TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that criminal charges were filed against a Freehold man who allegedly coughed on a Manalapan food store employee, telling the woman that he has the coronavirus.
George Falcone, 50, was charged today with making terroristic threats (third degree), obstructing the administration of law (fourth degree) and harrassment (disorderly persons).
The incident occurred at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22 at the Wegmans on US Highway 9. 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. Instead, Falcone allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed. He allegedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus. Falcone subsequently told two other employees they are lucky to have jobs.
A detective of the Manalapan Police Department working a security detail at the store approached Falcone, who allegedly refused to cooperate or provide his name or driver’s license. After approximately 40 minutes, Falcone identified himself and was permitted to leave.
Following additional investigation, summonses were issued today requiring Falcone to appear in court at a later date.
The case will be prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice within the Attorney General’s Office.
“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,” Grewal said. “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 J. Gramiccioni said exploiting people’s fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible.
“In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us,” 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,” Manalapan Police Chief Michael Fountain said.
Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Petty disorderly persons offenses carry a sentence of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.