YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Fort Lee man and his accomplice were convicted today of shooting a Wayne police officer during a string of 2010 holdups that stretched from Bergen to Morris and Mercer counties.
Jurors in Newark jury returned guilty verdicts against 48-year-old Nelson Otero and Maxcime Cagan, 47, of Floral Park, N.Y., after a two-and-a-half-week trial.
Otero, who served prison time for weapons possession in the late 90s, and Cagan pointed handguns at terrified clerks and pump jockeys at nine convenience stores and gas stations before making off with cash.
The spree began in March 2010, when the pair held up the All Star Liquor Store on Broadway in Elmwood Park. Two days later, they hit the Wine Cellar in Elizabeth, then two weeks later robbed an Exxon station on Route 1 in Rahway.
Another 10 days passed before both men jacked a 7-Eleven in Edison, federal authorities said. Later that month, they hit a Hess station on Route 3 West in Secaucus, followed two weeks later by a 7-Elevenn holdup on Broadway in Fair Lawn.
Then came the fateful night of May 10, when both men burst into the Tiger Mart at an Exxon Station on Route 23 in Wayne, ordered employees and four customers to the back of the store before grabbing cash and cigarettes.
Officer Brian Worell pulled up and confronted the pair as they emerged from the store. They shot at him twice, with one round grazing his left ear, and took off. Despite being injured, the 14-year veteran chased them up Packanack Lake Road before they vanished in the dark.
Otero and Cagan struck twice more — but far from Bergen and Passaic, hitting a Krauszer’s in Hightstown on May 14 and a 7-Eleven in Mount Laurel two nights later, federal prosecutors said.
Three weeks had passed when a SWAT team boxed in Otero’s car in Palisades Park, apparently as the pair was headed to another holdup. Investigators also nabbed a West New York man who authorities said helped plan the robberies — and apparently cooperated with prosecutors in making the government’s case.
Cagen was carrying a loaded .9mm semi-automatic handgun, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time, and assorted ammunition, a ballistic vest, and clothing that matched those in the robberies were found in Otero’s car.
In Otero’s home, investigators found a loaded .45-caliber semi automatic handgun, more holdup clothing, drug paraphernalia and cartons of cigarettes believed taken during the robberies, he said.
Various agencies melded into a “multi-jurisdictional task force” to crack the case, Molinelli said. They included his office, the Passaic and Hudson county prosecutor’s offices, the Wayne Police Department, the Bergen and Passaic county SWAT teams, the Bergen and Passaic County sheriff’s departments, and the Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn, Hackensack and Paramus police departments.
The unit then handed over evidence that helped prosecutors in Newark take the case federal — meaning significant prison time as a result of today’s convictions.
Otero and Cagan are looking at up to 25 years each when U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler sentences them on .in prison on July 24.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman credited FBI special agents and the “outstanding collaborative efforts of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, the Wayne Police Department, and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s office,” as well as the work of the New Jersey State Police.
The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacques S. Pierre and Lisa M. Colone of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.