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$3.7M deficit confirmed

BELLEVILLE – 

Well, now it’s official. An audit of the Belleville Board of Education for the 2013-2014 school year has confirmed what school officials and the district’s state monitor had suspected all along … that the district did, indeed, overspend its budget.

As best it could determine from BOE records available, the Fairlawn auditing firm of Lerch, Vinci & Higgins LLP has estimated that deficit at $3,712,426.

Jeff Bliss, a CPA and a partner in the firm, offered an overview of why it happened at a special BOE meeting last Tuesday and, as he proceeded, each revelation elicited groans from members of the audience filling much of Belleville High School auditorium.

Copies of a summary of the audit’s findings were available for public view at the meeting and the BOE also posted more detailed explanations from the audit on its website.

Bliss said the audit report contained a whopping 67 recommendations – an unheard of number for a typical school audit. Of those, 15 deal with what Bliss characterized as “material weaknesses in internal [fiscal] controls” which reflect “material errors in financial statements.”

Eleven are “repeats from the prior year,” he added. “A lot of policies were not being followed.”

Expenses for as many as 90 individual line items in the school budget were found to have exceeded revenues available, he said.

Bliss said the audit team was hampered in some instances because district records were incomplete, sketchy or even missing. Much of computer-stored education- and business-related information was “lost” and had to be manually reconstructed after the district server “crashed” at some point last year, he said.

Among some of the more alarming findings of the audit were that the district:

• Failed to pay quarterly  claim reimbursement bills to the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in a  timely manner, thereby subjecting itself to penalty fees.

• Failed to remit federal and state quarterly payroll  tax filings on time. Typically, Bliss said, it was “two to four quarters behind.”

• Failed to cover a short fall of $365,000 in its payroll agency account and money had to be transferred from another source to make up the gap, Bliss said. • Failed to monitor cash  balances to prevent $1.4 million in overdrafts. “That’s not good business practice,” said Bliss.

• Failed to track payments  to vendors involving two capital lease purchase projects made through a bank involving a $1,025,000 school roof repair and a $1,950,000 school security/network upgrade. “Transactions were not recorded in the district’s books and bills were not approved for payment by the board,” Bliss said.

• Failed to get monthly  financial reports, budget line item certifications and fund status from its professionals.

• Failed in “many situations” to seek public bids for goods and services that exceeded the $36,000 bid threshold like a $72.000 contract awarded Clarity Technologies for computer supplies and IT support; failed in some cases to seek competitive quotations for  contract awards exceeding $5,200; and failed to provide purchase orders authorizing those actions.

• Failed to put out for bid  the hiring of cafeteria lunch aides at a cost of $180,000 – which, according to Bliss, was “outside” the contract awarded its food service management company.

• Failed to maintain a student census report as “the basis for which the district receives state school aid and some federal funding,” Bliss said. Although the district claims a student population of 4,700, “none of the records are available” to support that claim, he said.

“Now that the deficit has been certified,” Bliss told the public, “the [BOE] administration is required to adopt  a corrective action plan to eliminate the deficit.”

Newly chosen BOE President Raymond Kuebler pledged that the plan “should be done in a few weeks” and “will be presented by the monitor [Thomas Egan] to the state” for review.”

After some members of the public wondered whether there would be consequences for those deemed  responsible for the deficit, Kuebler volunteered that BOE members have heard that, “There is an ongoing investigation going on, but nothing [official] has been brought to our attention right now.” He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, beyond the correction action plan there is the matter of how the BOE will deal with the overspending, aside from tightening its belt, as it has already done so, by voting not to renew contracts for a number of both non-tenured instructional and noninstructional employees for this school year.

Last week, the monitor, Egan, told The Observer that the district will be seeking a loan from the state Department of Education. “I haven’t finalized the dollar figure yet,” Egan said, “but you have to realize that the overspending is more like $4.7 million if you include the $1 million we had in reserve that we applied against the deficit.

“You’re going to need money for contingencies that may come up during the upcoming school year,” Egan said. “That’s what I’ll be discussing with the state as to the loan amount which would be an advance against future state aid, spread over five to 10 years.”

Ultimately, Egan said, that money – just the principal – would have to be paid back to the state and it’s up to the BOE to figure out how it would accomplish that. One possibility, he acknowledged, would be going to the public with a special school referendum but it would likely be a tough sell.

At last week’s meeting, while being quizzed about  the current status of unemployment claims by Michael Mignone, the teachers’ union president, Bliss categorized the BOE’s mishaps as “a total breakdown of the system.”

Civic activist Jeff Mattingly was more blunt. He called it “a violation of trust – we were an ATM machine – we were abused in every way conceivable. It’s robbery, racketeering and there’s millions of dollars taxpayers are going to have to pay.”

