WARETOWN – 5 veterans of the Ocean Township (Waretown) police department have filed a lawsuit in Ocean County Superior Court alleging that after they didn’t back multiple nepotism hires and supported independent candidates during the township committee election, the officers faced retaliation from department superiors along with Mayor Dennis Tredy and Deputy Mayor Tina Wetter, both Republicans.
They further allege that the department violated its own policies and collective bargaining agreements by passing over otherwise qualified officers for promotions to promote less-than-qualified officers to supervisory positions that were favored by elected officials, in addition to hiring family members of existing township employees and contracted professionals.
The suit was filed by Detective Andrew Risden, who is also the president of Ocean Township PBA local 371. Risden is joined as as plaintiff by colleagues Steven Mandarine, Michal Rogalski, Hermogenes “Dennis” Jarin, and Michael Ward, all of whom are represented by attorney Stuart Alterman in the civil action, which is seeking compensatory and punitive damages under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
Sergeant Jarin, as an Asian-American, is also suing under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.
As we have seen time and time again, one party rule in Ocean County has allowed certain well-connected insiders to cash in at taxpayer expense – as the political pull of machine bosses has allowed the gears of local government to be greased with favors, influence peddling and public jobs for unqualified “friends and family.”
Waretown appears to be no exception to this trend.
According to 73 pages of a verified complaint and jury trial demand filed with the court, it all began when Forked River resident Michael DePasquale submitted an employment application to the department, and the chief of police instructed Sergeant Michael Rogalski to complete the background investigation on him – despite background checks normally being the duty of the detective bureau.
Mr. DePasquale, according to the court documents, cited references on his employment application that:
“..are all Republican leaders in Ocean County.”
With references like that, Mr. DePasquale quickly secured an interview with Mayor Tredy for the position of dispatcher, and was later offered a position as a full time police officer, despite having no previous experience in law enforcement. According to court documents, DePasquale is “the nephew of the lead attorney for the township’s law firm,” who is none other than Ocean County GOP finance committee chairman and municipal attorney Jerry Dasti.
After starting the investigation, Sergeant Rogalski did not recommend the hiring of the Forked River resident. The township committee hired DePasquale anyway, reportedly without waiting for the background check to be completed.
From here, the story takes an even wilder turn.
After the township committee voted to hire him, Rogalski conducted an additional interview with DePasquale following a ceremony at town hall after the committee voted to hire him. “At this time, Michael DePasquale admitted that he never wanted to be a police officer, drank alcohol on a nightly basis and used marijuana on a regular basis,” asserts Rogalski’s attorney.
Sergeant Rogalski then attests to have retrieved a quantity of marijuana from DePasquale’s residence in Forked River. No record exists of DePasquale ever being charged for possession of marijuana as a result of the encounter.
Rogalski then claims to have advised both the chief of police and supervisor Lieutenant George Thompson of what he found, but they allegedly directed him to continue working on the background check despite the discovery.
When Rogalski finally completed the background check on would-be Officer DePasquale, he failed. Segeant Rogalski’s final background report cited:
“…drug use, numerous inconsistencies in the application, and the smell of alcohol on his breath when being fingerprinted.”
Despite things not working out at Waretown, Mr. DePasquale landed on his feet, securing other public employment – with records revealing that he is currently employed at the Ocean County Utilities Authority, a well-known GOP patronage pit responsible for treating the sewage of Ocean and southern Monmouth counties.
His job title with the OCUA is “utility worker” and for that he earns $31,470.40 per year, according to payroll records.
The OCUA is run by the ever-capable leadership of former Lacey Township mayor John Parker, a habitual nepotist who has clogged up the pipes of the county’s sewage utility with a backlog of political cronies and relatives, all on the public dole.
“Maybe they don’t like you next door.”
Tensions began to escalate between the plaintiffs and the Republican administration in Waretown following these incidents, and even led to the township committee considering merging the powers of Chief of Police and Mayor – with the ordinance eventually being tabled, after a contentious meeting.
Mayor Tredy, according to the officers, made several visits to police headquarters that resulted in confrontations, according to sworn statements made in court filings.
The officers said that Waretown’s police chief, Gerhard Frenz eventually remarked “Maybe they don’t like you next door,” when asked about passing over otherwise eligible officers for a promotion.
Another Waretown officer, William Sneddon, then allegedly snitched on Risden to Tredy & Wetter when they were up for re-election that Detective Risden would be voting for independent candidates Daniel Collamer and Gary Cottrell.
Risden claims that his support of Collamer (who actually won) and Cottrell led to further retalliation from officials, as explained in additional detail in the suit.
More Nepotism In Waretown?
The second incident of purported nepotism in Waretown police hiring came over “concerns about nepotism” brought forward by Risden in his capacity as PBA president. Despite the objections, a Nicholas McGavin was hired as the department’s 2nd K9 officer. McGavin is the nephew of Waretown administrator / clerk Diane Ambrosio, who is the wife of Ocean Township Public Works Superintendent Matthew Ambrosio. Risden further pleaded with officials to no avail that the hiring would escalate “political tensions” within the police department.
After the incidents, the officers allege that Waretown officials “…caused, condoned and/or ratified unlawful retaliation” against them, for “objection to the unlawful promotion practices, procedures and policies” put in place at the place of their employment.
The Dasti law firm, which represents Ocean Township, has yet to file a formal answer to the complaint, which demands a jury trial on all triable counts.
The case has been assigned docket number OCN-L-428-16 and is currently before Judge Craig L. Wellerson, who interestingly enough was a former partner in Dasti’s law firm, which represents several municipalities in the county.
Court records show that Waretown has yet to file a formal answer to the complaint, however they will likely contest the allegations further in court, which have yet to be tried.