Grifter Phil Rizzo is threatening a counterclaim against the Morris County Republican Committee unless they resolve a lawsuit seeking to recover a $1,500 unpaid bill for a table at their county convention earlier this year, threatening to expose cracks in the party organization that could help Democrats and signaling that he would agree to a non-disclosure agreement so that neither side could disparage the other.
A Small Claims Court trial against Rizzo is set to be held on December 4.
“I am hoping that in the spirit of the holidays, and in the spirit of trying to do what is best for the Republican Party, generally, as I personally see it in a blue state, that your client will agree do drop this lawsuit and that the parties can walk away, perhaps with a confidentiality clause so that there is no disparagement, etc., “ Rizzo’s attorney, Ronald Berutti, said in a letter obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
Rizzo, who lost his bid for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district in June, appeared in court on Halloween day, when his trial had initially been scheduled to begin. He told Superior Court Judge David L. Weaver that he wanted to get a lawyer.
The GOP organization alleges that Rizzo’s political director, Daniel Laucik, Jr., agreed to pay for a table inside the convention room to distribute literature, display their signage and have “home base” during the convention. Court filings show that the Rizzo campaign had produced a copy of an online contribution for $1,500, but never hit submit on the payment platform.
Rep.-elect Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) won the Morris GOP convention on the second ballot. Kean led newcomer John Henry Isemann on the first ballot by a 48-36 vote, with 23 votes for Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin); Rizzo finished fourth with just 20 votes out of 127 cast – a mere 15.7%.
Berutti also wants Laucik removed as a defendant, saying that the Rizzo campaign “does not deny that he was authorized to act for the campaign” in dealing with the Morris GOP on convention-related matters. It’s not immediately clear that Morris County Republicans have agreed to that.
“The dollar amounts involved herein are negligible for both parties, in my view, and do not justify this action or a counterclaim beyond making political hay, and demonstrating to the other side that the Morris County Republicans are fractured and are ripe for dividing and conquering. In the end, that serves nobody,” Berutti stated. “A little good will probably would go a long way.”
The lawsuit alleges that the Rizzo campaign conned the Morris GOP out of $1,500.
“Upon entry, Mr. Laucik, acting as a campaign representatives, showed our staff a picture of a donation to our organization that was not yet submitted in a successful attempt to mislead the staffer into thinking the donation has been made,” Republicans allege in their court filing.
Morris Republicans charge that Rizzo and his staff lied about their payment in a deliberate attempt to enure the benefits of a table without having to pay for it.
“This type of behavior has no place in our party, especially when dealing with an organization that relies heavily on the generosity of donors and efforts of volunteers,” DeSpirito said.
An email from Laucik in court filings shows an agreement to pay.
“We would love a table,” Laucik wrote. “How do we pay?”
Laucik declined comment during a short call with the New Jersey Globe.
In an email, Rizzo himself appears to have acknowledged the payment requirement.
“I will connect you with my convention team,” Rizzo said. “They will take care of all those details.”
Berutti had requested a postponment until December 11, but Weaver scheuled Rizzo’s trial for one week earlier.
Rizzo faced considerable condemnation for selling his Harding home to the City Baptist Church, a tiny, now-defunct storefront church in North Bergen where he had been the pastor, for $1.65 million. That allowed Rizzo to live there without paying property taxes.
The Morris County Board of Taxation revoked Rizzo’s tax-exempt status in May. He has since sold the home and moved to Somerset County.
Rizzo ran for governor in 2021 and received 25.6% of the vote in the gubernatorial primary, losing to Jack Ciattarelli by 24 percentage points. Rizzo received just 23.6% and lost to Tom Kean, Jr. by 22 points in the 2022 House primary.