New Jersey slaps terror charge on man over alleged supermarket cough threat

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey man has been charged with making terroristic threats after he was accused of coughing on a supermarket employee and saying he was infected with the coronavirus behind the ongoing pandemic, authorities said Tuesday.

George Falcone, 50, was issued a summons for terroristic threats in the third degree and other charges over the incident, according to the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

In a Facebook message to Reuters on Tuesday, Falcone denied the accusations, saying, “Didn’t cough on anyone and never mentioned corona.”

According to Grewal, Falcone was in a Wegman’s supermarket in Manalapan, New Jersey on Sunday evening when an employee asked him to step back from prepared foods while she covered them. Instead, prosecutors said, he leaned toward her and purposely coughed, laughing and saying he was infected with the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19 that can be severe or fatal.

Falcone went on to tell two other employees that they were lucky to have jobs, and initially refused to identify himself when approached by a police officer.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy referred to the charges in a news conference on Tuesday, saying there were “knuckleheads out there” and that law enforcement was taking action against “egregious” behavior as the state locks down in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Nationwide, the coronavirus, which broke out late last year in Wuhan, China, has infected nearly 50,000 people and killed 640, with more than a quarter of the deaths in New York state.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien