Bamboozled: A new twist in an old case

The authorities have taken an interest in what’s happening — or not happening — at Cranford Corner, a store featured in a BB brandingBamboozled column last month.

Abbe Fried had visited the store to place an order for a varsity letter jacket for her son Zachary, 16, who swims for Cranford High School. She said owner Peter Baker, who accepted a $160 deposit and Zachary’s letter in October, gave excuse after excuse, and still, months later, the jacket never arrived.

Other customers reported similar experiences with the store, and they filed complaints with the police. That resulted in action.

Baker was arrested last week on bad check charges and two counts of theft by deception, Cranford police said.

In all, seven people filed complaints against the Centennial Avenue store, said Cranford Detective Sgt. Gerard Quinn, with six customers claiming that they paid for jackets that were never delivered or that they received bad checks as refund payments, and another person who reported being paid with bad checks for merchandise sold to Baker.

Quinn said the bad check charges totaled $4,850 over a two-month period, and the theft by deception counts were for $4,500 and $1,100.

5211Baker was released Wednesday after posting $7,500 bail, which included outstanding warrants from Madison, Elizabeth, Cranford and Totowa municipal courts.

The Totowa charge was for a 2003 bad check warrant, and the rest were for traffic violations, Quinn said.

Attempts to reach Baker via his cell phone and through Cranford Corner’s telephone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

About a week before the arrest, Zachary Fried; high school soccer player Andrew Gee, 15; and at least four other families received yellow envelopes in the mail. Inside were their varsity letters with a note on Cranford Corner letterhead. It said:

“Enclosed you will find your Cranford Varsity ‘C.’ Please accept my sincerest apologies for the mishandling of the entire varsity jacket situation. The store, as it is now, is closed and will remain so. I am extremely sorry that numerous personal and family medical problems along with other outside family situations contributed to this situation. I regret that I was not able to correct the problem. I again deeply regret not being able to change what had happened and wish you all the best.”

None of the envelopes contained a refund.

A Promise, Kept

Suzanne Cooper was able to keep her promise, and then some.

Bamboozled shared the bureaucratic mess that entangled Cooper as she tried to bury an old family friend, Karl “Billy” Sieben.

Sieben, who was mentally handicapped and had no living relatives, lived in a nursing home. Before his last blood relative died, arrangements were made for prepaid cemetery services so he could eventually be buried near his parents in Hollywood Memorial Park and Cemetery in Union.

Cooper was asked to make sure it happened.

But when Sieben died on Oct. 18 at the age of 65, Cooper learned the prepaid burial services did not include a burial vault — a lined and sealed container that goes around a casket before it’s put into the ground — which was required by the cemetery.

That would cost $756, and without it, Sieben could not be buried at Hollywood. Instead, his final resting place would be a non-title grave, one in which multiple people are buried, at a different cemetery. “When Billy was still alive, the one thing he was afraid of was being buried in a potter’s field, and I always told him that would never happen,” Cooper said in November.

She didn’t have the money to pay, and she didn’t know where to turn.

Bamboozled contacted Hollywood about the dilemma, and the cemetery found an anonymous donor foundation to pay for the vault.

Sieben was finally buried, 30 days after he died.

The story didn’t end there. Bamboozled was told last month that another donor paid for a grave marker/memorial for Sieben. Once it was installed, Cooper and Bamboozled were notified.

“Allowing me to keep my word and providing this beautiful memorial show him the recognition and consideration he deserves,” said a grateful Cooper.

The generosity didn’t end there. After reading Cooper’s story, a Bamboozled reader mailed a check for Cooper to help her with the costs of caring for Sieben.

Cooper said she was touched by the reader’s donation, and she wanted to pay it forward. She donated the check to the group that helped get Sieben buried, hoping the funds can be used to help another person in need.

And finally, we learn the identity of those donors who initially asked to remain anonymous. The Friends of Rural Cemeteries ( provided funds to cover the cost of the vault, the installation and ongoing care funds.

Gino and Angelo Merendino of Merendino Cemetery Care donated the memorial.

“They are two caring brothers who always lend a hand to help others,” said Bernard Stoecklein, the chairman of CMS Mid-Atlantic, the company that owns Hollywood.

Thanks to Friends of Rural Cemeteries and to the Merendino brothers for their generosity and to Hollywood for making it all happen. And many thanks also to the anonymous Bamboozled donor. Sounds like your money will go to a very good cause.

Humanity for Habitat

Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County is receiving an unexpected refund.

The nonprofit organization, which builds affordable housing for low-income families, had a dispute with Clear Flow Inc., a Jersey City-based plumbing and heating contractor, which was to work on a project in Jersey City.

Habitat wanted a refund — a $3,000 deposit and a $4,500 additional payment — for work it said was not performed, and Habitat called Bamboozled for help.

In January, Clear Flow’s owner Rolando Velazquez offered to return the $3,000 deposit to the group, saying the other payment covered permits and supplies left on the job site after the disagreement. Habitat’s executive director Santos Murillo wasn’t happy and said Clear Flow never left any materials behind, but accepted the $3,000 offer.

Months later, the refund still hadn’t arrived, and Murillo said he didn’t expect it would ever come.

Then in April, Murillo said he received a surprise phone call from Velazquez.

“He was contrite, saying he didn’t pay because he didn’t have the money,” Murillo said. “I told him … he did not leave any material and that he owes us over $6,000.”

The two met and Velazquez agreed to repay the entire amount. He’d mail a weekly check of nearly $400 per week until the money was repaid, and he gave Murillo the first payment that day.

“I just felt in my heart to really give him back all the money that was given to us, except the permit fees because those were used on the job anyway,” Velazquez said. “We shook hands.”

Thanks to Velazquez for doing the right thing, and for helping Habitat to afford its next project, a three-unit home in Kearny.