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Former Middlesex sheriff facing nine years for taking bribes for jobs, promotions

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

BEYOND BERGEN: Former longtime Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph C. Spicuzzo and two men who worked under him admitted their roles today in a jobs-for-cash scheme in which Spicuzzo collected about $112,000 in bribes from people seeking positions or promotions over a dozen-year stretch.

Spicuzzo, 67, of Helmetta, pleaded guilty today to a second-degree bribery charge in Monmouth County that exposes him to a nine-year state prison sentence — two years of which must be served before he’s eligible for parole.

Spicuzzo must also forfeit his entire state pension and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

The plea deal “sends a loud and clear message that we will not tolerate officials who unlawfully exploit their public positions for personal gain and betray the trust placed in them by the people of New Jersey,” Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

Spicuzzo was Middlesex County Sheriff for nearly 30 years. Following his arrest in this case, he resigned as Middlesex County Democratic Party chairman, a position he held for 16 years.

He also resigned from his position as a commissioner on the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, to which he was appointed in December 2009.

Spicuzzo’s long run in power corrupted him, Hoffman said.

“It’s hard to fathom the greed and arrogance that would prompt a law enforcement leader to demand bribes of young recruits,” he added.

Also pleading guilty were 45-year-old Darrin P. DiBiasi of Monmouth Junction, a former Middlesex County sheriff’s investigator, and Paul A. Lucarelli, 47, of South River, a suspended Middlesex County sheriff’s officer.

Sentencing for Spicuzzo, DiBiasi and Lucarelli was set for Sept. 20.

Besides seeking the nine years for Spicuzzo, state prosecutors said they will recommend that DiBiasi and Lucarelli each be sentenced to up to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of a term of probation, under their plea deals. They will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

The charges resulted from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.

It was conducted by Lt. Garrett Duffy, Detective Brian Murphy, Detective Sgt. Lisa King and other members of the State Police Official Corruption Bureau, under the supervision of their former bureau chief, Capt. Thomas T. Goletz, and by Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Christine Hoffman, who is Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice and former Chief of the Corruption Bureau.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, the bureau’s current chief, and Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan handled the pleas.

Investigators in the case found that Spicuzzo, from March 1996 to November 2008, demanded that eight people pay him bribes in return for him appointing them as new sheriff’s investigators or promoting them within the office.

(Sheriff’s officers are hired through the civil service system, but sheriff’s investigators are appointed by the sheriff.)

The young applicants seeking jobs as investigators “were forced to exhaust all sources of funding available to them” to pay the bribes, Hoffman said.

According to state authorities, Spicuzzo directly or indirectly solicited and accepted individual bribes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 from job applicants.

They included DiBiasi, who paid a $5,000 bribe prior to being hired in 1999. Spicuzzo also took two bribes from a sheriff’s officer — one of $7,000 and the other $5,000 — in return for two promotions within the sheriff’s office between 2007 and 2008.  Each person who paid a bribe was given the promised position, investigators said.

Spicuzzo was arrested by State Police detectives on March 7, 2011 and Lucarelli was arrested on March 14, 2011.  DiBiasi was arrested on July 7, 2011.

Lucarelli was suspended without pay from his position as a sheriff’s officer following his arrest. DiBiasi retired from his job as a sheriff’s investigator in June 2011, prior to his arrest.

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