Ex-Sheriff Admits Taking Bribes

(Photo courtesy of the NJ Attorney General's Office)

(Photo courtesy of the NJ Attorney General’s Office)

TRENTON – Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph C. Spicuzzo and two men who worked under him in the sheriff’s office pleaded guilty today to participating in a jobs-for-cash scheme in which Spicuzzo collected about $112,000 in bribes from individuals seeking positions or promotions in the sheriff’s office, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced.

Spicuzzo, 67, of Helmetta, pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of bribery before Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. in Monmouth County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Spicuzzo be sentenced to nine years in state prison, including two years of parole ineligibility. Spicuzzo must also forfeit his entire state pension and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

Darrin P. DiBiasi, 45, of Monmouth Junction, who is a former Middlesex County sheriff’s investigator, and Paul A. Lucarelli, 47, of South River, a suspended Middlesex County sheriff’s officer, also pleaded guilty today before Mellaci. Each of those co-defendants pleaded guilty to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to make illegal gifts to a public servant. Under their plea agreements, the state 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. They will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, Chief of the Corruption Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan, Deputy Chief of the Corruption Bureau, took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice. The charges resulted from an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau and the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Judge Mellaci scheduled sentencing for Spicuzzo, DiBiasi and Lucarelli for Sept. 20.

“This guilty plea, which will put former Sheriff Spicuzzo in prison, 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,” said  Hoffman. “Spicuzzo’s long years in power corrupted him. It’s hard to fathom the greed and arrogance that would prompt a law enforcement leader to demand bribes of young recruits.”

“When Spicuzzo put jobs up for sale in the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, he also sold out honesty and integrity,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “He now faces a substantial prison sentence. We will continue to partner with the New Jersey State Police to expose and aggressively prosecute public corruption.”

The state, through its investigation, determined that between March 1996 and November 2008, while serving as county sheriff, Spicuzzo 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 state’s investigation revealed that young applicants seeking law enforcement positions as investigators were forced to exhaust all sources of funding available to them to pay the bribes.

The investigation determined that Spicuzzo directly or indirectly solicited and accepted individual bribes ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 from seven individuals seeking to be hired as investigators. Those individuals included DiBiasi, who paid a $5,000 bribe prior to being hired in 1999. Spicuzzo also took two bribes from a sheriff’s officer in the amounts of $7,000 and $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.

In pleading guilty, DiBiasi and Lucarelli admitted that they conspired with Spicuzzo in the jobs-for-cash scheme. The investigation revealed that DiBiasi collected three bribes from individuals seeking investigator positions and delivered them to Spicuzzo between 2002 and 2005, including two bribes of approximately $12,500 and one bribe of approximately $10,000. Lucarelli collected a bribe of approximately $25,000 from an individual seeking an investigator position and delivered it to Spicuzzo in 2008.

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.

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. 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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