WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
NJ Sheriff, Busted for Bribery, Resigns as Chairman of County Democrats
Monday, March 07, 2011
Former Middlesex Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo resigned as chairman from the Middlesex County Democratic Party hours after being arrested and charged with taking bribes and official misconduct.
The longtime Democratic power broker was accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars from potential applications and those seeking promotions within the sheriff's department in 2007 and 2008, according to New Jersey State Attorney General Paula Dow.
New Jersey Criminal Justice Director Stephen Taylor said the allegations against Spicuzzo are particularly disturbing because he served as sheriff, an elective office, from 1980 to 2010.
"It is very troubling that it was a law enforcement officer who violated his oath, and I think beyond the sheriff's department it causes people throughout the state to lose a little bit of faith in their law enforcement," Taylor said.
Taylor said state police detectives were tipped off while they were working another corruption case in Middlesex County. State prosecutors are getting cooperation from some of the individuals Spicuzzo is alleged to have tried to shake down for as much as $25,000.
"These sheriff investigator jobs pay under $40,000 so imagine having to pay 70 to 80 percent of that wage in a bribe," Taylor said. "And these were recruits. ... Their first introduction to law enforcement is to have to pay a bribe to the sheriff. It is very damaging for law enforcement."
Spicuzzo also currently serves as a commissioner on the board of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a position he was appointed to while Governor Jon Corzine was still in office but after Corzine had lost the election to Chris Christie. The Sports and Exposition slot has been one of the most coveted posts for the politically connected from both parties.
In a statement issued before Spicuzzo stepped down from his party post, New Jersey State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski said the ex-sheriff should step down from both positions.
The 65-year-old Spicuzzo faces up to 10 years in jail on each count, and the investigation is ongoing.
Spicuzzo was originally a member of the Laborer's Union out of New Brunswick He rose up through the ranks of the union to become a Business Agent for several bargaining units. He was first elected Mayor of Spotswood in 1976. In April 1980, he was appointed by former Governor Brendan Byrne to fill out an unexpired term as Middlesex County Sheriff. He went on to win re-election several times up until his retirement in 2010 for health concerns.
Last year, Middlesex County spend close to a $1 million to settle five sexual harassment claims brought by female officers against the former sheriff and his management team.