CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Rudolph Chiorazzo described himself Friday as a “68-year-old broken down man” just before a judge sentenced the former car dealer to three years in state prison.
The sentiment was echoed by two of his friends, Atlantic County-based attorneys Stephen Hankin and Paul D’Amato, who spoke on his behalf.
“Rudy’s a broken man at this point, financially and emotionally,” Hankin told the judge.
And as the possibility of the three-year sentenced loomed, D’Amato said Chiorazzo had already been punished.
“Kathy and Rudy Chiorazzo were respected members of the South Jersey community,” he said. Now, “friends that they once had are not around anymore.”
In June, Chiorazzo pleaded guilty to theft by deception, a second-degree crime, admitting that between February 2005 and July 2006 he falsified financial documents provided to Ford Motor Credit Company to conceal that he failed to turn over more than $11 million in proceeds from the sale of 380 cars sold during that time frame.
His dealerships in the Marmora section of Upper Township and in Hamilton Township soon closed after police began investigating the business in July 2006.
Exactly six years prior to Friday’s sentencing, South Shore Auto World filed for bankruptcy, but Chiorazzo did not face any criminal charges until April 2011, when a state grand jury indicted him on three second-degree charges of theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of property and conspiracy.
In exchange for a guilty plea to a single charge of theft by deception, the other charges were dropped.
Chiorazzo told Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten that he accepted the consequences of his actions. “I didn’t run away from the situation,” he said.
He then blamed the economy in part for the financial troubles that closed his business, saying he had a lot of overhead expenses during a difficult time. Batten questioned that suggestion calling 2005 “the height of a robust economy.”
Defense attorney William J. Brennan called Chiorazzo’s actions a case of “a guy who was robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“Sometimes you represent a really good guy who does bad things,” Brennan said.
But Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa, who handled the case for the state, said he found it interesting that when given the opportunity to speak Chiorazzo made no mention of the victims in the case.
“I never heard the words ‘I’m sorry’ or any acceptance of responsibility just it’s the economy,” Kurzawa said.
Kurzawa said Chiorazzo placed a huge financial burden on Ford and others who traded in cars and who never had their titles processed.
Chiorazzo, given a second chance to speak, then apologized.
“I apologize for anybody that was hurt,” he said.
As he sentenced Chiorazzo, Batten noted that the longtime Marmora resident and father of two had no criminal history and that he had led a law abiding life, contributing to various charities along the way.
But Batten said there was a societal need to deter others from committing similar acts.
The judge noted that the theft charge involved 380 different vehicles which were sold without the proceeds, totaling more than $11 million, ever going to Ford Motor Credit.
“The offense is unique in that it occurred over an extended period of time,” Batten said, adding that he was surprised the practice, which he called “a house of cards,” went undetected as long as it did.
Batten added that to his knowledge no meaningful restitution had yet been made to Ford.
The plea agreement, Batten said, was “substantially fair if not overwhelmingly fair” to Chiorazzo and he opted to sentence Chiorazzo in accordance with the plea bargain.
Batten sentenced Chiorazzo to three years in prison, but added he would be eligible for parole in nine months and eligible for the state’s Intensive Supervisory Program, or ISP, in about four months. ISP allows non-violent offenders to serve the remainder of their sentences in their communities.
Chiorazzo received credit for one day served and was then handcuffed and taken away to begin his sentence.
Charges against the corporate defendant known as South Shore Ford Inc. were dismissed.
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