Holiday trolley tour lights up South Amboy

By JACQUELINE DURETT
Correspondent

SOUTH AMBOY — Residents got a guided tour of the city and a look at some of the best local Christmas light displays during the city’s annual holiday trolley tour on Dec. 18.

This was the fifth year for the trolley tour, an event the city holds in partnership with the South Amboy Historical Society.

Mayor Fred Henry said when the event started, he had no idea it would become so popular.

“It gives people some time to enjoy the season in a different fashion and to visit some parts of the city that they seldom see,” he said, adding that it’s also an opportunity for newer residents “to learn a little bit more about the history of different parts of the city.”

He said longtime residents, meanwhile, enjoy remembering places in South Amboy that used to exist.

A mix of those residents gathered outside City Hall chatting with their neighbors, waiting for their assigned trolley time; the trolley ran every hour throughout the evening.

At 8:30 p.m., the last group boarded, each taking a slip of paper that indicated the houses at which the trolley would be stopping. Those homes are part of the city’s house decorating contest, and trolley riders are asked to vote for their three favorites.

Once on the trolley, participants heard a lot about South Amboy’s history from Joe Szaro of the historical society. Szaro’s presentation was interactive, as he covered everything from the date South Amboy was incorporated to how large the city once was and how various sections of the city got their respective names.

Early on, Szaro asked the crowd how South Amboy itself got its name. Collectively, the crowd agreed it was south … of something.

“South of what?” Szaro asked.

“South America!” one little girl cried out, followed by some good-natured laughter. Szaro pointed out it was actually named for its position south of Perth Amboy.

The trolley stopped at nearly a dozen homes, including those on Charmello, George and Pupek streets. Light displays ranged from the traditional with lights and wreaths, to the comical, with one featuring the famed lamp from the movie “A Christmas Story,” to the innovative, with another projecting the movie “Elf” on a screen outside the house.

At various stops, riders would shout, “That’s my house!” or “Wow, look at that!” At some homes, the residents came outside to greet those on the trolley. In between stops, a few riders broke out into a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

Less than an hour later, they were back where they began, at City Hall, to submit their voting sheets.

“I feel this year’s event was a success,” said the mayor, who thanked all the city workers who assisted in this year’s effort. “We have a beautiful city, and many residents go to great pains to decorate their houses, some for the best decorated house contest and some just for the love of the season.

“All in all it makes you feel good about the community in which we live and prepare for Christmas,” Henry said.

Departing councilmen McGill and Melendez honored at final meeting

By MATTHEW SOCKOL
Correspondent

SAYREVILLE — Two Borough Council officials are departing as the year comes to an end.

The Dec. 14 meeting marked the final appearance of Council President David McGill and Councilman Ricci Melendez as members of Sayreville’s legislative body, following the conclusion of their three-year terms.

Both Democrats, McGill and Melendez first ran together for council in 2012, defeating Republican incumbent Nicholas Perrette and candidate Larry Doyle. Melendez received 7,737 votes and McGill registered 7,460 to Doyle’s 6,083 and Perrette’s 5,940.

Melendez lost his bid for re-election in this year’s race, coming in third with 3,006 votes. The two open council seats were obtained by Republican Pat Lembo and Democrat Steven Grillo, who picked up 3,093 and 3,047 votes, respectively. Republican council candidate Christian Hibinski drew 2,993 votes.

McGill did not seek re-election to the council, instead running for mayor against Republican incumbent Kennedy O’Brien. O’Brien won, obtaining 3,209 votes, while McGill received 3,022.

For their time as government officials, McGill and Melendez were honored by O’Brien and the rest of the council at the meeting.

“Being an elected official is not an easy task,” O’Brien said. “You’re kind of always out there, and your actions are always watched, and your actions are always judged. So with that, it takes a special type of person, one with courage to do this, in my humble opinion.”

After asking the council to stand, O’Brien awarded McGill and Melendez with plaques “for distinguished service rendered as a member of the Sayreville Borough Council from 2013 to 2015” and thanked them for their work. Council members Daniel Buchanan, Victoria Kilpatrick, Mary Novak and Art Rittenhouse also thanked their departing colleagues.

