The historic trial of Toms River Regional Schools' former superintendent will begin Monday, when Michael J. Ritacco faces corruption charges accusing him of accepting more than $2 million in bribes. He has pleaded not guilty.
In Ritacco's trial, jury selection is scheduled to begin April 9 in Trenton. Judge Joel Pisano is presiding over the proceedings.
Ritacco has hired Jerome A. Ballarotto and William J. Hughes as his lawyers for the case.
Prosecuting the case is Dustin Chao, assistant U.S. attorney.
The trial begins two years after the FBI raided Ritacco's Seaside Park home as part of an investigation. Months later, Ritacco surrendered to federal authorities in October 2010, amid allegations he took between $1 million and $2 million in bribes from Francis X. Gartland, the school district’s former insurance broker, in exchange for using his influence to make sure Gartland received multi-million dollar contracts from the district.
The path to trial has been paved with several requests to reschedule, as well as denied motions to sever the joint trial of Gartland and Ritacco.
The original trial date was July 25. Both sides agreed to adjourn the trial to Oct. 3, during a trial conference held at the end of January 2011, according to the U.S. District court records. The trial was rescheduled twice more to the April 9 start date.
Ritacco pleaded not guilty in December 2010.
Ritacco surrendered to authorities in Newark on Oct. 21, 2010; he resigned from his superintendent post that same day and Toms River Regional school board granted him retirement.
The 27-count indictment contains two counts charging separate conspiracies to defraud the IRS and seven counts of making and subscribing to false federal personal income tax returns. The charges include the tax years of 2004 through 2006 for Ritacco and 2004 through 2007 for Gartland.
The initial indictment, returned Oct. 19, contained 18 total counts of mail and wire fraud, travel and use of facilities in interstate commerce to promote bribery, and bribery in connection with a local government agency receiving federal funds.
This week, Gartland entered a guilty plea to several charges and admitted his role in securing bribes for Ritacco and using shell companies and intermediaries to cover up the payments. He pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and perjury. Gartland's sentencing is scheduled for July 9.
According to U.S. District Attorney Paul Fishman, the mail fraud to which Gartland pleaded guilty is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; on the conspiracy charges, up to five years in prison; and on the perjury charge, up to five years in prison. All the counts are also punishable by fines of $250,000.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson Matthew Reilly would not comment further on how this week's guilty plea would impact the coming trial.
"It's not our policy to comment," Reilly said by phone. He said there are no further motions scheduled as part of the court calendar until jury selection begins.
Gartland and Ritacco's respective attorneys previously requested the court sever their charges and try them separately. However the motion to sever was not heard due to illness of Gartland, and according to court documents the joint trial remained with a April 9 start date.