Morris County Republicans won a lawsuit against controversial former congressional candidate Phil Rizzo. Superior Court Judge David Weaver found that the grifter ex-pastor stiffed them out of $1,300 he had agreed to pay for a table at the GOP county convention in 2022.
Weaver deducted $200 from the amount the Morris GOP initially sought, citing a technical glitch that didn’t keep candidate ads running on a continuous loop on a 50” TV screen during the convention. He also dismissed Rizzo’s $600 counterclaim, finding that the huckster’s ad did appear in a handbook distributed to county committee members.
“I do believe that that was part of his bargain,” Weaver said about the lopped ads. “But as I said, I think the bigger portion of the vast majority of that bargain was for the table, the banner, the opportunity to hand out the literature.
But Weaver also found that testimony by the party’s former executive director, Anthony DeSpirito, was credible. DeSpirito testified that Rizzo’s political director, Daniel Laucik, Jr., agreed to pay for a table and produced a copy of an online contribution for $1,500 on the night of the convention but never hit submit on the payment platform.
“(Laucik) agreed to purchase a table sponsorship for the 2022 Morris County Republican Committee Convention, and it was supposed to be paid at the time of the convention,” Weaver stated. “People were authorized to enter the convention, and the campaign complaint indicates that he showed a picture of the donation to the organization for $1,500 and was allowed in, and they had made contact with Mr. Laucik and the campaign and the campaign with no resolution in that regard.”
That ends the five-day small claims court trial, which included hours of testimony since it began last December, but doesn’t necessarily mean the county GOP organization will ever recover the money. The Rizzo for Congress campaign committee was dissolved in the previous year with zero dollars cash-on-hand. The judgment specifically absolves Rizzo of any personal liability.
Rizzo has a history of cheating people out of money. Former tenants had won a $15,000 judgment against Rizzo in 2015. Still, he didn’t make good on his debt until last year when the tenants filed a lawsuit alleging fraud during Rizzo’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district. POLITICO reporter Matt Friedman wrote that court documents showed Rizzo told the tenant “they would never see a dime from him.”
In his testimony, Rizzo suggested that the convention process was rigged because he had polling that showed him to be in second place and in range of winning but that the votes showed him in fourth. A Rizzo witness, East Hanover GOP county committeewoman Marleen Nigro, testified that Rizzo received the ”most whistles and the most applause” off any candidate who spoke.
“There was testimony today that there is a process, an interior process, to contest or challenge the election, that that was never done,” Weaver said. “It’s not something that the court in a small claims action would make findings on.”
Now-Rep. 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 out of 127 cast – a mere 15.7%.
Kean defeated Rizzo in the June Republican primary by 22 percentage points and then defeated Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in the general election.
This was Rizzo’s second consecutive loss in as many years. He sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2021 but lost by 26 points to former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough).
An earlier version of this story had the incorrect sequence of events that led Rizzo to pay a $15,000 judgment against him last year. It has been corrected.