Former Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent Michael J. Ritacco pleaded guilty this morning to mail fraud and conspiracy to impede the IRS, officials said. He could face 11 to 14 years jail time, according to sentencing guidelines.
In the courtroom of Judge Joel Pisano, where he would have faced trial Monday, Ritacco pleaded to two of the 27 charges he was facing, and admitted his role in years of corruption at the school district, where as much as $2.5 million in bribes were allegedly passed between Ritacco, insurance brokers and intermediaries.
Rob Glantz, IRS Crimininal Investigations spokesperson from New Jersey, confirmed that as part of the plea Ritacco will forfeit $1 million dollars, his 2010 Mercedes e550, and $8,960 from his home found as part of an FBI raid.
"He basically admitted to bribery and kick-back schemes," Glantz said. Counts 1 and 19 of the indictment were specifically what Ritacco pleaded guilty to, which concerned the mail fraud and conspiracy to impede the IRS.
As part of the plea agreement, the prosecution will ask at sentencing that the 25 other charges be dismissed, Glantz said.
"Obviously the charge of conspiracy to impede the IRS is one our office is concerned with," Glantz said. "With criminal investigation at IRS our main job is violation of Internal Revenue Code," which Ritacco admitted to.
Glantz said sentencing is scheduled for July 12, and that the sentencing guidelines for a charge of this type is 135 to 168 months.
The plea came days after Francis X. Gartland pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and perjury — charges he faced as the named co-conspirator in the Ritacco indictment.
U.S. District Attorney Paul Fishman said the dollar amount of bribes — more than $2.5 million, he estimates — passing through the hands of public officials may be the largest amount in a public corruption case.
"We don't say, how is what happened in this case more or less corrupt than another case," Fishman said by phone this afternoon. "But we can classify it as involving a dollar amount so large it may be the largest in some time, if not the largest ever."
The FBI raided Ritacco's Seaside Park home as part of an investigation two years ago. Months later, , amid allegations he took between 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. to begin on April 9 in Trenton.
The original trial date was July 25., 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 .
The 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.
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