Two state troopers criminally charged in connection with a high-speed escort they provided to a car-enthusiast club forfeited their positions on Monday to resolve their cases.
Sgt. 1st Class Nadir Nassry pleaded guilty to fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with public records for altering his vehicle’s license plate to conceal his participation in the unauthorized venture.
The other trooper, Joseph Ventrella, pleaded not guilty to the same charge.
They ceded their jobs almost a year after they accompanied 25 to 30 high-performance luxury cars on a jaunt down the Garden State Parkway from northern New Jersey to Atlantic City.
Witnesses to the March 30, 2012, incident — which was video recorded, posted online and named "Death Race 2012" by one observer — told The Star-Ledger of Newark that the vehicles had eclipsed 100 miles an hour, weaved in and out of traffic and otherwise frightened motorists.
Nassry and Ventrella, of Troop B headquarters in Totowa, had been suspended without pay since last April 23, around the time Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa acknowledged that the escort was unauthorized.
Nassry, an assistant station commander, allegedly organized the escort, while Ventrella assisted.
Criminal charges were announced last July.
Nassry was charged with third-degree tampering with public records, and he and Ventrella were charged with falsifying or tampering with public records for altering their license plate numbers.
Nassry entered his plea in front of Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz before the cases’ presentation to a state grand jury.
In forfeiting his position, Nassry is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey, law enforcement or otherwise.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Monahan is expected to recommend probation when Nassry is sentenced on April 29.
Ventrella also appeared before Ferencz on Monday, pleading not guilty, waiving indictment and applying for enrollment in the pretrial intervention program.
Monahan agreed not to contest Ventrella’s application. The charge will be dismissed if Ventrella is allowed into PTI and successfully completes the program.
Ventrella is barred from future law enforcement positions in New Jersey.
Nassry is fully vested in his pension and submitted retirement papers before the criminal charges were filed. His case will be referred to the state Division of Pensions and Benefits.
The charge to which he pleaded guilty does not trigger an automatic-forfeiture statute, according to Chiesa spokesman Peter Aseltine.
Ventrella is not vested, Aseltine says.
Chiesa, in announcing the agreements on Monday, said the troopers violated high standards of conduct, "undermin[ed] public safety and the reputation of the force," and "are justly paying a high price for their poor judgment."
"Both men have ended their law enforcement careers, and one will have a felony record for the rest of his life," he said.
Nassry, 47, of Phillipsburg, was a trooper for 26 years. His attorney, Charles Sciarra of Sciarra & Catrambone in Clifton, said in a statement that Nassry "apologizes to motorists endangered on that day, his colleagues in the Division of State Police whose trust with the public is essential for performing their jobs, and Trooper Ventrella, whose career was lost as a result of this one time act of stupidity."
Ventrella, 29, of Bloomingdale, a seven-year veteran, is represented by Vincent Nuzzi of Nuzzi & Mason in Dover, who calls the agreement "the best option that he [had] available under the circumstances."
Nuzzi adds, "I still believe he was following orders."
Last April 24, the day after Nassry and Ventrella’s suspension, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes told reporters that lower-level station commanders were able to authorize escorts and routinely did so.
Less than two weeks later, though, a state police document made public stated that escorts were allowed only in limited circumstances and with approval of the high-ranking Field Operations Section commanding officer.
Standing Operating Procedure F13 — then the governing policy since 2007, which was obtained and published by The Star-Ledger after authorities had declined to release it — provided for escorts upon official request by the U.S. Secret Service or other federal law enforcement agency, or "under a limited number of circumstances."
Those circumstances included medical emergencies such as organ transport, some prisoner transportation and visits by federal, out-of-state or foreign officials.
"No other escorts are authorized," read the SOP, which also required troopers to follow traffic laws except in emergencies.
When charges were announced against Nassry and Ventrella, Fuentes said the SOP was being replaced with a newer version meant to emphasize public safety.
Aside from the March 2012 escort for New York-based Driving Force Club — purportedly a charity event in which former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs drove one of the supercars — troopers facilitated another unauthorized escort of high-performance autos in June 2010.
Also, disciplinary charges were lodged against a trooper for allegedly agreeing to "handle" a ticket issued to the driver of a Lamborghini who in January 2010 was cited for traveling 116 miles an hour in a 65-mph zone.
In total, five troopers received internal discipline: Nassry and Ventrella, two troopers involved in the June 2010 escort, and one in connection with the speeding ticket. Officials have declined to identify the unnamed troopers.
Nassry and Ventrella are the only ones who have faced criminal charges, and Monday’s agreement resolved all issues linked to the March 2012 escort, Aseltine says.