Passaic Sheriff’s Office: The Impact of Fraudulent Security Equipment Purchases

CEO Khai Intela
The entrance of the Passaic County Sheriff Department building in Wayne, NJ. The Passaic County Sheriff's Office recently made headlines with their purchase of over $10 million worth of security equipment from a Bergen County...

The entrance of the Passaic County Sheriff Department building in Wayne, NJ. The entrance of the Passaic County Sheriff Department building in Wayne, NJ.

The Passaic County Sheriff's Office recently made headlines with their purchase of over $10 million worth of security equipment from a Bergen County security firm. However, the owner of this firm, Tamer Zakhary, has been charged in an FBI fraud investigation. This case raises concerns about potential violations of national defense law. The United States Attorney's Office accuses Zakhary of misleading New Jersey government officials about the origins of the security devices he sold to various law enforcement agencies in the state.

While the FBI has not publicly disclosed the names of the allegedly victimized law enforcement agencies, public documents reveal that the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office was one of the significant buyers of equipment from Zakhary's company during the time the alleged crimes took place. According to these records, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office issued 17 checks totaling $10.9 million to Packetalk, Zakhary's firm, between March 2020 and June 2023.

What Did the Passaic County Sheriff's Office Purchase?

Among the approved purchases made by the Passaic County Sheriff's Office in 2022 were 255 high-definition outdoor security cameras with modems, surveillance towers, a video fusion room, and unspecified electronic communication equipment. These Packetalk contracts, worth $10 million, were approved by the Passaic County commissioners. The Commissioner's Board, responsible for decision-making, claimed they had relied on the purchasing department's recommendations as part of their administrative duties.

Packetalk Security Equipment Packetalk Security Equipment

During a phone interview, Zakhary attempted to downplay his company's involvement with the Passaic County Sheriff's Office, stating they had only sold camera trailers. However, financial records obtained by Paterson Press contradict his claims, showing that Packetalk conducted substantial business with the office. Zakhary's silence on the matter, even after being contacted for further comment, leaves many questions unanswered.

The Officials' Stance

Bruce James, the director of the Passaic County commissioners in 2022, explains that the board simply approved the purchases requested by the Sheriff's Office and verified by the purchasing department. While they did not meticulously scrutinize each contract, James emphasizes that county staff is responsible for thorough assessments. Keith Furlong, a spokesperson for Passaic County, asserts that the county is considered a victim of the fraud. He reveals that Packetalk was selected for the sheriff's contracts through the Bergen County purchasing cooperative. Furlong maintains that additional precautions were taken by the county's Information Technology department after law enforcement officers alerted them to the ongoing investigation targeting Packetalk.

It is important to note that the county's finance records indicate that around $2.4 million in payments to Packetalk were withheld as a result of the alerts. While the county approved equipment requests amounting to $13.4 million, they only paid Packetalk $10.9 million.

Ties with the Late Sheriff Berdnik

The relationship between Tamer Zakhary and the late Sheriff Richard Berdnik is worth examining. Zakhary claims that he had a "close professional relationship" with Berdnik, but the exact nature of their association remains unclear. The Passaic County Sheriff's Office, in response to inquiries about the Packetalk purchases, directed questions to county administration officials. Unfortunately, Sheriff Berdnik passed away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January 2024. It is unclear how his death may have impacted the ongoing investigation.

Legal Allegations and Funding Sources

The criminal complaint against Zakhary states that his company sold security cameras and other equipment to "eight or nine counties" during the voluntary interview he had with federal agents in December 2022. Additionally, the complaint highlights detailed allegations regarding purchases made from two unnamed entities—a county sheriff's office and a prosecutor's office.

Federal authorities claim that more than $15 million in federal funds were used in the $35 million worth of Packetalk equipment purchases. The complaint also suggests that COVID-19 relief funds may have been used in certain instances. The complaint further alleges that Packetalk purchased equipment from a prohibited Chinese company with a subsidiary in Irvine, California. This Chinese business was covered by the National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits federal grants from being used to procure equipment from specific companies.

As the investigation continues, there remains uncertainty regarding the fate of the security cameras and other equipment obtained from Packetalk. Passaic County officials have yet to determine how they will proceed in addressing this issue.

Joe Malinconico is the editor of Paterson Press. Email: [email protected]