JCPD off-duty anomalies, Skyway duties deliberated during Mahoney testimony

The testimony of JCPD Off-Duty Intake Coordinator Thomas Mahoney highlighted a dizzying amount of anomalies, examined retired Capt. Joseph Ascolese’s role as Skyway Commander, and probed Lt. Robert Sjosward’s internal affairs investigation.

Attorney Jeffrey Garrigan, JCPD Off-Duty Intake Coordinator Thomas Mahoney, and retired JCPD Capt. Joseph Ascolese

Not 1, not 2, but 3 days of testimony from Thomas Mahoney raised legitimate concerns about the Jersey City Police Department’s (JCPD) off-duty jobs program under Mayor Steven Fulop and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) second witness in The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill.

Moreover, if day one of the JCPD off-duty intake coordinator’s testimony was a snoozer, Mahoney’s second and third days would best be described as mentally exhausting.

A grueling, two-day cross-examination and redirect that demonstrated systematic flaws in the JCPD off-duty program through a dizzying amount of anomalies related to the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Pulaski Skyway & Route 139 rehabilitation projects.

On top of the anomalies, retired Capt. Joseph Ascolese’s role as Skyway Commander and Lt. Robert Sjosward’s internal affairs investigation were also explored in court.

Beyond the issues relevant to the trial, Mahoney’s testimony provided insight into the Fulop Administration’s handling of the infamous program currently under federal investigation for various schemes — from ex-Chief Philip Zacche’s $24,000 no-show housing authority fraud to “pickmaster” Juan Romaniello’s $230,000 hustle — while the HCPO pursues this single case (which is in the hundreds of dollars).

Unqualified for the job, unaware of official protocols

Day four of the trial, and the second day of Mahoney’s testimony, started with HCPO First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma essentially finishing his presentation on off-duty procedures for Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina (which began the previous day).

Similar to Robert Kakoleski, who served as Jersey City’s business administrator during Mayor Fulop’s first term, Stoma questioned Mahoney regarding his responsibilities and knowledge related to the JCPD’s off-duty jobs program. Additionally, the prosecution spent extensive time introducing evidence, mostly pay vouchers, relevant to the state’s case.

Once Stoma was done, Jeffrey Garrigan, defense attorney for Lt. Kelly Chesler, dissected Mahoney during cross-examination – exposing the witness’s ignorance of official protocols while presenting a plethora of anomalies that couldn’t be definitively explained during cross-examination.

Most concerning, it was revealed that all it took was one meeting for Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea to hire Mahoney – who admittedly had no prior experience managing anything resembling the multimillion dollar program when asked by Garrigan. Shea never even discussed the responsibilities of an off-duty intake coordinator with Mahoney.

Indeed, Mahoney, a retired corrections officer from the Hudson County jail, had no relevant qualifications prior to being employed by the Jersey City Department of Public Safety as a civilian overseeing the JCPD’s Office of Off-Duty Employment in April 2014. The witness also confirmed there was no formal training for the off-duty intake coordinator position, but that his former boss, Mark Timmins, taught him how to input vouchers and that he learned JCPD off-duty processes via data entry over one year.

As for the anomalies, Garrigan produced hundreds of them. Examples included vouchers signed by supervisors without corresponding documentation (patrol logs, off-duty master sheet) showing officers had been on their posts; vouchers signed by unauthorized supervisors and officers; vouchers with a supervisor’s name printed but no signature; and hundreds of vouchers that lacked a supervisor’s name and signature altogether.

All of those anomalies were apparently approved for payment, but, for the second time in the trial, it was revealed the NJDOT didn’t reimburse all of the invoices billed to them. Likewise, in line with Kakoleski’s testimony, Mahoney revealed NJDOT documentation related to payments which weren’t reimbursed did, in fact, exist.

Ospina ordered that Mahoney produce the documents, but didn’t offer an opinion on whether it was exculpatory to the case or not.

Defense lawyers have been raising the anomalies as both an argument establishing their clients innocence and an incrimination of the investigation which led to the indictments. The attorneys claim investigators failed to perform a full inquiry of the off-duty program, rather, they targeted Ascolese and Chesler for filing a whistleblower lawsuit exposing racism and sexism in the JCPD, and that Officer Michael O’Neill was collateral damage of the conspiracy to indict the two superior officers.

Key to the indictments of the defendants, Mahoney acknowledged he never saw the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Fulop Administration and NJDOT – also discussed during Kakoleski’s testimony – governing the obligations of supervisors and officers until he testified before a grand jury on May 10, 2016.

Furthermore, Garrigan highlighted the chaotic nature of the off-duty intake office and questioned the witness extensively on the proper submissions of vouchers & patrol logs, and how the off-duty intake office performed verifications prior to approving payments & billing invoices.

