Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Steven Mecka has filed suit against his employer, claiming that “…concealing the criminal activity of politically influential individuals and police personnel” has become routine policy at the county’s top law enforcement agency – starting during the tenure of Marlene Lynch Ford – and continuing under Joseph Coronato.
Detective Mecka’s attorney George Cotz didn’t mince words in his letter to Prosecutor Coronato which accompanied the 5-count suit, which alleges violations of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). He said that after first investigating corruption in the Plumsted Township Police Department, a relative of a Plumsted patrolman that supervised Mecka in the prosecutor’s office set in motion a “continuing course of harassment and retaliation” against the detective, who has been employed with OCPO since 2004. And Mecka’s pleas to superiors have seemingly fallen of deaf ears, his lawyer argues.
“This treatment began when he first reported the illegal and unethical activities of Vincent Petrecca, and intensified as Detective Mecka brought corrupt and criminal activities, often involving politically influential people, to the attention of his superiors. As he long ago brought this to your attention personally, the conclusion that you either approve of his treatment, or are at least willing to acquiesce in it, is inescapable.”
Case Transferred To Monmouth County
The allegations contained in Detective Mecca’s 5-count suit implicate former Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford – who is now the top judge in Ocean County – along with current Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. Also named in the suit are OCPO employees Vincent Petrecca, Glenn Miller, Joseph Mitchell, Vincent Frulio, John Corson, Michael Paulhus, Charles Kuyl, and the County of Ocean as defendants. As such, due to possible conflicts of interest regarding Judge Ford, all future proceedings will take place at the Monmouth County courthouse in Freehold.
Corruption In Plumsted Police Department?
The story of Detective Mecka’s clash with his superiors – and an alleged cover-up – began with his investigation into allegations of corruption within the Plumsted police department, a case Mecka was assigned by Captain Sramaty in 2006. OCPO employee Vincent Petrecca – who was temporarily acting as Mecka’s supervisor – had a brother, Matthew Petrecca employed with the Plumsted department as a patrolman, and when Vincent learned of Mecka’s involvement in the case “constantly approached him [Mecka] for information about the investigation, claiming he wanted to gain leverage for his brother and remove Ronald Dancer from his position as Mayor.” Mr. Dancer is no longer the mayor of Plumsted, however is currently an elected member of the state general assembly.
From there, the relationship between Mecka and Petrecca continued to deteriorate, with Mecka alleging in court filings that Petrecca made – and acted on – several threats against him, including “overloading him with assignments, not providing manpower to assist the Plaintiff’s assignments, not giving good performance evaluations, reprimanding the Plaintiff whenever possible, blocking his path to promotion, making physical threats,” and even leaving a rubber rat on Mecka’s desk.
After Mecka reported Petrecca’s threats to his superiors, he claimed that the retaliation only grew worse and that supervisors were uncomfortable that Mecka put his allegations into writing via an email.
According to court documents, when Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher was the county prosecutor, he promoted Petrecca to the rank of sergeant.
Freeholder Kelly Accused Of Meddling In Daughter’s Criminal Investigation – To Get Special Treatment
At the same time, Detective Mecka was also investigating Freeholder Jack Kelly’s daughter, Dawn Marie Kelly. Ms. Kelly got a plea deal after she stole thousands of dollars from the Little Egg Harbor tax collector’s office, reportedly to support her drug habit.
Mecka says in the lawsuit that after he learned that Dawn Kelly stole additional money, he arranged a meeting that included Little Egg Harbor Committeeman Ray Gormley and the FBI, where “…Gormley alleged that Freeholder Kelly attempted to influence Township Administrator Garret Loesch to avoid having his daughter charged criminally, and that Freeholder Kelly used his political influence to successfully manipulate the Attorney General’s criminal investigation and ultimately arrange for Dawn Kelly to be charged with third degree offenses rather than face [more serious] charges of second degree Official Misconduct.”
Mecka: Christie Aides Twisted Gormley’s Arm To Protect Kelly
According to Detective Mecka, Ray Gormley’s allegations then implicated two aides working for Governor Chris Christie’s office, with the lawsuit stating “Gormley advised [Little Egg Harbor Police] Chief Buzby, Plaintiff [Mecka], and FBI that Christopher Stark and Aileen Egan, then both aides to Governor Christie, individually approached him at his place of business intimidating him to use his influence to get the Dawn Kelly investigation / inquests shut down because it would look bad if matters were exposed to the public, especially before an election.” Ms. Egan’s name was improperly pled as “Eileen” in the suit.
Mr. Stark is currently employed as an insurance lobbyist, while Ms. Egan has remained in state government, currently employed with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, according to her LinkedIn profile.
After the personal visit from Christie’s aides, the lawsuit said that “Gormley’s refusal was not welcomed.” Following the visit, the elected official “feared retaliation” against him and his live-in girlfriend Dana Wilson, who just so happens to be employed as Little Egg Harbor’s tax collector. Ms. Wilson is the sister of the wife of an OCPO employee.
