Judge: charges are credible — Chalet headed to trial or plea

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Newark Superior Court Judge Martin Cronin ruled Friday, Nov. 5, that charges will not be dismissed against Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet. Chalet was indicted by a state grand jury in January 2016 on five counts stemming from the proposed purchase, by the township, of a parcel of land. He allegedly had promised the property owner his support on the council for the purchase in return for $15,000.

In September, Chalet’s attorney, Peter Till, asked Cronin to dismiss an official misconduct charge because Chalet had only made a promise to the property owner and had never actually voted for the purchase. The township council, according to courtroom statements, was prepared to vote on the property purchase on Nov. 16, 2015, in closed session. Chalet was arrested earlier that day.

But in his ruling, Cronin said, according to the law, Chalet did enough to be charged with official misconduct. Cronin read from a transcript of an alleged secretly recorded conversation between Chalet and the property owner. In the recording, Chalet talked about his conduct at a township council session with a land appraiser present. According to the transcript read by the judge, Chalet said, “I think it’s worth the fight for me. I had to step up and was able to have everybody on board; that the property owner is a good guy.”

Cronin then stopped reading, looked at Till and said, “That’s a smoker.”
Cronin called Till’s defense — that Chalet did not act but only promised to act — a “novel” argument, but he nonetheless rejected it.

The judge also said that at one point Chalet asked the township attorney if the necessary papers for the purchase were in order.

“Stepping up to persuade the other council members and checking with the attorney to see if the paperwork is done are sufficient acts,” Cronin said.
The judge also refused to dismiss a bribery charge and also a charge of benefiting through an unauthorized act. In justification he again referred to an alleged secret recording when Chalet told the property owner to keep the transaction quiet and only between the two of them. Although never referenced by the judge, Chalet was secretly recorded on video taking the money, according the NJ Office of the Attorney General.

“The money exchange, the secrecy, the promise, it shows a consciousness of guilt,” Cronin said.

According to the OAG, Chalet is alleged to have taken a payment of $10,000, on Oct. 23, 2015, and $5,000, on Nov. 16, 2015.

Cronin said records show that the property owner contacted law-enforcement authorities on Oct. 9, 2015, to say that Chalet had solicited a bribe. The property owner agreed to cooperate with the state.

Cronin said, in a alleged secretly recorded conversation between Chalet and the property owner on Nov. 16, 2015, the property owner told Chalet that he wanted to deliver the money before he spent it himself. The property owner also expressed concern that more money would be asked from him. Cronin read from a transcript of the conversation.

“There is not going to be a problem,” Chalet said.
“I don’t want anyone coming back and wanting more,” the property owner said.
“No,” Chalet said. “It’s done. I think it’s on tonight.”

Even though the council did not vote on the purchase, Cronin said that was “an insufficient barrier” to the misconduct charge.

“It’s clear,” Cronin said. “The defendant’s status as a councilman placed him in the position to solicit the money and receive the money. He was free to act independently during closed session.”

Cronin told Till that if he wanted to go to trial, because of the heavy court schedule, it would have to be in either January or February 2017. A status conference is scheduled for Dec. 15. At that conference, Chalet will have the options of either accepting a plea deal or proceeding to trial.