TOMS RIVER – A Howell Township police officer remains behind bars at the Ocean County Jail after he was arrested during an apparent sting operation in Toms River.
New Jersey 101.5 was the first to report that 47-year-old Howell Township Police Sergeant Richard Conte, who also leads Monmouth County’s Emergency Response Team, allegedly attempted to set up a meeting with a minor.
A source close to Jersey Shore Online tells us that the sting operation was conducted by the New Jersey State Police. The actual arrest was made by the Toms River Police Department.
Peter Aseltine, the Public Information Officer with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, confirms that Conte was charged with second-degree attempted luring or enticing of a child.
According to Aseltine, “Conte allegedly communicated using social media with an individual he believed to be a 15-year-old girl, requesting that she meet him for sexual activity. The “girl” was in fact an undercover detective.”
In an e-mail from Aseltine’s office, he reminds the public that the charge is merely an accusation and Conte is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Conte was incarcerated earlier today and is being held without bail until a court appearance next week.
Howell Police Sargent Christian Antunez confirms that Conte has been suspended without pay.
Howell Township Police Chief Andrew Kudrick released this statement on the department’s official Facebook page:
I have been begrudgingly holding off releasing any information concerning this arrest at the request of the involved law enforcement agencies so not to compromise the ongoing investigation. However, Townsquare Media (NJ101.5) has irresponsibility done so without first consulting with me or others directly connected to the investigation.
I now issue this statement with tremendous sadness, disappointment, anger and embarrassment.
Last night, Howell police Sgt. Richard Conte was arrested while off-duty. Charged with the heinous crime of attempting to lure after arriving to meet with a girl who he believed was 15 years old. It was actually an undercover officer.
Prior to the arrest, I was made aware of the situation. It sickened me to learn one of my officers, a highly competent supervisor none the less and one that I have worked alongside with for many years on the SWAT team, not only defied my trust, but fellow officers as well. But most importantly, defied the public’s trust and expectations of a police officer. As such, I fully supported the investigation and provided input to ensure his apprehension.
The charges, along with my firsthand knowledge of the investigation, led me to recommend an immediate suspension without pay. This was supported by the township manager and labor counsel.
We are investigating whether he acted inappropriately while he was on duty. This includes pulling cellphone and computer usage, DMV access, and GPS activity on his patrol vehicle. He was assigned as a patrol sergeant on the Midnight Squad. As of this issuance, nothing has been revealed. If anyone has any suspicions or information pertaining to this investigation is urged to contact Howell Police Internal Affairs or the Professional Responsibilities Unit of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
I offer my sincere apology to the community that we value and respect so deeply. Our department’s reputation has been tarnished. I ask you not to judge us on the actions of one but rather on the outstanding service the remaining loyal officers provide with professionalism and pride every single day.
We got hit hard and knocked down but we are back on our feet and promise to be stronger. We are Committed to Community.
Chief Andrew Kudrick