As the tight race for Toms River mayor draws closer to Election Day, candidates are their supporters were busy filing complaints and pressing for investigations into the activities of one another.
The campaign of Republican candidate Maurice “Mo” Hill on Thursday filed a complaint with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, alleging Democratic candidate Jonathan Petro “conspired to deceive Toms River voters through the publication and distribution of a previously anonymous letter from a fictitious entity that falsely accused Hill of inappropriately colluding the Orthodox Jewish community to amend the township’s zoning laws to allow for Houses of Worship on 2 acre lots.”
The complaint states that the letter was actually distributed by Ryan Protter, president of the Toms River Democratic organization and the chairman of the Ocean County Democratic Balloting Committee.
The complaint, as authored by attorney Jason N. Sena, alleges Protter “surreptitiously rented a mailbox at a UPS Store under the name of a nonexistent entity for the purposes of causing illegal campaign literature to be distributed to residents of Toms River for that was intended to solicit votes for Respondent Jonathan Petro in the 2019 General Election.”
The complaint goes on to allege that the mailbox was rented in an attempt to thwart campaign finance regulations. The complaint is not a criminal allegation; it is an administrative complaint that the Election Law Enforcement Commission is tasked with either finding valid and worth investigating, or unworthy of a probe.
Shortly after the Hill camp announced that they had filed a complaint, Protter made public a letter he sent to Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, asking for an investigation into the Hill campaign.
“When confronted with his own potentially illegal and unethical behavior, Councilman Hill has decided to attack those who exposed him,” Protter said. “Not once in his six page complaint does Councilman Hill deny the allegations made against him, because they are all true.”
The row between the two candidates centers on zoning for houses of worship as Toms River struggles with growth in its North Dover section as Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish population surges in the neighboring town. The Petro campaign has zeroed in on a donation to Hill’s primary campaign by Scott Gartner, an Orthodox Jewish man who threatened to sue the town over an ordinance that requires at least 10 acres for new houses of worship and schools. Protter also provided photos of Hill’s car parked in front of Gartner’s home this summer, however Hill has said that he and Gartner are neighbors and friends.
Petro, for his part, said: “Like every other voter in Toms River, I did not see the letter until it arrived in my mailbox. I did not know the letter was created. Councilman Hill seems very concerned about who sent the letter, but does not deny its accuracy. The filing of this bogus Complaint is another stunt from his failing campaign.”
Sena, Hill’s attorney, likewise asked the prosecutor’s office to look into the Petro campaign and requested oversight from the state Attorney General’s office for the remainder of the race.