna Delle Donna to gamble with in Atlantic City casinos, approximately $1,000 in department store gift cards, and the purchase of a dog and dog-related items.
Medrano also allegedly gave campaign contributions to the Delle Donna campaign, estimated somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000, including several tickets to campaign-related events. According to the indictment, these contributions (made in cash) exceeded the limits set by New Jersey state law for permissible campaign cash contributions.
Hinges on small donations
The indictment also cites a real estate developer hosting a private fundraiser for Delle Donna on the developer's private boat. Among the funds collected that night, the developer received $500 in cash, which allegedly was turned over to Delle Donna.
The third allegation in the indictment involves a fire official, believed to be former town fire code official Tony Casper, selling tickets to a campaign event. Among the ticket sales was an additional $100 in cash, which allegedly was turned over to Delle Donna.
Casper is also Delle Donna's nephew, which means that if he is the fire official named in the indictment, he may have been asked to turn state's evidence against his uncle.
At the time of the FBI raid on Delle Donna's home last January, there were reports that allege that former Guttenberg construction code official Robert Rogers, Jr., who was forced to relinquish all licensing rights as an official due to alleged improprieties and possible bribe claims a year ago in Bergen County, turned state's evidence. However, the indictment clearly states "fire official" and not "construction code official."
The fire official in town was Casper until earlier this year.
Because the contributions were not reported, the indictment states that this was mail fraud, because the contributions were allegedly not deposited in the appropriate campaign deposit funds.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has been able to bring down several municipal officials during his time as the U.S. Attorney, including former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski, former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo, former North Bergen township administrator Joseph Auriemma, former North Bergen Commissioner Peter Perez, former North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority agent Joseph Hernandez, and former Guttenberg Mayor Peter LaVilla.
So apparently, when Medrano allegedly told federal investigators about her relationship with the Delle Donnas, the attention was turned toward the mayor and his wife.
A week ago Friday, Judge Cecchi read the Delle Donnas their rights. Delle Donna was dressed in a blue suit and his necktie had been removed. His dress shirt was then buttoned to the neck. He was completely stoic during his time in the courtroom.
Anna Delle Donna was wearing a grey suit and black-rimmed glasses. She showed signs of nervous laughter in the courtroom and had to be asked to speak up when Judge Cecchi asked her if she understood the charges. Both were told not to speak to any of the people allegedly involved in the case or any possible witnesses in the case.
When the investigation took place in January, Delle Donna was asked if he would ever resign.
"What choice do I have?" Delle Donna said. "I have to move on. I'm a nice guy and sometimes that is seen as a weakness or a fault. I know I did nothing wrong. I like to think my friends who know me know I wouldn't have done anything wrong. The people of Guttenberg know me. The ones who want to condemn me? They're the ones who don't know me. I'm going to continue to do my job as mayor and go to my job at the school [as the security and facilities manager for the Hudson County Schools of Technology in North Bergen.] I'm still here and I'm going to be here."