A Belleville man who was a 12-year veteran of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office was convicted of official misconduct last week following a jury trial in Newark. His offense? Stealing $70 in cash from a crime scene.
The defendant, George Ruiz, 46, had also been employed by the Essex County Department of Corrections for five years before joining the sheriff’s force, authorities reported.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said the crime occurred March 3, 2011, after Ruiz, who was a K-9 officer, was dispatched to an Irvington apartment where a drug bust had occurred.
Unbeknownst to Ruiz, members of the prosecutor’s Internal Affairs Unit had already been to the residence and taken an inventory of cash and contraband, said Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Shaughnessy, who tried the case.
According to Shaughnessy: Ruiz was asked to enter the bedroom with the dog and search for any contraband that may have gone unnoticed, and “seconds after he left the room, the money was discovered missing.”
A subsequent search of the officer revealed Ruiz had $70 in cash in his pocket, in the same denominations as previously recorded by IAU – two $20 bills and three $10 bills.
Following a joint investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department, a grand jury indicted Ruiz in December 2011. He was convicted last Thursday, March 14.
Ruiz had been free throughout the trial, but following the verdict he was immediately remanded to jail. He reportedly is being held in protective custody in a county other than Essex.
When he is sentenced May 3, Ruiz faces three to five years in state prison. If he is sentenced to the minimum, he must serve two years before becoming eligible for parole.
Commenting on the case, Murray said, “It is a real tragedy when a sworn law enforcement officer brazenly violates the law during the routine course of his work. It undermines the public trust and simply will not be tolerated.’’
— Karen Zautyk