Gloucester County Prosecutor Charles A. Fiore abruptly resigned Thursday, saying in an email that his “very difficult decision” was made for family reasons and so he could seek “other ventures in the private sector.”
Fiore, 60, sent his late-morning email to his office manager, who forwarded it to the staff. The resignation was effective at noon, the email said.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal quickly appointed Christine A. Hoffman to serve as acting Gloucester County prosecutor, replacing Fiore. Hoffman has spent 22 years as a prosecutor, most recently as a deputy director of the Division of Criminal Justice.
Grewal called her “a career prosecutor and no-nonsense manager with a deep commitment to public service.”
Fiore, a Williamstown lawyer, was nominated by then-Gov. Chris Christie in November 2017 to be Gloucester County prosecutor, surprising then-Prosecutor Sean Dalton, who had served for 15 years.
It was not immediately clear whether Thursday’s resignation was connected to various discrimination complaints against Fiore and other higher-ups by employees in the Prosecutor’s Office, including an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2017 by Detective Eric Shaw contending that the captain of detectives, Robert Pietrzak, had discriminated against him because of his service in the military reserve.
Fiore also has been criticized by some in the black community for his handling of the shooting death of a black woman by a white Deptford police officer at a strip mall in June 2018. A grand jury declined to recommend charges. Several eyewitnesses who contradicted the officer’s account were not presented by the prosecutor to the grand jury. Federal authorities are looking into the case for possible civil rights violations.
Prosecutor’s Office staffers have been deposed recently to testify in Shaw’s suit. Various claims of discrimination have been aired — including allegations of sexual harassment by Fiore — contributing to an alleged hostile work environment, sources and court documents say.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has been investigating employee discrimination complaints and whether a hostile work environment exists in the Gloucester County office, according to court filings in Shaw’s lawsuit and former employees. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment.
Grewal’s statement Thursday did not address reasons for Fiore’s departure, and his office did not respond to questions about it.
Thomas Gilbert, chief of detectives in the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office and its public information officer, declined to comment Thursday. Fiore could not be reached for comment.
Shaw’s lawsuit contends that he was passed over for promotions because Pietrzak is hostile toward people who serve in the military reserve. The Prosecutor’s Office, in court filings, has denied Shaw’s claims. A trial is scheduled for May.
Shaw’s lawsuit follows one filed in 2014 by another detective in the Prosecutor’s Office, Bradd Thompson, which ended in a 2016 settlement. Thompson’s lawsuit alleged that Pietrzak subjected him to “military harassment” because he serves in the Air National Guard.
Thompson’s suit further alleged that Pietrzak made anti-Semitic comments to Thompson — whose wife is Jewish — alleging that Pietrzak called him “Thompson Berg” and a “wanna-be Jew,” and asked him where his yarmulkes were.
In both lawsuits, Pietrzak was accused of having called Shaw and Thompson “double dippers” or “two scoops,” alleging that they were unfairly receiving more income because of their military service.
The Prosecutor’s Office was named as the defendant in both suits. Lawyers for the office have denied that Pietrzak made anti-Semitic comments or subjected either detective to “military harassment."
The lawsuits, filed by detectives who are white, are not the only complaints that have been leveled against superiors in the Prosecutor’s Office in recent years. Pietrzak also has been accused of being racist toward minorities, and Fiore allegedly made disparaging remarks about gay men and lesbians, according to court documents in Shaw’s lawsuit.
Supervisors were made aware of such complaints, according to court documents.
Kevin Costello, a lawyer with a Mount Laurel law firm that filed the lawsuits for Thompson and Shaw, has declined to comment on the suits and said they also would not comment.
Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ragonese, who is presiding over Shaw’s lawsuit proceedings, noted the attorney general’s investigation into the Prosecutor’s Office in a December memorandum and also noted complaints made against Fiore and Pietrzak.
The judge wrote that one lieutenant had testified in Shaw’s case that Fiore had allegedly “made disparaging remarks about gay men and lesbians and inappropriately discussed oral sex with a female worker,” and had warned Fiore that such comments were inappropriate, the memorandum said.
An internal affairs complaint mailed about five months ago to Fiore and Gilbert, a copy of which was recently obtained by The Inquirer, contended Pietrzak “has continued to discriminate against African Americans, Latinos, and homosexuals.”
Pietrzak has worked in the Prosecutor’s Office since 1998, according to his LinkedIn page. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Josephine Mendez Miller, a former detective in the Prosecutor’s Office who lives in Florida, said this week that she had been contacted several months ago by an investigator in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office who asked if she had any complaints about Pietrzak because the office had heard allegations of racism and harassment.
The investigator asked whether a hostile work environment had existed, said Mendez Miller, 47, who resigned from the Prosecutor’s Office about 15 years ago to work for the Plantation, Fla., Police Department. She recalled responding that the environment had been hostile to those who weren’t part of a certain clique. She retired on disability from the Florida agency about five years ago.
Hoffman, who is replacing Fiore, has spent two decades in the Division of Criminal Justice, prosecuting cases in nearly every county, including violent crimes, sex offenses, and white-collar crimes, and has handled numerous appeals, the Attorney General’s Office said. In 2013, she was appointed deputy director of the division.
Before joining the division in 2000, Hoffman was an assistant prosecutor in the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.