The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office purchased more than $10 million worth of equipment from a Bergen County security firm whose owner has been charged in an FBI fraud investigation into possible violations of national defense law.
The United States Attorney’s Office on Jan. 4 announced its case against Tamer Zakhary, owner of Lyndhurst-based Packetalk, accusing him of selling more than $35 million in cameras and other security equipment to multiple law enforcement agencies in New Jersey between 2019 and 2022.
Federal authorities claimed Zakhary obtained security equipment from a Chinese company banned under a national defense regulation and alleged that he misled New Jersey government officials about the devices’ origins.
The FBI has not publicly named the New Jersey law enforcement agencies it says were victimized in the fraud.
But public documents reveal that the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office was a substantial buyer from Zakhary’s company during the time the alleged crimes took place. The county paid Packetalk $10.9 million in 17 checks issued to the company between March 2020 and June 2023, according to public records.
What did the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office purchase?
Among the Packetalk purchases for the Sheriff’s Office that were approved by the Passaic County commissioners in 2022 were $2.18 million for 255 high-definition outdoor security cameras with modems, $936,000 for 20 surveillance towers, $873,000 for a video fusion room, and more than $5.2 million for unspecified electronic communication equipment.
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In 2022 alone, the Passaic County commissioners approved eight Packetalk contracts worth $10 million for the Sheriff’s Office, the records show.
During a phone interview on Jan. 24, Zakhary told Paterson Press that his company only sold some camera trailers to the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office. But the county’s financial records — obtained by Paterson Press after that interview — show that Zakhary’s firm did a massive amount of business with the office.
Zakhary did not respond to a phone message on Thursday seeking further comment about his business with the county. His lawyers could not be reached for comment.
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What did officials say?
Bruce James, who was director of the Passaic County commissioners in 2022, said the elected board was simply signing off on purchases sought by the Sheriff’s Office and approved by the purchasing department.
“We don’t read through every single contract. We have staff that does that,” James said.
Keith Furlong, a spokesman for Passaic County, said, “It’s important to note that the county is considered the victim of this fraud.”
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Furlong said Packetalk was picked for the sheriff’s contracts through the Bergen County purchasing cooperative. He said the county took special precautions after law enforcement officers in spring 2023 alerted the county to the probe targeting the Lyndhurst company.
The county’s Information Technology department implemented an alert system placing additional scrutiny on Packetalk purchases, Furlong said. As a result of those alerts, Passaic County held back about $2.4 million in payments to Packetalk, he said.
The county’s finance records seem to support Furlong’s account of payments being withheld from Packetalk. The list of purchase orders for the Lyndhurst company show $13.4 million in equipment requests over that time, but the check registry shows the county paid Packetalk only $10.9 million.
Zakhary notes ‘close professional relationship’ with Richard Berdnik
A spokesman for the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office referred questions about the Packetalk purchases to county administration officials. Sheriff Richard Berdnik died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a restaurant bathroom on Jan. 23. Zakhary told Paterson Press last week that he had a “close professional relationship” with Berdnik.
The criminal complaint against Zakhary said federal agents conducted a voluntary interview with him at his office in New Jersey on Dec. 1, 2022. Zakhary told the agents his firm sold security cameras and other equipment to “eight or nine counties,” the complaint said.
The complaint provided detailed allegations about Zakhary’s purchases from two unnamed entities — a county sheriff’s office and a prosecutor’s office.
The United States Attorney’s Office is alleging Packetalk purchased equipment that came from an unidentified “prohibited company” located in the Binjiang District in Hangzhou. The federal complaint said the unidentified Chinese business was covered by the National Defense Authorization Act, which forbids federal grants to be used to buy equipment from certain companies.
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Federal authorities said more than $15 million in federal funds were used in the $35 million in Packetalk equipment purchases. The criminal complaint talks about COVID-19 money being used in some instances.
The “prohibited” Chinese company allegedly had a subsidiary in Irvine, California, that it used to funnel its shipments of equipment to Packetalk.
Passaic County officials said it was not clear what would happen with the security cameras and other equipment obtained from Packetalk.
Matthew Fagan of NorthJersey.com contributed to this story.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org