Madison Councilman Dr. Vincent Esposito's life "was turned upside down in one fell swoop," he has said, after he was arrested on drug distribution charges in February for allegedly writing prescriptions for painkillers for people he never examined, including undercover law enforcement informants.
Esposito has denied the charges and, out on $75,000 bail, he gave a brief statement at the next Madison Council meeting saying he was falsely accused and would fight the charges.
The borough attorney at the time, the late Joseph Mezzacca Jr., said because they were only charges, there was nothing to keep Esposito from serving.
"He's a functioning councilperson, just like the other ones," he said.
Esposito, the council's liaison to the Madison electric utility, did continue to serve like other council members for the remaining 10 months of his three-year term, which is up at the end of December. Esposito attended council meetings and appeared at public events. With Mayor Bob Conley, he hosted a special public information meeting on Madison's electric utility in August. He was on hand as JCP&L worked to get power restored for Madison's electric utility after Superstorm Sandy. And he advocated for the implementation of an asset management program, which involves taking inventory of Madison's assets, listing when they might need to be repaired or replaced, and estimating the cost for budget planning purposes.
Esposito said the legal trouble and his serving elected office did not run into each other.
"I kept it separate," Esposito said in an interview after Monday's Borough Council, the last regular meeting of the year.
He said he plans to attend the governing body's reorganization meeting on Jan. 1. Esposito did not seek re-election. The case against him has not yet been presented to a grand jury.
Medical license surrendered
In March, Esposito agreed to temporarily surrender his medical license pending the disposition of the criminal charges, and his office on Main Street was listed for rent.
His defense attorney, Peter Gilbreth, said this week the attorney general's office is still reviewing the case, and he did not know when the case would be presented to a grand jury. A message left with the Division of Criminal Justice on Thursday seeking an update on the status of the case was not immediately returned.
In announcing the charges, which authorities said were filed after a nearly yearlong investigation and after executing a search warrant at Esposito's office, law enforcement officials had harsh words for Esposito.
“For a doctor to indiscriminately prescribe dangerous addictive pills for personal profit, as we allege in this case, is both a serious crime and a shocking betrayal of professional ethics," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.
Brian Crowell, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration New Jersey Division, said, “This is an educated medical professional, who violated his oath to his patients, despite all the public awareness campaigns in New Jersey identifying the dangers of diverted pain medicine and the harm and pain they cause in our communities. The defendant is a prime example of the problems fueling our drug threat in the region, and we are relieved he is out of business.”
Esposito was charged with second-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance and conspiracy. In New Jersey, second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
Esposito, a 1975 Madison High School graduate and long-time school district physician, said he toyed with idea of running for re-election, but his decision not to run again came down to wanting to avoid a nervous breakdown.
Elected office "takes a toll" and can easily be a full-time job, he said.
There could be runs for political office in the future, and Esposito said he plans to serve the community in other ways, possibly on borough committees.
"I enjoyed my time here on Council," he said. He said he enjoyed working with administrators and fellow council members.
Esposito, who is married and has three children in college, was born and raised in Madison. His parents were Italian immigrants, and his father worked for Madison's Department of Public Works.
Esposito said he plans to be at the reorganization meeting when Astri Baillie and Ben Wolkowitz assume the seats left by him and Don Links, one of Esposito's running mates.
Baillie and Wolkowitz are Democrats while Esposito is a Republican, but Esposito said party affiliation does not necessarily matter at the local level.
Esposito broke with the Republican majority in voting to approve the 2012 budget, and voted against a resolution to remove the borough administrator, an action that sparked a public outcry and was later undone. He said the council is in good hands, and party affiliation does not necessarily affect how much money comes out of taxpayers' pockets.
"A road is a road is a road," he said.