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Jerry Speziale is an American law enforcement officer who was previously the Sheriff of Passaic County, New Jersey, United States (US). Speziale is currently the Deputy Superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. During his law enforcement career he worked as an undercover officer in the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Drug Enforcement Task Force and was assigned to a special group that targeted the Cali Drug Cartel in Colombia, South America.
Speziale graduated from Wayne Hills High School in 1978 and, in 2003, he graduated from the University of Louisville’s Southern Police Institute, 37th Command Officers National Academy. In 2006, he graduated from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for state and local government officials, and in 2007, he graduated from the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development School. In 2008, Speziale graduated, cum laude, from Caldwell College with a B.S. in Criminal Justice. He also received a Masters of Administrative Science (MAS) degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2010. Additionally, Speziale received an Honorary PhD. in Leadership from Yeshua University in Anaheim, California.
Speziale has served as an Adjunct Professor for Fairleigh Dickinson, teaching leadership and criminal justice.
Speziale was born in the City of Paterson, New Jersey, US, to parents Gerardo Speziale, a barber, and Barbara Speziale, a paralegal for a municipal court judge. Speziale lived his early life in the suburban town of Wayne, New Jersey.
Speziale married Maggie Reinhardt-Speziale who he met in 1978. Speziale and his wife Maggie married in 1986 and have three children.
Speziale's police career began with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as a patrol officer in the South Bronx. In 1986, Speziale was shot and wounded. In 1987, Speziale was assigned as an undercover officer to the NYPD’s Special Anti Crack Unit, a unit designed to combat the proliferation of crack-cocaine in New York City in the late 1980s.
In 1989, Speziale was promoted to the rank of detective and assigned as an undercover agent with United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Throughout his career with the DEA, Speziale undertook international travel and participated in a number of raids and operations targeting drug smuggling operations. Speziale primarily worked with Paul Lir Alexander, a high level informant, who taught him the intricacies of the South American drug trade. Alexander introduced Speziale to members of South American drug cartels, which assisted Speziale, Alexander and the members of the DEA operation, "Group 93," to infiltrate the infamous Cali Drug Cartel.
In July 1992, Speziale was responsible for capturing and arresting the largest Cali drug cartel leader ever prosecuted under New York State law. Speziale arrested the cartel leader at the Hilton Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland and extradited him to the United States with the assistance of the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutors Office and the US Marshall Service. Despite the collaboration between Alexander and Speziale, Alexander ultimately betrayed Speziale.
In 1992, Speziale and his team traveled to Anchorage, Alaska and raided the compound of Frank Plunk an established cocaine trafficker responsible for coordinating the transportation of cocaine from Los Angeles and Houston to the New York City area. Plunk was responsible for recruiting drivers to transport shipments of approximately 200-250 kilograms of cocaine in recreational vehicles and produce trucks and was successfully directed approximately two dozen shipments. In December 1993, Speziale through court-authorized wiretaps revealed the existence of a large conspiracy to transport cocaine across the United States. Pet. Many of the monitored telephone calls were from Frank Plunk in Alaska. Speziale coordinated a multi-state wiretap operation with federal, state and local law enforcement utilizing authorized wiretap of Plunk’cellular telephone, which caused Speziale and his team to stop a motor home driven by Hal Booher. Speziale and his team searched Booher's vehicle and discovered 220 kilograms of cocaine. Booher identified Frank Plunk as his employer, and an ensuing search of Plunk’s home by Speziale and his team uncovered several firearms, a scale, and nearly $10,000 in cash. Speziale of the New York City Police Department testified in federal court in Alaska as an expert witness "in the field of narcotics trafficking, including wiretapping investigations, analysis of codes, words, and reference[s] used by narcotics traffickers." Speziale was qualified by the court to provide expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 about his "specialized knowledge of how drug trafficking is sometimes conducted and the methods and techniques that may be employed. Speziale testified about code words used by drug traffickers and interpreted encoded conversations between petitioner and his co-conspirators. The court cautioned the jury that Speziale's interpretation of the conversations was "only an opinion" and that it was up to the jury "to decide whether to believe any, all, or none of that opinion." In the end, Frank Plunk was convicted on six of the ten counts against him. Plunk challenged Speziale’s testimony and the court determined that "Detective Speziale's testimony concerned a proper subject of expert testimony," because "the jargon of the narcotics trade and the codes that drug dealers often use constitute specialized bodies of knowledge." The court also upheld the district court's ruling that Detective Speziale was qualified as an expert on that subject. The court of appeals concluded that the district court acted "well within the bounds of its discretion in qualifying Detective Speziale as an expert and allowing him to testify as such regarding the cryptic codes and jargon of narcotics dealers.".
