Ocean County Freeholder Director Joe Vicari has filed a civil suit against his former rival, Democrat Tim Ryan, and several others for defamation over allegations made by Ryan during the recent, hard-fought freeholder campaign that Vicari was under investigation by the FBI.
The lawsuit was announced Friday at a press conference held Friday at the office of attorney Robert C. Shea of Toms River, who is representing Vicari. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus legal fees and interest from Ryan, former county employee and fellow Republican William Santos, who leveled the allegations to the press and at a public meeting of the freeholder board, and Alice Santangelo, Ryan’s campaign treasurer. Also named in the suit is Vision Media Marketing, which handled the Ryan campaign.
Ryan based much of his campaign against Vicari on allegations leveled by Santos – who left his county job as the superintendent of the Building and Grounds Department in 2012 – that Vicari was under investigation by the FBI and that agents had come to his house twice to discuss the matter.
But at a freeholder meeting in October, where each spoke public about the purported investigation, both were forced to admit that they could not produce evidence proving their allegations. At the same meeting, county attorney Jack Sahradnik said no one from the FBI ever was in contact with the county nor had any documents been requested.
The defendants “engaged in a repeated and malicious course of conduct with the purpose of defaming Joseph Vicari and perpetuating a fraud upon the citizens of Ocean County through the malicious dissemination of false information,” the suit says.
Ryan and his co-defendants also defamed Vicari by associating his name in campaign literature with “Sex and Money,” referencing a harassment complaint filed against the county over acts committed by a contractor, Brick resident Joseph Veni, as well as additional campaign literature that accused Vicari of taking bribes, according to the filing.
Ryan acted intentionally by distributing such information to the public, the suit claims.
Vicari ultimately won the freeholder race with a commanding lead.