A former New Jersey police officer who claimed a leg injury left him permanently disabled has been shown running around and roughhousing on a reality TV show, the I-Team has discovered.
The retired Hamilton Township officer, who receives $69,696 a year, tax-free, for the rest of his life, was also indicted on charges that he dealt in stolen property.
A trustee who oversees the New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System is pledging to review the case of Joseph Derrico.
"Clearly looking at the video, he has no problem running,” said Sgt. John Sierchio, one of the pension board members who had previously approved Derrico’s disability pension.
“He has no problem defending himself. He appears to be in some type of altercation there," said Sierchio, after watching a portion of the television show “Bear Swamp Recovery.”
Derrico appeared sparsely in the show about a New Jersey company that repossesses vehicles and other items when buyers don’t pay their debts.
In one episode, the crew appears to be repossessing two monster trucks and Derrico is seen in a physical altercation and running across a field towards the truck.
The show aired on truTV in 2011.
But, in March 2010, Derrico had applied for lifelong disability after claiming his leg “buckled” during an arrest and in another case, “was in a foot chase of burglary suspect and after catching suspect had to tackle him on concrete.”
Derrico wrote, “I feel my injury will prohibit me from doing my job safely and at the level needed.”
Five weeks after applying for that permanent disability, the officer was also accused of theft by receiving stolen property – a felony.
In April 2010, Derrico was co-owner of Hiram’s Gold & Coin Exchange in Ewing Township, while also working as a police officer.
According to records, Derrico purchased a bag of jewelry worth several thousand dollars from three people.
The jewelry was stolen and the next day, police from Ewing Township went to Hiram’s to retrieve it. Records obtained by the investigative website NJ Watchdog show the gold exchange had been under police surveillance for some time as it was suspected to be a fence for stolen goods.
When questioned by Ewing police, Derrico initially denied buying the jewelry and denied the three people had even been in the store, according to the records.
Once the surveillance evidence was shown to Derrico, the investigating officer indicated that Derrico’s story changed.
The case was brought before a Mercer County grand jury and Derrico was indicted on a felony charge of theft by receiving stolen property. He was also suspended from his job as a Hamilton Township police officer.
The indictment and suspension could have been enough to deny his application for permanent disability, but according to documents obtained by the I-Team, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini agreed to dismiss the indictment if Derrico left the Hamilton Township Police Department.
A spokesperson for Bocchini’s office said there is no record of the indictment against Derrico and declined to comment on the case.
Without the criminal charges and without knowledge of the suspension, the pension board had no choice but to accept the word of doctors who claimed Derrico was totally and permanently disabled.
“It happens all the time. Anybody that’s losing their job puts in for disability,” said Sierchio. “They’re playing within the rules of the game, I just don’t agree with the rules.”
Derrico officially resigned in August 2010 after little more than 10 years on the job. Once the disability pension was approved he started collecting 75 percent of his annual salary -- $104,550 at the time – for the rest of his life.
"He retired on disability when he was 43 and if he lives to his life expectancy, age 80, he'll collect $2.5 million tax free," said Mark Lagerkvist of NJ Watchdog, who partnered with the I-Team on this investigation.
New Jersey’s Police and Firemen’s Retirement System pays out $188.5 million each year in disability retirement and the state’s Treasury Department estimates that New Jersey’s pension system is facing a $47 billion shortfall.
Sierchio blames the shortfall, in part, on disability fraud and a lack of sufficient oversight.
“The state of New Jersey has an $80 billion pension system and we have zero investigators,” said Sierchio.
Derrico did not respond to the I-Team’s request for comment.
His friend and castmate on “Bear Swamp Recovery,” PJ Vinch, told the I-Team that Derrico’s disability is real, but the reality TV show was not.
"Everything you saw on there as all fake. There was no running and tackling. It was all just TV," said Vinch.
“There’s no way he could have ever been a police officer with the injuries he sustained,” Vinch added.