Teacher's Alleged Underage Drinking Parties Stun Neighbors
Downtown business owners react to charges against 26-year-old man.
Downtown Chatham business owners reacted Friday after news surfaced that one of their neighbors—a 26-year-old teacher in Berkeley Heights—has been charged with drug possession and supplying alcohol to those under the legal drinking age inside his Main Street apartment.
Frank Melchiorre, a science teacher at Governor Livingston High School since 2006, has an apartment on Main Street above Home Sweet Home. The store's owner, Janice Cocchi, said Melchiorre was "so not the type you'd expect" to be involved in what authorities have accused. "He seemed like a nice kid," she said.
Melchiorre was arrested last week and charged with possessing under 50 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, providing alcohol to someone under the age of 21 and allowing underage drinking in his home, according to a statement released Thursday night by Chatham Borough Police Chief Philip Crosson and Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi.
Considered a popular teacher at the Berkeley Heights school by some students, Melchiorre has 77 members following "The Frank Melchiorre Appreciation Club" Facebook page.
Andrew Hoydich, a 2007 Governor Livingston grad, according to his personal Facebook page, wrote high praise Friday night for his former teacher on Melchiorre's group wall.
"He's a saint," Hoydich wrote. "A teacher who transcends the traditional role of an authority figure and breaks into the realm of a mentor and a friend. Unlike the majority of the teachers in high schools, he identifies with the plight of the adolescent and remembers that he was once in our very same position.
"With a smile on his face and a thumbs up he always greets students with a positive attitude and levels with us as fellow humans instead of remaining up on his pedestal. All in all Frank Melchiorre is a great guy who provides many students with quality scientific knowledge and a friend in the most unlikely of places, behind the desk of a teacher."
Home Sweet Home's owner said she had noticed teens hanging out near the store lately, especially on Saturday nights. "I noticed more boys than anything," Cocchi said. "I thought it was a little out of the ordinary." Cocchi said she didn't recognize any of the boys.
Chris Farley, owner of Farley's Place, said Melchiorre came into his restaurant often, usually for coffee. Farley said Melchiorre sometimes came in with his father or brother.
"He was a nice guy, not really sociable, but nice," Farley said. "He used to walk his dog up and down the street and come in for coffee."
Farley noticed teens in the neighborhood, but couldn't say whether the youth were there for Ott's Okinawan Karate Studio, also in the same block as Melchiorre's apartment, or to visit the teacher.
"Kids are going to drink," Farley said. "That happens everywhere." Farley said he hadn't seen any evidence of teens leaving the apartment building drunk.
Tony Arminio, of Arminio's Italian Corner on Main Street, said it wasn't unheard of to have kids in the neighborhood "drunk and acting stupid," but from the pizza shop it is impossible for him or any of his staff to see where these kids might be coming from or where they were headed.
According to CBS New York, Galal Galal, who works at Arminio's, said that he'd seen teenagers at the apartment's front entrance.
However, Arminio told Chatham Patch Friday afternoon that it's impossible to see the front entrance to the apartment from the restaurant since both buildings are on the same side of the street and several doors apart.
"They totally chopped up what he said and took it out of context," Arminio told Patch.
Melchiorre has not been seen at his apartment, and neighbors said his car was not around. Attempts to reach Melchiorre on Friday were unsuccessful. His apartment neighbors were also not available for comment.
Representatives from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office did not respond to questions whether the underage people Melchiorre allegedly supplied alcohol to were high school students, if they were current or former students of his at Governor Livingston High School or if they were from Chatham.
Melchiorre has been suspended from his teaching position as authorities continue their investigation.