A longtime superintendent of New Jersey's fourth-largest school district who was accused of accepting more than $1 million in bribes from the district's insurance broker and others pleaded guilty Thursday to public corruption and tax evasion charges.
The plea by former Toms River Schools Superintendent Michael Ritacco, 64, of Seaside Park, came just days before he was scheduled to stand trial. The insurance broker, Francis Gartland, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty Monday to participating in a scheme to bribe the superintendent.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. "This conduct strikes at the core of our trust in government and is intolerable."
Ritacco's lawyer, Jerome Ballarotto, told the Asbury Park Press that the former superintendent will forfeit $1 million in cash. He also agreed to forfeit his 2010 Mercedes.
At the sentencing July 12, "we're going to try very hard to paint a complete picture of Michael's life for (the judge). His guilty plea is just a snapshot of Michael," Ballarotto said.
Rob Glantz, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, told the newspaper that Ritacco could face up to 14 years in prison.
Federal authorities have called the scheme "staggering" in its scope, taking place from 2002 until April 2010.
Ritacco, who made $234,000 a year from his job leading the school district, announced his abrupt retirement shortly after his October 2010 arrest.
Days before Ritacco's arrest, a school district supervisor and a Morristown 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.
Prosecutors say Ritacco and the broker concealed more than $1 million in bribes from insurance brokers and other service providers.
The men spent money on home renovations, watches that cost tens of thousands of dollars and other personal expenses, court documents said. Ritacco also bought a girlfriend — also on the district payroll — a car and other gifts, including money for one of her relatives' college tuition, according to court documents.