03/22/2001

Officer's fate in hands of jury ; accused of pattern of abusing office
[Lodi, NJ]

Shannon D. Harrington, Staff Writer
March 20, 2001, Tuesday
Copyright 2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
March 20, 2001, Tuesday; All Editions

(LODI, N.J.) -- Jurors began deliberating Monday in the official misconduct andwitness tampering trial of Lodi police Sgt. Ernest Iodaci.

The deliberations followed three days of testimony in which witnesses said the 11-year officer used his badge to fix parking tickets, get free excavation work, and coerce an acquaintance into helping him get in the good graces of his then-girlfriend's father.

During closing arguments Monday morning, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Ike Gavzy portrayed Iodaci as a police officer on a decade-long power trip who shirked his duties as a public servant.

But Iodaci's lawyer said his client would not have risked his career on such things.

"He would not risk his life, his friends, and his career for the nonsense they say he did," attorney George 1 Schneider told jurors.

Trial testimony has included:

Randy Focarino, a former discount heating oil dealer andodd-job worker, telling jurors that he and Iodaci struck a deal in 1991:Focarino did some excavation work in the officer's back yard while Iodaci let him drive in Lodi with a revoked license. Iodaci said there was no such deal. He told jurors that Focarino did not charge him for the excavation work because Focarino accidentally rammed a backhoe into the side of his house.

Former Lodi resident John Cenci, whose driver's license had been suspended five times by his mid-20s for a slew of traffic violations, testifying that Iodaci issued him traffic tickets, then offered to make them disappear if Cenci helped Iodaci patch things up with the father of the officer's girlfriend. Cenci said Iodaci was angry with him because he told the girlfriend's father that Iodaci was seeing another woman. Iodaci told jurors that while he did issue the summonses, he never offered to drop the charges.

Prosecutors, patching together the testimony of four witnesses, saying Iodaci fixed two parking tickets on behalf of a woman he had a romantic interest in, Christine Paparozzi, sister of Lodi Mayor Gary Paparozzi.

Gary Paparozzi, a friend of Iodaci's, telling jurors that after prosecutors began questioning his sister, Iodaci suggested to Paparozzi that he should tell his sister not to talk to prosecutors.

Iodaci said he merely told Paparozzi that his sister didn't have to talkto prosecutors.

During closing arguments, Schneider said prosecutors had not proved that Iodaci made a real attempt to keep Christine Paparozzi from cooperating with prosecutors.

And he attacked the credibility of Cenci and Focarino, saying they filed the complaints against Iodaci in an attempt to shed their own criminal charges.

Cenci, Schneider said, was facing another in a long list of traffic violations and was looking for any way out.

And Schneider called Focarino, now serving a 10-year jail sentence on charges that include burglary, theft, and vehicular homicide, a career criminal who could not be believed.

"How can anybody accept their testimony as believable and reliable?" Schneider asked 1 jurors.

But Gavzy said it was Iodaci's version of the stories that jurors should find questionable.

For example, Gavzy said it made no sense that Iodaci agreed to allow Focarino to do the back-yard excavation without first negotiating a price, particularly because Iodaci testified that he had just met Focarino.

"Is that how any of you do business with someone you just met?" Gavzy asked the jurors. "Or is it more likely that there wasn't any discussion about a price because there was no price?" he said, alluding to Focarino's alleged deal with the officer.

On a courtroom marker board, Gavzy hung a chart of quotes that he gleaned from his trial notes, revisiting statements that witnesses said Iodaci made to them.

Among those was a remark Iodaci allegedly made to Cenci when the officer issued Cenci the tickets.

Cenci recalled the statement to jurors last week. "Do you realize the power I have?" he said the officer told him. "I can issue these summonses whether there's a reason or not."

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