A Bayonne police officer charged with using excessive force during a 2013 arrest and illegally obtaining a $20,000 loan intended for low- to moderate-income residents, pleaded guilty to both in Newark federal court this morning.
Domenico Lillo, 45, of Bayonne, pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights and one count of falsifying records to impede a civil rights investigation, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
Lillo also pleaded guilty to assisting in the filing of a false report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help a relative fraudulently obtain a federally funded home rehabilitation loan, Fishman added.
Lillo’s wife, Rose, is also charged in the loan scheme, and she is in the process of negotiating a plea deal, federal court documents show.
Domenico Lillo was arrested in January on charges of police brutality stemming from an incident in which he struck then 25-year-old Brandon Walsh with a flashlight when executing an arrest warrant on Avenue C.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Walsh was handcuffed at the time, was not resisting arrest and was injured in the incident.
Lillo also admitted that he falsified a Bayonne Police Department Use of Force Report related to the arrest with the intent to impede an investigation into the case.
Lillo, who goes by the name Dominic, was arrested in January for the incident and was immediately suspended without pay. Lillo resigned from the Bayonne Police Department on Sept. 16., Chief Drew Niekrasz said in a statement.
“It is my my hope that today’s guilty plea serves to reinforce the Bayonne Police Department’s policy that the application of inappropriate force is never acceptable, and will result in disciplinary action, up to and including criminal prosecution,” Niekrasz said.
The excessive force charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, while the falsifying records charge carries a prison term of up to 20 years.
In November, Walsh’s family filed a lawsuit against the officer that alleged the officers “storm(ed) into the house,” sprayed chemicals on the man and then threw him to the ground before spraying his mother, Kathy Walsh, in the face when she “attempted to find out what was going on,” according to the lawsuit.
“Today’s guilty plea sends an unmistakably clear message that our federal and state authorities have zero tolerance for police brutality,” Joel Silberman, Walsh’s attorney, said in a statement. “The Walsh family commends the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for their efforts in bringing this matter to justice.”
In May 2012, Lillo, his wife Rose, a city clerk, and a unnamed family member jointly took out a mortgage to buy a home on West 49th Street, across the street from where the couple was living at the time.
Conditions of the mortgage stated the three would live in the new home for at least a year, but a criminal complaint said Rose “caused” the relative to submit a loan application to the city that listed the relative as the sole owner of the new home, the complaint stated.
The relative was eligible to receive a $20,000 loan, because he or she only received $24,000 a year through social security and a pension. Had the Lillos’ income been included, the relative would not be eligible because the combined income would total over the $58,700 income limit for the loan, according to the indictment.
Domenico Lillo is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 6.
When reached by phone, Bayonne Business Administrator Joe DeMarco declined to comment on Lillo’s plea.
Lillo was one of several Bayonne police officers named in a police brutality lawsuit that resulted in a $100,000 settlement for the two men who brought the lawsuit, The Jersey Journal reported in 2011.
For NJ.com by Caitlin Mota