July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Two New Jersey state troopers were charged with records tampering for allegedly altering the license plates of the cruisers they used to escort a high-speed caravan of sports cars down a highway in March.
State Police Sergeant Nadir Nassry, 47, is accused of leading the convoy and faces two counts of tampering with records, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced today in Trenton, the state capital. Trooper Joseph Ventrella, 28, faces a single count of tampering.
Motorists reported two state-police cruisers on March 30 leading a pack of sports cars in a “Death Race” convoy at speeds of 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour toward Atlantic City, according to complaints filed with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
The troopers “turned our highways into virtual speedways, placing countless motorists at risk,” Chiesa said today.
Charles Sciarra, Nassry’s attorney, said his client denied the charges. Vincent Nuzzi, a lawyer for Ventrella, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
The two officers allegedly used black electrical tape to change the numbers on their license plates, according to the statement. Nassry is also accused of instructing the other drivers to hide or alter their license plates.
The most serious charge against Nassry carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. Ventrella faces a maximum sentence of 18 months, according to the attorney general.
Sciarra said yesterday that Nassry led the caravan at the request of Brandon Jacobs of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers.
“Sgt. Nassry denies the charges, admits the escort was a mistake and has moved to retire as a result, and will fight these charges and for his well-earned pension after an otherwise unblemished career,” Sciarra said today in an e-mailed statement.
Chiesa said today that neither Jacobs nor any other drivers escorted by Nassry and Ventrella will face criminal charges. The time in which the drivers could have been issued tickets for exceeding speed limits on the Garden State Parkway has expired, the attorney general said.
“My client denies he told anyone to tape their plates, while some unknown number of affluent exotic-car owners explained their taped plates by saying the trooper said to do it,” Sciarra said. “Why are affluent exotic-car owners’ words given any more credence by this administration than a decorated public servant?”
State police officials suspended Nassry and Ventrella without pay over the incident. Nassry, who submitted retirement papers this week, is seeking full pension benefits, Sciarra said. Nassry’s annual salary was $110,423.54 and Ventrella’s is $75,230.04, according to state records.
Jacobs was released as a running back in March after seven seasons with the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants. He signed a one-year contract in April with the 49ers.
Nassry knows Jacobs from charity work, Sciarra said yesterday. Jacobs contacted the trooper to request an escort for the drivers, who were heading to the seaside resort to discuss fundraising, the lawyer said.
Prosecutors contend that Nassry and Ventrella taped over their license plates as part of an effort to “conceal the identity of the troopers and their vehicles” leading the convoy, Colonel Rick Fuentes, head of the state police, said at the press conference. The license plates constitute public records, he added.
Sciarra said he couldn’t discern what motive might be ascribed to Nassry for altering the plates, calling it “akin to putting a wig on Godzilla.”
“This escort of marked troop cars and quarter-million-dollar vehicles in broad daylight seems pretty visible,” the lawyer said in today’s statement.
Chiesa also said two other troopers are facing internal disciplinary actions over a highway escort two years ago. Authorities contend the troopers engaged in unsafe driving during the June 2010 incident.
The state also is changing its procedure for authorizing highway escorts to create better oversight and accountability, Chiesa said.
“The days of any escort that puts the public at risk” are over, Chiesa said.