Newark mayor's race: name on Jeffries ELEC report closely resembles name of arson suspect in Baraka campaign bus burning

By Mark Bonamo | April 2nd, 2014


NEWARK - A copy of a January 2014 New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) report filed by the campaign of Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries listed a name that closely resembles that of the suspect in the torching of the campaign bus of Jeffries' rival, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka. 

The name Michael Benkoski appears twice on the ELEC report for canvassing services performed for the Jeffries team in December 2013. The total amount paid to Benkoski listed for these services is $450.

An arrest warrant was issued on Monday by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office for a man who police believe set fire to the Baraka campaign bus in February. The bus was torched, and sugar was put into the gas tank, according to the prosecutor's office. 

Using surveillance and other technology, investigators with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office Arson Task Force discerned that a white Chevy Express van was involved in the arson.

It is alleged that Michael Benkowski, 43, of Newark, used the van in connection with the torching of the Baraka campaign bus, according to the Prosecutor's Office. Benkowski is currently at large.

The investigation is active and ongoing and additional arrests are possible.

"We are not denying that Mr. Benkowski worked for our campaign." said Jeffries campaign spokeswoman Lupe Todd. 

"They have already admitted that they knew [Benkowski]," said Baraka, referring to the Jeffries campaign. "[Jeffries] is in charge of the campaign, and he should do something definitively about it. He's playing coy, he's avoiding the issues, and he's not talking about the things that directly affect this campaign." 

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