BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Indicted Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet has chosen a jury trial and possibly 10 years of imprisonment instead of accepting a plea deal for a possible four year-sentence. Chalet made his decision public Wednesday, March 1, in Newark Superior Court, before Judge Martin Cronin.
Cronin said if convicted by a jury, sentencing would be at the discretion of the court. He told Chalet he could be sentenced to 10 years, the maximum for an official misconduct charge, and that sentencing from all convictions would run concurrently. The last plea deal Chalet was offered was for seven years imprisonment with three years of parole ineligibility. The initial plea deal offered to Chalet was for five years imprisonment and two years parole ineligibility.
Chalet has been indicted for official misconduct, bribery, benefiting unlawfully from a public office, tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution. The charges stem from Chalet allegedly promising his political influence to a Bloomfield resident and property owner.
On Nov. 16, 2015, the day Chalet was arrested, the council was to vote on the acquisition of the resident’s property, according to statements made in the court. Chalet was absent from the council meeting. The vote was scheduled for closed session but Chalet’s attorney, Peter Till, has said the council never took a vote.
After the court hearing last week, Till, said his position was that the state had to prove Chalet had acted in an official capacity if he never voted.
“My contention was that there was no official action,” Till said.
Cronin has already rejected a motion by Till to dismiss the official misconduct charge. Till said the statute called misconduct an “act.” In rejecting the motion, Cronin called Till’s reasoning a “novel” approach but “an insufficient barrier.”
Cronin said the Bloomfield property owner was wired to record his conversations with Chalet and Chalet had said that in order to have the property purchased, he had “to step up and was able to have everybody on board.” Cronin said this statement was “a smoker” that Chalet was acting in an official capacity.
But Cronin had also criticized Deputy Attorney General Brian Falk who is prosecuting the case. Cronin asked Falk why was Chalet arrested before he voted?
Chalet was arrested after allegedly accepting, in two payments, $15,000 from the property owner. The second payment of $10,000 was allegedly given to Chalet, a Realtor, outside his Broad Street office, on Oct 23, 2015. With the State Police closing in, Chalet locked himself in his office and did not open the door for some 45 minutes. State Police detectives found no money once they entered and the NJ OAG has never publicly said if any money had been recovered. Falk did, however, say during a court hearing that Chalet would have to pay the state $15,000. Hearing this, Cronin had said this was the amount Chalet is said to have taken.
Cronin said he anticipates the trial to begin May 16 and take four days but could happen sooner depending on when Falk finishes with another trial.
Jury selection, he said, would take a day and a half.
Falk told Cronin his witnesses would be a confidential informant and State Police troopers.
Till said his witnesses will be public officials who will testify if there was a possibility of a bribe and if any official action was taken.
“There has to be some official action,” he said. “There was no vote cast; no opportunity for that.”
Cronin wanted to know who could come to these conclusions.
“The councilmen,” Till said.