HILLSIDE, NJ — Not only did Hillside Police Chief Vincent Ricciardi Jr. win reinstatement to his position from a judge, but the Professional Standards Unit of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has released the findings of its investigation, stating that it cannot prove any wrongdoing on Ricciardi’s part.
Back in June, Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese — who did not respond to a request for comment by press time — suspended Ricciardi due to his approval of a stipend for a training officer.
According to a document addressing Vertreese sent from the Professional Standards Unit, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that it has completed its investigation of allegations that Ricciardi intentionally provided misleading documents to Hillside Township officials relating to the training officer stipend paid to Sgt. Francisco Vega. As part of the investigation, several witnesses were interviewed, and numerous documents were reviewed.
“Our investigation determined that on Dec. 10, 2018, Chief Ricciardi submitted to Hillside Township officials a Payroll Instruction Form requesting that an 8.5-percent stipend be awarded to Sgt. Francisco Vega due to his current assignment as the department training officer,” the document, which was sent Aug. 26, read. “The Payroll Instruction Form reflects Francisco Vega held the rank of sergeant at that time.
“Attached to the Payroll Instruction Form, Chief Ricciardi included a page from the Friendly Order of Police Hillside Lodge No. 82 contract, which authorizes an 8.5-percent stipend for the police officer assigned as the department’s training officer,” the document continued. “In contrast, the FOP Hillside Lodge No. 160 contract for superior officers contains no such provision for the training officer stipend. Both contracts contain a past practice provision, which allows the parties to maintain all other rights, benefits and privileges enjoyed by both parties, which is not specifically provided for in contract. Due to his rank, Sgt. Vega would have been subject to the provisions of the superior officers contract in December of 2018, and not the FOP Hillside Lodge No. 82 contract attached, in part, to the Payroll Instruction Form.”
The document added that the Payroll Instruction Form was provided to Hillside Business Administrator Hope Smith, Chief Financial Officer Glynn Jones and Vertreese; all three signed the form authorizing the stipend.
According to the document, prior to Vega, two other superior officers held the position of training officer. Sgt. Michael Gennaro held the position for approximately 10 years, until he was replaced by Sgt. Ronald Bartell in 2017.
According to the document, both Gennaro and Bartell received the 8.5-percent training officer stipend. There was a separate agreement entered into between Gennaro and Hillside Township officials that authorized Gennaro to receive the stipend. After Gennaro left the position of training officer, the stipend continued to be paid to a superior officer.
“The allegation here is that Chief Ricciardi intentionally provided Hillside Township officials with misleading documents,” the document read. “Specifically, Chief Ricciardi included a page of the FOP Hillside Lodge 82 contract, which authorizes the payment of the stipend, knowing that Sgt. Vega was not entitled to such stipend. We make no finding as to whether Sgt. Vega was entitled to the stipend. Our inquiry was limited to whether Chief Ricciardi negligently or intentionally attempted to mislead township officials regarding entitlement of the stipend.”
According to the document, there was insufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation.
“As noted above, Chief Ricciardi attached a page from a labor contract inapplicable to a superior officer as support for the stipend he sought to award to a superior officer,” the document read. “The Payroll Instruction Form that was submitted by Chief Ricciardi accurately listed Sgt. Vega’s rank. While the Payroll Instruction Form submitted by Chief Ricciardi was silent as to the nature or purpose of the attached documentation, the Payroll Instruction Form on its face accurately listed Sgt. Vega’s rank and was signed by members of the township administration approving the stipend. This training officer stipend was previously awarded to two superior officers, which township officials approved.”
The document goes on to state that the Internal Affairs allegation that Ricciardi intentionally provided misleading information in this matter was not sustained. Additionally, according to the document, findings did not sustain charges of incompetency, inefficiency or failure to perform duties; insubordination; inability to perform duties; conduct unbecoming a public employee; misuse of public property, including motor vehicles; or intentional misuse of township funds.
According to the document, for “other sufficient cause,” the finding against this charge is unfounded, as it was never explained or addressed by the township despite a request for clarification on all Civil Services charges.
Ricciardi’s attorney, Ronald Ricci, of Ricci & Fava Attorneys at Law, discussed the outcome of the lawsuit and UCPO investigation.
“Ricciardi has already been reinstated by his judge and won the lawsuit,” Ricci said on Aug. 28. “Union County Prosecutor’s Office finished the investigation and found no wrongdoing. He has been vindicated.”