Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Hudson) pleaded guilty Friday to filing false reports with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
With the plea, Chiappone must give up his seat in the lower house and is barred from ever holding public office in New Jersey.
Chiappone, 52, of Bayonne, who represents the 31st Legislative District, pleaded guilty to a third-degree charge of tampering with public records or information before state Superior Court Judge Gerald J. Council in Trenton.
In pleading guilty, Chiappone admitted that he completed and certified the campaign contribution and expenditure reports filed with ELEC for the 2005 Chiappone for Assembly campaign, knowing that they were false because they failed to report five state-issued paychecks for a legislative aide totaling $3,233.64 that were deposited into the campaign account.
He becomes the fourth Assembly members and third Democrat to be forced out of a lower house seat in the past year.
Chiappone falsely certified that contributions to the campaign did not exceed ELEC limits, even though the total of the aide's checks exceeded the limit of $2,600 for contributions from a single individual.
The state will recommend that Chiappone be sentenced to a term of probation. Council scheduled sentencing for Sept. 10.
"The people of New Jersey have a right to expect that their elected officials will uphold the law and act honestly in all official matters," state Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. "Assemblyman Chiappone must forfeit his public office because he broke the law, dishonestly attempting to evade campaign reporting requirements."
"A tip from a citizen led to the prosecution of this state assemblyman and his removal from office," Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said. "We hope prosecutions such as this one will encourage members of the public to report suspected misconduct to the Division of Criminal Justice. We will vigorously pursue any leads in our fight against public corruption."
The charge was contained in an Aug. 26 state grand jury indictment which also named Chiappone's wife, Diane. The charges against her will be dismissed based on his plea.
Chiappone was first elected to the Assembly in 2003. He lost the Democratic primary in June 2005, but was elected to the Assembly again in November 2007. He was re-elected in November. He also served as a city councilman for Bayonne from 1998 to 2009.
Deputy Attorney General Susan Kase prosecuted the case. The investigation was led by Kase, Detective Melissa Calkin and Sgt. Joseph Caloiaro of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM