ELIZABETH — Many city police officers breathed a sigh of relief last week when two of their own pleaded guilty to taking pay for no-show jobs and were ordered to resign from the department by a Superior Court judge.
However, bitterness ran deep because these officers are concerned the 18 other cops involved will be let off the hook and never be disciplined by internal affairs.
Christopher Flatley, 44, a 25-year veteran of the department and Michael Tropeano, 50, a 15-year veteran as an Elizabeth police officer, stood before state Superior Court Judge Robert Mega on Feb. 27 and pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree theft by deception. A third police officer, Det. Andrew Cox, resigned earlier in the week as a result of a plea deal, but did not face charges.
The complaints against the two police officers were issued the day before following a six-month investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Special Prosecutions Unit. Both were ordered by Mega to resign from their positions and barred from holding a public job again. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors expect there will be a recommendation each receive probation when they are sentenced tomorrow.
Both officers earned $30 an hour to perform off-duty security work for the housing authority and were paid with federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds issued to the Elizabeth Housing Authority. The investigation revealed both men submitted invoices for off-duty pay jobs and either arrived significantly late, left early or failed to show up at all.
According to multiple police sources, the city also benefits from any pay job a police officer signs up for because Elizabeth receives approximately $2.50 from every hour’s pay an officer earns. This could put considerable funds into city coffers considering police officers were paid more than $300,000 in 2012, according to a housing authority source who also said that number was even higher in 2013.
The Prosecutor’s Office explained in a statement released Feb. 27 that the investigation centered on off-duty “pay jobs” that Flatley, Tropeano and other officers worked at four city senior housing complexes from January through August 2013. While they did not go into details, the Prosecutor’s Office’s statement merely said it is expected Flatley will be ordered to repay in restitution $2,235 and Tropeano to repay $1,260.
Last week LocalSource broke a story about this practice which both current and retired Elizabeth police officer sources maintained is not an isolated incident but has been “business as usual” in the city police department for decades. However, the Prosecutor’s Office denied anyone else in the department was involved criminally.
“Contrary to media reports that upwards of 20 to 30 officers were engaged in illegal wrongdoing of a similar nature, the investigation did not reveal evidence of other instances of criminal conduct,” the Prosecutor’s Office said, but did add “all other outstanding issues regarding the work details” were referred back to the Elizabeth Police Department.
“Violations of the public trust are matters we take extremely seriously, and for good reason – the public needs to know that those performing work on their behalf are doing so in a responsible and ethical manner,” acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park noted in the statement.
Police sources said this was merely the result of “a deal” made in exchange for the Prosecutor’s Office being allowed to handle homicides in the city again, which they have not done since Mayor Chris Bollwage announced more than a year ago the city would be taking over these investigations locally.
More than 15 of the 22 police sources LocalSource spoke with in the last several weeks said if the acting prosecutor really felt this way then the investigation would have found the other 18 police officers on the list were engaged in wrongdoing.
“Are you kidding me? Anyone, even a civilian without investigation experience could have uncovered what is going on in this department,” said one police officer. He admitted he would like to be able to use his name but “corruption, nepotism and cronyism” runs so deep he would become a target of both Police Director James Cosgrove and Police Chief Patrick Shannon and police officers in their “cliques.”
The list of 18 police officers referred to was from an internal police department memo sent by Shannon Jan. 24 involving 2014 Department Work Permits, which LocalSource was able to obtain from a police source.
Provisional work permits are required if any Elizabeth police officer wants to work off duty extra hours outside the department in what is called “pay jobs.” Shannon’s memo contained two separate lists of police officer names.
One gave the go ahead to 23 officers for provisional work permits for a period of 90 days so they could take on these pay jobs involving security for the housing authority, Urban Enterprise area retail stores, construction sites, supermarkets and other places where extra security is requested. During the 90 days, Shannon’s memo indicated, an officer’s sick time would be monitored “to ensure fitness for extra duty assignments.”
The second list was prefaced by a short note mentioning the 21 officers, which included Flatley, Tropeano and Cox, were denied work permits, effective Feb. 1, 2014, pending further investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. This specifically had to do with the inquiry into police officers signing up for pay jobs, never showing up but still being paid for working.
Police officers included on this list were Bernard Alvarez, Neal Coleman, Raul Dela Prida, John Lynes, Vincent Napoli, Richard Sosa, Lamar Boone, James DiOrio Luis Garcia, James Malone, Gino Que Lopana, James Chrysler, Howard Decker, Thomas De Beau, James Lugardo, Athanasios Mikros, Edward Shields and Guillermo Valladares.
Over the last week, 16 police officer sources on the force told LocalSource the fact the prosecutor referred the remaining 18 names on the list back to the department is more than troubling, “it is criminal.”
“What it amounts to is Flatley and Tropeano took the fall for the rest,” said one veteran police officer, adding the only reason Cox was not brought up on charges had everything to do with the fact “he agreed to resign and the other two fought it.”
“So trust me, these other guys will never be disciplined,” he added.
Other sources confirmed this, explaining the Elizabeth Police Department Internal Affairs division is not only ineffective, but overseen by Shannon, who decides who will “get a pass.”
“Shannon calls the shots, not internal affairs. He has Stephen Negre overseeing things there and that is one of his and Cosgrove’s boys,” said one source, which was confirmed by 15 other sources.
“I can tell you this – DiOrio will never get disciplinary action taken against him,” said one source. More than a dozen sources alleged DiOrio has evidence to support claims Negre is guilty of taking pay jobs and not showing up, but this could not be verified by LocalSource.
In addition, police officer sources say that even though Negre was departmentally disciplined and suspended twice for “working” a pay job while he was actually on duty, because of his friendship with Shannon and Cosgrove, he is back heading up internal affairs.
“This is not about protecting and serving the residents of Elizabeth. It’s about how much money you can make and who you know” said one officer, admitting that working in this environment has been “hard to swallow for good cops.”
In the past two weeks, multiple police officers have come forward, including several now retired, alleging corruption runs deep within the city police department and for many officers it is not about solving crime and ensuring residents live in a safe city, but about “making as much money as they can and doing as little as possible.”
“If you are in Shannon’s or Cosgrove’s clique, you are protected and they will cover up whatever trouble you get into,” said another police officer source, who went into detail about incidents involving abuse, narcotics, stealing by fellow cops, in addition to taking money for pay jobs they never showed up to work.
“You think Cosgrove and Shannon didn’t know cops weren’t showing up for these security jobs? Of course they knew. Shannon was one of the biggest abusers before he became chief,” said one police officer, who confessed that he was also guilty of not showing up for a pay job in the past.
“It’s laughable that those 18 cops will be disciplined by internal affairs as long as Shannon is overseeing it. You know what this department really needs to set it straight? An outside civilian internal affairs review board to handle disciplinary problems,” he added, pointing out it was sad recruits out of the academy have to encounter such corruption.
“But you learn to play along and not say anything about what’s going on because it’s their word against yours,” the officer said, adding “it’s not how good you are at your job here, it’s who you know. Being a police officer is third or fourth on the list.”
Although the majority of police sources used specific examples of corruption within the city police department, because these particular incidents could be traced back to these officers, LocalSource decided not to include the details in order to protect them.
Still, these 22 police officers, in addition to several that are retired, questioned why the State Attorney General’s Office has not stepped in to do something about a department that is “so visibly corrupt.”
“They can do that, you know. They have that power, but even the county prosecutor’s office didn’t do the right thing. Where does that leave good police officers who try to do the right thing?” one officer questioned.
As a general procedure in police departments, the internal affairs department holds administrative hearings for officers who require disciplinary action. But there is a fine line between members of a police force in need of disciplinary action and actual corruption.
The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice defined police corruption as “abuse of police authority for personal gain.” They explained corruption may involve profit or another type of material benefit gained illegally or as a consequence of police authority.
They pointed out that corruption also refers to a “pattern of misconduct when a given police department or special unit, particularly when offenses are repeated with the acquiescence of superiors through ongoing failure to correct them.”
Police sources all brought up that Shannon has not led the department but rather has been “a tyrant” who threatens and uses fear as a means to get what he wants done. While the state Division of Criminal Justice has worked with the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs to develop “The Police Management” manual as a standard for municipal police management, police sources indicated none of these standards are applied in the Elizabeth Police Department.
While the state maintained prevention is the primary means of reducing and controlling police misconduct, they noted these measures are of limited use if they shield organizational conditions which “permit abuses to occur.”
“The goal of an internal affairs department is to ensure that the integrity of a department is maintained and there is a system of internal discipline where fairness and justice are assured by objective, impartial investigation and review.”
Among all the sources LocalSource interviewed, 19 said the reason they stepped forward was to hopefully elicit change within the police department. Most, if not all, said that while this was an opportunity to get the true story out, unless Bollwage cracked down on the police department and cleaned house, they had little hope anything would change.
“And everyday it stays like this, taxpayers and residents are the ones losing,” said one cop who admitted he was often depressed about what goes on in the department. Others said they fly under the radar, do not make waves and accept they will not get the advancements Shannon and Cosgrove’s favored cops end up receiving.
According to 19 of the sources interviewed by LocalSource, there are 15 or 20 police officers lined up for pay jobs every week. Some, they reported, are even on duty but shirk their responsibilities in order to get their name on the list.
“Nothing is going to change until someone says enough is enough. Until then, everything will go back to the way it has been,” one police officer said, adding “and that is just plain wrong in every sense of the word.”