A man who had been allegedly passing himself off as a fire extinguisher inspector was arrested by Guttenberg police after they received complaints from merchants in town.
Jose Diaz, 53, of Woodridge, N.J., was arrested on May 6 on three charges of theft by deception, forgery, and impersonating a public official.
Last month, Guttenberg merchants complained to their fire prevention office that an individual claiming to be a fire technician had come in, claimed that their extinguishers needed servicing, and charged them $50 per tank, according to Capt. Joel Magenheimer. The man attached inspection tags which claimed the extinguishers were serviced by Kings Fire Protection Inc., of Deer Park, N.Y. The merchants did not realize the tags were phony until the real company came.
In April, the co-owner of Kings Fire Protection came to police headquarters and stated that during two inspections in Guttenberg, he found phony tags on extinguishers that exhibited the company name.
After the victims notified Guttenberg Fire Prevention Officer Albert Salvesen, investigators were able to track down two other merchants who had also fallen for the alleged scam. One of the merchants possessed a business card of Diaz’s, which only had a fire extinguisher, a phone number, and the name “Jodi.”
Magenheimer said that he, along with Sgt. Juan Barrera, set up a sting at Benny’s Supermarket, located on Park Avenue. They called Diaz and asked him to come to the store and service their extinguishers.
He came to Benny’s Supermarket on May 6 and after “checking” the extinguishers, he allegedly placed fraudulent tags on them. When Barrera, undercover as store employee, asked him if he could check the fire signs and fire codes, he said that he could not do that, but had a friend who would and gave him a business card, according to the police report.
After the man allegedly took $150 for “servicing” the three fire extinguishers, Barrera and Magenheimer identified themselves as Guttenberg Police and read Diaz his Miranda rights.
“He comes in and [allegedly] acts like he weighs them and checks the dates that are on them when they were last serviced,” said Magenheimer. “He goes in, polishes the thing, and makes it look brand new.”
After receiving the business card for fire inspections from Diaz, police set up a second sting the same day at Benny’s for the individual who could allegedly do a fire inspection. He arrived around 3 p.m.
Police asked the individual if he serviced fire extinguishers. They said he told them he did not. When asked if he could inspect for fire code compliance, he stated that he would have to first check with Guttenberg’s fire code official.
“Merchants should check their tags on their fire extinguishers.” – Joel Magenheimer
A dangerous situation
Magenheimer said that Diaz will potentially face $5,000 fines for each of the three fire extinguishers he “serviced,” along with the charges he will face in court.
Fire Officer Salvesen said that the police did a great job and moved swiftly in solving this case.
Magenheimer said that there are likely many other merchants throughout Hudson County and beyond that may have fallen victim to the alleged scheme.
“Merchants should check their tags on their fire extinguishers and call the company and make sure that they did it, because in the event that they ever need them to put out a stove fire, they’d find out they don’t work,” said Magenheimer.
He believes that other allegations will be brought against Diaz from other municipalities.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.