After bigoted rant, NJ sheriff and 4 underlings resign with $100K pensions
HACKENSACK — A day after apologizing for a bigoted rant that was caught on tape, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino announced his resignation along with four undersheriffs in his office.
The loss of the jobs won't take that much of a financial toll, considering all five had been double dipping — earning a salary for their most recent civilian jobs while collecting hefty public pensions after having retired from their previous law enforcement careers.
Saudino had been elected to a third term in 2016 as a Democrat, after previously serving as a Republican.
On Thursday, WNYC released audio that had been secretly recorded in January in which Saudino criticizes Gov. Phil Murphy's criminal justice reform platform, saying that "in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the f*** they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops."
Saudino also said that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, a Sikh, had only been appointed because he wore a turban. And he also questioned whether Lt. Gov. Sheila Oilver, who is not married, is a lesbian.
After the report about the audio, Murphy along with every countywide and legislative Democratic official in Bergen County called for Saudino's resignation, as did U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District.
Saudino's resignation was announced Friday along with the resignation of Undersheriffs George Buono, Robert Colaneri, Brian Smith and Joseph Hornyak. The statement did not explain why the undersheriffs stepped down.
Sheriff's Office Chief Kevin Pell will be the officer in charge of the department while Sheriff's Office Warden Steve Ahrendt will oversee the jail until Murphy appoints an interim sheriff.
It is not uncommon for the state's elected sheriffs to pull salaries while collecting pension checks for the jobs they previously held in law enforcement. Undersheriffs also are usually pulled from the ranks of retired cops.
In addition to his $130,000 sheriff's salary, Saudino collects nearly another $130,000 a year in pension after retiring in 2011 as Emerson police chief.
Buono, who retired as a captain from Emerson in 2015, collects more than $108,000 a year in pension.
Smith, who retired in 2005 as a captain from Paramus, collects nearly $108,000 a year in pension.
Hornyak, who retired from the county in 2014, collects nearly $115,000 a year in pension.
And Colaneri, who retired in 2013 as a captain from Carlstadt, collects more than $85,000 a year in pension.
On Thursday, Saudino had resisted calls for his resignation.
"At this time I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people of Bergen County for the insensitive recorded remarks that were made public today," Saudino said Thursday. "These remarks are not representative of the person that I am and they are in no way consistent with the manner in which I have conducted my life personally and as a law enforcement professional with over 46 years of service to the residents of Bergen County."
Murphy and Grewal on Friday suggested that Saudino's comments could warrant a possible investigation of the department.
“With the resignation of Sheriff Saudino, we can now begin the process of restoring faith in the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office after so much of it was so quickly eroded. And, we can begin the process of ensuring that the bigoted beliefs displayed by the former Sheriff are not given shelter in any corner of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office – now or in the future," Murphy said.
Grewal said "our work does not stop here."
"The fact that a top official could make racist comments about the African-American community – and that no one in the room would challenge or correct him – raises serious concerns," he said Friday.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.