McGill and Melendez were given the opportunity to speak one last time as members of Sayreville’s council.

“It was a great opportunity to sit up here with these fine people,” Melendez said. “We didn’t always get along, but I think my goal was to come up here and wield some power in some ways, and I think we made some improvements in the area of my expertise, which is technology. My hope is in the future we do attract more of a diverse type of person to be on the council because diversity, in my belief, is going to make us stronger, better.”

Melendez also praised Borough Clerk Theresa Farbaniec and wished Lembo and Grillo success on the council before addressing McGill:

“I just want to thank Mr. McGill for his courage, his strength, running with him, and just being with this man every day, pushing me, making me want to be better, was one of the greatest things I’m never going to forget for the rest of my life.”

Once Melendez finished, McGill spoke. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work for the people of Sayreville and work up here with my confederates, both Republican and Democrat,” he said. “It’s been an eye-opener and what I mean by that is there’s a lot of moving parts to make this borough work. And most of the people who sit out there, or out on the street have no idea what it takes to run this borough.”

“My best to everyone,” McGill continued. “I’ve enjoyed myself, I’ve been treated very honorably over the last three years. I wish I could have done more for you.”

Kloos Christmas light show shines spotlight on fallen Spotswood EMT

By MICHAEL NUNES
Staff Writer

 Paying tribute to Hinal Patel, the Spotswood EMT who was killed while on duty in July, Kloos Family Lights incorporated a Spotswood EMS badge into their Christmas lights display. The Kloos family will also be accepting donations that will go toward a scholarship to be awarded in Patel’s honor to a graduating Spotswood High School senior.  MICHAEL NUNES/STAFF Paying tribute to Hinal Patel, the Spotswood EMT who was killed while on duty in July, Kloos Family Lights incorporated a Spotswood EMS badge into their Christmas lights display. The Kloos family will also be accepting donations that will go toward a scholarship to be awarded in Patel’s honor to a graduating Spotswood High School senior. MICHAEL NUNES/STAFF EAST BRUNSWICK — For this year’s Christmas display at Kloos Family Lights, a badge honoring fallen Spotswood EMT Hinal Patel was the focal point of the display.

“Every year we choose a different charity to donate to. … We really like doing a cause that is close to home. So this is why we went with Hinal this year because we wanted the money to benefit something close to home and see the results of what we do,” said Billy Kloos, who along with his brother Ryan has been setting up elaborate Christmas light displays.

Kloos Family Lights held a First Responders Night on Dec. 12, inviting Patel’s former co-workers and other first responders to the display at 13 Sterling Court.

Patel, 22, of Piscataway, was killed when her ambulance, while en route to an emergency call, was struck by a motor vehicle on July 25, causing the ambulance to turn over. The accident occurred at the intersection of Cranbury Road and Ryders Lane.

“This is actually a great honor because this shows she was well loved and well respected,” said Miriam Barbarise, director of Spotswood EMS.

The Kloos family also collected donations, which will fund a scholarship for a Spotswood High School senior who plans on pursuing a career in the medical field, just as Patel had dreamed of going to medical school.

The recipient of the scholarship will be chosen by a special committee and awarded during the Spotswood Public Schools’ Senior Awards Night.

“To do this to help someone achieve what she had planned on achieving, I think it’s an honor. … For them to choose my Hinal is pretty cool,” Barbarise said.

For Spotswood Mayor Nicholas Poliseno, this scholarship is a way of keeping Patel’s memory alive.

“I am so excited to honor Hinal and to keep her memory going,” he said, adding that he hopes to keep the scholarship going for years to come.

“We’re hoping to get 10 years out of this at least and get more people to start donating to this fund so we can keep her name going,” said Poliseno.

In the past, the Kloos family has used the light show to spotlight charities such as Elijah’s Promise Kitchen in East Brunswick, The Make a Wish Foundation, and New Jersey’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

According to Kloos, over the past six years they have raised $28,000.

Last year, Kloos Family Lights raised around $14,000 in honor of Mikey Nichols, the Monroe Township student who became paralyzed when he shattered his C-5 vertebra during an ice hockey game.

According to Kloos, it took 225,000 lights, 1,500 strands and five miles of extension cords to make their display possible.

“I am so proud of both of my sons for doing this,” said Bill Kloos, father of Billy and Ryan. Kloos is a retired North Brunswick police lieutenant.

According to Kloos, the badge honoring Patel will be used in future displays.

Those who wish to donate can do so at gofundme.com/spotswoodems.

Contact Michael Nunes at mnunes@gmnews.com.

Toys for tots

 PHOTO COURTESY OF REFORMED CHURCH HOME PHOTO COURTESY OF REFORMED CHURCH HOME Kate Shepard, right, the executive director of the Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge, presented local U.S. Marine Sgt. Bennett with approximately 100 gifts that were collected through this year’s Toys for Tots program. Some of the gifts were purchased with funds raised by the assisted living residents’ annual craft and candy sale.

Grocery stores expand services

By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

 Grocery stores are offering more than food shopping such as this gingerbread cookie decorating class held at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Grocery stores are offering more than food shopping such as this gingerbread cookie decorating class held at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Area grocery stores are slowly changing the way they cater to their customers by providing more services and programs to help make a regular trip to the supermarket a day filled with fun, learning and adventure.

From nutritional assistance, children’s classes and even free home delivery services, supermarkets have become hotspots of activities and resources, showing it is not just about the shopping, but about community togetherness. “I feel like we are definitely providing something more than just shopping,” said Laura Fette, marketing team leader at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro.

“I feel like the store has been a destination for events, whether kid- or adult-focused, and we are even finding people within the community, partnering with them and helping them to build their own businesses, and I think that has been what has worked really well here — finding what our community needs and really catering to it.”

 Children of all ages watch a gingerbread cookie demonstration by Dani B. Fiori at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Children of all ages watch a gingerbread cookie demonstration by Dani B. Fiori at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro on Dec. 17. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR According to Fette, Whole Foods in Marlboro offers some unique partnerships and classes for its clientele, such as with Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge for cooking classes and Macaroni Kids of Western Monmouth County, where children get to make their own pizza and macaroni necklaces.

“Finding these local experts who are really trying to build their businesses as well, and collaborating together to bring programming inside the store, people see we are beyond a shopping destination,” Fette said. “We’re offering the full scope of things.”

Fette also said the store offers a You & Me Toddler Program several times a month.

“Each Whole Foods Market is different, and I really feel like that we cater to our community … we’re becoming a part of people’s routine beyond just shopping,” she said.

Aside from classes, Michael Sinatra, public relations and public affairs director at Whole Foods Market’s Northeast Region, said the supermarket chain also offers additional services such as catering and takes pride in giving back to local communities.

“A lot of people enjoy taking advantage of our programming, such as our special ordering and catering services and our special menus,” he said.

At Whole Foods Market, customers can make shopping quick and easy by reserving and ordering meals, entrees, and party must-haves online and then picking them up at the store.

“We definitely see a higher volume of orders this time of year, but customers are aware and use this service at various times of the year,” Sinatra said.

The supermarket chain also participates in community giving days or what they refer to as “5% Days.”

“Each store is always donating food to area food banks and shelters,” Sinatra said. “Then several times a year, we hold community giving days where five percent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local area charity or educational organization.”

The Whole Foods Market in Marlboro will also join the Manalapan and Marlboro municipalities for holiday tree lighting events, providing baked goods, hot chocolate and company.

“I feel like we do a lot in the community,” Fette said. “People are coming here for things, but we’re also coming to them as well … and I think that makes a big difference too.”

Valerie Fox, media relations coordinator at Wegmans Food Markets, said providing services such as catering and a free public app is about making customers’ lives and shopping experience as simple as possible.

“Wegmans’ aim is always to help mealtimes for families be as great and easy as possible,” she said.

“Our services help save customers time … but I think the number one thing that separates us are our people and customer service representatives who provide an added convenience.”

One service Fox said Wegmans provides is a free downloadable app that makes going to the supermarket less of a hassle.

“The Wegmans app is a very useful tool,” she said. “Customers can create their shopping list right there, and it’ll sort everything by aisle, and as you add items to your list, it will automatically estimate the total so you can manage your budget.”

On the app, customers can also browse through hundreds of recipes and add ingredients to their shopping list with just one touch and can even watch easy how-to videos to make meals easier.

“We also offer three ways for customers to enjoy our catering services, and that is either by going online, ordering by phone or by coming into your local Wegmans store,” Fox said.

From simple cheese and deli platters to cocktail party menus, complete holiday dinners and even delicious dessert trays, catering experts and chefs help with cooking and planning so families can have a memorable gathering.

“Many families have told us that they just don’t have time to do all the prep work themselves, so while this is not a full catering service with people coming to your home to serve, it provides our customers a service where they can order all their party-planning needs in one place.”

At ShopRite, a growing service is the supermarket’s ShopRite From Home program, which allows customers to save time and energy by ordering their groceries from the convenience of their own residence.

“The majority of ShopRite stores offer the ShopRite From Home service, which allows customers to shop online and pick up groceries at the store or have those groceries delivered right to their doorstep,” said Karen O’Shea, spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp.

Whether you are a busy parent, are injured or can’t make it to the store for some other reason, the ShopRite From Home service is an effortless way to get all the groceries you need with the click of a button.

“The ShopRite Mobile App and ShopRite From Home service allow customers to place orders electronically, and those grocery orders are then shopped in store by personal, trained shoppers,” O’Shea said. “Customers can tell our shoppers how they like their produce picked or cold cuts sliced. Our shoppers will also call customers at home if we are out of a certain item.

“Service is key, and it’s the reason our ShopRite From Home service continues to grow each year.”

Heather Casey of Edison said that, with being a mom of four sons and she and her husband both working full time, ShopRite from Home allows her to order her groceries on her time and schedule the deliveries for when it is most convenient.

“With four kids and both my husband and I working full time, every second counts,” Casey said. “We started using ShopRite from Home when my youngest son was born and food shopping became an added challenge.

“It is so helpful because we can shop from our phones or computer early in the morning or late in the evening when the kids are asleep and schedule pickups [or] deliveries around our work/family schedules. I rarely see the inside of the store any more because this service is so helpful!”

The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes getting prescriptions easier for customers.

“The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes managing prescriptions simple by allowing customers to refill prescriptions and transfer prescriptions right to their local ShopRite,” O’Shea said.

Diana Fransis, retail dietitian program supervisor at Wakefern Food Corp., works closely with more than 120 registered dietitians across 130 stores, training them to work with customers and educating them on making healthier choices while food shopping, as well as carrying out these choices by preparing healthy, well-balanced meals.

“Our registered dietitians will sit down with customers in a free one-on-one consultation, talk about their needs and goals, find out what they are looking for, dive into a diet plan and will even walk around the store with customers showing them where the food that is best for them is,” Fransis said.

ShopRite’s Culinary Workshops is a hands-on cooking class program taught by professionals who share their skills and knowledge, helping customers acquire limitless meal possibilities that include delicious, healthy ingredients.

“They’re cooking full meals with appetizers, entrees, desserts, and we even have a kids cooking class that teaches them how to make a very easy meal.”

According to Fransis, part of the supermarket’s Health and Wellness program includes the Dietitian’s Selection recipe program, a collection of recipes featuring healthy ingredients and essential nutrients while limiting the amount of fats, cholesterol and sodium.

“People are becoming much more aware about healthy eating and getting proper nutrition, and there is so much that our registered dietitians and chefs offer and can help with,” Fransis said. “All our services are free.”

Arlene Putterman, manager of public and community relations at Stop & Shop’s New York Metro Division, said getting prepared for the holidays or other festive occasions is easy as customers can order party platters, desserts, cakes and other arrangements online for in-store pickup and can order flowers.

“Stop & Shop provides fully prepared holiday dinners,” she said. “All the fixings without the prep work.”

Putterman said the supermarket’s Peapod service also makes delivering groceries to your home or business easy.

“Peapod online home delivery service strives to deliver convenience and value,” she said. “Customers can order online or on Peapod’s free mobile app for grocery home delivery or car-side service at one of our many pickup locations.”

Lucky girls

 PHOTO COURTESY OF NIKKI KAISER PHOTO COURTESY OF NIKKI KAISER The Sayreville Leprechaun Junior Pee Wee cheerleaders placed fourth out of 15 teams from across the country in the Pop Warner National Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Disney World on Dec. 9. Pictured in the top row are, left to right, Assistant Coach Jessica Crimmins, student demonstrator Jennifer Tamburri, cheer Director Sonya Pearson, Head Coach Kaitlyn Freyer, student demonstrator Caitlyn Hochron, Assistant Coach Andrew Hochron, student demonstrator Kacey Logan and Minnie Mouse. Pictured in the middle row are, left to right, Makayla Pugh, Megan Zsorey, Jaden Kaiser, Khadirah Ismail, Jayden Mann, Jasmine Gonzalez, Mya Jackson and Jaleigh Matos. Pictured in the bottom row are, left to right, Crystal Margotta, Emma Hochron, Christina Fritz, Heather Pechulis, Kylie Taeschler and Kelley French.

Spicuzzo released from prison

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo has been released from jail.

Spicuzzo was sentenced in 2013 to nine years in prison for running a jobs-for-cash scheme that yielded him approximately $112,000 in bribes from those seeking positions or promotions in the sheriff’s department, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said at the time.

He was released from the Central Reception and Assignment Facility (CRAF) in Trenton on Dec. 17, according to a receptionist at the CRAF. Spicuzzo had to serve at least two years before becoming eligible for parole. He faced numerous charges in the scheme, but entered into a deal in which he pleaded guilty to only one of them.

The 70-year-old Helmetta resident was sentenced in state Superior Court in Monmouth County on Sept. 20, 2013, after pleading guilty to a charge of accepting $25,000 in exchange for a job in his office.

He was the Middlesex County sheriff for three decades, from 1980 until his 2010 retirement, and was chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization for 16 years.

Former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Investigator Darrin P. DiBiasi, 47, of Monmouth Junction, and former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Officer Paul A. Lucarelli, 50, of South River, also submitted guilty pleas. The two men admitted to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to make illegal gifts to a public servant.

DiBiasi was sentenced on Sept. 20, 2013, to 364 days in jail, five years probation, 200 hours community service and a $5,000 fine.

Lucarelli was sentenced to three years probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service on Oct. 4, 2013.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

Investigation judges Old Bridge officer used justified force in fatal shooting

OLD BRIDGE — A detailed investigation has revealed that an Old Bridge police officer was justified in shooting a man armed with a weapon earlier this year.

On Jan. 14 at 5:59 a.m., the Old Bridge Police Department received a 911 call from an individual at 40 Cedar Grove Place requesting an ambulance for a resident, later identified as Talbot Schroeder, 75, who had reportedly attempted suicide by cutting his wrists.

During the call, dispatchers could hear yelling and screaming in the background, references to a knife, and an additional report that the subject had just stabbed himself in the stomach, according to results of an investigation conducted by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which were released on Dec. 21.

Dispatch shared this information with responding officers, specifically advising them that the subject was in possession of a knife and actively injuring himself, officials said.

Two Old Bridge police officers arrived at the residence at the same time, with Officer 1 entering the residence while Officer 2 retrieved a first aid kit, according to officials.

Officer 1 was directed to a downstairs room where he encountered Schroeder, who was reportedly seated on the floor several feet away with a knife in his right hand. Officer 1 ordered Schroeder to drop the knife, to which he replied “No” and reportedly made a motion as if to throw the knife in Officer 1’s direction, officials said.

Officer 1 purportedly retreated to the stairwell for cover while the subject stood and began walking toward the officer, brandishing the knife at head level. Officer 1 allegedly gave repeated orders to drop the knife. Having no avenue of retreat at this point, Officer 1 fired his duty weapon one time, striking Schroeder in the chest. Schroeder was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:27 a.m.

