Five charged in theft of empty beer kegs

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:51

    Plans to return them for deposit targeted businesses in multiple communities SPARTA — Good communication between police departments and area businesses has thwarted a series of crimes committed by four Jefferson Township residents, leading to their arrests and charges in Sparta, Newton and Jefferson. Off-duty Andover police officer Richard Then was making a phone call in the parking lot of Max’s Station House in Andover on July 4 when he spotted a male lurking around the closed establishment. He noticed another hiding in the woods behind the guardrail on Newton-Sparta Road. A third person sat behind the wheel of a grey Chevrolet Blazer. “I knew something was up,” said Then, who contacted dispatcher Kim Brown at headquarters with the vehicle’s license plate. “It all started coming together really quickly,” Then said. Brown was able to match the plates to individuals who were tied to thefts of beer kegs from Salt Gastropub in Byram and from establishments in Denville. Following Then’s call to the dispatcher, Sergeant Steve Murrell addressed the trio at Max’s Station House. Adam Depko, age 25, told Murrell he knew the restaurant’s owner. “There was no justification to detain them or investigate it further,” said Andover Police Chief Gil Taglialatela. “Sergeant Murrell took down the information which later led to the arrest.” The following day a female was seen requesting an application at Max’s Station House. Susan Woomer, 22, was later seen leaving Max’s with two males in the same grey Blazer — without taking an application. Police distributed a suspicious activity notification to local businesses on July 6. The Tuscany Bistro in Newton reported thefts of beer kegs to the Newton Police Department on July 7. That night, individuals tied to the July 4 and 5 incidents entered the Liquor Factory with more beer kegs. Employees recognized the people pictured in the suspicious activity notice and stalled the group until police arrived. The persons pictured on the notice were Depko, Nicholas Stokes, 30, and William Stokes, 23. Depko and Nicholas Stokes were arrested and charged on April 19 for the Denville and Byram keg thefts. Andover Police Department Sergeant Eric Danielson and Detective Rod Mosner investigated the incident and contacted Sparta and Newton Police Departments. The Sparta Police Department arrested William Stokes and James Elmezaen, 23, for theft of kegs from the White Deer Liquor Store in Sparta. Newton Police arrested William Stokes, Depko, Woomer, and Elmezaen for the Tuscany Bistro kegs. Jefferson Township Police Department has since charged the four with conspiracy, theft and receiving stolen property for nine kegs taken from the Mason Street Pub on July 5. In all, five people have been charged in separate incidents and municipalities since April for thefts of kegs from restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. The perpetrators reportedly redeemed $30 deposits each for the stolen kegs at unsuspecting liquor stores. Community policing and communication “The Andover Police have shown how they protect this community,” John Carafello, owner of the plaza where the Liquor Factory is located. “The community knows they are there for businesses and residents when they pick up the phone.” “The flow of information is phenomenal, Sparta is surrounded by seven different police departments, and we always work great together,” Sparta Township Police Sergeant John Paul Beebe remarked. Beebe said it’s up to the county prosecutor whether or not to consolidate the charges, but that consolidation is likely given that so many departments were involved in the case. Beebe said theft in the county is on an upswing, with many perpetrators attempting to cash in on stolen goods. He also said there is a coordinated rise in heroin use and possession. “What the Liquor Factor did in this case is not just the job of the police - to suppress criminal activity - it’s what we all share,” said Newton Police Chief Michael Richards. Richards also said that a countywide records management system is in the works for departments to further share information. “This is not something that occurs naturally, officers and detectives work hard to make sure this kind of communication exists,” said Richards. Taglialatela praised the diligence of the officers in all the departments involved. “These guys have been doing good old-fashioned police work,” he said. “If our citizens and businesses get victimized, it means a lot to us,” said Beebe. “We want to let criminals know they will be prosecuted.” Richards encouraged residents and businesses to report suspicious activities, including establishments recently missing beer kegs, to their local police departments. Because of the recent rash in these types of thefts, area restaurants are keeping a tighter watch on their kegs and liquor stores are mandating receipts for keg returns. Despite having been already charged, Stokes, Depko, Woomer and Elmezaen are still being sought by the Jefferson Township Police Department. Anyone with information can contact Detective Rich Geib of the Jefferson Township Police Department.