TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joe Spicuzzo was arrested on Monday, accused of selling jobs and promotions at the sheriff’s office for up to $25,000 each, authorities said.
Spicuzzo, 65, who is also a commissioner on the Sports and Exposition Authority and is the chairman for Democrats in Middlesex County, was charged with bribery and official misconduct. He was allowed to turn himself in to State Police in Hamilton on Monday morning and was released with a summons.
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Attorney General Paula Dow said that from 2007 to 2008, Spicuzzo demanded bribes from at least three people who were either up for a promotion or applying for a position as an investigator in his office – positions that are appointed and not covered by civil service laws.
Dow said Spicuzzo collected as much as $50,000 total.
“People who wanted to serve and succeed in his office had to pay Spicuzzo cash tribute,” Dow said.
Messages left at Spicuzzo’s home and with his attorney on Monday were not immediately returned.
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Authorities said that the three investigators who paid Spicuzzo bribes were still employed at the sheriff’s office and were not charged with a crime. However, Dow said the investigation, which started about six months ago, is ongoing.
Spicuzzo was Middlesex County’s longest serving sheriff. He was first appointed as sheriff by then-Gov. Brendan Byrne in 1980. He stepped down from the job in December, citing health concerns, but kept his post as county chairman, which he has held for 16 years.
Although beloved in Central New Jersey, Spicuzzo faced mounting criticism in recent years.
It was revealed last year that Middlesex County paid a nearly $1 million settlement to five women sheriff’s officers who accused several top-ranking officers of sexual harassment in 2004.
Back in December of 2009, Gov. Chris Christie criticized former Gov. Jon Corzine for appointing Spicuzzo to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, calling Spicuzzo “probably the most unqualified candidate for the Sports Authority you can find.”
Before being appointed to the Sports Authority, Spicuzzo served on the New Jersey Racing Commission, and he was the mayor of Spotswood from 1976 to 1980.
State Democratic Party chairman John Wisniewski said he was disheartened by the report of Spicuzzo’s arrest, but suggested that he step down from his current public offices.
“While Joe is entitled, under our constitution, to the presumption of innocence, for the good of his family, our system of government and the Democratic party, he ought to consider stepping aside from his roles as a Commissioner of the Sports & Exposition Authority and chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization,” Wisniewski said.
If convicted, Spicuzzo faces fines and a minimum of five years in prison for each count, which can’t be served simultaneously, and could lose his pension.
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