Building Super Uncovers NYPD Spying In New Brunswick
He saw something. He said something. And he inadvertently uncovered a secret spying operation that the New York Police Department was running outside its jurisdiction.
In June 2009, a building superintendent at an apartment complex near the Rutgers University campus opened the door to unit 1076 to conduct an inspection. Tenants had been notified of the inspection weeks ago and the notice was still stuck to the door.
He turned his key, walked in and immediately knew something was wrong. A colleague called 911.
“What’s suspicious?” a New Brunswick police dispatcher asked.
“Suspicious in the sense that the apartment has about – has no furniture except two beds, has no clothing, has New York City Police Department radios,” he replied.
“Really?” the dispatcher asked, her voice rising with surprise.
The caller, Salil Sheth, and his colleagues had stumbled upon one of the NYPD’s biggest secrets: a safe house, a place where undercover officers working well outside the department’s jurisdiction could lie low and coordinate surveillance.
“There’s computer hardware, software, you know, just laying around,” Sheth continued. “There’s pictures of terrorists. There’s pictures of our neighboring building that they have.”
“In New Brunswick?” the dispatcher asked, sounding as confused as the caller.
New York authorities have encouraged people like Sheth to call 911. In its “Eight Signs of Terrorism,” people are encouraged to call the police if they see evidence of surveillance, information gathering, suspicious activities or anything that looks out of place. The Homeland Security Department has long encouraged citizens to be vigilant under its “See Something, Say Something” campaign.
The call from the building superintendent sent New Brunswick police and the FBI rushing to the apartment complex. Officers and agents were surprised at what they found. None had been told that the NYPD was in town.
At the NYPD, the bungled operation was an embarrassment. It made the department look amateurish and forced it to ask the FBI to return the department’s materials.