Disbarred NJ Pol Must Face Ex-Running Mate’s Campaign Suit

By Bill Wichert

Law360, Jersey City (October 4, 2019, 8:42 PM EDT) — A New Jersey state judge on Friday shot down a bid by a convicted ex-mayor and disbarred attorney to toss his onetime running mate’s fraud suit over his handling of campaign finance reports, rejecting the disgraced politician’s stance that the complaint was filed too late.

Superior Court Judge Vincent J. Militello found that the clock started ticking when plaintiff Angel Alicea was served in September 2013 with a related complaint from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, and thus his February 2018 suit against former Hoboken Mayor Peter J. Cammarano III was filed within the six-year statute of limitations.

While Alicea allegedly received ELEC letters in 2009 and 2010 regarding purported deficiencies in the campaign’s finance reporting, “a cause of action accrues when a plaintiff knows or should know of its existence,” Judge Militello said in denying Cammarano’s summary judgment motion during a hearing in his Jersey City courtroom.

“Those letters don’t show that,” the judge added.

The judge also rejected Cammarano’s argument that Alicea’s complaint was barred under the res judicata and entire controversy doctrines because Alicea previously failed to present his fraud claim before ELEC. But Alicea did not have the opportunity to litigate his fraud claim in the ELEC matter, according to the judge.

The commission was tasked with finding wrongdoing on the part of political candidates, not adjudicating “issues of law and fact between the candidates themselves,” Judge Militello said.

When Cammarano, a city councilman at the time, ran for mayor in May 2009, Alicea and two other council candidates ran on his slate. After none of the candidates received enough votes, the two highest mayoral vote-getters — Cammarano and Dawn Zimmer — along with the six highest vote-getters for city council competed in a runoff election on June 9, 2009, the complaint said.

Cammarano won the mayoral race, but Alicea lost his bid for a council seat.

A former attorney with the firm previously known as Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster LLC, Cammarano, who specialized in election law, supposedly assumed responsibility for campaign finance reporting and assured Alicea that he was complying with all ELEC requirements, according to Alicea’s complaint.

Cammarano’s purported failure to do so ultimately led the commission to file its complaint against him, Alicea, their running mates in the 2009 runoff election, and the treasurer of their campaign committee, according to Alicea’s complaint.

The ELEC complaint accused them of filing contribution and expenditure information late or not at all, receiving excessive cash donations and contributions, and other filing lapses. That complaint was ultimately dismissed without any fines assessed.

As a result of Cammarano’s alleged misdeeds, Alicea said in his complaint that he has suffered “humiliation, emotional distress, mental pain and anguish, and continues to suffer substantial losses in earnings, job experience, and other employee benefits that would have been received absent defendants’ unlawful conduct.”

In his criminal case, Cammarano admitted accepting a total of $25,000 in bribes from Solomon Dwek, a cooperating government witness, before and after winning the city’s mayoral election in 2009, in exchange for helping Dwek with land development matters in Hoboken.

Cammarano pled guilty in April 2010 in New Jersey federal court to one count of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by extortion under color of official right, and he was sentenced to two years in prison. Based on his conviction, the New Jersey Supreme Court disbarred Cammarano in September 2014.

In seeking to nix Alicea’s complaint as time-barred, Cammarano attorney Amy E. Gasiorowski of Frieri Law Group LLC argued during Friday’s hearing that the clock started to run, at the latest, when Cammarano entered his guilty plea.

“All the harms claimed [by Alicea] flow from the original fraud, which should have been discovered … when the defendant was arrested and, at the latest, when the defendant pleaded guilty,” Gasiorowski told the judge.

But Alicea attorney Giovanni De Pierro of De Pierro Radding LLC countered that the statute of limitations did not kick off until Alicea received the ELEC complaint in September 2013.

“Only then is the first time now that Mr. Alicea is directly, explicitly … being accused of having committed a violation of law,” De Pierro said.

Alicea is represented by Giovanni De Pierro of De Pierro Radding LLC.

Cammarano is represented by Amy E. Gasiorowski of Frieri Law Group LLC.

The case is Alicea v. Cammarano, case number L-787-18, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, County of Hudson.

–Editing by Adam LoBelia.