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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Ronald DiMura, the Mayor of Middlesex Borough from 2016 through 2019, was sentenced to seven years in state prison for a years-long campaign of theft by deception on February 16.
This makes him at least the third former Mayor here in Middlesex County to be sentenced to incarceration in recent history, joining Perth Amboy’s Joe Vas and New Brunswick’s John Lynch, Jr., both of whom were convicted on federal charges.
DiMura, however, was investigated by the state’s new Office of Public Accountability and Integrity (OPIA) in an investigation sparked when New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) noticed something fishy with his campaign finance paperwork.
“In this case, the defendant systematically robbed the campaign accounts of almost every Democratic campaign in the Borough of Middlesex for the better part of a decade,” said Deputy Attorney General Mallory Shanahan.
The case eventually led state prosecutors to “a small ponzi scheme” where DiMura defrauded his own friends and supporters by pretending to be a financial advisor, and siphoning money for his own purposes from a charity that was meant to provide scholarships to local students.
“He was telling people that he was investing their money, when he was in fact making no investments with that money,” said Shanahan. “He was telling people he had insurance for those investments when in fact he had no insurance for those investments, and the victims were giving him tens of thousands of dollars and he was just living off that money.”
Shanahan said DiMura then stole funds from political campaigns to pay “dividends” to the victims of the ponzi scheme.
“I just want to say, Your Honor, that the actions that I took were done because of pressures, personal pressures, professional pressures, financial pressures, and I made decisions that were wrong,” DiMura told Judge Benjamin Bucca.
“I hurt many people. I hurt friends and family,” said DiMura. “I apologize deeply for my actions, and I look for the opportunity to make it right, and I’ll probably work the rest of my life to try to do it.”
In addition to the prison sentence, DiMura was ordered to pay $83,372 to the victims of his schemes, and must forfeit another $163,582 that he stole from campaign organizations that no longer exist.
It’s unclear how we will pay back the money, as he admitted under questioning from the Judge that he does not have employment or property.
Bucca, a New Brunswick resident appointed to the bench by ex-Governor Chris Christie, also prohibited DiMura from future public employment in New Jersey as part of his sentence.
However, Bucca decided against immediate incarceration for the former Mayor, and instead opted to give DiMura two months to get a COVID-19 vaccine before he must “surrender” himself on April 16.
DiMura emerged from the Middlesex County Courthouse at noon, and remained silent when asked for a comment by New Brunswick Today.
Many of his fellow Democrats, including Governor Phil Murphy, have not condemned DiMura’s crimes publicly.
On August 14, this reporter asked Murphy if he had any comment on the guilty plea registered by the disgraced former public official.
“I have no comment on the mayor’s situation, not surprisingly,” Murphy responded. “I’ve read about it in the papers, but I’ve got no specifics.”
But Murphy’s Attorney General and the head of OPIA had harsh words for the disgraced politician.
“DiMura exploited his position as mayor and his role as a local party leader for his personal gain, betraying borough residents and party members who placed their trust in him,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
“DiMura’s thefts were all the more egregious because he used a local charity to hide his actions,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “With this guilty plea, calling for a substantial prison sentence, we send a strong message that we expect honesty and integrity from our public officials in New Jersey, and those who act corruptly will face serious consequences.”
The State’s case against DiMura paints a picture of someone who used and abused his public and political positions to extract money for himself.
“Over the past seven years, DiMura served as treasurer for the Middlesex Borough Democratic Campaign Committee as well as a number of campaigns for candidates seeking local office in Middlesex Borough,” wrote the Attorney General’s Office on the occasion of DiMura’s indictment.
“The OPIA investigation revealed that between January 2013 and June 2019, he used his position as treasurer for the campaigns and the party campaign committee to steal approximately $190,000 by making purported donations to a local charitable organization that he ran,” the statement continued.
“During the period in question, the nonprofit charity paid out only a small fraction of the funds for charitable purposes. It was determined that the remainder of the funds were funneled from the bank account of the charity to DiMura’s personal bank account or a business account that DiMura controlled.”
But many political leaders have dodged questions about the DiMura case since the very beginning.
One might expect Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) Chairman Kevin McCabe to be vocal about party funds being stolen to personally benefit a politician.
