FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2014
TRENTON, N.J. – A Jersey City, N.J. police officer today admitted stealing more than half a million cigarettes from a trailer and extorting $20,000 from a drug courier who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Mario Rodriguez, 39, of Jersey City, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with transportation of stolen goods and extortion under color of official right.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:
On July 3, 2013, Rodriguez and an individual working for the FBI as a confidential informant (CI) drove to a warehouse in Secaucus, N.J., to break into a trailer, steal cigarettes and sell the stolen goods to the CI’s associate. Law enforcement agents had previously parked the trailer at the warehouse and established surveillance of the area.
After using bolt-cutters to cut the lock off of the trailer, Rodriguez and the CI loaded 50 cases containing approximately 600,000 cigarettes and six televisions from the trailer into their vehicle. As they drove the stolen items to a parking lot in Staten Island, N.Y., Rodriguez made several phone calls seeking buyers for the TVs.
The pair met the CI’s associate – actually an undercover officer – in the parking lot to get the $5,000 payment for the cigarettes. Rodriguez kept $3,000 of the cash and three of the TVs.
On July 10, 2013, Rodriguez, the CI and an undercover law enforcement agent met in New Jersey and discussed the possibility of robbing a drug courier, who was actually another undercover officer. On July 24, 2013, the group met again in Staten Island to discuss the plan. The undercover officer told Rodriguez the courier would be delivering cocaine to them that day in exchange for a $20,000 payment. Rodriguez suggested a Jersey City mall parking lot due to an absence of surveillance cameras and called his associate, Anthony Roman, 48, of Jersey City, who was not a law enforcement officer, to help him with the robbery. Roman was charged with one count of Hobbs Act extortion.
Later that day, Rodriguez and Roman drove an SUV to the location where the CI and the drug courier were parked. Law enforcement agents had already established surveillance and staged the car containing $20,000 cash in a plastic bag. Rodriguez and Roman approached the car and identified themselves as law enforcement officers who were investigating the CI. They pretended to arrest the CI, threatened to arrest the drug courier and took the cash.
Later that day, Rodriguez, the CI and the undercover agent met in a hotel room at a Pennsylvania casino to split the cash.
The cargo theft and conspiracy to commit extortion charges to which Rodriguez pleaded guilty carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively. Both counts also carry a maximum fine of $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 26, 2014. Rodriguez has been suspended from the police department.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark; the Special Investigations Unit of the Jersey City Police Department, under the direction of Acting Chief Joseph Connors; the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Gaetano T. Gregory; and criminal investigators of the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the investigation leading to today’s plea. He also thanked the Bayonne Police Department, Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and the N.J. State Commission of Investigation for their significant contributions to the investigation.
The government is represented by Acting Deputy Chief of the General Crimes Unit Jonathan W. Romankow in Newark.
The charges against Roman remain pending. They are merely accusations, and he remains innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Defense counsel: Brian J. Neary Esq., Hackensack, N.J.