Sixteen sworn officers from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureaus of Corrections and Law Enforcement, along with a civilian teacher for the Morris County Correctional Facility, ran a 3.9 mile route as a team June 7 to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics NJ.
The team’s run was one leg of the 36th Annual Law Enforcement Torch Run that culminates in the June 7 nighttime torch lighting of a cauldron to formally kick off the opening ceremony of the Summer Special Olympics NJ, being held June 7 through June 9 at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.
The Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard will be present for the opening ceremony. Sheriff’s Office System Analyst Jane Recktenwald is volunteering for Special Olympics NJ as she has for several decades.
The Sheriff’s Office team – which ran a route extending from Zamrok Way in Morris Township to the Olde Mill Inn in Bernards Township – received the torch from a team of runners from the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Friday afternoon, and passed the torch off at the end of their run to law enforcement officers in Bernards Township.
“I’m proud that officers and civilians in the Morris County Sheriff’s Office care about advancing a noble cause like the Special Olympics, which is dear to many of our hearts,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.
This year’s runners, some of whom have participated in the Torch Run in previous years, were: Bureau of Corrections Lieutenant Michael Schweizer, Corrections Sergeants Raymond Dykstra and Andrew Bileci, and Corrections Officers Manny Flores, Robert Takacs, Mike Dezenzo, Dave Wasilewski, Daniele Vandenbos, Brian Rzucidlo, Brian Kooger, Nicole Levendusky, and civilian Teacher Gradie Carroll, who also coaches the Morristown High School girl’s cross-country team.
Runners from the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Law Enforcement were: Detective Lieutenant Kelley Duane-Zienowicz, Corporal Jen Franke-Parrillo, and Officers Dana DelGrosso, Kayla Santos and Nicholas Vernotica.
Unions at the Morris County Correctional Facility – PBA 298, SOA 298, and FOP 137 – paid $100 for each of the facility’s runners to participate in the Torch Run while PBA 151, which represents Officers in the Bureau of Law Enforcement, matched the amount each officer raised to participate. Officer Vernotica raised $550, and Officer DelGrosso raised $200 – more than the minimum contribution.
For the run, all the officers donned red T-shirts bearing the logo “36th Annual Law Enforcement Torch Run.” They stretched and swapped stories about past Torch Runs, some taking place on scorching hot days.
“I’ve always wanted to do it but my work schedule didn’t allow it. This year I could do it and I’m fit, and it’s a great cause,” said Officer Kooger.
Morris County Bureau of Corrections Sergeant Andrew Bileci will be honored June 14 as a volunteer “angel” for a charity that eases the financial and emotional stress on families faced with unexpected crises, like loss of a loved one or a job or a cancer diagnosis.
Karen M. Casolaro, a mother of five, founded the non-profit organization Halos For Angels, Inc., in 2010, a few years after the community of Florham Park stepped up to help her and her large family with daily meals after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The charity’s mission is to directly help families and people in the community who are impacted by a crisis – and Sergeant Bileci has proven to be an angel in helping Halos For Angels fulfill that quest, Mrs. Casolaro said.
“The first time I met Sergeant Bileci I felt an immediate personal connection. He lives kindness every day. With him leading the way with his team of angels, we’ve been able to help the community and grow as a charity. Sergeant Andrew is a shining star,” Mrs. Casolaro said.
Mrs. Casolaro said she met Sergeant Bileci several years ago through Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon. The sergeant assembled a team of other officers from the Morris County Correctional Facility – Corporal Peter Lohmus, Sergeant Raymond Dykstra, Sergeant Shawn Johnston and Lieutenant Michael Schweizer – to serve as ghoulish actors the past two years at a haunted house called “The Fright Factor” that Halos For Angels operates as a fundraiser every year during the month of October.
For instance, Sergeant Dykstra posed at the 3,000-square-foot haunted house in Florham Park as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre villain in a costume and bladeless chainsaw provided by Mrs. Casolaro. Other officers played equally macabre roles at the haunted house.
Before Christmas of 2018, Sergeant Bileci made the holiday brighter for at least five families by posting stories about their tragedies on a billboard at the Morris County Correctional Facility. He also left gift bins and the family wish lists in the lobby of the Facility so others were encouraged to donate, Mrs. Casolaro said.
The outpouring vastly exceeded the charity’s expectations. One family, who lost their 9-year-old daughter, received $1,000 in monetary gifts to start a scholarship in their child’s name. A grandmother unexpectedly caring for her grandchildren asked only for donations of pajamas – and received them, along with gift cards and a multitude of toys, Mrs. Casolaro said.
Sergeant Bileci, who will be honored at the Halos For Angels, Inc., gala fundraiser at the Hanover Manor, said he’s had only a small role in helping the charity succeed.
He credited Sheriff Gannon, Correctional Facility Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson, Warden Chris Klein and unions of both the Bureaus of Corrections and Law Enforcement for their generosity. The unions include P.B.A. 298, S.O.A. 298, F.O.P. 137, and P.B.A. 151.
“Without all these people being involved, it never would have happened. The Sheriff and the Administration gave us the blessing and we took it from there,” said Sergeant Bileci, who has worked at the Correctional Facility for 20 years.
“There’s a sense of family between officers at the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and they, including Sergeant Bileci, have the heart and compassion to ease the burden on other families who are suffering through a difficult time,” Sheriff Gannon said.
Other volunteers will be honored at the June 14 gala: Florham Park Businessman Bruce Danishek; Oncology Masseuse Pamela Berstler, Craig Sacco, who helps store and transport the haunted house; and corporate volunteer sponsor Boiling Springs Savings Bank and its representative, Stephanie Licausi.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office hosted a two-day gang awareness and identification training conference, where 280 law enforcement attendees from around the country learned the latest from gang car and identity theft trends to threats posed by the Trinitarios gang and global jihadists.
The conference was organized by Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Detective Corporal Edwin L. Santana, an internationally-recognized street and prison gang specialist, in conjunction with the East Coast Gang Investigators Association, Magloclen, and the College of Saint Elizabeth’s Criminal Justice-Police Studies Institute.
“We’ve tried to put this together for officer safety and awareness. As we see throughout the East Coast and as you’ll hear from our various speakers, the crime rate, recruitment and overall gang activity within the United States and abroad is increasing,” Detective Corporal Santana said in opening conference remarks.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon praised the law enforcement officers, and others who work in the criminal justice system and encounter gang members, for their commitment to a dangerous job of tracking and investigating people whose lives revolve around violence and ruthlessness.
The Sheriff said about 15 percent of the population at the Morris County Correctional Facility is gang-affiliated, with members hailing from street gangs, outlaw motorcycle groups, extremist and Sovereign Nation groups.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office’s Gang Intelligence Unit, led by Detective Corporal Santana, routinely shares intelligence with other law enforcement agencies around the country, Sheriff Gannon said. A need for this type of sharing partnership was echoed at the conference by other speakers.
“The main ingredient to overcoming the current gang epidemic that is plaguing our communities is knowledge,” Sheriff Gannon said. “The speakers that have been selected to instruct in the two-day training event bring a unique specialty of knowledge and expertise, and when coming together in this type of training event, the attendee is provided a powerful guide to continue the war on criminal street and prison gangs.”
The agenda for the conference, held May 28 and May 29 at The College of Saint Elizabeth in Morris Township, featured extensive presentations on the Trinitarios gang that originated in the Dominican Republic and is active in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the country; terrorism and global jihad; gangs and social media investigations; and trends in gang-powered car and identity theft rings.
Detective Corporal Santana gave a presentation on his specialties: The United Blood Nation and the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, the most criminally organized Latino gang in the world.
Presenter Idi Guity, Vice President of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association New York Metro Region, gave a chilling historic and modern-day overview of the Trinitarios gang, of which some members were charged in 2018 with the murder of 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz outside a Bronx, New York bodega.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking gang violence – like the horrific chase-down and murder of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz – can’t happen in a small town, Mr. Guity warned.
“What’s happening in our backyard is going to happen in your backyard. Sometimes they go off the radar but then they come back,” Mr. Guity said.
Mr. Guity, like other presenters, urged investigators to learn the origin and historical background down to the hand signals practiced by gangs they are monitoring. Get away from the office and learn the background, he said.
“You don’t get this information working at your desk,” Mr. Guity said.
Vineland City Public Security Director Edwin Alicea, who has been studying terrorism for more than a decade, gave an equally-chilling account of how virtually no part of the world has been left untouched by terrorism.
Mr. Alicea reminded conference attendees of more recent terrorist attacks in United States history: The bombings at the Boston Marathon in April 2013; the massacre in June 2016 at an Orlando, Florida nightclub; the murders of San Bernardino, California, Department of Health workers and their families at a Christmas party in December 2015.
Mr. Alicea, a United States Marine Corps veteran, gave an academic overview of what is known as “The Jihad Triangle,” and how the three factors of belief, knowledge and obedience combine to create an Islamic extremist whose mission is to “fight the unbelievers” while sacrificing his or her own life.
“There isn’t a corner of the world that hasn’t been touched by jihad,” Mr. Alicea said.
Based upon Homeland Security and other law enforcement reports, Mr. Alicea said, ISIS investigations and probes into Americans being radicalized and joining or trying to join ISIS, have now occurred in all 50 states. Mr. Alicea also cautioned that no area is immune from a gang or terrorist attack.
“I’m so glad that mindset that it can’t happen here is retiring,” Mr. Alicea said.