Michael Ritacco Sentenced In Corruption Case [POLL]
Former Toms River Regional School Superintendent, Michael Ritacco has been sentenced to over 11 years in federal prison to begin immediately.
Ritacco will begin his sentence immediately according to tweets from the Asbury Park Press reporter in the courtroom. His family was stunned as they didn't expect him to begin serving right away.
He was escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshals according to the Patch of Toms River
"Today's sentence is a just punishment for Ritacco, a public official who enriched himself at the expense of Toms River citizens," said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. "By accepting bribes of more than a million dollars and cheating on his taxes , he betrayed the trust of the taxpayers, students, parents and teachers of that school district."
Both sides in the case tried to paint differing pictures of Ritacco. The US Attorney's office described him as a "mastermind" at concealing money while Ritacco's lawyers said he was a good man who gave into the temptation of money but it was Judge Pisano whose opinion mattered.
U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano in sentencing called the case "the worst case of corruption" he had ever seen and chided Ritacco from "stealing" upwards of $2million from Toms River's residents.
He marveled at how Ritacco "was able to get away with this for 12 years without any oversight" from the school board or anyone else." He didn't understand how the district allowed Ritacco to be both Superintendent and the district Business Administrator. He said it was not a case of a "good man gone bad" and that Ritacco fleeced the public by blending the good of saving money with illegal kickbacks and payments.
"I DESTROYED IT ALL"
An emotional Ritacco told the judge, "I was a guy who was respected in the community, by parents, community leaders. I’m the guy who destroyed it all," he said according to the Patch of Toms River. "Children and families look to you for leadership and trust; I let them all down...When I was a teacher, I lead by example. Now when they look at you, they’ll see what you shouldn’t do."
Ritacco continued: "All the things I've loved, are gone."
He said he was given a "wide berth" by the school board to "do the right thing" and he breached their confidence" by his actions. However, he made a case for himself by pointing out he saved the district "millions" by becoming a self-insured district but it also led him down the wrong path when the district's broker started taking risks.
Ritacco's attorney blames "the way business is done in the public sector in New Jersey makes corruption easy" for making it easy for Ritacco to get away with his schemes.
AN ABILITY TO GET PEOPLE TO DO WHAT HE WANTED
Assistant Prosecutor Dustin Cho of the U.S. Attorney's office, however, puts blame for Ritacco's problems squarely at the feet of the former Superintendent, concluding the respect and autonomy he earned within the district was "not enough" and he used the Board of Education to unknowingly do his bidding without anyone checking on him. They say he "had an uncanny knack to get people to do whatever he wanted."
Ritacco was described as at being "masterful" at concealing money and developing ways to speak in code, creating phony companies and blending good money with illegal money.
Cho declared that Ritacco's activities went on even as he implemented a zero-tolerance policy for the district when it came to those who committed crimes.
"We're told over and over again that good people do bad things. But if he keeps doing bad things for 10 years, he is no longer a good person, said Cho.
RITACCO's GOOD OUTWEIGHS THE BAD
Ritacco's former roommate at Central Connecticut State University and current University of Kansas defensive coordinator and secondary coach Dave Campo, tried to paint a positive picture of Ritacco to the judge.
"The good that Ritacco has done outweighs the bad. He's done a lot of positive things for children, Campo said. '"He's made mistakes, obviously. But his heart is aching." Campo said he has known Ritacco for 40 years according to the Asbury Park Press.
Kevin Smith, the principal at the Walnut Street School and a number of other officials made statements to the judge on Ritacco's behalf.
Ritacco's son in a quiet voice told the judge his father is a father and grandfather and there have been many "anguished" conversations about disappointment.
Attorney Jerome A. Ballarotto has asked Judge Pisano to consider a 60 month sentence.
Ballarotto in his argument to the judge said that at age 64, depending on the sentence, Ritacco would die in jail.
Under sentencing guidelines, Mike Ritacco, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the IRS last spring, could face 11 to 14 years behind bars. But it's possible the judge could give him more than 20.
After a plea deal was worked out between federal prosecutors and Ritacco's lawyer back in April, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman said, "Ritacco betrayed the students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers of the Toms River Regional School District by soliciting and receiving more than $1 million in bribes over a long period of time. This conduct strikes at the core of our trust in government and is intolerable, and today's plea is another affirmative step in federal law enforcement's efforts to ensure that the local government insurance brokerage business in the state of New Jersey is conducted free from corruption and fraud."
Former district insurance broker Francis X Gartland, who plead guilty to several charges related to the Ritacco case and admitted to his role in paying one to two million dollars to the former superintended in exchange for inflated insurance contracts, still awaits sentencing.