Eleven police officers with the Jersey City Police Department have been put on restricted duty amid a federal criminal investigation in connection with an alleged private security and no-show job scandal, the I-Team has learned.
A group of Jersey City officers allegedly ran their own security operation, which is not permitted while on duty, at times demanding cash payments from construction firms to avoid city rules and administrative fees.
"For some time, we have been working with the FBI on an investigation into allegations of misconduct by a number of members of the Jersey City Police Department regarding the off-duty program," city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said. "At this point in the investigation, we have made the decision to take an administrative action to remove the firearms of 11 active members and place them on non-enforcement duties. This remains an ongoing investigation."
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.
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 has already 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.
When asked about the investigation last month, FBI spokesman Michael Whitaker said, “Per official policy, the FBI cannot confirm or deny the existence or non-existence of an investigation. However, combating public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority and we encourage the public to call the FBI with any information.”
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.