ATLANTIC CITY — Three men connected to Sunday’s deadly early morning carjacking may have considered other garages before settling on the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said.
The prosecutor called it a “crime of opportunity” that could have happened anywhere — even though it happened at the same garage where another abduction and killing took place 16 months ago.
Just before 8 a.m. Sunday, Radha Ghetia, 24, of the Parlin section of Sayreville, Middlesex County, was forced at gunpoint to drive from the parking garage to an alley off the 500 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There, police responding to shots-fired calls found Ghetia wounded and Sunil Rattu, 28, of Old Bridge, Middlesex County, dead in the back seat.
Rattu, one of seven children, was in Atlantic City over the weekend for a planned celebration with Ghetia, his classmate, said nephew Abhi Kumar, of Old Bridge. He had just completed nursing college and was scheduled to take his final exam Sept. 28.
Kumar, 16, said his uncle had planned to start his career as a nurse and save enough money to support his family and let his father retire. In the meantime, he was still working 18-hour shifts at the family's gas station in Lakewood, Ocean County.
“He was a hard-working person,” said Kumar, who served as a spokesman Monday for a family he said “was in shock.”
Ghetia was released Monday from AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s City Campus, police and hospital officials said. Housel would not say whether investigators have interviewed her.
A gray Saturn Ion with New Jersey plates UTN 66U, which was stolen from Haddonfield, Camden County, in late August, is being linked to the crime. Housel would not detail the connection but said anyone spotting the car should immediately notify police because the occupants are considered armed and dangerous.
“We have reason to believe these individuals may have cased other garages,” Housel said Monday, before showing video of the three men walking up a stairwell in the Taj’s parking garage.
He would not specify which entrance was being shown or what floor the men were entering. Video of the abduction had not been discovered, “which leads me to believe this was an area where there was no video,” Housel said.
The men’s faces are fairly clear in the video, which shows a thick black line along the wall. The top of that line is about 5 feet, 8 inches high, Housel said, giving some indication of the men’s heights, although he clarified that the angle may cause a slight distortion.
“It could happen anywhere,” Housel said. “These are crimes of opportunity committed by individuals who believe there is money to be made by robbing patrons at casinos. There is no reason to believe Atlantic City casinos have dropped the ball when it comes to security.”
But for the Taj, this is the second deadly attack that began inside its garage in more than a year.
In May 2010, Martin Caballero, 47, of North Bergen Township, Hudson County, was abducted and later found stabbed to death. An Atlantic County couple are charged with murder.
Since that time, the Taj Mahal has increased security, spokesman Brian Cahill said in a statement Monday. That includes around-the-clock security patrols both by a vehicle and by bike. A security officer is also posted at the garage’s Spice Road entrance at all times. A half-million dollars has been spent on security since November, and none of the layoffs has included cutting security staff, he said.
The money spent includes paying Atlantic City police officers to do armed patrols of the garage under the city’s Special Employment Section, which allows businesses to pay the department to use off-duty officers.
Carl LePone — who lives two blocks from the casino — said he does not see the added security measures.
“Oh, you definitely don’t feel secure,” said LePone, 69. “When you come out the back end, you definitely don’t see anybody (security) there. Once in a while you see a security guard ride by on a bicycle, but that’s about it.”
Casino security experts said the Taj’s response is along the lines of what they recommend.
“As you have incidents occurring, you have to react and set some kind of plan,” said Alan Zajic, whose firm is about 30 miles from Reno, Nev. — which the American Gaming Association lists as the nation’s 12th-ranked gaming market. “That’s your business environment.”
Liability and business performance concerns typically motivate casinos to invest in parking facility security because state or local regulations rarely do so. Parking areas are treated differently than the rest of the casino because gaming is not happening there, Zajic said.
Guards, cameras, and bright white lighting and design color-scheme are industry standards for parking venue security, he said.
But otherwise, approaches vary by market.
“Our regulatory authority, as far as security, is strictly related to gaming operations, basically,” said Eddie Williams, deputy director at the Mississippi Gaming Control Board. “We wouldn’t consider a parking lot gaming operations.” The same is true in Michigan.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board requires casino license applicants get their security plan approved, but because the agency vets the plans on a case-by-case basis, they do not have to address parking facilities and Pennsylvania state law does not provide any specific details or recommendations on security equipment or staffing levels, spokesman Richard McGarvey said Monday.
Staff Writers Derek Harper, Donald Wittkowski, and Caitlin Dineen contributed to this report.
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