Former N.J. Cop Gets 1-Year for ‘Chop-Shop’ Car Insurance Fraud

June 28, 2006

A former Hillside, New Jersey police officer has been sentenced to one year in jail and barred from public employment for taking part in a chop shop insurance scheme.

Dennis Melendez, who had been on the Hillside department for seven years, pleaded guilty to insurance fraud following his arrest in October. He was sentenced Friday by state Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Perfilio.

“This defendant not only disgraced his badge and his honor but he became a thief who stole from all of us who pay for these types of phony insurance claims,” Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said Monday in a statement announcing the sentencing.

Melendez, 33, admitted he was part of a scheme to dispose of auto parts from a 2001 Acura Integra that was falsely reported stolen, but was actually dismantled and sold for the parts.

The case began in October 2004, when Linden detectives watching an auto body shop saw a yellow 2001 Acura Integra being dismantled. The stripped frame was removed on a flatbed, the prosecutor’s office said.

The shell, despite having its vehicle identification numbers filed off, was traced to its owner, George Cunha.

Cunha, 26, of Elizabeth, pleaded guilty to filing a false insurance claim, which said that the car was stolen while he was in a Newark night club.

Perfilio on Friday sentenced Cunha to two years of probation and ordered him to pay $16,857 in restitution to the insurance carrier that paid the claim on the stolen vehicle, the prosecutor’s office said.

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