EXCLUSIVE: A man who prosecutors called the ringleader in an abortive attempt to rob an undercover police officer during a sting in a Ridgefield Park hotel parking lot testified that his co-defendant “threatened to kill me” if he didn’t cover for him.
Jose Rodriguez of Union City testified in a Hackensack courtroom yesterday against 37-year-old Yohan Balcacer as part of a plea deal he made with prosecutors following his arrest in the October 2011 attempted robbery.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor James Santulli showed Rodriguez a letter that he wrote in both English and Spanish to investigators claiming that Balcacer had nothing to do with the crime.
“Did you write this letter?” Santulli asked.
“No. I didn’t go to school,” Rodriguez replied through a court interpreter.
“And you don’t speak English,” the prosecutor said.
Santulli read the two-sentence letter: “Yohan Balcacer had nothing to do with the crime. It was Frederico Alvarez.”
“Did you sign this letter?” Santulli asked.
“Yes, but it’s not true,” Rodriguez answered.
“Why did you sign it?” Santulli asked.
“They told me if I don’t sign the letter, they will kill me,” Rodriguez said.
Authorities said Alvarez helped plan the crime but didn’t show up the day of the robbery. Another defendant, Ronald Green, was convicted of 14 of 16 counts and awaits sentencing, while a fifth, Brandon Seegar, remained a fugitive.
Rodriguez told jurors that he only knew Balcacer by the name “Cojo” and didn’t learn his identity until after the four men were arrested.
He described a plan to give a sample of real heroin to the buyer — who they didn’t know was an undercover narcotics officer — in order to convince him to bring $100,000 to the meeting place. There, they told him, they would deliver two kilos of the drug.
Balcacer provided the sample, Rodriguez said.
There wasn’t going to be any more, he said.
Instead, they bought ordinary flour and wrapped it to look like drugs.
As soon as the buyer flashed the money, they would rob him, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez was talking with the officer when Green got out of the lead car and put a gun to the officer’s head. Backup units quickly moved in and arrested Rodriguez, Green, and Seegar, who was sitting in the back seat of Green’s Chevy Malibu.
Balcacer, who prosecutors said was in a separate car as backup, suddenly hit the gas. His Toyota Camry barreled toward the officers and his co-defendants, then hit several cars as he fled onto heavily trafficked Route 46 East, they said.
Ridgefield Park and Leonia police chased Balcacer across the Hudson River into New York City, where he vanished, authorities said. They arrested him the next morning in Queens.
Balcacer’s car came so close to one of the detectives that the officer tried using the butt of his gun to break the windshield, Santulli told jurors during opening arguments yesterday.
“The car was right in front of him, two or three feet away, and he could see the driver, and took a mental picture,” Santulli said. “That turned out to be Yohan Balcacer.”
Defense attorney Genesis Perduto called Balcacer “a hard-working married man with five children. He has lived in this country most of his life. He has no need to rob to provide a living.”
If he committed the crime, as prosecutors contend, Perduto said, his fingerprints and DNA would be on the guns and the drugs.
She asked jurors to “use your common sense and wait until all the evidence has been presented to make up your mind.”
Perduto is scheduled to cross-examine Rodriguez on Tuesday morning.
The trial resumed earlier today in Hackensack.
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