Broken hearts, broken deals
In the second of a four-part series, the Asbury Park Press examines indicted land developer Anthony Spalliero's background.
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/5/05
BY JAMES W. PRADO ROBERTS
(PRESS FILE PHOTO)Following his May arrest on bribery charges, developer Anthony Spalliero, 63, right, is helped into a car by his son, Joseph, 40. The father was indicted in October on charges of passing $142,500 in bribes to Marlboro and two Monmouth County officials. Joseph was also indicted on a charge of passing a $10,000 bribe. Both have pleaded innocent.
Marlboro developer Anthony Spalliero, accused of using bribes and go-go dancers to buy officials' support of his projects, has a history of accusations that he used and abused women to get his way.
For years, Spalliero, 63, the developer of an estimated 1,000 houses in Marlboro, maintained two separate families, and had ready access to a supply of potential girlfriends for himself and his friends.
Domenica Spalliero, his longtime wife and mother of four of his children, filed for divorce in 1995 after she discovered that he was living a separate life with a girlfriend and two children in Holmdel. The divorce was put off, for a time, when he gave her his half interest in a Marlboro property that was worth $8 million.
Petra Johnson, a live-in girlfriend, obtained a restraining order against Spalliero in 2002.
Johnson, now 43, said in a lawsuit that Spalliero tried to strangle her at least three times and plied her with drugs and alcohol so he could videotape her having sex with another man. In July, Spalliero agreed to pay $150,000 to settle Johnson's suit without admission of wrongdoing.
For those who live in The Woods at Marlboro, one of Spalliero's developments, they must look no farther than a local street sign for a memento of the relationship: Petra Drive intersects Anthony Court.
Today, Spalliero is under house arrest in his daughter's home in Hazlet because a woman he had dated told police that he threatened her with a gun on the campus of Brookdale Community College in Middletown. Police say he told the 22-year-old woman in September he would kill her if she didn't do as he asked.
Spalliero was indicted by a federal grand jury in October on charges that he paid $142,500 to officials to win better zoning rights and building approvals, mostly in Marlboro. He also was charged with using a string of family-owned go-go bars to ply Marlboro officials with parties and free alcohol. He has pleaded innocent to the charges.
Held in the names of other family members, three go-go bars and a fourth that was sold in 2003 have paid more than $300,000 in fines since 1988 to avoid more than three years of license suspensions, according to New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control records. Charges ranged from improper bookkeeping to prostitution.
Spalliero also is charged with paying for officials' trips and entertainment in Atlantic City and at an Eatontown hotel.
Anthony Spalliero born Antonio in Italy in 1942 married Domenica Russo in 1960 in Elkton, Md., when he was 17 years old, and she was 16.
Spalliero fathered six children: Josephine, Joseph (who died as an infant), Rosa, another son named Joseph, Anthony and Vincent. But when Domenica filed for divorce, she claimed only the first four as hers.
Her husband initially fought the divorce, denying any legal justification for it. But Domenica Spalliero's lawyer, C. Catherine Jannarone, wrote in a 1995 court filing that her client's husband was "maintaining, in essence, a separate life with a girlfriend and two children who resided with him at his home on Hawthorn (Avenue), in Holmdel."
In 2003, Spalliero told the Press that Domenica left him in the early 1990s for that reason.
"She found out about it, and we weren't getting along anymore," Spalliero said. The divorce was granted in 1997.
Even so, both times Spalliero was arrested this year, authorities found him at Domenica Spalliero's property in Holmdel he's even registered to vote there. And in September, despite their 1997 divorce judgment, Anthony and Domenica Spalliero signed a mortgage document that referred to them as husband and wife, according to county records.
As for the two children he had with another woman in the late-1970s, Spalliero bought a house in Holmdel for them and their mother. Now part-owned by son Vincent, the house was recently used to help his father make his $2 million federal bail.
For years, Anthony Spalliero has transferred legal ownership of properties and businesses to close family members, and he has long been accused of hiding his business interests.
In a 1996 court hearing, his then-wife Domenica testified that she didn't know about her husband's business dealings, but said her husband agreed to give her a Marlboro tract worth millions of dollars so she would not divorce him. She testified she wanted to ensure her family's financial security.
Property records indicate homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. paid Domenica Spalliero, and a partnership that included the Spallieros' son Joseph, $8 million for the land in 1996 and 1997.
State and local liquor license records indicate Anthony Spalliero never claimed ownership of the four bars in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties.
Public records show Joseph Spalliero, 40, is the sole owner of the liquor licenses for two of the go-go bars: Bourbon Street and After Dark in Old Bridge. Vincent Spalliero owns a third, Centerfolds, in Neptune. A son-in-law, Michael Landi, owned the fourth until it was sold to another party 2003.
Although the Bourbon Street bar is in the name of Joseph Spalliero, the indictment against his father states that in one instance Anthony Spalliero took $5,000 for a bribe straight from the office safe.
"I think that's indicative of the sort of interest he had, even though it wasn't on paper," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hammer said. "We're not troubled by the fact that there's no paper trail leading back to Spalliero vis-a-vis the bars."
Joseph Spalliero is facing trial on two separate federal indictments: helping his father pay a $10,000 bribe and bank fraud. He has pleaded innocent to the charges.
If convicted, his ownership of two bars would be threatened. New Jersey law bars anyone convicted of a "crime of moral turpitude" from having an interest in, or working for, a liquor licensee.
