News & Updates

Two more officials sign petition of felon running for school board

Sep 3, 2016

EDISON — Documents show that in addition to two school board members, two township councilmen signed the nominating petition of Nilesh Dasondi — the felon running for a seat in the upcoming school board race.

Dasondi, who in 2009 served six months in federal prison on charges of immigration fraud and a money laundering conspiracy, acquired the signatures of Democratic councilmen Joseph Coyle and Ajay Patil, according to the petition obtained by NJ Advance Media.

Bimal Joshi, a local political activist in the Democratic Party, was also among the signers of the petition.

Coyle said he was unaware of Dasondi’s criminal history when he gave his signature. Coyle said he was volunteering at the farmer’s market one afternoon when Dasondi approached him for his signature.

He is now strongly condemning Dasondi’s candidacy, saying “I can’t support him knowing those facts.”

“I am working at the farmer’s market,” Coyle said, “he called, he came in … I signed it, (and I did not have) a clue about his history.”

Patil and Joshi could not be reached for comment. Dasondi’s run has sparked a variety of reactions from politicians in the area.

In a recent interview, Councilman Robert Diehl, a Democrat, said that if the law permitted Dasondi to serve, he “would not have a problem with that.”

Diehl, who is also a principal in South Plainfield, said he has a personal relationship with Dasondi, and described him as “a good guy.”

Diehl, however, added, “If the law says he’s unable to serve, then the law is the law.”

The 12 signatures on Dasondi’s petition, which was filed on July 21, included two school board officials — Frank Heelan, president of the township Board of Education, and Ralph Errico, another member of the school board.

Heelan has since said he regretted signing the petition, saying that he was unaware of Dasondi’s past when he signed it, according to a published report.

Dasondi’s charges drew widespread news coverage at the time from both print and television outlets, including coverage of when he was arrested, arraigned, indicted, and sentenced.

Signing the petition, he added, “does not mean I was endorsing this guy. I absolutely had no knowledge.”

In 2009, Dasondi pleaded guilty in a more than $850,000 immigration scam in connection with using his company, Cygate Software, to obtain fraudulent work visas and green cards for several people who were not his employees. His company was disbanded, and after serving six months in federal prison, he was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine, and to repay $296,921.82 in restitution. He served two years probation after being released.

State law prevents convicted first or second-degree felons, under which Dasondi’s conviction falls, from serving on a school board. However, because criminal background checks are not conducted until 30 days after elections, Dasondi would be disqualified only after being elected.

State Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-Middlesex) said he was having his staff look into potentially “tightening up this loophole” so that voters would know if the person they were voting for would be able to actually serve if elected.

“It is something I am looking into … not just with the (county) board of elections, but all municipalities.”

He said the legislation would have to be drafted in way so not to prevent anyone with a criminal record from being able to run, like low-level crimes.

Karabinchak said he was not endorsing Dasondi and said everyone deserved a second chance. However, when it comes to running for elected office, he said Dasondi needs to abide by the law.

Dasondi, who is one of five candidates who has not earned an endorsement from the Edison Democratic Organization, contested that he would not be able to run, calling the matter “gray,” in a previous report.

Multiple attempts to reach Dasondi were unsuccessful.

Keith Hahn, chair of the Edison Democratic Organization, issued a statement on Friday strongly opposing Dasondi’s candidacy, while also declaring the candidates he is supporting.

“I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else but I am supporting Rich Brescher, Willie Arujo and Theresa Ward in the November Board of Education election,” Hahn said in a statement. “Dasondi is not eligible to serve — period. It is not a gray area, it is not open for interpretation, it is law. The fact we are still talking about this is ridiculous.”

AnneMarie Griffin-Ussak, a retired township assistant superintendent, a former principal in Edison and a former township council president who had served nearly 30 years in education, also said she strongly opposed Dasondi’s run.

“I oppose it for obvious reasons,” she said. “I don’t believe a convicted felon of any kind should be involved in the decision-making of children. Education has been my passion of my whole life.”

She also said that believes residents “should vote for the most qualified people to make sure our students have the best education.”

Spencer Kent