County GOP regrouping after arrest

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SPARTA-Sussex County Republicans acknowledged a terrible tragedy had taken place, but were eager to move ahead following the resignation of the Sparta GOP chairman who was arrested last week on child pornography charges. State Police arrested Sparta resident and defense attorney Jeffrey Patti and 36 other New Jersey residents for allegedly distributing or possessing a video clip of a 5-year-old girl being raped. "It's a terrible tragedy for his family," said Rich Zeoli, Sussex County Republican chairman, who accepted Patti's resignation following the child pornography disclosures. "But life will go on. This involved one individual. His personal life has no bearing on us." Zeoli said the members of the Sparta Republican Committee are expected to appoint a new leader Monday. "There were 221 other Republicans (committee members) who weren't arrested over the weekend on any charges under the sun," said Zeoli. "We have real political issues important to us. Everyone is trying to move on." Patti had been a committee member since 2000. His wife, Jennifer, is also a member of the Sparta Municipal Republican Committee. "It's a tragedy and I feel for his family, but he is just one of dozens of municipal chairs," said Sussex County freeholder Harold Wirths, a Republican from Wantage Township. "He was one of many players in Sussex County. He just wasn't a major player." Patti, 36, who is married with two daughters, 2 and 6 months, is a partner with his father, Frank, in a Sparta law firm. Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R-24) said the fact that Patti was chairman of the Sparta Republican Committee is unrelated to the party. "This is a personal tragedy for the family," said Gregg. "We will just have to wait, watch, and see." Patti is well-known in Sparta circles. The resident of the Lake Mohawk section of the township once unsuccessfully tried to prevent the country club from installing speed bumps on roads within the private community. Patti was released on his own recognizance after being charged. A police spokesman said troopers had built up an abundance of evidence before any of the arrests were made. Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and State Police Supt. Col. Rick Fuentes said detectives used new technology to uncover child pornography files shared over the Internet, and then traced them to the computers on which they were stored. Harvey said those arrested range in age from 14-61 including a high-school hockey coach and a pediatric neurosurgeon. Detectives seized Patti's computer and others for allegedly containing still photos and video images of child pornography. Among the images were a series of video clips showing the molestation and rape of a five-year-old girl in Georgia by a man now serving a 45-year prison term. In a number of cases, investigators found evidence of child pornography despite the presence of computer software designed to permanently erase files and remove web site traces. "We will prosecute anyone who knowingly downloads from the Internet and circulates images of children who are being sexually exploited," said Harvey. "We will do everything we can to stop adults who abuse, exploit, and hurt children, whether over the Internet or in the community. Through technology and training, we are constantly enhancing our ability to do just that." The investigation was spawned by the use of a file-sifting technology. Over a two-day monitoring period, this software detected images of child pornography and traced them to 42 computer addresses in New Jersey that received and/or offered to circulate them. "Every time another person transmits these sickening images, the children depicted in them are victimized all over again," said Fuentes. "We want everyone to know that those dealing in child porn are on our radar, and we're closing in. This is not an issue of what people do in the privacy of their homes. We're interrupting criminal careers. We believe that viewing and transmitting these videos is part of a timeline that may lead to stalking and criminal sexual contact with children."