Following is a letter to the editor written by James Guiffre, who has a federal civil rights case pending against Somerset County (NJ) Prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr. the County of Somerset, and five of Bissell's detectives. Giuffre's letter has been edited to conserve space.
Giuffre was arrested on May 10, 1990 for cocaine distribution, 17 grams being seized from his residence at the time of the arrest. According to his lawsuit, Giuffre was questioned the next day about his assets--without being allowed to speak with an attorney.
According to Giuffre, Somerset County Chief of Detectives Richard Thornberg presented him with deeds to two building lots Giuffre owned in Hunterdon County. Thornberg told Giuffre that if he signed the lots over to the county and did a short stint as an "informant," that the criminal charges against him would be dismissed. He was also told that if he refused to accept this deal, the lots, his Warren, NJ residence and all his bank accounts would be forfeited, and he would be imprisoned for 10 years on second-degree drug charges. In his suit, Giuffre stated that he took Thornberg's deal under duress.
Giuffre had purchased the building lots in April 1988 for $174,000. The county sold them at a December 1990 auction for $20,000 to the sole bidder at the sale--the girlfriend of a personal acquaintence of Thornberg. The county did not require minimum bids or sealed bids, no appraisal of the property was ordered by the county, and advertisements for the auction ran in a local paper on two Saturdays. Bissell witnessed the auction and approved the sale.
Since the statute of limitations expired on May 10, 1995, Bissell can
no longer reinstate the drug charges against Giuffre. Giuffre wrote the
following letter to the editors of several area newspapers in an attempt
to set the record straight. To date, none of the papers have printed his
Over three years have passed since I filed a federal lawsuit against
Nicholas Bissell Jr., the County of Somerset and five detectives. Although
my scrapbook contains over seventy five stories regarding the suit, very
few words or comments come directly from me.
Mr. Bissell has been quoted in the press calling me among other things, a "dirtbag", a "thief" and a "liar". Hopefully your readers will understand that these comments come from an individual who is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth.
I believe that the biggest lie ever told is that "sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you". I know first hand that words do hurt you. Words cripple, they ruin career opportunities, cause family strife and much worse.
Many stories written about me start with the lead "admitted drug dealer, James Giuffre." The picture that runs through the mind of the reader is one of this hideous creature luring school children into a life of sin and despair. I am not that person.
Unlike the defendants this case, I have been truthful since day one. I never denied the fact that on a number of special occasions I did share drugs with a close circle of four or five friends, all of them over thirty years of age. While I am not trying to minimize the severity of my actions, I would be willing to bet that many of your readers who were teenagers during the "Woodstock Generation" years are as guilty of drug distribution as I am. Drug distribution as the law defines it.
Another particularly disturbing area is the fact that I am also referred to as, "drug informant". Again, the words present a picture in my mind of an arrested drug dealer ratting on all of his friends to save his own skin. Not so with me. While I did agree under duress to cooperate, I had no idea at the time that my cooperation would be limited to my use as a "pawn" to commit illegal acts at the direction of the prosecutors office so that they could make an arrest.
In one instance I had to allow county detectives to use my Warren home as a drug distribution point. My home had been "stocked" with twenty pounds or marijuana as "bait." An hispanic detective was assigned to me and our mission was to visit out of county go-go bars in an attempt to lure someone to my home to buy the drugs. We offered the drugs at a fraction of their street value to "sweeten" the deal. When this ploy failed, we drove around to the homes of suspected drug users and I left notes on their car windshields asking them to call me. We finally got a couple of "takers" and they were arrested right in front of my home after we had sold them the drugs. A dozen detectives with guns drawn forced them out or their late model Lincoln Continental and the car was seized. Almost immediately several detectives began to argue about who was going to have use of the Lincoln. After this individual was threatened, in front of me, he signed a consent order allowing the police to search his home. Thousands of dollars were also retrieved from his bank safe deposit box.
Another case involved my being forced to break into the barn of a suspected drug distributor in Basking Ridge. Police were unable to get a search warrant because they had no probable cause. I was reluctant to do this and was told that if I did not do exactly as I was told I would be put in jail.
While I did not know this individual I had for many years bow hunted on this property. I waited in the woods in camouflage until no one was home and then gained access to the barn. I found a small amount of white powder on his workbench which I retrieved. Based on my illegal activity a wire tap was obtained on this individual's phone. I would love to see the sworn affidavit Mr. Bissell presented to the judge to obtain the wire tap order.
While I did agree to do this work I knew what I was during was wrong. I also came to learn that my arrest had been handled in a similar fashion. I began to keep an accurate diary of what was going on, dates, times, places and who was involved. I also began to tape record my phone conversations with the detectives and with Mr. Bissell. The notes and tapes were given to a friend who lived out of the area with the instructions to turn this information over to the office of the Attorney General if anything happened to me. On more than one occasion I was told, "We'll put a bullet in your brain."
The final case that I was involved with required me to make contact
with an individual, who lived in Hunterdon County who was disliked by one
of the county detectives. My mission was to offer this man a large sum
of money to drive to New York to purchase drugs for me. I was driven to
an area where he often went fishing to make contact. The individual had
no car or driver license. I reported this information back to the detectives.
I was ordered to give him my truck and my license along with a pocketful
of county money so that they could nail him. Since this man lived out of
county I had to give him the money at the Warren Racquets Club so that
police could argue that the "conspiracy" originated in Somerset County.
Detectives followed him to New York and as soon as he arrived back in New
Jersey he was arrested. The next day one of the detectives bragged to me
that he had been the first one to make this grown man cry in jail the night
before. They seemed to enjoy the suffering they caused.