But McCabe has not made any public statements about the criminal case, and has not responded to multiple inquiries from this reporter, who challenged him for the Chairman post in July 2020.
The entire Middlesex County Freeholder Board, since renamed the Board of County Commissioners, also ignored emailed questions and questions asked by this reporter during the public comment portion of their August 20 meeting.
The following month, again asked about the guilty plea of their former running mate, the board members were reluctant to condemn him.
Ronald Rios, the “Director” of the seven-member board, responded: “He’s not an employee of Middlesex County.”
Pressed further, Rios said: “I condemn all criminal activity, and I assure you he’s not an employee of the county.”
However, the Chairwoman of the Middlesex Borough Democratic Party was far more outspoken, and she was one of three people to give a victim impact statement during the 45-minute sentencing.
“He has destroyed my entire family,” said Chairwoman Michelle Tackach, a former Borough Councilwoman and an employee of the Middlesex County Counsel’s Office.
“It was just one lie after another,” she said before detailing how DiMura ripped off her family members.
Tackach said DiMura persuaded two of her relatives to take out a “reverse mortgage” on their homes, all as part of his scheme to steal.
“I’m just so emotional because I thought he was my friend,” said Tackach. “People warned me about him, over and over again, and I didn’t believe anything.”
Tackach’s parents both teared up during their own victim statements, as they addressed the judge remotely via zoom.
“I believed in him. I trusted him. I worked for him. I campaigned for him,” said Anthony Vietri, Tackach’s father. “I really regret knowing him right now.”
“This man ruined my life. I’ve been a friend of his for probably well over 35 years,” said Tackach’s mother. “He ruined me. I had nothing and he knew it…. I live every single day with these money problems.”
Like with corrupt Mayors Lynch and Vas, warning signs of corruption were present during DiMura’s rise to power.
In the aftermath of the criminal charges, journalist and pundit Dave Polakiewicz wrote of a “decades-old insurance industry sanction for forging a client’s signature,” something that had come up in previous campaigns but didn’t stop DiMura from winning the Mayor job in 2015.
But the forgery incident continued to haunt DiMura as he ran for re-election in 2019, and he admitted under questioning at a Council meeting that he had “relinquished” his insurance license as a result of the forgery.
“I was never fined, I relinquished my license,” DiMura said. “It was for signing a form that I shouldn’t have singed.”
Despite the blemish on his record, he was still able to secure the important job of watching over the local Democratic Party organization’s funds as Treasurer year after year.
DiMura also made some curious decisions as Mayor, decisions that may have been motivated by his personal financial schemes.
As Polakiewicz reported for New Brunswick Today, DiMura’s relationship with one favored developer has led to financial problems for the Borough.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, “DiMura used his position as mayor to solicit $10,000 in donations to the local charity from a developer doing business with the borough, without disclosing that he intended to use the money for his personal benefit.”
While prosecutors and the Judge only named the developer by his initials, New Brunswick Today has reported that it was widely believed to have been Massimo Pinelli, the President of Forte Real Estate Development.
As reported by Polakiewicz, Pinelli’s companies have failed to make timely payments to the Borough on their development projects, even after securing a big discount through a long-term tax exemption agreement that allowed his companies to make a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT’s) instead of traditional property taxes.
What the future holds for DiMura is not immediately clear, given he has a right to appeal the sentence before he is scheduled to report to prison.
DiMura’s attorney, William Fetky, also indicated that DiMura will be filing an application for the state’s Intensive Supervision Program (ISP), one way that he could potentially secure a very early release from prison.
The Attorney General’s Office did not oppose DiMura’s expected application, and Judge Bucca suggested he would wait until the application was submitted to decide his position.
Applications for ISP can be made after a defendant spends just sixty days in prison. According to office that administrates the program are subjected to an “in-depth interview,” only if they pass an initial evaluation.
If the application clears those hurdles, and is subsequently recommended by a screening board, it is scheduled for court, where a combination of recall judges and sitting judges evaluate the application. The process can take several months.
DiMura wouldn’t be the first Middlesex County politician to get sprung early from a prison sentence thanks to the program.
As we reported, the county’s notoriously corrupt Sherriff of three decades, Joseph Spicuzzo, was released in 2015 after serving just over two years of his nine-year prison sentence, even after he had been denied parole.
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.