By Sunayana Prabhu
MONMOUTH COUNTY – According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crimes fall into four major categories: murder, rape, assault and robbery. Although the Two River area reports low to no violent crimes, some property crimes – like burglaries, auto thefts, larceny and arson – are reportedly climbing.
Little Silver, Fair Haven, Holmdel and Rumson rank as the Top 5 safest towns in Monmouth County, according to 2022 data analysis by Niche.com, but they weren’t immune to property crime. Law enforcement departments in many Two River towns have issued warnings and doubled police patrols in target areas as spikes in burglaries and auto thefts continue to threaten otherwise peaceful communities.
With a reputation of being one of the wealthiest towns in the county and state, Rumson has reported almost no major crimes, but attempted auto thefts in recent months have put the police department on alert. “Lock it or lose it” was the message Rumson Police Department sent in its Jan. 6 community newsletter, reminding its residents to “Please: Lock Your Home. Lock Your Car. Secure Your Belongings. It’s That Simple. If Not For Yourself, Then For Our Community.”
The Rumson police released a statement regarding ongoing investigations of an attempted automobile theft on Christmas Day. According to the press release, the attempt occurred in the area of Sailor’s Way and was traced to a suspect in a white BMW. That BMW had been stolen from a home in Bergen County earlier that same morning. Later that day the same vehicle was involved in an incident where a firearm was discharged in the Newark section of Essex County. The incident is part of an ongoing investigation with Newark Police Department. In the release, Rumson police stated they are actively investigating the matter and working closely with law enforcement partners. The newsletter warned residents “to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police immediately.”
Auto theft is a widespread and interjurisdictional problem that has been occurring in numerous towns throughout Monmouth County. Recently, Middletown was struck by a string of these types of crimes. According to Middletown Township Police, there were four reports of burglaries, attempted burglaries and thefts occurring in the Oak Hill and Lincroft sections of the township.
Male suspects attempted to steal vehicles parked in driveways at multiple residences and entered a garage at one home in the Estates at Bamm Hollow in Lincroft. Less than one hour after their first attempt, the same suspects entered a residence in the Four Winds neighborhood in the Oak Hill section of the township where the homeowner confronted them; the suspects ran to a waiting vehicle and fled. Shortly thereafter, they attempted to steal a vehicle parked at a residence located off Dwight Road also in the Oak Hill section. After that attempt was unsuccessful, they went to the house next door. At this location, they entered through a garage window and then entered the home, which activated the security alarm. Hearing the alarm, the resident investigated the cause and confronted the suspects, who were inside the house. The suspects fled the home but were able to steal that vehicle, a 2022 Land Rover.
It is no longer a matter of blaming victims for leaving their key fobs unguarded, Mayor Tony Perry told The Two River Times at the township’s annual reorganization meeting Jan. 1.
The township has spent more money in the last four years “than we had in the last 20 combined when it comes to public safety” to combat increased auto thefts and recent home break-ins, Perry said. Double the amount of police officers have been assigned full time to the State Police Auto Theft Task Force for increased patrols in “targeted neighborhoods” to keep residents safe, he said, “but in a town of 23,000 houses, of 68,000 people, there’s only so many square inches that you can cover at a time.”
Jacquelyn Seely, Esq., associate professor and chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Brookdale Community College, provided The Two River Times with additional insights as to why the surge in property crimes like auto thefts have not been easily prevented. “Police agencies are also having a hard time recruiting,” Seely said. “Many are short staffed, meaning fewer patrols.” According to Seely, replacing retired officers has also been difficult. “As I can recall, the drop in applicants is dramatic. We are also seeing a drop in enrollment in criminal justice as a field of study.”
“Our country experienced 12 police officers shot in a week” last year, Seely said, highlighting violent crimes against law enforcement officers that flared up across the nation mid-October.
The National Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization that advocates and protects the interests of law enforcement officers, shared a report Oct. 4 showing 252 officers shot in the line of duty as of Sept. 30, 2022, a number up 5% since the same time in 2021. Of those officers shot, 50 died. “Our young men and women are reluctant to go into a career where they know that they will have a target on their back simply because they wear a police uniform,” Seely pointed out. “Fewer officers mean fewer officers available to do patrols, and routine patrols do have a deterrent effect.”
