By Darryl R. Isherwood | September 28th, 2012 - 5:22pm
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An Essex County campaign worker was convicted today of absentee ballot fraud that occurred during the 2007 election of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz.

John Fernandez, 61, of Belleville, was found guilty of election fraud following a two-week trial.  The jury found Fernandez guilty of charges of conspiracy (2nd degree), election fraud (2nd degree), absentee ballot fraud (3rd degree), tampering with public records or information (3rd degree), and forgery (4th degree).

The Mercer County jury found that  Fernandez, who works for the Essex County Department of Economic Development, fraudulently tampered with documentation for absentee ballots in Ruiz's Nov. 6, 2007 general election, submitting ballots on behalf of voters who never received the ballots or had an opportunity to cast their votes.

Fernandez was charged in 2009 along with several other defendants, including Ruiz's husband, Essex County Freeholder Samuel Gonzalez.  As a result, Gonzalez agreed to forfeit his seat on the freeholder board and his job as an aide to a Newark city councilman, and he was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program. Four other defendants previously pleaded guilty, and three, including Gonzalez, forfeited their public positions and were admitted by the court into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.

In March 2010 Gianine Narvaez, 39, of Belleville, a former data processing technician for the Essex County Commissioner of Registration and Superintendent of Elections, pleaded guilty to third-degree charges of absentee ballot fraud and tampering with public records or information.  She is awaiting sentencing.  She forfeited her job and public pension, and she will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

Two other defendants, Edwin Cruz, 50, of Newark, and Rocio Rivera, 52, of Washington, N.J. (Hunterdon County), pleaded guilty last year.  Cruz pleaded guilty to third-degree tampering with public records or information, and Rivera pleaded guilty to third-degree absentee ballot fraud.  They are awaiting sentencing.   Rivera forfeited her job in the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.  

Angel Colon, 49, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree election fraud and was sentenced in January 2012 to five years of probation. The state has appealed his sentence, arguing that he should have received a sentence of five to 10 years in prison based on his guilty plea.

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"Potentially, we can get this done, because it's important. We get it. We understand it. But there are issues. There's the speedy trial component. How are we going to pay for this? How is the risk-assessment piece of it going to be done?" - Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32), on bail reform.

- The Asbury Park Press

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