Paulo Lima, Staff Writer December 23, 2000, Saturday Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp. The Record (Bergen County, NJ) December 23, 2000, Saturday; All Editions
(BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.) -- Bergen County Sheriff Joseph Ciccone has asked the state attorney general to investigate as a bias crime a vulgar poem circulating through the Bergen County Jail and Courthouse.
The poem, which follows the cadence of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," portrays Ciccone and several of his close advisers engaged in homosexual activities.
Ciccone wrote a letter to Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. on Tuesday requesting help.
In the letter, Ciccone wrote that the poem attacks the sheriff and seven subordinates over their "alleged sexual orientation and homosexual activity in an attempt to undermine their abilities to either supervise or function at the Bergen County Sheriff's Office."
"This clearly meets the criteria of the New Jersey bias and hate crime law," Ciccone said Friday. "It is an act of hate that not only has affected several officers of this department emotionally and psychologically, but several of them are fearful of physical harm.
"It has indeed put me in fear of my personal safety."
Sources said the two-page poem makes reference to an ongoing corruption investigation of Ciccone's administration, and is titled "'Twas the Night Before Indictments."
The Attorney General's Office and Bergen County Prosecutor's Office are investigating whether Sheriff's Department officials exchanged jobs and promotions for cash or campaign contributions. They also are probing whether department officials improperly raised funds for Ciccone's 2001 election campaign, in part by illegally assigning honorary special-deputy badges in return for contributions.
Bergen County Prosecutor William H. Schmidt said he received the letter this week and representatives of his office were conferring 1 with the Attorney General's Office over how to proceed.
"You have to be mindful of the legal definition of what constitutes a bias crime in regard to the poem, which may be tasteless but may be protected under the First Amendment," Schmidt said.
Schmidt would not comment further on the letter, except to say it did not contain any overt threats of physical violence.
Ciccone on Friday demanded quick action. If he does not hear from the state by Tuesday, he said, he plans to seek the intervention of federal authorities.
Schmidt said the request "will receive appropriate review by either the Attorney General's Office or my office, and that will take place in due time."
The sheriff also insists that Schmidt recuse his office from participating in any probe and leave it up to the Attorney General's Office.
"During the course of the Bergen County prosecutor's investigation of this office, certain questions and comments of a homophobic nature have been made to various witnesses and employees of the sheriff's office, "Ciccone wrote in his letter to Farmer.