An Asbury Park man was arrested in Little Silver Tuesday for allegedly bilking strangers over the course of a year by impersonating a local pizza owner.
James Harrington, 45, was caught near the Little Silver Post Office shortly after scamming a woman, Sgt. Daniel Shaffery said.
The scheme Harrington is accused of was simple: he would approach a person and say he was the owner of Luigi’s Pizza in Little Silver, had locked himself out of his car and needed money for a cab or locksmith. Harrington is alleged to have pulled the scam in towns other than Little Silver, Shaffery said.
As part of the scam, Harrington would tell people his name was Jim Russo, Schaffery said. Luigi’s is owned by Al Patel, who has not been a happy man the last year.
“This has been going on for 11 months, 12 months. It’s just crazy,” Patel told redbankgreen. “It’s too bad that they couldn’t catch him earlier.”
Patel said at least once a week for the last year he would have people come into his restaurant asking for repayment of the money they loaned, and Patel would quickly have to tell them they’ve been deceived and should file a police report.
Shaffery said the department has received a large number of complaints from victims, but because an investigation into other crimes Harrington’s suspected of committing is ongoing, could not give a specific number.
Patel, who has operated Luigi’s for 10 years, said his reputation has fortunately remained intact as the scheme has been played out through the year.
“Most people that gave him money, they felt sorry for this guy, and they know it was not the owner of Luigi’s, because the owner of Luigi’s is not going to go around asking for money,” Patel said. “For him, it’s not right to use somebody else’s name. He took advantage of good-hearted people.”
Shaffery said Harrington would conduct the scheme in towns throughout the region, but not Little Silver. On Sunday, Harrington was arrested in Allenhurst for the same crime, Shaffery said.
Since the crimes were not committed in Little Silver, Shaffery said there was not much the department could do to try and catch Harrington. That was until today, Shaffery said, when Harrington is alleged to have approached a woman outside the Sovereign Bank to ask for cab money. Realizing she may have been fleeced, the woman called the police, who spotted Harrington near the post office and arrested him for theft by deception.
Harrington was then transferred to Ocean Township, where a warrant for his arrest was outstanding. He was not able to post bail, and is currently at the Monmouth County jail in Freehold, Shaffery said.
Now that Harrington has been arrested, Patel is feeling relief that the people walking into his restaurant will be handing money over the counter for pizza, not asking for money.
“I’m happy he got caught,” Patel said. “I hope he goes behind bars for this, to teach him a lesson.”