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Relief for commuters

Dejessa_web

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

LYNDHURST – 

After what Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso characterized as “33 years of starts and stops,” the township – with help from Bergen County – is finally beginning to see the start of improvements to the intersection at Kingsland and Riverside Aves.

The changes – being undertaken under a contract awarded by the county – are designed with the aim of relieving commuter backups at the approach to the DeJessa Memorial Bridge, linking Lyndhurst and Nutley over the Passaic River, and from Rt. 21 on the Nutley side of the bridge.

Contributing to the problem – accentuated during rush hour periods – are bad traffic signal synchronization, coupled with the age (more than a century old) and limited capacity (one lane in each direction) of the truss swing span over which more than 26,000 vehicles cross on a daily average.

Since coming into office nine years ago, Giangeruso has been pressing for action to alleviate the persistent commuter nightmare that has afflicted residents of both Lyndhurst and Nutley and beyond.

It took eight years, the mayor noted, just for Lyndhurst and Bergen County to come up with a project design, for Lyndhurst to acquire privately owned rights of way easements, to move commercial signs for 601 Riverside and an Exxon station, and to coordinate relocation of utility poles, before the county could bid out the intersection work.

Bids from three firms were submitted, ranging to a high of nearly $1 million, with J C Contracting Inc. of Bloomfield coming in as low bidder with a price of $813,725. A contract was awarded recently by the Bergen County Freeholders and work began in earnest Oct. 6.

A temporary traffic signal has been installed and was activated when PSE&G connected the electrical service and the project’s construction will be phased so that one corner of the intersection is completed at a time to minimize inconvenience and to keep the intersection open to traffic, Giangeruso said.

Brian Intindola, director of traffic engineering services for Neglia Engineering, the township’s consulting engineering firm, outlined the improvements as follows:

For traffic flowing from Nutley to Lyndhurst, there will be a “fully signalized” dedicated left turn lane, from Kingsland Ave. eastbound to Riverside Ave. northbound, along with a dedicated through lane and a dedicated right turn lane, coming from the bridge to Riverside southbound.

“The idea is we’re trying to move as much traffic off the bridge as possible, given its capacity being restrained,” Intindola said.

As a complement to that flow, for traffic moving from Lyndhurst to Nutley coming off the bridge, there will be a fully signalized dedicated left turn lane from Kingsland westbound to Riverside southbound and a shared through lane and right turn lane for Nutley-bound motorists.

For traffic southbound on Riverside, a new right turn lane will be constructed to allow motorists improved access to the bridge to cross into Nutley; there will also be a dedicated left turn lane for local traffic to Kingsland eastbound and a through lane to continue southbound on Riverside.

Traffic northbound on Riverside will get a dedicated left turn lane to cross the bridge, along with a shared right turn to Kingsland eastbound and northbound through lane.

“We have worked out the signal timing to be as efficient as possible,” Intindola said. “As eastbound Kingsland traffic coming off the bridge from Nutley to Lyndhurst gets a green light, drivers making right turns from Riverside to Kingsland will proceed at the same time.”

“We’re also attempting to do video detection where you can optimize signalization time to process as much traffic as possible and to facilitate better coordination with the Rt. 21 ramp traffic signal and River Road (County Rt. 622) on the Essex County side,” said Intindola.

As things are now, he said, coordination of the signals isn’t aligned, “so we’re going to use a GPS-based clock mechanism to stay in sync.”

Additionally, Intindola said, for public safety, there will be “full pedestrian actuation,” meaning push-button activated Walk/Don’t Walk signals for people looking to cross Kingsland or Riverside, and new curbside disabled-access ramps.

Intindola credited Giangeruso for having “invested a lot of time and effort to bring this project together,” since it was first pitched as a concept back in 1981.

If Mother Nature cooperates, Inindola said that the contractor could wrap up the project with paving by spring 2015.

Convicted in mortgage swindle

A Belleville man was among three defendants convicted earlier this month in federal court for their roles in a $15 million mortgage fraud scheme involving condominiums in New Jersey and Florida, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman reported.

Last month, another Belleville resident pleaded guilty in the same scam.

According to Fishman’s office, the scheme used phony documents and “straw buyers” to defraud financial institutions and make illegal profits on condos overbuilt by financially stressed developers. Thus far, 13 persons have been arrested in the case.

Found guilty Oct. 6 by a jury sitting in U.S. District Court, Camden, were Dwayne Onque, 46, of Belleville; his sister, Mashon Onque, 43, of East Orange, and Nancy Wolf-Fels, 57, of Toms River.

Each was each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In addition, Dwayne Onque was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The jury returned the verdicts after a four-week trial and just five hours of deliberation.

Authorities reported that, from late 2006 through mid 2007, Dwayne Onque served as a “straw buyer” of five properties in Middletown and Wildwood. For each of the five, he signed fraudulent loan applications and closing documents that resulted in the release of more than $2 million in mortgage funds.

In 2006 and 2008, Mashon Onque, employed by Tri-State Title Agency in Montclair, acted as the closing agent for fraudulent mortgage loans orchestrated by other conspirators, including her brother.

Wolf-Fels, a loan officer at Mortgage Now in Forked River from 2007 through mid-2008, assembled six fraudulent loan applications and sent them to victim financial institutions, which lent the unqualified buyers mortgage funds.

On Sept. 2, Larry Fullenwider, 63, of Belleville, pleaded guilty in the same court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He admitted purchasing four condos in North Wildwood after presenting a false identification and using fake documents to support fraudulent loan applications.

For wire fraud conspiracy, all four defendants face up to 30 years in prison and fines of $1 million. Dwayne Onque’s money laundering conspiracy conviction carries an additional potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Sentencing is scheduled for January.

– Karen Zautyk 

Walmart is keeping cops busy

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

The Walmart in Kearny is conveniently located on Harrison Ave., with easy access to Rt. 280, the N.J. Turnpike and feeder roads to Newark and Jersey City. This is a boon for shoppers. However, according to Kearny police, it is also a boon for shoplifters who can make a fast getaway.

Regular readers of the Kearny police blotter are aware that rarely a week goes by without at least one shoplifting incident at the store. On Friday, KPD Chief John Dowie told The Observer that, in 2013, his officers had responded to Walmart 300 times.

“We are already approaching 400 responses this year — with the best of the year [holiday shopping time] yet to come,” he said. “This amounts to least one a day.”

As of Oct. 13, Dowie noted, the KPD had made 113 arrests at the store, and many of those taken into custody “are not your stereotypical shoplifters.”

“They come with a lot more baggage,” he said, noting, for example, the number who have outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions.

The reported statistics are in no way intended to reflect badly on Walmart security; it is store security personnel who initially spot and detain — or attempt to detain — the suspects. But security has no arrest powers. And each incident takes Kearny officers off the road, sometimes for hours as they process arrestees and deal with required paperwork.

Last week was apparently a particularly busy one, so we are running a separate shoplifter “blotter.” As reported by Dowie the incidents included the following:

On Oct. 14, at 6:30 p.m., Officer Luis Moran responded to Walmart where security had detained Danny Morales, 36, of Newark, who allegedly had attempting to conceal numerous cans of Enfamil baby formula, worth a total of $80. Morales was charged with shoplifting. If all that sounds familiar, it’s because last week’s KPD blotter reported Morales’ Oct. 2 arrest, on a charge of shoplifting $88 worth of Enfamil from Walmart.

* * *

On Oct. 16, at 3:30 p.m., Officers Chris Levchak and Jose Resua responded to Walmart where security had in custody Brianna Young, 19, of Newark, who was charged with stealing $128 worth of merchandise. She was processed at HQ and released.

* * *

That same day, at 4:10 p.m., Levchak and Resua returned to the store on a report of two shoplifters. One of the suspects, Ashley Crenshaw, 23, of Orange, was arrested for allegedly attempting to steal merchandise valued at $229.

Police said the second suspect, Crenshaw’s alleged cohort Jasmine Moore, 24, of Newark, tried to intercede, refused to heed Levchak’s warnings to cease and desist, became hostile and profane and demanded to see the security video.

When Levchak tried to arrest Moore, a struggle ensued and she punched the officer in the head, police said. Cuffed by both cops and escorted from the store, she allegedly kicked and dented the squad car door.

Moore was booked for shoplifting, aggravated assault, criminal mischief and resisting arrest. Police said she also had two outstanding warrants, from East Orange and Long Hill Township.

Video of her conduct in the store parking lot has been recovered and entered into evidence.

2011 layoffs affirmed

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

Four former Kearny workers, including a union chief, have lost the first round of a bid to reverse their New Year’s Eve dismissals nearly three years ago.

In a 21-page ruling issued Sept. 3, the state Office of Administrative Law Judge Irene Jones dismissed an appeal by Kerry Kosick, Elizabeth Wainman, Mary Ann Ryan and Fatima Fowlkes, contesting their “economic” layoffs that took effect Dec. 31, 2011.

Ryan, president of Council 11, Civil Service Association, which represents most of the town’s civilian employees and crossing guards, said the judge’s decision has been appealed to the state Civil Service Commission, which must affirm or reject the ruling.

The town characterized the layoffs as a reduction in force prompted by reasons of “economy and efficiency” but the employees countered that the town acted in bad faith because the employees were let go, not for anything budget-related, but rather, in retaliation for complaints made against superiors.

Hearings were held in the OAL court in Newark Sept. 28 and Oct. 31, 2013, with attorney Paul Kleinbaum representing the employees and special counsel Jonathan Cohen appearing for the town.

Kosick, a senior librarian who earned $71,000, testified that she was targeted for a layoff in connection with a 2010 incident for not allowing a contracted artist to do portraits of two local politicians’ kids at a library program because the politicos arrived with only five minutes left in the program. Kosick said she was bawled out by her thenboss but acknowledged she wasn’t disciplined. She said that after she was let go, the town hired a part-time librarian in violation of its hiring freeze policy.

However, the court found that Kosick had no proof that she’d been targeted for a layoff and that the town had hired only “low-level” employees — not librarians – to handle some of her work.

Wainman, a clerk for the Construction Code Department who earned more than $55,000, claimed that she was targeted for a layoff after she filed a harassment complaint in 2010 for being told to bring a doctor’s note after being out sick for less than three days, for being told to leave and docked a half sick day after arriving to work 19 minutes late and for being yelled at by a supervisor to “get that baby out of there” while she was assisting a customer with a crying infant. After filing a verbal complaint, Wainman said she was branded a “pot stirrer” by the town’s personnel officer.

Again, the court found that no bad faith in Wainman’s case, noting that the harassment complaint was made “after the layoff plan for 2011 was formulated.” The court noted that it was Wainman’s choice not to apply for the position of permit clerk – which would have insulated her from the layoff – nor did she want to “bump” another employee who is the mother of three children.

Fowlkes, a $54,000 clerk typist bilingual in the Public Works Department, testified that in 2011, she filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, based on allegations of a hostile work environment, including the placement of a big black rubber rat on her work desk and an order by her boss to get out of his office. She said that Town Administrator Michael Martello found no evidence of racial discrimination or a hostile work environment but that everyone in the Public Works Department had to take a class on racial harassment. Subsequently, she got a new job at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark.

The court concluded that no bad faith had been demonstrated against Fowlkes, noting that the EEOC had investigated – and dismissed – her claim of racial discrimination. It also found that Fowlkes had three years’ less seniority than a second bilingual clerk in the Public Works Department.

Ryan, a $75,000 principal clerk typist in the Fire Department who worked there 28 years for six different fire chiefs, testified that she was targeted for layoff because of her union activism. She said that the town originally sought $785,000 in concessions from Council 11 but then upped that amount to $870,000. Also, she said, the town initially wanted 26 furlough days but then offered to take 20 days – and later, 13 days – if she retired.

The court found “no merit” to Ryan’s claim of retaliation due to her union activities. Instead, it concluded, “the record supports that the town and unions worked together to avoid layoffs in the prior year and to reduce the overall number of layoffs by agreeing to furlough days and other concessions.”

Ryan retired April 1, 2013, and began collecting pension benefits.

Mayor Alberto Santos said last week that he expected to begin negotiations with Council 11 on a new labor contract by the end of October or early November. The union currently represents about 55 civilian employees and 25 crossing guards.

Go pink at St. Michael’s

Don your favorite pink attire and join St. Michael’s Medical Center for a Breast Cancer Awareness Month event — Breast Health & You — on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at SMMC’s Connie Dwyer Breast Center, 111 Central Ave., Newark.

Dr. Nadine Pappas, director of the Dwyer Breast Center, along with a team of medical experts, will lead a question-and-answer session about breast health. Attendees can enjoy lunch, meet the staff, tour the center and schedule mammograms.

The event is free, and attendees will receive complimentary valet parking. However, registration is required, as space is limited.

To register, call 973-877- 2990. To learn more about the Connie Dwyer Breast Center, visit www.smmcnj.org/conniedwyer.

Cops thwart jewelry robber

Rowe-Williams_web

HARRISON –

Last Tuesday, Oct. 14, happened to be the birthday of a woman visiting Harrison but it was marred by an unfortunate incident.

Police said the 61-year-old woman and her husband were walking west on Harrison Ave., at 2:53 p.m., when a man riding a bicycle passed the couple, then circled back and grabbed a gold chain from her neck while pushing the woman to the ground.

