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Five-year sentence in voter fraud

TRENTON –

A Belleville man, one of the final defendants in a long-running Essex County voter fraud case, has been sentenced to five years in state prison for submitting fraudulent absentee ballots while working for the 2007 campaign of Teresa Ruiz for the New Jersey Senate in the 29th District.

John Fernandez, 61, learned his fate Dec. 20 while appearing before Superior Court Judge Robert C. Billmeier in Mercer County, N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.

Fernandez, found guilty after a jury trial in Mercer County this past September, worked for the Essex County Department of Economic Development. He was ordered to forfeit his job and has been permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

Another Belleville resident, Gianine Narvaez, 39, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to third-degree charges of absentee ballot fraud and tampering with public records or information. Her sentencing is set for Jan. 11.

Narvaez, a former data processing technician for the Essex County Commissioner of Registration and Superintendent of Elections, has forfeited her job and public pension, and also is barred from public employment in New Jersey.

In Fernandez case, the jury found that he fraudulently tampered with documentation for absentee “messenger” ballots in the Nov. 6, 2007, general election, submitting them on behalf of voters who never received the ballots or had an opportunity to cast their votes, Chiesa’s office noted.

“This prison sentence should stand as a strong deterrent to anyone who would tamper with ballots in New Jersey and impede the fundamental right of our citizens to have their votes counted in fair and open elections,” Chiesa said.

Fernandez and Narvaez were charged in 2009 along with several other defendants in multiple indictments related to absentee ballots they collected and submitted as workers for Ruiz’s 2007 campaign for the New Jersey Senate. Three of the other defendants previously pleaded guilty.

Ruiz’s husband, former Essex County Freeholder Samuel Gonzalez, was also charged in the case. In March 2011, he agreed to forfeit his seat on the freeholder board and his job as an aide to a Newark councilman and was admitted into the Pre- Trial Intervention Program.

The attorney general noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public can also use the division’s webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing.

— Karen Zautyk

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