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Good Sam saves woman stopped by phony cop, sheriff vows action

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : A woman in her mid-60s was driving through Mahwah when a car pulled behind, horn honking and lights flashing. Calling himself a sheriff’s officer, the driver questioned her — until a good Samaritan rolled up, chased him off and called police, in a crime the sheriff himself called “reprehensible.”


Bergen County Sheriff’s Gold Star ID Card

The woman told police she heard a man shouting from his car at her to stop duing the Wednesday morning rush on Franklin Turnpike, Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli said.

When she did, he walked up, identified himself as a Bergen County Sheriff’s officer and flashed a card that said “sheriff” on it, the chief said.

“As this was occurring a passerby who observed the incident also stopped and requested to see Zeichner’s identification,” Batelli said. “Zeichner refused to provide his identification and told the victim to pull into a nearby parking lot.”

Then he drove off, the chief said.

However, the good Samaritan called a Mahwah 911 emergency dispatcher with the car’s plate number, which was broadcast over police radio.

Within minutes, Patrol Officer Sean Hayes and Detective Kevin Hebert had Steven H. Zeichner, 67, in custody, charged with impersonating a police officer.

Zeichner “initially could not locate his wallet,” Batelli said.

When he finally did, it contained a Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Gold Star ID that said it was issued by Bergen County Sheriff Leo P. McGuire, the chief said. It included Zeichner’s photograph, name, address, date of birth and issue date, Batelli said. However, the chief emphasized, Zeichner did not have an actual badge.

Here’s the kicker: McGuire began issuing the Gold Star Identification Program to PROTECT senior citizens. The goal is to provide first responders with vital medical information in the event of an emergency.

Needless to say, the sheriff was not pleased to learn about the incident.

“I am deeply troubled that any individual would attempt to use a program designed to help Bergen residents in an emergency for their own nefarious purposes,” the sheriff said. “The alleged actions of Steven Zeichner are reprehensible and erode the essential trust that citizens place in the officers sworn to protect them.

“It is essential that any individual who misrepresents them self as a member of the law enforcement community be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.”

But McGuire didn’t stop there.

“I will be examining what other charges my office, as the issuing agency of the card Mr. Zeichner allegedly misappropriated, might be able to bring against him,” he said. “Sadly, if there is one thing that my 25 years in law enforcement has taught me, it’s that if something is a positive force for good in the community, it is inevitable that someone will eventually attempt to use it for their own personal gain.”

While unveiling the Gold Star program in April, the sheriff said: “When it comes to saving lives, every second counts.  Through our Gold Star I.D. Program, we are protecting our seniors and residents with special needs, and giving their loved ones peace of mind.”

Participating seniors, aged 65 and over, are issued a photo identification card, which corresponds to a file maintained by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office’s 24-Hour Operations Unit. The file lists family and emergency contacts, physician’s contact information, and current and prior medical conditions.

The good Samaritan and the victim both swore out statements about the incident and Zeichner was released pending a June 15 municipal court date.

McGuire joined police in urging citizens to be cautious:

1. If the person is in an unmarked vehicle, your have the right to request a marked unit and uniformed patrol officer to respond to the scene;

2. You can immediately dial 911.

3. You can drive, at the posted limit, to a nearby police department.

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