CLICK HERE TO REPORT LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRUPTION (Provide as much information as possible: full names, descriptions, dates, times, activity, witnesses, etc.)

Telephone: 347-632-9775

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Police Chief Found Guilty of Official Misconduct, Insurance Fraud

Suspended Hackensack Police Chief Zisa found guilty of official misconduct, insurance fraud 
The New Jersey Record by Stephanie Akin  -  May 17, 2012

Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, the leader of Bergen County’s largest police department and scion of one if its most eminent political dynasties, faces 23 years behind bars after being found guilty Wednesday of insurance fraud and official misconduct. After three days of deliberation, a jury of five men and seven women delivered a split verdict, acquitting Zisa, 58, of conspiracy and witness tampering charges, but finding that he filed a false insurance report and acted improperly when he inserted himself into two investigations involving his former girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, who was also on trial. Tiernan was found guilty of filing a false insurance report, but acquitted on a conspiracy charge. The courtroom was full of friends and family members of Zisa and Tiernan as the jury read the verdict, with employees from the Prosecutor’s Office filling all available seats and standing along the back wall.  As the verdicts — five guilty counts for Zisa and one for Tiernan — were read, the courtroom fell silent. Joe Zisa, the city attorney and Ken Zisa’s cousin, closed his eyes and bowed his head. One of Tiernan’s sons rested his head against a courtroom wall. A young woman in the front row appeared to wipe away tears. Zisa, a state assemblyman from 1994-2002, closed his eyes and clenched his jaw but held his head erect. Zisa, who has been suspended from his job for two years, faces a maximum prison sentence of 45 years and a minimum of 23 years, 15 of which would be without parole, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel said. Tiernan faces up to 5 years on the insurance fraud charge, but there is no presumption of jail time.

A sentencing hearing was tentatively set for June 22. “Obviously we are extremely disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” Zisa’s attorney, Patricia Prezioso, told Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte. She said an appeal is planned. Keitel requested that bail be set at $200,000 and asked for Zisa’s immediate removal from the office of chief of police. Keitel also requested forfeiture of Zisa’s pension and retirement. Conte set bail for Zisa at $50,000 with no 10 percent cash payment option, to be posted no later than Friday at noon. Until then, Zisa remains free on his own recognizance. Tiernan also remains free on her own recognizance with no bail set. The judge said he would rule on the other requests at a to-be-scheduled hearing. “He’s suspended, the fact that he wasn’t removed today was of no moment,” said Keitel, who praised the jury for their work. Stephen Lo Iacono, Hackensack’s city manager, said he will wait for direction from the courts on whether to remove Zisa from office. "Right now, as we speak, his status is the same as it has been for the past two years. He is suspended without pay,” Lo Iacono said. “He’s certainly not on the job. Whatever process the legal system is going to take, we have to live with that and wait for it.” He called it a “terrible day for the city.” “Obviously, I’m sad for the city,” Lo Iacono said. “Sad for the police department. But we have to move on.” Councilman John Lebrosse, who is often at odds with the council majority, said the city should remove Zisa from office as soon as it can. “We need to sever the tie and move forward,” he said. “This has been wearing on the city, the police department, the government and city officials for years now.” The mayor and the other city council members either could not be reached or declined to comment. News of the verdict traveled swiftly, and Capt. Thomas Padilla, who has served as acting officer in charge since Zisa’s arrest two years ago, opted to return to police headquarters to discuss the matter directly at the 5 p.m. roll call. In a department roiled by this trial and more than a dozen civil suits filed by officers against Zisa, Padilla said it was important to have his officers focus on their core mission of serving the public. “Moving forward, I hope we come together as a department and strive to do the best we can,” he said. Zisa and his family members, including former Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa and city attorney Joe Zisa, declined to comment as they followed him out of the courtroom, as did Lynne Hurwitz, the city's Democratic Municipal Chairwoman, who spent every day of the six-week trial in the courtroom. Several jurors contacted after the verdict said the panel as a group decided against commenting on the verdict. The verdict is certain to have sweeping repercussions in Hackensack, where Zisa has held his title throughout his two-year unpaid suspension, and officials have resisted settling any of the civil lawsuits filed by more than 20 present and retired police officers that name the chief. Those cases, asking for several million dollars in damages, have been on hold pending a verdict in Zisa’s criminal trial. Lo Iacono, the city manager, said the cost of defending the suits — already more than $2.4 million in the last three years — might have already reached a threshold at which the city’s insurer would require the city to settle them. Lawyers for the police officers said the conviction can be admitted as evidence in the civil cases and will likely damage Zisa's credibility. Zisa in civil court also will no longer be shielded by a pending criminal case, allowing plaintiff lawyers to depose him for the first time, possibly as soon as next month. “Clearly, the verdict does speak to the chief’s conduct as chief,” said attorney Robert Woodruff, who is handling two Zisa-related cases. “He was the king. That’s what he was. I guess not.”

Prosecutors argued during the six-week trial that the charges stemmed from a skewed system of justice in Hackensack, where Zisa was the police chief for 15 years and members of his family held the top elected and appointed positions for decades. In a town known by the family’s political opponents as “Zisaville,” there was one system of justice for the Zisas and their friends, and another for everybody else, prosecutors said. That imbalance played out in 2004 and 2008, when Zisa arrived on the scene of two incidents – in both cases just before the break of dawn – and diverted investigations before Tiernan and her family could be charged, prosecutors alleged. In the first case in 2004, prosecutors said Zisa coerced a subordinate officer, Laura Campos, to remove then 16-year-old Ryan Tiernan’s name from a police report of an assault and robbery of a 15-year-old, prosecutors alleged. In the second in 2008, the chief arrived on the scene shortly after a visibly drunk Tiernan crashed his Chevrolet Trailblazer into a utility pole, then whisked her away before she could be tested for sobriety. The couple then filed a fraudulent insurance claim for $11,000, stating Tiernan swerved to avoid an animal, a charge held up by the jury. Prezioso argued that Zisa acted appropriately during both investigations. She showed the jury reams of documents from the police department and other sources she said proved that the police officers who testified against their boss — many of whom stand to gain from civil suits that could be bolstered by a guilty verdict— were lying. Instead, Prezioso said Zisa was the victim of a political conspiracy involving Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli and fuelled by his disgruntled subordinates. Molinelli declined to comment late Wednesday. Prezioso said a group of rogue Hackensack officers, including John Hermann and Joseph Al-Ayoubi, brought the story of the 2008 car crash to the Prosecutor’s Office when Zisa failed to take a bribe to drop disciplinary charges against the leader of the police union, Anthony Ferraioli. Tiernan was collateral damage, Prezioso and Meehan argued. Her car accident, they claim, happened just as it was described on the insurance claim. Key testimony came from Hermann and Al-Ayoubi, who said Tiernan was so drunk at the scene of the 2008 car crash she had trouble walking without Zisa’s assistance, but they filed a false police report of the incident. To do otherwise, Al-Ayoubi testified, would be “career suicide.” Staff Writers Karen Sudol, Nick Clunn, Mike Kelly, and James Quirk contributed to his article. Email:

No comments: