John Fahy, known for prosecuting government corruption as well as defending those accused of it, was found dead near his Rutherford home Wednesday, an apparent suicide. He was 58.
Fahy, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Bergen County prosecutor, died of a single gunshot wound to his head. A handgun was discovered near his body under a New Jersey Transit railroad trestle along Route 17 in East Rutherford.
In a videotaped statement, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said there "does not appear to be any evidence of foul play," but law enforcement "will be carefully reviewing this."
Fahy, a 1981 graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law, began his career at the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office that year.
In 1984, he became an assistant U.S. attorney in Newark, where he eventually supervised seven prosecutors and headed white-collar crime, political-corruption and special-prosecution units.
During Fahy's tenure, the office obtained criminal convictions in highly publicized cases, including that of former Wayne Mayor Louis Messercola — accused of taking a $10,000 cash bribe.
Fahy, a Democrat, was appointed Bergen County prosecutor in 1990 by Gov. James Florio and served a five-year term.
Under Fahy's administration, the office uncovered faulty security practices at the Meadowlands Sports Complex after a teenager's death there, ordered the takeover of the South Hackensack Police Department based on alleged corruption, established a domestic violence unit, improved suicide-prevention procedures at the Bergen County Jail and touched off a federal investigation by reporting a possible steering defect in Ford Crown Victoria police cars to the National Transportation Safety Administration.
In 1992, Fahy's name was mentioned for U.S. attorney, a post in need of filling by incoming President Bill Clinton. In the end, however, U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, a Republican and a George H.W. Bush appointee, was reappointed at the behest of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley — the first U.S. attorney to survive a White House party change since 1933.
In 1994, Fahy launched a probe into two prosecutor's office investigators who allegedly bought cars, previously leased by the county, at steep discounts not available to the public, and reported his findings to state Attorney General Deborah Poritz's office.
When Poritz's deputy declined to prosecute them based on insufficient evidence, Fahy was outraged — and made his opinion well known.
In 1995, Fahy was facing down an administration change. With his term as prosecutor set to expire and Republican Gov. Christine Whitman now in office, Fahy had no realistic prospect of maintaining his position, and announced his resignation.
"I didn't want to be waiting to the last minute with my fingernails clawed into my desk as I am being pulled out of my office," Fahy said at the time. He added that he "loved being a prosecutor" but was "looking forward to not being a bureaucrat anymore."
Fahy joined Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard in Hackensack as a litigation partner and headed the white-collar criminal defense practice, specializing in tax cases.
In 1996, Fahy moved to Waters McPherson McNeill in Secaucus, where he continued to handle white-collar criminal defense, and in 1999 to Reed Smith Shaw & McClay in Newark.
While at Reed Smith, Fahy was hired as personal counsel by Essex County Prosecutor Patricia Hurt, who was under investigation for financial irregularities in the office and ultimately resigned.
Fahy joined William Hunt and Associates in Hackensack in 2002.
Two years later, he and Benjamin Choi founded Fahy Choi in Rutherford.
There, he represented Pauline Sica, one of four Jersey City municipal judges implicated in a ticket-fixing scandal. She confessed to the offense and was admitted to the pretrial intervention program, after which the charges were to be dropped.
In addition to white-collar criminal defense, Fahy also performed investigations and served as a special master on behalf of Fahy Choi, where he remained until his death.
Fahy made numerous TV appearances as a court commentator on Court TV, CNBC, MSNBC and NJTV.
Last September, he and other former county officials addressed the media to oppose a plan to fold the Bergen County Police Department into the county sheriff's office.
Fahy, a Carlstadt native, also was the borough's attorney.
Aside from his law degree, Fahy earned a bachelor's degree and a master's in business administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University and during his career became a certified public accountant.
Fahy Choi referred callers to Joe Orlando, a spokesman for the firm and friend of Fahy's, who said in a statement: "In remembrance of Jay, our priorities right now are to Anne [his wife], the Family, the Firm's Staff and Clients. We are all trying to understand and cope with Jay's passing. We will all miss him dearly."