TRENTON The state pension board denied a former Camden police officer's claim for an accidental-disability pension Monday, with one member slamming the county Prosecutor's Office for its role in the tangled episode.
In December 2010, Camden Sgt. Jeffrey Frett, 43, of Blackwood, applied for a pension for officers injured on the job, claiming it on the basis of a 2008 car accident on duty.
About a month before he applied for the pension, however, he reported being shot at, an incident that authorities quickly determined was staged by Frett and his wife.
In May 2011, Frett pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense in connection with the shooting, admitting that he and his wife had concocted the incident. Officers injured in the line of duty receive a pension that pays 66 percent of their salary tax-free for life.
"No way is this deserving of an accidental-disability pension," said John Sierchio, a member for the Board of Pensions, who also said "it took a lot of guts" for Frett to apply.
In reviewing the application, Sierchio questioned why Frett was not charged with a more serious offense, why Frett's wife was not charged, and whether the disgraced officer received special treatment because his defense attorney was a former prosecutor.
"The Camden County Prosecutor's Office should be looked at for covering up an incident. That's what they did here," Sierchio said.
"He pleaded to less than a speeding ticket," Sierchio said, noting that Frett's wife was not charged. "This is insane."
Prosecutor Warren Faulk said Sierchio, in his remarks, was "ignorant of the law." The couple, Faulk said, were the only two people present during the shooting, and prosecutors could not force one to testify against the other.
"This was not a cover-up," Faulk said. "There was a thorough investigation by this office."
After the hearing, Frett said, "I am extremely disappointed." He said he was uncertain what he would do next. He can appeal the decision.
In November 2010, Frett was seen by a plainclothes officer making what appeared to be a vehicle stop on I-676 in Camden. Shortly after the officer passed, Frett called for help on the radio, saying he had been shot.
The plainclothes officer pulled over the driver of a dark-colored van he had seen minutes earlier when he passed Frett.
Authorities said Frett indicated to responding officers that they had stopped the wrong vehicle. The officers were later surprised to learn that the suspect in the van stopped was Frett's wife.
The bullet tore through Frett's pants, but only grazed his leg.
"The gunshot, at best, was a superficial wound," Faulk said. It's unclear what happened to the gun. Authorities ruled out that Frett's service revolver was used, and never recovered another weapon.
Authorities did not publicly disclose the incident at the time. Instead, prosecutors agreed that if Frett pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense, he would not be prosecuted for a more serious crime.
"The burden of proof is 'beyond a reasonable doubt'," Faulk said Monday. "You think we would have pleaded him to a DP [disorderly persons] if we could have pleaded him to a higher charge?"
In May 2011, Frett - a police officer for about 15 years - pleaded guilty to the disorderly persons offense and told the judge, "I'm truly sorry." His defense attorney was Brian Jacobs, a former investigator for the Prosecutor's Office. Jacobs could not be reached on Monday.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Brown, now retired, sentenced Frett to a year of probation. Frett had to surrender his job and cannot hold a public position again.
The pension board has the authority to deny pensions to public employees who abuse their positions.
In the 2008 car accident, Faulk said Frett had been run down while on duty, was seriously injured, and was out of work for quite a while. However, he was able to return to duty, Faulk said.
Frett applied for his pension as a result of the car accident injuries. But he waited until December 2010, about a month after the staged shooting, to apply.
At the pension hearing Monday, Frett's attorney, John Feeley, said Frett needed surgery for his injuries from the car accident. Feeley also suggested that the injuries, and what he called a lack of medical treatment, may have contributed to Frett's mental state leading to the staged shooting.
Feeley said Frett was a highly decorated officer before the car accident.