Officer 2 entered the residence and reportedly heard Officer 1’s vocal commands to drop the knife. From his vantage point in the foyer, he could not see Schroeder, officials said. Before Officer 2 could advance further, Officer 1 had fired the shot, the investigation revealed. Officer 2 notified police headquarters of the shot fired and requested first aid.

The investigation further determined that prior to the original 911 call, Schroeder had drawn a knife and had attempted to strike his wife, which resulted in lacerations to her hand and face. She was able to flee upstairs and awaken her son who then, upon going downstairs, discovered his father on the floor, actively bleeding from lacerations to both his wrists. Schroeder allegedly refused to relinquish the knife to his son and reportedly pointed it in his direction when he tried to take it from him. It was during this exchange that 911 was called, officials said.

Officer 1’s training records were reviewed and it was determined that he had received and successfully completed all annual mandatory firearms and Use of Force training prior to this incident, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation determined that the level of force utilized was justifiable, specifically by Schroeder repeatedly ignoring commands to drop his weapon, a knife of sufficient size to cause serious bodily injury or death; advancing upon Officer 1 with the weapon brandished in such a way as to infer intent to harm; and having already exhibited a willingness and propensity for utilizing that knife in the commission of his own self-injury, resulted in Officer 1, with no option for retreat, although not required under the law, having a reasonable belief that in the absence of such level of force, he was in jeopardy of incurring serious bodily injury or death, according to the press release.

Package theft a concern

By JENNIFER ORTIZ and KENNY WALTER
Staff Writers

 STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The theft of packages delivered to doorsteps is becoming a bigger problem as more and more people shop online for their Christmas gifts.

Woodbridge Police Capt. Roy Hoppock said package theft has become a growing issue, and there are very few ways to address it.

“It’s a problem. It’s a crime of opportunity is what it comes down to,” he said. “So many more people are [shopping online] and more and more packages are being left on people’s front steps, and people drive by and they see them and they grab them.”

Hoppock said Woodbridge police recently made an arrest involving package theft and charged a woman with three counts of theft by unlawful taking after three packages were taken from an apartment complex on Dec. 7 in the Fords section of Woodbridge.

“We did a follow-up and on Dec. 13 we made an arrest of a female that was staying at [a nearby hotel],” he said. “Most of the time it is difficult to make an arrest unless there is video.”

According to Hoppock, some shoppers utilize their neighbors in an effort to thwart any potential theft.

“If they have the luxury of having some neighbors that don’t work or if the person knows there is going to be a delivery in a day or two, let your neighbor know,” Hoppock said. “That seems to be the best, but not everybody has that luxury.”

Howell Police Detective Sgt. Christian Antunez said thefts of this nature occur sporadically throughout the year, but increase in frequency significantly during the holiday season. He said that as of Dec. 14, police had received at least five reports of thefts of packages since Nov. 1.

“The number is likely higher because some people do not report the thefts to police. We strongly encourage residents to report any thefts to the police department,” Antunez said.

In a public awareness announcement, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said most thefts of packages occur during the afternoon and/or early evening hours.

Victims are asked to report thefts online at www.howellpolice.org or call the police. In the event the person who stole the item is caught, the merchandise could be returned, Kudrick said.

“Once the item is confirmed to have been delivered and most likely stolen, call the police immediately and file a report with as much information about the theft as possible, including the number of boxes, the items stolen, the value of items stolen, carrier, the time and date of delivery,” Antunez said.

He said the Ramtown area of Howell south of Lakewood-Allenwood Road appeared to be a target for this type of illegal activity.

“We are adding extra patrols in the area to stop and identify suspicious vehicles and persons and to increase visibility. This also includes plainclothes personnel,” Antunez said, adding that the reported thefts remain under investigation.

He said police are working diligently to investigate the crimes that have occurred and to prevent future crimes.

“We encourage residents to be vigilant and to contact the police immediately if they see suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhood. Suspicious vehicles can include vehicles driving aimlessly, very slowly, up and down the street, apparently lost, such as driving down cul-de-sacs or dead end streets, and other similar actions.

