Howell man pleads guilty to bias intimidation

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A resident of Howell has pleaded guilty to threatening Lakewood’s Jewish community.

Ocean County First Assistant Prosecutor Michael T. Nolan Jr. announced that on Aug. 7, Anthony Lodespoto, 43, of Howell, pleaded guilty to bias intimidation before state Superior Court Judge Guy P. Ryan, sitting in Toms River.

According to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, on March 26, the Lakewood Police Department Detective Bureau was made aware Lodespoto had made threatening statements against the Jewish community of Lakewood. Lodespoto used the direct messaging feature on Facebook to make the statements.

On March 27, detectives were informed by members of the New Jersey State Police that Lodespoto sent a similar message to the Facebook account of Gov. Phil Murphy.

The threats largely consisted of Lodespoto threatening to travel to Lakewood to assault members of the Jewish community with a baseball bat, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Lodespoto is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 25. Prosecutors will seek a sentence of 180 days in the Ocean County Jail as a condition of probation. Lodespoto remains lodged in the jail pending sentencing, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Asked for a comment on the incident, Etzion Neuer, the interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New York/New Jersey Region, said, “Threatening assault with a weapon, especially at a moment when the Jewish community is still reeling from the Jersey City and Monsey (New York) attacks, is beyond the pale.

“This underscores the need to keep a watchful eye on the charged environment in Ocean County that resulted in 54 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, according to the ADL’s latest audit.

“We are thankful to New Jersey law enforcement agencies for sending the message that these kinds of threats will not go without consequence,” Neuer said.

In a press release, Nolan acknowledged the work of Assistant Prosecutor Shanon Chant-Berry, who handled the case on behalf of the state, and the Lakewood Police Department Detective Bureau and the New Jersey State Police for their collaborative efforts in securing Lodespoto’s guilty plea.