NEW YORK — In the world of Fred Parisi, he’s a heroic ex-New York City cop who rescued thousands of people at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and now runs a charity to help those who are sick from their time spent at Ground Zero.
He also has said he’s an award-winning K-9 handler and the father of a Little League baseball player who is so good the parents of New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter said they “think he has better hands than Derek.”
In the real world, Parisi was a police recruit – not a cop – on Sept. 11, 2001, and he was in Brooklyn that day, not Lower Manhattan. Police said he has had a decade of trouble with at least four departments, and the K-9 handler award was revoked by the North American Police Work Dog Association after it determined the 40-year-old Jefferson man lied about being a K-9 handler.
In the real world, Derek Jeter’s mom, Dorothy, said the Jeters never gave Parisi permission to use their names in a flier soliciting funds for his son to play in Holland. They don’t recall meeting him and regarding that better-hands remark, she said, “We never said that.”
Fred Parisi’s worlds collided the night of March 29 at the charity’s first major fundraiser, a rock show in Carlstadt, just as the music started. Jaws dropped as a swarm of police showed up and arrested Parisi, charging him with ripping off a business partner.
Since that night, Parisi’s only world has been 3 Delta Cell 20-1 in the Morris County Jail. Police officers from a handful of departments have been involved in the investigation into Parisi’s history and his activities, including his 9/11 efforts – which raised about $20,000. What they say they are finding is a man who appears to have spent the past 18 years spinning stories to boost a lackluster law enforcement career and to take advantage of people, especially the most vulnerable.
“During my career, I’ve arrested a lot of people, but nobody mired in so much controversy and deception,” said Lyndhurst Police Chief Jim O’Connor, who was involved in Parisi’s arrest.
“To do what he’s doing,” he said, “using 9/11, the most tragic event to take place on American soil, claiming to help victims’ families and people who got sick down there, people who are still hurting, he is a ghoul.”
Parisi did not respond to repeated interview requests, but during a bail hearing in Superior Court in Morristown immediately after his arrest, he claimed he is the victim of a smear campaign, was at Ground Zero and is a decorated 15-year law enforcement veteran.
His mother, Jean Street of Passaic County, said police are out to get her son. She said it makes her angry to see him try to prove his claims. During his first appearance in court after his arrest, she refused to watch quietly, saying loudly to prosecutors, “These (charges) are false.” That attracted the attention of sheriff’s officers, who ultimately made her leave the courtroom after she told one officer, “I have rights. This is America.”
“This man was at 9/11 (Ground Zero) and nobody should question that,” she said. “He is a good man with three children, a family man, a wonderful man.”
A DISTURBING PATTERN
Parisi is the son of a cop – the late Elmwood Park police chief of detectives Angelo La Placa – who died when Parisi was young.
At 16, he was sent to live with an older sister and her husband in Clifton and they kept him enrolled at Lyndhurst High, O’Connor said.
Parisi joined the U.S. Air Force in 1986. But he became depressed and frustrated with the strict military way of life, and by 1990 he was discharged, according to Jefferson police Detective Joe Kratzel, who investigated Parisi.
He then landed a job with the Rutherford Police Department in 1991, Captain Joe Merli said. After a dispute in another town over a parking ticket, Parisi allegedly told police his car was the Rutherford police’s K-9 unit vehicle, Merli said. The department didn’t have a K-9 unit. Parisi soon resigned.
Over the next several years, he worked for Iowa state police and the Belvidere police, O’Connor said. In Belvidere, Warren County, he was involved in a fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man. The shooting was determined to be justified, O’Connor said.
Parisi later joined the Passaic police department, but he again wound up in trouble, officials said.
He was fired in April 1997, Passaic Detective Andrew White said, after once again claiming to be a K-9 handler in a town that didn’t have a unit.
“He has bounced around from so many places it’s amazing,” Kratzel said.
To earn a living, Parisi turned to the car-repossession business, naming his operation “United States Auto Task Force,” O’Connor said. With his police patrol-like vehicle and an identification that resembled a federal law enforcement ID, he went to work, often leading people to believe he was a cop seeking the truth when he was really after their automobiles.
Then, in 1998, Parisi crossed paths with Rochelle Park police Capt. Bob Flannelly and told him he was a Jersey City cop. Flannelly charged him with impersonating an officer. Parisi was convicted that year and ordered to pay a $600 fine and court costs.
“He drives a make-believe police car and claims to be a cop. He is a storyteller wherever he goes,” said Flannelly. “He is everything a police officer isn’t supposed to be, falsifying job applications, lying. He is disgraceful.”
TALES OF 9/11
Then came Sept. 11.
Parisi, while promoting his charity, has claimed he ran into the South Tower “to clear lower floors of handicapped civilians. Fortunately, I escaped with my life shortly before the tower collapsed,” Parisi said on the foundation’s recorded hotline message. The number has been disconnected.
But Kratzel said he checked with New York police and was told Parisi was with Company 16 at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
A review of Parisi’s own police logbook entry for Sept. 11 by The Star-Ledger notes he was present for duty at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn at 6:30 a.m. Muster was at 6:37 a.m. He was in a classroom at 7 a.m. and was taking a driving course at 7:30 a.m. There’s an entry at 8:50 a.m. Terrorist attack on NYC. At 1:30 p.m. it notes, “assist transportation of units back to Floyd Bennett.”
A recruit who spent 9/11 with Parisi said Company 16 never left Floyd Bennett.
“He (Parisi) was with us. We were all told to stay there, in the classrooms, (in Brooklyn),” said the recruit, who requested anonymity for fear of getting in trouble with department supervisors for discussing the matter publicly.
Parisi was dismissed from the academy two months later, Kratzel said, noting police discovered his troubled track record.
According to Kratzel, the story doesn’t end here.
Police also are investigating claims Parisi raised $1,500 so his son, then 12, could participate in an overseas baseball program. The boy never went, and the money was never returned, Kratzel said. The flier includes a photo of Jeter’s parents with Parisi’s son, plus a photo of Derek Jeter.
In addition, Parisi faces impersonation charges the U.S. Secret Service filed four years ago, Jefferson police said. Those charges are pending.
He also was charged last June with bilking a Jefferson pet groomer out of $81,000. Those charges are pending.
Police said Parisi’s not fond of Kratzel. On the night he was charged with theft and preventing his business partner from accessing the company’s $235,000 in funds, Parisi threatened to kill him while in Lyndhurst police headquarters, O’Connor said. He was charged with making terroristic threats.
Then, just prior to his arrest, Parisi wrote a letter to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office posing as a priest, urging the prosecutor to look into the Jefferson police department and clear his name. It didn’t take long for the prosecutor to figure out the priest didn’t write the letter. The Rev. Stephen Petrovich of Ohio said Parisi told him he wrote it.
“He’s a crook,” Petrovich said.
Kratzel said he hopes legitimate organizations raising money for 9/11 workers don’t suffer because of Parisi.
“There are real rescueworkers who need help,” Kratzel said. “There are real groups raising money to help them. They shouldn’t get caught up in this.”
Bill Swayze may be reached at [email protected] or (973) 539-7910.