PRINCETON: Ex-Triangle Club accountant sentenced to three years in prison

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
As the accountant of the performing arts group at Princeton University called the Triangle Club, Thomas Muza was given a position of trust. It was a trust that he broke time and time again, something that Mr. Muza said Friday that he regretted on a day when he was sentenced to three years in state prison for stealing $240,000 that he used to furnish his lifestyle. He is not expected to serve out the full term, as his lawyer said he would apply to an early release program that could have him free in a matter of months.
Prior to being sentenced, Mr. Muza said in court that he thinks on what he did daily, and wished he “could have stopped.”
“I did a terrible thing,” Mr. Muza told Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon, sitting in Trenton. “I made a mistake.”
His “mistake” involved using club checks to pay his credit card bills and making checks out to himself to pay other expenses during a span from 2008 to 2013, said the state Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case. In his role as accountant, he was able to sign club checks.
His deception was uncovered during a review of the club’s finances, authorities said the club’s law firm referred the matter to authorities, which charged him in November 2013.
“Muza corruptly repaid the trust of the members of this illustrious musical-comedy troupe by stealing nearly a quarter of a million dollars from them,” said acting-Attorney General John Hoffman in a statement Friday. “What’s more, this was not a one-time lapse; he had his hand in the till over and over again in the course of five years.”
In March, he pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by unlawful taking, in a plea deal calling for him to go to prison and pay full restitution. Authorities agreed to recommend that the crime be sentenced as a third-degree offense, which meant Mr. Muza would face less time in prison.
In court, defense lawyer Robin K. Lord urged the judge to not send the 57-year-old to prison. Instead, she sought a lesser penalty, either probation or county jail time or some combination of the two.
“His life is ruined,” she told the judge. “He’s mortified.”
But the judge noted that Mr. Muza had been given a position of trust and that he took advantage of nonprofit organizations. “This was a serious offense,” Judge Lydon said from the bench in later calling the punishment “certainly warranted.”
Still, the judge noted that Mr. Muza had never been in trouble with the law before, was unlikely to commit another offense and has and will continue to make restitution.
Earlier, Mr. Muza handed over two checks, one for $184,000 payable to the club and the other for $16,000 to the university. He still owes the university $40,000.
“It’s a sad and solemn day,” said Marc Segan, chairman of the graduate trustees of the Triangle Club, outside the courtroom. “Tom betrayed a great trust over a sustained period of time and hurt a lot of people, including himself and his family.”
Mr. Muza was paid $4,000 a year to be the Club accountant, Mr. Hoffman’s office said. He also was the general manager of McCarter Theatre, where the Triangle Club performs. He was fired from both.
Since then, Mr. Muza said he had been working three jobs and volunteering in the community. He is a resident of Hightstown.
Mr. Muza was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs but turned to look at his wife and other family sitting in the back. He is not expected to spend anywhere close to the full three years in prison.
Ms. Lord said that he would apply to the Intensive Supervision Program, which provides early release for low-level offenders. If accepted, he could be let out in a matter of months. Judge Lydon said he would recommend that Mr. Muza be accepted into the program, commonly referred to in legal circles as ISP.