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Siligato v. State

Decided: October 26, 1993.


On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Atlantic County.

Pressler, Dreier and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.


This controversy has its genesis in the issuance of search warrants by the Superior Court, Law Division, authorizing the State Police to excavate under the concrete foundations of two commercial buildings in Atlantic County, then believed by the State to be owned by Samuel Siligato, who was suspected of killing two victims and burying one under each building. After execution of the warrant failed to reveal a corpse or the remains thereof in either location, Siligato brought this action for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, alleging that the warrant had issued on the basis of the knowingly false affidavit of a State Police detective, John Sheeran.

The action is still pending in the Law Division. This is the State's third appeal, on leave granted, from interlocutory orders of the trial court. On this appeal, the State challenges orders of the trial court 1) rejecting the State's objection to plaintiff's standing to prosecute the action, 2) denying the State's motion for partial summary judgment dismissing the complaint as to Sheeran on the ground of immunity, and 3) denying the State's motion to limit the scope and quantum of damages. We affirm all the orders appealed from.

We address the issues in the light of the facts of record and the already tortuous procedural history of this litigation. The story starts in early 1985 when one Arthur Hall, a special agent of the F.B.I., was arrested following a four-month joint investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the F.B.I. into Hall's suspected

involvement in an extensive motor-vehicle theft operation in the Atlantic City area. At that time Siligato was asserted to be a confidential informer of both the F.B.I. and the State Police.

According to Sheeran's affidavit in support of the warrant, Hall, while being interrogated after his arrest by State Police Detective Sergeant Grusemeyer, told Grusemeyer that Siligato had been involved with him, Hall, in the criminal activities under investigation and that Siligato had "once told him (Hall) that he (Siligato) had beaten up a Puerto Rican individual who later died from the said beating and that Jimmy DiNatale, Sr. helped him (Siligato) get away with the crime." Although Hall told Grusemeyer that the murder had taken place in Atlantic County, he, Hall, "was not sure about the time period of the offense." The affidavit goes on to recite that thereafter Lieutenant Kaufman of the State Police interrogated Hall further on that subject. Hall told Kaufman that Siligato operated two businesses on two separate properties in Hammonton, the Silly Gator Bar and the Elm Deli. Hall also recalled that his conversation with Siligato respecting the murder took place in the summer or fall of 1982 and that Siligato had then told him that the victim had owed him money. Hall further told Kaufman that Siligato had a quick and violent temper and that he, Hall, had helped Siligato construct forms for pouring concrete for steps and front and rear pads at the Elm Deli "two or three years ago." Hall was not, however, present when the concrete was poured. Sheeran's affidavit further explained that the Jimmy DiNatale referred to by Hall, who had died in 1983, was "a significant criminal associate of the Bruno Crime Family."

In further support of probable cause, the Sheeran affidavit refers to information from two confidential sources, Source # 1 and Source # 2. Source # 1's contribution was his asserted statement to Kaufman that he had been friendly with Siligato for several years, that at some time within the past two years Siligato had told him that he was responsible for two grave sites in the Hammonton area and that "in order to dispose of a body, it should be buried in the ground with a bag of lime."

The critical incriminating information on which Sheeran relied came from Source # 2. The affidavit states that Source # 2, who had been friendly with Siligato for many years, advised Sheeran that

Siligato had been running a prostitution ring utilizing Puerto Rican prostitutes . . . . [O]ne evening approximately five years ago he/she [Source # 2] entered the . . . Silly Gator bar . . . Siligato told him/her that he (Siligato) had just killed a girl in the kitchen . . . .

Source # 2 is further asserted to have told Sheeran that other persons were also then in the bar, that "he/she" had actually seen the body lying on the kitchen floor, and that Siligato's explanation for the killing was the victim's claim that she was pregnant with Siligato's child and intended to expose the prostitution ring. Beyond that Source # 2 assertedly revealed to Sheeran that DiNatale had told him/her that the victim of the bar murder was buried under the concrete slab on which an addition to the bar had been constructed. To tie it all up, Source # 2 assertedly also told Sheeran that Siligato had admitted to him, Source # 2, that he had buried a Puerto Rican male whom he had murdered under the ...

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