Open letter to Gov. Chris Christie

In an open letter to Gov. Chris Christie, Real Jersey City publisher Michael Shurin asks the governor to look into the politics of the Fulop Administration regarding misconduct within the Jersey City Police Department.

Gov. Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie

Dear Governor Chris Christie,

I’m writing to you because I believe I’ve exhausted every appropriate political and law enforcement avenue possible, and the issues I will bring to your attention in this letter are serious enough to warrant, at the very least, an inquiry from your office. I’ve tried to make this as short and to the point as possible, but there’s only so much I can leave out.

For the record, on top of the emails to relevant elected officials, and public speaking at numerous Jersey City Council and Hudson County Board of Freeholder meetings, I’ve already met with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (AG) regarding some of the research and surveillance work I’ve done.

If you’re wondering why I met with the AG, and not the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO), the best short explanation is that apparently Mayor Steven Fulop is the boss of everybody in Hudson County (besides state Senators Cunningham and Stack).

Also, if you think I’m currently engaging in “activist” journalism – maybe I’m guilty, but not ashamed of it, though not exactly proud either.

I wish just reporting information was enough to produce fundamental change, but my platform simply isn’t big enough. Yet the facts I’ve recently reported on, and mentioned in this letter, are still facts, regardless of political agenda.

Let me begin by explaining what is at the heart of the issue I’m attempting to bring to your attention:

– Political prosecutions of police officers
– Wasting law enforcement resources that should be focused on solving violent crime
– Punishments that don’t fit the crime regarding public corruption

First things first, you might be wondering how did I get to this point.

After I lost my funding for Real Jersey City, I essentially gave up on journalism, all things politics for that matter, and I tried to move on with my life. Although, as I was grinding away doing other work, I realized that I had to give this one more shot.

Specifically, I had to know for myself whether a conspiracy pushed to me by sources was true – that Mayor Fulop was using the HCPO, in conjunction with the Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association (JCPSOA), to prosecute Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) officers that potentially threatened his political career.

Some of those cops are featured in a Kane In Your Corner (KIYC) report from August 2014, and were accused, among other things, of racking up massive amounts of overtime. Specifically, in the case of retired Capt. Joseph Ascolese, it was alleged that there was only one timesheet – for only four hours – to back up the work he was paid for.

That story came on the heels of a series of lawsuits and complaints against the ex-chief, Robert “Bubba” Cowan, who had been demoted back to deputy chief at the time, but was the person who placed many of the aforementioned officers into their positions. This supposedly gave them the alleged “Bubba stink,” according to Lt. Kelly Chesler and Ascolese’s lawsuit against the city.

Neither that lawsuit, nor officer Michael Maeitti’s lawsuit, which both reference Lt. Terrence Crowley’s alleged 2010 crash review evaluation report in which he used the n-word and c-word, were worthy of KIYC’s attention. In my opinion, both are inherently more serious than officers complaining about losing their “tit jobs” to political retribution.

I’m not the producer of KIYC, so I’m not sure what the professional reason was behind them so heavily skewing their coverage towards the Jersey City police unions (whom were ultimately behind the lawsuits against the ex-chief), but their objectivity is certainly questionable to say the least (they’re not supposed to be an “activist” news source).

That said, regarding the accusations made by KIYC, which hinted at no-show/low-show jobs without any real proof, for the purposes of expediency all those officers shall be considered guilty until proven innocent in this letter. According to a source, the HCPO will actually have them indicted by a grand jury some time very soon (possibly this week, but take that with a big grain of salt since it’s been rumored on-and-off ever since Esther Suarez was named Hudson County Prosecutor).

Even if the indictments are legitimate, the prosecution is almost undeniably political. Unfortunately, stealing time is commonplace in the JCPD – though in no way, shape, or form do I condone it. Actually, according to every source I’ve spoken with, it seems like my reporting has forced officers to be a little more honest – especially with their off-duty jobs (though I won’t be getting any awards for that).

