Murder, Justice, and Jersey Politics
Just days after the gruesome Feb. 1 murder of 30-year-old Sayreville Council Member Eunice K. Dwumfour, a Republican, Gov. Phil Murphy tried his hand as a crime reporter using his public radio call-in show to speculate on the case.
He told listeners to his WNYC-WBGO-WHHY Feb. 2 show that he had conducted an informal canvas of a “whole bunch of electeds-folks in the know-who have been around for a long time” and that none of them could recall “a sitting elected official of the state being shot and killed.”
Murphy continued. “Unfortunately, there is very little that is known now. I have spoken obviously to our team—the Attorney General. Our folks are all over this as you can imagine as are Middlesex and Sayreville law enforcement authorities and prosecutor. Again, I almost hesitate to say this, because I don’t know this, but there is no evidence that it was accidental. It feels very specific…I spoke to the GOP chair in both Sayreville and Middlesex County as well as the Commissioner Director in Middlesex County. It does not appear to be related to her position as an elected Councilwoman in Sayreville. Please God, it doesn’t.”
When it comes to a murder case, and you are the state’s ultimate law enforcement official you don’t want to have the phrase “I don’t know this…” pop up anywhere near your speculation that the murder “does not appear to be related” to Dwumfour’s nascent political career. The Governor should have heeded that initial impulse to “hesitate” on speculating on the motive of this gruesome crime particularly in a state like ours that has a notoriously, almost banana republic level, track record for investigating anything that loops in our politics.
There were things that do need to make it into our initial conversation about the fatal shooting of Dwumfour, a woman of color, who had a daughter and was recently married. According to a Guardian report last year “Black women and girls are four times more likely to die by violence than white or Hispanic women” and that the “national homicide rate for Black women and girls in 2020 was eight homicides per 100,000 people. That’s the highest rate among American women and represents a risk of violent death that is four times higher than white or Latina women.”
THE SHERIDAN FIASCO
You can’t get a sense of just how inappropriate Murphy’s Agatha Christie riff was about this tragic case unless you have followed the ins and outs of the ongoing scandal that was, and is, the botched criminal probe surrounding the 2014 mysterious death of Joyce and John Sheridan, an influential Republican attorney, lobbyist, healthcare executive and NJ Transportation Commissioner.
The New Jersey power couple’s bodies were discovered by firefighters responding to a fire that had been set at their Meadow Run Drive home in the Skillman section of Montgomery. Both suffered multiple stab wounds and after a prolonged investigation, the Somerset Prosecutor determined in March 2015, that John Sheridan had stabbed his wife of 47 years, then stabbed himself, while also starting a fire to conceal the whole bloody mess.
The surviving Sheridan children, led by Mark Sheridan, an accomplished attorney himself, mounted a well-funded and vigorous defense of their dead father, whose decades of public service had been widely recognized by partisans from both political parties. The family offered a $250,000 reward in the case. As part of the family’s due diligence, they enlisted the expertise of the world-famous forensic pathologist Michael Baden whose 2016 analysis found it was an intruder who committed the crime.
While the autopsy prosecutors relied on concluded there was nothing amiss with the appearance of John Sheridan’s teeth, Baden discovered the had a chipped front tooth indicative of having been punched. In addition, Baden concluded that the knife that killed the 74-year-old lawyer was not found at the scene of the murder.
In May 2016, Jeffrey Scozzafava, a detective with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, filed a whistleblower case asserting Sheridan crime-scene evidence “was improperly collected, improperly preserved and subsequently destroyed.” The lawsuit alleged that Scozzafava was subject to retaliation after flagging concerns over the Sheridan investigation and thar he was demoted from the Forensics Unit to the Fugitive Unit for “lodging complaints regarding deficient and improper evidence collection and casework” by his co-workers and his supervisor. (WNYC reported Scozzafava settled his case for $175,000).
In 2017, after Baden’s findings and the Sheridan family campaign that enlisted Governors Tom Kean, Jim Florio and Christie Todd Whitman, New Jersey’s Medical Examiner officially changed John Sheridan’s cause of death from “suicide” to “undetermined.”.
Last year, in a true-crime podcast produced by WNYC’s Nancy Solomon entitled Dead End: A NJ Political Murder Mystery, about the Sheridan case multiple investigative lapses by local law enforcement and the county prosecutor were flagged and grabbed national attention.
“Detectives in Somerset County in New Jersey made several crucial mistakes in their investigation into the deaths of John and Joyce Sheridan, a prominent couple with close ties to four New Jersey governors,” Solomon wrote. “Based on interviews and an examination of physical evidence at the crime and autopsy documents, an investigative podcast from WNYC Studios found those mistakes led the detectives to erroneously declare the crime a murder-suicide.”
“The thing about the Sheridan deaths, was that it raised all kinds of questions about the state of law enforcement — from local police to the prosecutor’s office, to the attorney general’s office, and the medical examiner’s office — and how they operate in New Jersey. And it showed a failing at every level,” Barbara Boyer, a former Inquirer reporter told WNYC on its podcast.
Fundamentals like interviewing all the neighbors just were not completed, according to Boyer, who told WNYC “there were all kinds of leads to pursue that went in different directions.”
Last May, New Jersey’s acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced a new probe into the Sheridan case.
“Theories about the cold case resurfaced in January, when one of the couple’s sons, Mark Sheridan, pointed out that the circumstances surrounding his parents’ deaths were ‘eerily similar’ to those of a separate federal investigation into the murder of a Jersey City political operative,” reported the New York Times.