MAHONEY VIDEO PART 1:

Capt. Ascolese’s role as Skyway Commander examined

The spirit of a new school year filled the courtroom as Robert Lytle, Ascolese’s attorney, instructed Mahoney to read aloud an April 28, 2014, email sent from former JCPD Chief Robert Cowan to Shea.

According to the email, on top of Ascolese’s duties commanding the Emergency Services Unit and Special Patrol Bureau, the retired captain was tasked with overseeing morning and evening traffic related to the NJDOT rehabilitation projects.

The NJDOT duties created an overtime opportunity for Ascolese, which Cowan said would bust the project’s budget, thus Ascolese would be paid the off-duty supervisors rate instead.

Additionally, Cowan specifically noted “the Skyway is a complex and evolving project” in the email. Mahoney agreed with Cowan’s assessment from 2014 and confirmed multiple examples cited by Lytle, including enforcement of vouchers being signed and the adjustment of traffic posts.

Specific to the case, Lytle reiterated how Mahoney was unaware of the MOU covering the Skyway project until he testified before a grand jury. In addition, Lytle had Mahoney acknowledge the maximum number of off-duty officers per the MOU was 55, not 52, plus two additional emergency personnel, and required Jersey City provide mobile, “roving” police services.

Most importantly, Mahoney confirmed Ascolese and Chesler’s ability to assign officers to NJDOT posts and sign vouchers. As well, Mahoney testified that Ascolese didn’t need to leave a location on his vouchers as Skyway commander.

Phone records rehashed, Sjosward’s IAU investigation probed

Piggybacking off Lytle’s breakdown of the MOU and Ascolese’s responsibilities, Charles Sciarra, attorney for Officer Michael O’Neill, posed a simple question for Mahoney, “would you agree that the paperwork is not what you thought it was coming in here?”

“Correct,” Mahoney responded.

Later on during his cross-examination, Sciarra began to explore a similar anomaly from May 1, 2014, between O’Neill and Michael Maietti – a former co-defendant turned cooperating witness for the HCPO. Ascolese was indicted for signing a false voucher from that day for Maietti, but not O’Neill, even though both submitted similar vouchers.

Stoma objected, noting that O’Neill isn’t indicted for that specific date, and alluded to phone records used to indict Maietti, but ultimately tossed by Ospina in a pretrial hearing, as the reason for Ascolese being charged for the date in question.

Given the absence of phone records, Stoma is now relying on Maietti’s direct testimony.

As he concluded his questioning, Sciarra probed Mahoney on the JCPD Internal Affairs Unit’s (IAU) investigation. Specifically, the defense attorney asked Mahoney if Lt. Robert Sjosward, or anyone else from IAU, came to him and asked about any anomalies with the paperwork turned over to IAU – which was ultimately used to indict the defendants.

“No,” Mahoney answered.

MAHONEY VIDEO PART 2:

Stoma redirects on anomalies and Ascolese, Garrigan responds

By the time Stoma started his redirect, it was day 3 of Mahoney’s testimony. Before the end of the day, Ospina had to remind the witness he should understand the questions he was being asked by Stoma before answering.

Specific to the Skyway detail, Stoma had Mahoney establish that no vouchers were submitted for payment without a location. The purpose was to dismiss the defense’s argument that mobile, “roving” details were instituted by Ascolese per the MOU – which Mahoney claims he never saw on a voucher – and worked by Maietti or Officer Joseph Widejko.

Of note, unlike Maietti and Widejko, the HCPO’s star witnesses, neither Ascolese nor Chesler is accused of stealing money. They’re on trial for allegedly signing vouchers they knew were fraudulent so Maietti, Widejko, and O’Neill can be paid for work they never performed. O’Neill stands trial for $400, which is less than both Maietti and Widejko were accused of stealing.

Regarding the anomalies, Stoma specifically pointed Mahoney to a voucher for Officer Gary Moffitt. Though Moffitt’s name wasn’t on the master list of NJDOT jobs for June 2, 2014, the officer was paid and his voucher signed by then-Sgt. Terrence Crowley – the supervisor from the date.

Garrigan responded to Stoma’s redirect by pointing to Crowley’s patrol log from that day – which marked Moffitt’s post as uncovered. Despite a tense objection from Stoma, Garrigan ultimately had the witness confirm that the paperwork doesn’t identify when Crowley signed the voucher.

MAHONEY VIDEO PART 3:

To sum things up, Mahoney’s testimony raised serious questions regarding the Fulop Administration’s handling of the JCPD off-duty program and IAU’s investigation of potential crimes that need to be explored outside Ospina’s courtroom.

As for inside the courtroom, it’s clear Ospina will have plenty of paperwork and statements to review when she deliberates the fate of the defendants.

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