(PASSAIC COUNTY) -- Frank Yedwab always considered the decades-old tradition of issuing special deputy badges a way for sheriffs to honor good citizenship. He keeps his father's badge, issued by a Passaic County sheriff, on his dresser.
But after a puzzling run-in Dec. 3 with a Florida man flashing one of these badges, Yedwab fears the badges could be dangerously misused.
"I really think he was trying just to scare me, but I think he was the one who was in the wrong," said Yedwab, of Ridgewood.
Yedwab, his wife, Tricia, and their 11-year-old son were driving home from New York City about 7 p.m., and were pulling off a Route 17 ramp.
As they entered Linwood Avenue, Tricia Yedwab noticed a dark Cadillac speeding up behind them, with flashing lights and a beeping horn.
"When we got to the light at Paramus Road, he got out of his car and slammed on our window," she said. "I thought he was going to break it."
Tricia Yedwab reported that the smartly dressed man wearing a leather jacket and slacks flashed a badge and said: "I'm a police officer. Do you know what you did? You'd better pull over so I can arrest you."
Frank Yedwab said he was worried that the man wasn't alone or that he was trying to steal the car.
"If I knew I had done something wrong, of course I would have pulled over and traded information," he said.
"I just thought something's wrong here."
The couple decided to drive home, but the man followed them there and accused them of cutting him off.
At the house, Frank Yedwab began asking questions about the man's badge.
"Every time you asked him what he really was, it changed, " Tricia Yedwab said. "It was like 'a cop, a detective, a special agent... It was kind of comical but it was scary."
So Frank Yedwab pulled out his cellular phone and dialed 911.
"You could see the guy's face. It went white," his wife said.
Police identified the man as Arnold Ferolito, 58, of Jupiter, Fla., who is visiting Ridgewood. His badge read "Bergen County Special Deputy Sheriff's badge #0400."
The officer forwarded the information to the detective bureau and charges are pending, Ridgewood Capt. Keith Killion said. Killion said he expects Ferolito will be arrested this week on a charge of impersonating a police officer.
The incident has led the Yedwabs to reconsider their ideas about the badges.
"I used to think it was a pretty neat thing," he said. "But I think there's a misuse of them obviously. The thought that you would pull it out... that's just crazy to me." Police said an identification card with the badge showed it was issued by former Sheriff Jay Alpert, now a Hackensack police sergeant.
Alpert said he most likely renewed Ferolito's badge after it was issued by his predecessor, Jack Terhune.
"The name is remotely familiar, that's about it," Alpert said.
Terhune could not be reached for comment.
Alpert said the badges are a reward for community service and, under his watch, special deputies were told that the badges did not vest that person with any law enforcement authority.
He said he could not recall any instances where the badges had been misused.
Neither could Bob Nesoff, spokesman for Sheriff Joseph Ciccone.
"I 1 don't think we've ever had a complaint before," he said. "This is the first one who apparently misused the badge." Special deputy badges are currently part of a wide-ranging investigation of the Bergen County Sheriff's Department. Investigators for the state Attorney General's Office are looking into whether department officials bought the badges with tax money and then gave them to Ciccone's campaign contributors, law enforcement officials say.
Special badge flashed in road tiff; man from Florida may be arrested Nicole Gaudiano, Staff Writer December 5, 2000, Tuesday Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp. The Record (Bergen County, NJ) December 5, 2000, TUESDAY; ALL EDITIONS Terms and Conditions Copyright(c)2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.