The story of the Assemblyman who got caught stealing an air conditioner

Arnold D’Ambrosa was the 40-year-old Rahway Democratic Municipal Chairman and Public Works Director when he was elected to the State Assembly in 1973. But his political career lasted just slightly longer than Evelyn Williams’.

D’Ambrosa and Berkeley Heights Township Committeewoman Betty Wilson, 41, unseated two Republican Assemblymen, Arthur Manner (R-Berkeley Heights) and Herbert Kiehn (R-Chatham) in the old 22nd, a politically competitive district that included Berkeley Heights, Clark, Fanwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains, Springfield and Chatham Township. Wilson won by more than 6,000 votes, and D’Ambrosa by nearly 4,000. A Republican Assemblyman, Peter McDonough (R-Plainfield), narrowly won the State Senate seat of Jerome Epstein, the Senator who went to jail for being a pirate.

In July 1974, six months after taking office, D’Ambrosa was arrested on charges that he sold an air conditioner owned by Rahway for $600, pocketing the money, and he took a $200 bribe from a contractor. He was also accused of lying to a grand jury, and for using city materials and employees to do work on his shore home in Point Pleasant.

Professing his innocence, D’Ambrosa completed the remaining eighteen months of his Assembly term. In January 1976, just days before leaving office, he got nine months in prison after admitting to charges of embezzlement, bribery, perjury and misconduct as part of a plea bargain. He was fired from his $16,000-a-year job in Rahway and lost his $10,000-a-year Assembly seat. (Is anyone else wondering how he was able to afford the shore house?)

After prison, he moved to Point Pleasant full-time and started a nautical supply business. He owns Arnold’s Yacht Basin. He is now a 76-year-old Ocean County Republican and has contributed more than $3,500 to State Sen. Andrew Ciesla (R-Brick) and Assemblymen James Holzapfel (R-Toms River) and David Wolfe (R-Brick) over the last decade.

In 1975, the two 22nd district Assembly seats went Republican. Wilson and her new running mate, William Wolf, were ousted by former Union County Freeholder William Maguire and Donald DiFrancesco, the Scotch Plains municipal prosecutor. DiFrancesco beat Wilson by 2,387 votes.

After her defeat, Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed Wilson to serve as Assistant Commissioner of Environmental Protection, and later as Deputy Commissioner of Labor. Gov. Jim Florio, who served with Wilson in the Assembly until his election to Congress in 1974, appointed her Assistant Commissioner of Human Services when he became Governor in 1990. In 2004, Gov. Richard Codey, who was also elected to the State Assembly in 1973, named Wilson to serve as Chairman of the Pinelands Commission. She held that post until her retirement last year.

The story of the Assemblyman who got caught stealing an air conditioner