“Suspicious people can exhibit similar behavior and also include clothing meant to conceal their identity, approaching houses and then asking about lost dogs or other fictitious stories when confronted by homeowners and other similar behavior,” Antunez said. “Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at once, so we ask that residents bring their delivered packages inside as soon as possible to limit their exposure to thieves. We also ask that neighbors be aware of their surroundings as much as possible to protect the community and to look out for one another.” Kudrick suggested residents might want to view a www.travelers.com “How to Protect Yourself from Package Theft and ID Fraud” article. Tips include having packages delivered at work or choosing a specific delivery time if the retailer provides such an option. Delivery alerts and a trusted neighbor to take one’s package inside for safekeeping are also advised.

“There are undesirables always looking to take advantage of you,” Kudrick said, adding that residents should be aware of their surroundings.

Manalapan Lt. Edward Niesz said the Manalapan Police Department has tips for consumers shopping online.

“We try to get people to either use one of the shipping locations to pick up there, to have the tracking devices so they know exactly when their package is going to be arriving or set up a delivery with a friend, or what a lot of people do now is have packages delivered to their place of employment,” Niesz said.

Niesz said while the problem seems to be growing nationwide, it hasn’t been that big of an issue in Manalapan.

“There is a heightened awareness about it and in our township it hasn’t been as much of a problem,” he said. “In Manalapan we haven’t seen a great increase in it as of late, it’s been sporadic here and there.”

Niesz said while it is difficult to solve crimes involving stolen packages, a lot of homeowners are now using surveillance cameras and uploading the footage to social media to help identify the perpetrators.

Michael, the supervisor of customer service for the U.S. Postal Service in Red Bank, who wouldn’t disclose his last name, said the growing theft problem began about six years ago as online shopping increased.

He said mail carriers are taught different ways to conceal packages so they are not just left in plain site.

“If they have a screen door and the package fits, a lot of times the carriers will put it in between the doors,” Michael said. “Sometimes if they have a side door, they will do something like that, but other than that there is nothing to prevent it.”

Residents are being put on notice that packages delivered to and left outside homes are a target for thieves, particularly around the holidays.

“It is getting worse and worse,” Michael said. “After Thanksgiving is when it becomes larger.

“That’s when it becomes big but it is an all year round problem.”

In a statement from United Parcel Service (UPS), which delivers an estimated 630 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve, the company has not seen an increase in package theft in recent years.

“UPS delivers about 18 million packages every day, and our data indicate that the rate of incidents involving UPS has been relatively flat over the last few years,” the statement reads. “We have procedures in place to ensure all of our packages are properly delivered.

“We alert our drivers and seasonal driver helpers to specific incidents where law enforcement has contacted us. If a customer contacts UPS to report a stolen package, UPS would work with the original shipper through our claims process to make the consumer whole.”

Delivery tips

 If you are not going to be home, have your packages delivered to work, a neighbor’s or relative’s house

 Have your package delivered to a local store for pick-up

 Track your package so you can be notified when a package arrives

 Pick up the package from the delivery company’s closest facility

 Ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation for delivery

 Give the delivery company instructions where packages can be left out of sight from the road

Sayreville man convicted for importing heroin

SAYREVILLE — A Sayreville man was convicted on Dec. 11 for his role in a conspiracy to import heroin from India into the United States.

Adolphus Nwokedi 47, was charged with one count of conspiring with others to import 100 grams or more of heroin, according to a statement prepared by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

He was convicted following a threeday trial in Newark federal court. The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning the guilty verdict, Fishman said.

Nwokedi conspired with an individual in India from October to December 2013 to ship a parcel containing heroin into the United States. In return for $3,000, Nwokedi agreed to accept the package at his business address in Newark and then deliver it to another conspirator living in the Bronx, New York, Fishman said.

On Dec. 11, 2013, customs officers at the mail facility of JFK International Airport in New York intercepted the parcel and found 524 grams of heroin, according to Fishman.

On Jan. 2, 2014, agents with Homeland Security Investigations conducted a controlled delivery of the parcel. Nwodeki personally accepted the parcel in Newark and was subsequently charged, Fishman said.

The conspiracy count carries a sentence of five to 40 years in prison. Sentencing is set for March 21.