GARFIELD, N.J. -- An ex-con from Passaic faces 15 years in prison -- 13 of which he must serve before he's eligible for parole -- after admitting Tuesday that he shot an undercover police officer during an armed robbery attempt outside a Marshall's store in Garfield two years ago.
Rafael Vasquez, 27, already had had a lengthy record before he shot the officer -- who was on loan to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Narcotic Task Force -- in the right hip and lower left leg on April 22, 2014.
The officer was released a few days later from Hackensack University Medical Center.
Vasquez — also known as “King Lucifer” — was hit in the arm and leg by shots fired by backup officers outside the Marshals store off Passaic Street. He was treated at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson before being jailed on $2 million bail.
Vasquez pleaded guilty in state Superior Court in Hackensack to attempted murder and weapons possession by a convicted felon.
His plea deal includes the 15-year stretch for attempted murder running concurrently with a 10-year sentence for having the gun, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.
Superior Court Judge James J. Guida set an April 20 sentencing date -- two days short of the two-year anniversary of the shooting.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, comprised of members of the State Police Major Crime Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice.
“Vasquez is a brutally dangerous criminal, as he demonstrated by shooting an undercover officer twice and pointing his gun at identified officers who subsequently converged to arrest him,” Hoffman said. “This sentence recognizes the need to keep Vasquez safely behind bars and to uphold the principle that anyone who threatens the life of a police officer must face stern punishment.”
Two co-defendants -- Melvin Guzman, 21, of Garfield, and Patrick Morel, 23, of Clifton -- took guilty pleas in December in exchanged for eight year sentences. They must serve seven years each before being eligible for parole.
The attempted robbery and shooting occurred during a $400 marijuana buy-and-bust by the prosecutor's Narcotic Task Force in the Walmart parking lot.
The trio had their own plans: They brought a bag of oregano.
The officer was in the driver’s seat of a county undercover vehicle with Morel when Vasquez walked up to the car window, pointed a .380-caliber handgun at him and said, “Give me everything you have,” authorities said at the time.
A struggle ensued, and Vasquez fired into the car twice as backups converged on the car.
Morel fled in his car and was later caught on the Garden State Parkway.
An investigation by CLIFFVIEW PILOT found that Vasquez plea-bargained his way out of a pair of attempted murder charges to lesser counts in Passaic County.
As a result, he spent only three months behind bars before being released in November 2013, despite a history of violent crime, records show.
A Passaic County grand jury indicted him on attempted murder charges in January 2011. That charge was merged with a second attempted murder count a week later — which boosted his bail to $1 million from $350,000, records show.
The 5-foot-5-inch, 140-pound Vasquez — also known as Rafael Vasquez-Pina and Gustavo Canga — pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for a three-year term. But records show he was soon back on the street, having received credit for time spent behind bars.
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