TOMS RIVER, NJ – It has long been rumored the Ocean County GOP has been funneling money from Democrat campaign donors to Republican political campaigns through straw donors. There has never been any concrete evidence of this, until now. This week, an email sent from Ocean County GOP finance committee chairman Jerry Dasti, Esq, addressed to members of the finance committee detailed exactly how such a scheme works. A Democrat lawyer and political donor, Nick Montenegro wanted to donate to the campaign of Ocean County Surrogate Jeffrey Moran’s 2018 election.
Dasti took Monetenegro’s donation and laundered it for the party. In Ocean County, several factions of Democrats and Republicans work together to ensure each side continues getting public appointments and contracts no matter who wins any given election. It’s a practice that has been rumored to be going in on Ocean County for decades. Now, there’s evidence that details one such transaction. When Republicans are in power, enough of the contracts are awarded to Democrat firms in order to keep both sides happy. When the Democrats are in power, it works the other way.
Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina often speaks openly and publicly about the GOP’s methods of giving “pieces of the pie” to connected firms to keep the political peace in the county.
A known Democrat, Montenegro donated to the campaign by writing a $300 personal check to the personal account of Dasti. Dasti then deposited that check into his own personal bank account then wrote a check to the campaign for Moran in the amount of $300 to hide Montenegro’s donation from the public eye, and from the eye of the New Jersey Election Commission.
“T (Theresa Mondella), Nick Montenegro is sending me $300,” Dasti wrote. “But since he is a d (Democrat), the check his made payable to me and I’ll turn it around for u later this week.”
That email was sent on December 5th, 2017. Frank Holman, now the Ocean County GOP Chairman served as campaign treasurer for Moran’s campaign. Also included in the letter were Jack Sahradnik of Berry, Sahradnik, Kotzas & Benson PC; GOP fundraiser Theresa Mondella and former GOP Chairman George Gilmore.
Sahradnik, Dasti and Holman each donated $2,600 of their own money to the campaign, leaving the door open, possibly for more straw donors. In total, $50,000 was raised for Moran, a former Toms River School District Elementary School principal’s political campaign. About two dozen pay-to-play firms donated to Moran’s successful re-election campaign that year.
We reached out this week to all of the parties addressed in this illegal transaction, but only one returned our call.
Jerry Dasti threatened us with legal action if we pursued this, saying simply, “It has already been addressed.”
Sahradnik, Mondella, Moran, Holman and Montenegro all refused to return phone calls after several messages were left for them during the week. We called Moran three times from Monday to Wednesday at his office at the New Jersey Surrogate Court and left messages, but he never called back.
Former GOP Chairman George Gilmore said he was unaware of the letter until recently, but is no longer a member of the GOP organization, saying he had no insight on how the matter was handled. He was the only one to return our phone call.
We then found a letter written on March 7, 2019 by Ocean County GOP Chairman Frank Holman, explaining to the Daniel Horowitz at the New Jersey Law Enforcement Commission that there was an error in his 2017 campaign finance report filed with the state. It was, of course, an honest mistake, and let’s just fix it up.
“As previously promised, attached you will find a copy of a 12/15/17 email that was recently provided to me together with a copy of the R-1, pages 1 and 2, for the Moran campaign as originally filed,” Holman wrote. “I incorrectly assigned the $300 contribution in the name of Jerry Dasti not knowing at the time that the contribution was actually received from Nick Montenegro. I have enclosed a copy of Mr. Dasti’s check.”
Holman said it was the only campaign contribution made by Montenegro to the campaign. However, Holman did not reference in his NJELEC letter, the December 5th, 2017 letter from Jerry Dasti, explaining that he was acting as a straw donor for Montenegro. We were unable to obtain the December 15th email referenced by Holman.
On Monday, we spoke with Shreve Marshall‚ Director of Review and Investigation at the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission. Marshall said he could not comment on the matter but advised Shore News Network to send copies of all the documents and letters we have obtained. It was just one of many alleging campaign finance violations, ethics violations and corruption allegations we from various sources, including anonymous letters to our company post office box in Jackson Township. We have been sifting through those files for months as the pieces of puzzle fall into place. A pattern of widespread corruption is starting to emerge.
According to Wikipedia, making a political contribution in another person’s name is illegal, as is agreeing to be the named donor with someone else’s money.
Two weeks ago, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal arrested five people for engaging in a straw donor scheme in North Jersey. In May of 2018, the Toms River Township Council appointed Ben Montenegro, a partner at Nick Montenegro’s law firm to the Toms River Township MUA where he serves as a commissioner. Ben Montenegro is also a Democrat, but the divided Toms River council voted unanimously on the appointment.
“That is the type of bipartisanship we should see in town,” said newly elected Democrat Toms River Councilwoman Laurie Huryk at the time of Montenegro’s appointment.