TOMS RIVER-When the Toms River School board voted against awarding a contract to the politically connected campaign donor of newly elected board member Daniel Leonard back in March, turmoil began to set in with the nine member body that governs the school district.
Divided along party lines, Leonard, a Republican seeking to regain control of the board his party had lost it after the Michael Ritacco FBI led corruption scandal, teamed up with fellow Republicans Chris Raimann and Ed Nardini in their vote to return the Ritacco era firm back to the district.
The three Republicans voted in favor of awarding the contract to Holman Frenia, a firm which receives political appointments across Ocean County’s Republican controlled boards and commissions.
School Board President Ben Giovine, at that meeting indicated the board’s vote went against Holman Frenia, despite their lowest bid, because of possible political, ethical and financial ethical concerns involving the firm’s $1,000 donation to Leonard through a political action committee. Giovine indicated that the board declined that bid due to possible ethical and pay to play improprieties, considering the district’s recent history with the Ritacco scandal.
Leonard blasted the board for their decision, which eventually cost the district an additional $20,000 on the contract, but avoided any claims of impropriety. Leonard disagreed.
Leonard, according to district and political insiders felt the Holman contract was a done deal, but after the vote took place and Leonard’s firm was not chosen, he took his anger out on fellow board member Robert Onofrietti, whom he had past differences with both on and off the board during his three month tenure in the district.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the feud between Leonard and Onofrietti boiled over, just days after Leonard admitted to staking out Onofrietti’s home and sending harassing and threatening text messages.
During the meeting, after Onofrietti complained about Leonard’s placement of non-board approved commercial advertising flyers promoting Leonard’s Soulsational Festival held in Berkeley Township, Leonard leaned back in his chair and allegedly said to Onofrietti, “You’re a little bitch!”
Leonard disputes the claim made by Onofrietti and told the Asbury Park Press, he said, “You’re a little snitch.” Audio minutes of the meeting at this point have yet to be released by the school district, but the encounter was captured on video by political journalist Gavin Rozzi of Ocean County Politics. The video shows Leonard engaging Onofrietti, but the audio did not pick up what he said.
A check of Leonard’s financial disclosure form on file with the New Jersey Department of Education does not list Leonard’s involvement in Soulsational as required by law.
Days earlier, Leonard lashed out against Onofrietti on his Facebook page, followed by the visit to his home, which Onofrietti reported to the Toms River Police Department and said was captured by a neighbor’s home security camera system.
Leonard admitted on his Facebook page to parking in front of Onofrietti’s home and casing his house while his wife walked the family dog. The Toms River Police Department released copies of the texts Leonard sent Onofrietti after he sped away once being discovered. Leonard further escalated his harassment against Onofrietti, saying he wanted to “see what it looks like when somebody lives beyond their means.”
Those texts read “;)” and “Cute Dog”. Considering the long history between the two, Onofrietti took the messages as a form of harassment and intimidation.
Last July, before his 2016 election, Leonard, a politically connected Republican in Ocean County, also was awarded a job with Ocean County’s Workforce Development Board.
Leonard now faces criminal harassment charges, filed with the Toms River Police Department by Onofrietti. Onofrietti this week said he also filed school board ethics charges against Leonard for his outlandish behavior.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the board said the matter was under investigation and withheld all comments on the matter.
Related Coverage of this Scandal
Video of Leonard’s alleged threat against Onofrietti – by Gavin Rozzi
Toms River School Board Feud Spills Into Public Meeting – by Toms River Patch
Toms River School Board Member Being Bullied – by Asbury Park Press
I’ve been threatened – by Ocean County Politics