A New Jersey man is facing criminal charges after he allegedly coughed on a grocery store employee and then claimed he contracted the coronavirus.
George Falcone, 50, of Freehold Township, was charged with terroristic threats, in the third degree, obstruction, in the fourth degree, and harassment, a petty disorderly persons offense.
The alleged incident happened at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at the Wegmans grocery store chain in Manalapan, some 50 miles south of New York City.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who mentioned the incident at a news conference Tuesday, said police responded to a call after a man was in a confrontation with a female employee at the supermarket chain Sunday and then “coughed on the woman and told her after doing so that he had the coronavirus.”
Falcone was at the US Highway 9 supermarket when the female employee became concerned that he was not practicing social distancing and standing too close to her, a news release detailing the incident states.
She asked him to step back as she covered an open display of prepared food, according to the news release.
Instead, Falcone moved forward within three feet of her and coughed, laughed and said he had contracted the virus, it states. He allegedly then told two other employees they were lucky to have their jobs. A Manalapan detective working at the store confronted Falcone after the incident, and two days later he was charged.
The incident occurred as cases of the disease continue to rise in the state. Overall, by early Wednesday evening New Jersey had more than 4,400 confirmed cases and 62 deaths attributable to the virus.
Over the weekend, Murphy ordered the state’s 9 million residents to stay home and closed all nonessential businesses until further notice. Murphy also canceled gatherings of any number, including parties, weddings and religious ceremonies.
Murphy scolded Falcone for the alleged actions.
“There are knuckleheads out there. We see them and we are enforcing behavior,” he said at Rutgers University-Newark during his daily news briefing.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal thanked the Manalapan Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for their response to the investigation.
“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,” he 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.”
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, according to the news release. Petty disorderly persons offenses carry a sentence of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.