“It is disheartening,” Kuebler agreed. “However, this board will be dedicated and committed to bringing this under control. We need to move forward and work together to ensure transparency.”

Medical school will be Roche tenant

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

NUTLEY – 

Roche USA, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical company that is marketing its 118-acre property straddling Nutley and Clifton, continues to seek a buyer for the site but has inked a tenant for part of the site.

Roche spokeswoman Darien Wilson said last week that the Tom Lyon, vice president of Roche Nutley (as the property is designated), has signed a “letter of intent” with Robert C. Garrett, president/ CEO of Hackensack University Health Network, for the leasing of one of Roche’s former research buildings for the operation of a medical school.

Terms of the lease remain to be negotiated, Wilson said.

At the same time, Wilson said, Roche — which last year paid $7.1 million in taxes to Nutley (supplemented by $2.7 million in special state transitional aid) — is “still in the process of identifying a buyer for the [entire] site.” Asked when Roche anticipated a sale, Wilson said: “We’re very close …. We expect to identify a new owner by middle of the year.”

Asked why the company was entering into an lease agreement for just a small part of its property (about 13 acres) before disposing of the whole site, Wilson acknowledged it could be considered an atypical approach, but that “all of the potential buyers were fully aware,” along with the Nutley- Clifton Joint Repurposing Committee, “that this was an opportunity that Roche wanted to pursue.”

Wilson said that talks with HackensackUHN “have been going on for a year and a half.” She added that the lease between the parties “would be assigned to whoever the new owner is.”

The new four-year medical school, according to a statement posted on the Hackensack University Medical School website, will be a joint venture by HackensackUHN and Seton Hall University and will be “the only private school of medicine currently in the state.”

The statement said the new facility would be an economic boost to the region by attracting other health-care related businesses and would “help curb the critical physician shortage that the state and the nation currently face. By 2020, it is estimated there will be a shortage of 2,500 physicians in the Garden State.”

Said Garrett: “New Jersey has long been known as a home to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and it is imperative we continue to support our future workforce through a premier school of medicine.”

Seton Hall President A. Gabriel Esteban said the university plans to integrate its graduate programs in Physician Assistant, Athletic Training, Occupational and Physical Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology and Health Administration, doctoral program in Health Sciences and Health Law to the new partnership.

A joint statement by HackensackUHN and Seton Hall said the new venture “will allow us to create a world-class network of academic, research and clinical expertise to educate the next generation of physicians to advance our reputation as a health science leader.”

None of this will happen overnight, the partners acknowledge. The school’s first class isn’t expected through the doors until fall 2017, according to HackensackUHN’s statement.

“There are a lot of steps they’ll have to go through before the school can open,” Wilson said.

For one thing, the six-story, 432,000 square foot Building 123 – designated as the medical school site – “will have to be fitted out as if it were a medical school” before the operators can apply for accreditation, Wilson said.

The partners are applying to the N.J. Economic Development Authority (EDA) for assistance in this process and the EDA’s approval “is expected to be finalized in early 2015,” their statement said.

Interestingly, Wilson said, the Nutley/Clifton property lines goes right through the center of Building 123 so the partners may have to seek local zoning and/or building approvals from both communities as they prepare to reshape the building to their needs.

Built in 1994, Building 123 is outfitted with a six-story atrium and roof-top solar panels, a 130-seat auditorium/conference rooms, tele-presence and video conference rooms, chemistry and biology labs and other research-related facilities, according to the Roche website.

The partners have signed a memorandum of understanding to create the medical school. Still to come is a formal agreement spelling out terms of the partnership.

County and local officials hailed the news as a big step forward for the region.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said the new venture “will be a tremendous asset both to the health care industry in this state but also will replace the economic void created [the loss of 1,000 jobs] when Hoffman-LaRoche relocated from the area.” It will also “create new jobs, enhance the housing market and create limitless economic development opportunities for local businesses.”

And Nutley Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers called the partnership “the culmination of a great team effort that will benefit our township for many years to come. … No doubt, this institution will attract people from all over the nation. This is the beginning of a great future for Nutley, in the area of jobs, economic growth and financial stability. We have a lot of work to do as we move forward. But this was a great way to start the new year.”

Fitzhenry picked for vacant seat

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

NORTH ARLINGTON – 

Republican loyalist Brian Fitzhenry was rewarded for his longtime service to the party with an appointment to the North Arlington Borough Council last Thursday.

Fitzhenry, 50, a Jersey City native and St. Peter’s College alum who has spent most of his life in the borough, was named to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Joseph Bianchi when Bianchi mounted a successful campaign for mayor.

