Gary Vitta

Gary Vitta Letter

February 7, 2015

 Honorable Stanley R. Chesler, U.S.D.J

United States District Court

Frank R. Lautenberg U.S. Post Office and Courthouse

2 Federal Square

Newark, New Jersey 07102


United States v. Gary Vitta

Crim. No. 15-01


Dear Judge Chesler:


            I write this letter with a heavy heart because the circumstance which leads me to write to you is painful for both Dr. Gary J. Vitta and for his friends, family and for all the people he has touched in his 40+ year public servant life.


            I served as Dr. Vitta’s School Business Administrator for his entire career in the Rockaway Township Public Schools. I had the honor of being one of the speakers at his retirement party which drew more than 200 friends, colleagues, family and dignitaries.


            I provided you with a copy of my speech (Attachment “A”) for that evening so you can begin to get a sense of who Dr. Gary J. Vitta is and what he meant to those who worked for him, are his friends and those he helped over the last 40+ years in Education. Though I was limited to 3 minutes you can read between the lines and get a glimpse of the real man that will stand before you on April 22, 2015.


            During our tenure together, Dr. Gary J. Vitta brought to the Rockaway Township Public Schools a spirit of caring, humanity and excellence. He took a district which had been running rudderless for a number of years due to Administrative largesse, Board of Education discontent and academic floundering. In his 5+ years he transformed this caldron of negativity and distrust into a highly motivated and achieving school district which became the lighthouse school district in Morris County.


           Dr. Vitta embraced my desire to expend funds to significantly upgrade the district’s infrastructure and to embark on a program to beautify and renew our schools. We shared a common belief that if you come to a school to be educated or visit that is well maintained and aesthetically appealing you will be more inclined to achieve, grow and excel. During our time together Dr Vitta lead the district through roof, painting, remodeling and landscaping campaigns that significantly improved staff and student morale and public confidence in our schools. Together, we championed the installation of solar panels on the Copeland Middle School and the Stony Brook elementary School. This endeavor paid for itself in energy savings in less than 5 years as well as a valuable instructional component of the curriculum on energy conservation and civic leadership.


            Throughout his tenure in the Rockaway Township Public Schools he never waved from his mantra……it is all about the kids. No Child Left Behind may have been the Federal government’s catch phrase and title of a Federal initiative but it was the fighting words of Dr. Gary J. Vitta. Kids first!!! Always put the kids first!!! Something that was a culture shock for the staff and community we served. Dr. Vitta was a change agent leading the Rockaway Township Public Schools into a new era of accountability, educational initiatives and student achievement.  Working tirelessly to lead by example and becoming the champion for the students of Rockaway Township to get the best education the tax dollars could provide.


            Dr. Vitta bucked the conventional wisdom of status quo in an overly property taxed community to raise local taxes to substantially improve the educational product we provided our students with, the future leaders of tomorrow. He spent countless hours going from class to class visiting classrooms and team teaching with our staff modeling the educational changes he was introducing into our curriculum to make Rockaway Township the best school system in the area. A goal he succeeded in achieving before he retired.


In the words of — Marian Edelman "Service is what life is all about." Dr. Gary J. Vitta did more than resemble that remark he lived it. In his 40+ years in Education he always put service first and his needs second. William Osler described Dr. Gary Vitta perfectly in his quote: "We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it." He is a man that was always there for the kids and not for himself. In fairness, his selfless acts did manifest themselves in tremendous pride of his accomplishments and the academic changes he fostered. Sometimes he believed his own press clippings. Then I guess he deserved the accolades for all he accomplished in 5+ years and the sense of accomplishment that exuded from him when he talked about his kids…. the students of Rockaway Township.


  Dr. Gary J. Vitta is far more than an Instructional Leader, Change Agent and Visionary. He is a son, father, grandfather, friend, colleague and mentor. To a fault he is loyal, caring, compassionate and selfless. Trusting to a fault. But then that was the Gary Vitta way. Never turn your back on someone in need. He subscribed to Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy "The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others." Something Dr. Gary J. Vitta practiced on a daily basis. Something those who can call him a friend, colleague and mentor admired in him and about him.

Your Honor, I thought I knew my colleague, Dr. Gary J. Vitta, I really didn’t. I spoke at his retirement party it was there I really got to know the man that I spent 5+ years working side by side with. It was at this party I got to meet the back stories that make up the Dr. Gary J. Vitta life story. The students he befriended 40+ years ago that he still was in touch with and was always there for them in their hour of need. In the words of Albert Einstein "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." The Vitta Way!! Meeting “Sal the Barber”, the man that cut Dr. Vitta’s hair for 25+ years. Someone Dr. Vitta called a friend and confident. Who invites his barber to his retirement dinner? Dr. Vitta, because Sal was an important part of his life….a friend.

As I traversed the venue that night I overheard a hundred Dr. Vitta stories all with a common theme….selfless acts done for others, going not the extra mile but extra hundred miles for a friend in need. Lending money to those who were less fortunate and desperate. Knowing that many of them would never be able to repay the “loan”. It was never a loan, it was a gift. A gift of love, compassion and friendship that was far more valuable than the dollar amount, a gesture of human generosity. According John Holmes "There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up." Something I learned that night while listening to the Gary Vitta stories.

As I listened to these stories I began to put them together with the personal stories I was aware of that were not part of the stories being bantered around that night. The “Elvin” story. The kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a sick and dying mother who was in over his head in debt and in need of parental guidance, direction and an friend. Something Dr. Gary Vitta never hesitated to provide. Elvin couldn’t help himself to continue to get himself into situations he couldn’t get out of by himself. Each time Dr. Gary J. Vitta was there to offer a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Today, Elvin is a proud member of the Parsippany N.J. Police Department. A father and contributing member of society. A successful role model for others who may have fallen on hard times. Absolutely and positively because one day Dr. Gary J. Vitta took Elvin into his inner web and helped Elvin become a man. Some questioned Dr. Vitta’s financial and emotional commitment to Elvin. They were wrong. Look at the final product….a man who is following in Dr. Vitta’s footsteps… service. The Elvin story is consistent with the Henry James comment "Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." A mantra forever to be associated with Dr. Gary J. Vitta.


I suppose if we both had a limitless amount of time I could share a million more Dr. Vitta caring and compassion stories. There are so many more that we know of and I am sure some I will never know of because Dr. Vitta never broke anyone’s confidence. Loyalty and compassion are his strongest attributes.

Octavia Butler is quoted as saying “Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over”. I have lived this comment for the past 6 months. I have called, texted and emailed Dr. Vitta on a daily basis since he shared with me his moment of lack of judgment, a moment of panic for which he is justly being punished for. I have visited with him and I have taken him out to lunch. I have listened to him cry on the phone, sat in his living room and watched a man I admired weep uncontrollably about his foolish and stupid act. Never once saying he didn’t make that mistake but emotionally breaking down over how his insecurity and panic could cause him to make a fatal mistake that will forever define his legacy as an Educator, friend, colleague and mentor. Your Honor, his legacy and reputation is what this man lives for. At times I really felt he may do something foolish and end his life over the shame he brought to his family, friends and his name. For all of his compassion and caring Dr. Gary J. Vitta is human. His name…. in the community and amongst his colleagues is of paramount importance to this man. Some may say vain and prideful, I counter not. He never did all he did for others for adulation. He did it for love, friendship and because it was the right thing to do. Losing his reputation is far more painful to him than losing anything else. Alexander Pope is crediting as saying "A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday." A truer statement was never uttered. Today, Dr. Gary J. Vitta stands before you a wiser man than he was 6+ months ago. He has spent the past 6+ months beating himself up for a moment’s poor judgment a direct result of panicking after meeting with law enforcement officials. A moment he would love to have back, a do over, which would set his world back into a normal rotation as opposed to spinning out of control.

            Will Rogers hit it right on the head...."Everyone is ignorant, only on different issues." Dr. Vitta was ignorant. Ignorant to let himself panic over benign questions. This fatal lapse of judgment on his part continues to haunt him, his family and will probably haunt them forever. An unknown author is credited as saying "The consequences of today are determined by the actions of the past. To change your future, alter your decisions today." A lesson Dr. Vitta has learned, the hard way.

      As a Police Reserve Officer in Paramus and the father of a Randolph Township Police Officer and son of a Hudson County Principal Probation Officer, if he asked me for direction I would provided him with the responsible thing to do. Then we would not be having this discussion. I guess A. Favre was right…."It is only those who never do anything who never make mistakes." Vernon Law hit it on the head by saying..."Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward."

 Ralph Waldo Emerson stated “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them” In Dr. Vitta’s case, that is the furthest from the truth. His being stupid with an old friend, an act he fully acknowledges and takes responsibility for,  has cost him his reputation, his health and a tremendous amount of pain for his family.

 In summation, I have stood beside Dr. Vitta these past 6+ months. Propping him up as he fell down in shame and in emotional and moral bankruptcy. I have wiped his tears and talked him down off the ledge more times than I care to admit. I have performed “therapy” as my family calls it 2-3 times a day with Dr. Vitta. If you are a fan of NCIS you know that the one thing Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is famous for is slapping Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo in the back of the head when he is acting stupid. Trust me, if afforded the opportunity before Dr. Vitta made his foolish lack of judgment I would have slapped him in the back of his head hard enough to launch him into the next county. Friends do that for friends. Yes, after working together for 5+ years I finally made my way onto Dr. Vitta’s friend list. A list while we worked together regrettably I was never part of. I am proud to be his friend. I am deeply saddened by his behavior but knowing the man that he is I known it truly was a lack of judgment brought on by panic on his part. In the end, still egregiously wrong and something only you will have the final say on.

 On Dr. Vitta’s sentencing day I will be in Naples Florida attending my 29 year old niece’s “Celebration of Life” honoring her life that was cut too short in November 2014. If I hadn’t had this family obligation please be assured I would be standing proudly behind Dr. Gary J. Vitta. Probably weeping with him over his poor decision skills and praying that after reading my letter and those of all his other supporters that you too will see that Dr. Gary J. Vitta is not the man in reality that the charges suggest. He is a man of integrity and a consummate civic leader who has had a positive impact on over 100,000 students over a 40+ year career. A man that has donated his time and expertise to so many charities and programs. A man worthy of your mercy.

     I am sure I am breaking protocol but I encourage you to reach out to me if you deem it appropriate to ask me any unanswered questions you may have. As you can see by my letter and those of the others we stand by the Dr. Gary J. Vitta we know and love. If any of his supporters can be of any further assistance to you in your process please do not hesitate to reach out to us. This man has always sacrificed of himself for others and now it is our turn to be there for him.



                                                                          Dr. James P. Verbist




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