A Jersey City police officer has admitted to conspiring to defraud Jersey City by getting paid for off-duty work that she did not perform, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Gicella Sanchez, 36, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge John M. Vazquez to an information charging her with one count of conspiracy to defraud a local government receiving federal funds.
The off-duty program
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, private contractors and businesses were sometimes required to use the services of off-duty Jersey City police officers for certain projects, including work within Jersey City that could obstruct the flow of traffic.
A Jersey City Police Department-designated coordinator for the district where the assignment was, also known as a “pick coordinator,” made the off-duty assignments and designated off duty officers for the job.
Officers receiving these off-duty assignments were required to complete a voucher that indicated, among other things, the hours worked on individual off-duty assignments. The business or contractor filled out the middle portion of the voucher, and the off-duty officer provided the voucher to the coordinator or the assistant pick coordinator.
The coordinator completed the voucher and provided it to the Office of Off-Duty Employment at the JCPD. The city recorded the transaction and collected fees for the city that were used to pay the officer for the off-duty work he or she performed.
Defrauding the department
From November 2014 through June 2016, Officer Gicella Sanchez conspired with an unnamed Jersey City police officer in Jersey City’s West District who was the assistant pick coordinator for the district and was authorized to assign off-duty work and sign vouchers.
That officer – with Sanchez’s knowledge and consent – submitted phony vouchers to Jersey City indicating that Sanchez had completed certain off-duty assignments that she never performed.
In other instances, Sanchez showed up to off-duty job sites but left hours before her shift ended.
At various dates and times, evidence from Sanchez’s cell phone, including text messages, photos, video, and geolocation, shows that she never showed, or left the off-duty jobs early but sought compensation for the hours on the voucher.
For example, on Dec. 15, 2014 Sanchez’s voucher claims she worked an off-duty job from 4 to 9 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. she texted an unnamed individual “This detail only pays 35 an hour. So I have this steal a couple of hours to make it worth it.”
At other times she was pictured at a restaurant with a relative, taking a video of a relative, or using the Waze app to get to an address in Morristown.
According to court documents, her co-conspirator signed Sanchez’s names on the vouchers and submitted them for her for jobs she never worked at.
She received thousands of dollars, and between April 2015 and April 2016, she received more than $5,000 for off-duty work she didn’t perform.
Sanchez isn’t the only officer to be charged for similar offenses.
At least 11 other officers, including former Police Chief Phil Zacche, pleaded guilty to getting paid for no-show or low-show jobs.
In 2018 Jersey City ended the off-duty work program.
City officials said the program instituted almost 40 years ago has been an economic boon 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.
“Today’s guilty plea reaffirms that Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea made the right decision in ending the police off-duty job program several years ago,” said city spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “This was a program that was filled with corruption for decades prior, and it didn’t reflect the values of our city. It is unfortunate that these officers placed greed above their trust as police officers, but we as an administration have zero tolerance for corruption.”
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.
As part of her plea agreement, Sanchez must forfeit $9,095 in criminal proceeds she received from her role in the scheme and pay restitution of $2,490.
Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2021.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to Sanchez’s guilty plea.
The Jersey City Police Department is cooperating with the investigation.