After experiencing a spate of auto thefts – the most recent Dec. 21 when a homeowner on Round Hill Road confronted a suspect who had broken into his house – the Holmdel Township Committee adopted a new ordinance to propose jail time and steeper fines for those charged with the crime. “We introduced this ordinance to help combat the rising thefts and disturbances we’ve had in town with car thefts,” Holmdel’s then-Deputy Mayor DJ Luccarelli said at the Nov. 28 township committee meeting; it was adopted Dec. 13. According to the ordinance titled Motor Vehicle Protection Regulations, penalties include a maximum fine of $1,000 for the first-time offense or attempt of vehicle theft, a maximum fine of $2,000 each with every subsequent attempt and a maximum 90-day imprisonment for each attempt.
Holmdel made headlines in November when resident Navin Khanna, owner of DG Auto Parts, was arrested as part of a nationwide stolen catalytic converter ring busted by federal, state and local law enforcement. According to a press statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, the defendants knowingly purchased stolen catalytic converters and, through a “de-canning” process, extracted the precious metal powders from the catalytic core. DG Auto sold the precious metal powders it processed from California and elsewhere to a metal refinery for over $545 million. “Amidst a rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country, the Justice Department has… carried out an operation arresting 21 defendants and executing 32 search warrants in a nation-wide takedown of a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft network,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in the November statement.
Red Bank’s most recent auto theft was reported Nov. 16 when a BMW was stolen from Butch’s Lube’n Wash on Newman Springs Road.
Auto Thefts Not The Only Crimes
• Miguel A. Angeles, 42, of Perth Amboy was recently arrested and charged with first-degree armed robbery of the Valley National Bank in Middletown Dec. 28. He allegedly entered the bank masked and stole close to $8,000 before fleeing the scene.
A joint investigation by members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Middletown Township Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation ultimately led to the arrest and charging of Angeles. This case has been assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Cummings of the Major Crimes Bureau.
• On Jan. 4, Mark Marchi, 55, of Red Bank, was sentenced to 63 months in prison for committing securities fraud to obtain over $2.8 million from victim investors. According to a press release by the United States Attorney, District of New Jersey, Marchi, who was previously barred from the securities industry, purported to provide investment adviser services to clients.
Beginning in December 2015, he managed and controlled Precipio Capital LLC, after previously managing and controlling a different investment company called Global Alliance Capital, LLC.
Through Global Alliance, Marchi solicited investments from multiple investors and, when he ceased operating Global Alliance, represented to those investors that he rolled over their accounts into Precipio. Marchi also solicited investors to invest directly into Precipio. Instead of using the funds on legitimate investments, Marchi diverted approximately $2.8 million for other purposes, including paying back previous Global Alliance investors and for his own use.
Marchi made repeated misrepresentations to investors, which included false claims about the status and performance of investments and false assurances that their investments were profitable.
Marchi also provided his victims with falsified records, including trading records, performance reports, and K-1s. In addition to the prison term, Cecchi sentenced Marchi to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $2.87 million.
• On Dec. 30 at approximately 9:40 p.m., officers from the Oceanport Police Department were dispatched to the area of Gosselin Avenue on the former Fort Monmouth, for a report of an individual shot.
A short while later, Michael Westbrook, 41, of Neptune, turned himself in to authorities at the Neptune Township Police Department headquarters. After a joint investigation by members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Oceanport Police Department and Neptune Township Police Department, he was ultimately charged with first-degree murder for killing 41-year-old Amad Jones. Westbrook was also charged with second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and third-degree hindering his own apprehension.
He remains in custody pending his first appearance and detention hearing to take place in Monmouth County Superior Court.
The case has been assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Cummings of the Major Crimes Bureau. Information on Westbrook’s legal representation was not immediately available. If convicted of murder, Westbrook faces a term of up to life in state prison.
The article originally appeared in the January 19 – 25, 2023 print edition of The Two River Times.