Dismissed officer grills Crest officials about investigation

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WILDWOOD CREST – Borough officials came under fire at the commission meeting Wednesday when former police officer Tom Hunt questioned them extensively about the details of an ongoing internal investigation.

Officials have declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, but several sources and comments made at the meeting indicate it is most likely examining allegations involving the borough police department.

Hunt, who was dismissed from the department in April 2012 and is currently in litigation with the borough over his dismissal, wanted to know whether the investigation was complete, who had been granted access to a report about some of the its findings, and if those findings would prompt officials to re-examine a separate, prior investigation involving Hunt.

Mayor Carl Groon and borough solicitor Doreen Corino fielded the questions, although both declined to answer many of them.

At one point, Hunt called on Groon to resign because of his silence on the issue.

“I expected more than ‘no comment’ from you tonight, honestly,” Hunt told Groon.

According to Corino, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office had initially offered to carry out the investigation, but one of the parties involved objected to the choice of lead investigator.

She said Wednesday that the borough opted to hire an independent investigator to do the investigation at the recommendation of the prosecutor’s office.

The borough then hired James Fallon of Fallon and Associates to conduct an internal investigation in November of last year.

According to borough minutes, the contract is not to exceed $19,000. Groon said Wednesday that the borough had paid Fallon about $18,000 so far.

“The decision was made to not have any of the principals involved subsequently challenge the findings,” Corino said.

While Corino is the borough’s attorney, she made clear that she is not representing the borough in the investigation. William Blaney has been hired as outside counsel to represent Wildwood Crest, and Corino suggested Hunt would have to contact Blaney with several of his questions.

When Hunt asked if Fallon had completed his report, Groon described it as partially finished.

“Part of it is done, but there is still an ongoing investigation,” he said.

Other allegations had stemmed from the original investigation, the borough solicitor said.

“He is investigating several matters, in addition to the prosecutor’s office, which has not completed their investigation either,” Corino said.

Corino said she had seen Fallon’s completed report, but the commissioners had not.

According to Hunt, one allegation included in the investigation involves a report about Hunt that he says was fabricated by two high-ranking officers in the department.

Corino responded that Hunt’s claim was inaccurate because he had “left a lot of information out.”

Hunt asked if the borough would re-examine a previous allegation made during his time as a police officer if it is included in the report, but Groon declined to comment.

“You know it’s in there. Ms. Corino knows it’s in there. The prosecutor’s office knows it’s in there,” Hunt said. “And now you are saying that even though you know that, it hasn’t even crossed your mind that maybe you should look back into the investigation that involved me?”

When Groon again refused to comment, Hunt told him he should “step forward and lead.” He said he wanted to Groon to address the crisis head-on and denounce any inappropriate actions substantiated by Fallon’s report.

“You should be at the forefront showing that the integrity of the men and women of the Wildwood Crest Police Department are above reproach,” Hunt said. “It is your job as commissioner of public safety to protect them from being cast in a bad light. They deserve better than you have performed to date, but you still have time to stand up and do the right thing. If you still find it to difficult to do so, you should resign.”

Groon did not reply to the comments. He instead moved forward with the remainder of the meeting agenda.

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