Ex-New Jersey School Superintendent Enters Not Guilty Plea

The former superintendent of New Jersey’s fourth-largest school district has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.

Michael Ritacco entered his plea Wednesday during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Trenton. He retired last month after he was arrested on fraud and bribery charges stemming from an alleged insurance-kickback scheme that federal officials called “staggering” in its scope.

Prosecutors allege Ritacco and insurance broker Francis Gartland of Baltimore concealed more than $1 million in bribes between 2002 and 2010 from insurance brokers and other service providers.

Gartland also pleaded not guilty Wednesday, but his attorney, John Arsenault, said his client would seek to be represented by a federal public defender because “his finances are pretty much depleted.” U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. told Gartland to file the necessary paperwork and said he would then take the application under advisement.

Brown then set a trial date of July 25 for both Ritacco and Garland.

Court documents say the men spent money on home renovations and luxury items.

Speaking outside the courthouse after Wednesday’s hearing, Ritacco’s lawyer, Jerome A. Ballarotto, called the charges against his client “preposterous” and “without foundation.” He said Ritacco was looking forward to going to trial and having his name cleared.

“We’re ready for a fistfight, and that’s what this trial will be,” Ballarotto said.