In 1993 the Frank Plunk investigation expanded to California. Speziale travelled to Los Angeles, California and assisted the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, (HIDTA) Task Force initiating wiretaps on Diego Fernando Salazar-Izquierdo (Zorro). Speziale coordinated efforts with federal, state and local law enforcement in California and Operation Foxhunt commenced. Operation Foxhunt took its name from one of the investigation's primary targets, Diego Fernando Salazar-Izquierdo, a Cali cartel transportation cell director in Los Angeles known as "Zorro." (Zorro is Spanish for fox.) A second cell director, Over Arturo Acuna directed parallel drug operations, also out of Los Angeles. Zorro and Arturo each directed their own drug networks, but were tightly controlled and compartmentalized distribution networks. Both Zorro and Arturo, reported directly to the head of the organization's U.S network based in Cali, Colombia. Operation Foxhunt was significant in that the arrest of Zorro and Arturo effectively and completely shut down the distribution of cocaine in the United States by the family in Colombia that supplied these two cell directors. Operation Foxhunt was an enormously successful investigation, benefitting from support from more than 55 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
In 1995, the culmination of this investigation resulted in the arrest of 199 suspects, seizure of over $13.5 million dollars and 6.5 tons of cocaine. The investigation dealt a major blow to the Colombian drug cartel's operations in seven U.S. cities, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, San Antonio, St. Louis and Washington, DC.
Until he retired from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) at the rank of Detective 1st Grade in 1997, Speziale's career was distinguished by ever higher promotions. Speziale is recognized as an expert on cell phone and wiretapping technology, narcotics smuggling, money laundering and has lectured on these subjects at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Speziale has testified before the U.S. Congress and frequently lectures at law enforcement training centers throughout the nation. Speziale has received numerous departmental recognition awards, including the Michael John Buczek Medal of Honor; twenty-two New York City Police Department commendations, two DEA Administrator's Awards, the NYPD Organized Crime Control Bureau of Excellence Award, and the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Award.
On November 2, 2001, Speziale was elected 8th Sheriff of Passaic County, New Jersey. Speziale, a member of the Democratic Party, was the first Democrat in 50 years to be to be elected Sheriff in the county. Speziale was reelected Sheriff in 2004 and 2007 after winning reelection overwhelmingly by a 75% percent margin.
Haledon Mayor Domenick Stampone put out the following statement on the resignation of Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale. “Sheriff Jerry Speziale has done a magnificent job over the last nine years managing the Sheriff’s Department, decreasing crime rates throughout the County, and aiding local officials in keeping our children and families safe. Passaic County’s loss is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s gain. His expertise, energy, and passion for law enforcement will be missed. Throughout my time as an elected official in Haledon – first on the Borough Council and the last four years as Mayor – Sheriff Speziale has always been a strong partner in solving problems facing our community and working with me to find cost effective collaborations to save our constituents tax dollars. Although this news comes as a shock to the Passaic County Democratic Organization, I am confident we will field a capable, qualified candidate who can continue the strong progress made in the Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff Speziale’s leadership”.
In June of 2010, Speziale considered a popular policital superstar raised more than $1.1 million that year and left office to become deputy superintendent of police at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. 1.1 million dollars was the most money ever raised in a county sheriff’s race. In January of 2012, the New Jersey Election Commission reported Speziale had an inactive campaign trust account, (ICTA), with more than $600,000.00 dollars after donating to several charities.
Speziale created a program to provide a tax savings for struggling towns. Speziale’s program provided each of the 16 municipalities and 2 universities in the county with a fully equipped police car worth around $30,000. Speziale purchased the police cars with drug forfeiture money. Throughout Speziale’s nine year tenure as sheriff drug forfeiture funds have been used to buy all the equipment and vehicles for the Sheriff's Department keeping the departments operating expenses flat. In early 2010, Speziale’s Narcotics Unit and its counterparts seized more than $16.8 million dollars in drug forfeiture funds.
Speziale equipped his county SWAT team with a state of the art equipment, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) compliant vehicle. He replaced the Passaic County SWAT team's converted bread truck with a $400,000 BearCat armored vehicle that can crash through brick walls. The BearCat was paid for with a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and $195,000 dollars seized during drug raids. Speziale said the BearCat gives officers more options when handling dangerous situations. The BearCat vehicle can go up to 70 mph and gets about 7 miles per gallon on diesel fuel. It's also airtight and has an oxygen supply that lasts as long as 10 hours.
