Three Jersey City police officers have pleaded guilty to corruption charges in federal court, months after the I-Team broke the story of the investigation into an alleged private security and no-show job scandal.
James Cardinali, 38, of Jersey City; Victor Sanchez, 37, of Hasbrouck Heights; and Christopher Ortega, 29, of Brick, entered guilty pleas in Newark federal court Tuesday morning.
The three officers face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced in November. As part of their plea agreement, Cardinali will forfeit nearly $40,000, Sanchez $21,000 and Ortega $18,000, prosecutors say.
Messages were left with their defense attorneys.
In January, the I-Team reported 11 officers with the Jersey City Police Department were put on restricted duty after investigators alleged they were running their own security operation, which is not permitted while on duty. At times, the officers demanded cash payments from construction firms to avoid city rules and administrative fees, officials said.
Officials familiar with the probe say that in many cases, off-duty officers were paid even though they did not show up at sites where private security is required, including construction zones and utility work. Cardinali, Sanchez and Ortega were among those accused of not showing up to their assignments and falsely signing paperwork indicating that they did.
Some cops also allegedly told drivers of oversized vehicles that they had to pay off-duty officers directly in order to get escorted through city streets.
One officer previously pleaded guilty to helping run the scheme: former Jersey City police officer Juan Romaniello pleaded guilty in federal court last year, admitting that he took over $200,000 in impromper payments and never paid taxes on that money, and that his illegal security scheme ran for about six years. What was not known at the time was how many other officers were allegedly involved.
The investigation comes after four other Jersey City officers were arrested in a separate county case involving alleged overtime abuse and no-show jobs, including for work assignments at the Pulaski Skyway. Former Captain Joseph Ascolese, Lt. Kelly Chesler and officers Michael Maietti and Michael O’Neil deny any wrongdoing.
Investigators say off-duty officers can earn up to $120 an hour for private security work, with the city getting extra service fees to cover administrative costs, overhead and out-of-pocket expenses.
Officials did not say if any developers and business owners are facing scrutiny or if they were victims allegedly shaken down by the officers allegedly involved.