NJ Superintendent Surrenders on Corruption Charges

The superintendent of New Jersey's fourth-largest school district surrendered to the FBI on Thursday and was charged with fraud and bribery over an alleged insurance-kickback scheme.

Toms River Schools superintendent Michael Ritacco entered the FBI's Newark office Thursday.

At a five-minute initial court appearance Thursday afternoon in Newark, Ritacco spoke only to say he understood the charges and that he would secure his own lawyer.

Federal Magistrate Michael Shipp directed that he be released on a $1 million bond secured by his Seaside Park residence.

Ritacco was implicated earlier this week when a school district supervisor and a Morris County insurance broker admitted in court they had been part of a scheme to inflate school insurance charges and kick back part of the money to Ritacco as bribes.

"The statements by those two guys on Monday will clearly be proven not to involve Mike," said Ritacco's attorney Jerome Ballarotto said. "If they committed offenses, they did it without Mike. Mike Ritacco has cooperated with this investigation from day one."

"We have nothing to hide," Ballarotto said.

Frank D'Alonzo, a former athletics and special projects supervisor for the district, and Frank Cotroneo, a Morristown insurance broker, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Trenton to bribery and tax evasion.

They admitted funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to a school official who is identified in court papers only as "Executive Employee."

The U.S. attorney's office also said fraud and bribery charges have been filed against Francis X. Gartland, an insurance broker who they said has contracted with the school district. He is expected to surrender to authorities on Friday. It was not immediately clear whether he has hired an attorney.

Ballarotto said Ritacco was unaware the FBI had planned to arrest him Thursday morning. When Ritacco found out, he drove to Ballarotto's office in Trenton.

The lawyer, however, was in Florida. Ballarotto then arranged another attorney to accompany Ritacco to court.

FBI agents went to Ritacco's Seaside Park home and Toms River office before dawn Thursday, but he was not there. They also staked out his offices at the Toms River Board of Education complex.

The school district had no comment, spokeswoman Tammi Millar said. The board plans to meet at 6:30 p.m. for a closed-door meeting at which "personnel matters" are to be discussed. A notice on the district's website said formal action may be taken by the board following the closed session.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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