Speziale created the Jerry Speziale Community Outreach foundation that raised thousands of dollars annually to support the community and crime prevention programs for senior citizens, and the youth. The organization provided college scholarships, turkeys for the needy on Thanksgiving, inner-city sports programs, and thousands of toys on Christmas for families in need. In an effort to educate rescue workers and the public, Speziale, on behalf of the Jerry Speziale Community Outreach Foundation, hosted a forum called “Autism and Law Enforcement: A Panel Discussion To Enhance Awareness and Support. The event was held on January 15, 2009, at the Passaic County Sheriff Department’s Community Policing Division where first responders, other nearby police departments and school administrators from neighboring towns met to discuss autism and related disorders. Speziale learned about an incident involving an autistic child restrained by another jurisdiction that traumatized a child because of the lack of understanding between the parties. Speziale created a forum to train his officers how to identify and handle someone with autism whether it be a child or an adult.
Speziale is a strong advocate of community collaboration, community policing intelligence led policing, predictive policing and community outreach concentrated on crime reduction, crime prevention, senior citizen and youth programs. Speziale created a community-policing unit tasked with providing a variety of programs and community services. The PRIDE program was designed to productively assist in community re-entry for county jail inmates. The senior citizen medical identification program assisted senior citizens in a medical emergency and the junior police academy camps for children in the summer built relationships between the police and the community. Speziale also provided scholarships for students graduating from high school through a community outreach foundation. Speziale also introduced a state of the art texting information system for the community to provide intelligence to the police called “Text for Tips”.
Speziale implemented the first sheriff's labor assistance program utilizing inmate labor to assist at risk senior citizens and disabled residents with snow removal. The snow removal program was capable of handling significant snow accumulation and assisted seniors in exiting their homes for needed necessities. The program utilized carefully screened, non-violent inmates serving a county jail sentence. The inmates received credit for good time served and were supervised by an experienced correction deputy. The sheriff's labor assistance program provided assistance to municipalities, non-for-profit and religious organizations with community service tasks and construction projects.
On September 14th, 2005, based on the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina, Speziale coordinated and comprised a task force of Passaic County Sheriff’s Deputies and law enforcement officers from his county's (16) municipal police departments. This was one the first task force's to respond from the State of New Jersey and each of the agencies provided supervisors, officers, vehicles and equipment in an effort to assist with swift water rescue operations in New Orleans. After a two-week deployment, the team was being rotated out and was scheduled to return back to New Jersey for decontamination of the officers, vehicles and equipment.
On September 25, 2005, as the convoy crossed into Virginia, they were stopped by an Augusta County, Virginia, Sheriff's Deputy and notified to shut their police warning lights off or they would be arrested. The convoy was accused of speeding and driving with their emergency lights. The sheriff's deputy, who intercepted the convoy, asked the officers to refrain from engaging their emergency lights, given that they were not responding to an emergency. Speziale was contacted immediately after the stop by one of the unit's commanders informing him of the circumstances. The detail commander informed Speziale that, based on the length and size of the equipment convoy, which included police vehicles, SUVs, trucks and trailers, it was extremely dangerous to operate without utilizing emergency lights because of the terrain and "blind spots" on a two lane interstate highway. The detail commander argued that emergency lights were a necessity because they warned drivers in all directions of the convoy's existence. Speziale contacted the Virginia State Police and explained the circumstances to the on duty supervisor. The Virginia State Police acknowledged the explanation and dangers outlined in the telephone conversation. Moments after the call Speziale received a telephone call from the Augusta County Deputy Sheriff who felt different about Speziale's officers. Speziale told the deputy that he "was a disgrace" for interfering with fellow police officers on a serious rescue mission. Speziale supported his officers and told the deputy that he hoped to show him "the same courtesy up here in New Jersey."
