Fingerprints may answer who is responsible for distributing racist fliers in 2017 Edison Board of Education election

EDISON – As a new election season rolls around, 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.”

Since May, 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.

The Township Council unanimously approved the formation of the Committee of the Whole at a meeting on Feb. 27. 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. Councilman Robert Diehl spearheads the committee along with Councilman Sam Joshi and Councilman Michael Lombardi.

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.”

Joshi said at a meeting on Oct. 2 that the Committee of the Whole is “closing in” on who may be responsible for distributing the racist fliers during the 2017 election season through fingerprint analysis.

“The Committee of the Whole gives us plenty of powers, which has been really useful to us thus far; however it does take time,” he said.

Joshi said he has been working with the federal postal inspection agency led by United States Postal Inspector David Comer, who had previously testified before the committee. 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,” he said.

Joshi said they found friction ridged detail on the edges of the fliers. He said Comer explained the edges were manually cut off.

“That gave us reason to believe someone was probably holding their fingers on the edge while cutting it and that is exactly where we found fingerprints,” he said.

On Oct. 2, the committee subpoenaed Shi; Shariq Ahmad, chair of the Edison Democratic Organization; and Cesar Suarez, whose name was brought up during questioning of People for Progress, a political action committee, that was involved in the 2017 campaigns.

Ahmad told the committee he was unavailable to appear on Oct. 2 and Suarez, through an attorney, said he could not appear.

Shi appeared before the committee 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 now serves as president of the Board of Education, has relatively remained mum about the ordeal that made national news. He has not spoken to law enforcement, according to officials.

Shi, in an opening statement to the committee, said the fliers were “vile and disgraceful.”

“I was the subject of those fliers and forever traumatized from the experience,” he said. “To this day, it is hurtful to me and my family to see them posted on social media, newspapers, and even here today sitting right in front of me. In the aftermath of the fliers, I felt a sense of paralysis and I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I couldn’t even get myself to go out and continue campaigning until I was encouraged to do so by my runningmate Paul DiStefano. I shutter to think about the fliers. I try to avoid seeing them or talking about the whole ordeal to anyone, even those who want to help me. I did not want to relive it over and over again.”

The 2017 Board of Education campaign with Paul Distefano, Beth Maroney and Falguni Patel was a policy, grassroots driven campaign, Shi said. Along with the racist fliers, he said the campaign was a subject of a number of attacks and false rumors through social media posts, which he displayed for the committee.

Shi said he was not a member for People for Progress and does not have knowledge if donations were made from People for Progress to their campaign. He said he had nothing to do with the design nor dissemination of the racist fliers and was not involved in designing fliers for the campaign. He noted he is color blind.

Through his attorney, Shi did not take questions from Diehl, Joshi or Patil, citing conflict of interest. Also when asked if he would be willing to submit his fingerprints and take a polygraph test, his attorney advised the request be put in writing and the request would be “reviewed and taken under advisement.”

This left some of the council members perplexed.

“If I’m the victim, my picture is up there and my community is disparaged or disrespected, wouldn’t I be anxious to come to these meetings? … These council members are on my side, they are going to help me get to the bottom of this, find out who did this horrible thing,” Diehl said, adding he does not understand Shi’s position on the matter.

Joshi said the committee is open for anyone to volunteer their fingerprints to help the process move along and clear their names.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.