NEWARK – A Jersey City police officer appeared in Newark federal court Monday afternoon to face charges that he stole more than 600,000 cigarettes from a trailer and conspired to rob $20,000 from a drug courier, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Mario Rodriguez, 39, of Jersey City, is charged with one count of cargo theft and one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right. He appeared on Aug. 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in Newark federal court and was released on a $250,000 bond and confined to home incarceration with electronic monitoring. The complaint also charges Anthony Roman, 48, also of Jersey City, with the conspiracy. Roman was arrested at home Aug. 2, and appeared in court the same day. He was released on a $250,000 bond.
According to the complaint:
On July 3, Rodriguez and an individual working for the FBI as a confidential informant allegedly drove to a warehouse in Secaucus to break into a trailer and steal cigarettes they planned to sell to the confidential informant’s associate for $5,000. Law enforcement agents had parked the trailer there and established surveillance of the area.
Rodriguez allegedly used bolt cutters to cut the lock off of the trailer, and he and the confidential informant allegedly loaded 50 cases containing approximately 600,000 cigarettes and six televisions from the trailer into their vehicle. As they drove the items to a parking lot in Staten Island, N.Y., Rodriguez allegedly made several phone calls seeking buyers for the TVs.
The pair allegedly met the confidential informant’s associate – actually an undercover officer – in the parking lot to get the $5,000 payment for the cigarettes. Rodriguez allegedly kept $3,000 of the cash and three of the TVs.
On July 10, Rodriguez and the confidential informant met in New Jersey with undercover law enforcement agents and allegedly discussed the possibility of robbing a drug courier – actually another undercover officer. Later that month, the group allegedly met again in Staten Island to discuss the plan. The undercover officers told Rodriguez the courier would be delivering cocaine to them that day in a Jersey City mall parking lot in exchange for a $20,000 payment, after which Rodriguez would allegedly steal the money. Rodriguez allegedly called Roman to help him with the robbery.
Rodriguez and Roman drove a Toyota RAV-4 truck to the location on July 24, 2013, where law enforcement agents had established surveillance and staged the car containing $20,000 cash in a plastic bag. Rodriguez and Roman allegedly robbed the woman they thought was a drug courier of the money after identifying themselves as law enforcement officers – which Roman is not – and pretending to arrest the confidential informant.
Later that day, Rodriguez, the confidential informant and the undercover allegedly met in a hotel room at a Pennsylvania casino to split the cash.
The cargo theft and conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act Extortion charges carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively. Both counts also carry a maximum fine of $250,000.
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 the charges. 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 Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan W. Romankow of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the
defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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