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Police Charge Cranford Man in 27 Westfield Burglaries Since ’96


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

A Cranford man whom authorities believe is responsible for 27 burglaries in Westfield since last November was apprehended by Scotch Plains police last Friday after allegedly breaking into a township residence while the owner was asleep. Police also recovered more than $130,000 in currency and collectible coins, along with other valuables and several weapons, at separate locations the following day.

Stephen Sarnowski, 34, was arrested at approximately 9:20 p.m. after he allegedly broke into a split-level house on Edgewood Terrace in Scotch Plains while a woman was sleeping in a second-floor bedroom. The woman, who was awakened by the sound of breaking glass downstairs, feigned sleep as the intruder came up the stairs, police said. When he headed up to the attic, she fled to a neighbor’s house and alerted police.

Scotch Plains Police Chief Thomas O’Brien, during a press conference held Monday at township police headquarters with law enforcement officials from Westfield, Scotch Plains and Cranford, said patrols in the area responded to the scene and apprehended the suspect. He said the suspect was seen by police exiting the front door of the victim’s residence.

The chief said that Sarnowski, who was wearing a black ski mask and gloves over his hands, was carrying a black back pack containing about $20,000 in items which were allegedly taken from the house. The suspect, who police also said had a knife in his possession, was caught a short distance away by Officer Arthur Bruschetti following a brief foot chase. The suspect’s car was discovered a couple of blocks away from the crime scene, police said.

Westfield and Cranford police, who had beefed up surveillance of their communities several months ago in response to the burglaries, learned of the arrest in progress over their car radios, Chief O’Brien said authorities from both municipalities provided information for a search warrant which was issued by Judge Miriam N. Span in Superior Court in Elizabeth.

Authorities in Westfield and Cranford, who had been conducting a joint investigation of the burglaries along with Scotch Plains, had been instrumental in helping to identify items recovered by police and had "worked vigilantly in clearing approximately 50 burglaries that were associated with this arrest," according to a statement issued by the Scotch Plains Police Department.

Sarnowski, who is unemployed, is believed to have committed five burglaries in Scotch Plains since late February, authorities said. He has been charged by township police with burglary, theft, possession of burglary tools and resisting arrest. In addition to the Westfield and Scotch Plains incidents, the suspect faces charges in connection with 20 Cranford burglaries which occurred between late November and May 1.

During a search last Saturday morning, police recovered the currency, which was stashed in a box, as well as the bulk of the merchandise and the weapons at Sarnowski’s mother’s home on New Street in Cranford. Authorities confirmed that the suspect’s mother was not aware of the situation. A large coin collection, along with electronic equipment and household goods, were seized at a rooming house on Monroe Avenue in Kenilworth where the suspect also stayed, police said.

The valuables, including gold, silver and diamond jewelry; television sets, videocassette recorders and camera equipment, rare and foreign coins, numerous compact discs, appliances and various other goods were spread out across 10 desks at police headquarters during the press conference. Chief O’Brien said authorities were not certain that all of the items obtained by police were stolen, but that they believe that a substantial portion of the cache was.

Police said they were able to identify items based on information supplied by law enforcement officers from the municipalities in which the burglaries took place, as well as from the suspect, who they said "made some admissions" in connection with the incidents. The suspect, who is being held at the Union County Jail, has been interviewed by authorities in each of the communities involved, according to Chief O’Brien.

The weapons recovered in the suspect’s apartment included a semi-automatic .45 caliber rifle, a .38 caliber handgun, a sawed-off shotgun and a pellet gun. Chief O’Brien reported that the shotgun had been stolen out of Garwood in 1992, and added that police believe the other firearms may have been stolen as well. The chief said that the serial numbers on the weapons had not been erased but that the numbers on some of the other items had been.

The Westfield burglaries took place on both the north and the south sides of town. They periodically occurred in clusters, including nine which took place on March 14 and 15, and typically involved forced entry through a rear entrance and jewelry being stolen. In the incident which led to Sarnowski’s arrest, the suspect allegedly entered the home by breaking a rear kitchen window.

Authorities believe the suspect may also be responsible for several home burglaries which occurred in Fanwood and possibly others in Clark. They are also investigating whether the suspect may have sold any of the stolen items, according to Chief O’Brien, who said the currency was discovered intact. In addition, police are now faced with the task of determining ownership of the money and valuables recovered. "We have a lot of victims to talk to and property to identify," added Captain Protasiewicz.

Westfield Police Chief Anthony J. Scutti, in a statement issued in conjunction with the press conference, acknowledged the participation of town detectives in the investigation of the burglaries. They included Detectives Donald Fuentes, John Rowe, Patrick Gray and Kevin Keller, who operated under the direction of Lieutenant William Keleher.

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