‘Donnelly’s Anomalies’: JCPD deputy chief can’t explain bad paperwork, contradicts on ‘book by phone’

JCPD provisional-Deputy Chief Neil Donnelly couldn’t explain a plethora of off-duty anomalies related to his own paperwork and provided conflicting statements about cell phone communications as an off-duty supervisor during his testimony.

JCPD provisional-Deputy Chief Neil Donnelly (center), HCPO First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma (top left), Attorney Robert Lytle (bottom left), Attorney Jeffrey Garrigan (top right), Attorney Charles Sciarra and P.O. Michael O’Neill (bottom right).

The 6th, 7th, and 8th day of The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill could best be described as… Déjà vu.

Just like Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) Off-Duty Intake Coordinator Thomas Mahoney, it took not 1, not 2, but 3 days for provisional-Deputy Chief Neil Donnelly to finish his testimony – which started after an ‘epiphany’ led to late discovery & courtroom drama during an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case by defense lawyers.

So far, of the scheduled dates for the trial – six have been dominated by Donnelly and Mahoney, one by Fulop Administration BA Robert Kakoleski, and one for opening statements. According to the calendar, the trial is actually halfway through – it just doesn’t feel that way inside Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mirth Ospina’s courtroom knowing how many people are on the witness list.

Stoma focuses on Michael O’Neill’s indicted date of 6/6/14

Donnelly, the third witness to testify on behalf of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO), was introduced by First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma to, in part, testify against his long-time friend – Police Officer Michael O’Neill.

Stoma began by building-up the credibility of Donnelly to Ospina, who serves as judge & jury during the bench trial, in an effort to demonstrate that the then-lieutenant’s paperwork was evidence O’Neill didn’t work his off-duty shift on June 6, 2014.

Specifically, the state focused on pay vouchers, an off-duty master sheet covering New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Pulaski Skyway & Route 139 traffic posts, and Donnelly’s patrol log – all from the indicted date.

Donnelly testified he would “physically go to each location in a marked vehicle, visually observe the officer on scene, and sign his pay voucher” when filling out an off-duty supervisor patrol log.

As an example, Stoma pointed Donnelly to the post on Duncan and Routes 1&9 from 6-6-14. According to the off-duty master sheet, a centralized list created after officers pick available jobs in advance of the days worked, two officers were supposed to be working on the aforementioned two-man post. They never showed up, but another JCPD officer, Morton Otundo, did.

Otundo was paid, his voucher signed by Donnelly, and he was booked in the patrol log – unlike the two officers identified on the master sheet. Similarly, but more important to the case, Donnelly booked Officer Joseph Torre at the Broadway and Routes 1&9 Skyway detail. That was also a two-man post, but uncovered according to the master sheet.

Not booked on Donnelly’s patrol log from that date was O’Neill and Officer Michael Maietti – who was originally indicted with Capt. Joseph Ascolese, Lt. Kelly Chesler, and O’Neill. Both of their pay vouchers indicate they worked the Broadway and Routes 1&9 post on 6-6-14, and were signed by Ascolese, not Donnelly – who couldn’t explain why the anomaly may have occurred during his testimony.

After receiving what defense attorneys described as an overgenerous gift, Maietti accepted a plea bargain with the HCPO, as well as a recent $80,000 settlement agreement with the City of Jersey City, to testify against his former co-defendants.


Sciarra exposes “Donnelly’s Anomalies” during cross-examination

From the beginning of attorney Charles Sciarra’s cross-examination, who represents O’Neill, a constant theme for the defense was established – then-South District Lt. Donnelly wasn’t aware of any official protocols related to the NJDOT Skyway details. Lacking knowledge of standard operating procedures, Donnelly testified he performed his off-duty supervisor duties based on “word of mouth” and self-explanatory paperwork.

Furthermore, Donnelly acknowledged that he heard Ascolese, commander of the Special Patrol Bureau (SPB) at the time, served as Skyway Commander in charge of NJDOT details. During a 2015 interview with the HCPO, Donnelly stated he might have seen Ascolese moving around the city while managing the project, but “definitely” heard him over the radio.

The provisional-deputy chief added that he himself used the radio on different occasions to check if officers were on their assigned post, but only after visually observing first. As well, Donnelly confirmed he had the authority – as an off-duty supervisor – to move officers around depending on where they were need most, but that he was unaware if Ascolese shared the same authority as Skyway Commander.

After demonstrating Donnelly’s actual knowledge of NJDOT off-duty policies to Judge Ospina, Sciarra spent extensive time – over two days – presenting anomalies with the witness’s own paperwork. A plethora of off-duty anomalies related to Donnelly which the provisional-deputy chief couldn’t definitively explain, including:

– Officers Reyes Cartagena and Gicella Sanchez’s pay vouchers from 6/4/14, from 6-10 AM, both listed Communipaw and Crescent avenues as their location – a one-man post. Donnelly’s patrol log had Sanchez at the location, and Cartagena at Communipaw and Grand avenues. Though he claims to have checked for truthfulness and accuracy when signing pay vouchers, Donnelly couldn’t explain the discrepancy.

– On 9/23/14, apparently for the same shift, officers Stephen Taddeo and Leon Tucker both put Communipaw Ave. and John F. Kennedy Blvd. on their pay vouchers as the location they worked. Contradicting Taddeo’s pay voucher, Donnelly’s patrol log booked the officer at Communipaw and Bergen avenues – which the provisional-deputy chief admitted could’ve possibly resulted from a post reassignment.

