Chief says NJ mayor offered bribe, tried to fix tickets for his kids
SPOTSWOOD — A small-town police chief is accusing the borough's mayor and business administrator of corruption, including bribery, witness tampering and trying to get their children's traffic tickets illegally dismissed.
Police Chief Michael Zarro Jr., a 24-year law enforcement veteran with a doctorate's degree, and Capt. Philip Corbisiero, who's worked just as long, leveled their accusations this month in a 21-page notice of tort claim, which is the first step in filing a lawsuit against a public entity.
The top cops say they have been subjected to harassment, hostile work environment, heightened scrutiny, defamation, contractual interference, age discrimination and retaliation.
While many of the allegations in the potential lawsuit deal with disputes over contracts, overtime and salaries, the litigation also accuses the borough's top elected official of serious misconduct even though he has not been charged with any crime.
The potential lawsuit comes about a year after this 2.5-square-mile borough of less than 8,500 residents took over police services for their even smaller neighbor, Helmetta. Zarro opposed the deal because he said Mayor Edward Seely wanted to use the money from Helmetta to plug his own budget rather than bolster the police department. Zarro said the mayor offered to pay him a "bribe" in the form of a $20,000 raise in November 2017 if Zarro agreed to clam up and oversee the shared-services agreement.
Seely and Business Administrator Dawn McDonald on Friday both denied all the allegations in the tort notice but declined to provide further details because the case is a matter of pending litigation.
The police brass say the mayor attempted to interfere with police investigations of his son, who works for the borough in the Public Works Department, on three occasions since 2009.
The tort notice says Seely first tried to pressure Corbisiero into dropping a careless driving ticket against his son in 2009 after he had been doing "donuts" in a parking lot and hit a man and his 8-year-old son. Zarrow said he informed the councilman at the time that his son could have gotten an even worse ticket for reckless driving because what he had done was “extremely reckless and dangerous.”
The tort notice says Seely then tried to get then-Chief Karl Martin to get Zarro to change the police report so that it blamed the accident on "brake failure." Zarro says he refused “and clearly stated that such illicit behaviors would not occur ‘on [my] watch.’”
Seely's campaign to fix the ticket continued with attempts to get the Municipal Court to illegally drop the ticket, the tort notice claims. Zarro also says that Seely ignored his recommendation to avoid contacting the victim and went to his house “attempting to tamper with a witness by pressuring the father not to testify in court against Seely’s son.”
In 2013, Seely, who was still a councilman, attempted to interfere with an internal affairs corruption investigation that implicated his son, the tort notice says.
In 2014, after Seely's son was in another accident, Seely again tried to force an officer to dismiss the ticket, which the tort notice describes as “blatant official misconduct and abuse of his public office to gain a personal benefit.”
In September 2018, Seely “attempted to strong-arm officers” to drop a ticket issued against his daughter after a routine traffic stop, the tort notice says.
“Do you recognize the last name? It’s my daughter," the top cops claim Seely told police, adding that he threatened Seely that “it better be taken care of.”
The tort notice says McDonald's own daughter also was issued to two tickets, which led to McDonald questioning Zarro about it and blaming Corbiseiro for the traffic stop.
The tort claim, filed by attorney Gina Mendola Longarzo, mentions that Zarro brought some of his concerns about the municipal officials to the attention of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
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.