October 10, 2018

Did prosecutor hide evidence in Pagans' murder case? 3 staffers say he may have

Three long-time staff members in the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office have come forward to accuse their boss, Prosecutor Damon Tyner, of possibly hiding evidence in a high-profile murder case.

The employees -- one current and two former staffers -- claim in an explosive letter (link is external) that Tyner failed to disclose information that potentially could have helped the suspect's defense "so as not to damage the prosecution of the case."

Ferdinand "Freddy" Augello, the Cape May County chapter president of the Pagans, was found guilty last week (link is external) of conspiring to murder well-known radio host April Kauffman in 2012. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 5.

Augello's attorney, Mary Linehan, has already filed a motion for a new trial.

Linehan said she believes the allegations made by the staffers give her a better chance of getting a new trial.
"I am disappointed and discouraged by the allegations made against the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office," she said in a statement to NJ Advance Media. "Their authority is undermined by their failure to deal plainly and squarely with issues in the Augello prosecution and in their house."

The staffers - two assistant prosecutors and a detective lieutenant - said information was given to prosecutors on Nov. 17, 2017 that an officer in the Egg Harbor Township Police Department was leaking information about a confidential informant in the case. Tyner and First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill, the letter says, did not order an internal affairs investigation to confirm the veracity of the claims, which is required by law.

The prosecutor also declined to have internal affairs look into matters of a detective losing evidence and not filing complete reports in the case, and failing to disclose the existence of a prior IA investigation into the lead detective on the case. The letter did not give any specifics about the prior IA investigation.
"Prosecutor Tyner may have committed illegalities to avoid disclosing to the court and/or defense counsel information that had the potential to jeopardize his prosecution of the high profile Kauffman case when he directed that there be no internal affairs investigation regarding possible police misconduct," the letter states.

The letter was written by Diane Ruberton, a former first assistant prosecutor; Heather McManus, a former lieutenant; and Donna Fetzer, a chief assistant prosecutor. They claimed that Tyner didn't have the internal affairs investigations done because he would be required to turn over the results to the defense. That could have jeopardized the case, the letter states, and also Tyner's self-promotion and publicity.

The staffers also pointed to Tyner's participation in an ABC "20/20" episode about the James Kauffman case while the case was pending as "unethical media contact."
"(The) appearance by Tyner to further his other political career-oriented aspirations at the risk of damaging the ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution of criminal defendants in the Kaufman (sic) murder trial," the letter said.

Prior to the "20/20" appearance, Tyner released, through a spokeswoman, a press statement promoting his appearance on the show. The announcement was unusual (link is external), given none of the defendants in the case had gone to trial yet.

Kauffman was charged in January (link is external) with orchestrating the 2012 slaying of his wife April Kauffman, a well-known radio personality in the area. Authorities alleged Kauffman, a prominent doctor in the Atlantic City area, had hired members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club to carry out the hit in order to conceal an elaborate prescription drug-dealing ring his wife was threatening to expose.

The letter also details allegations that Tyner conducted criminal mortgage fraud (link is external), misused government property for personal gain and refused to prosecute friends and political allies for alleged criminal wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for Tyner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Tyner told the news site Breaking AC  (link is external)that the accusations were based on "personnel issues with disgruntled former employees and a current employee."
"The great work of the women and men of the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office will continue unimpaired under my leadership," he said in a statement to the news site.


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