Confidential Informant Allegedly Had Dirt On County Prosecutor’s Office Staff
The lawsuit claimed that Detective Mecka – who was at the time the lead detective handling political corruption cases – was scheduled to interview a confidential informant who was “actively engaged in Ocean County politics” regarding purported incidents of corruption in Little Egg Harbor, only identified in court documents by the initials “A.M.” The interview was supposed to cover “incidents of quid pro quo bribery,” and the unnamed individual “had already implicated a number of public officials,” according to Mecka’s attorney.
But after Detective Mecka told his supervisor, Sgt. Trujillo of his plans – and informed her that “A.M” was going to make statements on tape that could end up incriminating staff members of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office – he was called into the office of Joseph Mitchell, who in the presence of senior OCPO attorney Ronald DeLigny informed Mecka that he was removed from all corruption cases, effective immediately, with Mitchell alleged to have remarked that Mecka appeared “disheveled” in what was framed as an effort to discredit him. Mecka was then transferred to the trial / grand jury unit following the meeting, according to documents filed in the suit.
Disturbingly, Mecka claims that following the meeting he then “returned to his workstation to find that his desk had been accessed, case files, case notes, personal notes, and other personal content were removed from his desk without explanation.”
He further contends to have been forced to sign the final pages of reports, without being allowed to see the other parts of the report that he was signing his name to, raising questions about whatever became of these investigations.
According To Court Docs, Targets Of Mecka’s Corruption Investigations Included:
- Former Little Egg Harbor Mayor Scott Stites, who resigned in shame after being charged with 3rd degree theft
- Several unnamed Little Egg Harbor code enforcement officers
- Multiple members of the Little Egg Harbor Zoning Board, which Coronato used to represent
- Unnamed Little Egg Harbor Township Committee members
- Little Egg Harbor DPW Director Anthony Savino and DPW employee Paul Toth
- Former Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Mark Siino
- Former Little Egg Harbor MUA Executive Director – and accused sexual harasser – David Johnson
- Former Little Egg Harbor MUA Chairman Joseph Mezzina, yes that Mezzina
- Confidential informant “A.M.”
- Little Egg Harbor MUA Commissioner Gene Kobryn (misspelled in lawsuit as “Coborn”)
- Multiple unnamed Little Egg Harbor police officers and department staff
So what was Detective Mecka investigating that linked all of these political power players together? According to court filings, “He was investigating allegations of fraud, official misconduct, theft, quid pro quo, land deals, MUA improvements, vehicle transfers and purchases, township contracts / awards, bid rigging, extortion, drugs, police misconduct, and more, all arising in Little Egg Harbor”
OCPO Employee Allegedly Didn’t Show For Work, Still Got Paid
Another Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office employee, identified as Sgt. Abrams in court filings is alleged to have been absent due to medical issues, but still on the clock and getting paid. Writes Mecka’s lawyer: “… all were instructed to continue what was already the practice of signing him in at work when he was actually absent due to medical issues.”
Mecka refused to participate in the alleged coverup, and according to the lawsuit, when a superior officer was confronted with these allegations, Mecka claims that they questioned him for pursuing it, remarking that if it were to get out “It would destroy our office.”
Detective Mecka Claims Retaliation
In addition to none of the individuals named as targets in Mecka’s suit having been charged either at a state or federal level, Detective Mecka claims that he has faced significant retaliation and hostility at work as a result of his investigations into corruption, as well as failing to abide by what he believed to be illegal and unethical orders of his superiors, with the retaliation allegedly including being passed over for promotion, “fabricated” disciplinary charges of a “punitive and retaliatory” nature issued by supervisors.
Allegations Reported To The FBI
The lawsuit made multiple references to the FBI, with Mecka claiming to have reported many of the allegations contained in the suit to the federal law enforcement agency in 2013, when he was assigned to jointly assist in investigations with the Red Bank field office. In the suit, Mecka’s attorney alleges that Coronato along with Chief of Detectives Glenn Miller sent Mecka to the FBI joint task-force assignment “to be their scape-goat in the event that any Ocean County Republicans and/or members of the OCPO were actually charged and arrested by the FBI.”
But will federal officials do anything? The lawsuit said OCPO Special Agent Sheehy reportedly told Mecka that there are “too many Christie loyalists still in the US Attorney’s office in Newark for them to do anything that would hurt him [Christie] politically.”
Even if no criminal charges result from this, county taxpayers are likely going to be on the hook for a six figure settlement – and lots of legal fees to the law firm of GOP powerbroker Jack Sahradnik, which represents the county.
UPDATE: Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Director of Public Affairs Al Della Fave tells Ocean County Politics that Coronato and his office “categorically denies” the allegations contained in the suit.
Mr. Della Fave also emphasized that the majority of the allegations contained in Detective Mecka’s lawsuit occurred during the tenure of Prosecutor Coronato’s predecessor, Marlene Lynch Ford. He added that the office intends to “vigorously defend” each and every one of the accusations.
The full case documents are below for your perusal: