TRENTON, NJ – When a Manalapan supermarket worker concerned about the coronavirus asked a shopper to keep his distance, the man said he was infected with the virus, leaned in and coughed on the employee, officials said today.
The shopper, George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, ended up being charged with third-degree terroristic threats and other offenses, said state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The incident occurred at about 6:30 p.m. on March 22, at the Wegmans on U.S. Highway 9, 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,” he said. “Instead, Falcone allegedly stepped forward to within three feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed.”
Grewal said the man laughed and told the worker he was carrying the virus. He then told two other store employees that they were lucky they had jobs.
Falcone was approached by an off-duty Manalapan Police detective who was moonlighting as a security officer in the store, said Grewal. The attorney general said Falcone initially refused to cooperate or provide his name or driver’s license.
“After approximately 40 minutes, Falcone identified himself and was permitted to leave,” said Grewal. “Following additional investigation, summonses were issued today which will require Falcone to appear in court at a later date.
“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,” said Grewal. “We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency. Just as we are cracking down on bias offenses and those who use the pandemic to fuel hatred and prejudice, we vow to respond swiftly and strongly whenever someone commits a criminal offense that uses the coronavirus to generate panic or discord.”
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni also weighed-in.
“Exploiting people’s fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible,” he said. “In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us.”
Manalapan Police Chief Michael Fountain said he found Falcone’s behavior to be reprehensible.
“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,” he 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.”
Falcone faces up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000 if convicted of the terroristic threats charge, said Grewal.
He said Falcone was also charged with fourth-degree obstructing administration of law or other governmental function, for which he faces up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Additionally, Falcone was charged with the petty disorderly offense of harassment which carries a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.