New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has announced that criminal charges were filed on March 24 against a man who allegedly coughed on a food store employee in Manalapan and told the woman he has the coronavirus.
Grewal said George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, was charged by complaint-summons with making terroristic threats (third degree) obstructing the administration of the law or other governmental function (fourth degree) and harassment (petty disorderly persons offense).
The incident occurred at about 6:30 p.m. March 22 at Wegmans, Route 9, Manalapan.
According to Grewal, the employee was concerned that Falcone was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared foods, so she requested that he step back as she covered the food.
Instead, Falcone allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her and purposely coughed. He allegedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus. Falcone subsequently told two other employees they were lucky to have jobs, according to a press release from Grewal.
A detective from the Manalapan Police Department was working a security detail at the supermarket and approached Falcone, who allegedly refused to cooperate or provide his name or driver’s license.
After approximately 40 minutes, Falcone identified himself and was permitted to leave Wegmans. Following additional investigation, summonses were issued which will require Falcone to appear in court at a later date.
The case will be prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice in the Attorney General’s Office. Grewal thanked the Manalapan Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for their assistance in the matter.
“These are extremely difficult times in which all of us are called upon to be considerate of each other; not to engage in intimidation and spread fear, as alleged in this case,” Grewal said.
“We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency. … We vow to respond swiftly and strongly whenever someone commits a criminal offense that uses the coronavirus to generate panic or discord,” he said.
“I commend the officers and detectives involved in this case for bringing criminal charges against the individual responsible for causing additional stress to the employees and patrons of Wegmans during these unprecedented times,” Manalapan Police Chief Michael Fountain said.
“It sickens me to think an individual would lower their basic human standards during a time of crisis such as we are experiencing. As evident by these charges, law enforcement will not tolerate individuals breaking the law and placing others in fear during an already tense situation,” Fountain said.
Third degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Petty disorderly persons offenses carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.