This sickened me to the point that at the risk of jail I had to reach out for this man's attorney to tell him what had transpired. It made no difference, he went to jail anyway.
This was the total extent of my being an "informant". These people were not my friends and two of the individuals targeted I had never seen before.
In October of 1991 my charges were dismissed. Two months later, after
much thought and prayer, I presented my tapes and notes to the office of
the Attorney General. Even at the risk of going to jail, I simply could
not continue to read about new arrests and go on with my life when I had
the power to stop the abuse. Or at least I thought I did.
The office of the state Attorney General gave me a letter of immunity for any illegal acts that I might have committed at the direction of the prosecutor's office. I was also given a written assurance that the Attorney General's office would intervene if Mr. Bissell attempted to try and reinstate my charges because of my cooperation,
I must have gone over my notes and my recollection of the events that occurred over the previous eighteen months a dozen times with investigators. I was confident that they would give my allegations the attention that they deserved.
Much to my dismay, after only a brief period of time, a press release was made by the attorney general's office claiming that my allegations were "baseless." In response, my attorney wrote a rather strong letter to the Deputy Attorney General handling the matter and accused them of failure to investigate the allegations. The only response this letter brought was a word of caution from the Deputy Attorney General advising him not to try and embarrass the office. They also insisted that we keep them advised of any new evidence we might uncover.
I found it quite disturbing that at the time this "investigation" was being conducted, Attorney General Robert Del Tufo was the guest speaker at a dinner hosted by the North Plainfield Italian American Club where Nick Bissell was named Man of the Year. I was even more upset a year later when we learned through questions in depositions that most or the individuals involved in my complaint were never even contacted by the Attorney General's office. It was quite obvious that the Attorney General did not want to look too hard because they were afraid that they might find something and be forced to take action. No one wanted to disturb the multi-million dollar Somerset County forfeiture "cash cow."
On top of all of this, the Attorney General's office agreed to reopen their investigation six months later when they learned that the Justice Department was considering taking over the investigation. Six more months passed and I don't believe they did anything before closing the case once and for all.
At this point in time, and for reasons unknown to me the United States Attorney's Office began their own investigation. Fourteen months later the investigation is still going on. As a result of their thorough and lengthy investigation, this office has become the subject or what I believe is much unfair criticism in stories and editorials in the press.
Will there be indictments? I don't know. What have they uncovered, if anything, I don't know. What I do know is that since the feds became involved my case has gotten much better. Richard Thornburg, the former chief of Somerset County Detectives, is now a cooperating witness. Suddenly this man who called me a liar in sworn testimony and who threatened to come after me when this was all over has taken a one hundred and eighty degree turn.
The former attorney representing all of the defendants has been conflicted out of the case and it has been rumored that some of the defendants are now claiming that they were "coached" into lying in sworn depositions. All of the defendants and numerous other county officials involved in my arrest and the forfeiture and sale of my land were forced to scamper to find their own attorneys. Every single detective and assistant prosecutor involved in my case has since left the prosecutor's office for one reason or another. If they did nothing wrong, and I am such a liar, why all of the fuss?
While I make no allegations of wrongdoing on [NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman's] part, I find it quite curious that most of the Somerset County officials subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney are close friends and supporters of the governor. When I began to read in the paper about who had been subpoenaed I recalled seeing most of these people on a list printed in the Courier News shortly after the election which detailed who has contributed, and how much they had contributed to Mrs. Whitman's election campaign. Most are at the top of the list.
I also question the ability of the governor to make the tough decision,
to do the right thing. I refer to her failure to appoint or reappoint a
Somerset County Prosecutor. When questioned she has avoided this issue
for two years. Don't the residents of Somerset County deserve a prosecutor
who has the full support of the governor? Is she waiting to see if the
feds drop a bomb on the county? I Hope not, because if she does, she will
be covered in powder burns.
I often wonder if her failure to act on this decision stems from the fact that Mr. Bissell was a staunch supporter of her election campaign, or if it might be due to the fact that Mr. Bissell continued to support her when she was found to be employing aliens in her home and had failed to pay their income tax?
Certainly her lack of decision making ability with regard to this issue
does not stem from her being uninformed. The New Jersey Law Journal reported
in November of 1994, that the state bar association committee that advises
the governor on prosecutorial appointments gave Mr. Bissell a "thumbs down."
I also know for a fact that several special interest groups hand-delivered
a package of documentation to Mrs. Whitman's election headquarters two
days after her election. Similar information was delivered to Senator Jack
Ewing. Eyebrows were raised, but no comment or action was taken.
I would be remiss if I did not also comment on another defendant in this suit. The County of Somerset. More exactly, the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Many people refer to O. J. Simpson's lawyers as the "dream team." Let me assure you that Mr. Simpson does not have the dream team when compared to the defendants in this case. Seven top notch criminal lawyers being paid for by the county taxpayers. A bank account filled with an infinite supply of taxpayer dollars and a guarantee that they will be paid. When one attorney files a motion, they all appear and they all get paid. I would think that the taxpayers might like to see the bill for legal services when the 'magnificent seven' get through with them.
No doubt that the freeholders have been assured that no jury in their
right mind will give this "dirtbag drug dealer" a dime. Just as they were
assured that my complaint would not survive the motions and appeal. After
all, this is a case that Mr. Bissell referred to as complete and utter
fabrication.' I believe that this statement was made just before he assured
the media that neither he nor anyone in his office was the subject of a
For me the end of this five year odyssey is in sight. The case is scheduled to be tried in July. We shall see if a Trenton, New Jersey jury is as quick to discount the actions of these "law enforcement officials" as the freeholders and their legal team seem to be.