Police said the robber then ditched the bike and fled on foot on Harrison Ave.

Police said the robber, who was being chased by several men who had reportedly witnessed the incident, was described as an African-American, with long black dreadlocks, wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

As the civilians pursued the suspect onto William St., Harrison Police Dets. Corey Karas and Dave Doyle – after getting a call about a theft from a female victim – ran from headquarters on Cleveland Ave. to Third St., anticipating they’d head off the suspect, who, they reasoned, would be aiming to find the quickest route out of town, possibly to Newark.

And this they did, spotting a man with a black knapsack running on the north side of William St. approaching Third, Doyle said. “We cut him off and ordered him to the ground.”

After the victim and two witnesses positively identified the man as the individual involved in the episode, police placed him under arrest and a search of the suspect yielded the stolen piece of jewelry in his pocket, Doyle said.

The victim, who told police the 30-inch-long chain was a wedding necklace valued at $300, was treated by emergency medical personnel from MONOC (Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corp.) for injuries to her neck and hands that she sustained from the suspect pushing her to the ground.

A bicycle, which police believe was the bike the suspect was pedaling at the time of the crime, was recovered at the scene, police said.

The suspect, identified as Curtis Rowe-Williams, 24, of Newark, was charged with robbery, a first degree crime.

Police said that Rowe- Williams, who has a history of prior arrests, was wanted on an active drug-related warrant from Newark. He was taken to Hudson County Jail in Kearny on $75,000 bail with no 10% option.

Harrison Police Chief Derek Kearns commended the two detectives for anticipating the suspect’s potential flight route and for proceeding on that basis, rather than going to the crime scene itself. “It was a good call,” he said.

Police said the victim told them she was planning to return to her native country India the day after the crime.

– Ron Leir 

2 adults found dead

BELLEVILLE – 

Police are investigating what they characterized as a murder-suicide in Belleville.

Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, said that the Belleville PD responded to a residential location on New St. on Friday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m., to check on the status of resident John Sykes, 47, after Sykes hadn’t shown up for work.

Inside, police discovered the lifeless bodies of Sykes and Felicia Hunt, 23, Carter said.

“It appears to be a murder-suicide,” Carter said.

Police believe there was some type of relationship between Sykes and Hunt, Carter said.

The bodies were removed to the offices of the Essex County Medical Examiner where an autopsy was to be conducted, according to Carter.

Carter said the incident remains under investigation. No further details were readily available at The Observer’s press time.

– Ron Leir 

Arrest in sex case & more: NPD blotter

BELLEVILLE –

A local man has been arrested on charges of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a minor.

Members of the Nutley Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said the arrest stemmed from an investigation of claims of a sexual relationship between Jonathan Matos, 23, and a 14-year-old Nutley girl over the past year, police said.

Police said the prosecutor’s office authorized charges to be brought on Oct. 10, at which time Nutley PD drafted warrants for Matos’s arrest.

Matos was apprehended on Spring St. in Nutley and is now being held at Essex County Jail on $250,000 bail pending court action.

•••

Nutley PD and the Essex County Sheriff’s Department conducted joint surveillance behind Nutley School on Friday, Oct. 17, and arrested Neil Allarey, 19, of Nutley, and Antonio Reyes, 19, of Passaic Park, for allegedly selling CDS to a 13-year-old middle school student.

Detectives recovered marijuana, Schedule II narcotics and paraphernalia.

Allarey and Reyes face various drug charges. Allarey was released after posting a portion of his $75,000 bail, pending court action, and Reyes ws freed pending a court date. The student was charged with possession of CDS and released pending a juvenile hearing.

•••

Between Oct. 11 and 17, Nutley PD responded to 15 motor vehicle accidents, 10 disputes, 34 medical calls and the following incidents:

Oct. 11 

A motor vehicle stop on Clover St. resulted in the arrest of Eric Abreu, 22, of Nutley, for outstanding warrants from Lyndhurst and Edgewater, police said. He was also ticketed for driving with a suspended license. Abreu posted bail for the Edgewater warrant and was released by Lyndhurst PD pending court dates.

•••

A Passaic Ave. resident reported a series of suspicious calls from an unknown number. The resident told police it sounded like someone was on the line but then hung up after a few minutes. Police said the resident’s ID was previously stolen.

Oct. 12 

Police responded to a Washington Ave. gas station on a report of theft of services. The attendant told officers that after he’d finished pumping $40 worth of fuel for a silver Dodge Charger, the driver, a black woman with two children in the back seat, drove off south on Washington Ave. into Belleville without paying. Police said the car was registered to an East Orange resident.

