BEYOND BERGEN: A federal judge today sentenced a former Jersey City police officer to 36 months in prison for stealing more than half a million cigarettes from a trailer and extorting $20,000 from a drug courier who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
Mario Rodriguez, 40, of Jersey City previously pleaded guilty to cargo theft and conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Trenton.
Rodriguez admitted driving to a warehouse in Secaucus in July 2013, using bolt cutters to break into a trailer and swiping 50 cases containing the cigarettes, along with six television sets.
What he didn’t know was that federal agents had parked the trailer there and were watching – then followed him and an informant to a parking lot on Staten Island, where Rodriguez “made several phone calls seeking buyers for the TVs,” according to an FBI complaint.
The pair met the informant’s “associate” – actually the undercover agent — in the parking lot to get the $5,000 payment for the cigarettes. Rodriguez kept $3,000 of the cash and three of the TVs.
A week later, Rodriguez and the informant met with law enforcement agents and “discussed the possibility of robbing a drug courier” – actually another undercover officer.
They met again a month later to discuss the plan, the complaint says.
“The undercover officers told Rodriguez the courier would be delivering cocaine to them that day in a Jersey City mall parking lot in exchange for a $20,000 payment, after which Rodriguez would steal the money,” it says.
Rodriguez called an associate, Anthony Roman of Jersey City, to help him with the robbery. Roman, 48, was charged with extortion.
The pair drove an SUV to the parking lot where the informant and the purported drug courier were parked.
It was actually an FBI sting.
Rodriguez and Roman, 48, who wasn’t in law enforcement, approached the car and identified themselves as police. They pretended to arrest the informant, threatened to arrest the drug courier and took the cash.
Later that day, Rodriguez, the informant and the undercover “met in a hotel room at a Pennsylvania casino to split the cash,” the complaint says.
In addition to the prison term, Rodriguez was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman credited special agents of the FBI; the Special Investigations Unit of the Jersey City Police Department; the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office; and detectives from his office with the investigation leading to the charges.
He also thanked the Bayonne Police Department, Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the IRS, Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and the N.J. State Commission of Investigation for their “significant contributions” to the investigation.
Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan W. Romankow of Fishman’s Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.
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