Sources allege corruption at Elizabeth Police Department

In the state’s fourth largest city, sources say no-show jobs in the police dept. could be the tip of the iceberg

UCL-elizabeth police patch-CELIZABETH — For years a clique called “the family” ruled within the city police department, opening doors for advancement, no-show overtime jobs and other perks to members.

And although this group supposedly lost power, members of the police force claim corruption still runs rampant throughout the department.

Last fall when reports surfaced that more than 20 city police officers were being investigated for no-show overtime jobs within the housing authority, it should have opened the door to how things operate in this department. But it never did.

In fact, other than a brief mention on a television news program on the NJ12 network and an article in the statewide paper, The Star-Ledger, nothing more has been heard about this practice. Or, for that matter, what else might be going on within this department led by Police Director James Cosgrove and Police Chief Patrick Shannon.

Cosgrove, retired from the Newark Police Department, has overseen the Elizabeth Police Department for more than 14 years. Shannon, chief for three years, has been a member of the force for 38 years. Both have been cited by members of the Elizabeth police department as “turning the other cheek” when it came to the no-show job practice.

According to two members of the city police force, the officers involved in the scheme signed up for extra duty overtime hours at one of four senior housing complexes but either came late, stayed only a brief portion of the assigned 8-eight hour shift or never showed up at all.

Regardless, each was paid $27.50 per hour for “working” the off duty jobs. Surveillance cameras verified the police officers in question were not working when they were supposed to be, according to a police investigator’s report provided to LocalSource.

Six of the officers involved, five detectives and one sergeant from the narcotics division, are currently being investigated by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, according to the report. Several of the detectives are also being accused of using other police officers to sign false time sheets, and according to two sources, have been demoted.

The other 17 to 20 police officers are reportedly being disciplined internally by the department in order to avoid criminal charges.

An internal police department memo from Shannon dated Jan. 24 listed the names of the 21 police officers and detectives involved in the no-show job scheme. All were denied recent provisional work permits “pending further investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.” These work permits are required for any police officer requesting to work off duty hours outside the department.

Although the prosecutor’s office has been looking into how narcotics division detectives and other Elizabeth police officers managed for so many years to get away with being paid for work never performed, they have remained tight lipped about where the investigation stands.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage refused to discuss the ongoing situation last week in an interview, or, for that matter, other issues that members of the police force said point directly to possible corruption within the police. Calls were made to Cosgrove last week but as of press time he did not respond.

Last week when asked about “the family” and no-show jobs, the mayor flatly denied the existence of any group within the police department.
“There is no family anymore,” Bollwage said, refusing to discuss the issue any further. He also became agitated when asked if some kind of a deal was struck with the prosecutor’s office regarding the no-show jobs scandal.
According to three members of the police force, who agreed to talk about the situation as long as their names were not used, the city agreed to allow the Union County Prosecutor’s Homicide Task Force back into Elizabeth to be the lead agency in the investigation of city murders if 20 of the police officers involved in the no-show overtime debacle were disciplined internally by Cosgrove. The mayor denied any such “deal” was cut, though.

“I’m not going to get into this or be in any article with unnamed sources,” Bollwage said, adding there was a very good reason why he agreed to the task force handling murders in Elizabeth.

“Dealing with acting Prosecutor Grace Park is more professional than with former prosecutor Ted Romankow,” he said, making it clear the conversation was over when it came to this topic.

The city and prosecutor’s office have been in a proverbial tug of war for many years regarding the Homicide Task Force handling murder investigations in the city, most notably when former prosecutor Romankow was at the helm. In 2012 Elizabeth decided to pull out of the Homicide Task Force, announcing they would investigate their own murders.
While the city has periodically pulled out of involvement with the task force, Romankow previously noted this was because Elizabeth refused to send any city police officers to work with the task force.

The former prosecutor pointed out that Elizabeth had a significant number of murders and it was unfair to expect the task force to handle these investigations without the city sending members of their police force to be a part of the task force investigation team.

Last week when interviewed, Bollwage made a point of mentioning the city will now be sending detectives to work with the homicide task force when a city murder occurs. He did not, however, say why the police department would not be assigning several officers to the task force for a specific period of time.

Bollwage also refused to discuss possible efforts made to cut a leniency deal with the prosecutor’s office for the brother of one of Cosgrove’s alleged favored cops.
The acting prosecutor has been equally evasive.

Park, Cosgrove and Shannon released a joint statement Feb. 18 noting the Union County Homicide Task Force would now become the primary agency investigating homicides and suspicious deaths in Elizabeth.
The change, Park said, was made in order to “streamline the fashion in which resources are allocated toward investigating such crimes and also to ensure homicide cases are addressed in a uniform manner countywide.”

The acting prosecutor also noted that partnering with the Elizabeth police department on a “protocol shift” will result in the immediate enhancement of existing and future homicide investigations.”

