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Coast Guard issued warnings about impostor Navassa cop, who has a long history of attempted deception

USCG Bolo for Eric Cinotti #2 redacted and cropped.jpg
Contributed
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WHQR

Earlier this year, a man named Eric Cinotti was convicted of several felonies in connection with his impersonation of a Navassa police officer. An investigation by WHQR reveals a long history of dishonesty and deception, including attempts to gain access to military facilities.

Last year, authorities arrested Eric Cinotti for impersonating an officer. As the case developed, it became clear it was not an isolated incident. Ultimately, Cinotti took an Alford plea deal for three felony counts — but the criminal investigation suggested he had a long history of impersonations.

These weren’t harmless. According to a warning from the Coast Guard’s Intelligence Division, Cinotti and/or his associates were considered very likely to attempt to gain unauthorized access to the Port of Wilmington — even after he was arrested. In an earlier warning from the Coast Guard, issued before his arrest Cinotti himself was suspected of trying to gain access to other military and government facilities.

All of this seems to be part of a much longer history of deceptive behavior by Cinotti. However, for the record, Cinotti's Alford plea means he maintains his innocence and while Cinotti declined interview requests from WHQR in response to any of the information in this report, he denied all specific allegations of dishonesty.

A strange arrest

Last July, Eric Cinotti was arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer in Brunswick County. Police immediately picked up on odd behaviors exhibited by Cinotti and arrested him at the scene. During the investigation, it came to light that Navassa officials gave Cinotti access to police equipment as a volunteer for the department. Town officials have remained evasive about why they did this, but it’s possible the town’s ongoing staffing and financing problems could have contributed to the situation.

Authorities initially charged Cinotti with one felony count of impersonating an officer, but the investigation uncovered that Cinotti had performed police stops with a blue light and did so at “excessive” speeds. He entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant acknowledges that the evidence is enough to sway a judge or jury to convict them, while still maintaining their innocence. Based on the plea, Cinotti was convicted of three felony charges involving the use of blue lights on his vehicle.

During the investigation, authorities discovered Cinotti had a history of impersonations, including a firefighter, lawyer, judge, mediator, military officer‌, EMT, and federal investigator. According to interviews and documents reviewed by WHQR, Cinotti has exaggerated his responsibilities under former employers, forged government documents, claimed phony degrees, and harassed veterans, military members, and their families.

But officials have been silent on the other impersonations outlined in court documents, fraudulent identities that Cinotti has continued to use after his arrest — and may be continuing to use after his conviction. It is unclear if local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies are continuing to investigate him for these or other behaviors.

Coast Guard 2021 and 2022 BOLOs

Several weeks ago, WHQR received the second of at least two “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) bulletins published by the U.S. Coast Guard that identified Cinotti as a suspect who has been impersonating a military colonel and a law enforcement officer.

USCG Bolo for Eric Cinotti #2 redacted.jpg
Contributed
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WHQR
Be On the Look Out (BOLO) notice for Eric Cinotti and an alleged associate issued by the United States Coast Guard's Intelligence Division.

Editor's note: WHQR was unable to contact Cinotti's recruit. Aside from several traffic tickets, the individual does not appear to have a criminal record and did, according to the Coast Guard, contact law enforcement with concerns about Cinotti. For those reasons, we have redacted the individual from the USCG BOLO.

The bulletin was initially issued in February of this year, after Cinotti’s arrest but prior to his conviction. It contained a narrative of his continued attempts to gain access to local military and government facilities by fraudulently obtaining official military identification. It also revealed that Cinotti approached the children of military service members and has continued to harass service members and their families.

And, perhaps most troubling, the first BOLO notes ‌it is “very likely that Mr. Cinotti and/or associates will attempt to gain unauthorized access to the Port of Wilmington,” — and, despite his arrest, shows a continued pursuit of this goal.

The BOLO describes Cinotti’s most recent endeavors to recruit for a currently defunct state militia; he has so far apparently recruited one known member.

The bulletin notes that ‌Cinotti registered a business named Project Oculus LLC, which he claims is “tied to a joint CIA/NSA task force investigating human smuggling at the Port of Wilmington.” The bulletin refuted that the company had ties to any government agency.

USCG Bolo for Eric Cinotti #1.JPG
Contributed
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WHQR
Be On The Lookout (BOLO) notice for Eric Cinotti issued by the United States Coast Guard's Intelligence Division.

