VERNON, NJ – Last week, Jack Ciattarelli, a GOP candidate running for Governor in Tuesday’s primary election sent out a campaign mailer criticizing his opponent “Jersey” Phil Rizzo for living in the lap of luxury, tax-free, in a $1.6 million estate that his tiny church paid for.
It was first reported by Politico that Rizzo’s small Hoboken “City Baptist Church” paid a whopping $1.6 million sum for Rizzo’s lavish 5 bedroom, 7 bath estate complete with a heated pool in New Vernon, 45 minutes west of his small inner city church.
“Rizzo lives for free with his family in this mansion with 5 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 3 fireplaces and a heated pool,” Ciattarelli said.
Phil Rizzo — who leads the tiny City Baptist Church in Hudson County — and his wife, Jennifer, paid $1.55 million in 2015 for a five-bedroom, seven-bath home on six secluded acres in New Vernon, Morris County, about 45 minutes away from the church. Two years later, the Rizzos sold the house for $1.65 million to City Baptist Church. Rizzo has said his family still lives in the house — property-tax free. Public records list it as a property tax-exempt parsonage, saving more than $15,000 in taxes per year in the state that has among the highest property taxes in the country.
In September, the home was put up for sale, according to NJ 101.5 with an asking price of $2.65 million, just a few years after the City Baptist Church paid the Rizzo family for the home.
It got us thinking. Is this legal? Is it ethical?
We’ve all heard stories of evangelical pastors who shake their membership down for money only to bank that money for their own lavish lifestyle. Is Phil Rizzo shaking down his congregation or is he using this tiny church and his status as a pastor as some kind of personal tax shelter? Rizzo hasn’t talked about this on the campaign trail.
A few “Trump!” shouts and the masses forget that he could possibly be hiding something. What is he hiding? Is he hiding anything or is he truly a man who has given up his wordly existence in the name of God? Minus of course, the $1.65 million estate in the suburbs.
The City Baptist Church seems to be doing well and apparently attracts the extremely wealthy. The church formed in 2012 and has operated out of makeshift churches in retail and office space throughout the city. In 2017, the church grew to 60 people according to the Hudson Reporter.
The church opened in a storefront on Jefferson Street, but was flooded during Superstorm Sandy. For a while it met regularly in the Hoboken High School Auditorium, but now, back on its feet, the church operates out of a small retail space next to an office service and supply storefront below an apartment building.
After services, Rizzo leaves the inner city for his spacious $1.65 million home in Vernon, paid for by the church, property tax free and relaxes in his new inground swimming pool and inside his newly renovated pastor’s estate. It raises questions few in New Jersey seem to be asking.
Rizzo isn’t expected to win on Tuesday. He’s polling under 10% in most legitimate polls. If we learned anything about the lavish lifestyle of Phil Rizzo, maybe the lesson is we all should have found God sooner and became people of the cloth in order to live a better life in New Jersey. It’s the only way to beat the high property taxes…the highest in the nation and for that, we give Phil Rizzo mad props. If you can’t beat the system…cheat it.