Friday, February 19, 2016

March hearing on charges against Trooper Kenneth Franco.

Yesterday, I blogged about the charges against two State Troopers who were disciplined for giving news journalists photographs taken in 2009 of five other Troopers allegedly celebrating a Camden drug bust by waiving a Puerto Rican flag.

Today, I learned that a hearing regarding the charges against Trooper Kenneth Franco is going to be held by Administrative Law Judge Patricia M. Kerins next month.  It is not presently clear whether the hearing is on the charges themselves or on a subsidiary motion that relates to the charges.

Date: Monday, March 14, 2016
Hour: 10 a.m.
Place: Office of Administrative Law, 9 Quakerbridge Plaza, Mercerville.

Anyone who wishes to attend the hearing should contact Judge Kerin's office at 609-689-4043 the Friday before the hearing to ensure that it hasn't been postponed and to make sure that no restrictions have been placed on public access to the hearing.  Refer to OAL Docket No. POL 07406-2015-S.

State clears Franklin Fire Commissioner of ethics violation.

On January 13, 2016, the New Jersey Local Finance Board, in LFB Complaint No. 13-024, reversed an April 12, 2013 decision by the Franklin Township (Somerset County) Ethics Board that fined a fire commissioner $250 for voting to settle a lawsuit in which he was named as an individual defendant.

The Franklin Township Board found that Commissioner James Wickman, who was named as a defendant in a sexual harassment suit filed in 2009 by former Fire District No. 1 Administrative Aide Deborah Nelson, had violated the Local Government Ethics Law by voting on February 28, 2011 to authorize settlement of the case.  Of the five fire commissioners then holding office, one was absent and another abstained from the February 28, 2011 vote, making Wickman's vote necessary for settlement authorization to have been given at that meeting.  In a subsequent meeting, four of the five commissioners, including Wickman, voted to approve a modified settlement agreement.
Disclosure: I served on the Franklin Township Ethics Board during the time Wickman's ethics complaint was processed.  However, because of my relationship with Fire District No. 1 (I served as a volunteer firefighter), I recused myself from all proceedings regarding the complaint against Wickman.
Nelson, in her lawsuit, did not accuse Wickman of active involvement in the harassment.  Rather, her lawsuit stated that after having viewed alleged child pornography on a district printer, "[s]he was horrified and emailed Commissioner James Wickman to report the child pornography to him, but he failed to respond to her concerns."  She alleged that Wickman's failure or refusal to respond constituted his "substantial assistance and encouragement to the unlawful conduct by aiding and abetting the harassment of Plaintiff because of her sex and subjecting her to a sexually hostile work environment."

In reversing the local ethics board's decision, the Local Finance Board held that even though Wickman was personally named as a defendant in Nelson's lawsuit, he didn't have an active role in the lawsuit's defense and didn't face personal financial liability because the Board had provided him with a legal defense and a promise of indemnification.  Since Wickman's personal assets weren't on the line, the Board believed that he was not tempted "to depart from his sworn public duty."

The ethics complainant is Jeff Carter, who is Deborah Nelson's brother.  He has forty-five days from the decision's issuance to file an appeal with the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Specification of charges against State Troopers released by administrative law court.

Police agencies keep a tight lid on the facts surrounding police disciplinary charges and typically won't even confirm or deny that charges have been filed.  But, when a cop decides to appeal the discipline imposed, an OPRA request can sometimes dislodge the appeal paperwork.

Such is the case regarding the appeals of Troopers Kenneth Franco and Georgina Sirakides, both of whom are charged with giving news journalists photographs taken in 2009 of five Troopers celebrating a Camden drug bust by waiving a Puerto Rican flag.  Those photographs and celebration have received extensive publicity including articles in the Star Ledger and MyCentralJersey, as well as a spot on Fox  News 29.

Earlier today, in response to my OPRA request, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law sent me the appeal paperwork on Files 07412-15 (Sirakides) and 07406-15 (Franco). Both officers are being represented by David J. Azotea of Atlantic City.

According to the specifications, Franco and Sirakides worked with "former Division member Victor Cooper" to inform journalists about Trooper Kenneth Sirakides, who is apparently Georgina Sirakides' estranged husband, being involved in a "Velocity Sports Performance Internet video" and for waiving the Puerto Rican flag in the drug bust photos.

The charges allege that State Police officials executed a communications data warrant that resulted in them searching Georgina Sirakides' Blackberry cellular phone.  According to the charges, her cell phone "revealed a pattern of calls between [Franco], media reporters, Mr. Cooper and [her] during the time period surrounding the release of the photographs to Fox 29 News. The charges also allege that Franco had admitted to State Police investigators to "communicating with members of the media during this time period."

The charges against Georgina Sirakides allege that she "improperly accessed" Kenneth Sirakides Hotmail account and saved files from that account to her Blackberry phone.  She is also charged with acting "to her personal discredit" by assaulting Kenneth Sirakides during two domestic violence incidents in August and October 2011.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Police captain in Atlantic County files hostile work environment suit.

On December 21, 2015, Egg Harbor Township (Atlantic County) Police Captain James David Druding filed a lawsuit (Druding v. Township of Egg Harbor, Docket No. ATL-L-2914-15) that accused former Chief Michael J. Morris of recommending that Raymond Davis take over as Chief upon Morris' retirement despite Druding's alleged superior qualifications.  Druding also accused Morris of encouraging him in 2010 to falsify a report to indicate that Morris and Captain William Fair qualified to carry a firearm when both had allegedly not so qualified.

Question regarding Haddon Township Police Officer Jason Dement's college diploma.

Update 04/14/16: I obtained evidence that Dement received $500 for satisfying the degree requirement.

I wrote the following letter today to the Mayor and governing body of Haddon Township in Camden County.

February 16, 2016

Hon. Randall W. Teague, Mayor and
Commissioners Paul Dougherty and John C. Foley
Township of Haddon
Via e-mail only to mayorteague@haddontwp.com, pdougherty@haddontwp.com, jfoley@haddontwp.com

Dear Mayor Teague and Commissioners Dougherty and Foley:

Would you please add to tonight's Caucus Meeting agenda a discussion of Haddon Police Officer Jason Dement's compliance with  the Education Requirement Policy contained within Police Department General Order 95-3.

G.O. 95-3, which I obtained on February 1, 2016 by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, requires all Township police officers to "have earned the minimum of a Baccalaureate Degree from an accredited college or university, having maintained a 2.0 minimum grade point average."

In response to my subsequent OPRA request for a copy of Officer Jason Dement's Baccalaureate Degree, I was provided with a certificate purporting that Officer Dement "successfully completed the Bachelor's Program from Rochville University in the year 2010" and earned a 3.19 GPA.

An Internet search for "Rochville University" leads to a May 17, 2015 New York Times article titled "Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions" by Declan Walsh that states that Rochville University is owned by Axact, a Pakistan-based company.  According to the article, "Axact’s main business has been to take the centuries-old scam of selling fake academic degrees and turn it into an Internet-era scheme on a global scale."  The article goes on to reference a 2007 case where a British court jailed a fake police criminologist "who claimed to have degree certificates from the Axact-owned Rochville University."

Further Internet searching turned up two articles from Forbes and Fortune, published on October 23, 2013 and June 28, 2011 respectively, that report that Rochville University granted an MBA degree to a dog named Chester in 2009.  According to the Fortune article, Chester earned his on-line degree and a 3.2 GPA (which, incidentally, is higher than Officer Dement's GPA) in a week at a cost of $499.  The Fortune article, which was written after Dement received his Rochville degree in 2010, goes on to state that "the folks behind Rochville are still willing to peddle empty degrees."

I hope that this information warrants an investigation by the Board of Commissioners.

Very truly yours,

/s/ John Paff

Sunday, February 14, 2016

2012 Perth Amboy mayoral candidate, former municipal judge charged with ethics violation.

On December 9, 2015, John J. Zefutie, Jr. of the New Jersey Supreme Court's District VIII Ethics Committee filed a formal complaint against a Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) attorney who allegedly had a divorce-seeking female client sign a retainer agreement that deprived her of rights and information guaranteed by court rules.

The complaint, which bears Docket No. VIII-2014-0006E, is against Jose M. Cameron who has been practicing law since 1978. The complaint alleges that the March 14, 2013 agreement that Cameron had his client sign called for an initial $2,500 retainer which would be considered a "minimum fee" that Cameron would earn "regardless of the amount of time actually spent" on the case.

The complaint alleges that the retainer agreement fails to comply in several respects with N.J. Court Rule 5:3-5 which governs such agreements in Family Court matters.  Notably, the rule prohibits a retainer agreement from including "a provision for a non-refundable retainer."

