www.NorthJersey.com by Richard Cowen - May 19, 2011
Paolo “Paul” Mariano, the former civilian director of the motor pool at the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, was sentenced to a four-year prison term today for stealing $20,000 and an engine he installed in his own car. Mariano broke down in tears as he appeared before Judge Marilyn C. Clark in Superior Court in Paterson. With his hands clasped in a knot, Mariano told the judge he was sorry and begged for mercy. “I want to apologize to the court. I want to apologize to my family," Mariano said before bursting into sobs. “I don't know what happened ... I did it, but I don't know why." Mariano, a 13-year employee of the sheriff's department who was former sheriff Jerry Speziale's personal driver, was arrested last August after investigators from the state Attorney General's office searched the motor pool garage located behind Lambert Castle in Paterson. The AG's office charged him with stealing $20,000 hidden behind a door panel in a Ford Taurus that the Passaic County Drug Task Force had seized during a drug bust in 2004. Part of Mariano's job as head of the motor pool was to clean out cars that had been seized by the sheriff's department. He was also charged with taking an engine from a county-owned Toyota 4-Runner and installing it in his own car. Charged with two counts of official misconduct, Mariano faced a maximum of 10 years in jail on each charge, but instead accepted a plea bargain in which he agreed to a four-year sentence. As part of the plea, Mariano must also pay back the $20,000 he stole. The judge ordered Mariano to begin his sentence immediately. His attorney, Ronald J. Ricci, asked the judge to allow Mariano to begin his sentence at the Bergen County Jail to avoid incarceration in Passaic County, where he might be in more danger because of his affiliation with the sheriff's department. Clark granted the request, and Mariano left the courtroom after turning around and looking at his wife. Although he was sentenced to four years, Mariano is likely to do a lot less time behind bars. As a first-time offender, Mariano is eligible to apply for release into the state's Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) after 90 days behind bars. If the judge allows him into the program, Mariano would be released to confinement to his home in Wayne and required to wear an electronic bracelet that would allow him to resume working as a heavy equipment operator. Ricci told the judge that Mariano's wife and his youngest son are both ill, and his incarceration would be an economic hardship on both of them. Ricci said Mariano's wife is so ill that she cannot work, and the son has recently been diagnosed with cysts on the brain.
Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello told the judge that the state would not oppose Mariano's application for ISP, saying that he had cooperated with the investigation and had accepted a plea deal for a non-violent crime. Mariano was fired from his sheriff's department job following his arrest and is forever barred from working in a public job. Mariano came to Superior Court accompanied by his wife, Grace and his lawyer. Before sentencing, he spoke to two reporters and said he's been working as a heavy equipment operator since his arrest. Mariano said he hasn't spoken to his old boss and friend, Speziale, since he quit the sheriff's post days before Mariano's arrest to take a job with the Port Authority Police Department. Asked before he was sentenced whether he was nervous about going to prison, Mariano replied, "It's not making me nervous. The only thing I'm thinking about is my wife and my family." Militello would not comment on the sentencing following the proceeding. But Attorney General Paula T. Dow released a statement saying that a prison term was the "appropriate" sentence. "Prison is the appropriate sentence for Mariano, who shamelessly stole cash and property that would have been forfeited to fund law enforcement efforts in Passaic County," Dow said. "His actions showed a complete disregard for the law and for the county he was supposed to serve." Mariano's crimes date to 2005 and 2006. When he pleaded guilty in March, Mariano admitted that he stole approximately $20,000 that was found hidden in a Ford Taurus that had been seized by the Passaic County Drug Task Force. The car was being repaired for use as an undercover car in 2005 when mechanics found the money in a secret compartment. The mechanics told Mariano about the money. Mariano admitted he took possession of the money and told the mechanics not to say anything about it. He then told the mechanics to "chop" the car and dispose of it. Mariano told the judge he later started spending the money. He also admitted that in November of 2006, he ordered mechanics to remove an engine from a 1995 Toyota 4-Runner that had been seized by Passaic County. He had mechanics place that engine in a 1993 Toyota 4-Runner that had had given to his girlfriend, but was registered in his name. Mariano later sold the car, with the stolen engine, to an undercover detective on May 14, 2010 for $2,000, the state said. Stephen J. Taylor, the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, said the prison sentence is meant to send a “clear message” that government corruption will not be tolerated. “This prison sentence sends a clear message that government officials who steal from their agencies and the public will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted,” Taylor said. “We have zero tolerance when it comes to official corruption.” The Attorney General's office has set up a hotline for citizens to report corruption at 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. firstname.lastname@example.org