2007-03-22 / Front Page

Four indicted in Wal-Mart burglary that netted $70K

On March 14 a Monmouth County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging William N. Comba, 34, of Toms River, Lawrence R. Gress III, 31, of Howell, Peter Lipari Jr., 21, of Howell, and Shannon A. Phillips, 25, of Manahawkin, each with third-degree burglary, third-degree theft and fourth-degree tampering with evidence in connection with a burglary at Wal-Mart, Route 537, Freehold Township.

According to information provided by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, the indictment also charges Comba and Lipari with one count of third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

An investigation into the burglary by the Freehold Township Police Depart-ment revealed that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2006, Comba and Lipari went to the Wal-Mart, entered the store and left with approximately $70,353.27 in cash, checks and coupons redeemable for cash. Gress, who was an assistant manager at the Wal-Mart, had previously given Comba and Lipari a layout of the store, and had explained to them where and how the store's funds were kept.

According to a press release from the Prosecutor's Office, Comba and Lipari used a vehicle belonging to Phillips, Gress' girlfriend, as their transportation to and from the burglary. When the two returned to the apartment Lipari shared with Gress, the four defendants divided up the proceeds from the theft. All four then immediately indulged in a spending spree, purchasing cars and jewelry, and paying bills and back rent. Items used in the burglary were subsequently concealed in a garbage bin behind Comba's and Lipari's place of work, which led to the tampering charges. When apprehended, Comba and Lipari were found to be in possession of a controlled dangerous substance believed to be cocaine, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

Gress was arrested on Nov. 11 and is free on $80,000 bail. Comba, Lipari and Phillips were arrested the following day. Comba is free on $145,000 bail, and Phillips is free on $100,000 bail. Lipari is being held at the Monmouth County jail in lieu of $95,000 bail.

On each of the third-degree charges, the defendants face up to five years in prison. The fourth-degree charge carries a potential sentence of 18 months.

The next court appearance in this case is to be held within 45 days before state Superior Court Judge Francis P. De Stefano, sitting in Freehold, when the defendants will be formally arraigned on these charges.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin said, "The investigating officers had little information to go on, other than the description of two men wearing dark clothing. Only because of the solid work from the lead Freehold Township detective, William Holohan, assisted by detectives from the Howell Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, were these four individuals swiftly identified and apprehended."

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