Three men got prison terms yesterday for their roles in trafficking a gun from Florida that a fleeing fugitive used to shoot at Hackensack police. And all could be free in months.
New Jersey “doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the country for no reason,” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer said at the sentencings. “These cases serve as a cautionary tale that anybody with guns anywhere anyway is going to be prosecuted.”
Grootenboer singled out Jerry Nunez, 24, of Cliffside Park, who was featured on the NBC prison docudrama “Lockup,” recorded at the Bergen County Jail.
“He said it best when he said ‘I didn’t pull the trigger, but I sold the gun that was used to shoot at cops’,” the prosecutor told Superior Court Judge James J.Guida. “And he also said if it wasn’t for him, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Nunez was sentenced to five years in prison — three without parole — for buying the .45-caliber AMT semi-automatic handgun from Florida arms dealer Jorge Rodriguez for $500 and having it shipped to him in New Jersey.
He’s already spent nearly two years in jail since being arrested three days after a July 22, 2013 firefight between Robert Leonardis and Hackensack police, which makes him eligible for parole in several months.
Had he gone to trial and been convicted, Nunez could have faced up to 30 years in prison on a trio of gun possession and trafficking counts, along with four lesser marijuana and crystal meth possession charges.
The same goes for Rodriguez, 24, of Pembroke Pines, FL, who got a similar sentence for illegally trafficking a gun into New Jersey.
Grootenboer said Rodriguez used his grandfather’s UPS store to make the shipment, as well as for delivering marijuana.
“This is squandered opportunity,” she said. “So many young people can’t get jobs, and he had one handed to him and used it to commit crimes.”
Nunez admitted selling the gun to Sean Stark, who eventually gave it to Leonardis, a self-proclaimed Bloods gang member.
Guida sentenced Stark, 25, to five years — with no parole for three — for a gun possession plea. Stark also got five years to be served at the same time for violating parole from a previous conviction.
“You walk with the angels,” the judge told him. “If you were arrested three months later, you would have had to serve 85% of the sentence.”
Stark’s girlfriend, 24-year-old Cristiana Cyriax of Upper Saddle River, was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to a single charge of drug possession. Cyriax, who’s been arrested on drug charges several times since, was arrested on the drug charges while police were arresting Stark.
The attorneys for all three men asked Guida to judge their clients’ actions separately from Leonardis, insisting they “contemplated no harm,” a legal term that basically means someone didn’t realize the impact of their actions.
Guida — while saying that Leonardis’s actions didn’t affect his judgment — rejected the idea that they hadn’t considered the harm of trafficking a deadly weapon.
Leonardis was wanted for the attempted murder of his girlfriend’s husband — who broke into his home carrying a tire iron in a fight over the woman — when he led Hackensack officers on a chase that ended in a violent confrontation.
He is charged with the attempted murders of Sgt. James Dalton and Officers Joseph Ayoubi and Brett McCarthy, in addition to attempted reckless bodily injury against all three.
Ayoubi was “lucky to be alive” after a bullet fired by Leonardis shattered the windshield of his squad car and whizzed by his head, city Police Director Michael Mordaga told CLIFFVIEW PILOT after the shooting.
Dalton was first on the scene with another officer after a call came in of a man with a gun in the housing projects on Newman Street and Railroad Avenue.
Seeing the officers, Leonardis ran, Mordaga said.
“Shots were fired as Leonardis continued on foot west on Russell Place and then south on First Street,” Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time.
He was turning the corner of Newman Street, heading up Russell Place, when Ayoubi roared up in his squad car.
Leonardis “immediately opened fire on the officer’s vehicle,” Mordaga told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “One bullet hit the hood and the other went through the front windshield, missing the officer by inches.”
Ayoubi, a nine-year department veteran, “thought he was shot after glass from the windshield hit his face,” he said. “He saw the muzzle flash and then felt numbness in his face.”
Ayoubi hit the brakes and his car was struck from behind by another police vehicle driven by McCarthy.
Leonardis was wounded by gunfire and fell at the corner of First and Sussex streets, Molinelli said. A .45-caliber handgun that police said he used was found nearby, the prosecutor said.
Leonardis, who already had an extensive criminal history, underwent emergency surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center and was transferred to the Bergen County Jail four days later.
He remained held there today on $1.5 million bail.
Ayoubi was OK, but McCarthy fell during the chase and scraped skin off one of his forearms. “His leg and other forearm were scraped, as well,” Mordaga said.
All of the officers were released from the hospital after being seen by doctors, he said.
“Having Sgt. Dalton there meant a great deal,” Mordaga told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “He’s a top-notch supervisor. The fact that all four of them have out there aggressively doing police work together played a big role in how they handled it.
“They did an excellent job. They did everything they were supposed to do,” Mordaga said. “I’m just glad that they’re OK.”
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