By David Cruz
A grim-faced Attorney General Jeff Chiesa says the public trust was violated when troopers led a high-speed escort down the state in 2010 and in 2012. Chiesa announced criminal charges today against Sgt. Nadir Nassry and Trooper Joseph Ventrella, who led a high-speed escort down the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike in March 2012. The charges are third and fourth degree tampering with and falsifying public records, mainly license plates.
“What they did was absolutely wrong. To make matters worse, they knew it was wrong and attempted to cover up their role in this egregious conduct. In doing so, they committed a crime under New Jersey law,” announced Chiesa at a Trenton press conference. “We allege that these two troopers altered the license plates on their two troop cars by using black electrical tape to change the numbers on their plates.”
Four other unnamed troopers involved in a similar escort in 2010 will face administrative charges. None of the civilian drivers in either case will be charged. Although Chiesa said the investigation was still ongoing, he didn’t expect any other charges to be filed.
Charles Sciarra, the attorney for Sgt. Nassry says his client has had a stellar 25-year career marred by this one incident. He said that his client is being sacrificed so the state can engage in public relations.
“What I’m not willing to do at this point and my client’s not willing to do at this point is just surrender his career and his pension, which he earned for 26 years of service, to accommodate the PR needs of the people in Trenton,” Sciarra said on Thursday. “We’re going to have this fight and we’re going to have it out.”
Chiesa scoffed at that suggestion. “I’m not going to get into a back and forth with his view as to why [charges were filed],” said Chiesa. “I’m telling you that we’re taking the steps to protect the public which is the paramount factor in our decision making here.”
State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes also announced — but did not formally release — a new policy regarding police escorts. He said the escorts are frequently necessary for VIPs, visiting heads of state and others but that they should always have the public safety as their top priority, including, henceforth, no 100-mile an hour races down the Parkway.
“To the extent that they can, conditions permitting, they are to stay to the right on the escort and they are to observe the posted speed limit,” he said. “I think that’s clear.”
Nassry and Ventrella face three to five years in prison and $15,000 in fines for the third degree offenses and 18 months and $10,000 in fines for the fourth degree offenses, including, in the case of Nassry especially, the painful loss of a pension that could be worth close to $3 million, all told — a stiff price tag for what started out as an afternoon’s joyride.