NEW BRUNSWICK – Former Edison Police Officer Michael Dotro scratched his neck and forehead but expressed no remorse Thursday before being sentenced to 20 years in state prison for setting fire to the home of a superior officer while the police captain and his family were inside asleep.
He offered no apology to the family of Capt Mark Anderko, who had to flee the burning house, no remorse for the witness he tampered with and no remorse for the other officers who lost their jobs because of their involvement with him.
Dotro, who must serve 17 years before he becomes eligible for parole, said nothing in the courtroom during the nearly hourlong sentencing before Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez Jr. as Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, Anderko and his wife looked on.
The sentence, negotiated under a plea agreement with Assistant Prosecutor Russell Curley, relates to crimes Dotro committed over a period of five years.
After the sentencing, Carey, standing with Bryan and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives Gerald McAleer in the courthouse lobby, said he first announced the charges against Dotro in May 2013.
Since then he has worked with the prosecutor’s office and Edison police to analyze what was going on within the Edison Police Department and “we have surgically removed the cancerous officers from the Edison Police Department.”
“Michael Dotro has now been sentenced for serious crimes, crimes that legitimate police officers find absolutely repugnant,” said Carey, adding that his office has looked at other police officers and worked to clean up that shop.
Carey noted that others have been removed for their connection to Dotro’s offenses and three others were removed for other inappropriate acts.
He said Bryan has hired 53 new officers in the past four years and safeguards have been put in place.
“There is a new tone, a new day in the Edison Police Department,” said Carey, adding that today’s Edison officers are serving with integrity. “The Edison Police Department is a much better and different place than it was four years ago and we’re happy with the judge’s rendering of the sentence today.”
Bryan thanked Carey in helping to make the Edison Police Department more professional after a period of high-profile incidents of police misconduct.
Dotro received 20 years for attempted murder, a first-degree crime, and 10 years for aggravated arson for setting the May 23, 2013 fire at Anderko’s home. The prison terms will run concurrently.
Dotro also was sentenced to 10 years for official misconduct, five years for conspiracy to tamper with a witness and 18 months for conspiracy to retaliate. He will serve five years of parole supervision once released. Jimenez also ordered Dotro to have no contact with the Anderko family and another victim.
After Dotro entered the courtroom, his wife, Alycia, yelled out “you’re a monster. You’re a manipulative monster,” before being told by a sheriff’s officer she would have to remain quiet or risk being removed.
After the sentencing, Alycia Dotro said people don’t know what’s been going on behind closed doors for the past three years, adding that she has been manipulated by a man who was not the person she once knew.
“Basically, I came here to watch him being taken away in handcuffs and give me a chance to start my life,” she said.
But Michael Dotro’s attorney, Robert Norton, said the case is finally resolved.
“I’m not happy with the plea bargain, but we can live with what transpired today,” Norton said. Norton said it was too painful for Dotro’s parents and brothers to attend the sentencing.
Long, winding road
Michael Dotro, 40, of Manalapan, last month pleaded guilty to attempted murder, arson, official misconduct and other charges on the heels of learning the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office planned to file additional charges.
The attempted murder and arson charges relate to Dotro setting a fire May 23, 2013 at Anderko’s Monroe home. Anderko, who was at home with his wife, two children and 92-year-old mother at the time of the 4 a.m. fire. None of them were injured.
While a trial date had not yet been set on the attempted murder and arson charge, the jury had been picked and opening arguments were set to begin last month in the official misconduct case when Dotro was arrested and put in jail in connection with attempting to intimidate a witness in the case. That offense occurred while Dotro was on probation from a prior offense.
During a televised court appearance from the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center in North Brunswick on Aug. 18 when he was arraigned on the witness tampering charge, Dotro learned more charges were to come.
He pleaded guilty to all charges, including witness tampering, on Aug. 21 and learned he will serve up to 20 years in state prison.
In the official misconduct case, Dotro was accused of checking police records and notifying his wife of reports related to a tire-slashing incident involving a woman he was allegedly involved with. He also was accused of purchasing marijuana for his wife while in uniform, as well as some weapons charges. Marijuana also was allegedly found in his police duty bag.
A day after Dotro pleaded guilty, his wife was admitted to a pre-trial intervention program that could clear her record after two years.
Alycia Dotro was charged with hindering for allegedly providing false information during the investigation of her husband and his involvement in the fire. She also was charged with official misconduct, conspiracy and criminal mischief in connection with her criminal involvement in slashing the tires of a car owned by an Edison woman. She was indicted on both charges.
The attempted murder, arson, official misconduct and witness tampering were not the only legal issues Michael Dotro has battled in recent years.
In September 2016, Dotro pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy, admitting he sought retaliation against a North Brunswick police officer who had ticketed another individual for drunk driving. Four other former Edison police officers pleaded guilty to their roles in the retaliation plot.
Norton suggested there may be two Michael Dotros because the one he knew was cooperative, built a successful restaurant while on probation, renovated houses and was someone who could be rehabilitated.
Curley disagreed, calling Dotro’s case “one of the most shocking this state has seen in years.”
Curley said Dotro took an oath as a police officer to protect and serve his community but disgraced and turned his back on that oath in a vicious, vengeful and calculated way.
“And the wrath of this man’s vengeance was akin to something you would find in the Old Testament. If anybody crossed him, he was going to have exact revenge,” Curley said, adding it was evident in all of Dotro’s cases. “No one was immune from this man’s wrath and vengeance.”
He said there is a sinister Michael Dotro that Dotro needs to recognize to control that demon because it keeps coming out in very destructive ways. With that, Curley said, Dotro is certain to offend again.
Jimenez noted that Dotro had 14 documented contacts with the criminal justice system before becoming a police officer in 2003 and more since joining the force, including 40 municipal court convictions. Norton later added that they were mostly town ordinances involving college students.
“He was sworn to uphold the law and disregarded it,” the judge said. “This defendant took the position of a police officer and turned it into a nightmarish story line. There is no way to rehabilitate this defendant. This defendant cannot be deterred from violating the law under any circumstances because he hasn’t been deterred from violating the law since 1998 until the day that he pleaded guilty.”
“Mr. Curley and his band of heroes caught you four times,” Jimenez said, warning Dotro that if he commits another offense, Curley will catch him again.