TOMS RIVER / SEASIDE PARK, N.J. – Juan C. Bellu, chairman of the Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority and Toms River Republican Club Board of Trustees does not actually reside in Toms River, public records confirmed.
The residency of the de facto leader of the Toms River Republican organization continues to be a sore point among rank-and-file Republicans in the River City. While it has sometimes even become a joke at campaign events, many inside the township’s dominant political party have been left scratching their heads over the fact that their organization’s leader does not actually live in their town, and consequentially does not have to live under the decisions he makes as an MUA commissioner.
Bellu’s residency has been well-known among those on the inside of the tangled web that is Toms River politics, but the issues surrounding Bellu were never publicized due to fears of retribution from GOP higher-ups.
More Bellu Baloney?
Mr. Bellu, a known patronage beneficiary, is best remembered as the former assistant business administrator hired in the waning days of the Acropolis administration in Brick in 2008. In that role, Bellu eventually earned $156,824 per year. Two years after Bellu was hired in Brick, former mayor Stephen Acropolis was hired as the new executive director of the Toms River MUA, leading some to allege a quid-pro-quo relationship between the two Republican officials.
At the time Bellu submitted his job application to Brick, he had just one reference, Mayor Acropolis. Bellu was later fired from his job in Brick after Acropolis chose not to seek reelection and Democrat Mayor John Ducey’s team took over.
During the legal battle that ensued over the firing of Bellu, Brick lawyers claimed that Bellu lied about having a bachelor of science degree from Montclair State University as listed on his application, and that Acropolis created a sham civil service job title to protect Bellu from being fired, despite him not being qualified for the job he was given in the first place. Both sides eventually signed a release agreement that ended the fight, with both sides dropping the case before the state Civil Service Commission.
Bellu also saw his daughter-in-law added to the TRMUA’s payroll. Kelly Bellu – who is now on extended leave without pay – is the daughter of Toms River councilman Jeff Carr.
All Of Bellu’s Toms River Homes Have Been Sold, Records Show
Mr. Bellu previously had lived in Toms River, but public records show that all of Bellu’s previous Toms River residences have been sold. Bellu and his wife Amy previously resided at 1704 New Hampshire Avenue, but Ocean County Clerk’s Office records show that the home was sold in 2013.
In May of 2013, Bellu and his wife sold the New Hampshire Ave. home for $376,000 to Steven Cherecwich. It should be noted that this deed was prepared by James Gluck, who represented Bellu in the transaction. Gluck is the same lawyer appointed to represent the Toms River MUA, which Bellu chairs. Gluck also represented Bellu in land deals with jailed former Toms River Schools Superintendent Michael Ritacco, who sold then-vacant land near the New Hampshire Ave. home to Bellu in 2003, while Gilmore partner Tom Monahan represented Ritacco.
After selling their Toms River home, Bellu and his wife Amy purchased their current home in Seaside Park in September of 2013 for the sum of $470,000, according to the deed.
The latest financial disclosure form filed by Bellu had a few giveaways that demonstrate Bellu does not actually reside in Toms River. First, he lists his “home address” as a P.O. Box. Secondly, the only residential property listed on his disclosure form that is owned by Bellu is located in the Borough of Seaside Park, not Toms River. Lastly, a check of Toms River MUA account records revealed that Mr. Bellu does not currently have a water / sewer account with the MUA.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs did not immediately respond to an inquiry as to whether using a P.O. box as a “home address” for the purpose of local government financial disclosure was permissible under the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law.
Additionally, state voter registration records indicated that as of the publication of this article, Bellu has not updated his voter registration since 1981, when he first moved to Toms River, despite multiple changes in his residence since then.
As Chairman Of TR GOP Board Of Trustees, Bellu Has The Real Power
Actions previously taken by deceased former Toms River GOP patriarch Rick Clement – whose wife Deborah Clement is currently a TRMUA commissioner – saw the bylaws of the Toms River Republican Club reshuffled to have most of the power within the organization go to the chairman of the club’s board of trustees, not the club president, a maneuver that originally served to solidify Clement’s power. Mr. Bellu is the current beneficiary of that move, since he currently holds that title in addition to heading up the TRMUA board of commissioners.
In addition to state law being silent on whether appointed MUA commissioners must actually live in the towns that they serve, Toms River Township Clerk J. Mark Mutter said in response to an Open Public Records Act request that no policy exists in the township. However, unlike MUA commissioners, a copy of the Toms River Republican Club’s bylaws obtained by Ocean County Politics indicates that regular, voting members of the club as well as club officers must be residents of Toms River, which Bellu does not appear to be.
Mutter also confirmed that Bellu did not submit a resume to the township council when originally appointed to the MUA.
Republican sources told OCP that multiple members of the club have complained to GOP leaders including Mayor Tom Kelaher, but nothing seems to be getting done about the issues surrounding the organization’s de facto head.
Accusations surrounding residency have sunk the political prospects of others, such as former Stafford Township Mayor John McMenamin, and they even dogged CD3 Rep. Tom MacArthur as he faced opponents including Toms River Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill and perennial candidate Steve Lonegan, but like MacArthur, questions surrounding Bellu’s residency have yet to stop him.
This year, campaign finance records showed Bellu as being the chair of newly appointed Councilman Kevin Geoghegan’s first reelection campaign, with Bellu’s business partner Carmen Memoli listed as the campaign’s treasurer. The Bellu Memoli accounting firm receives just one public contract, with Mr. Bellu being listed as the Jackson Township Rent Leveling Board’s accountant.