On Friday, LocalSource submitted five questions to Park regarding the investigation into no-show jobs in the Elizabeth Police Department.
Specifically, Park was asked if three police officers are being indicted because of their involvement with non-show jobs; whether the mayor or police department cut a deal with the prosecutor’s office to go lightly on the 17 remaining police officers, most of which are favored or in “the family;” if Elizabeth agreed to allow the county Homicide Task Force back into the city as the result of a deal; if Shannon was being investigated regarding his pursuit of a college degree fraudulently online; and if the prosecutor’s office ever investigated the existence of “the family” within the Elizabeth Police Department.

Late Friday Union County Prosecutor’s Office Public Information Officer Mark Spivey sent an email stating the department was “declining comment” on all five questions. Park did, though, have a statement as to why they would not be responding.

“The Union County Prosecutor’s Office does not comment on active investigations into matters of internal affairs, not do we confirm nor deny that they are ongoing, until such investigations are concluded,” she said in the statement.

However, according to one police officer close to the investigation, the prosecutor’s office brought Elizabeth Police Department Detectives Andrew Cox and Chris Flatley along with Patrolman Michael Tropeano to the prosecutor’s office and told them if they plead guilty the other 17 police officers would get departmental discipline and not be brought up on criminal charges. The plea deal, he noted, involved early retirement and leaving the department.

According to one source, Michael Tropeano was heavily involved in the no-show job scandal and one of the biggest abusers; however, he is the brother of Vito Tropeano, who multiple sources have described as one of Cosgrove’s “minions.” But one source alleges efforts were made by Cosgrove and other police department personnel to see if the prosecutor’s office would “go light on him,” in reference to Michael Tropeano.

According to two members of the force, both who feared retaliation if their names were used, Cosgrove was attempting to “save” Michael Topeano from being indicted but they were unsure if this had succeeded or not. According to both active and retired sources, this is business as usual within the Elizabeth Police Department.

A total of six members of the city police force, along with several retired members, opened up to LocalSource about what they personally witnessed and experienced over the years.

While all admitted that compared to years ago, “the family” no longer held the power it once did, each pointed out that Cosgrove, Shannon and those in their “cliques” protected one another. Both, they said, looked the other way regarding the no-show overtime jobs and ensured those in their circle received promotions and advancements. Others in the department, many sources added, were overlooked, even though they had stellar records and were up for advancement within the department.

Three officers, one now retired, brought up that when the Shannon was seeking an online college degree, he had several police officers take tests so he could obtain this degree.

Part of a test for the online degree involved doing a police department investigation, according to multiple sources, who also said Shannon had a detective change an official record so his name was on an investigation.

“Pretty much everyone knew that was going on,” said one officer, mentioning that he personally is not one of Shannon’s or Cosgrove’s favored officers.

Back in 1994 “the family” became news when a dozen or more Elizabeth police officers staged a protest over what they claimed was the group’s influence within the department. A lieutenant, who claimed he was innocent, was blamed and subsequently banished to a basement job at police headquarters.

In 1998 the issue of “the family” again reared its head.

According to a New York Times article, in 1995 Elizabeth Police Department Sgt. John Guslavage, a 31-year veteran on the force, sued the department under the state whistle-blower statute, claiming the department had shut down a drug investigation to protect members on the force, including family members. The city and police department denied the allegations, but Guslavage later won his court battle.
A 1998 grand jury report obtained by LocalSource concluded that 170 of the department’s 370 officers belonged to “the family,” and noted the group’s members had received “preferential treatment in assignments.” Although the report said the group’s activities were “impermissible,” they found there was no criminal conduct.

In 1998 a black officer committed suicide and left behind a lengthy letter explaining he witnessed many instances of other police officers planting evidence on suspects. An investigation by the prosecutor’s office concluded the allegations were “unfounded and not able to be substantiated by credible evidence.”

Several internal departmental investigations over the years also produced sworn testimony by police officers indicating a troubled department. More specifically, in 2000, Bollwage and Cosgrove acknowledged that a group of police officers known as “the family” did exist and may have existed in some form then. There was little agreement according to The New York Times, about whether “the group was a genuinely sinister collection of officers or merely a peculiar clique.”

At the time Cosgrove said there had been a lack of some form of leadership in the police department which led to some members reverting to informal leadership groups, but he did not admit there was anything called “the family.”

One police source, a member of the force for a long time, said Cosgrove was well aware of the existence of “the family,” but left it alone because he had his own favored group. He also explained that Bollwage does not want any bad publicity, so he tries to downplay anything negative happening in the city or in the police department.

As to the no-show jobs list, five police officer sources confirmed there was a book called “pay jobs” that members of the force could sign up for in order to work off duty for the housing authority.

“If you did take a pay job, you had to submit a stub for extra duty pay and they would just pay people who never worked,” said one officer, adding that no one was verifying if these cops showed up or not.

“I think they just got lazy and there was a total breakdown. But everyone knew it was going on. It was the norm, business as usual,” the police officer said, adding that then things started “snowballing” and it came out in the open.

The fact Cosgrove knew this was going on and did nothing is a sore spot with the members of the force who spoke with LocalSource. All agreed that it would be business as usual after the no-show job scandal died down.

“The director needs to go. He looks the other way when certain guys do something and comes down on the rest for nothing,” said one officer adding that Cosgrove “has his own thing going on.”