On Aug. 10, 2014, a Caterpillar Skid-Steer, valued at $17,950, disappeared from the school construction site of Lyndhurst’s new Memorial Campus on New York Ave.
In October, nearly two months to the day it went missing, it was recovered in the tiny Warren County town of Hardwick, Lyndhurst police reported.
Last week, authorities announced that the local theft was one of at least 21 committed by a criminal ring that stole heavy equipment from construction sites throughout the state and then sold them out of a vacant lot in Newark to buyers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
According to Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman, the machinery was worth a total of approximately $300,000.
On Wednesday, ringleader Michael J. Troncone, 34, of Blairstown, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft before Bergen County Superior Court Judge Eugene Austin, Hoffman reported. The plea agreement calls for Troncone to serve eight years in state prison.
The state’s Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) said the police departments in Lyndhurst, New Providence and Hanover had “tipped it off to a pattern of thefts.”
With the assistance of local and state detectives, OIFP gathered video evidence that allegedly shows Troncone and a coconspirator, Marc Fucetola, 38, also of Blairstown, stealing equipment from construction sites during late evening or early morning hours. Lyndhurst’s lead investigator on the case, Det. Michael Lemanowicz, told The Observer that the local crime apparently occurred on a Sunday morning.
According to Hoffman’s office, the thieves would drive to a site, hook up a trailered piece of equipment and drive off with it in tow. The OIFP used remotelyoperated surveillance cameras, tracking devices and digital forensics to solve the crimes.
After gathering evidence, officers executed search warrants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and recovered at least 21 pieces of heavy equipment. In addition to the 2005 Caterpillar 232- B Skid-Steer taken from Lyndhurst, these included:
• a Takeuchi mini excavator with an approximate value of $65,000;
• a John Deere compact excavator, $58,100;
• five additional Skid- Steers, total approximate value $103,000;
• an ATV, $10,243;
• a $24,895 generator;
• a $38,000 leaf vacuum;
• two John Deere mowers,
• several trailers, including enclosed and flatbed trailers.
Troncone and Fucetola were arrested and charged with the thefts in October.
A third suspect, Craig Slaaen, 40, of Livingston, was also arrested in October and charged with seconddegree receiving stolen property. The cases against Fucetola and Slaaen are pending.
Lemanowicz was among the detectives from various departments who were cited for their assistance in the case.
The thefts “threatened the livelihood of many small contractors and builders in New Jersey and delayed projects that were in the process of completion,” Hoffman said.
“Given that this equipment was insured, the cost of this theft was not just borne by the contractors, its burden was carried by all those participate in the insurance market…” said Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi.