NEWARK, N.J. — They're accused of sexually abusing their fellow workers in a hazing ritual nicknamed "the rape table," and now, three federal officers are awaiting trial on "serious charges."
Those are the words Judge Michael Hammer used to describe the crimes of which Officers Tito Catota, 38, Michael A. Papagni, 32, and Permenio Perez, 40, are accused.
"My client is innocent," said Perez's attorney, as she walked with him out of court late Wednesday afternoon. Perez had covered his head with the hood of his sweatshirt. "We intend to vigorously fight his case right up until trial, if it gets that far," his lawyer said.
Officer Catata chose to run away from PIX11's cameras rather than to answer questions about the charges against him. Officer Papagni said nothing other than "I have no comment."
The men posted $100,000 bond each, after having been shackled when marshals led them into the courtroom a couple of hours earlier, when they'd been accused of carrying out felony assault of a sexual nature at work.
That work that they're sworn to carry out is to protect people and goods coming in and out of Newark Liberty Airport and to help keep the international facility from danger.
Instead, according to the complaint against them, the men abused at least two fellow Customs and Border Protection officers by throwing them and holding them down on what was known as the "rape table," pinning them down and performing a simulated sex act.
It happened at least once to each of the two alleged victims, in the office of their CBP unit in Terminal C last year. The unit has since been disbanded, due to the complaints against the work culture there.
The officers are charged with forcible assault, impeding, intimidating and interfering with the duties of federal officers. In this case, however, the federal officers are their co-workers.
The lawyer for the alleged victims, Patrick Metz, told PIX11 News that the case is ongoing, and that he expects more arrests in the months ahead.