Two New Jersey state troopers accused of leading a high-speed escort on the Garden State Parkway for a fleet of luxury cars have been criminally charged, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced.
The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) received complaints regarding the March 2012 caravan to Atlantic City, and the troopers were subsequently suspended without pay in April.
In a press conference in Trenton on Friday, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said the troopers who conducted the unauthorized escort "turned our highway into a virtual speedway."
"What they did was absolutely wrong," he said.
An investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice into the incident found that the troopers, Sgt. First Class Nadir Nassry, 47, and Trooper Joseph Ventrella, 28, allegedly concealed the license plates on their NJSP vehicles to avoid detection by E-ZPass cameras, Chiesa said.
The troopers allegedly used black electrical tape to change the numbers on their license plates, and the attorney general said Nassry also directed the drivers of the sports cars to partially conceal their plates.
The troopers have been charged with fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. Nassry, a 25-year veteran of the NJSP, faces an additional third-degree charge of tampering with public records or information.
“This is a public safety issue plain and simple. Thankfully, thankfully no one was hurt,” Chiesa said.
The third-degree offense Nassry is facing carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison, up to a $15,000 fine and loss of his pension, if convicted, Chiesa said. Under the state’s anti-corruption law, Nassry would not be eligible for parole for two years.
The fourth-degree charge both Ventrella and Nassry are facing carries a maximum of 18 months in state prison, up to a $10,000 fine and forfeiture of their jobs. If convicted, the troopers would not be able to be publicly employed in New Jersey.
Complaints about the high-speed caravan in March led to an investigation of a 2010 escort of other luxury vehicles, according to the attorney general's office.
Four troopers face administrative charges, including improper conduct of an escort and unsafe driving, in connection with the 2010 incident, which was .
Administrative charges have also been filed against a trooper who improperly handled a traffic ticket issued to a member of a driving club who was stopped in 2010 for driving a Lamborghini 116-mph on the Garden State Parkway in Paramus.
Following a hearing process, the administrative charges could result in a term of unpaid suspension.
“We're not in the business of endangering the public, we're in the business of protecting the public,” Chiesa said.
The drivers of the luxury cars will not be issued speeding tickets or motor vehicle summonses for altering their license plates during the caravan as a 30-day time limit to issue such summonses has passed, he said.
In response to the incident, the NJSP adopted a new standard operating procedure when dealing with escorts, according to State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes. An emphasis will be placed on public safety, and enhanced provisions were adopted governing when escorts will be authorized.