The complaint also cites Cameron for dragging his feet when his client fired him on February 18, 2014 and requested a refund of the retainer paid.  After Cameron balked at the refund request, the client sought intervention from a Fee Arbitration Panel which ordered Cameron to return the $2,500 on November 28, 2014.  Cameron reportedly ignored the order and did not return the money until after the ethics committee initiated its investigation.  Cameron ultimately issued the $2,500 refund "by way of three separate money orders, all dated January 23, 2015."

Cameron ran for Perth Amboy Mayor in 2012 and previously served as one of the City's municipal court judge.  He has a right to contest the charges and have the matter heard by an ethics panel.

Reprimand recommended for Planning Board Attorney who has since been cited for another ethics violation.

On December 22, 2014, I published an article about the East Hanover Township (Morris County) Planning Board Attorney and former municipal judge having been charged by the Office of Attorney Ethics for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) because of his conduct in two real estate closings. Since that article was published, the lawyer, who has since been reappointed as East Hanover Planning Board Attorney for 2016, was recommended for a "public reprimand" and separately charged on October 22, 2015 for RPC violations arising out of other real estate transactions.

The attorney charged is William J. Rush who has office addresses at both 145 Route 46 West in Wayne and 695 Route 46 West in Fairfield.  Totowa lawyer Jared E. Drill, who chaired the hearing panel that considered the charges reported in my December 22, 2014 article, filed his December 11, 2014 "Hearing Panel Report Recommending Reprimand" with the Office of Attorney Ethics on February 5, 2015.  According to that report, the hearing panel, consisting of Drill, Wayne attorney Mary Tom and non-lawyer Mae Benson, unanimously found that Rush had violated the RPCs regarding diligence and the safekeeping of clients' property.  The panel also unanimously found that Rush was not grossly negligent and did not engage in fraud or dishonesty.  The report noted that Rush had "admitted his mistakes" and was "humble and genuine."

Drill's report is only a recommendation and Rush's fate depends on how the Disciplinary Review Board and the New Jersey Supreme Court act on the recommendation.  According to disciplinary reports for the first three quarters of 2015 (the only ones available when this article was written), no official action has yet been taken on the recommendation.

The October 22, 2015 ethics charges against Rush were brought by Roseland attorney Richard I. Miller of the District XI Ethics Committee.  Miller's formal ethics complaint alleges that Rush violated several ethical proscriptions regarding three complex real estate transactions that occurred between 2005 and 2007.  Rush, who is representing himself, answered the complaint on January 3, 2016 and denied any wrongdoing.  In his answer, Rush attacked the credibility of the ethics grievant, Ralph Day, and supplied a court opinion by Somerset County Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman to support his claim that Day's credibility is "highly questionable."  Rush also submitted into evidence Day's testimony during a 2008 bankruptcy proceeding and noted that waiting until 2015 to bring these eight to ten year old charges was "prejudicial" to him.

Retired Elizabeth cop's contested bankruptcy temporarily halts excessive force lawsuit.

In his December 4, 2013 lawsuit, Yoni Misael Herrera of Kingston, NY claimed that on January 14, 2012 Elizabeth police officers Robert Cifrodelli and Joseph Aliseo struck him "with their fists, feet and pepper spray" when he attempted to reenter the Coco Bongo Nightclub on North Broad Street after he realized that he left his cell phone inside.  In an October 19, 2015 order, Union County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Walsh stayed Herrera's excessive force lawsuit pending the outcome of Cifrodelli's bankruptcy filing.

According to federal court records, Cifrodelli filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition on January 29, 2015 and Herrera filed an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court that challenged Cifrodelli's right to relief under the bankruptcy code.  According to Herrera's adversary complaint, Cifrodelli, who was working "an extra duty shift/detail" for the nightclub, is not allowed to escape financial liability for his "intentional and malicious" alleged assault.  On February 8, 2016, the bankruptcy court put Cifrodelli in default for having failed to answer Herrera's adversary complaint.

According to DataUniverse, Cifrodelli retired from the Elizabeth police department in 2013 at age 46.  His final salary was $91,840 and he is collecting a $45,919.80 annual pension.  Curiously, Cifrodelli filed a July 29, 2015 application seeking to have the bankruptcy court waive his filing fee due to financial hardship.  In the filing, he claimed to have no income and stated that "I am unemployed and have a lot of expenses."  He also reported that his $260,000 residence in Elizabeth is subject to a $290,000 mortgage and that his reported $2,063.11 in monthly "expenses will increase because my home will be foreclosed on and I will need to start paying for rent and utilities."