– On 5/13/14, then-Sgt. Robert Majury had his pay voucher signed by Donnelly – even though Marjury wasn’t booked on Donnelly’s patrol log from that day. Sciarra noted that the anomaly was similar to what Ascolese and O’Neill were indicted for from 6/6/14, but Donnelly couldn’t explain the occurrence. As well, Donnelly admitted that HCPO investigators never questioned him on any specific issues with his paperwork, rather, they took the lieutenant on his word that everything was in good order.

– On 5/30/14, from 6-10 AM, Donnelly’s pay voucher misidentified skyway posts – leading to uncertainty as to whether a post at the Communipaw Junction was covered or not. There was no patrol log from Donnelly for that day, but an “Officer Vilas” was booked at a misidentified Skyway post on Donnelly’s voucher, yet Vilas’ pay voucher was ultimately signed by then-Sgt. Vincent Corso – whom Corso didn’t book in his patrol log.

– On 7/1/14, while filling out his patrol log from 3:30 to 5:00 PM, Donnelly marked three Skyway posts uncovered. Pay vouchers signed by Donnelly, for officers Rodney Collington and Raymond Solt, indicate two of the posts were actually covered. When asked by Sciarra, Donnelly said the vouchers, not the patrol log, should be trusted, even though Stoma’s case against O’Neill is based on his absence from Donnelly’s patrol log on 6/6/14.

– On 5/30/14, Donnelly signed the pay vouchers of multiple officers that were booked on then-Sgt. Lawrence Quish’s patrol log.

– On 6/19/14, Donnelly booked Officer Robert Taino in his patrol log, yet Taino’s pay voucher was ultimately signed by Chesler. Though unclear if the same date, Donnelly signed a pay voucher for then-Sgt. Raymond Mahan – who wasn’t on his patrol log. As well, Donnelly booked Officer J.M. Rodriguez at a post, in a patrol log with no times, yet Rodriguez’s pay voucher was ultimately signed by Sgt. Billy Hoffman.

– On 9/23/14, Officer Saad Hashmi’s pay voucher, signed by Donnelly, identified that he worked at The Junction that day. Yet, Donnelly’s patrol log books two other officers at the post. Paperwork from that day indicates several other officers were sent to different posts, though, it’s not clear whether that was the reason for the anomaly.

– On 9/26/14, Officer Joseph Dwyer’s pay voucher, signed by Donnelly, indicated he worked from 6-10 AM at Communipaw and Routes 1&9, though Dwyer wasn’t on Donnelly’s patrol log from that day.

– On another date, Detective Paul Jensen was booked at Caven Point and Garfield avenues in Donnelly’s patrol log and pay voucher. Yet, someone apparently wrote Donnelly’s name and forged his signature on Jensen’s pay voucher. The provisional-deputy chief said it’s possible he gave Jensen permission to sign his name, but that he couldn’t recall. A similar situation occurred with Detective Scott Rogers, except in that instance Donnelly also got the time he booked Rogers wrong by 12 hours.

– On 6/2/14, a day Donnelly wasn’t working as an NJDOT off-duty supervisor, his signature was apparently forged to a pay voucher for Joseph Dwyer indicating he worked from 6-10 AM at Communipaw and Crescent avenues. Then-Sgt. August Joy was the off-duty supervisor that day, overseeing that post, yet Dwyer wasn’t booked in Joy’s patrol log. Donnelly stated he wouldn’t have given permission to Dwyer to sign his name and couldn’t explain the anomaly.

– On 8/5/14, Donnelly’s patrol log didn’t include times. By the time Sciarra wound down his cross-examination, he noted that the 6/6/14 date – which O’Neill was indicted for – was the shortest time (42 minutes) Donnelly took to book officers in his patrol log.


Garrigan questions ‘book by phone’

If things weren’t bad enough for Donnelly after Sciarra questioned his off-duty anomalies, Jeffrey Garrigan, Chesler’s attorney, might have caused the state’s witness to impeach himself during cross-examination.

Garrigan started his questioning by bringing up the anomaly where Donnelly’s name was apparently forged to an officer’s pay voucher, and ended by asking whether the provisional-deputy chief had ever heard the phrase “booking by phone”?

“No,” Donnelly answered.

Nearly two minutes later, Donnelly admitted that he would, at times, forget to sign vouchers after conversing with officers, and that he may have given some cops permission to sign his name over a cell phone call.

Lytle & Stoma highlight NJDOT, off-duty policies

Robert Lytle, Ascolese’s attorney, brought the focus back to Donnelly being unaware of any official protocols related to not just NJDOT Skyway details, but all off-duty policies.

Specifically, Donnelly didn’t remember seeing a June 2016 department order that updated and clarified off-duty policies – which was published one week after the grand jury returned indictments for Ascolese, Chesler, Maietti, and O’Neill.

Lytle also went over anomalies raised by Sciarra in relation to the dates Ascolese was indicted for, questioning whether the JCPD Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), specifically Lt. Robert Sjosward, ever asked Donnelly about any of the anomalies raised in court – which apparently the JCPD IAU did not ask about or investigate at all.

On the third day, Stoma went on a marathon redirect – highlighting all of Donnelly’s pay vouchers and patrol logs that lacked anomalies. It could best be described as the most dreadful day of the trial so far, and it even had Judge Ospina basically asking Stoma when will it stop.

The highlight of the redirect focused on “roving details,” with Stoma questioning Donnelly if he knew of officers being assigned to drive around Jersey City and check on traffic – which the provisional-deputy chief claimed he had no knowledge of.


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