NEWBURY – A Byfield man accused of pretending to be infected with COVID-19 to avoid speaking to police investigating a robbery outside the Rusty Can restaurant in April was ordered held on $1,500 cash bail following his arraignment Thursday in Newburyport District Court. 

Andrew P. Rich, 29, of Central Court was summonsed to court April 11 on charges of making a bomb/hijack threat (COVID-19 claim), along with unarmed robbery and possessing counterfeit notes. 

His alleged accomplice, Leah Gibeley, 26, of Haverhill, also was summonsed at that time. She was arraigned on unarmed robbery and possessing counterfeit notes charges and released on personal recognizance.

Pretrial hearings for Rich and Gibeley were scheduled for Aug. 20. While awaiting trial, both were ordered to have no contact with their alleged victim and to stay out of trouble with the law. 

Essex County prosecutor Shailagh Kennedy asked Judge Peter Doyle to hold Rich on $1,500 for the new charges. She also asked that the defendant be held without bail, stating that at the time he allegedly committed the new offenses, Rich was facing a charge related to fraudulently collecting more than $14,760 in state health benefits.

Rich was given a bail warning Feb. 24, meaning that any new offenses could lead to his release being revoked, according to Kennedy. 

Rich’s attorney, Paul Moraski, disputed the need to revoke his client’s release, arguing that Rich appeared in court on his own to face the new charges. He also questioned why Kennedy waited months before asking a judge to revoke Rich’s release. 

In the end, Doyle agreed with Moraski and denied Kennedy’s request to revoke Rich’s release. Doyle agreed to impose $1,500 cash bail on the new charges. 

Court records show that Rich and Gibeley met a woman at Pearson’s Plaza, just off Interstate 95, on April 5 about 9 p.m. after agreeing to purchase two iPhones and other items. They had set up the meeting on Letgo, an online marketplace, and agreed to meet at the plaza. 

There, Rich handed the woman $730 in fake bills for the phones, a phone case, a cable, a charger and perfume bottles.

Before getting back into her car, the woman noticed the bills looked fake, some of them labeled with the phrase “For motion picture use only,” and asked Rich if he had made a mistake. 

Concerned, the woman asked them to give the items back to her, which they did. She then got into the car but was unable to close the door because Gibeley blocked it. 

“So I grabbed my taser and warned them that I will use it if they don’t let me leave,” the victim stated, according to Sgt. Stephen Jenkins’ report. 

Gibeley moved out of the way, allowing the woman to close the door. But before she was able to drive away, Rich reached inside and grabbed a bag containing her items.

Fearing for her safety, the woman drove away. Rich and Gibeley fled on foot. 

Based on descriptions given by witnesses and video footage of the parking lot, Jenkins believed Rich to be one of the two people involved. With help from a Rowley police officer, Jenkins drove to Rich’s Central Court home to speak to him. 

Once Rich noticed the officers at his door, he told them he was feeling sick. After opening the front door, carrying a bottle of Pedialyte, Rich told them he had been home all day. 

“He suddenly began to cough dramatically and laid on the interior stairs, stating he was sick and likely had COVID-19,” Jenkins wrote in his report. 

Concerned for their safety, the officers stepped away from the front door and asked if Rich wanted an ambulance. Rich said no. When asked if he had been tested, Rich said his symptoms “just started.”

Gibeley appeared and admitted they had been at Pearson’s Plaza to buy items from a woman they met online. But Gibeley claimed the woman ripped them off and then pulled a taser on them to make her getaway. 

While still laying on the stairs, Rich continued to appear sick as officers asked him more questions. Rich accused the woman of hitting him with her car and saying he was delirious. The interview abruptly ended when Rich exclaimed he was done speaking, according to Jenkins’ report. 

In an interview with police about the same time, the woman handed over the fake money. 

On April 10, a Newbury police officer drove by Rich’s home and spotted him doing manual labor, apparently healthy. 

“He was not displaying any of the symptoms I observed on April 5,” Jenkins wrote in his report. 

A day later, Jenkins formally charged Rich and Gibeley. 

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