TOMS RIVER, NJ – Former disgraced Toms River Schools Superintendent Michael Ritacco was always a friend to the Toms River teachers union which is why so many adored him despite his multiple criminal convictions. Ritacco was known as a job giver. He still remains popular among the staff membersof the Toms River School District despite being convicted on federal bribery charges and stealing millions of dollars from the public school system. He was also convicted by the federal government for income tax evasion. Ironically, Ritacco was released from prison one year ago this week, now his second in command wants the job and now his underboss Michael Citta is the center of a new scandal within the school district.
As the school district is once again searching for a replacement superintendent, school board member Kathy Eagan, the past president of the Toms River teachers union wants to see a return to the days of Ritacco. Eagan has been pressuring other school board members to hire former Ritacco underboss Michael Citta for the job of superintendent.
They have been refusing her unwanted advances.
Citta served as Assistant Superintendent during the Ritacco era. He was never convicted of any crimes but was demoted from the position after the Ritacco FBI scandal rocked the school district. He was held guilty by association in the court of public opinion and the school board that replaced the Ritacco era board dismissed him from his role as assistant superintendent.
School Board Member Ashley Palmieri today announced she has filed a formal ethics violation against Eagan after Eagan attempted to sway board member votes in favor of Citta, despite the board already rejecting the former Ritacco underling twice during the ongoing search.
“It has come to our attention that members of the Township Committee are making statements to the press in response to the misinformation presented by Board Member Kathy Eagan at the April 21st Committee Meetings of the School Board,” Palmieri wrote in a letter to school board leaders and township elected officials this morning. “It is important to note that a complaint was recently filed by Board Member [Lisa] Contessa with support from Board Member Palmiere to the Vice President of the School Board, Anna Polozzo, regarding Ms. Eagan’s ethics violations.”
After Citta was rejected by the board’s committee to appoint a new superintendent, Eagan began texting and writing notes to school board members pleading for his hiring.
After all, Ritacco and Citta were very generous to Eagan and her family. According to Palmieri, Eagan was ethically barred from the board discussions to hire the new superintendent because she and an alleged one dozen other family members received jobs and promotions within the district during the dark days of the Ritacco era.
“Ms. Eagan tried on several occasions to influence and manipulate the appointment of a new Superintendent, despite her gross conflict with more than a dozen family members employed in-district,” Palmieri said. “Being conflicted, Board Member Eagan is not permitted to be involved in the search in any way. Realistically she should be totally unaware of whom the candidates are, yet she repeatedly and unethically advocates for one specific person, Mike Citta, who was the Superintendent that hired her family members. Ms. Eagan tried a number of times unsuccessfully to steer Members of the Board towards her choice candidate, Mike Citta, but failed. When she had no other options, she made an effort to overthrow the entire process by making it appear compromised, pushing her own agenda to influence public opinion.”
In one of the texts sent to township leaders, Eagan asked school board member Lisa Natale to “rethink about dropping Citta”.
She pleaded for a meeting with two school board members over dinner and drinks at Bahama Breeze in order to sway their opinion on the former Ritacco underboss.
“I know I should not ask, but I really feel the committee needs to rethink about dropping Citta,” Eagan wrote the other board members. “I would love to talk to you about why I feel so strongly about this. We could possibly have a drink at Bahamas Breeze.”
Natale responded to the Eagan offer and declined, saying it would not be appropriate to have the meeting since Eagan was restricted ethically and legally from the discussion due to her conflicts of interest with Citta and her family members’ jobs. A board member who works for the district or who has close family members in the district may not vote on any matters pertaining to hirings and raises that may create an appearance of wrongdoing.
“We won’t be able to meet,” Natale told Eagan. “I’m a little uncomfortable meeting on this topic. I hope you trust we’ll make a great decision for this district.”
Eagan then tried to lobby other school board members to sway their votes in the direction of Citta, but each refused to give her an audience on the matter. She then resorted to passing notes to other board members during school board meetings to coerce her peers into changing their vote to the former Ritacco underboss.
Other high-profile members of the community have also allegedly tried to compromise the superintendent hiring process including executive-level employees of Toms River Township who want to see a return to the Ritacco era in the Toms River School District.
Last week, Eagan and Toms River Patch Reporter Karen Wall conspired to deflect Eagan’s unethical behavior by penning a story that an unknown member of the Toms River Council has been pushing Eagan to back off her desire to hire the Ritacco underboss.
“I was told to tell someone on the committee that it would be to that person’s benefit to change their vote,” but Eagan would not divulge the name of the person and Wall’s sloppy journalism didn’t bother to investigate whether or not Eagan’s claim was valid. Wall has been a supporter of Toms River Mayor Mo Hill and in 2019, her company took thousands of dollars from Hill in exchange for slanderous stories against Hill’s opponents.
Hill is also backing the return of Michael Citta as is the “Mo Hill Team” slate of candidates in the June primary election,
Along with Citta, the new Mo Hill-backed political party in Toms River is also backing Maria Maruca, Jason Crispin, James Quinslisk, and Toms River Planning Board Chairman David Ciccozzi for council. Eagan is supporting Mo Hill candidate Jason Crispin for office in Toms River and has a Crispin for Council lawn sign on her front lawn.
On Monday, Eagan and Crispin fired off a letter to the editor of the New Jersey Globe in an attempt to distract her own ethics charges by her fellow board members, once again accusing a member of the Toms River Township Council for advocating against the hiring of Citta.
We reached out to Eagan for comment and thus far, she has refused to comment on the allegations lodged against her.
This breaking scandal has far-reaching implications and allegations against other high-ranking Toms River Township and county officials pressuring the board to hire former Ritacco underboss Michael Citta. In our next story, we will detail those allegations and share those texts that implicate township elected officials, executive-level employees, and county elected officials and executive employees tied to the Mo Hill administration and political party.