Councilman Alex Mendez pleaded not guilty to election and voter fraud charges stemming from last May’s municipal election.
Mendez, who was indicted on seven election and voter fraud offenses, entered a not guilty plea before Passaic County assignment judge Ernest Caposela on Thursday afternoon.
Mendez appeared virtually in the arraignment hearing. He did not speak during the brief proceeding. His attorney, Paul Brickfield, entered the not guilty plea.
New Jersey deputy attorney general Eric Cohen said the state handed over evidence it has against Mendez to Brickfield on Tuesday.
Brickfield said he received the “voluminous” amount of discovery from the state and needed time to go through them.
Cohen said he outlined a plea offer to Mendez’s attorney. He did not outline the offer in open court. He said he will extend the offer in writing to Mendez’s attorney by end of day on Monday.
Mendez’s attorney suggested his client had objections to Caposela serving as the judge in a possible trial.
Caposela previously made a ruling in a civil case that was not favorable to Mendez. His ruling kept Mendez from assuming office last July.
“I’m not keeping this case,” said Caposela.
Mendez was indicted on election fraud, fraud in casting mail-in vote, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records or information, falsifying or tampering with records, false registration or transfer, and attempted false registration or transfer.
Mendez registered two people to vote in the 3rd Ward, who did not reside there. Mendez knowingly submitted both “materially false, fictitious” voter registration applications. He delivered vote-by-mail ballots to the Passaic County Board of Elections without signing and printing his name on the outer envelope as required by law. He also had in his possession mail-in ballots that he was not authorized to have, according to authorities.
Mendez is the second sitting member of the City Council dealing with criminal charges. The other is councilman Michael Jackson. He too is charged with voter and election fraud charges.
Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charges last month.
Besides Jackson and Mendez, two members of councilman Shahin Khalique’s campaign, including his brother, Shelim Khalique, were charged for allegedly committing similar election offenses.
The charges against all four men resulted from the May 2020 municipal elections. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability opened an investigation after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service alerted them that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Haledon. Hundreds more mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson in the all vote-by-mail election.
Mendez could face a maximum of more than 36 years in prison if convicted.
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