On August 31, 2007, Speziale was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the graduating police recruit class when he nabs a suspect in a brook after dragging one of his detectives. Speziale plunged into a slimy brook to help arrest a man who allegedly stole a police car and dragged a detective with it. Two plainclothes detectives from the Sheriff's Department's warrant unit noticed a Jeep Cherokee stopped on a street in Paterson, New Jersey. One detective recognized the driver as having outstanding arrest warrants and they pulled their unmarked Ford Explorer in front of the vehicle. When detectives asked the driver for his identification, he handed them a Peruvian passport that appeared fake. Realizing he was about to be arrested, the man pushed one of the detectives, exited his car and leaped into their unmarked police vehicle. As the suspect drove away, a detective grabbed onto the vehicle and was dragged for about 700 feet as the suspect wove near parked cars on the street. The detectives hopped into the man's vehicle and chased him, losing him in traffic. Other officers in the area joined the chase and Speziale, on his way to deliver the keynote address at a police academy, joined the chase after he heard the call come in over his police radio. Within 15 minutes, the suspect abandoned the vehicle in the driveway of a business at a dead end. The suspect jumped a fence and climbed into Molly Ann's Brook, a shallow, rocky creek that feeds into the Passaic River. Speziale was among the officers who arrived. He hopped the fence with his officers and waded in after the man with several police dogs. The suspect was arrested and taken to St. Joseph's Hospital. Doctors were evaluating him for health complaints. The detective who was dragged, was also taken to St. Joseph's and was in stable condition. The suspect was charged with alluding arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer. Downplaying his role, Speziale said he was just supporting his officers and acting on gut instinct. "When your guys go in the water, you go too," said Speziale, in a telephone interview. Speziale was wearing dress pants, new socks and his police boots at the time. All of them, he said, were ruined by the slimy water. He arrived at the event for his speech late, and a little bit wet.
In 2008, a Passaic County sheriff’s officer Raymond Tanis claimed he was discriminated against because of a disability when he was transferred to what he considered a less desirable position from the more favorable Patrol Division back to the Passaic County Jail to oversee inmates. Tanis was injured at his home while responding to a pre-planned department terrorism drill. Tanis was out sick for more than three years when the county was forced to make transfers as part of a budget crisis. Raymond Tanis sued Speziale for damages to compensate him for emotional distress and sought reinstatement to his previous position. There were no lost wages involved in the move and none were sought as part of the litigation. Over one hundred sheriff's employees were affected by the 2008 county budget crisis and some employees were transferred or bumped to other positions. Speziale was among those to take the witness stand during the trial. Speziale denied he had any animosity toward Tanis and insisted the move was strictly professional and because of the budget crisis. On April 5, 2012, Tanis lost his discrimination suit and the jury denied Tanis any compensation.
In 2009, Speziale collaborated on a new security plan with William Paterson University to enhance campus security by integrating modern law enforcement technology. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-08) secured a $300,000 designation in a spending bill recently signed into law by President Barack Obama to advance a newly coordinated campus safety initiative. The security initiative included the purchase of surveillance cameras, radio interoperability, video surveillance and enhanced exterior lighting in parking areas around the exterior of public and student residence halls creating remote observation posts for law enforcement and other safety personnel. The security plan integrated communication and incident command systems between University Police and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department.
Speziale was committed to modernizing the Passaic County Sheriff's Department with advanced technology. In January of 2010, Speziale was the first law enforcement agency in the State of New Jersey to introduce cutting edge technology with automatic license plate readers. Speziale purchased two fully equipped police patrol cars and new technology, known as PIPS (Pearpoint Image Processing Systems), for $86,000. The cars were bought with proceeds from drug seizures by his department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The cars equipped with the new technology could scan 500 license plates a minute through infared cameras that scan both sides of the road, day or night and alert the officer to a suspect or wanted vehicle. The system allowed for an officer to manually enter license plates into a computer and an alarm would sound if the system encountered the vehicle.
Speziale introduced Passaic County to "intelligence-led policing" and a program he created called "text for tips" that allowed any cellphone within the county's confines to be linked to a network where residents could anonymously send a crime tip via a text message. The program showed immediate results with more than 50 arrests for such crimes as burglaries, animal cruelty, drug possession and sale, assault, murder and prostitution. Three month’s after the program was introduced an anonymous "Text-A-Tip" service led to the arrest of a man wanted for murder. The program was successful and detectives closed 60 percent of the intelligence information forwarded through the Text-A-Tip program. Speziale focused Text-A-Tip on school bullying and travelled to the county’s numerous middle and high schools to introduce it to students. The Text-A-Tip campaign was effective against school bullying.
On February 11, 2010, two men were charged with assaulting a police officer after they allegedly rammed into Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale’s SUV during a car chase. Henry Higinio, 36, and Luis Acevedo, 35, both of Paterson, New Jersey, where arraigned on charges, including aggravated assault on a police officer, assault, theft, resisting arrest and eluding police. Speziale was returning from a "swearing-in" ceremony for Jeff Levine, a Passaic Valley Water commissioner, at the Meadowlands that evening, when Speziale heard a radio broadcast about two robbery suspects at the Olive Garden on Route 3. Higinio and Acevedo broke into a car in the parking lot of the restaurant and stole an iPod and laptop computer. Speziale, a front seat passenger in the unmarked Dodge Durango driven by a staff member, spotted the men after their vehicle pulled up at a Valero gas station on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. Speziale attempted to make an arrest “in full uniform,” but the men sped away and onto Route 46 east in Little Ferry.
