County clerk summoned to grand jury in Dem chairman election probe

ELIZABETH, NJ — The Union County clerk has been ordered to appear before a grand jury after she was subpoenaed in connection with filling five Township of Union Democratic Committee seats during a February election for the county Democratic chairman.
Joanne Rajoppi was to appear before a grand jury Dec. 20, according to a subpoena dated Dec. 6, and signed by Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson.

The subpoena also orders Rajoppi to produce all documents related to the committee’s special convention and the election of the Union County Democratic chairman Feb. 21.

The subpoena also was signed by state Deputy Attorney General Eric Cohen, who is assigned to the corruption and fraud unit of the state Attorney General’s Office.

A message left for Rajoppi at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Friday, Dec. 14 was not returned.
Edward Kologi, a Linden-based attorney for state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who represents the 22nd Legislative District, claimed in a February letter to Rajoppi that the seats were never vacated.

“Scutari’s campaign had received information prior to the chairmanship election that there may have been some issues with regard to committee people in the township of Union,” Kologi said in a phone interview Dec. 17. “We put together a letter with documentation and sent it to the county clerk advising her of the problems. My recollection is that she did not feel it was within her purview to address them.”

The letter from Kologi was accompanied by affidavits from Ricardo and Versie McNeil, Rafael and Lucia Prisco, and Tamese Cohen “verifying that they in fact never resigned.”

Scutari’s complaint was also accompanied by letters of resignation from the committee people, signed by State Sen. Joseph Cryan, who represents the 20th Legislative District and is Union’s Democratic municipal chairman, with notes stating that their signatures were not available, according to the letter from Kologi.

Attorney Tim Donohue, who represents Cryan, declined to comment when reached by phone Dec. 14.
The special election for county chairman was called after former state Assemblyman Jerry Green resigned in January for health reasons; he later died in office in April.

Scutari won the county chairman race over Colleen Mahr, the Fanwood mayor who was backed by Cryan. All 93 votes from Union went to Mahr.

Rajoppi, a Union resident, lists her professional milestones on her Facebook page. Elected Springfield’s first woman mayor in 1977, she was then elected to the Union County Board of Freeholders in 1978 and became its first woman chairman in 1980. Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed her to serve as assistant secretary of state in 1981. Rajoppi became the first female Union County clerk in 1995, and was re-elected in 2000, 2005 and 2010.