In the now-canceled cable reality show, "Bear Swamp Recovery," former Hamilton Township Police Officer Joseph Derrico played a rough-housing repo man. He wrestled, he ran, and there was no sign he was disabled. Yet Derrico was collecting an annual disability pension worth $69,700, tax-free.
On Monday, Trustees of the New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System voted to strip the former cop of those benefits.
"The board doctors re-evaluated him and determined he is able to go back to work," said Wayne Hall, who chairs the PFRS Board.
I-Team: Disabled NJ Ex-Cop Runs, Roughhouses on Reality TV
In 2010, Derrico told pension officials that he was unable to perform police work because of a bum leg he’d injured twice while trying to make arrests. His application for life-long disability benefits said, "I feel my injury will prohibit me from doing my job safely and at the level needed, it will put me or other officers in danger."
But PFRS trustees then saw and heard about the reality TV video that seemed to show Derrico able-bodied enough to chase down grown men driving monster trucks.
"It makes up my mind that there's something wrong with the system that this guy can get away with that,” said pension trustee Marty Barrett.
The decision to cancel Derrico’s disability pension came after a joint investigation by the I-Team and New Jersey Watchdog, which uncovered the video. Board trustee John Sierchio said the video proves Derrico was cheating the system.
“Everybody played the semantics and played the game of using the state pension system to circumvent the system and the report caught them. So now everybody has egg on their face,” Sierchio said.
Efforts by the I-Team to contact Joseph Derrico were unsuccessful.
In April, P.J. Vinch, a friend of the former cop who also starred in "Bear Swamp Recovery," said the reality TV show was staged and not indicative of Derrico’s physical capabilities.
“There’s no way that he could have ever been a police officer with the injury that he sustained,” Vinch said.
Pension trustees didn’t accept the explanation.
Derrico has the right to appeal the board’s decision canceling his benefits, but if the ruling stands, the reality TV repo man will have to find new work.
It seems unlikely Hamilton Township Police will take him back. Derrico left the police department in 2010 as part of a deal with prosecutors to drop a criminal indictment alleging he received stolen property. The township’s business administrator, John Ricci, said Derrico’s resignation was final.
“As far as we’re concerned, he is no longer a Hamilton Township police officer and he has no rights to be re-employed,” Ricci said.