During the pursuit, just before an intersection, Higinio U-turned into Speziale’s SUV, ramming the passenger side. Little Ferry police arrived at the scene shortly following the impact. Detective Ronald Callahan and patrolman Frank Sciacca chased the two suspects with Speziale across the highway after they fled from the vehicle. Speziale and Callahan arrested Acevedo in the parking lot of Monobaik Inc. and Sciacca arrested Higinio in another parking lot nearby. The sheriff, who police said was wearing a seatbelt, suffered some injuries and was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson where he was treated and later released. Speziale returned to work the following day but was assigned light duties.
Speziale stood behind eight newly appointed officers that were in jeopardy of loosing their positions because of a vague civil service statute. Speziale interpreted the statute to be incorrect and sided with the officers by appealing the decision and challenging the state Civil Service Commission over how many sheriffs’ investigators he was allowed to hire. Speziale was victorious in his challenge and the officers retained their positions. New Jersey Civil Service rules limit the number of investigators a sheriff can hire "at will" to no more than 15 percent of the number of sheriff's officers in the department. An "at-will" investigator can be hired without taking the civil service exam and through a resume interview process. Normally, these officers already hold an active police certification. Originally, the Civil Service Commission ruled that Speziale had overstepped the 15 percent limit when he hired eight investigators in the summer of 2009. The commission ordered Speziale to terminate the eight investigators, but Speziale challenged the ruling. The question put to civil service was whether supervisors — sergeants, lieutenants, captains and chiefs — should count in the overall contingent of sheriff's officers. Speziale argued that supervisors should count, and appealed the decision. While the appeal was pending, Speziale was appointed deputy superintendent of the NY NJ Port Authority Police Department. Months later, the Civil Service Commission reversed itself and said that Speziale was correct in his assessment all along. Robert B. Czech, the head of the Civil Service Commission, wrote in a March 16 decision that a "common sense" reading of the statute suggested that supervisors should be counted along with rank-and-file officers in determining the 15 percent limit on at-will hires. Speziale applauded the decision and praised the ruling of the commission.
In 2012, with a spike in violent crime, drugs and gang activity, Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi selected Speziale to lead the City of Hazleton's Police Department out of 84 applicants. Speziale withdrew from consideration and did not accept the position.
In 2010, Speziale was appointed to the role of Deputy Police Superintendent of the NY - NJ Port Authority Police Department. The NY - NJ Port Authority Police Department is a law enforcement agency in New York and New Jersey which is mandated to protect the public, travelers and tenants within facilities owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
In 2003, Jerry Speziale authored a book with Mark Seal titled Without A Badge: Undercover in the World's Deadliest Criminal Organization. The book detailed the activities and methods of how he and an undercover informant, Paul Lir Alexander brought down some of the biggest drug lords, including Alexander himself. Alexander was enraged that his dirty laundry was now being published. Paul Alexander actually sued Speziale under the pretense that the book violated his privacy.
In the end the courts ruled that Speziale’s book did not violate Alexander’s privacy, and the case was dismissed.
In 2010, Speziale acted alongside Richard Gere and Don Cheadle in a big-budget cop drama, "Brooklyn's Finest," directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Shooter") and starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, chronicling the struggles of officers patrolling a dangerous section of Brooklyn, similar to the area Speziale worked in his early days as an NYPD officer in east New York. Speziale received credits in the film for acting as Captain Sidney Geraci, Gere's Captain and also received film credits as the film's "Police Cosultant." David Permut of Permut Presentations and Christie Hsiao's of Serenity Entertainment have picked up the rights to "Without a Badge."
Speziale presently serves as a board member on the Saint Joseph’s Medical Center Foundation, fifteen year member of the International Association Chiefs of Police, ten year member of the Passaic County Police Chief's Association, ten year member of the National Sheriff's Association, New Jersey Sheriff's Association, New Jersey PBA Silver Lifetime member and longstanding member of the NYPD Patrolman's Benevolent Association, NYPD Detective's Endowment Association, FBI LEEDA, Italian American Police Society of New Jersey and New Jersey Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association.