Sunday, August 07, 2005

Anthony "The Rat" Palughi pleads guilty

Published in the August 4, 2005 issue of The Courier.

Anthony "The Rat" Palughi pleads guilty


FBI "person of investigative interest" Anthony "Tony the Rat" Palughi, Wall, had his day in court this week, after months of speculation by residents in Monmouth County that Palughi was somehow involved in the corruption probe targeting area officials.

Palughi waived an open court prosecution by indictment and pled guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Matini in Newark Tuesday to a bribery charge.

According to the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office, Palughi acted as an intermediary, accepting money from a confidential FBI informant as payment for introducing the cooperating witness to elected officials who were reportedly willing to accept bribes. Allegedly, these officials, including elected office holders in Middletown and Neptune, then received money in exchange for securing contracting and demolition work in those towns, a press release from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Palughi admitted to accepting $12,500 in bribes between March and October of 2004. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

"Palughi and others were extensively recorded on video and audio tape in discussions with undercover FBI agents whom they believed were employees of the cooperating witness, and who were purportedly involved in the laundering of loansharking proceeds as well as paying off local officials," the release from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Republican Insider?

Before Monmouth County corruption allegations began surfacing, Palughi served as the superintendent of the Monmouth County Division of Bridges for eight years.

At the time of his retirement in March 2005, Palughi earned a salary of $92,114.

Palughi was appointed to the position on January 6, 1997 and reappointed on January 7, 2002. Both times, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, composed of former Freeholder Director Harry Larrison, current Freeholder Director Tom Powers, former Freeholder Ed Stominski, Freeholder Theodore Narozanick and current Freeholder Deputy Director Amy Handlin, voted unanimously to retain Palughi, according to the minutes of the meetings.

During the time Palughi was employed by the county, allegations were brought to the attention of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders that he rarely showed up to his county job and was reportedly doing political work when he was on county time, according to an Asbury Park Press article published March 6, 2005. However, no official action was taken against Palughi because of his relationship with Larrison.

In the Asbury Park Press article, Handlin was quoted as saying Larrison was the only freeholder to defend Palughi.

Palughi served as president of the Affiliated Republican Club of Monmouth County for five consecutive years in the 1990s. By all accounts, his tenure at the head of the club ran smoothly.

But the Affiliated Republican Club was not Palughi's only venture into the Monmouth County Republican organization.

Palughi was regularly paid to put up campaign signs for Republican county candidates during election season.

Palughi's last venture into Republican politics took place during the 2004 freeholder and sheriff elections. On October 2, 2004, Palughi was paid $1,000 by the Monmouth County Republican Committee for "campaign sign labor," according to Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) documents.

A county employee, who asked not to be named in this article, said Palughi's campaign work was completed on county time. Whether or not Palughi was on the clock when he accepted bribes between March 2004 and October 2004 is not clear at this time.

Of the $1,000 Palughi was paid for putting up signs, $333.33 was attributed as an expenditure incurred on behalf of Handlin's campaign; $333.33 on behalf of then Matawan Mayor and current Freeholder Rob Clifton; and $333.33 on behalf of Sheriff Joseph Oxley.

Handlin, the only one of the three candidates who had authority over Palughi's county position at the time he completed the 2004 campaign work, has refused comment on direct questioning about Palughi and has not responded to numerous written, electronic and telephone inquiries about Palughi's role in her campaign.

Palughi will likely be unable to participate in any campaigns this year. His sentencing on the bribery charge is scheduled for November 9.

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