Additional Corruption Charges Added to Indictment Against Former Orange Public Official | USAO-NJ

NEWARK, N.J. – The former acting business administrator for the Township of Orange, New Jersey, who had previously been indicted for multiple acts of corruption and fraud, was indicted today on additional conspiracy, wire fraud, and kickback-taking charges in a superseding indictment, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Willis Edwards III, 49, formerly of East Orange, New Jersey, and currently of Lithonia, Georgia, was charged in a superseding indictment with additional counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and taking kickbacks in connection with the business of Orange, a federally funded local government.

According to the superseding indictment:

An associate of Edwards, Jeanmarie Zahore, was the sole owner of JZ Nettech, a computer consulting business. On Sept. 15, 2015, the City Council of Orange Township, New Jersey, passed a resolution awarding JZ Nettech, without competitive bidding, a $350,000 emergency contract to install a computer networking system at a municipal complex that housed the Orange Municipal Court and the Orange Police Department (the “Municipal Complex Project”).

Between August 2015 and November 2015, Edwards solicited and accepted cash payments totaling approximately $20,000 from Zahore as a reward for Edwards’ favorable treatment of Zahore and JZ Nettech in connection with the Municipal Complex Project.

On Sept. 14, 2015, after communications between Edwards and Zahore in August 2015, Edwards advised a senior official of the Orange Municipal Court and a senior official of the Orange Police Department that there was an urgent need to address a potential security vulnerability in the Municipal Complex’s computer network, and that JZ Nettech had been selected as the vendor to fix the problem. Edwards caused Orange to issue a Certification of Funds, certifying that $350,000 was available for the Municipal Complex Project and identifying the vendor as JZ Nettech.

On Sept. 15, 2015, Edwards spoke before the Orange City Council in support of allocating emergency funds for the Municipal Complex Project and awarding the Municipal Complex Project to JZ Nettech. At the meeting, during which Orange City Council members raised questions about the selection of JZ Nettech as the vendor for the Municipal Complex Project, Edwards did not disclose that he had engaged in communications with Zahore since at least August 2015.

On Sept. 16, 2015, the day after the Orange City Council approved the $350,000 contract, Edwards approved the issuance of a blanket purchase order authorizing Orange to pay JZ Nettech $350,000 in connection with the Municipal Complex Project.

From Sept. 18, 2015, to Nov. 10, 2015, Zahore received and deposited three Orange checks totaling $350,000 in connection with the Municipal Complex Project into his JZ Nettech bank account.

Beginning shortly after Orange made its first payment to Zahore, Edwards told Zahore on more than one occasion, in substance, that Edwards had taken care of Zahore and that Zahore should consider that and do something.

In November 2015, following Edwards’ multiple solicitations and demands for payment from Zahore, Edwards received approximately $10,000 in cash from Zahore as a reward for Edwards’ favorable treatment of Zahore and JZ Nettech in connection with the Municipal Complex Project. Upon receipt of that $10,000 cash payment, which was funded in substantial part by money paid by Orange to JZ Nettech, Edwards expressed his dissatisfaction to Zahore with the amount of the payment. Edwards received a second payment of approximately $10,000 in cash from Zahore, who characterized those two cash payments in a spreadsheet that Zahore maintained of expenses related to the project:

11/20/2015                                          Gift: WE         $10,000.00

11/23/2015                                          Gift: WE         $10,000.00

The superseding indictment further charges that Edwards willfully signed a 2015 federal tax return under penalty of perjury that did not report, among other items of income, the approximately $20,000 in kickbacks.

The charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud (Count 14) and wire fraud (Count 15) each carry a potential penalty of 20 years in prison; the count of accepting kickbacks in connection with the business of a federally funded local government (Count 16), carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison. All three counts are also punishable by a fine of $250,000.

These charges were added to a 28-count indictment returned on July 7, 2020. Zahore was indicted on Aug. 18, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez with the investigation leading to the charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cari Fais and J Fortier Imbert of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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