2 New Jersey state troopers facing charges for providing illegal police escort
A long line of New Jersey State Police recruits stand at attention before marching into their graduation ceremony at the Trenton War memorial, Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, in Trenton, N.J.. The graduation added 131 new troopers to the force. / CBS
(CBS/AP) TRENTON, N.JK. - Two New Jersey state troopers face criminal charges after officials said they jeopardized public safety escorting luxury high-speed sports cars.
"No one is above the law," Attorney General Jeff Chiesa said. "We will not tolerate officers who endanger the public they are sworn to protect."He, along with State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes announced guidelines for how to handle police escorts on Friday, CBS New York reported.
Both Nassry and Ventrella were charged with fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. Nassry also faces a second charge of third-degree tampering with public records. Both have been suspended without pay since April 2012.
In an incident nicknamed "Death Race 2012," the two officers are accused of using tape to change their state police cars' license plates, CBS New York reported. They then allegedly escorted the exotic cars at high speeds down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City on March 30. Nassry also is accused of telling the other drivers to conceal their plates using tape or other means.
By hiding their plate numbers, the drivers were able to speed through tolls on the Garden State Parkway without paying, the attorney general said, creating what he described as a "mirage."
Chiesa said putting the tape on the plates shows "they intended to conceal their involvement in conduct that they knew was wrong."
The unauthorized escort had "turned our highway into a virtual speedway, placing countless motorists at risk," Chiesa said.
Witnesses claimed they saw the police cars with their emergency lights on driving in front and behind the luxury cars - which included Porshes, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, at speeds of over 100 miles per hour. The exotic cars were part of the "Driving Force Club," whose members include San Francisco 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs, according to CBS New York. Jacobs' agent Justin Schulman told the Newark Star-Ledger, "Brandon was part of a group that went down to Atlantic City on March 30," but did not clarify any other details.
"We will not tolerate any conduct by a member of the State Police that puts the public in jeopardy, as this unauthorized caravan had the potential to do," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement after the event.
The attorney general said the time limit had expired to issue any tickets to the motorists involved in any of the high-speed caravans. He added that he did not anticipate any of the drivers would be charged in the ongoing investigation.
Nassry's lawyer told CBS New York that his client denies any knowledge of plate-taping. He added that while his client has acknowledged speeding, Nassry shouldn't have to forfeit his pension for the one incident. Nassry has worked on the force for 26 years. He had agreed to participate in the escort because of his friendship with Jacobs, his attorney said.
Ventrella's attorney, Vincent K. Nuzzi, said his client never taped his license plate and only participated in the caravan on his supervisor's orders.
"He's the lowest guy in the chain of command, given a direct order to do this stuff, and given that direct order by somebody authorized to give him the order," Nuzzi said of Ventrella.
State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes announced Friday that new guidelines on state police escorts cover authorization and review procedures and rules of conduct, including observing posted speed limits and avoiding passing lanes.
Fuentes and Chiesa referred Friday to the 2012 escort as "unauthorized," but state police have refused previous requests from news organizations to provide a copy of their prior policy on escorts, and did not make a copy of the new policy available.
In addition, four other troopers face disciplinary actions stemming from a similar escort in 2010. In the administrative charges announced Friday, two state troopers were charged with unsafe driving and improperly conducting an escort, and two supervisors were charged for improper supervision relating to the similar 2010 high-speed escort of luxury cars. One trooper was charged administratively with improperly handling a speeding ticket during the incident. Fuentes said all five troopers, who were not named as they are subject to an internal agency hearing process, are likely to face unpaid suspensions.
Another trooper is accused of improper conduct related to the handling of a ticket to the driver of a Lamborghini who was stopped doing 116 mph in a 65 mph zone on the parkway.
The investigation into the escorts also led to a major shake-up of state police brass, with the reassignment of 10 state police commanders.
Both Chiesa and Fuentes emphasized that the state police regularly conducts lawful escorts for legitimate reasons and insisted the two incidents were isolated.
"This is a public safety issue, plain and simple," Chiesa said. "Thankfully, thankfully nobody was hurt."
Popular on CBSNews.com
- Children rescued from two elementary schools in Oklahoma 19 Photos
- Tornado's destructive path 17 Photos
- Oklahoma tornado recovery grinds on amid grim scenes
- Oklahoma tornado victim search efforts winding down
- Deadliest U.S. tornadoes 10 Photos
- More severe weather expected after monster tornado
- Up-close video of Moore, Okla., tornado Play Video
- Oklahoma tornado as seen by storm chasers Play Video