FBI Charges Alleged Middlesex County Armed Robbery Crew

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NEWARK—Eight men throughout Middlesex County will face multiple counts of the federal charge of interference with interstate commerce by threats or violence in connection with a series of armed robberies in businesses and private residences in Middlesex County and elsewhere, authorities said Monday.

Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward made the announcement after Joshua Lally, 22, of the town of Middlesex, surrendered to the FBI on Friday, March 12. Six other defendants were and remain in local custody in Middlesex County.

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With the exception of defendant Dustin Groemn, 22, of Perth Amboy, all of the defendants are also charged at the state level with multiple counts of burglary and other charges. Defendant Joseph Passalaqua, 54, of East Brunswick, its in federal custody in Essex County on a related federal murder-for-hire charge, authorities said.

According to the criminal complaint, Lally and Raffaele Danise of East Brunswick, age 23, worked at Chris Michael’s Steakhouse in Woodbridge. (Lally was a current employee at the time the restaurant was robbed at gunpoint and Danise was a former employee.) Both men knew that the proceeds of the restaurant were kept in the office safe and only restaurant managers had the ability to open it.

On the evening of March 17, 2009, Danise allegedly called Lally and asked him to verify the presence of any managers on duty. Lally did as he was asked and reported back to Danise that a manager was, in fact, on duty, according to the complaint. The men allegedly met later that evening, after the robbery, and Danise gave Lally $5,000 and admitted that Danise and Joseph Smith, 37, of South Amboy were drivers and that Jonah Paul, 22, of Sayreville and another individual known as “Kofi” actually carried out the robbery at gunpoint, authorities said. No one was shot.

The complaint also discusses allegations of a home invasion robbery in Milltown on the evening of May 21, 2009 involving some of the defendants. Three men gained entry into the house of a pizzeria owner and bound the owner’s wife with zip ties while holding her at gunpoint and waiting for the owner to come home. Upon his return home, the owner was bound with zip ties and robbed at gunpoint. Specifically, the three men forced the owner to open his safe in which he kept the proceeds of his pizzeria. The men escaped with the money. No one was shot.

According to the complaint, it was later determined that Passalaqua was the driver and that Danise, Paul, and Rashawn Landin, 22, of Parlin carried out the robbery, after Erik Prascak, 20, of Milltown showed them where the victim lived. According to the complaint, Passalaqua had explained to Prascak that the group intended to rob the home and needed Prascak’s help in locating it. Prascak also allegedly agreed to wait inside the owner’s pizzeria to alert the group when the owner closed for the night and was on his way home.

Furthermore, the complaint provides details of a robbery of the Ritz Diner in Livingston in the early morning hours of June 5, 2009 which allegedly involved some of the defendants. Three armed men entered the diner, bound the employees with zip ties, and fled the diner with cash that was stored in the restaurant’s safe. No one was shot. Based on the information in the complaint, the investigation later revealed that Passalaqua was the driver, while Danise, Paul, and Groemn carried out the robbery.

“Based on these allegations, this is a very dangerous group of men who apparently have no boundaries,” said Ward. “It is difficult to imagine being tied up in your own house and being helpless to protect your property or your spouse. Home invasion, in particular, is such a bold, intrusive violation of the home and family and we empathize with the pain of all the victims in these crimes. It is lucky for everyone that these men were apprehended before anyone—including the perpetrators, got hurt.”

Ward praised the cooperation of the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office and all of the local police departments involved in this complex investigation.

Lally appeared in federal court this past Friday in Newark to answer the charges before Honorable Patty Shwartz, U.S. Magistrate Judge. He was released on bail. The remaining defendants will have their initial appearances at a later date.

Each of the four counts of this criminal complaint carries maximum statutory penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest.


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