The first BOLO WHQR received was published on April 7, 2021, several months before his arrest, and detailed other attempts by Cinotti to impersonate military personnel (including his claim to be a Coast Guard law enforcement officer) and gain access to restricted areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard initially declined to comment on these, but after the second BOLO, they provided a statement.

“The Coast Guard can confirm that we did issue a BOLO on April 7, 2021, and February 4, 2022, after Mr. Cinotti was found to be impersonating military members, recruiting civilians to a fraudulent militia, and soliciting unwarranted contact with Coast Guard personnel. The Coast Guard will continue to monitor all threats to its members, infrastructure, and Marine Transportation System,” according to Lt. Andrew Jacot, public affairs officer for Sector North Carolina.

Cinotti’s history of embellishment and dishonesty 


Prior to Cinotti’s arrest, there was an extensive LinkedIn profile in his name. While Cinotti declined to comment on it on the record, he denied the LinkedIn account was his, claiming someone else had set it up. Nevertheless, it matches some of the claims the Coast Guard ascribe to him, and WHQR was able to verify some of the employment in the resume — although often it turns out Cinotti had embellished or invented his various roles and the ‌time he served in the jobs. In some cases, Cinotti noted years or months where he lasted mere hours before organizations realized he was not who he said he was.

The resume includes a military history in it; he asserts ‌he was an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. But documents received in FOIA requests show that Cinotti joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in Connecticut and served for five years and obtained the rank of E4 — not an officer.

He deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. During this time, Cinotti worked aboard a naval vessel with NCIS in Bahrain during his deployment and served with his unit for 15 months, according to a New Jersey National Guard Public Affairs officer, Capt. Amelia Thatcher. Cinotti’s DD214, which covered the time he was on deployment, noted he did not receive or complete any additional training during his time with NCIS, including law enforcement or intelligence training.

After he was discharged from the Naval Reserve, he joined the New Jersey National Guard and served from 2007 to 2009 (a common enlistment term during this time), according to Capt. Thatcher.

“In the New Jersey National Guard, the individual you referenced was never commissioned as an officer. He was enlisted the whole time,” said Major Agneta Murnan, Public Affairs officer for the New Jersey Department of Military Affairs.

Below: Cinotti's LinkedIn page, article continues afterward

2009 South Hackensack Fire Department Volunteer Application

Cinotti’s history of impersonation dates back at least 13 years. According to a public records request fulfilled by the town of South Hackensack, New Jersey, Cinotti applied to become a volunteer for the local fire department. The 20-page packet includes a lengthy resume, several letters of recommendation, certifications, and military awards.

Below: Cinotti's application packet

The contents in the packet are similar to what appeared on Cinotti’s LinkedIn page before it was taken down.

The packet contains a 2015 letter from the fire department that outlined their attempts to contact Cinotti for his failure to appear at calls, mandatory meetings, and drills.

The letter requests Cinotti to return “personal protective equipment” including “turnout coat and pants, Nomex hood, fire gloves and boots, department issued helmet” and “personal accountability tags bearing gear number 29.” It also notes that Cinotti had been given and needed to return “dispatching and communication equipment such as a pager or radio,” “‌all department issued uniform regalia such as badges and collar brass,” and “keys to department buildings and the closets and cabinets.”

The Township of South Hackensack Municipal Clerk Donna Gambutti said that there was no “outstanding” gear but did not confirm it had been returned to the department when asked if it was returned or just discharged off the inventory.

Forged Letter of Recommendation  

Contained within the volunteer packet is a letter dated April 1, 2008. It has a Headquarters New Jersey National Guard header, the Department of Defense and National Guard seal, and is signed by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Barea.

Barea told WHQR in a Facebook message, “the letter you are referring to was a result of him forging my signature. I have cut all ties with him when that occurred.”

When asked how long he thought Cinotti had been doing this type of thing, Barea said, “A long time, well before I met him.”

Cinotti denied knowing Mr. Barea during a phone call with WHQR.

It is unclear why Cinotti was discharged from the New Jersey National Guard, the document received with the FOIA states “for the convenience of the government.”

“I do not know why Cinotti was separated… but you see what he is capable of so you can make your own assumptions,” said Barea.

