When handing down the sentence, federal Judge Joel Pisano called the case of Michael J. Ritacco the “worst case of public corruption [he’d] ever seen” — and the announced jail term backed up his statement.
Ritacco, who pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption this April for receiving over $2.5 million in bribes from independent contractors and insurance brokers, was sentenced to 135 months in jail for the first charge and 60 months in jail for the second. Judge Pisano said that the sentences could be served concurrently.
Ritacco was facing 27 separate charges relating to graft and corruption which pervaded Toms River School District, New Jersey, during the 18-year course of his superintendency. As part of the plea deal with the prosecutors, he agreed to plead guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to impede the IRS to avoid a sentence of 14 years in prison. He also agreed to give up $1 million dollars, nearly $9,000 in cash found in his home during an FBI raid and his 2010 Mercedes E550. There will also be a restitution hearing held later this year.
Pisano, in his remarks, said Ritacco helped weave a complex scheme with the help of “professional thieves” — his co-conspirators Francis Gartland, Frank Cotroneo and Frank D’Alonzo.
“This was a complex kickback and bribery scheme which represents to me a shocking plundering of the public coffers,” Pisano said. “This amount of money and this amount of time and the way you did it represent the ransack of Toms River.”
Although Pisano praised the defense for their attempt to paint Ritacco as a decent man who made a terrible mistake, he said he was unconvinced. He said it’s hard to think of someone who put together a massive fraud scheme in order to enrich himself at the expense of the public — and carrying it through for years — as someone who stumbled into wrongdoing almost against his will and entirely against his character.
Assistant Prosecutor Dustin Chao said the Ritacco case was one of widespread greed. He said Ritacco was a main orchestrator, not a pawn in insurance brokers’ influence. Chao said Ritacco had keen knowledge of how to best hide and funnel payments.
“He knew it was ripe for the picking,” Chao said. “With his financial background and financial acumen, as outlined in this bound volume by the defense, he understood the cash cow.”
Chao added that the man who joyfully partook in the fruits of his crime, as Ritacco did, by buying $100,000 worth of jewelry a year for his spouse and mistresses, couldn’t be thought of as particularly contrite.
For sentencing, Pisano took the lowest figure of the 135-160 month range recommended by Chao.