Another bar owned by Joseph Spalliero, Valentino's in Union Township, prompted nightly protests from township residents in 1993 when it began to host both nude dancing and scantly clad go-go dancers in separate sections of the same building.
Spalliero sparked a protracted legal fight with regulators and Union Township over the bar, which is located next to a public ball field on a main thoroughfare where children walk to school. The bar ultimately paid a $15,000 fine, and Joseph Spalliero sold the business.
"It wasn't healthy for children, it wasn't healthy for the location," said Mary Allen, then-president of a Union Township elementary school PTA.
In the early 1980s, when Spalliero was still involved with both mothers of his children, Petra Johnson claimed in her suit that she began her relationship with Spalliero.
Johnson met Spalliero in 1984 while bartending at a restaurant he owned, she stated in her 2003 lawsuit. She was 21 at the time; he was 42. Spalliero told her he was divorced, and they started seeing each other. He gave her an engagement ring after the two began to live together in Woodbridge. Johnson soon became pregnant, but miscarried, she claimed.
Johnson, now of Florida, said Spalliero promised to buy her a house on the street named after her at The Woods at Marlboro, but he didn't keep the promise. In 1995, Spalliero did buy Johnson a house on Wyncrest Road in Marlboro, her lawsuit states. Land records show Johnson sold the house in 1998 for $280,000.
But Spalliero became abusive, Johnson claimed in the suit. Spalliero would punch her in the stomach and squeeze and bruise her breasts, she said. On at least three occasions, she claimed, Spalliero put both his hands around her neck in an effort to strangle her. Once, she stated, she almost lost consciousness.
Spalliero would occasionally wake her around 3 a.m. as he cursed at her to make his breakfast. Some nights she would wake up to find him standing at the base of her bed staring at her, Johnson claimed.
One time, her lawsuit stated, Spalliero called her "from his car, laughing, saying he was making a movie." Spalliero plied her with "alcohol and drugs and set up cameras in (their) bedroom where (Spalliero) videotaped her having sexual relations with another man on several occasions."
In 2002, according to her complaint, Johnson obtained a restraining order against Spalliero. The next year she filed suit, claiming she had sacrificed her career and education for Spalliero. Johnson said Spalliero failed to make good on promises that he would take care of her forever, that he would build her a home in Florida, and that he would open a nail salon for her to operate in Marlboro.
Spalliero proved hard to find, however.
Johnson's lawyer attempted to have the complaint served on Spalliero 11 times in 2003 and 2004: four times at the Marlboro Memorial Cemetery he founded, twice at the Bourbon Street go-go bar in Sayreville, four times at Domenica Spalliero's house in Holmdel and once at his daughter's house in Hazlet.
"It would appear, therefore, that (Spalliero) has been intentionally avoiding service," Johnson's lawyer, Patrick M. Durning, wrote to the presiding judge in the case.
When Spalliero was eventually served, his lawyer denied Johnson's claims. In June, their lawyers helped settle the case without any admission of wrongdoing by Spalliero. In the settlement, Spalliero agreed to pay Johnson $150,000 in installments by April 2006.
Johnson could not be reached for comment, and her lawyer declined to comment.
Johnson's claims would not be the last time Spalliero would be accused of assault.
When Middletown police charged him with thrusting a gun into the neck of a 22-year-old Brookdale Community College student at a campus parking lot on Sept. 6, they say he told her, "I'm going to kill you if you're not going to do what I tell you to do."
The Middletown police complaint against Spalliero stated he had dated the student, and that he approached the woman's car to talk to her when she pulled into a Brookdale parking lot. She let him into her car, but when he pulled out a gun, the woman began to scream, police said. A snub-nosed .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol was found at the scene.
The charges led to Spalliero's federal bail on the bribery allegations to be, and he spent six days in jail until his lawyers and a doctor convinced a federal judge that Spalliero, who has heart disease, was too sick to stay there.
"In essence, it appears that this is a domestic dispute, and accounts of domestic disputes can often be exaggerated," Spalliero's lawyer Christopher W. Kinum told a judge during a hearing on the matter. "The only witness that ties the gun to Mr. Spalliero is the victim herself. . . . This has the classic elements of a shakedown."
The charges aggravated assault during a domestic dispute, weapons possession and making terroristic threats are not new to Spalliero. In 1988 in Hazlet, police charged Spalliero with virtually the same three crimes, only this time against a man: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, making terroristic threats and unlawful possession of a weapon.
That year, a Monmouth County grand jury dismissed the weapons possession charge and remanded the others to Hazlet municipal court. Spalliero pleaded guilty to a single downgraded charge, the details of which are no longer on record.
In 1987, Spalliero was indicted on a charge of stealing a backhoe from a construction site in Perth Amboy. The charge was dismissed after he entered a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.
In all since 1968, Spalliero has been arrested at least eight times, and indicted twice. Most of the charges have been dismissed.
For years, Spalliero courted Democrats and Republicans, alike. But Spalliero's personal history is one that few politicians appear to have noticed.
To commemorate Spalliero's 60th birthday in 2002, then-township attorney and state Senate co-President John O. Bennett III, R-Monmouth, sponsored a Senate resolution that recognized Spalliero's career as the proprietor of "pizzerias, nightclubs and restaurants" and his various charitable contributions.
The resolution extolled Spalliero "as a man of outstanding character . . . and compassionate nature."