2005-08-04 / Front Page
Palughi pleads guilty to bribery
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BY DAN NEWMAN
Anthony Palughi, former superintendent of the Monmouth County Division of Bridges, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a federal courtroom, Newark, to conspiring to facilitate bribe payments to county officials.
Palughi, 69, of Wall, a former Long Branch councilman, appeared before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini, who charged him with corruptly soliciting and demanding cash payments for himself and other public officials.
Palughi, who filled an unexpired term on the Long Branch City Council in May 1985 and was then re-elected to a four-year term the following year, admitted accepting three separate payments totaling $12,500 between March and July of last year from a confidential FBI informant and an undercover FBI agent. Palughi also admitted that he accepted the payments believing that the cooperating witness was somebody involved in the contracting and demolition business, and that the undercover agent was an employee of that company.
Palughi faces a maximum 10-year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine. Since parole is no longer available within the federal system, Palughi may have to serve at least 85 percent of his term, according to Martini.
Palughi’s lawyer, Anthony Pope, discussed his client’s case after the hearing.
“Mr. Palughi pled guilty to charges that reflect what went on,” Pope said. “I don’t think my client will get the maximum term. It’s my intent to try and get him the most lenient sentence possible.”
Palughi refused to comment upon leaving the courtroom.
Since charges were brought against 11 public officials in Monmouth County on Feb. 22 on a variety of bribery charges as part of Operation Bid Rig, Palughi’s name has been mentioned as the common thread among those involved.
Freeholder Amy Handlin said she was one of many officials who thought that Palughi was part of the problem as far as corruption was concerned.
“A lot of us had suspicions over the years but the [former] Freeholder Director [Harry Larrison] vigorously defended him,” Handlin said. “It was impossible to document behavior that would have enabled officials to take action against him.”
Handlin also said that she thought Palughi did not fulfill his responsibilities in his role with the county.
“This marks a sorry end to a sorry career of pretending to be a responsible county employee that he obviously was not,” Handlin said. “What has become clear is his utter lack of concern for the county. His sole loyalty was to the [former] freeholder director, who protected and defended him.”
As part of the agreement between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Palughi, he surrendered all travel documents and can only travel within the state of New Jersey and South Florida, where he also has a home. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 9 at 10 a.m.
Operation Bid Rig began on Feb. 22 with an FBI sweep of 11 public officials, including Mayors John Merla of Keyport, Paul Coughlin of Hazlet and Paul Zambrano of West Long Branch. Others arrested on that same day were former Keyport Councilman Robert Hyer, West Long Branch Councilman Joseph DeLisa, Middletown Committeeman Raymond O’Grady, Deputy Monmouth County Fire Marshal Patsy Townsend, Neptune Township Deputy Mayor Richard Iadanza, Monmouth County Division of Transportation Operations Manager Joseph McCurnin, Asbury Park Councilman John Hamilton Jr. and Thomas Broderick, a former Marlboro councilman and the assistant supervisor at the county’s Division of Highways.
In the weeks and months following, corruption-related arrests continued in Monmouth County with former Freeholder Director Harry Larrison, former Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco, Marlboro Township Municipal Utilities Authority Commissioner Richard Vuola, Marlboro Planning Board member Stanley Young, Far Hills Councilman Thomas Greenwald.
Members of the private sector charged in the corruption investigation were James Ingram, of Middletown, owner of JBI Limousine Company, Marlboro developer Anthony Spalliero and Stephen Appolonia, of Colts Neck, owner of International Trucks.