Ex-Middlesex County Sheriff Admits Collecting Bribes, Might Get 9 Years
The man who spent three decades as Middlesex County Sheriff and 16 years as the county's former Democratic Chairman will be recommended for a nine-year prison term for collecting some $112,000 in a jobs-for-cash scheme that preyed on people seeking jobs or promotions in his office.
Joseph Spicuzzo, 67, of Helmetta, pleaded guilty to a second-degree charge of bribery in Monmouth County Superior Court. According to information from the office of acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman, prosecutors will ask for a two years of parole ineligibility as part of the nine-year term. Spicuzzo is also ordered to give up his state pension and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
Two lower-level workers took guilty pleas to third-degree charges of conspiracy to make illegal gifts to a public servant charges. Darrin P. DiBiasi, 45, of Monmouth Junction, is a former Middlesex County sheriff's investigator. Paul A. Lucarelli, 47, of South River, had been on suspension from his job as a Middlesex County sheriff’s officer.
Prosecutors will recommend that they be given up to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of a term of probation. Neither will be eligible to hold a public job in New Jersey.
Sentencing for all three is scheduled for September 20.
Hoffman says the terms send a "loud and clear message“ about public officials who use their positions for personal gain. “Spicuzzo’s long years in power corrupted him," said Hoffman in a prepared statement. "It’s hard to fathom the greed and arrogance that would prompt a law enforcement leader to demand bribes of young recruits.”
State investigators found that Spicuzzo demanded and got payments from eight different people between March 1996 and November 2008 while Sheriff. In return, they won appointments as sheriff's investigators or were promoted.
Sheriff’s officers are hired through the civil service system, but sheriff’s investigators are appointed by the sheriff. Authorities say young recruits exhausted their resources to scrape together bribes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.
DiBiasi, who paid a $5,000 bribe before being hired in 1999, is one of seven people who sought jobs as investigators. Two others paid $5,000 and $7,000 for promotions they received in 2007 and 2008.
According to authorities, DiBiasi collected and delivered three bribes totalling $22,500 between 2002 and 2005. They say Lucarelli collected and delivered about $25,000 to Spicuzzo in 2008, from someone angling for an investigator's post.
Spicuzzo was arrested by State Police detectives on March 7, 2011 and Lucarelli was rounded up a week later. DiBiasi was arrested on July 7, 2011.
After his arrest, Spicuzzo resigned his posts and also left the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, where he served as a commissioner since December 2009. Lucarelli was suspended without pay and DiBiasi retired a month before his apprehension.
New Jersey's Division of Criminal Justice maintains a toll-free, confidential tipline, 1-866-TIPS-4CJ, to report public-sector corruption, financial crimes and related illicit activities. Reports can also be entered at the Division of Criminal Justice web page.