Linden police body cam footage of Lenny Dykstra’s arrest on May 23. Viewer discretion is advised. Courtesy of Linden Police Department
NEW BRUNSWICK – Three of five Edison police officers charged with official misconduct and theft for allegedly receiving payment for extra-duty jobs they did not show up for made their first court appearances Tuesday before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Michael Toto.
Two others however, Patrolman Gregory Makras, a seven-year veteran, and Sgt. Brian Rossmeyer, an 11-year veteran, did not appear. Makras’ attorney is currently involved in a federal trial and Rossmeyer thought the hearing had been adjourned, although his attorney did appear before the judge.
Makras and Rossmeyer, along with Patrolman Paul Pappas, Officer James Panagoulakos, a four-year police veteran, and Sgt. Ioannis (John) Mpletsakis, a 16-year veteran, and their attorneys were asked to return to court on Aug. 21.
Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia said if anything is resolved before that date they would all be asked to return before then.
She said Pappas, a 14-year police veteran, has a different position in that he has two cases. Pappas is facing charges of allegedly slashing the tires of an ex-girlfriend’s car, computer theft and stalking, in addition to the official misconduct and theft charges. He faces a possible five-year prison term on the computer charge.
D’Elia said any plea agreement on the official misconduct charges for all the officers would involve the loss of their law enforcement jobs, permanently being barred from future public employment and paying restitution for receiving payment for the extra-duty jobs.
Pappas’ attorney Jeffrey Ziegelheim said he just received discovery in the case and discussed the offers with his client. Ziegelheim said he will not be able to attend the Aug. 21 court date, but Toto asked that Pappas still attend.
Earlier in the day, when Panagoulakos and Mpletsakis appeared before Toto, D’Elia said all the attorneys had been given discovery in the case and all had asked for additional time to review the evidence.
Last month, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office announced the five officers were each charged with two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft by unlawful taking. The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday the investigation is continuing.
The charges came on the heels of efforts to restore the Edison Police Department’s image tarnished by a group of sworn officers convicted of criminal charges, including Michael Dotro, who is serving 20 years in state prison, for setting fire to the home of a superior officer.
The latest investigation revealed that certain Edison officers were paid for extra-duty jobs that they were not present for between Nov. 14, 2016 and May 1, 2018. The officers work these “side jobs” in addition to their regular working hours. Officers have their full police powers while working these jobs, such as directing traffic for utility company work or providing security for businesses and residential communities.
All five officers have been suspended without pay from the department, which is cooperating with the investigation. Mpletsakis and Rossmeyer were promoted to the rank of sergeant in December. Mpletsakis gained notoriety in July 2005 when he crashed his car into a box truck and and fled the scene while nude.
The department offers wide discretion as to who gets the side-job assignments with payment often exceeding $100,000 in one year, which is in addition to an officer’s regular and overtime pay.
Payment for the side jobs is billed through the township’s payroll for police services. The fee charged includes an administrative fee and an additional fee if police vehicles are required.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey has said any police officer who got paid for an off-duty job they did not do is guilty of malfeasance.
But Carey also laid some blame on the department’s fiscally irresponsible system in which side jobs are handed out by multiple people with very little oversight, along with an inadequate accounting system that has led to “nepotism and corruption.”