Several police officers with the Jersey City Police Department are under federal criminal investigation in connection with an alleged private security and no-show job scandal.
Sources familiar with the investigation said as many as 10 police officers could be charged with corruption early next year.
Jersey City police officers can work security jobs while off duty, but private business must hire them through the city and pay extra administrative fees to the city. But a group of officers allegedly ran their own security operation, according to investigators, at times demanding cash payments from construction firms to avoid city rules and fees.
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, officials familiar with the investigation said.
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 month, 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, 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.”
Matt Reilly, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Jersey City’s mayor, Jennifer Morrill, said, "Our administration remains vigilant and has a history of rooting out corruption; however, we cannot comment on any potential ongoing investigations."
This 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.
Sources familiar with the investigation said internal affairs and police executives are working with the FBI to try to uncover all officers who took part in the scheme. One official estimated between 6 and 10 officers will eventually be arrested.