Athletic director Jerry Maietta, who also serves as the head wrestling coach at North Bergen High, and Ralph Marino, a quadriplegic who was injured while playing baseball more than 30 years ago and has been a guidance counselor for many years, were arrested early Tuesday morning as part of the sweep conducted by Bergen County Prosecutor's investigators and the New Jersey State Police.
As of last week, the two were suspended from their school jobs.
Also among those also arrested was John Prato, a North Bergen native and former North Bergen High School baseball star who was involved in coaching in the North Bergen Recreation Department for many years before he moved to Brick after taking a job in the Freehold Township school system.
Prato is still one of the most respected baseball umpires in the state.
Another local figure arrested was James Skinner, Jr., a Hazlet resident who is among the leaders for the local Hudson County Carpenters Union Local 6 and has been a fixture involved in North Bergen athletics for ages.
Molinelli announced the arrests of Maietta and Marino at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in the Bergen County administrative building in Hackensack.
Molinelli said that both Maietta and Marino were allegedly "lower level operatives in an expansive network of bookies, package holders, drug dealers and drug distributors."
Skinner, his father, James W. Skinner, Sr. of Allenwood; Brian DiGuilmi of Emerson, the brother of a North Bergen police officer; and Mark Iafelice of Edgewater were described by Molinelli as alleged ring leaders who allegedly have ties with the Genovese crime family.
According to Molinelli, the investigation behind the drug and gambling ring was organized by investigators from his office, the state police and the East Rutherford Police Department.
He said that the investigation began last August after authorities received information from a confidential source as to where they could place bets.
"This was a lot of street work, a lot of behind-the-scenes work, a lot of hardcore financial reporting and investigation," Molinelli said. "At least for southern Bergen County, this will definitely put things on hold for a while in terms of illegal gambling operations." Several undercover officers went to place bets with an unidentified bookie and became part of the gambling network, which pointed investigators to alleged ring leaders Iafelice, DiGuilmi, and Skinner father and son.
Under the five people named as the ring leaders was a large group of people who were identified as "operatives" or "agents," who were allegedly paid a commission or percentage of the profits for allegedly taking bets and paying out winnings to individual gamblers.
The bets were allegedly placed either by telephone or Internet and were place on a wide range of sporting events, including professional sports and horse racing.
Molinelli estimated that more than $1 million a month was collected involving over 1,000 gamblers throughout the area.
As the investigation progressed, evidence surfaced of the illegal sales of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs, officials said.
Early Tuesday morning, authorities executed a host of search warrants throughout Bergen, Hudson, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
North Bergen consequences
According to a source, a search was conducted at Maietta's residence in North Bergen early Tuesday morning and his apartment was overturned looking for evidence. Marino, who now resides in Cliffside Park, was not rousted from his home.
It was not known if any of the drug charges are directly related to Maietta or Marino, but they have been officially charged with illegal gambling activities and conspiracy for the promotion of gambling activities.
North Bergen Superintendent of Schools Robert Dandorph did not know of Maietta and Marino's arrest when contacted Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm in the state of shock," Dandorph said. "Are you sure it's our Jerry? I really can't believe it. I'm absolutely blown away by it all. But if it's true, I would be very nervous about their future here."
He said that the Board of Education would begin its own investigation into the matter and come up with some conclusion about Maietta and Marino's fate.
The two have been temporarily suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Not only was Maietta the school's premier athletic administrator, but he has been the highly respected wrestling coach for the last decade, leading the Bruins to several team championships and awards. He was named the NJSIAA District 16 Coach of the Year last month after leading the Bruins t
o another district title. Maietta is also a member of member of the township's Planning Board.
Everyone outside North Bergen High School was stunned and shocked when they heard the news of Maietta and Marino's arrest.
"I just can't believe it about Coach Maietta and Mr. Marino," said one member of the wrestling team who requested anonymity. "This comes as a complete shock. You never think people you look up to and respect to get arrested like that. I don't get it."
"You just hope that it isn't true," said another student. "That's all you can hope for."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com