A Jersey City police officer was charged with conspiring to defraud Jersey City by allegedly obtaining compensation for off-duty work that she allegedly did not perform, according to an announcement by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.
Gicella Sanchez, 36, of Jersey City, is charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to defraud a local government. She was expected to appear on July 2 by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, private contractors and businesses sometimes needed to use the services of off-duty Jersey City police officers for certain projects, including work within Jersey City that could obstruct traffic.
The off-duty assignments were made by a Jersey City Police Department-designated coordinator for the district in which the assignment was to be carried out.
Officers receiving these off-duty assignments were required to complete and provide to the coordinator a voucher that indicated, among other things, the hours worked on these off-duty assignments.
From November 2014 through June 2016, Sanchez allegedly conspired with another Jersey City police officer who was authorized to assign off-duty work and sign vouchers.
That officer—with Sanchez’s alleged knowledge and consent— submitted phony vouchers to Jersey City indicating that Sanchez had completed at least 28 off-duty assignments that she allegedly never actually performed.
According to the complaint, text messages between Sanchez and her co-conspirator show her consent to the voucher submissions for work she did not do.
For example, on about July 23, 2015, Sanchez texted the co-conspirator, “I don’t have anything tonight but I am actually getting out at 1 today so I don’t actually want to be there. Lol.” The conspirator responded, “Don’t worry I’ll take care of it.”
No intention of doing the work
According to the complaint, the conspirator told investigators that this exchange shows that the conspirator informed Sanchez that they would submit an off-duty voucher on her behalf for work on July 23, 2015, even though Sanchez had no intention of actually performing the work.
“With Sanchez’s knowledge and consent, [the coconspirator] falsely represented on a voucher submitted to Jersey City that Sanchez completed four hours of off-duty work on July 23, 2015 that Sanchez did not actually perform,” states the complaint which also indicates she was paid $200 for that job.
The complaint also states that on other occasions Sanchez’s cellphone records indicate that she was not at an off-duty job which she submitted a voucher for but instead was at her home.
Over the course of two years, Sanchez was paid well over $5,000 for off-duty work she allegedly never performed.
At least 11 other police officers, including former Police Chief Phil Zacche, pleaded guilty to getting paid for no-show or low-show jobs.
In 2018 Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop ended the off-duty work program, in which construction companies paid the police department to have an officer at their construction sites to aid with traffic and security. That officer was then paid by the police department for the work.
City officials said the program instituted almost 40 years ago has been an economic boom for some officers who earned as much as three times their annual police salaries from these off-duty activities.
A federal investigation into the program launched several years ago, prompted by the police department’s internal affairs probe, found widespread abuse.
The Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association and the Jersey City Police Superiors Association sued the city in January of 2019 over the off-duty program’s elimination, but in April the case was dismissed after a judge ruled that the city had properly exercised its authority in eliminating the program.
Sanchez faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Douglas Korneski in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charge and noted that the Jersey City Police Department has been cooperating with the investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Farrell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.