Reactions begin for councilman’s bribery charge

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia has indicated that he is prepared to move forward following the arrest of Councilman Elias Chalet on bribery charges last week.

“Obviously, within this situation, we’re going to act swiftly,” Venezia said in a Monday telephone interview. “At the next conference session, I want an ethics board in the township with juice.”

The mayor said an ordinance will also be written to make township elected officials more ethically responsible.
Chalet, a Realtor, was arrested by State Police at his Broad Street real estate office on Monday, Nov. 16. He was charged with bribery as an elected official. He is free on $100,000 bail.

According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Chalet had asked a Bloomfield businessman and commercial-property owner for $15,000 in exchange for his support on the council for the township to purchase the commercial property. The business owner paid the bribe in two installments, with both payments being recorded by law-enforcement authorities.

The commercial property has been publicly cited by Venezia as an abandoned Getty gas station on East Passaic Avenue. The township wants to purchase the property as a site for a water pump. The owner of the abandoned station according to Venezia is Sanjay Patel, who is also the owner of a cigar shop on Broad Street, across from Chalet’s office. In his store on Friday, Nov. 20, he offered no comment.

Venezia said he will also ask Bloomfield Police Director Sam DeMaio to contact the FBI or state authorities to present an ethics seminar to council members.

Venezia said $550,000 was a good estimate of how much the Getty property would cost.
“The savings would be $250,000 to $300,000 a year,” he said.

The savings would be a result of the township having a more direct connection to its water supply.
“Hopefully, the goal is to go ahead and purchase that property,” Venezia said. “I just don’t know if the charges will affect the purchase.”

He said the purchase could be made in the first quarter of 2016.
Marshall McKnight, a spokesperson for the N.J. Department of Banking and Insurance which oversees the real estate industry, had no comment regarding any departmental procedures following Chalet’s arrest.

Speaking in his office on Saturday, Nov. 21, Chalet said he would not comment on whether he would continue to attend council meetings until he spoke with his attorney.

“I’m seeing my attorney on Monday and see what his advice it,” Chalet said. “Everything is up to him. There’s a lot of things to talk about.”

Chalet was charged with second-degree bribery. This carries a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison, including a mandatory minimum term of five years without parole, and a fine of up to $150,000.
Venezia said the council does not have the power to ask Chalet to step down.