Mayor cuts ties with longtime ally as city reels from ex-vendor’s arrest, fed investigation

Posted Jan 31, 2020

Less than a week after news surfaced that a no-show contractor will go to jail for his role in a wide-ranging kickback scheme in Orange, the mayor appears to have broken ties with a longtime political ally who was named a person of interest in the FBI probe into the scheme.

Tyshammie Cooper, a Democrat and Essex County Freeholder who has worked as Mayor Dwayne Warren’s chief of staff in Orange since 2012, was seen leaving city hall Thursday carting boxes out of her office, witnesses told NJ Advance Media. Her abrupt exit came after heated conversations in city hall, they said. Cooper will no longer be actively serving in the chief of staff role, a source confirmed.

Cooper did not respond to a call and email seeking comment.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment on Cooper’s employment status, citing employee privacy.

Warren, a Democrat, has worked to distance himself from a federal investigation into his city that stretches back to FBI raids of the public library and city hall in 2016 and 2017. He’s currently serving his second term as mayor, which is up this year.

The mayor has made “no formal announcement of his intentions” for seeking reelection, a spokesman said. But, the city clerk’s office confirms Warren, and six others, have picked up petitions to run for the seat in November. Candidates seeking the office must file signed petitions with the clerk’s office by March 9 in order to run.

Earlier this month, Franklyn Ore, 51, pleaded guilty to fraud, misapplying funds, and conspiracy, for his role in the scheme. According to court documents, he admitted to receiving payments for phony services he never actually performed in the city, including pretending to run a literacy program for underserved children at the public library.

He faces 10 to 20 years in prison, as well as restitution of $44,800, and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on April 20.

According to the documents, Ore admitted to conspiring with city government officials in the scheme, but they are not identified.

Along with Ore and other vendors, two city employees, Cooper, who made $109,000 a year as chief of staff, and former assistant business administrator Willis Edwards, were named in FBI search warrants served on the city. In 2018, Cooper was identified as a person of interest to investigators in a 2018 subpoena obtained by NJ Advance Media last year.

The break with Cooper is a change for Warren, an attorney and part-time mayor who has kept her on the payroll since 2016, when her name first appeared on FBI search warrants. That year, he told NJ Advance Media that an investigation would determine whether she and Edwards had engaged in any wrongdoing.

“The Constitution reminds us that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise,” he said at the time.

Warren’s spokesman released a statement earlier this week in response to Ore’s plea deal.

“At the mayor’s direction, the city administration and city employees continue to cooperate with federal authorities in the ongoing investigation taking place in Orange. I have directed my administration to comply with all requests for information made by federal authorities during the course of this investigation and we will continue to do so. At this time we all must respect the federal investigative process and allow the authorities to do their job.”

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