By KATHY CHANG
NEW BRUNSWICK — When a North Brunswick police officer failed to show leniency when he issued a drunken driving charge to a friend of former Edison police officer Michael Dotro in January 2012, Dotro admitted in Middlesex County Superior Court last week that he, along with other officers, attempted to harass and humiliate their neighboring officer in blue.
Dotro, of Manalapan, pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy, while Brian Favretto, of Brick, and Victor E. Aravena and William H. Gesell, both of Edison, pleaded guilty to lesser disorderly conduct charges for their involvement in front of Superior Court Judge Joseph Paone on Sept. 16.
Hundreds of jurors were assembled at 9 a.m. for what was to be the beginning of jury selection in the trial of the officers.
After four hours of discussion with their attorneys and family members, the officers accepted the plea agreement with Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutors Russell Curley and Thomas Mannion.
All four officers needed to agree to the plea agreement, which included the officers agreeing to forfeit their employment as police officers and not being able to hold any future public office position in New Jersey.
For Favretto, Aravena and Gesell, the agreements include no jail time and the possibility for probation. The charges carried a six-month jail term.
Also, the plea agreements did not constitute automatic pension forfeitures, which would be at the discretion of the Division of Pensions and Benefits board.
Flanked by their attorneys, the four Edison officers admitted their roles in planning to retaliate against the North Brunswick police officer.
Dotro, through his attorney Robert Norton, of Westfield, said he reached out to the North Brunswick Police Benevolent Association 160 in an effort to see if there could be any leniency for his friend on the DWI charge.
When Dotro learned that there would be no leniency for his friend, he admitted that he set in motion a series of actions to harass and humiliate the North Brunswick police officer, which included pulling him over.
Aravena pleaded guilty to a count of obstruction of the administration of law. Through his New York-based attorneys, Joseph Tacopina and Chad Seigel, Aravena admitted he sent a text message to a third person with information on the North Brunswick police officer with the intention to influence the North Brunswick officer on the DWI charge.
Favretto pleaded guilty to a count of obstruction of the law. Through his attorney, Anthony Iacullo, of Nutley, Favretto admitted he sent a text message to a childhood friend to influence the outcome of the DWI charge.
Gesell pleaded guilty to tampering with public records. Through his attorney Darren Gelber, of Wiletnz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge, Gesell admitted that on May 12, 2012, he accessed the state police database and entered the name of the North Brunswick police officer without a lawful reason to do so.
On Oct. 24, 2014, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted the officers on charges of conspiracy and official misconduct. The indictment included 11 counts.
The officers allegedly planned between Jan. 18, 2012 and May 1, 2012, to retaliate against the North Brunswick officer by improperly accessing information about him and performing surveillance of him and his travel habits, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
In addition, Gesell was charged with unlawfully accessing a police computer system, along with a related count of official misconduct for seeking information on the North Brunswick officer.
An investigation by the prosecutor determined that the retaliation was planned after the North Brunswick police officer arrested an associate of Dotro on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
Dotro subsequently conspired with his three fellow police officers to retaliate against the North Brunswick officer, according to authorities. No actual retaliation was undertaken, however.
Dotro remains out on bail while the prosecutors agreed to waive the bails for Favretto, Gesell and Aravena and release them on their own recognizance.
“This is a sad day for the Edison Police Department because of the tarnish it brings to the reputations of our many other upstanding and hardworking police officers,” said Edison Business Administrator Maureen Ruane. “We are glad to see these men chose to resign their positions, bringing an end to their tenure here. We must also commend the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office for its diligent investigation and prosecution of this matter.”
A tentative sentencing date is set for Jan. 13, 2017.