(CNSNews.com) – A former New Jersey school superintendent who had been appointed to be part of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s education transition team pleaded guilty last week to taking bribes to influence school district contracts. The total bribes amounted to between $1 million and $2 million, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney of New Jersey.
Former Superintendent for the Toms River Regional School District in New Jersey Michael J. 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,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman stated in the press release.
“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,” Fishman said.
The bribes came from Francis Gartland, former insurance broker for Toms River Regional School District, Frank D’Alanzo former administrator for the school district, insurance broker Frank Cotroneo and others.
“The bribes and other benefits were made in return for Ritacco’s official assistance to Gartland and other co-schemers in obtaining and maintaining insurance business with the Toms River Regional School District,” the press release stated.
“Ritacco also admitted that in 2002, he, Gartland, Cotroneo, and D’Alonzo agreed to have Ritacco approve a workers’ compensation insurance contract between Gartland and the School District, which yielded approximately $500,000 to $600,000 annually in excess fees, with such proceeds to be used to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Ritacco.”
To get around the IRS, Ritacco and his cohorts set up shell companies, sham consulting contracts and third party payments.
A federal grand jury indicted Ritacco in December 2010. According to the indictment, from at least 2002 to 2010, Ritacco, Gartland and others “knowingly did devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud the District and its citizens of the right to defendant Ritacco’s honest services in the affairs of the District.”
The indictment provides a detailed list of the bribes Ritacco received from Gartland and Cotroneo including a watch valued over $30,000.
In 2009, Ritacco was appointed by then Governor-elect Chris Christie to be part of his education transition team. At the time, Ritacco was seen as a pioneer in public – private partnerships. He also served as the superintendant of Seaside Heights Borough School district. He resigned as superintendant of Toms River Regional School District in 2010 after being arrested.