CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Former Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo and former city Prosecutor Samuel Lashman allege in a lawsuit that Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor pursued criminal charges against them knowing there was no basis for the allegations.
Atlantic City-based attorney Eric Lubin, representing DeMarzo and Lashman, said Tuesday that the two were not seeking specific monetary damages. Instead, “we just want a jury to hear this,” Lubin said.
“His whole life was tarnished,” Lubin said of the effect the indictments had on DeMarzo, a former city police officer whose term as mayor ended in May 2011, when he lost the election.
As for Lashman, a Margate-based attorney, Lubin said the charges “destroyed his professional career.”
The lawsuit stems from three indictments handed up by Cape May County grand juries in 2011 and 2012 that charged DeMarzo and Lashman with official misconduct and conspiracy.
The county alleged that DeMarzo acted illegally when he paid Lashman, with city funds, $348.75 to act as DeMarzo’s confidential aide and attorney.
DeMarzo argued that the City Commission and city employees knew that his budget as the commissioner of revenue and finance included funding for Lashman and that his hiring was done publicly and legally.
In a joint emailed statement, DeMarzo and Lashman called Taylor a rogue prosecutor who “intentionally abused the high office he swore to uphold, as chief law enforcement officer in Cape May County, in order to achieve his personal malicious political vendettas.”
Taylor said Tuesday afternoon that he had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
“The DeMarzo case is on appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court and has not been finally determined in his favor. The suit is frivolous,” Taylor said.
Lashman, 52, said the experience has been a nightmare.
“Our rights were violated. There was never any case against us,” Lashman said.
According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in Cape May County Superior Court, DeMarzo and Lashman claim that Taylor, along with Detective Paul J. Worrell, Detective Daniel D. Holt and Wildwood City Clerk Chris Wood “conspired and collaborated to and did maliciously prosecute plaintiffs DeMarzo and Lashman” and violated their civil rights by initiating a “contrived investigation which revealed no wrongdoing.”
Worrell, Holt, Wood and other unnamed individuals are all defendants in the lawsuit.
DeMarzo and Lashman argue that there was no probable cause and that Taylor and the others acted to “protect (Police Capt. Robert) Regalbuto and gain the ability to install city officials who have valuable business relationships with defendants and their subordinates.”
On Tuesday, Lubin would not say what business relationships were allegedly involved, but that he expected that would come out as the case progresses.
Regalbuto was named because DeMarzo has said the Prosecutor’s Office has a videotape taken at Wildwood police headquarters showing Regalbuto physically abusing a prisoner.
After he was first indicted in 2011, DeMarzo called the indictment “retaliation for the city seeking the videotape of a beating of a prisoner by a high-ranking officer in the city of Wildwood’s Police Department.” The tape was part of an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office into a 2000 allegation of police abuse by Regalbuto. Regalbuto was never charged with any wrongdoing.
Superior Court Judge Albert Garofolo twice dismissed indictments against DeMarzo and Lashman.
“In conclusion, this court finds that the substance and manner of the grand jury presentation was fundamentally unfair, deprived the grand jury of its decision making function and was therefore unconstitutional as to both defendants. Accordingly, the defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted,” Garofolo wrote in April 2012 of one of the indictments.
Lubin said DeMarzo and Lashman were first indicted on March 8, 2011. That indictment was dropped and followed by a superseding indictment handed up Nov. 27, 2011. That indictment was dismissed April 2, 2012.
A third indictment was handed up on June 12 that named only DeMarzo, and that was dismissed by Garofolo on Jan. 22.
The bill that was paid involved work Lashman did for DeMarzo when DeMarzo was defending himself in a lawsuit filed by the city that opposed allowing DeMarzo to serve as a commissioner while still a member of the city’s Police Department.
DeMarzo was a Wildwood police officer from February 1998 until May 2010, when a court decision forced him to choose which job he wanted to keep. He was first elected to City Commission in May 2007 and became mayor following the city’s December 2009 recall election.
He lost a re-election bid in May 2011. Prior to the election, DeMarzo had been indicted and opponents used his legal troubles in advertisements that asked “Got indicted?? Your Mayor Did.”
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