Suspended Howell police officer indicted on luring charges

Richard Conte. Photo: Ocean County Corrections website

HOWELL – A Howell Police Department sergeant who has been suspended from the force for more than a year has been indicted on charges that include attempted sexual contact with a victim between the ages of 13 and 15, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Oct. 9.

The suspended officer, Richard C. Conte, 48, was arrested on Sept. 6, 2018. He was indicted by a state grand jury 13 months later on charges of official misconduct; luring, enticing a child; attempted endangering the welfare of a child; and attempted sexual contact with a victim between the ages of 13 and 15.

Law enforcement authorities said that on Sept. 2, 2018, Conte had encountered a person he believed to be a 15-year-old girl through an online social media site. The person he encountered was really an undercover detective with the New Jersey Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Although the “girl” repeatedly indicated she was 15, Conte continued to chat with her online and emailed her. Conte allegedly used his work phone to engage in chats with the “girl,” according to law enforcement authorities.

Ultimately, Conte allegedly arranged to meet the girl for sexual activity in Toms River. He claimed in the chats he was 19. Conte had condoms in his pocket when he arrived at the meeting location on the night of Sept. 6, 2018 and was arrested by law enforcement officers conducting Operation Open House.

Law enforcement authorities said the “girl” was really an undercover detective participating in Operation Open House, a multi-agency operation in 2018 led by the Attorney General’s Office that resulted in the arrest of 24 men who allegedly were using social media to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity.

Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said he was involved in the investigation and addressed the matter with the community in a statement in which he said, “Since the time of his arrest, Sgt. Conte has been suspended without pay.

“The form of government in Howell grants the authority solely to the township manager for status of employment. Although the decision after consultation with township legal counsel will prevail with the manager, as police chief my recommendation was immediate termination,” Kudrick said.

“This accusation (against Conte) is a serious breach of the public’s trust and the integrity of this police department. It is an embarrassment and an insult to everyone who honorably wears the Howell patch on our sleeve and the badge upon our chest.

“His actions are not a reflection of the officers or this department. I can assure you we are all repulsed. I thank all of you for the continued support and the high level of respect and support you consistently display toward my officers,” Kudrick wrote in his statement to the community.

During the past year, the Division of Criminal Justice, the New Jersey State Police, and their law enforcement partners arrested 40 alleged child predators in two major undercover operations, Operation Open House in Ocean County and Operation Home Alone in Bergen County, according to Grewal.

The indictment was handed up in state Superior Court in Mercer County and has been assigned to Ocean County, where Conte will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment, according to the attorney general.