Drug distributor gets prison term

A resident of Farmingdale has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in a large-scale drug trafficking organization that distributed heroin in Ocean and Monmouth counties, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Jason O’Neal, 43, of Farmingdale, who is also known as “Born,” previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin. Sheridan imposed the sentence in Trenton federal court on Dec. 18.

To date, 19 other alleged members or affiliates of the Britt-Young Drug Trafficking Organization – so named after its leaders, Rufus Young and Robert Britt, in the criminal complaint – have pleaded guilty to narcotics offenses.

According to documents filed in O’Neal’s case and statements made in court: Between February 2013 and March 2014, O’Neal conspired with Young and others to distribute heroin in Ocean and Monmouth counties as part of the Britt-Young Drug Trafficking Organization. O’Neal admitted that he served as a supervisor and distributed between 100 and 400 grams of heroin in furtherance of the conspiracy.

In addition to the prison term, Sheridan sentenced O’Neal to serve three years of supervised release.

Applicant revises aspects of Howell office building

By JENNIFER ORTIZ
Staff Writer

HOWELL — An applicant who wants to construct an office building on Ford Road presented revised plans to the Zoning Board of Adjustment during a recent meeting.

Representatives of Ford Road Equities returned before the board on Nov. 23 seeking a use variance that would permit the development of a two-story, 16,000-squarefoot office building on Ford Road near Route 9 and Irene Boulevard, Howell.

The project requires a use variance from the zoning board because an office building is not a permitted use in the Agricultural Rural Estate zone in which it is being proposed.

Attorney Kenneth Pape, who represents the applicant, said the proposed office building is expected to be a multi-tenant space and include medical offices.

At a previous meeting, board members stated their concerns with various aspects of the proposal. The applicant sought to address those concerns with several revisions.

Engineer Peter Strong, representing the applicant, said a retaining wall has been shortened by 60 to 70 feet and the building’s septic system has been relocated farther to the west as requested.

The landscape in front of the proposed building has been enhanced to create a berm to hide the building and parking lot from the neighborhood in accordance with a request from the board’s planner and tree expert. A retaining wall was added that runs parallel to Ford Road, Strong said.

To add to the aesthetics of the building, architect Catherine Flores, representing the applicant, said the exterior of the building has been redesigned with the goal of creating a structure that will match the residential area.

“We went with more earth tones and incorporated brick for a residential look,” Flores said.

In addition, a true loading zone was placed to accommodate trucks, Strong said. Business hours would be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and light emitting diode lights would be turned on at 6:30 a.m. and turned off at 10:30 p.m.

Pape said the applicant is prepared to bring in a 6-inch-diameter water line, as there is currently no public water supply in the area.

Residents expressed concern that medical offices would eventually take over most of the building and bring more traffic to the area than an office building where employees arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon would generate.

“As each year goes by, more and more people are living here. The use of this office (building) over the years will increase and not decrease,” resident Bill Hitzel said.

Pape said the building is designed to accommodate about eight office spaces. He said medical offices would not take up more than 3,200 square feet of the 16,000-squarefoot building.

Several other residents spoke and expressed concern with the number a variances being requested by the applicant.

No vote on the application was taken on Nov. 23. Testimony on the Ford Road Equities application will continue at a future meeting.

Clients have found caring touch for 30 years

By JENNIFER ORTIZ
Staff Writer

 Lucy Melillo is the second-generation owner of Wig Illusions, Manalapan, which offers products to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss.  JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF Lucy Melillo is the second-generation owner of Wig Illusions, Manalapan, which offers products to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss. JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF A second-generation family business is marking 30 years of service to individuals who are battling diseases that result in hair loss.

Wig Illusions, in the Summerton Plaza, Route 9, Manalapan, was founded by Elizabeth (Betty) Melillo, who lived in Manalapan for more than 40 years. Melillo died in October 2014.

The business is now owned by Betty’s daughter-in-law, Lucy Melillo, who has owned Wig Illusions since 2006 after working for her mother-in-law for seven years.

As she marks the business’s 30 years of operation, Lucy Melillo recalled how Betty, who was a wig stylist her entire life, founded Wig Illusions in space at Kilmer Plaza, Marlboro.

“It was a chair, a shower curtain and everything was ordered by mail,” Melillo said. “She needed a little help washing and setting wigs. … So when I was home with (my) babies, I would do that work for her.

“As soon as my youngest child went into preschool, I started coming in and learning the business. I worked an apprenticeship with her for many years … that’s how I learned,” Melillo said.

In 2006, Betty decided to retire from the business she had founded 21 years earlier.

“She gave me the option of buying the business. I was very scared because I didn’t know the business aspects,” Melillo said, adding that she had lost her sister and mother to cancer in 2005.

“It was super tough for me. … Did I want to stay in the cancer field? Because I suffered for a year with my sister and as soon as my sister passed away my mom got diagnosed and passed away five months later. I was so saddened, but I decided the women here, the rewards I get from my job, are (worth it),” Melillo said.

With support from her husband, Gerald, she took a leap of faith and became the owner of Wig Illusions. “I decided to start working by appointment to see how that would work out. Walkins are welcome, but this isn’t a place people are going to walk into unless it’s someone looking for extensions and things like that,” Melillo said.

Melillo said when Wig Illusions opened, it did not primarily cater to people who were losing their hair during a battle with cancer and other illnesses.

“Because of illnesses that make your hair come out, we saw it was very important that we move to a private location to give people personalized and private rooms,” Melillo said.

She said her relationships with her clients are very meaningful and helped her make the decision to become the owner of Wig Illusions.

“I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve hugged, I’ve gone to people’s houses. Some of these women are fighting for their lives,” she said.

Client Marie Pellicone said it is that compassion that has made Wig Illusions a success.

“Lucy takes care of all of her clients … She takes the time and she has the understanding for people’s needs. … Whether it is medical or just a beauty aspect, people come from all over to be with her because she’s that good at what she does, and it’s the human feeling that comes across from her that makes the difference,” Pellicone said.

The process starts with an appointment and a free consultation.

Melillo’s advice to individuals coming in for a wig for fashion reasons is to cut out pictures of the look they would like to achieve. Her advice to people facing the prospect of hair loss is not to wait.

“A lot of times, for my chemo people, doctors will say, ‘you’re only going to thin, you’ll be OK,’ and they come in here crying because their hair is coming out. “For anybody who is going to go through chemotherapy, I recommend that before they start treatment, they make an appointment; that is very important. Sooner is better than later. If they come to me (before treatment), they will have everything prepared,” Melillo said.

Items available at Wig Illusions include head coverings, hats, scarves, sleep caps, turbans, wig spray and more. All wig services are offered on premises. Melillo said her clients are her top priority. “I think about what happened to me before I took over the business, with caring for my sister and caring for my mother. When people walk in, I know exactly what they are thinking, what they are feeling, their emotions, because I have been through it,” she said. “If I can make you look good and you can feel good, I’ve done my job.”

Wig Illusions may be reached at 732- 431-9629.

Middletown man charged with making threats at mall theaters

REGIONAL INTEREST

Investigators have arrested a Middletown man and charged him with making a pair of bomb threats at the Freehold AMC movie theaters at Freehold Raceway Mall, Freehold Township, Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.

The prosecutor said Jesse Carroll, 22, of Middletown, who is an employee of the Freehold AMC theaters, was arrested on Dec. 18 and charged with two counts of second degree public false alarm. He was initially placed in the Monmouth County jail, Freehold Township, on $200,000 bail with no 10 percent option, as set by state Superior Court Judge Honora O’Brien Kilgallen.

The judge ordered Carroll not to return to the scene of the crimes and told him he may not have any contact with any movie theaters.

The theaters were evacuated twice last week after a series of threatening notes were discovered in the men’s room at the complex, according to the prosecutor’s office. On the evening of Dec. 14 and on the afternoon of Dec. 18, notes were found in the men’s room of the movie complex containing threats to either the theater management or specific threats of bombs inside the theater. One note that was found on Dec. 18 afternoon read: “I’m coming for blood; 4 p.m. bomb, 6 p.m. empty mag in guests.”