WHQR could not confirm the authenticity of the other letters either due to the death of the signor or inability to reach the letter writer because they no longer worked at the organization or did not respond to request for comment.

Claimed work history

The resume contained in Cinotti’s packet says that in 2010 he was working as the “Senior Law Director and Chief Defense Analyst,” at the now defunct Project Freedom Fund.

New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow prosecuted Project Freedom Fund for masquerading as a non-profit who assisted prisoners with legal advice. The case found that Project Freedom Fund defrauded the public by providing “faulty” legal advice by disbarred or non-lawyers.

Though several employees were named in the case, Cinotti was not one of them, said Essex County Courthouse spokesperson Sabrina Habibulla.

The resume also states ‌Cinotti was awarded a Ph.D. in 2010 from Rochville University in 2010, which was identified as fake diploma mill where students could purchase degrees without having to attend courses, according to a 2015 New York Times investigative piece.

The resume states Cinotti was the “Chief of Investigations and Senior Law Clerk at The William J. Jeffery Law Firm. When WHQR contacted Jeffery, he said he employed Cinotti as a paralegal on a per diem basis but that he did not have the title of “Chief of Investigations and Senior Law Clerk.”

“Mr. Cinotti’s duties included interviewing prospective clients, making phone calls to court clerks and clients and ensuring that clients knew to make their court appearances," Jeffery said.

In a review of the items Cinotti listed as job responsibilities, Jeffery said, “he did not analyze crime scene data and review all related evidence and testimony’ for me. While he did interview prospective clients for me, he never ‘appear[ed] on behalf of the defendant in court.’”

Jeffery says he ended his working relationship with Cinotti because he “found that he often overstepped his bounds” and gave this example:

“During one of the [court] appearances, Eric decided to stand next to me at counsel's table. The Judge stopped me and asked who Eric was. I advised the Court that he was my paralegal. The Judge asked that he take a seat in the gallery since he was neither an attorney nor a defendant. Eric then began arguing with the Judge about whether he was allowed to sit as ‘second chair’ at counsel table in Court. I had to ask the Judge for a brief recess, pull Eric aside, and tell him in no uncertain terms that when a Judge tells you in Court to sit in the gallery, then you sit in the gallery. You don’t argue with the Judge, especially when he is the one who will be trying your client’s case.”

Overstepping the boundaries and responsibilities given to him by his employers seems to be a pastime of Cinotti’s; as has been his ability to get websites that are, or seem to be, official to list him as a professional in whatever field he decides he wants to impersonate.

A lawyer?

In the winter of 2017-2018, Cinotti was briefly employed by Julia Olson-Boseman as an investigator. Cinotti represented himself as an attorney to several people, but was not hired in that capacity at Olson-Boseman’s firm. He was let go after a short period of time.

Before it was taken down, Cinotti also operated a website for The Cinotti Group which advertised that he was an accredited lawyer who could represent clients in North Carolina even though the North Carolina or New Jersey Bar has no record of him and he does not appear to be a licensed attorney.

Again, Cinotti declined to comment on this point.

When WHQR asked the American Bar Association (ABA) about his membership, a representative stated in an email, “The ABA is a voluntary membership association for legal professionals and members of the ‌general public with an interest in the Rule of Law” and to contact the local state chapter for confirmation of his license. Cinotti is not now or in the past been a licensed attorney according to the North Carolina Bar Association’s website.

Lawyers.com had Cinotti listed as an attorney until June 2, when it was removed.

The Federal Bar Association still has Cinotti listed as a Prof Eric Cinotti MPA JD, Government Confidential, though he no longer works for the government. The FBA has not responded to WHQR's emails.

It is a federal offense to impersonate a government official “acting under the authority of the United States” in order to “obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value,” though it is unclear whether Cinotti ever represented any clients.

The Department of Justice Eastern Division said they do not have an open investigation on Cinotti, and the federal and state investigation agencies have not returned our requests for comment on this matter. In the meantime, Cinotti now appears free to continue his pattern of harassment and impersonations, unfettered.

Bethanie is a freelance writer for WHQR. She was the 2021-2022 UNCW News Fellow during the pursuit of her M.A. in English. She holds a B.A. in Political Studies with a focus on Constitutional Law. Originally from California and Colorado, she is a Marine Corps Military Police Reserve officer and an Afghanistan War Veteran. Her civilian professional background includes corporate finance and legal litigation.