A New Jersey mayor is accused of threatening a federal agent on a public street after he mistakenly thought the agent -- who lived on his block -- was conducting surveillance on his home, days after the FBI had searched City Hall as part of a corruption investigation, according to law enforcement sources.
But Union City Mayor Brian Stack denies the allegations, saying he only approached after the agent appeared to be confronting his girlfriend.
Law enforcement sources first told NBC 4 New York that Stack thought two agents who had been parking their official vehicles near his home along New York Avenue were watching him as part of the corruption investigation.
Stack and two others allegedly charged one of the agents in the alleged Dec. 1 confrontation and began threatening him, officials and one witness told NBC 4 New York.
But the federal agent was not an FBI agent and is not involved in the ongoing Union City corruption probe. Law enforcement officials said the federal agent works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He was parking on the mayor’s street because he lived on the block. A second agent who lost his home in Hurricane Sandy was parking on the street nearby and crashing on that fellow agent’s couch until he could find a new home, officials said.
"The mayor's actions as an elected official were inexcusable," said New Jersey ICE Director Andrew McLees. “An HSI agent was confronted in an aggressive manner by the mayor. The agent felt threatened and appropriately reported the incident to law enforcement authorities."
But Stack blamed the off-duty agent for approaching his girlfriend in a car without identifying himself.
“What would any man do if their wife or their mother or their loved one is being detained in a vehicle, and the person won’t identify themselves and you see a bulge in their belt?” Stack said.
Stack said he was the one who called police and rushed from a campaign event with two aides to help his girlfriend after she called him from her car, concerned.
“I would never threaten a federal agent,” Stack said.
The feds gave a different account and say it was the agent who called Union City police – twice -- as the mayor confronted him.
Stack’s attorney said the mayor still believes federal agents were attempting to humiliate and threaten him at his own house by parking their cars with their law enforcement placards visible.
"This guy was absolutely harassing the mayor. What kind of official business placard is on a windshield -- why -- other than to harass the mayor at his own home?” said attorney Dennis McAlvey.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office looked into that allegation.
"The suggestion that federal law enforcement was engaging in harassment is absurd. The agent simply happened to live on the street where he parked his car," said U.S. attorney spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael.
When asked why the mayor was not arrested and charged with threatening a federal agent, a federal law enforcement official said, "The U.S. attorney’s office takes credible threats seriously, but has better things to do than charge everyone who gives an agent a hard time."
Two weeks prior to the alleged confrontation, FBI agents were seen searching City Hall in Union City. Stack has not been tied to the corruption probe, and FBI agents took records from the city’s community development agency. At that time, Stack told reporters: "We have nothing to hide. If there is any wrongdoing by anyone I’d wanna be the first to know as the mayor."
Before the Dec. 1 street dispute, Stack’s attorney wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney’s office alleging federal agents were engaged in harassment of the mayor. Federal officials said around that time, someone also began leaving notes on the agent’s car warning in part that Union City police were watching him. The feds said the off-duty agent then approached the woman to ask if she saw anything or knew anything about the notes.
The mayor denies he, or anyone he knows, were leaving notes on the agent’s car. He also says his attorney was not speaking for him when he wrote the letter about the alleged harassment.
“Why would I ever want to pit the federal government against me?” Stack asked. “The raid that took place in City Hall never in my mind, never crossed my mind with this gentleman walking up to my girlfriend. I didn’t know whether he was going to carjack her, I don’t know, she was a female alone in her car outside her own house.”
A Union City police official confirmed officers were called to the mayor’s block Dec. 1 and spent 30 minutes there trying to sort out the heated confrontation. The agent was told to report to the police station, and after meeting with police there, a decision was made not to file any charges, officials said.
Homeland Security officials say the agent has since moved out of the area.
Stack’s attorney said NBC 4 New York has been given "erroneous information" about the dispute and expressed doubt the agent ever lived on the block.
"No one has seen him since that day," McAlvey said.