BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield 1st Ward Councilman Elias Chalet pleaded guilty Tuesday, May 9, to a charge of bribery. Four other charges, including official misconduct, were dropped. He will be sentenced to five years in prison with two years of parole ineligibility. He appeared in Newark Superior Court before Judge Martin Cronin.
Chalet, 55, who had open heart surgery April 28, 2016, wore a heart-monitoring device from his neck and his medical history was part of the plea worked out between his attorney, Peter Till, and Deputy Attorney General Brian Faulk.
He had been indicted for official misconduct, bribery, benefiting unlawfully from a public office, tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution. Chalet, who had told Cronin on March 1 that he wanted a jury trial, was required to testify to his guilt under questioning from his attorney. He forfeited his council seat with his plea. Addressing only the bribery charge, Till asked what happened on Oct. 9, 2015.
Chalet said he was approached by a “middleman” for a resident. On Oct. 9, the resident came into his office and gave him $10,000.
Chalet, a Realtor with a Broad Street office, was receiving the money, according to previous court statements, for promising his influence to sway the council toward purchasing property owned by the resident. The council never voted on the acqui sition, Chalet being arrested the afternoon of the vote.
Till asked if he accepted the money.
“I sure did,” Chalet said.
He said the resident gave him another $5,000 on Oct. 16, 2015.
“Did you know it was wrong?” Till asked.
“Yes,” Chalet said.
Faulk asked Chalet if his taking the money was done as a benefit to his holding public office. Chalet said yes.
The plea included seven provisions. Till read the provisions. One was that at sentencing, a cardiologist selected by the state will report on Chalet’s health for a possible consideration of a reduced sentence. Other provisions included Faulk’s permission for Till to add medical records to the plea; that Chalet will serve his sentence at a low-risk facility, Jones Farm being named by Till; that Chalet can appeal his sentencing if it is not reduced following the cardiologist’s report; that Chalet would immediately forfeit his council seat; and that there would be no pre-trial intervention where, theoretically, a defendant may avoid a conviction and serve probation. Chalet also has to pay the state $15,000 in restitution, the amount he admitting taking. Till satisfied this requirement by presenting Faulk with a check for the amount.
Cronin, who seemed surprised that Till read the provisions aloud, asked Till why they were not part of the written plea. Till said the prosecutor wanted them read. Cronin asked Faulk why would there be a reduced sentence after the defendant accepted a plea? But Faulk said the appeal, if the sentence is not reduced, could be rejected by the state. He and Cronin agreed that where Chalet serves his prison sentence is up to the Department of Corrections.
“The court can only recommend,” Till said, “but it’s all on the record.”
Outside the court, Till said the plea was appropriate considering the circumstances.
“The health issue is primary for anybody,” he said. “But I don’t want that to diminish Mr. Chalet’s responsibility.”
The medical problems, he said, happened after the bribery incidents.
“It’s a big problem everyone is trying to address,” he said of his client’s health.
Till said Chalet wanted the $15,000 check handed to the prosecutor while in court.
“Mr. Chalet felt very strongly about that,” he said. “He’s never had a brush with the law. He wanted to make it clear there would be no issues. Handing the money over was pretty dramatic.”