Monticello mayor targets Haredi political operative in sting operation, feigning a quid pro quo solicitation

Working with the Sullivan County DA, Monticello mayor George Nikolados demanded Yermia Solomon deliver Haredi votes in exchange for a police job

Village of Monticello, NY. Credit: Village of Monticello/Facebook. Inset: George Nikolados, mayor of Monticello. Courtesy of George Nikolados

Mar 13, 2024 1:30 PM


A recording recently leaked to the press in Upstate New York showed all the hallmarks of an illegal political deal, after it was revealed that the mayor of a Catskills town asked a Haredi political operative to “guarantee” the local Hasidic vote in return for an employment favor. Then it turned out that the mayor was wired up; the whole act was part of a law enforcement investigation.

The information first came to light last month, when several upstate media outlets reported on secret talks in January between George Nikolados, mayor of Monticello, N.Y., and a Haredi former police officer active in local politics named Yermia Solomon. Nikolados offered to reinstate Solomon as a police officer, a job he lost after a 2017 sex crime charge, if Solomon would secure Haredi votes for Nikolados in this month’s upcoming elections.

“I need a guarantee,” Nikolados told Solomon. “Collect the absentee ballots two weeks before the election,” the mayor said, and he’d “sign off” on Solomon getting his police job back.

Solomon was recording the conversation, which he then leaked to a local news outlet. But if Solomon thought he check-mated the mayor, the mayor was one step ahead of him: he, too, recorded the conversation — as part of an ongoing investigation by the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office.

The incident is the latest act of political intrigue in Monticello, where the Haredi vote has gained increasing importance in recent years, leading to local political candidates jockeying for support from Haredi leadership, new opportunities for political operatives and power brokers, and skirmishes between individuals with conflicting interests.

While the Haredi presence in the town goes back three quarters of a century, with Haredi summer camps and bungalow colonies dotting much of Sullivan County for seasonal residency, the local Haredi community has recently been attracting a growing number of year-round residents. Priced out of established Haredi neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Rockland County, some have begun to see the Catskills as a viable alternative, where undeveloped land and a growing number of synagogues and kosher food stores make it an increasingly desirable option.

As in many other locations, though, a growing Haredi population has also increased tensions with some of the existing, non-Haredi residents, with complaints about overdevelopment and urbanization followed by counter-claims of religious prejudice and antisemitism.

In an interview with Shtetl, Nikolados said some of his Haredi constituents have accused him, too, of being prejudiced, for enforcing local zoning and building regulations. “The schools here used to get illegal permits to put students in trailers. I tried to stop it, but get called antisemitic,” he said. 

He also said he’d been receiving “threats” from various locals, including some from within the Haredi community. “I started getting phone calls,” he said. “People within the community, the Orthodox community, people in politics, law enforcement.” 

Nikolados declined to give specifics about the “threats,” but he was alarmed enough to approach the county DA’s office about it. 

Another key concern for Nikolados, which he shared with the DA, was the status of absentee ballots from Haredi voters. In several recordings obtained by Shtetl and believed to be in the DA’s possession, various officials are heard bringing up the issue of absentee ballots with Nikolados prior to his meeting with Solomon.

It was then that the DA asked Nikolados to assist in an ongoing investigation into Solomon’s activities. Nikolados told Shtetl he wasn’t sure what other aspects the DA was investigating, but it was at least partially about the absentee ballots issue, as well as general concerns about election interference. He also told Shtetl that a second law enforcement agency was also involved in the investigation, though he declined to specify which.

Solomon, who is well known in local political circles, is a Haredi former police officer who resigned from his job in 2017 as part of a plea deal, after being charged with third-degree rape for having sex with a 15-year-old. His conviction was later overturned on appeal due to a technicality; the indictment stated the victim’s birth date incorrectly, which would have made her 17 at the time of the offense. In 2020, just after Nikolados won the election for mayor but before he started his term, Nikolados’s predecessor hired Solomon as a police dispatcher.

“When that happened,” Nikolados told Shtetl, “I had people from the Orthodox community come to me saying that he shouldn’t be in there.”

Solomon has since been seeking full reinstatement as a police officer, but Nikolados said he, like many Haredi and non-Haredi locals, did not want to see Solomon reinstated, uneasy about hiring someone who pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor and whose conviction was merely overturned on a technicality.

It’s this hesitancy that Nikolados leveraged at the DA’s behest. 

“Why should I put my reputation on the line if I’m not going to get anything out of it?” Nikolados is heard telling Solomon in the leaked recording. “I’ll sign off as long as I have a guarantee.”

But it was a setup, Nikolados told Shtetl: “I was provided with a specialized phone that recorded audio and video.” An outside source within law enforcement, he said, controlled his device throughout the conversation. In comments to Mid-Hudson News, Sullivan County District Attorney Brian Conaty confirmed that Nikolados was working in cooperation with his office.

Conaty told the Albany Times-Union that if Solomon had agreed to Nikolados’s quid pro quo, his office “would’ve taken whatever remedial steps would’ve been necessary to ensure we had a fair and full election so that it wouldn’t have swung one way or another.”

In an interview with Zev Brenner, an Orthodox radio talk show host, Monticello judge Michael McGuire spoke about Nikolados threatening Haredi activists who opposed him, suggesting he was antisemitic. In comments to Shtetl, Nikolados denied that he threatened anyone or that he was antisemitic, saying he took great pride in his Greek grandfather’s work to rescue 80 Jews from the Nazis.

Solomon was arrested later in January for filing false statements on an application to be reinstated as a police officer. Solomon didn’t respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.