NJ Police Chief Guilty of Misconduct, Insurance FraudScandalous Schemes — By Trace America on May 17, 2012 at 4:23 PM
Back in October we brought you the story of a Hackensack Police Chief, Ken Zisa. He once led Bergen County’s largest police department and is an heir of one of the town’s most well-known political dynasties. He has now fallen from grace however, because he is facing up to 23 years behind bars after being found guilty of insurance fraud and official misconduct.
According to NorthJersey.com, after three days of deliberation, a jury delivered two different verdicts. Zisa, 58, was acquitted of conspiracy and witness tampering charges, but they found him guilty of insurance fraud due to the false insurance report he filed. They also noted that he acted improperly when he inserted himself into two investigations involving his former girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, who was also on trial.
Tiernan was also found guilty of filing a false insurance report, and acquitted on a conspiracy charge.
The courtroom quickly became standing room only, filling with friends and family for Zisa and Tiernan and many employees from the Prosecutor’s Office.
As the verdicts — five guilty counts for Zisa and one for Tiernan — were read, the courtroom fell silent. As in a scene from a movie, Joe Zisa, the city attorney and Ken Zisa’s cousin, closed his eyes and bowed his head. One of Tiernan’s sons rested his head against a courtroom wall, and a young woman in the front row appeared to wipe away tears.
Zisa, who was a state assemblyman from 1994-2002, closed his eyes and clenched his jaw but continued to hold his head high.
Zisa, who has been suspended from his job for two years, faces a maximum prison sentence of 45 years and a minimum of 23 years, 15 of which would be without parole, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel said. Tiernan faces up to 5 years on the insurance fraud charge, but there is no presumption of jail time. A sentencing hearing was tentatively set for June 22.
Zisa’s attorney, Patricia Prezioso, told Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte, “Obviously we are extremely disappointed with the jury’s verdict.” She said an appeal is planned.
Keitel requested that Zisa’s bail be set at $200,000 and asked for the immediate removal from his office of chief of police. Keitel also requested the forfeiture of Zisa’s pension and retirement.
Conte set bail for Zisa at $50,000 with no 10 percent cash payment option. Until its paid –for which the deadline is tomorrow, Zisa remains free on his own recognizance. Tiernan also remains free on her own recognizance with no set bail. The judge said he would rule on the other requests at a to-be-scheduled hearing.
Hackensack’s city manager, Stephen Lo Iacono, said he will wait for further instruction from the courts on whether to remove Zisa from office.
“Right now, as we speak, his status is the same as it has been for the past two years. He is suspended without pay,” Lo Iacono said. “He’s certainly not on the job. Whatever process the legal system is going to take, we have to live with that and wait for it.”
Councilman John Lebrosse said the city should remove Zisa from office as soon as it can. He stated, “We need to sever the tie and move forward. This has been wearing on the city, the police department, the government and city officials for years now.”
Upon getting news of the verdict, Captain Thomas Padilla, who has served as acting officer in charge since Zisa’s arrest two years ago, returned to police headquarters to discuss the matter at the 5 p.m. roll call. In a department that was shaken up by this trial, and that received over a dozen civil suits filed by officers against Zisa, Padilla said it was important to have his officer’s focus on their core mission of serving the public.
Zisa and his family members, including former Mayor Jack Zisa and city attorney Joe Zisa, declined to comment as they followed him out of the courtroom. Lynne Hurwitz, the city’s Democratic Municipal Chairwoman, also declined to comment.
Several jurors were contacted after the verdict, but they noted that the panel as a group also decided against commenting.
The verdict is certain to have sweeping repercussions in Hackensack, where Zisa has held his title throughout his two-year unpaid suspension, and officials have resisted settling any of the civil lawsuits filed by more than 20 present and retired police officers that name the chief.
Those cases, which ask for several million dollars in damages, have been on hold pending a verdict in the trial.
Lo Iacono said the cost of defending the suits –which is already at over $2.4 million in the last three years– might have reached a threshold at which the city’s insurer would require the city to settle them.
Lawyers for the police officers noted that the conviction can be admitted as evidence in the cases and will likely damage Zisa’s credibility.
“Clearly, the verdict does speak to the chief’s conduct as chief,” said attorney Robert Woodruff, who is handling two Zisa-related cases. “He was the king. That’s what he was. I guess not.”
In a town that is known by the family’s political opponents as “Zisaville,” prosecutors argued that the charges stemmed from a skewed system of justice. They stated that there was one system of justice for the Zisa family and their friends, and another for everybody else.
That imbalance apparently showed itself in 2004 and 2008, when Zisa arrived on the scene of two incidents and redirected investigations before Tiernan and her family could be charged.
In the 2004 case, prosecutors said Zisa coerced a subordinate officer, Laura Campos, to remove then 16-year-old Ryan Tiernan’s name from a police report of an assault and robbery of a 15-year-old.
In the second case in 2008, the chief arrived on the scene shortly after a visibly drunk Tiernan crashed into a utility pole, and was then whisked away before a sobriety test could be administered.
The couple then filed the fraudulent insurance claim for $11,000, stating that Tiernan had swerved to avoid hitting an animal.
Prezioso argued that Zisa acted appropriately during both investigations. She showed the jury stacks of documents from the police department and other sources that she says prove that the officers who testified against their boss were lying.
Instead, Prezioso stated that Zisa was the victim of a political conspiracy fuelled by disgruntled subordinates involving Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli.
Prezioso also noted that a group of rogue officers, including John Hermann and Joseph Al-Ayoubi, brought up the story of the 2008 car crash when Zisa failed to take a bribe to drop disciplinary charges against the leader of the police union, Anthony Ferraioli.
Prezioso and Meehan argued that Tiernan was simply collateral damage. Her car accident, they claim, happened just as it was described on the insurance claim.
Key testimony from Hermann and Al-Ayoubi, said Tiernan was so drunk at the scene of the crash that she had trouble walking without Zisa’s assistance, but they filed a false police report of the incident. To do otherwise, Al-Ayoubi testified, would be “career suicide.”
This post is authored by Trace America.