EDISON – Was the racist flier distributed by mailing during the 2017 Board of Education election “a political trick for politics”?
That’s what Councilman Robert Diehl believes, calling the information in United States Postal Inspector David Comer’s report “a shame” at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Nov. 5.
The report names six members of the community, who were allegedly involved in the assembling of mailing the fliers: Satish Poondi, legal advisor for the Indian Business Association who previously served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on community relations in Edison; Raj Bhagia; Mohin Patel, Ajay Patil, an Edison councilman; Board is Education member Jerry Shi; and Shariq Ahmad, former chairman of the Edison Democratic Organization.
Ahmad was allegedly found to have purchased 80 coils of the same stamp used on the fliers on Oct. 28, 2017, at the Edison Post Office on Route 27.
Members of the Committee of the Whole read the report verbatim at the meeting.
Diehl said they had subpoenaed Comer to testify about the report; however, an attorney for the U.S. Postal Inspectors Office indicated Comer would not comply with the subpoena on Nov. 4. The attorney said live testimony of a federal agent needed additional affirmations made in regards to the nature of the testimony and then they would evaluate the request.
Comer had previously testified before the Committee of the Whole. He said a total of 137 racist flier post cards, which have been marked and submitted as evidence, have gone through a visual examination, alternate light source examination, and submitted to a forensic laboratory, he said.
Out of 137, just shy of 50 postcards came back with fingerprints. Aloysius Dsouza’s fingerprints were found on one of the mailings that were sent for testing at the forensic laboratory, according to reports. This finding ultimately led to an interview with Chandrakant Patel, founder of Chowpatty Restaurant in Iselin, on Sept. 28, 2020.
Patel named the six people during an interview with Comer. He said he was contacted by Poondi in October 2017 allegedly requesting help in “mailing things.” Patel said he was an active member of the community since the 1990s and allows members of the community to use his restaurant for community related activities.
He said each of the six individuals came into his restaurant carrying boxes including large postcards, according to reports. He asked Aloysius and Joseph Dsouza, who were working at the restaurant, to help them with the mailings.
Ten days after Patel, who said he was not involved in the dissemination or creation of the fliers, said he saw a news story about the fliers. He contacted Poondi and asked him what was going on. Allegedly, Poondi instructed Patel to stay quiet and not discuss the fliers with anyone and say anything to anybody, according to the reports.
Diehl said Patil, who was one of the six people named in the report, reached out to him on Nov. 4 wanting to discuss the situation. He said Patil did not have or see the report prior to their meeting.
Patil met with Diehl, Comer and Councilman Alvaro Gomez on Nov. 5. He explained he was at the Chowpatty Restaurant and did see the fliers, however, he said he had no part in assembling, creating or disseminating the fliers. Patil, who attended the meeting virtually, said he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Diehl said Patil told them the architects of the racial fliers were allegedly Poondi, Bhagia and Mahesh Bhagia, who was not named in the report.
Just a few days after the 2020 election season, questions still linger surrounding the offensive events of the 2017 election in Edison.
One main question remains – who distributed the racist fliers by mailing on Oct. 31, 2017, with the faces of the two candidates, Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel, who are of Asian descent.
The flier stated “Make Edison Great Again” and underneath each of their photos was the word “Deport.”
“It will not go without us investigating it further because we made a pledge that we would continue as long as we were able to bring the people who were responsible for this injustice,” Diehl said, adding another Committee of the Whole meeting will be scheduled.
Councilman Richard Brescher said he requested a copy of Comer’s report, however, did not receive one. He suspected politics after learning news media outlets received copies of the report. Diehl denied it was political. Council President Joyce Ship-Freeman said Diehl made sure no politics were involved and decided to hold the meeting after the election.
Since May 2019, the Township Council, through a Committee of the Whole, has been conducting its own investigation through fact-finding public meetings, questioning candidates from the 2017 Board of Education, Township Council and mayoral election, people who helped out with the campaigns, and people involved in the investigation. All the people have been subpoenaed to appear before the committee.
Shi had appeared before the committee in October 2019 with his attorney Christopher Keating. Aside from a joint statement with Falguni Patel denouncing the racist fliers after they were mailed out during the 2017 Board of Education election, Shi, who ran for re-election for a board seat in the recent election, has relatively remained mum about the ordeal that made national news. He has not spoken to law enforcement, according to officials.
During his testimony, Shi had called the fliers “vile and disgraceful” and said he has been “forever traumatized from the experience.”
The council unanimously approved the formation of the Committee of the Whole at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2019. This allows council members to meet outside of the parameters of a typical council meeting without violating Robert’s Rules, which determines how governing bodies operate. Diehl spearheads the committee along with Gomez and Councilman Sam Joshi.
Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan had said the investigation is in the hands of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. Peter Aseltine, public information officer for the attorney general, had said the office’s policy “is that we neither confirm nor deny investigations.”