Passaic County Surrogate Bernice Toledo has been criminally charged for allegedly falsifying a judgment she filed in order to make an improper appointment of an estate administrator.
Toledo, 51, of Wayne, N.J., was charged on Aug. 26, by complaint-summons with fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck said the charge is the result of an investigation by the OPIA Corruption Bureau, which began with a referral from the New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (“ACJC”), which has an open ethics complaint in this matter.
Bruck said Toledo tried to cover up her appointment of a longtime friend and political ally as administrator of a $600,000 estate over the objections of the dead man’s cousin.
Toledo failed to disclose that she’d had a political and personal relationship with Keith Stewart, whom she named as administrator of the estate of Mark Halchak after he died in 2017.
“In reality, a relative of the decedent who had a prior right of administration had not renounced her right and instead had made her right known to Toledo by appearing before her in person before Toledo signed and filed the judgment,” Bruck said.
On June 22, 2017, Toledo filed a judgment granting administration of the estate of a deceased person to a personal acquaintance of Toledo who was not related to the decedent.
It is alleged that Toledo falsified the judgment by stating that all of the competent adult next of kin and other persons having a prior right to administer the estate had renounced their right of administration.
The state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct found that Toledo “lacked candor and misrepresented the nature and extent of her relationship” with Stewart after the dead man’s cousin, Estelle Halchak, challenged Stewart’s appointment, authorities said.
In reality, a relative of the decedent who had a prior right of administration had not renounced her right and instead had made her right known to Toledo by appearing before her in person before Toledo signed and filed the judgment.
Deputy Attorneys General Eric Cohen and Caroline Oliveira are prosecuting the case for the OPIA Corruption Bureau under the supervision of Bureau Chief Peter Lee and OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione. Acting Attorney General Bruck thanked the ACJC for their referral.
Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $10,000. The charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.