Michael Manzo, a former Jersey City arson investigator, City Council candidate, aide to Public Safety Director James Shea, and “Operation Bid Rig” figure, has pled guilty to assaulting a man on Sip Avenue in 2020.
According to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, Manzo and his son-in-law Kevin Fernandez, who participated in the assault, pled guilty in Friday to third degree Aggravated Assault.
As part of the plea agreement, both men will be permitted to enter pretrial intervention at their sentencing in December, thus avoiding a jail sentence.
Both were indicted last year in connection with a September 22, 2020 assault that put a man in the hospital with a broken jaw and broken teeth.
Videos taken from local security cameras showed Manzo and Fernandez confronting Saleh Iftikhar in the area of Sip and Bryant Avenues and accusing him of having stolen several items and $300 in cash from Fernandez’s unlocked Jeep.
A short time later, a witness called 911 and reported the assault. “It seems like somebody’s getting beat up on the corner. They were accused of stealing something but two people are beating up this person really bad.”
Body cam footage showed the police arriving and finding Iftikhar sitting on the sidewalk and Manzo and Fernandez standing nearby. Iftikhar was placed against a wall and searched. An officer said, “He’s got drugs and shit.” Iftikhar was cuffed and put into the back seat of a police car.
Iftikhar cried, “They beat me…they broke my teeth.” A police officer responded, “Nah.” Iftikhar says, “No, I swear.” The officer said, “No, I doubt it.”
Standing on the sidewalk nearby, Manzo told the police that he confronted Iftikhar about the theft from Fernandez’s car. “He starts pushing and shoving me…we had a little spat back and forth…he starts the same thing with the pushing and shoving…we got on it a little bit, me and him. Then he tried to run…we tackle him over here.”
Separately, Fernandez told the police officer, “He took off running, I chased him down to here, and I tripped him.”
The story was first reported in December 2020 by the website Real Garden State which compiled the 911 call and body cam footage.
Later, in interviews with a detective, Manzo and Fernandez again gave differing accounts of what happened after they approached Iftikhar. Fernandez repeated that he had tripped him. Manzo said that Iftikhar had pushed him, forcing him to “defend himself” leading to Manzo’s “possibly” punching Iftikhar in the neck or arm.
Iftikhar was arrested and charged with possessing a vial of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
While on route to central booking, the police reported that Iftikhar complained of pain in his mouth. The police noted that both cheeks were swollen and his mouth was bleeding. Iftikhar was taken to Jersey City Medical Center. The diagnosis: a broken jaw on both sides. Iftikhar underwent surgery after which his mouth was wired shut.
A detective who interviewed Iftikhar at the hospital reported that Iftikhar blamed two males he described as “father and son” for his injuries. “They beat me too much” Iftikhar told the detective.
On the morning of the incident, Manzo was reportedly working, in uniform and driving a city vehicle.
This was not Manzo’s first legal scrape. In 2009, Manzo was one of 44 public figures arrested in the infamous Operation Bid Rig case, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion. He admitted that he had accepted $5,000 from Solomon Dwek, a federal informant posing as a developer, in exchange for the promise of future help with a development on Garfield Avenue. At the time, Manzo was a candidate for Jersey City Council, a race he ultimately lost. Charges against Manzo were dropped when a court determined that the charges applied only to elected officials.
The incident involving Iftikhar was ignored by the local press. Months later, the real estate site Jersey Digs referred to it in an article about a Heights developer who brought a lawsuit claiming that Manzo had abused his position and shut down his project illegally in order “to teach [him] a lesson.”
Manzo continued to work as an aide to Public Safety Director Shea for over a year following the incident.
Manzo and Fernandez were facing from 5 to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
According to the New Jersey Courts website “The Pretrial Intervention Program…seeks to render early rehabilitative services when such services can reasonably be expected to deter future criminal behavior.”
The Jersey City Times previously sought a comment from the administration on the case. There was no response.