Long, white curtains and paper block any sight inside a New Road building authorities allege was the home of an illegal gambling operation.
Outside Connections Cafe at 85 New Road are signs that read "PRIZES" spelled in tiny red and blue flashing lights, a similar placard in red lights that reads "GAMEROOM," pictures of slot machine displays, a large banner that announces "SWEEPSTAKES."
A sign just like it is part of the shopping center's marquee sign.
The business raised questions for some in the area.
"I heard it was an Internet cafe," said Sonya Desai, who just weeks ago began working at , the yogurt shop down the strip that is the New Road Plaza. "I thought that sounded silly, but more than that, the place just looked sketchy to me."
Last Thursday afternoon, the .
Four men—Chester Ward, 39, of Wayne, Gary Roach, 55, of Wayne, Jason Bolsch, 39, of Hasbrouck Heights, and Jeffrey Spencer, 23, of Rockaway—were arrested and more than $60,000 in cash and $100,000 in electronics equipment used in the illegal operation were seized during the raids, the Morris County Prosecutor's Office said.
The operation was the result of a short-term partnership between the county prosecutor's office, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Security Investigations, the and the Pequannock Township Police Department.
The probe began when the Pequannock Township Police discovered alleged illegal gambling activity was going on in both locations, the prosecutor's office said. An undercover investigation confirmed the illegal activity, the prosecutor's office said.
"Everything was a total surprise to us," said Carmen Lopez, of Fairfield-based Lopez Family Partners, which owns the New Road Plaza and leased 88 New Road to Connections Cafe.
"They told us it was an Internet cafe," she told Patch. "They said they had another in Pompton Plains and that it was doing good, so we thought they were OK."
Mayor James Barberio and Parsippany Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo could not be reached for comment on Monday.
According to Lopez, she and her company had no knowledge of any alleged illegal activities until just after 2 p.m. Thursday when she received a call from one of the strip mall's merchants.
"He said a lot of action was going on and that the police were there," she said.
Desai said she was working at TCBY Thursday when the raid happened.
"A customer came in and said, 'Did you see the cops out there?'" Desai recalled. "I looked out and there were five cops, so I came back inside."
Ward faces two counts of third-degree promoting/operating a gambling facility, third-degree promoting gambling by conduct that materially aids gambling activity, fourth-degree maintaining a gambling resort and fourth-degree conspiracy to maintain a gambling resort, according to the prosecutor's office.
The other three men were each charged with third-degree promoting/operating a gambling facility, third-degree promoting gambling by conduct that materially aids gambling activity, fourth-degree maintaining a gambling resort and fourth-degree conspiracy to maintain a gambling resort.
Ward and Roach are being held at the Morris County Correctional Facility in default of bail, according to the prosecutor's office.
The prosecutor's office said Bolsch and Spencer received summonses and were released pending court appearances.
The Pompton Plains site was open the longest, but prosecutor's office spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Paul said details of the cafes' operations were not being revealed because of the continuing investigation.
Advertisements for the Parsippany site, which included a coupon for neighboring restaurant Garam Masala and other businesses were discovered online.
The restaurant's manager, who declined to provide his name, said he knew nothing about the coupon or about Connections Cafe.
Desai said she doesn't know what to make of the alleged operation.
"All I know is the whole thing looked sketchy to me right from the start." she said.
If anyone has information, contact the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-285-6200 or the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Crime Stopper Program at 973-COPCALL.