New Jersey Police Chief Ousted over Alleged Insurance Fraud

May 3, 2010

The Bergen County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s office assumed temporary control of the Hackensack police department Friday, a day after insurance fraud charges were filed against the longtime police chief.

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli emerged from a meeting with city officials Friday afternoon and said that Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa was no longer in charge of the department, effective immediately.

Molinelli declined to say whether Zisa has resigned or been forced out.

Friday’s decision came a day after authorities charged Zisa and his former girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, with insurance fraud.

The prosecutor’s office said Tiernan struck a utility pole Feb. 4, 2008 while driving a vehicle owned by Zisa. Authorities say the chief arrived a short time later and drove Tiernan away from the scene, preventing police from administering sobriety tests.

Officials say Zisa, 56, and Tiernan, 49, filed an insurance claim for damages to the car that contained a false statement.

Molinelli said his office received information about the incident in January, when two unnamed police officers came forward.

Zisa has not been available for comment. It was not clear Friday if he or Tiernan had retained lawyers.

Molinelli said the decision to assume temporary oversight of the department _ a plan he said would be in effect for at least six months _ was based on more than just Zisa’s arrest.

“This is not all about the arrest,” Molinelli said. “This is something that we feel is needed as a result of months and months of discourse in that department.”

Molinelli said multiple lawsuits against department personnel, a series of internal affairs investigations and friction within a department some say has become overly politicized have undermined its ability to function properly and eroded the public’s trust.

Capt. Tom Padilla was named the acting officer in charge of the department, while Zisa’s role remained unclear.

Hackensack City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono said Zisa’s employment status had not yet been determined as of Friday afternoon, but that he remained, for now, on the city payroll.

As part of his department’s oversight, police officers would now be prohibited from making political contributions in local races and other forms of political engagement, in any jurisdiction, while on duty, Molinelli said. They also cannot perform off-duty jobs, such as construction work, on the homes of people who directly supervise them.

The prosecutor declined to discuss what prompted the changes.

He said there also will be an increase in internal affairs oversight.

Zisa has an initial court appearance scheduled for Wednesday.

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