Unlike KIYC, I actually caught JCPD superior officers beating their shift, but when I requested a meeting with the HCPO about the matter I was referred to their Internal Affairs Unit (IAU). I declined because another incident with a politically connected cop allegedly sleeping on duty – who has a rather long rap sheet – supposedly brought no charges from them, which is hard for me to understand.

My first published surveillance was Lt. Crowley – whom I caught skipping town with at least an hour-and-a-half to go on all three of his off-duty supervisor assignments, going absent for approximately 25% of the time he was paid.

Of note, Crowley is Sergeant at Arms for the JCPSOA.

The second published surveillance was of the JCPSOA Christmas Party – where I spotted Public Safety Director James Shea partying hours after a school shooting, including a time period with Sgt. Vincent Corso when he was supposed to be working an off-duty shift.

Of note, Corso is the 1st Vice President of the JCPSOA, and Shea runs the off-duty jobs program – which recently raised the administration fee paid by contractors by 50%.

Those are just the videos. I don’t want to waste time going one-by-one with the lack of documentation to back up paid work, similar to Ascolese, for other officers.

From the few independent, former law enforcement officers that I’ve heard feedback from, they say I’ve caught Crowley and Corso “dead to rights.”

Some non-law enforcement folks ask how did I know? Especially when the Fulop Administration provided had no timesheets (pay vouchers) for their off-duty work (which they were still paid for), via an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.

The answer is I’m protecting my sources, and that people should really be asking why the Fulop Administration is producing fraudulent timesheets via OPRA.

Furthermore on timesheets, I’ve been waiting on OPRA responses from the Fulop Administration for months now (depending on the request). If I could borrow a million dollars right now and then bet it all, assuming I eventually get the timesheets, I’m confident the hours worked will be redacted so they can cover-up for their allies at the JCPSOA.

That said, I cannot wait anymore on the administration, as I will release another surveillance this week – one which may have been compromised by sharing my notes with someone who fed it back to the Fulop Administration.

That’s on me for blindly trusting someone I assumed was 100% legitimate.

Trust this, it will make you really wonder whether a JCPD captain works his regular or off-duty shifts. Unfortunately, given information I’ve received about a flurry of paper work centered around officers I’ve OPRA’d, potentially including surveillance targets, I’d guess they’ll be some compensatory days and tour exchanges during the shifts I did surveillance.

That’s why I originally requested the HCPO secure all the documents I requested, but they rejected me.

You know better than me, but isn’t it a little strange that a prosecutor would be told that there’s surveillance footage of officers, and when asked to secure their timesheets they decline? Especially when issues of tampering have clearly been presented? Especially when they’re undoubtedly looking to indict some officers for essentially the same thing?

Still, I’m not very surprised, and I’ve probably been too aggressive in asking questions and trying to get a meeting.

As well, the word going around is that Shea is suppressing the timesheets – so as to not ruin the case the HCPO is making with the indictment of other officers and to protect the JCPSOA. The city’s lawyers are likely complicit in this, but I don’t have time for the Government Records Council. Instead I’ll be reaching out to the New Jersey Bar Association to see if I can file a complaint.

Quick question though – how can they be giving out some of the same documents I’m requesting to one requestor, rather quickly, but not me? I can prove that too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if KIYC also got their OPRA requests in 2014 back rather quickly (did you see the stack of paper in the video?).

Maybe I’m having a hard time because the people being OPRA’d by me are politically favored?

Of note, I publicly questioned Corporation Counsel Jeremy Farrell on whether him and other officials held a meeting to target me for retaliation. His inability to dismiss the question with a simple no, quite frankly his inability to say anything at all, was truly a deafening silence.

All that said, picking which officers to prosecute for stealing time based off politics, versus evenhanded across the board action, won’t change the culture. Instead, it will signal to officers, especially those with less experience, that if you play the game right you could probably get away with murder.

