The Clifton man who recorded a phone conversation with councilman Shahin Khalique in which the councilman told him it’s “no problem” to live elsewhere and vote in Paterson testified at the 2nd Ward election fraud trial on Tuesday morning.
“I didn’t cast any vote. People from Shahin Khalique came to me and took the vote,” said Mohammed N. Islam. He said his driver’s license and other documents all bear the Clifton address.
Islam voted using a mail-in ballot from 237 Preakness Avenue, according to Passaic County election records. He said he thought about the vote that Khalique’s supporters took from him. “I realized it wasn’t right,” he said speaking through a translator.
His family also told him it was morally wrong for him to live in Clifton and cast a ballot in Paterson, said Islam.
Islam said he sought to withdraw his vote. There’s no way of withdrawing a vote after it has been cast, said attorneys. His uncle took him to former detective Steve Olimpio, who was investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2nd Ward for former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman. There he placed a call to Khalique to prove he did nothing wrong in having voted in the 2nd Ward election.
“I wanted to prove myself,” said Islam. “I wanted to prove I did nothing wrong.” In that phone conversation, Khalique told him, “People live in one place 10 to 15 years and vote in another place. It’s not a problem. It’s no matter.”
Khalique’s comment came after Islam told him his address is still in Clifton. He also told him there was no problem in purchasing car insurance from elsewhere to save money – state law defines such action as insurance fraud.
Khalique’s attorney John Carbone vigorously and repeatedly objected to allowing the audio recording and the transcription to be entered into the case. He also opposed playing the audio recording in the courtroom.
“I don’t see the relevancy,” said Carbone.
“It’s quite relevant,” responded Susan Champion, who is representing Akhtaruzzaman in the case.
Champion said this is part of a “pattern” of Khalique soliciting votes from people who lived outside of the 2nd Ward.
“This was a whole stage affair,” retorted Carbone. He suggested the recording was setup by the private investigator.
The witness offered to record the conversation, said Champion. “It wasn’t setup by Mr. Olimpio,” she said.
“It’s relevant if you can show some type of a pattern,” said judge Ernest Caposela. Champion said there are other witnesses who will prove the pattern.
Carbone raised further objections by stating Islam’s uncle is the former councilman’s driver.
“I find it incredibly suspicions that he wants to contest the vote and goes to your investigator,” the judge told Champion. Champion said the likely reason the witness decided to visit Olimpio is because of his reputation in the community as the person investigating the allegations of voter fraud.
“He’s trying to do the right thing,” said Champion of Islam. The judge thought it would have been more sensible for Islam to visit the superintendent of elections or a superior court judge at the courthouse.
Alan Stephens, deputy attorney general, who is representing the Passaic County Superintendent of Elections, said the sheer number of people complaining about voter fraud in the municipal election overwhelmed the superintendent’s office.
The judge agreed to hear the audio recording. He had a Bengali translator affirm the accuracy of the transcription.
Islam was questioned by Champion and then cross examined by Carbone. Islam provided a confusing set of testimony. He said he presently lives at a home on Jasper Street. He said he lived in Clifton and Preakness Avenue.
Carbone said the owner of 237 Preakness Avenue has signed an affidavit attesting Islam lived at the location during the election. Islam said he lived there for a few weeks after a small spat with his brother who owns the Clifton home where he resides.
237-243 Preakness Avenue is owned by Khalique, according to property records. Records show Khalique owned the property since January 2015.
Carbone also questioned a letter Islam sent to election officials that stated he lived in Clifton when he testified living on Jasper Street.
“So you signed a false letter?” asked Carbone.
Islam’s testimony concluded the eighth day of trial in the case. So far 53 witnesses have testified in the case which will drag into October.
The next court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at the Passaic County Courthouse.