"A one time act of stupidity."
That's how the attorney for former State Police Sgt. 1st Class Nadir Nassry described the trooper's role in escorting a high-speed caravan of 25 to 30 expensive sports cars down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City in March 2012.
The caravan was an outing by various North Jersey driving clubs and included former NFL running back Brandon Jacobs, a friend of Nassry's who requested the escort. According to witnesses, the caravan sped down the parkway at speeds that reached 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, with State Police cars, lights flashing, in front and behind.
The day after The Star-Ledger first reported the caravan and a similar incident in 2010, Nassry and Trooper Joseph Ventrella were suspended. The state attorney general subsequently filed criminal charges against the two. This week, Nassry pleaded guilty to falsifying or tampering with records. Ventrella, who was Nassry's subordinate, will be allowed to enter the Pre-Trial Intervention program. Both are barred from working again in law enforcement under their deal with prosecutors.
"Stupid," however, does not begin to describe this outrageous incident.
First, there's the obvious threat to public safety posed by a caravan of sports cars speeding down the parkway. Somebody could have been killed.
Then there's the fact that Nassry altered his license plate with black electrical tape to avoid being identified during the escort. Witnesses said the license plates on the sports cars and on Ventrella's patrol car also were altered with tape.
Why alter the license plates if this was a legitimate escort - as State Police officials briefly tried to suggest when the incident came to light?
Finally, and most troublesome, is an insular, arrogant State Police culture that obviously led Nassry, a 26-year veteran, to believe he could get away with this.
Indeed, a representative of the sports-car clubs sent State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes a letter thanking the State Police for Nassry's and Ventrella's help - and Fuentes forwarded a commendation memo to Ventrella's boss, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another trooper.
Nassry will be sentenced April 29. The state is recommending probation.
Ventrella is being allowed to enter PTI because Nassry has said the younger trooper was just following his orders.
But again, that points to an organization and a culture where apparently no one thinks it's all that unusual for one trooper to order another to help lead a group of rich guys down the parkway at 100 mph - with their license plates altered.
That's not just stupid - it's scary.