After each discovery the movie complex was safely evacuated while law enforcement departments were called to the scene. A thorough check of the movie complex yielded no threats to the safety of patrons, employees or management and business was returned to normal, according to the prosecutor.

“Making bomb threats in a movie theater is nothing short of domestic terrorism. Thankfully for everyone involved this was a hoax. We have wasted too much time, money and resources with these dangerous and disruptive threats. We will continue to fully respond to every threat to protect our citizens, but we are also going to react with the full force of the law every time threats turn out to be hoaxes,” Gramiccioni said.

If convicted of public false alarm, Carroll faces a sentence of five to 10 years in a New Jersey state prison for each count, which also comes with a fine of no less than $2,000 and up to the actual costs incurred by any first responder agencies.

“Our office fully intends to seek full restitution for the collective costs of all the responding agencies,” Gramiccioni said.

On Dec. 14, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Freehold Township Police Department, K-9 units from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, the Middletown and Wall Township police departments, New Jersey Homeland Security, the Freehold Township Independent Fire Company No. 1 and the Freehold First Aid and Emergency Squad all responded to the movie complex.

On Dec. 18, the response included the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, K- 9 units from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and the Freehold Township Police Department.

Anyone with additional information about this case is asked to contact Detective John Catrone of the Freehold Township Police Department at 732-462-7500, or Detective Patrick Petruziello of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 800-533- 7443.

Evergreen trees will help to rebuild dunes at shore

By ANDREW MARTINS
Staff Writer

PLUMSTED – Evergreen trees that are currently being used as Christmas decorations could embody the charity and community feeling of the holiday season well into the new year.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Plumsted Youth for Nature and the Environment (PYNE) will collect discarded pine trees and fir trees and bring them to Bradley Beach, Monmouth County, to support dune restoration efforts.

For many towns along the shore, high mounds of sand that make up dunes help to stave off beach erosion and prevent flooding.

According to PYNE, the discarded trees help to rebuild dunes because the branches bind the sand together. The trees also feed dune grasses as they decompose. However, because the trees decompose, they must be replaced every year.

PYNE Vice President Dominic Esposito said members of the group became interested in dune restoration and the recycling of Christmas trees after superstorm Sandy battered the state’s coastal areas in 2012.

“Sandy reminded us the Jersey Shore is vulnerable to coastal storms,” Esposito said. “Even though we live farther inland, this recycling project gives us an opportunity to help.”

Since superstorm Sandy made landfall and caused more than $71 billion in damage across 24 states, communities like Bradley Beach have been successful in using evergreen trees to help build up depleted dunes.

In 2013, PYNE collected about 170 trees that were recycled. In 2014, the group collected about 150 trees that were recycled.

“Last year some people told us they purchased an artificial tree instead of a real tree, which may have been the cause of the slight decline in donations,” Esposito said, adding that PYNE is hoping to collect at least 100 trees this year.

“The annual tree recycling program helps PYNE with its mission to protect the environment … [and] educates people about the benefits of recycling,” he said. “We hope to continue with the tree collection for as long as Bradley Beach is willing to accept them.”

Undecorated pine trees and fir trees will be collected at the Plumsted maintenance building parking lot at the end of Pine Street on the following dates: Jan. 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Jan. 3 from 1-4 p.m.; Jan. 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Jan. 10 from 1-4 p.m.; Jan. 16 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Jan. 17 from 9-11 a.m. Volunteers will be available to help bring the donated trees to the collection area.

Residents who are unable to bring a tree to the maintenance building at those times may request a curbside pickup. For more information, send an email to pyne.vicepresident@gmail.com or pyne.president@gmail.com.

Plumsted officials hire 2 new officers

PLUMSTED – The Township Committee has hired two police officers to replace two men who recently left the Plumsted Police Department.

The appointments of Officer Joseph Engrassia and Officer John R. Garrigan were recently approved by the members of the governing body.

“We are excited for these new officers,” Mayor Jack Trotta said. “We believe they are a good fit and we look forward to working with them.”

Trotta said officers Jared England and Michael Katandais recently resigned from the police department.

