Judge dismisses misconduct charges against former Wildwood mayor

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 WILDWOOD — Judge Albert Garofolo has dismissed, for a second time, official misconduct charges against former Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo.

“I’m very excited,” DeMarzo said of the dismissed charges on Jan. 4. “It is a weight that has been lifted. I feel like I could shout it from rooftops.”

DeMarzo was indicted in June on charges of misconduct and contempt of court for allegedly using city funds to pay for personal legal fees by attorney Samuel Lashman. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in July. Similar charges, minus the contempt charge, against DeMarzo had been dismissed in April by Garofolo.

“The court’s decision was not unexpected that is why the state made a motion to disqualify the trial judge,” Prosecutor Robert Taylor said in response to the dismissal.

Taylor had said that Garofolo had already prejudged the case and favored the defense. That early motion for Garofolo to recuse himself was denied.

According to Garofolo’s letter of opinion, the reason for the dismissal was the lack of evidence.

Garofolo said that the presentation to the grand jury was fundamentally unfair and deprived the jury of its decision making function.

The judge said that it was unconstitutional for both defendants, DeMarzo and Lashman, and granted the motion to dismiss the case.

“The Grand Jury simply heard that Samuel Lashman worked for the city as a confidential assistant, was paid with public funds, and provided legal services to Gary DeMarzo,” wrote Garofolo.

The judge said that there was no evidence that proved any charge of official misconduct.

The judge noted that DeMarzo and Lashman only became familiar with each other in October 2009, after DeMarzo proposed an additional $20,000 in his department’s budget and before Mayor Ernie Troiano filed an ethics complaint regarding a potential conflict of interest.

The prosecution argued DeMarzo used money to pay for personal legal expenses for a lawsuit that he then filed against Mayor Ernie Troiano, former commissioner Bill Davenport and city attorney Marcus Karavan in 2010.

Troiano and Davenport argued that it was a conflict of interest for DeMarzo to be a commissioner while he was a police officer. DeMarzo was a member of the police department since 1998.

In 2007, Superior Court Judge Joseph Visalli ruled DeMarzo could maintain his office and remain on an unpaid leave of absence from the police department, with certain judicial restrictions, such as limiting which issues on which he could vote. DeMarzo complied and went on an unpaid leave of absence after the 2007 election.

Troiano and Davenport appealed the case, citing that the decision resulted in multiple conflicts of interest. The appeals court agreed with the conflicts of interest, and ruled that DeMarzo had 20 days to choose one job or the other.

At the time, DeMarzo was also involved in another legal battle over his decision to hold both positions with Richard Adair, then a police lieutenant. In this case, Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong ordered that DeMarzo had to make a decision, and in May of 2010 DeMarzo left the police department to keep his job as commissioner.

Garofolo said that the state’s position was that DeMarzo was seeking a personal benefit and hired Lashman to represent him.

DeMarzo’s defense attorney Louis Barbone argued that the three-member City Commission lawfully authorized the addition of $20,000 into the Revenue and Finance Department budget, which DeMarzo headed in 2009, for Lashman’s services.

First Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson, however, said the $20,000 entitled DeMarzo to a personal aide and not an attorney to represent him in personal matters.

The total bill was $346.

“There is nothing to suggest that Lashman did anything more than accept an offer of performing professional services for DeMarzo at the rather paltry rate of $36 per hour,” according to Garofolo’s opinion letter.

Taylor told the Leader that state intends to appeal the dismissal.

“This case is not complicated,” Tayor said. “Commissioner DeMarzo sued other commissioners and the city and asked for authorization from Judge (Valerie) Armstrong in November to use city funds to pay for personal legal fees and costs. Judge Armstrong ruled in December and denied Commissioner DeMarzo and issued an order stating there was no legal authority for DeMarzo to use taxpayer funds. In March 2010, Commissioner DeMarzo signed a voucher to use city funds to pay personal attorney fees and cost, in violation of Judge Armstrong’s court order.”

DeMarzo claims the indictment was a political vendetta and said that County Prosecutor Robert Taylor wanted to silence him regarding an alleged excessive-force case involving Wildwood police Capt. Robert Regalbuto.

“The truth will continue to surface and Taylor now faces the risk of a civil action for malicious prosecution,” DeMarzo wrote in a release. “Regardless of how much success I have in this fight for my life, these disgraceful indictments by Taylor have forever stained my existence. I will not stop until my name is cleared.

“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn and the best days lie ahead for my family and me,” he added.

Lauren Suit can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at shorenewstoday.com.

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