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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—County officials were quiet today about the fate of at least a half-dozen county sheriff’s officers and investigators who paid bribes to obtain their jobs.
As we reported last month, longtime county sheriff Joe Spicuzzo admitted he sold investigator jobs for bribes as high as $25,000. The fallout of his guilty plea continues to impact the department and the upcoming election for sheriff.
Sources say that two investigators have become the latest to be taken down by the scandal, but it’s unclear whether they were fired by Sheriff Mildred Scott or forced to resign.
Daniel Link and Eric Strachan, both of whom were investigators hired directly by Spicuzzo, were given their walking papers on Thursday, one source said, speculating that other investigators will soon part ways with the sheriff’s office.
It’s unclear whether Scott, forced to consider her re-election prospects, will be inclined to clean house, among the department’s twenty-one other investigators, of whom she has the power to hire and fire at will.
All but one of them were hired by Spicuzzo, according to a public records request obtained by New Brunswick Today earlier this year.
Multiple representatives for the county could not say whether Link or Stratchan were still employed today. The sheriff’s office said that Scott was on vacation and did not respond to our questions about Link and Stratchan.
The attorney general’s office, who prosecuted Spicuzzo, declined to comment on the situation for the unindicted co-conspirators.
“We cannot speak to any type of employment actions taken in the sheriff’s office,” said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the AG’s office.
INDICTMENT REVEALS WHO BOUGHT THEIR BADGES
The indictment against Spicuzzo and two other sheriff’s officers was approved by a grand jury last August. It listed ten additional co-conspirators who were not charged, six of whom were investigators hired by Spicuzzo in exchange for bribes.
The payers of the bribes were identified in court documents only by thier initials, but it is clear in the indictment which investigators paid for their jobs.
The state’s largest newspaper exposed Spicuzzo’s scheme selling the investigator positions in January 1997. Following those revelations, Spicuzzo waited more than two years to hire any new investigators.
But according to the indictment, the first one came at a price. Darrin DiBiasi paid a $5,000 bribe through a sheriff’s officer to Spicuzzo in 1997 or 1998, but wasn’t hired until March 1999.
Three years later, DiBiasi was himself collecting bribes for the sheriff. He too is facing jail time for his role in the scheme.
Richard Mucia paid Spicuzzo $10,000 through DiBiasi sometime in 2002, according to the indictment. He was hired as an investigator on December 16, 2002.
As of today, Mucia continues to serve as an investigator under Sheriff Scott.
Nicholas Decibus allegedly paid $12,500 to join the force of appointed investigators in 2003, the same year he was hired. Decibus’ employment was terminated on June 30, 2011, four months after Spicuzzo was arrested and charged.
Eric Stracham paid the same $12,500 two years later, and was hired on January 10, 2005, the same day as Christopher Jarema, for whom relatives had produced a $10,000 bribe to Spicuzzo.
Jarema continues to be employed by the sheriff’s department.
In February 2008, Daniel Link paid $25,000 through sheriff’s officer Paul Lucarelli, an indicted co-conspirator, to secure a promotion from the office’s communications division.
Link was hired as an investigator on March 24, 2008. Lucarelli and DiBiasi were terminated on May 31, 2011.
Later that year, Spicuzzo is alleged to have directly accepted a $25,000 bribe from Thomas Varga, an applicant for an investigator position.
Varga, who remains employed in the department, was hired on November 28, 2008.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.