Former Dem. consultant owes $87K in back taxes

Political parties usually try to keep bad press at bay during campaign season, but county Democrats received a blow last week when one of their own former political election consultants admitted in court he failed to file income tax returns for several years.

According to court documents, Hiver Ambroise, 36, an Elizabeth resident, failed to file income tax returns for several years. He previously worked as chief of staff for Democratic powerhouse Sen. Ray Lesniak, the Union County Democratic Committee and New Jersey Democratic State  Committee, the election committee for the Union County Freeholders based in Hillside, and the Hillside Democratic Campaign Committee.

The 2008 Obama General Election Campaign Organization listed Ambroise, a graduate of Kean University, as the GOTV director for the New Jersey campaign effort.

Federal authorities said Ambroise failed to file income tax returns in 2008, 2009 and 2010 despite earning a total of $281,409 during a three year period.

Federal authorities noted Ambroise earned $144,109 in 2008, and $109,300 in 2009 while working as a Democratic consultant to Union County political and election committees.

According to court documents, Ambroise owes the Internal Revenue Service a total of $87,454, or $46,416 for 2008, $35,399 for 2009 along with $5,639 in taxes for the $28,000 he earned as a political consultant in 2010 while working for Empower Newark, a political action committee.

Federal authorities said Ambroise was listed on the 2010 payroll for Empower Newark, a political action committee with close ties to Mayor Cory Booker.

Friday Ambroise pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark for failing to file income tax returns for the three years mentioned. He faces up to one year in prison on each of the three counts when he is sentenced in January.

But this is not the first time Ambroise has been in trouble when filing the proper paperwork required by state and federal governments. As recently as July, the Elizabeth based political consultant made news in a LocalSource article involving his failure to file New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission campaign donation reports for 2008 Committee for Change candidates running for seats on the Elizabeth Board of Education.

The candidates, supported by campaign donations from powerful Union County Regular Democratic Organization leaders such as Lesniak, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and the Union County Democratic Committee, allegedly failed to file the reports. None of the candidates running in the 2008 election, however, won a seat on the board that year.

The fact ELEC reports were not filed when they were due, though, has nothing to do with whether they won or not. Regardless, whether a candidate wins an election or not, they are responsible to file campaign contribution reports at specific times set down by ELEC.

ELEC filed the complaint June 20, alleging the three candidates who were challenging the sitting Elizabeth Board of Education members up for re-election in 2008, along with treasurer Ambroise, did not file the proper contribution and expenditure reports during the campaign or after.

Moreover, the complaint claimed these candidates failed to file 48-hour notices for the 2008 campaign, another direct violation of ELEC. These violations carry penalties up to $6,000 for each contribution not reported.

According to ELEC records, campaign donations for the 2008 board of education race that included three candidates, Neptune Ambroise, Elizabeth Cano and Krishna Garlic, in addition to treasurer Hiver Ambroise, contributions totaled $58,700.

Contributions listed within this time frame, according to ELEC, included $5,000 from Bollwage’s election fund, $5,000 from Lesniak’s election fund, and $10,000 from “Keep the Progress Going,” a political organization strongly linked to Lesniak, Bollwage and the Union County Regular Democratic Organization.

Also contributing money to the Elizabeth Board of Education campaign was Lesniak’s law firm Weiner Lesniak, LLP, which also donated several thousand dollars to the election fund of former assemblyman Neil Cohen, convicted in 2010 on charges of distributing child pornography. Cohen is currently serving a five-year sentence in prison.

Democrat Assemblyman Joseph Cryan also contributed to these candidates.

According to ELEC Deputy Director Joseph Donahue, a complaint was initially filed with the commission in 2008, but because this agency only has five investigators covering the entire state, following up on campaign violators often takes years.

Donahue said ELEC gets 100 complaints a year, but due to the complexity of them, it can be a long time before a decision is made.