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'Food cougher' at Gerrity's sent to jail

Margaret Cirko of Hanover Township was given a jail sentence and must pay $30,000 in restitution.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — The woman accused of purposely coughing on fresh food inside a grocery store was sentenced on Tuesday in Luzerne County.

We still didn't know much about COVID-19 at the time when Margaret Cirko purposely coughed and spit all over the food displays inside a Gerrity's supermarket in Hanover Township while saying, "I have the virus, now you're all going to get sick.'

"People were really, really scared," said Joe Fasula, a co-owner of Gerrity's. "We had a lot of employees that really got freaked out by the whole thing. But people kept showing up to work, and I think the customers saw that we took it very seriously, and it actually gave them some confidence that we were going to be a safe place to shop."

Fasula was in court when Cirko was sentenced. She pleaded guilty to a felony weapons of mass destruction charge in June.

"I was kind of relieved the whole thing is over. I do feel bad for her. It seems like she really has a lot of issues, and she needs a lot of help," Fasula said. "I'm just glad that this sets a precedent to anybody else that might think of doing something like this, that there's repercussions."

Those repercussions include jail time. Cirko was sentenced to one to two years in jail plus eight years of probation. She has to pay back nearly $30,000 to Gerrity's insurance company for all the food the store had to throw away.

"I think that's appropriate. I think she needs to learn her lesson. And for the short period of time she's going there, I think that's a good rehab project for her," said Dr. George Cheponis.

"She should get some jail time, but one to two years, I think, is a little too much. Six months is fine," said Estelle Jones.

Fasula says he's especially grateful for the support of the community and that he never lost the loyalty of his customers.

"The fact that people kept coming to Gerrity's—both employees and customers—really says a lot about our community."

More than a year later, Fasula remembers fielding calls from international news outlets in places like London and Australia about the story.

"We never thought that little humble Gerrity's in northeastern Pennsylvania would've been national news."

Margaret Cirko is locked up in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.