Larrison gives up turnpike position

After charge filed, he cites ill health

Published in the Asbury Park Press 04/30/05

Former Monmouth County Freeholder Director Harry Larrison Jr. resigned Friday from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's board of commissioners.

The resignation, effective immediately, was issued two days after Larrison was charged with accepting at least $8,500 in bribes from two local developers.

County spokesman William K. Heine said Larrison's family asked that his office make the announcement, which gave Larrison's failing health as the reason for his resignation. He has advanced liver cancer.

"He wanted to resign because he missed a lot of meetings because of his cancer treatments," Heine said.

Larrison, 78, of Ocean Grove, was a freeholder for nearly 39 years. He cited his poor health as the reason for his retirement from the all-Republican board in December.

Larrison served on the New Jersey Highway Authority, which oversaw the Garden State Parkway, from 1995 to 2002. He was appointed by then-Gov. James E. McGreevey to the turnpike's board when the toll roads merged.

Mike Lapolla, executive director for the turnpike, was not available for comment.

Joe Orlando, a spokesman for the turnpike, said Larrison hadn't attended a meeting since June 2004. Orlando added that Larrison offered to resign if his lack of attendance presented a problem, but he was never asked to step down.

Howard Brownstein, a Union City attorney representing Larrison, said he didn't know his client resigned from the turnpike authority.

Larrison was issued a criminal complaint Wednesday that charged him with one count of accepting two cash bribes from two unnamed developers between 2001 and 2003. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Brownstein said he asked the court to indefinitely delay Larrison's initial court appearance, which was supposed to be on Friday, because of Larrison's frail condition. Brownstein said he met with representatives of the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey on Friday but they haven't determined a time frame for his client to appear in court.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, said his office is pursuing the matter regardless of Larrison's health.

"Harry Larrison is charged, and we have every intention of prosecution," Drewniak said.

Brownstein, who spent several hours with Larrison on Thursday, said Larrison contends he is innocent and will eventually plead not guilty.

Sources have said Larrison's former driver, Anthony J. Palughi, is the unnamed county official listed in the criminal complaint filed against Larrison. Sources identified the developers as Anthony Spalliero of Marlboro and his frequent business partner Terry Sherman of Holmdel. Those three men have not been charged.

When asked how Larrison could have been implicated in this scheme, Brownstein pointed to Palughi.

"The bag man bagged the money," Brownstein said, adding that Palughi told the developers that Larrison wanted the money but it wasn't really he who wanted the money — it was Palughi. "He got the money and put it in his pocket."

Palughi could not be reached for comment. His wife, Jane, said her husband doesn't live at their Allaire Road home in Wall anymore.

His daughter, Jane Casagrande, who has a clerical position in Wall Township government and is an adjunct horticulture professor at Brookdale Community College, would not comment on her father's whereabouts. Neither would a woman who answered the phone at the home of his brother, Michael Palughi, a former Long Branch councilman.

Brownstein said Larrison didn't need the money for Florida vacations, as alleged in the criminal complaint.

"Harry is a very wealthy man. What does he need $8,500 for?" Brownstein said. "It makes no sense."

Brownstein said he is not involved in Monmouth County politics and didn't know Larrison before being hired to represent him.

Brownstein said his client, who has also battled prostate and colon cancer, is in his final stages of life. Incriminating conversations with Palughi — recorded in February — occurred while Larrison was receiving chemotherapy and apparently not very lucid, Brownstein said.

Brownstein said it was difficult to interview his client because he kept dozing off and eventually took a nap.

Nina Rizzo: (732) 308-7755 or