State authorities have charged Passaic County’s surrogate mother Bernice Toledo with forging records after allegedly appointing a longtime friend and political supporter to administrate a $ 600,000 estate over the deceased’s cousin’s objections.
Shortly after acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck announced the charges on Friday, Toledo’s Democrats demanded that she resign immediately from the post she has held for a decade.
“The charges make it clear that she must resign immediately,” Passaic County’s Democratic Committee chairman John Currie said in an email. “Passaic County’s residents and families deserve honest and transparent service from the surrogate mother’s office, and these charges raise serious doubts about their fitness for service.”
The attorney general’s announcement comes 18 months after the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Legal Conduct stated in a complaint that Toledo “did not correctly present the nature and extent of their relationship and misrepresented the nature and extent of their relationship” with Keith Stewart, whom she appointed administrator of Mark Halchak after Halchak’s estate, January 2017 death.
According to the complaint, Halchak and Stewart were working together in Wayne Township. But the deceased’s cousin, New Hampshire Estelle Halchak, later denied Stewart’s appointment in the Passaic County Surrogate Court.
Toledo sided with Stewart in June 2017 after telephoning and exchanging dozens of texts prior to the judge’s decision, the state claimed. The advisory committee named Stewart a childhood friend who had supported Toledo’s political campaigns and participated in their fundraising drives.
The public prosecutor’s office then started its own investigations, which ultimately led to the fourth-degree charges, Bruck said in a statement.
“It is alleged that Toledo falsified the judgment by stating that all knowledgeable adult family members and others with a prior right to administer the estate have waived their right,” the statement said. “In reality, a relative of the deceased who had a previous administrative right did not waive his right and instead notified Toledo of his right by appearing in person before Toledo signed and submitted the judgment.”
A woman who answered the phone in Toledo’s office on Friday declined to comment and then quickly hung up.
But Dennis Carletta, Toledo’s attorney for Cedar Grove, said in an email that the charges were “totally unfounded”.
“In her role on the bank, Judge Toledo is a dedicated civil servant who has served Passaic County and the people of New Jersey with honor and integrity over the past decade,” said Carletta. “We ask you not to be in a hurry with the verdict, as we look forward to your complete discharge.”
Toledo, 51, of Wayne, faces a prison sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $ 10,000, the attorney general said.
Toledo announced earlier this year that it would not stand for re-election. Her current term, her second, expires at the end of 2021.
The committee’s complaint said Toledo told Halchak at the 2017 hearing that she knew Stewart. However, she never revealed the extent of the friendship.
Toledo “forgot the fact that she had known Mr. Stewart and his immediate family members for more than three decades since they grew up in the same neighborhood [Toledo] was a Facebook friend of Mr. Stewart and several members of his immediate family including his mother and sister whom Mr. Stewart helped with [Toledo’s] Campaigned and took part in fundraisers for them, “the complaint reads.
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In response, Toledo described Stewart as a mere “acquaintance” whom she had only seen “a handful of times” over the years. She said the information exchanged over the phone calls was routine and related to scheduling and court hearings.
Estelle Halchak later appealed to a Chancery Court judge who ordered the dismissal of Stewart and the appointment of Halchack as administrator.
The committee’s complaint charged Toledo with six violations of the state’s code of conduct, including failure to avoid inappropriateness or the appearance of inappropriateness; allow “family, social, political, financial, or other relationships or interests” to influence their judgment; and failed to withdraw from the case.
Carletta, her lawyer, said the lawsuit was still pending.
The ethical allegations cost Toledo its chance for re-election. Currie said in his statement that he and other party leaders refused to support her because the complaint was above her head.
Still, Toledo, a native of Paterson, was popular with voters and an effective fundraiser. State campaign records show she raised well over $ 100,000 during her first two campaigns.
As a deputy, Toledo oversees the administration of wills, estates and guardianship across the county.
Steve Janoski oversees law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For full access to the most important news about those protecting your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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