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Emerson ex-borough attorney avoids election fraud charges, can never hold public office again

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

UPDATE: Emerson’s former borough attorney agreed today to resign three government positions and to never again hold public office as part of a deal that will keep him from going to trial.

Scott Mooney, 38, was charged with falsifying public documents after Councilwoman Danielle DiPaola had a suspicious-looking entry on a June 2013 primary nominating petition analyzed by a handwriting expert — who said it likely belonged to Mooney.

Two nominating petitions for the Emerson council were illegally altered, as well.

Co-defendant Ronald Griffin, a 69-year-old limousine driver elected to the council last November, also applied for Pre-trial Intervention this morning and had a hearing scheduled for March 26.

Although Mooney is avoiding indictment and trial by agreeing to enter Pre-Trial Intervention, the cost to him is significant, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel said in court this afternoon.

“He has resigned irrevocably from all public positions in New Jersey,” Keitel told Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma.  “He faces huge financial penalties by being banned for life from public service.”

Mooney also may “face ethical sanctions before the New Jersey State Bar, affecting his license to practice law,” the prosecutor said.

What’s more, the judge noted, Mooney’s record will not be cleared, a variation on what usually happens in the intervention order.

Roma said it will “be available for public disclosure should he seek any public position.

“Penalties shall be enforceable in Chancery Court, including reasonable attorney’s fees,” the judge added.

Potter asked if it would possible for Mooney to report to probation from upstate New York, where he has relocated.

Roma said it was, but that “that will be a separate application.”

“If you don’t comply with any of these conditions, the PTI will be terminated and you’ll be returned to court,” the judge told Mooney.

Mooney, in addition to serving as Emerson borough attorney, was a municipal prosecutor in the Borough of Demarest and the prosecutor for the county’s Central Municipal Court.  He was represented by his colleague Richard Potter, the public defender in Central Municipal Court.

An investigation found that Mooney altered the petition for primary candidate Elizabeth Garis after more than two dozen Emerson residents signed it, “adding the name of Keith Smith as a candidate above the signatures, making it appear [newcomer] Keith Smith’s name was on the petition when it was signed and knowing [that] it would be filed,” Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time.

The probe began after DiPaola commissioned a handwriting analysis by an expert after she said she discovered Smith’s name scribbled on the petition. The expert said the writing was likely Mooney’s.

The prosecutor said Mooney also altered a blank petition signed by more than 15 residents to place “only one candidate’s name on the petition above the signatures, that of Stephen Paino, making it appear Stephen Paino’s name was on the petition when it was signed and knowing it would be filed.”

Molinelli didn’t elaborate on the alleged role of Griffin, who he said works for Air Aristocrat limo service and essentially ran the borough GOP with Mooney.

The borough clerk later invalidated the petitions for Smith and Garis. Paino was re-elected.

Mooney sued former councilman Ken Hoffman last year for accusing him of falsifying petitions. Mooney said the allegations were “made without justification or cause” with the intent to hurt his reputation.

STORY: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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