A Florida man called more than a dozen New Jersey restaurants and placed large orders he said were for the local police department, but never paid for or picked up the food, authorities said.
The scheme cost the businesses several thousand dollars, the South Brunswick Township Police Department said in a press release.
Sudeep Khetani, 34, called pizzerias and restaurants in three New Jersey counties and "each time he indicated he would pick up the order or it was intended for local police," the press release states.
"In several of the follow-up calls the pizzerias made to the phone number that placed the order, Khetani would make statements about Italians and wished they would be affected with the coronavirus," police said.
According to authorities, Khetani used a voice override service to mask his real phone numbers, but detectives were able to find his true identity.
Police believe he is currently in the Orlando, Florida area, where he is on probation for selling fake Disney World tickets. New Jersey authorities are working with Florida police to find Khetani.
“It is incomprehensible that a suspect would play on the goodwill of so many during these difficult times," South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka said in a statement. "We have had several residents send us food, which I appreciate tremendously, but this suspect has gone to a new low."
Hayducka said he will "pursue the strongest of charges" and make sure the businesses get their money back.
"Our businesses are all struggling and every dollar matters. I will not tolerate someone trying to take advantage of our community in these difficult days," he said.
Khetani has been charged with theft, and authorities are considering whether the crimes could also be biased in nature or constitute cyber harassment.