On November 21, 2022, the Township of Ocean (Monmouth County, NJ) quietly paid $110,000 to its former township manager who had claimed that he was fired in late 2020 for exposing or threatening to expose what he claimed to be “unlawful, fraudulent and/or criminal behavior” of Township officials.
In his lawsuit, Michael F. Muscillo, who was hired as Ocean Township Manager on June 29, 2017, claimed that he was fired because he threatened to blow the whistle on the allegedly wrongful conduct of Mayor John P. Napolitani, Sr. and then Township Council member Christopher P. Siciliano. Specifically, Muscillo claimed that Township officials tried to steer a law enforcement job toward one of Siciliano’s relatives and created a position of deputy manager for an unnamed code enforcement officer to occupy. He also accused Napolitani and Siciliano of operating a “shadow government” and attempting to violate the Open Public Meetings Act. Further, Napolitani allegedly conducted business through his construction company with a condominium association that simultaneously engaged in litigation with the Township, according to the lawsuit.
Of the $110,000 settlement, Muscillo received $87,362.50 and his lawyers received $22,637.50 for costs and fees.
The case is captioned Muscillo v. Township of Ocean, Docket No. MON-L-3895-21 and Muscillo’s attorney was Michael W. Hoffman of Ocean Township. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Muscillo agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.
None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Napolitani, Siciliano of any other employee or official mentioned in the lawsuit. Muscillo’s allegations are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that Ocean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Muscillo $110,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.