July 27, 2012 - Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes announced that criminal charges have been filed against the two state troopers involved in the unauthorized State Police escort of a high-speed sports car caravan to Atlantic City in March 2012.
They also announced disciplinary charges against four troopers in connection with the improper State Police escort involving similar vehicles in 2010, and disciplinary charges against a trooper who improperly handled a traffic ticket issued to a member of a driving club who was stopped for speeding on the Garden State Parkway in his Lamborghini in 2010.
“No one is above the law, and the public expects and deserves a higher level of conduct from our state troopers, most of whom deliver admirably and professionally in that regard,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “The conduct alleged here jeopardized public safety and undermined the trust the public places in law enforcement and the State Police. Serious misconduct by any state trooper must be met with serious discipline and, where warranted and appropriate, criminal charges.”
In addition to outlining the criminal charges against two troopers and disciplinary action against others, Attorney General Chiesa and Colonel Fuentes also announced a new Standing Operating Procedure governing escorts designed to enhance the safety of motorists.
“Clearly, there is no double standard for troopers. Those who, by their actions, bring discredit upon the rest of the outstanding members of the State Police have a very hard reality to face,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Sgt. First Class Nadir Nassry, 47, a trooper for 25 years who allegedly led the March 30, 2012 caravan and enlisted the other trooper in the unauthorized escort, was charged by complaint-summons with third-degree tampering with public records or information and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. Trooper Joseph Ventrella, 28, who has six years of service, was charged by complaint-summons with a single charge of fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. It is alleged that prior to the start of the unauthorized escort in March 2012, both troopers altered their license plates by using black electrical tape to change the numbers on the plates. Nassry is also alleged to have instructed the other drivers in the caravan to conceal or partially conceal their plates using tape or other means.
“The alleged actions of these two troopers in altering the license plates of their troop cars were clearly intended to conceal their involvement in conduct that they knew was wrong,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “The overwhelming majority of state troopers carry out their duties with honor and integrity, keeping our citizens in every corner of this state safe and secure. We cannot let the actions of a few troopers tarnish the reputation of the entire force and undermine the effectiveness of the State Police in protecting those they serve.”
Disciplinary actions against the two troopers who led the June 27, 2010 escort have resulted in administrative charges being filed against both troopers for, among other things, improper conduct of an escort and unsafe driving. In addition, administrative charges were filed against two supervisors in this case for improper supervision.
The January 17, 2010 case involving the Lamborghini driver, who was issued a ticket for driving 116 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone on the Garden State Parkway in Paramus, has resulted in disciplinary charges against the trooper involved for improper conduct related to the stop and his handling of the ticket.
All five troopers who have been charged administratively face a potential term of unpaid suspension. This is subject to a hearing process, so specific penalties cannot be announced at this time.
The new Standing Operating Procedure addressing escorts places an emphasis on public safety with enhanced provisions governing when escorts will be authorized and the manner in which they will be conducted. The new SOP includes:
- Circumstances when a State Police escort may be authorized;
- Factors to be considered when authorizing an escort;
- Chain of command and specific procedures for authorizing an escort, which improve accountability; and
- Guidance as to how escorts are to be conducted, including clear instructions on observing posted speed limits and avoiding use of passing lanes.
The new SOP will ensure that escorts are conducted reasonably, responsibly, and in a manner that promotes the safety of the public.
The criminal charges against Nassry and Ventrella stem from an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice.
Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Because the third-degree charge against Nassry involves his public office, he would face a mandatory two-year period of parole ineligibility under the state’s anti-corruption law if convicted, and mandatory loss of his pension. Fourth-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment.
Nassry and Ventrella were suspended without pay commencing on April 23, 2012. If convicted of the criminal charges, both Nassry and Ventrella would forfeit their jobs and would be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.