Municipal officials said Garrigan will replace Katandais as the school resource officer at the New Egypt Middle School and New Egypt High School, while Engrassia will replace England as a patrolman.

“We appreciate the work they have done for the township … and we wish them both well,” Trotta said of Katandais and England.

Officials said Garrigan and Engrassia will receive a police officer’s base salary of $34,704.

— Andrew Martins

Grocery stores expand services

By KAYLA J. MARSH
Staff Writer

 Today, grocery stores are offering more than just aisles of food to customers, as illustrated by this gingerbread cookie decorating class that was held at Whole Foods Market, Marlboro, on Dec. 17.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Today, grocery stores are offering more than just aisles of food to customers, as illustrated by this gingerbread cookie decorating class that was held at Whole Foods Market, 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.”

Briefs due in January on NJNG pipeline proposal

By MARK ROSMAN
Staff Writer

A proposal by New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) to construct a natural gas pipeline through parts of Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties will be on the docket for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in 2016.

The company’s proposal has been in the news since early in 2015 when it filed a petition with the BPU to construct the Southern Reliability Link (SRL). The project would connect the natural gas system in the three counties to a new supply point with the Transcontinental Pipe Line Company (Transco) in Chesterfield, Burlington County.

During the summer, residents and elected officials had a chance to state their views about the SRL at two public hearings that were held by the BPU.

The board will eventually make a determination on the 30- mile-long natural gas pipeline that is proposed to cross a portion of southcentral New Jersey, including portions of Upper Freehold Township, Jackson and Plumsted.

In July, BPU Commissioner Dianne Solomon granted the motions to intervene of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, Chesterfield Township and North Hanover Township. She also granted the motions to participate of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and Plumsted Township, including the right to argue orally and to file a brief or statement, according to an order establishing a post-hearing briefing schedule Solomon filed on Dec. 10.

The order states that an evidentiary hearing was held on Dec. 7 and that NJNG proposed an expedited briefing schedule, with initial briefs to be filed on Dec. 23 and reply briefs to be filed on Jan. 6. The intervenors and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance proposed that initial briefs be filed on Jan. 15 and reply briefs be filed on Jan. 29.

Solomon wrote in the order that she concluded that the expedited briefing schedule proposed by NJNG would not provide sufficient time for the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, BPU staff, and the intervenors and participants “to thoroughly review the extensive record that was created in this proceeding to prepare and file their positions on the petition (for the new pipeline).” Solomon directed that initial briefs are to be filed by Jan. 15 and reply briefs are to be filed by Jan. 29.

John Valeri, an attorney representing NJNG, previously said, “The SRL project is necessary to support the reliability and system integrity of the company’s natural gas transmission system. It provides a second major transmission tool to a critical part of the company’s service area … which serves Monmouth and Ocean counties and a portion of Burlington County.”

According to NJNG, the SRL is a highpressure 30-inch-diameter pipeline that would run 30 miles from Chesterfield Township in Burlington County to Manchester Township in Ocean County. The utility states the SRL would “provide supply diversity and system resiliency, supporting the safe, reliable distribution of natural gas to more than one million people.”

The SRL would connect a natural gas system that serves customers in Monmouth, Ocean and Burlington counties to a new Transco supply point in Chesterfield. The new pipeline will tie into NJNG’s transmission system in Manchester that is near the southern end of the transmission system.

As things stand today, Valeri said, the utility’s service area is served by a single pipeline that runs through Middlesex County, which he said is “well outside of the company’s franchise area.”

Since there are no intrastate pipelines in NJNG’s shore service area, Valeri testified that the company had “no other choice” but to run a secondary pipeline through an area of the state it does not serve. At a public hearing this summer, Jaclyn Rhoads, the assistant executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, took issue with NJNG’s statement that it needs to bolster resilience for the company’s shore area at all.

“New Jersey Natural Gas has not demonstrated this pipeline is necessary or even desirable for maintaining or safeguarding the region’s natural gas supply,” Rhoads said.

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

Christmas spirit

 STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Sofia Sierra, 5, and Mariah Sierra, 9, tell Santa what they would like for Christmas during the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Howell municipal complex on Dec. 8.