Police not only cited the owner of an Oakland restaurant and banquet hall for COVID-19 violations stemming from a two large gatherings this past Monday and Friday: They also charged him criminally.
Officers who went to the villa-styled Portobello Feast both nights "observed large gatherings of individuals who, among other things, were not in compliance with social distancing guidelines," Police Lt. Christian Eldridge said Tuesday.
In addition to violating two separate provisions of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive orders, owner Frank Amen was charged with two criminal counts of maintaining a nuisance for "knowingly or recklessly allowing a large group of persons to gather on the premises, thereby endangering the health of a number of people," Eldridge said.
In addition, Oakland's Borough Council, during a Monday night emergency Zoom meeting, approved a restriction on the restaurant from having any outdoor dining past 4 p.m. every day for a period of 30 days.
This came in response to a Thanksgiving Eve gathering at the Ramapo Valley Road restaurant.
Amen must address the council during either its Dec. 9 or Dec. 21 meeting before it will remove the restriction.
Police and borough health officials will enforce the order, council members said.
Amen told NJ Advance Media on Monday that he would comply and that the restaurant would "reassess internal COVID procedures to ensure the unfortunate event of Thanksgiving Eve will not occur again.”
It was unclear whether this was before or after police showed up that night.
The summonses refer to the governor's executive orders and ordinarily involve fines.
The criminal charges, however, relate to alleged violations of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-12.
Under that particular statute, "knowingly or recklessly maintaining conditions on your property that endanger the health of others, or where people gather to engage in unlawful conduct" is a disorderly persons offense.
It can result in a sentence of six months in a county jail and/or possible jail time and/or forfeiture of property or assets.
Under the law, a judge in New Jersey may order "the immediate abatement of the nuisance, which can mean the seizure of property on the site, or the closure of a building for up to one year."
Such financial losses, of course, can be even more damaging than potential jail time.
Police Chief Keith Sanzari thanked the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the Franklin Lakes and Pompton Lakes police departments for their assistance.
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