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County Continues Crackdown Against Prostitution; Stepped Up Police Effort Netted 194 Arrests in ’98
It has been nearly a year since Union County Prosecutor Thomas V. Manahan called for a crackdown on prostitution and the police departments throughout the county have answered the call.
Authorities say prostitution, disguised as massage parlors, began popping up last year in Union County as New York City continued its crackdown on these types of businesses. Last January, six persons were arrested in Westfield in two separate incidents, the first such arrests in the town in recent memory.
Even though the county’s murder rate dropped to only 14 homicides, the lowest since 1984, arrests for prostitution are up and the county’s chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Manahan, said he is “very pleased” about the stepped-up enforcement efforts the county has initiated.
It was February 9 when Mr. Manahan, concerned about a growing problem and sex-for-hire operations and illegal massage parlor activities, joined with police chiefs in declaring war on prostitution houses and street corner operations.
The result has been a marked increase in prostitution arrests, the use of undercover sting operations that put customers behind bars and notices to landlords whose properties house prostitution that they risk forfeiture proceedings.
A preliminary check of countywide totals from calendar 1998 turned up 162 arrests for soliciting prostitution, eight arrests for promoting prostitution and 24 arrests of persons actually engaged in prostitution.
Mr. Manahan said intelligence reports gathered by municipal detectives and strike force officers reveal that there is a clear cut connection to the narcotics trade. He said many girls working on street corners are often addicts looking for cash to feed a habit while massage parlor prostitutes are generally working strictly
for the money. In Plainfield, Acting Chief Edward Santiago says police pressure has been forceful and constant.
“Mayor Al McWilliams has conducted a number of citizens advisory group meetings where prostitution was a major quality of life issue,” he said. “The police director and I have responded with manpower and resources with the county’s help.”
The Hillside Police Department conducted four separate operations during the last year including a crackdown along one area along Liberty Avenue and in several massage parlors on Route 22. Police Chief John Bryson said two of the businesses are now completely gone.
“The troops have been very vigilant,” he added.
According the Captain James Durkin, commander of the Union County Narcotic Strike Force, the requests for assistance have been frequent.
“We have provided undercover female officers, posing as massage girls, with instructions from the owners of some of these places as to what illegal acts they could perform on customers coming in and how much they should charge,” Captain Durkin said. “Then, in places such as Plainfield, they would work certain street corners, such as the 1400 block of West Front Street, get solicited by johns and the backup officers would move in and make the grab.”
Executive Assistant Prosecutor Robert P. O’Leary said judges at the Union County Courthouse have even given county jail terms to those who pleaded guilty to maintaining houses of prostitution.
He said fines, probation and penalties also await those who actually promote prostitution, with many of the defendants listed as New York City residents who came into New Jersey and got caught by police.
“We’ve been active and aggressive, in terms of written notices and
face-to-face meetings, in letting the landlords know about their obligations and our right and intention to forfeit their properties if they continue,” said Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Zidonik, who is legal supervisor in the Prosecutor’s Office Plainfield satellite offices. “We’ve had four such meetings to date and not one repeat incident.”
Rahway Police Chief Edward Titlton said his officers, working with the support of the county’s Narcotic Strike Force, have been very active in following up on Mr. Manahan’s directives.
In Rahway, three separate locations were the subject of investigations over a period of four months and there were two persons charged with promotion of prostitution and four persons with engaging in prostitution.
Earlier in the year, back in January, 10 persons were arrested inside a go-go bar on Route 1 and the cases from that three-month operation are pending in court.
Union County Police Chief Richard Mannix said beefed-up patrols in
certain county park areas where prostitutes tried to set up shop “may have sent them packing with a strong message that we don’t tolerate this stuff.” He said there were several warnings but in previous problem areas, such as Green Brook Park in Plainfield, there were no arrests made.
“I’ve been extremely gratified at the response from the chiefs and the entire county law enforcement community,” Mr. Manahan said. “I asked for a crackdown because the problem had reached alarming proportions and the results are there. We are not going to let up because a sex-for-hire operation can completely ruin a whole neighborhood and destroy property values.”
The prosecutor said the fundamental challenge in reducing crime is to convince law-abiding residents that they can and should participate with law enforcement in efforts to maintain order.
“In Union County we have engaged in such partnerships to reduce prostitution with assistance from concerned members of the community whose neighborhoods have been adversely affected,” he added.
The Union County Arson Unit, back in business for less than a year, has assisted local police and fire departments in investigating suspicious fires on more than 35 separate occasions.
In only eight months of operation, the arson unit has proved itself to be a welcome addition to the fight against deliberately set fires, according to Union County Prosecutor Thomas V. Manahan.
Working with a countywide network of fire officials and municipal detectives, three detectives under the command of Lieutenant William Moylan, respond to fires of undetermined origin to help gather evidence and forensic materials.
The results, included in a year-end review of 32 fire scene investigations, have led to the arrest of a juvenile suspect wanted for deliberately setting a blaze that damaged an apartment building, the conviction of a woman who started a fire in Roselle and the identification of adult suspects in three other cases.
“Because of the tremendous losses and potential human loss associated with the deadly crime of arson, I am glad we have a cadre of trained officers helping the municipalities cope with this problem,” said Mr. Manahan, who ordered the unit concept be re-instituted April 1 of last year.
Last month, members of the unit helped the Cranford Police Department in the investigation involving an arson that severely damaged the inside of a medical arts building on North Avenue. With Cranford Detective Robert Merrill, the joint investigation led to the arrest of a New York woman who worked as a temporary employee who had worked inside an office inside the building.
Next month, a 38-year-old Piscataway woman, who started a blaze in Roselle because she was angry at a woman who was seeing her husband, is facing sentencing from an arson unit case.
Investigations Supervisor David J. Hancock said Maranda Hayes was charged with third degree arson following an investigation by Detective Deborah Baum.
In October, she admitted to a single count of arson and told Superior Court Judge John Triarsi she was upset at the victim and broke her back door window with a rock, squirted lighter fluid inside and lit a match back on September 6.
She will be sentenced on January 19 by Union County Superior Court Judge Walter R. Barisonek.
Detectives currently assigned to the Arson Unit by Chief of Detectives David F. Regal include Detective Baum along with Detectives Glenn Grusinski and Nathan Flach.
County Unit Continues Effort to Combat Fires
Labeled as Suspicious Area Woman Fatally Injured In Westfield Traffic Accident
Local State Legislators Meet With Gov. Bush
By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
In what was described as a “gettingto-know-you” type of meeting, local New Jersey legislators recently visited with Texas Governor George M. Bush to hear his intentions to seek the Republican nomination in next year’s Presidential campaign.
New Jersey State Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco of Scotch Plains and Assemblyman Richard H. Bagger of Westfield were part of a state delegation that went to Texas to meet with Governor Bush, the oldest son of the former President, on January 7.
Governor Bush, Mr. Bagger noted, is considered by most political analysts to be the top contender for the GOP nomination should he officially enter the
race. The 2000 campaign is expected to include both Elizabeth Dole, who recently resigned as head of the American Red Cross, and Senator John McCain of Arizona.
“He (Governor Bush) is very down to earth. He is very much a Texan — a strong leader,” Assemblyman Bagger observed.
“I think he would do a great job as President. He is very focused and directive,” he continued.
Both Senator DiFrancesco and Assemblyman Bagger were part of the New Jersey delegation to the 1980 Republican Convention, when George Bush, Sr. made his first run for the party’s nomination. He instead was chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee on the ticket headed by Ronald Reagan.
“We had a very frank and open discussion,” said Senator DiFrancesco. “He wants to open up the party and make it more diverse than it is today.”
Governor Bush has made education the focal point of his administration. He used the meeting to learn more about the northeast, including the New Jersey Legislature’s plan to deregulate natural gas and electricity rates.
Assemblyman Bagger, who is one of the prime sponsors of the Assembly’s version of the legislation, said Governor Bush is about to propose legislation to Texas lawmakers to deregulate energy rates in that state.
“I liked him a lot; I liked his style, his honesty,” explained Senator DiFrancesco. “We liked his politics.”
Assemblyman Bagger, in fact, said he would “enthusiastically support him” when Governor Bush officially launches his campaign.
Also attending the luncheon were Assembly Speaker Jack Collins of Salem County, Bergen County Executive Patrick P. Schuber, Senator William L. Gormley of Atlantic County, Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos, Jr. of Monmouth County, and Bill Palatucci of Westfield, who arranged the meeting.
Governor Bush, 52, was first elected in 1994 and then reelected in a landslide victory in November.
A biography posted on the National Governors’ Association web site on the Internet described him as a “compassionate conservative who shapes policy based on the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, strong families and local control.”
He has worked on reforms to improve public schools, put Welfare recipients to work, put an end to frivolous lawsuits and strengthen Texas’ criminal justice laws, according to Governor Bush’s biography.
The Governor’s brother, Jeb, was elected as Governor of Florida in November following an unsuccessful bid in 1994.
By SUZETTE F. STALKER
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
An elderly Scotch Plains woman died early Monday of injuries she sustained after being struck by a vehicle the previous evening at the corner of East Broad and Saint Paul Streets in Westfield.
Detective Sergeant John M. Parizeau of the Westfield Police Department said Ellen E. Interdonato, 71, was crossing East Broad Street when the accident occurred at 6:13 p.m.
She reportedly had attended a choral arts concert at St. Paul’s Episco
pal Church shortly before being struck by a Jeep Wagon driven by a Westfield resident, who was traveling westbound along East Broad Street.
Authorities believe Mrs. Interdonato was returning to her car, which was parked behind Baron’s Drug Store on East Broad Street, after the concert.
“She got clipped by the right side of the car,” said Sergeant Parizeau, noting that the victim was almost across the street when she was hit. No charges have been filed against the driver.
Mrs. Interdonato was transported by members of the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad and medics to University Hospital in Newark, where she died at 4:48 a.m., about 10 hours after the accident occurred, Sergeant Parizeau said.
He stated there was “no evidence” the driver had been traveling above the speed limit or had failed to use caution, noting that early evening darkness may have been a contributing factor in the accident. He said weather conditions at the time were clear.