Former Middlesex County Sheriff Indicted on Bribery, Corruption Charges
Longtime county sheriff Joe Spicuzzo and two former sheriff's dept. employees were indicted in a cash-for-jobs scheme in Monmouth County Superior Court today. They face up to 10 years in jail and $150,000 in fines if convicted.
Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joe Spicuzzo was indicted today by a state grand jury on charges he operated a jobs-for-cash scheme where he doled out jobs and promotions in his office in exchange for approximately $112,000 in cash from applicants.
Two other men who worked in Spicuzzo's office - Darrin P. DiBiasi, 43, of Monmouth Junction and Paul A. Lucarelli, 46, of South River - were also indicted. DiBiasi is a former investigator who allegedly paid Spicuzzo $5,000 to get hired and then who eventually collected bribes on Spicuzzo's behalf. DiBiasi retired in June before his arrest.
Lucarelli is a Middlesex County sheriff's officer who was suspended without pay after being arrested in March.
Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the NJ Attorney General's office, said he anticipated all three defendants would be tried together.
The proceedings against the three men were transferred to Monmouth County, Aseltine said, where the trial will be held. "The sheriff's office is in charge of courtroom security, and if this were held in Middlesex, judges would need to recuse themselves because of [Spicuzzo's] prominence," he said.
"Middlesex County [officials] voluntarily transferred jurisdiction to Monmouth County on their own initiative. We followed suit."
The Attorney General's office will also be seeking for the court to set bail against all three defendants, Aseltine said, within the next few weeks.
All three men were initially released on their own recognizance following their arrests.
“This indictment demonstrates that nobody is above the law in New Jersey, and those who hold high office will be held accountable if they betray the public’s trust,” said NJ State Attorney General Paula T. Dow in a statement. “It is an important step in our prosecution of Spicuzzo and his alleged accomplices.”
The defendants were charged with 11 varying counts of conspiracy, official misconduct, and bribery, while Spicuzzo was also indicted on one count of a pattern of official misconduct. The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in state prison and a fine of $150,000. Because the alleged crimes occurred after changes in state sentencing laws stiffened penalties against public corruption offenses, the defendants could face a mandatory minimum of five years in prison without parole if convicted.
DiBiasi, authorities said, had obtained his job in the sheriff's department in 1999 by paying Spicuzzo a $5,000 bribe. Later, in an ironic twist, DiBiasi became one of the sheriff's henchmen between 2002 and 2005 who allegedly collected and delivered three kickbacks totaling $35,000 from employees who sought investigator promotions.
All told, officials charge that over a 12 year period beginning in March, 1996, Spicuzzo demanded that eight different individuals - including DiBiasi - pay him bribes in return for him appointing them as new sheriff’s investigators or promoting them within his office. Sheriff’s officers are hired through the civil service system, but sheriff’s investigators are appointed by the sheriff.
Spicuzzo allegedly solicited and accepted individual bribes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 from seven individuals seeking to be hired as investigators. The eighth kickback, officials charged, was collected by Lucarelli, who acted as the bag man for Spicuzzo and collected a $25,000 bribe from a job seeker he delivered Spicuzzo in 2008.
All the applicants who purchased the positions they allegedly paid for were hired, officials said.
The 66-year-old Spicuzzo, who lives in Helmetta, served as the elected sheriff of Middlesex County for almost three decades, and he was chairman for 16 years of the powerful Middlesex County Democratic machine. He resigned from both posts following his arrest in March.
The former sheriff also quit his job as a commissioner on the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority, a post to which he was appointed in December, 2009 by outgoing former NJ Gov. Jon Corzine.