•••

Police were called to a Stanley Ave. location on a report of criminal mischief to a vehicle. The owner told police someone had poured some type of liquid on top of, and next to, the vehicle, causing the car’s paint to peel.

Oct. 14

Police were alerted to illegal dumping on Prospect St. near Hawthorne Ave. where, a resident reported, someone drives by regularly and leaves empty bottles of beer and liquor on the sidewalk. Police found a broken bottle near the curb. The resident said they’d already cleared away up two other bottles. No description of the vehicle was provided to police.

Oct. 15 

The theft of a large amount of money from a vehicle parked on Washington Ave. was reported to police. The victim told police they’d withdrawn $7,063 from a company account at the bank and placed a folder with the cash in their vehicle. After driving to a local store, the victim said they locked the car and, after a 15-minute stay, returned to find the cash gone. Police said they found no sign of forced entry.

Oct. 16 

A Pake St. resident told police they’d returned to their home after having been gone 2 ó hours to find the rear door forced open. Police said they found damage to a door jam and pry marks to an interior door that provided access to the main floor. Detectives are investigating.

– Ron Leir 

3rd swastika suspect charged

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KEARNY – 

The third member of a Belleville trio suspected in the vandalism of vehicles at a Kearny trucking company was arrested last week on charges of bias intimidation, criminal mischief and conspiracy, Kearny Police Chief John Dowie reported.

Adonis Giron, 20, turned himself in at KPD headquarters Oct. 15 after being contacted by Det. Michael Gonzalez, chief investigator on the case, Dowie said.

His bail was set at $25,000, and he was subsequently released after posting 10%, authorities reported,

The previous week, Gonzalez and Det. John Plaugic had arrested Frederick Vangeldren, 26, and Akim Dolor, 24, both also of Belleville, in connection with the incident at Star City trucking on Third St. in Kearny.

On the morning of Oct. 3, a company manager had discovered four trucks vandalized, two of them spray-painted with swastikas. Police said Star City’s owner is Jewish.

Vangeldren and Dolor face the same charges as Giron.

Dowie noted that Gonzalez had developed the suspects after viewing security videos in the neighborhood.

All reports connected with the case have been forwarded to the state Bias Crimes Unit

– Karen Zautyk 

Check out school board hopefuls

The Belleville United Coalition will sponsor a Candidates Forum for those seeking election to the Belleville Board of Education on Monday, Oct. 27, at the Belleville Seniors Center, 125 Franklin Ave.

The event is slated to run from 7 to 9 p.m.

Robert Braun, former longtime education writer for The Star Ledger, will serve as moderator.

Five people are running for two open 3-year seats on the school board. Trustee William Freda isn’t seeking re-election and former Trustee Joseph Longo resigned earlier this year after his election to the Belleville Township Council.

BUC President Jeff Mattingly said that four of the five candidates have accepted invitations to attend the forum. They are: Gabrielle Bennett, Patricia Dolan, Erika Jacho and Ralph Vellon.

Mattingly said that candidate Christine Lamparello “has a scheduling conflict concerning giving testimony about services for the severely disabled” and is considering sending someone to represent her.

According to an announcement posted by the BUC on NutleyWatch.com, the forum “is a non-partisan event designed to give the candidates a unique opportunity to express their views and positions on a wide array of vital issues currently affecting our troubled district.”

As guests enter the Senior Center, they will be invited to submit questions for the candidates on 3-by-5-inch cards which will be collected soon after the forum begins. Braun will choose the questions which he will then present to the candidates on a rotation sequence.

The forum will be videotaped and made available to the public through the local cable access station and via internet posting.

Some background on the candidates: Bennett has served as a committee member of the Belleville High School Business Employment and Technical Advisory Council; Dolan, whose daughter is a 2013 Belleville High graduate, says, if elected, she will support teachers’ needs and “make sure the excessive, needless overspending will stop” under her watch; Jacho is a Belleville High alumna who has served as School 9 PTA president and was an unsuccessful candidate for the board in 2012; Lamparello has chaired the Belleville Special Education Advisory Council; and Vellon, a Navy veteran with two children in the public schools who has a master’s degree in nursing and is pursuing a business administration degree, says he supports “reform” of the school system and would work to give teachers “support” and “respect.”

Dolan and Vellon have been endorsed by Belleville’s Voice of Teachers in Education, a political action committee comprised of local teachers.

 – Ron Leir