(HACKENSACK, N.J.) -- An aide to Bergen County Sheriff Joseph L. Ciccone was fired last week because he was a "terrible employee" and not because he is assisting state investigators who are looking into corruption allegations concerning the department, Ciccone's lawyer said Wednesday.
"Anybody who runs a department knows there are some good employees and some bad employees," former Bergen County Prosecutor John J. Fahy told Superior Court Judge William C. Meehan in Hackensack. "There is no evidence anywhere that the sheriff has been involved in witness tampering."
Saying Ciccone may have obstructed justice, state authorities on Monday asked Meehan to issue a protective order that would reinstate Inspector Michael Krantz, who was fired last Thursday.
Authorities also want the judge to bar Ciccone from firing any other Sheriff's Department employees who are cooperating with the investigation.
Meehan postponed a decision on the reinstatement request until today to permit a full hearing on the issue. However, the judge ordered Ciccone not to fire any more employees while the hearing was pending.
Investigators in the state Attorney General's Office and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office are looking into a wide array of allegations, including whether Sheriff's Department officers and other officials sold jobs for cash or for campaign contributions. Investigators are also looking into whether officials committed crimes in the push to raise money for Ciccone's 2001 reelection campaign.
Deputy Attorney General James W. Glassen told the judge on Wednesday that the state considers Krantz's firing an obstruction of justice.
"Sheriff Ciccone potentially violated criminal statutes," Glassen said. "There is an atmosphere of harassment against witnesses in the department."
Krantz, 34, a former West Orange police officer, is cooperating with authorities but has not been involved in the request for the protective order. He declined to comment on the issue Wednesday, saying he could not speak because of the continuing investigation.
However, Krantz's attorney, Anthony Fusco, said his client "should have never been terminated."
"I don't know why he was fired," Fusco said. "There is certainly no basis that I can see. We are just monitoring the case for him. If we see any violations, we will pursue them to the fullest extent of the law."
Krantz was hired by Ciccone in January as an undersheriff responsible for administration at a salary of about $85,000 a year.
Ciccone and Krantz had taught together at Berkeley College in West Paterson, and Krantz was among Ciccone's inner circle that met to discuss strategy with the sheriff every Monday morning.
Ciccone did not attend Wednesday's hearing, but Bergen County Prosecutor William H. Schmidt was in the courtroom, along with several top aides.
During the hearing, Fahy gave a blistering critique of Krantz's performance, telling Meehan that Krantz was demoted in August from the rank of undersheriff after getting into a high-speed chase of a federal law enforcement officer on the New Jersey Turnpike in July.
Krantz apparently thought the federal agent was only posing as a law enforcement officer when he saw the agent's car speeding along the turnpike in Middlesex County on July 25, Fahy said. The two men eventually stopped at a state police barracks and weapons were drawn before the situation was resolved, Fahy said.
"After that, the sheriff launched an investigation of Krantz," Fahy told the judge.
The investigation culminated in Krantz's demotion to inspector and an $8,000-a-year cut in pay.
Krantz's job performance deteriorated rapidly in October, Fahy told Meehan. He refused assignments and often showed up for work late, or did not show at all, Fahy said.
In court papers, Ciccone said his chief of staff, Dawn Papson, complained that Krantz was lazy and had a lackadaisical attitude.
In the papers, Ciccone said he saw Krantz on an outside balcony near his office last Thursday morning. The sheriff said he asked Krantz why he was not inside working on one of his assigned projects, an analysis of the department's budget.
"He turned and muttered, 'This expletive place,' and went into his office," Ciccone said in court papers. "After this outburst, I had had enough."
According to court papers, Ciccone consulted with his labor attorneys and then fired Krantz.
Fahy dismissed the request for a protective order as a "blatant attempt by the state to curry favor with someone they want to protect."
He said Ciccone had no idea that Krantz was cooperating with authorities at the time Ciccone fired Krantz.
As soon as the investigation became public, Ciccone circulated a letter in the department instructing his staff to cooperate with authorities, Fahy said.
"The fact that dozens of Sheriff's Department employees have cooperated with the state and have suffered no harm clearly demonstrates that the state's application is based upon nothing more than coincidence, speculation, and paranoia," Fahy said in his brief to the judge.
(iSyndicate; The Record; Nov. 9, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.