N.J. State Prison corrections officer, prison employee are among 20 charged with official misconduct and bribery
A senior New Jersey State Prison corrections officer and a civilian prison employee were among 20 people indicted for official misconduct, bribery and other charges. The charges are in relation to their role in an alleged scheme to smuggle tobacco into the New Jersey State Prison.
The indictment charges Corrections Officer Eric Dawson and Keith Harris, a trade technician at the prison, with multiple charges of official misconduct. Dawson was also charged with bribery, financial facilitation of criminal activity and bringing a cellular device inside a correctional facility. It is also alleged that Dawson smuggled in cell phones, jewelry and protein powders. Eight inmates and 10 civilian defendants are also facing charges of bribery, official misconduct, financial facilitation of criminal activity and possession of a cellular device inside a correctional facility.
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Attorney General Paula T. Dow announced that former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph C. Spicuzzo was arrested this morning on charges that he demanded bribes of up to $25,000 from individuals seeking employment or promotions in the sheriff’s office. According to the State, Spicuzzo, 65, of Helmetta, N.J., surrendered to State Police detectives in Hamilton, Mercer County. He was charged by complaint with pattern of official misconduct and bribery, both second-degree offenses. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, with a mandatory minimum term of five years without possibility of parole. The charges stem from an ongoing investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau. The Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau is prosecuting the case.
It is alleged that on two or more occasions from 2007 to 2008, while serving as county sheriff, Spicuzzo demanded that severa people pay him bribes in return for him appointing them as new sheriff’s investigators or promoting them within the sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s officers are hired through the civil service system, but sheriff’s investigators are appointed by the sheriff. It is alleged that Spicuzzo solicited and accepted individual bribes of up to $25,000 from new hires for investigator positions. He allegedly took bribes totaling at least $50,000.
Spicuzzo was Middlesex County Sheriff for nearly 30 years. He is currently Middlesex County Democratic Party chairman, a position he has held for 16 years, and a commissioner on the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, to which he was appointed in December 2009. Clearly, there are many calls for him to step down.
The state’s investigation revealed that young applicants who were trying to obtain law enforcement positions as investigators were forced to use all sources of funding available to them to pay the alleged bribes. It is alleged that Spicuzzo also solicited bribes from more senior members of the office seeking promotion to new positions. The investigation into alleged misconduct by Spicuzzo in the sheriff’s office is continuing, and further details of the investigation have not been released yet.
Under state law, second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of $150,000. Each of the charges carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without parole under New Jersey’s statutory sentencing enhancements for public corruption. The mandatory minimum sentence applies to certain listed offenses occurring on or after April 14, 2007 that involve or touch upon the defendant’s public office. Spicuzzo could potentially face consecutive sentences on the charges.