Now going back to the foundation of this website. I talked about real estate investor Steve Hyman’s legal situation regarding development of the Sixth Street Embankment, which is now a decade long legal battle with the city government. Without money and access to lawyers the city would’ve taken his property like the countless people who can’t afford their property taxes.

Specifically I wrote – “if the government of Jersey City can twist the legal system to punish a wealthy investor, imagine what it could do to poor people with no legal representation.” In retrospect, I should’ve added “or public employees who are politically threatening to Mayor Fulop’s gubernatorial aspirations.”

This culture starts at the top.

For example, the facts surrounding a Jersey City Housing Authority (JCHA) off-duty job once supposedly worked by Chief Philip Zacche – which is taxpayer funded – simply begs for an investigation into theft. A subpoena of his E-Z Pass records, maybe some pinging of his phone, would settle that story very quickly.

Of note, I also caught the Fulop Administration providing fraudulent responses about E-Z Pass violations stemming from OPRA requests into Zacche’s assigned transponder. Not the first time that happened, and clearly not the last.

Ironically, Zacche is the guy Mayor Fulop brought in to, among other things, audit overtime payments. Maybe Zacche can start with an audit of his 444 gross days of accumulated absence, which will result in a $503,533 payout when he retires.

This is where my more serious complaint starts to kick in – which is that every resource wasted on politics is a resource not spent on solving violent crime in Jersey City, and an eventual burden on taxpayers.

Instead of political prosecutions, how about a shift of resources to help find out who fired the bullet which hit a baby, or find out who killed a merchant in Journal Square.

To a certain extent, this parallels with the amount of resources wasted on the Bridgegate scandal by the New Jersey Assembly. An epic political prosecution that literally accomplished nothing but tarnishing your political career.

Unlike Bridgegate, the political games being played by the Fulop Administration have a real impact on the day-to-day public safety issues facing Jersey City. A day or two of awful traffic has nothing on letting Corso drive around the city with no consequences for his actions, or these cops allegedly not walking their posts, or Shea – a civilian employee – thinking he can follow a stack into a hostage situation.

That’s on top of Shea essentially running the JCPD’s IAU, which I believe is against the law in New Jersey.

Whether people know it or not, these political games being played have a trickle-down effect on policing throughout the city. That’s especially true when officers know politics, not the law, make for a better basis of their decisions.

As well, how self-defeating is it to potentially send a police officer, or any public employee, to jail for theft of time? That’s the 1-2-3 punch combo for taxpayers – first they get robbed, then they pay for courts and prison, finally they pay for a second chance program when they get out.

It just doesn’t make sense to me, there’s got to be a better way to deal with all this. Especially when I know Mike Manzo, who is actually a real nice guy, but someone you might remember for poor ethics relating to Bid Rig, is advising and driving Shea around a city he really knows nothing about.

Although, for the record, I think jail time for those caught up in the Bid Rig operation was way too harsh for the crimes committed. Just my opinion, you probably disagree, but I don’t understand what it actually accomplished when I see the same stuff going on in Jersey City, and throughout this country, through legal maneuvers.

In conclusion, I hope you take a look into this matter, not for me, not for the officers facing political prosecution, but for the people of Jersey City living in high-crime areas – they deserve better than the political buffoonery going on at the top of the JCPD.

When the streets of Greenville are safe, then I could care less about the political games.

Sincerely,

Michael Shurin

Publisher of Real Jersey City

One comment

  • i have some friends who live in this area and randomly stumbled upon your site. I’ve now read a few pieces and commend the work you’re doing. In this piece specifically, you discuss having an agenda and reporting facts; i certainly think that sometimes objectivity in journalism is misinterpreted as giving all sides equal weight and that is problematic if sides are wrong. There is certainly a need for journalism that isn’t as lenient as strict opinion but has the guts to make declarations in light of facts and logic. It very much seems like that is your goal here and on the site in general. In terms of local or even broader politics and policy, I’m used to reading “the same old shit dawg, just a different day” like my man DMX would say, but it was nice to see something fresh and passionate like this. Keep up the good work!

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