“The operative, Michael Galdieri, was stabbed and his second-floor apartment was set on fire four months before the Sheridans’ deaths. Sean Caddle, a well-connected political consultant, has confessed to hiring two men, George Bratsenis and Bomani Africa, to kill Mr. Galdieri, a onetime friend and colleague. Prosecutors have not disclosed a motive, but all three have pleaded guilty in federal court and await sentencing.”
The newspaper, reported that a “knife similar to one Mr. Sheridan described as being missing from his parents’ house was later discovered in a truck driven by Mr. Bratsenis, according to court documents.”
Last month NJ.com reported that “a year after admitting to his role in the grisly contract killing of a former associate, political consultant Sean Caddle sits at home these days facing eviction from his rented Sussex County condo, awaiting sentencing while under 24-hour electronic monitoring and strict travel restrictions.”
The newspaper obtained Caddle’s response to the landlord of the Hamburg, Sussex County residence who is seeking the political operator’s eviction for not paying rent since October. Over the arc of his career, Caddle has worked as a political consultant for some of New Jersey’s most powerful elected officials. He was released under house arrest.
“As a cooperating witness for the U.S. Attorney’s Office on an ankle monitor, there was some confusion about my ability to work and the possibility of relocation. Both of these fell through,” Caddle wrote in response to the civil complaint. “I received a letter from my attorney in December stating that I would not be able to work, per the U.S. Attorney’s direction.”
Last November, Antonio Teixeira, the former chief of staff to New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), plead guilty to federal charges “he conspired with Caddle, and Caddle’s political consulting firms, to defraud various campaigns, political action committees, and 501(c)(4) organizations of $107,800. Teixeira then failed to report this illicit income on tax forms that he filed with the IRS during those same years,” according to the federal prosecutors.
“Caddle was hired by a former New Jersey state senator to create the PACs and 501(c)(4)s so that they could raise and spend money to advocate on a variety of issues, including supporting particular candidates in local races around New Jersey,” according to the DOJ press release. “Teixeira served as the senator’s chief of staff and wielded influence over the consultants that the campaigns and organizations hired and the budgets that each of these organizations would receive.”
There’s still a lot of anxiety in political circles about just what Caddle is telling federal prosecutors. There’s a reason that most of the time when the corrupt players in Trenton get nervous, it’s over a federal criminal probe because over the generations those are the ones that are likely to produce actual indictments and convictions like what we saw in the notorious 2009 Bid Rig corruption probe that produced the arrest of dozens of elected officials and political operatives.
But even there, when it comes to policing New Jersey’s most powerful politicians, federal prosecutors can come up really short as in the Bridgegate case, where the two criminal convictions they did manage to get were overturned, and the role of others involved, including law enforcement employees of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, remained sealed in court files.
NOBODY DID IT
As it turned out, the weakest link in protecting the George Washington Bridge from being commandeered was the bi-state agency’s own police department. The partisan revenge plot that the Department of Justice has said crossed the line into criminality, was executed by the Port Authority Police Department that served as the boots on the ground and moved the traffic cones that closed the lanes.
As a consequence of the actions taken by the Port Authority Police Department, allegedly at the behest of the political operatives who were initially charged, public safety was put at risk because the lane closures actually impeded the ability of local first responders to do their jobs for those four days in September of 2013, including the actual anniversary of 9/11, a time of supposed heightened counterterrorism vigilance.
Yet, senior police officers were aware of the plan to alter traffic before it happened, and when rank and file officers raised concerns about the problems it was causing at the time, they were told to keep it to themselves. In September 2014 the Bergen Record reported that during the lane closures in 2013, when Port Authority police officers used their radios to communicate that the altered traffic pattern was creating “hazardous conditions” on local Fort Lee roads, their Port Authority supervisors told them to “shut up.”
In the Bridgegate court papers filed in May 2015, when U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced that David Wildstein [whose conviction has subsequently been vacated] was going to plead guilty for his role in the alleged conspiracy, the government referred in its pleadings to unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators. The list of the unindicted co-conspirators was subsequently disclosed to defense counsel in the case but has remained off-limits to the media and the public.
At the time several media organizations went to court to have the names released, saying that it was in the public’s interest to know who else was involved with the Bridgegate affair, which in all probability may have included active civil servants. In May Judge Susan Wigenton, the federal judge presiding over the case, ruled the list should be publicly released.
Fishman appealed that ruling, as did an individual whose name was on the list but is only known as John Doe. The lawyer for Doe claimed the client, one of the unindicted co-conspirators, would suffer irredeemable reputation damage if the list were released.
- Eunice Dwumfour
- George Bratsenis
- John sheridan
- Joyce Sheridan
- Michael Galdieri
- Nancy Solomon
- Paul Fishman
- Phil Murphy
- Sean Caddle
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release the names.
Democrat-Socialists in Trenton and D.C. are at fault. They want to Defund the Police, and disarm law-abiding New Jerseyans from protecting their own lives with more and more inane gun control laws that don’t stop criminals, and since the police owe no duty to protect us citizens (U.S. Supreme Court ruling in DeShaney v. Winnebago, 489 U.S. 189). The Democrat Party should be called “Murder, Inc.”
Democrats want all of us dead. Look at the last 100 years of their existence and see how many wars they’ve gotten us into, how many pandemics under their watch (two–Spanish Flu under Wilson & COVID under Pelosi & Schumer), Millions dead due to Democrat-Socialist vaccine mandates/lockdowns/masking/ school closures, etc., over 60 million babies murdered in their wombs, etc. Democrat-Socialists have even said that the perfect population for the world is 500 MILLION, because they would be easier to control.