On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 05-09-0151.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: October 8, 2008
Before Judges Cuff, Fisher and Baxter.
Following a jury trial, defendant Damon P. Bassano was found guilty of two counts of second degree official misconduct (Counts One and Two), N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2; two counts of third degree tampering with public records (Counts Three and Four), N.J.S.A. 2C:28-7a(2); and four counts of falsifying or tampering with records (Counts Five, Six, Seven and Eight), N.J.S.A. 2C:21-4a. On Count One, the judge imposed a five-year term of imprisonment. She also invoked N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2d to impose a permanent disqualification from holding public office. On Count Two, the judge imposed a five-year term of imprisonment. After merging Count Five with Count Three and Count Six with Count Four, the judge imposed a three-year term of imprisonment on each count. On Counts Seven and Eight, the judge imposed nine-month terms of imprisonment. All terms are concurrent to each other. The appropriate fines, assessments and penalties were also imposed.
In 1997, defendant began work as a security guard for a private security company; he was assigned to the Hoboken Housing Authority. There, he met John Ramos, who served as a shift supervisor for the private security company on a part-time basis. Ramos also served as a Hudson County Sheriff's Officer.
In early 2002, Ramos developed cardiac problems that required him to undergo quadruple bypass surgery. Later that same year, Ramos approached defendant and asked him to take the Hudson County promotional exam in his stead. Ramos explained he wished to attain the rank of sergeant because it would lead to a substantial increase in his annual salary, but was concerned that he would be unable to concentrate during the test because of his failing health, and he believed defendant would do well on the exam. Defendant rejected this proposition.
Approximately one week later, Ramos approached defendant again, only this time in a much more emotional state. He expressed concern for his family and children because he did not expect to live much longer. Once again, defendant declined. He told Ramos it was not a good idea because someone could get in trouble. Just before Christmas, Ramos again pleaded with defendant to help him. Ramos pointed to the fact that "he would do anything for [Bassano]." He reminded defendant that when they worked in the projects together he "always had [his] back." Defendant eventually agreed to help.
In exchange, Ramos offered to pay for any study materials or classes that defendant required. Ramos also proposed that, in lieu of taking a formal study course, he would simply pay defendant the cost of such a program. Defendant refused both offers. On the other hand, defendant readily agreed to Ramos' offer to forgive a debt of several hundred dollars. Ramos also agreed to help defendant get hired by the Hudson County Sheriff's Department. Defendant was overweight and had problems with his knee, which may have prevented him from performing well on the running exercises. Ramos offered to ask one of the instructors to take it easy on defendant during the running examinations. Finally, Ramos indicated that he would make all the necessary preparations, including acquiring false identification cards and choosing an appropriate test center.
Defendant was concerned about getting caught, so Ramos made arrangements for him to take the exam at a discrete location where he would not be recognized. Ramos chose Monmouth County because it was far from the other test locations. Defendant then aided Ramos in preparing the counterfeit documents. They went together to have defendant's picture taken for fake identifications and he forged Ramos' signature on a Hoboken Housing Authority identification card and duplicate social security card.
Ramos registered to take the sergeant's exam on March 20, 2003, at Middletown High School North in Monmouth County. On the day of the test, Ramos left work and picked up defendant at his home. From there, Ramos and defendant drove to the test site. When they arrived, Ramos handed defendant his wallet, which contained his police badge, a false social security card, and a credit card in Ramos' name. Ramos also handed defendant two phony identification cards -- one for the Sheriff's Department and another for the Housing Authority. Defendant took the wallet and identification, placed them in his pocket, exited the vehicle and walked into the test center.
Upon entering the high school, defendant located the room where he would take the test. When he arrived, the proctor instructed him and the other test takers to separate into rooms by agency. They were then told to place two forms of identification on the desk so that the proctor could check them as he walked around collecting signatures on the exam notification cards. After signing "John Ramos" on the test card, defendant recognized one of the other test takers in the room as a Hudson County Sheriff's Officer.
At this point, defendant started to feel ill, so he left to go to the bathroom, and then returned to Ramos' car parked outside the school. Defendant returned the documents to Ramos and explained that he could not take the test because he thought he had been recognized. Both he and Ramos then left the test site without having received or taken the test. Ramos destroyed the false credentials the next day. Ramos eventually tried to complete a "makeup" examination, explaining that he missed the prior test due to illness, but was prohibited from doing so because he was under investigation for cheating.
Subsequently, on July 8, 2003, defendant applied for a position as a sheriff's officer in the Hudson County Sheriff's Office. Ramos kept his word and spoke to someone on his behalf. He also forgave defendant's outstanding debt. But on September 24, 2003, not long before physical training was scheduled to begin, defendant ...