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Ocean County Prosecutor Vows Aggressive Pursuit of Looters, Scam Contractors

Prosecutor's office announces creation of Hurricane Sandy Task Force

The potential for looting and other post-hurricane crimes of opportunity in devastated areas of Ocean County will be addressed aggressively by a new task force under the county prosecutor's office.

Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch-Ford announced a Hurricane Sandy Task Force, which will pursue and assist local police in investigating looting, burglary, contractor scams and price gouging, starting today.

The announcement comes amid growing fears of crimes of opportunity, and the presence of State Police and National Guard in portions of Ocean County. Yesterday in Toms River's Silverton and Snug Harbor neighborhoods, heavily armed police began stopping every vehicle asking for identification. Non-residents were turned away in devastated parts of Bayville as well.

An uncalculated number of Ocean County residents lost homes and property from the storm. Those storm victims should not find themselves victims of other crimes, Lynch-Ford said. She vowed to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

"With regard to people accused of committing looting, scams, and other storm related crimes against persons and property, I have instructed my assistant prosecutors to consider as an aggravating factor in charging and bail recommendations that these crimes are occurring to people rendered particularly vulnerable by an unprecedented natural disaster," she said in a statement released this afternoon. "I am instructing my prosecutors to use the existing criminal code to its fullest extent to prosecutor offenders in this category."

Large portions of Ocean County — the barrier island, Long Beach Island and waterfront areas — are under a mandatory evacuation order, while elsewhere flooded areas and fallen trees have left homes damaged and vacant, with home security compromised and belongings strewn about. Into Friday residents from multiple parts of Ocean County expressed fears that property might be taken. In Monmouth County, 25 arrests were announced by the prosecutor there for post-hurricane crimes.

The county office has not released the number of incidents or arrests it has made, but Lynch-Ford said many of the suspects are "career criminals".

"Unfortunately there will always be a number of people who, rather than making this event a time to offer help to alleviate human suffering, see this tragedy through the lens of the career criminal:  an opportunity to steal, to exploit and to endanger the public," she said.

Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Hurricane Sandy Task Force will do the following:

  • assist local departments in the investigation and prosecution of crimes that are related to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
  • take reports from people who feel they have been the victim of a crime related to the aftermath of the storm.
  • release the names and pictures of individuals charged with these crimes, in hopes of educating the public.
  • advocate for storm victims further victimized by criminals.

Normally, the county does not release photographs of arrested individuals. Lynch-Ford said individuals charged with post-hurricane crimes here will. It's an effort to find additional victims, she said, as well as aid local law enforcement efforts.

"There are significant issues of public safety uniquely related to the events of the past week," she said. "First of all, identification of the defendant may reveal other criminal conduct and will promote the safety of the general public."

She said detectives believe the contractor scams, break-ins and looting are organized and not random, hitting many victims at once.

"Second, it appears that many of these criminal acts associated with the natural disaster are part of a pattern of organized conduct, with multiple victims.  The victims of these crimes may be able to provide important information to police, yet they are not even aware they have been victimized, given the fact that mandatory evacuation orders are in effect, for example, on the Barnegat Peninsula or on Long Beach Island," she said.

With a long clean-up process in place, the Division of Consumer Affairs has already warned residents to fully investigate a contractor before hiring them for repair work. Lynch-Ford agreed and said contractor scams would also be aggressively investigated by the task force.

Lynch-Ford encouraged residents do to the following:

  • report suspicious activity to police. They should not under any circumstances try to confront someone they suspect of criminal activity, or to otherwise place themselves in a position where their safety is compromised.
  • use the released photographs of arrested suspects in neighborhood watch and help spread the word so neighbors can be on the lookout.
  • be aware that contractor scammers may adopt multiple business names or corporate identities.
  • Be aware of contractors who are not registered with the State of New Jersey.  Verify they are registered by checking the website of the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs, which can be found at the State of NJ website, www.nj.gov, or call the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs at (732) 929-2105.
  • Be wary as well of contractors who provide estimates for a fee, and then disappear never to be seen again, a common scam following natural disasters.

Sr. Assistant Prosecutor Martin Anton will be designated as Task Force Coordinator and contact person for the Task Force.  He can be reached at (732) 929-2027.

Mike November 02, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Go ahead...make my day.
Jeannie Blythe November 02, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Ralph, you are right I heard the same thing and I live in the South.
mjmjr November 02, 2012 at 10:04 PM
shoot them on sight
tuna stick November 02, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Shame on you. People are homeless, cold, and not knowing where to turn, and you want to turn their tragedy into a political advantage for the right wing...??? Do us all a favor and throw out your computer....forever. You are the most un-American person I have ever heard of.
tuna stick November 02, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Please stop the over-hyped, unsubstantiated rumors of looting, And non-union workers being turned away. Just not true, and the people perpetuating this crap are the real criminals. Stop it.
ELAINE BRAUN November 02, 2012 at 10:27 PM
For Joan Warren... I too live in Leisure Village West. I was happy to see the gates open so emergency vehicles could pass through easily. There was no electricity at the gates either. How were the guards going to open them, manually? I have not heard of one incident that occurred because the gates were opened.
AResko November 02, 2012 at 10:32 PM
I think your opinion is absolutely ridiculous! Would you rather the gates be stuck closed so if anyone has an emergency or needs and medical attention (especially in that development) noone would be able to get to them.
Frederick John LaVergne for Congress November 02, 2012 at 10:37 PM
"Alleged Looters"...and, yes...post mug shots of the "alleged" parasites.
Frederick John LaVergne for Congress November 02, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Years ago, I remember Mayor Herb Fuehl of Johnstown - "If you see any looters, shoot 'em on sight"...1970's flood...You know who was there with us, BTW? TIM McCloone and the Atlantic Coast Band! "The Sounds of Asbury Park" belted out in the Johnstown HS Gym...memories.
joanwarrin November 02, 2012 at 10:55 PM
I understand that the gates are leisure village wests responsibility. In my opinion, the gates should have been closed with the exception of the main gate where a security guard should have been posted. AResco...my opinion certainly isn't ridiculous..it's just a matter of holding people accountable...
joanwarrin November 02, 2012 at 10:59 PM
elaine...if the main gate was opened with a guard emergency vehicles would be able to get in...think of this, no electricity yet somehow all of the gates were opened when the power went out..that's hard to believe. thanks for your response.
ed crowley November 03, 2012 at 01:55 AM
How would you have entered or exited the village if the gates were closed?
ed crowley November 03, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Were the boards still attached or were they removed to allow movement? Were the gates opened before the power wentout?
barbara November 03, 2012 at 02:14 AM
I live in Whiting but my kids rent toms river house, they lost everything, please looters, dont go there and take whatever is left. find your inner feelings if you have any and leave hard working peoples stuff alone. if we could, we would be there waiting for you and give you low lifes what you deserve. somewhere you must have a conscious.....try to find it......leave the hard working peoples stuff alone! bad enough they had to go thru this devestation dont need you going thru the house!
LowVolts November 03, 2012 at 02:20 AM
That is how the gates are designed to operate; with no electric power they automatically open and remain that way until electric service is restored. Get your facts before making assertions Joan.
www.zazzle.com/kodachrome68* November 03, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Tuna stick you are right! Why should we expose the leftist union thugs for trying to extort money from people who are coming here to help up! So un American you are a joke! Go hug a tree!
Chico Little November 03, 2012 at 12:51 PM
I don't understand why a man posting an outrageous story of crews being turned away while New Jerseyians are freezing and starving for lack of power is somehow a terrible, partisan thing. If these crews were being turned away for any reason -- say, because they were black, or gay, or wearing blue shirts -- it'd be JUST as outrageous. The only people I see making politics out of it are those who scream it's political. Our governor and our president both said to lay politics aside and get red tape out of the way. This is an example where that's not happening and I don't give a flying funnel cake what your politics are, left or right.
Chico Little November 03, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Really? You think people posting simple news articles about documented cases of looting, crews being turned away and price gouging are MORE criminal than the people breaking into little old ladies' houses and stealing all they have, using the hurricane as an excuse to prey on them? Wow. Some value system you have there. Can we follow the example of our governor and our president and lay politics aside?
YellowBird November 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Prosecutors office forming "TASK" force for looting? But they won't prosecute real Criminals or real crime if it doesn't fit their image or agenda !!! Gotta Love it
Mr. ? November 03, 2012 at 03:46 PM
lorenzo, just got back from your Uncles and he is OK! No power yet. As we were leaving it appeared members of your family had arrived.
joanwarrin November 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM
LowVolts...no need to be so hostile! Anyway, it is predicted that more storms of this nature will happen. I just wish Leisure Village West will let us know how future power outages will be handled. Has any thought been given to generators?? Or is the use of generators not an option. It would be great if one of the clubhouses could serve as a comfort station...coffee, tea, recharge batteries, etc.
Rontr November 03, 2012 at 08:08 PM
that story was proven false already
wtf_u_say November 03, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Maybe during the next emergency we can place sandbags totally around your house, stack them 15 feet tall, and if you need help, oh well .........
Jeannie Blythe November 03, 2012 at 09:58 PM
The idiots who prey on people, young or old who have been through this horendous ordeal, should be shot. Also, nobody wants hear that the press can't give their names because they're minors. They are old enough to know right from wrong and know they're stealing!
Joseph November 04, 2012 at 12:52 PM
tuna stick....you cant possibly be that out of touch with reality to think that its not happening..im not sure where you live, however, talk to any of the local police and they will confirm your so called unsubstantiated rumors. The sad truth of the matter is that there are people out there without any soul or concience that prey upon the misfortune and misery of others. THAT is the unfortunate reality that you need to snap back to.
joanwarrin November 04, 2012 at 03:58 PM
wtf_get real, oh you don't have anything good to say..but then, look at your handle..what a joke
JOHNNY Done it November 05, 2012 at 12:32 AM
ARE YOU KIDDING ME ??? Who gives a crap as long as the power comes on That is a statement made by a union worker? They are costing us more in the long run...What an idiot I gives... Relief organization are non union I guess we should turn them away too...Geez the volunteer responsders are not union not paid either..What do you think about them?
JOHNNY Done it November 05, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Some of the looters are coming in on boats FYI
grace November 11, 2012 at 04:42 PM
really we had tires and wheels stolen from our business in toms river right off the car ! left our customers car on blocks.........so yes there is looting and when i file it with insurance we get to pay a higher premium
directbobby April 04, 2013 at 05:29 AM
I don't understand why a man posting an outrageous story of crews being turned away while New Jerseyians are freezing and starving for lack of power is somehow a terrible, partisan thing. If these crews were being turned away for any reason -- say, because they were black, or gay, or wearing blue shirts -- it'd be JUST as outrageous. The only people I see making politics out of it are those who scream it's political. Our governor and our president both said to lay politics aside and get red tape out of the way. This is an example where that's not happening and I don't give a flying funnel cake what your politics are, left or right. http://jualeigeronline.blogspot.com/ http://jualrumahgayungsari.blogspot.com/

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