JACKSON, NJ – It has nothing to do with the fact that the Jackson Township Republican Club did not officially endorse President Donald J. Trump during the 2016 Presidential primary election, but more to do with the township’s elected leaders’ series of defiant measures against the Department of Justice in recent weeks. That defiance to the Justice Department was heard loud and clear last Tuesday night when Township Council President Alex Sauickie defied the federal government’s request to provide relief to the Orthodox Jewish community and to abolish laws that sought to prohibit religious freedoms, according to the lawsuit.
DoJ investigators, as well as investigators from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, were present during last week’s zoom meeting as Sauickie defied an earlier order along with township Attorney Gregory P. McGuckin and misled residents to believe the repeal of the two ordinances was simply because “they were redundant”. The truth is, those ordinances were ordered repealed, but when Sauickie and McGuckin claimed, “Nothing has changed” in the township’s code, U.S. Attorney William Barr’s staff decided they had enough with the game of chicken Reina, Sauickie and McGuckin had been playing with federal investigators.
Legal experts we spoke to signaled that the civil lawsuit could be a precursor to future criminal charges against legislators and township officials who obstructed justice during the two-plus year ordeal between township leadership and the Department of Justice.
“One thing you don’t do is play games with the Department of Justice,” said one long time government law attorney. “When they ask for documents you have to give it to them, when they set up timetables, you have to meet those timetables, if you play games, you’re going to end up in a situation such as the one Jackson is in right now…this could very easily turn into criminal charges if it turns out anyone in local government obstructed the DOJ investigation or conspired with each other to obstruct their investigation.”
According to the Department of Justice documents, the federal government had been very lenient with township officials until this week, offering the township to self-remedy what it feels are civil rights violations against the growing Orthodox Jewish community in the town. Instead, Mayor Michael Reina, McGuckin and members of the township council decided to obstruct the investigation by trying to run out the clock until the 2020 council election. After the resignations of Barry Calogero and Robert Nixon, the two of three remaining councilmembers who drafted the ordinances being scrutinized by the Trump administration, the DOJ felt it was time to file the lawsuit it had been holding in reserves for the past two years.
Now, as the investigation continues, Jackson’s elected officials could face criminal charges if evidence surfaces that the mayor or others conspired with each other to obstruct the Department of Justice’s two-year investigation.
“The DOJ may seek to expand criminal charges if it feels any of the litigants are obstructing,” he said. “The bar for obstruction charges is very low.”
Such instances of obstruction of justice could mean the destruction or alteration of township documents, emails, files, phone records and recordings and witness intimidation.
The Department of Justice also gave clear indication that it wasn’t just the township officials who were being investigated. The investigators also cited Rise Up Ocean County, an anti-Orthodox website run by Toms River resident Richard Ciullo who is currently serving a sentence of weekend incarceration at the Ocean County Jail for recent fraud conviction. Ciullo’s website, which coordinates closely with the administration of Reina, and Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill, along with a Facebook page called “Take Back Jackson”, another close ally of Reina’s were listed in Attorney General Barr’s lawsuit against the township. Ciullo’s Rise Up Ocean County has been labeled an anti-Semitic organization by local and state leaders across New Jersey. Take Back Jackson, run by Jackson house mom Jennifer Cusanelli and Ciullo have both had their Facebook groups and pages removed by the social media giant in the past.
Last year, Reina’s Republican Club also received sharp criticism and condemnation from the RNC and NJ GOP after two key leaders, Chairman Todd Porter and County Committee Chairwoman Clara Glory posted anti-Semitic postings on social media. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel at the time said there is no place for anti-Semitism within the Republican party.