CLIFFVIEW PILOT EXCLUSIVE: He was hailed last year as one of New Jersey’s outstanding young men and once served as president of the Rutgers University’s NAACP chapter, but Tony A. Conover is now being held without bail in the Bergen County Jail, thanks to a DNA match from blood found at the scene of an unsolved burglary in Woodcliff Lake.
Conover, 22, was a modern-day success story after ending up in foster care when he was only four years old.
The Rutgers University graduate, who majored in political science and philosophy, worked briefly as a child welfare advocate for DYFS and later mentored young men and women who’d been in foster care themselves, drawing on his own experience, his LinkedIn profile says.
That experience has continued to include crime, authorities say.
Conover, who lives in the Burlington County town of Willingboro, was arrested by New Jersey State Police three months ago following a break-in at an Apple store in Middlesex County.
He recently became the prime suspect in the unsolved Aug. 2, 2009 smash-and-grab of an Apple store on Chestnut Ridge Road when DNA from blood found at the scene matched his, Woodcliff Lake Police Chief Anthony Jannicelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning.
Conover, who advertises himself as a tech guru, apparently cut himself on a broken window pane, the chief said.
Jannicelli’s officers were curious about a DNA match after Conover was found sitting in a car with three other men on a side street in March around 1:30 in the morning.
“A community policing officer saw the car and knew that it didn’t belong,” the chief said. “It’s the kind of thing some of us wouldn’t notice. In community policing, you know what’s out of place.”
As the officer approached the car, the chief said, he noticed “two guys in front hooded up and two other guys hunkered down in the back seat. They said they were there to meet a girl they met online.
“There was nothing in the car, other than a duffle bag with rocks. So we ID’d everyone and let them go,” Jannicelli added.
The DNA match only recently came back from the State Police lab. Woodcliff Lake police immediately obtained an arrest warrant – and then a detainer after Conover was picked up for the Middlesex County burglary.
The events smashed a supposed success story told just last year.
Separated from his brother and two sisters, Conover said, he ended up in an abusive foster home.
“Thrown down the stairs at 4 years old, hung off of the roof at 5,” he wrote in a poem published online last year. “Let’s just say with what I was put through, I’m happy to be alive.”
The second home was better. He eventually grew so close to his caregiver, Conover wrote, that “I began to call her mother.”
She was planning to adopt him when she died of cancer, he said.
A series of placements followed – including a reunion with his brother. But Conover said he went off the path.
“Started getting older and realizing more, that life in the system was odd,
Couldn’t do everything that the others did, so I was a pea trapped in a pod.
Started running the streets to be cool, and try to prove that I was like the rest,
And the fast life seemed like the fun life until I heard that I was under arrest.”
Conover, honored as the 2011 “Outstanding Youth of the Year” by New Jersey’s Foster and Adoptive Family Services agency, insisted in his poem that he’d left the bad life behind and found the keys to success:
“As long as we all remember that education and success are the key goals in life,
And the opposing force against them is commonly known as strife.
The road is never easy, but diamonds take rigorous work to make,
Just remember that we’re amazing, and this world is ours to take!”
Woodcliff Lake police picked up Conover from the Middlesex County Jail in New Brunswick last night.
Records show he is being held without bail in the Bergen County Jail, charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief in Woodcliff Lake and armed burglary in New Brunswick.
A first court appearance in Woodcliff Lake is scheduled for Monday.
(MUGSHOT, above: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE)
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