SOUTH AMBOY – The New Jersey State Police Cargo Theft Unit, working with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New York State Business Integrity Commission, foiled an alleged organized recycling theft operation Tuesday that netted profits of more than $100,000 by allegedly stealing crushed and baled cardboard boxes from Walmart and Sam’s Club. The accused subjects allegedly operated shadow companies that stole the cardboard from the retail locations and sold it to recyclers.
“This group invested a considerable amount of time to create an enterprise with the sole purpose to steal cardboard,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “There are serious money and organizational skills involved here that could have been used for lawful purposes. We are thankful to the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the New York Business Integrity Commission for helping us crush this cardboard theft operation.”
“[Tuesday]’s arrests serve as a high watermark in tackling the growing challenge of recycling theft in this region and puts these criminals on notice that there is zero tolerance for this illegal activity,” said Commissioner and Chair Shari Hyman. “With the values of recyclables spiking, there can be no window of opportunity for this organized criminal behavior, and I want to thank the New Jersey State Police for their assistance on this investigation.”
On July 24, teams including Jersey troopers and New York authorities fanned out in search of the three main targets allegedly involved in this operation. New Jersey State Police detectives stopped and arrested Neal Devito, 34, of Old Bridge, around the corner from his residence. Assorted documents pertaining to the alleged illegal operation were seized from 2012 Cadillac Escalade. The car was also seized pending forfeiture.
John Nichols, 38, of Staten Island, N.Y. was arrested at the South Amboy lot used to store the alleged operation’s trucks. A search of Nichols’ vehicle yielded additional evidence, authorities said.
Vincenzo Grasso, 46, of Staten Island, was arrested by New York State Parole at his residence for a parole violation. New Jersey charges on Grasso are pending.
Troopers seized two tractor-trailers, and three additional flatbed trailers at the South Amboy lot. The trucks are registered Straight Line Transportation, which is owned by Devito. A total of three 2012 Escalades allegedly used in the enterprise are owned by Nichols. Applications have been made for the forfeiture of all involved vehicles.
Spotters in this alleged operation would go to various Walmart and Sam’s Club locations throughout New Jersey in search of crushed cardboard bundles awaiting pickup by contracted recycling services. Truck drivers would then allegedly pick up these bales and take them to recycling facilities in New York and New Jersey that pay $125 per ton. Since May, operation employees allegedly redeemed approximately 900 tons of cardboard worth in excess of $100,000.
Devito and Nichols were charged with theft of $103,000 worth of cardboard, fencing and conspiracy. The charges are merely accusations and all suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.
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