EDISON, NJ—Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey and Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan announced on November 5 that a retired police captain has been charged with theft for "illegally" using sick days while he was working a private security job.
According to press release form the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO), 55-year-old Natale Fresco used paid sick days from Edison Township in July, August, and September, while simultaneously working as security director at the Menlo Park Mall.
It is the latest chapter in an ongoing drama involving one of the state's most criticized law enforcement agencies: the Edison Police Department (EPD).
As we reported, Edison cops have been convicted of crimes from rape to bank robbery over the past 25 years, while a dysfunctional internal affairs apparatus failed to root out brazen wrongdoing.
The recent investigation by MCPO Detective Nicholas Chiorello determined that Fresco collected more than $43,000 in sick pay before retiring on October 1.
While prosecutors are calling it "corruption," defenders of Fresco say that what he did was not illegal and that prosecuting him is cold-hearted.
Fresco, who has reportedly been battling cancer, had put in for retirement and, as many longtime officers do, used up some of his paid sick days on his way out of the job.
It is unclear if Fresco had asked his bosses for permission to work the other job while using his remianing sick days.
One source alleged that the criminal charge could be retaliation for a lawsuit Fresco had filed against the Township, along with six other officers alleging they were inappropriately targeted by EPD's internal affairs division because of their involvement in local politics.
That case was recently settled out of court for $200,000 by Edison Township and Fresco retired on October 1.
Now, just over a month after his retirement, the prosecutor's office is charging Fresco with a third degree count of theft.
“This office consistently investigates and prosecutes theft and corruption cases,” Prosecutor Carey said. “We will remain diligent in our efforts to target such behavior and we will seek restitution for the taxpayers wherever possible.”
The MCPO release said that an investigation showed the allegedly illegal activity took place between July 15 and September 30.
According to NJ.com's Brian Amaral, sources close to Fresco indicated he was suffering from cancer:
Darren Gelber, Fresco's attorney, said he believes the town was apprised of Fresco's plans to work at the mall while taking sick time.
"He came down with a very serious health condition that meant he could no longer perform the duties of a police officer, but which didn't mean he had to lock himself in a closet and never be seen again in public," said Gelber, who declined to disclose the exact health condition…
"For reasons I don't fully understand, the prosecutor's office thinks this is a crime," Gelber said.
According to three sources close to Fresco, he has cancer, and has recently undergone chemotherapy treatments.
The investigation is active and is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Chiorello of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office at (732) 745-3300.