WILDWOOD - A Cape May County grand jury Tuesday indicted Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo on criminal misconduct charges. He is accused of using public funds to pay for his defense after he was sued by political rivals for holding public office at the same time he was a local police officer.
Also named in the indictment is city attorney Gary Lashman, who defended DeMarzo in the case and allegedly received the payments.
The second-degree charges against DeMarzo and Lashman carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Each also was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit official misconduct, according to Prosecutor Robert Taylor.
Taylor said DeMarzo also is charged with two lesser crimes, disbursement of money or incurring obligation by a public official and corruption of public resources.
DeMarzo, 42, who became a police officer in 1998, was elected one of three city commissioners in May 2007.
He took an unpaid leave of absence from the Police Department after his election was immediately challenged by then-City Commissioners Ernie Troiano Jr. and William Davenport.
Previous court rulings gave DeMarzo partial victories: He could retain his elected office and his job, but would be restricted from any duties or contract negotiations involving city employees, police, judges, prosecutors, or other city attorneys. Troiano and Davenport were voted out of office and DeMarzo was named mayor by the incoming city commissioners in December 2009.
But in February 2010, a three-member appellate panel overturned the lower court's ruling and said DeMarzo had to choose between police work and elected duty.
The appeals court contended DeMarzo's continued employment in both positions would deprive Wildwood citizens of an independent government that could operate "unfettered by personal conflicts."
Reached at his office in City Hall on Tuesday, DeMarzo said he had not seen the indictment, but also said he was not concerned the charges would stick because he had not done anything wrong.
He called the matter "political sabotage" because he is up for reelection in May.
DeMarzo contended that since he had been brought into the legal matter as a public official, he should be entitled to paid legal representation.
Taylor would not say how much money allegedly was paid to Lashman in DeMarzo's behalf.
He also would not comment on whether other public officials may have been involved in approving the disbursement of the funds, but indicated that no others were likely be charged in the matter.
He said the charges were brought after he consulted with the state Attorney General's Office.