Fitzhenry, marketing director for NewRent Inc., a Kearny-based semi-trailer rental and sales business, was one of three candidates put forward for the empty council seat by the North Arlington Republican County Committee. He was nominated for the appointment Thursday night by fellow Republican Councilman Richard Hughes and was unanimously voted in.

The GOP now enjoys a 5-2 majority, including the mayor, on the borough governing body.

“I want to thank the Republican Party for having faith in me to do the job,” Fitzhenry said, after being sworn into office by Bianchi. “I also want to thank the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department. It’s good to have two families. (He’s been a volunteer since 1991 and a former chief.) And I thank my family.”

Fitzhenry had two prior unsuccessful bids for public office, the first in 2004 with a try for Borough Council and then in 2013 for State Senate in the 36th District.

Still, the Republican is no stranger to public service, as he noted in his public remarks following his appointment. During the last 24 years, he said he’s been a member – and chairman – of the borough zoning board, helped acquire gear and equipment for the Fire Department and coached recreation sports. Currently an assistant fire chief with the volunteers, he is a former Board of Education member.

A key goal Fitzhenry said he has set to work on with the rest of the Bianchi administration is putting a lid on rising property taxes while continuing existing public services.

After congratulating the new appointee, Bianchi reminded the audience that, as the community’s chief executive, “You’re only as good as the people who surround you and with this council in place, I have the best. This is the tops. We have a great nucleus – young and old – to start the new year. These are workers and you can always access them. They’re here.”

In other municipal action, the mayor and council split on partisan lines on the appointment of James Herrmann as borough recreation director at $7,500 a year. Democrats Al Granell and Tom Zammatore opposed the move. Herrmann has four prior years of service in the post. Last year, a Democratic majority replaced him with Michele Stirone.

But the Dems did not contest the appointments of Firefighter (and former chief) Mark Zidiak as OEM (Office of Emergency Management) coordinator for three years at $2,500 a year, Lori Fischer as secretary to the Rent Leveling Board, Barbara Octubre to the Library Board and Fitzhenry to the Planning Board.

Borough Attorney Randy Pearce advised the governing body that the Dec. 29 council appointment of Kathy Kartanowicz to the Library Board was “done incorrectly” because it “should have been a mayoral appointment” and it “was not listed on the [meeting] agenda.” The only way to remedy it now is by someone filing a legal action with the court and getting “a judicial determination.”

Brian Intindola, of Neglia Engineering, the borough’s new consulting engineering firm, told the mayor and council that he’ll work with the county ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator to get approval for work to be done on new disability access corner ramps for the North Arlington side of Jauncey Ave. as a precursor for paving that street. “If you don’t have your ADA ramps, your paving gets held up,” he said. The borough must lay out the money for the ramps and then apply for county reimbursement, he added.

In other business, the council heard a pitch by Bergen County Freeholders Maura DeNicola of Franklin Lakes and Steve Tanelli of North Arlington asking the borough to get behind an advocacy effort for county residents with disabilities, who, DeNicola noted, “are one of the fastest growing segments of our community.”

Tanelli agreed that with the increasing numbers, “it’s almost becoming an epidemic.” But, he added, the county offers a helpline to these constituents. “They have a lot of programs I never knew existed and a lot of them are free. Try to buy in so we can answer the call.”

Bianchi recalled that the borough had been seeking a grant to provide a recreation program for those with autism but had been shut out. At his mayor’s urging, the council passed a resolution to create a committee to work with the county to explore avenues for county and/or state grant funding to support those with special needs. The committee members will include a council liaison selected by the mayor, representatives of the Planning Board, Health Department, Recreation Department, OEM, the Board of Education and the business community. So far, 21 municipalities in Bergen have signed on.

And the council deferred action on a request by Ridge Park/Arlington Park Apartments for a capital improvement rent surcharge over and above the allowable 30% for 10 vacant apartments that are being upgraded pending additional testimony by the applicant.

Murder-suicide & more: NPD blotter

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Details remained sketchy in the wake of what law enforcement agencies characterized as a murder-suicide on Hillside Ave. in Nutley last week. A joint release issued Jan. 15 by Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Nutley Police Chief Thomas Strumolo said that the Nutley PD and Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force were investigating the incident.

The initial release said that a man and a woman were found dead of apparent gunshot wounds in the 300 block of Hillside Ave.

Subsequently, Murray identified the victims as Christina Prestianni, 37, and her boyfriend Christopher Minichini, 38, both of that Hillside Ave. address. “Both were found dead in their home,” the release said.

“The two of them suffered fatal gunshot wounds. The preliminary investigation indicates Mr. Minichini shot his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself. The investigators are awaiting the autopsy results.”

According to Murray, Minichini served as a state corrections officer for the past seven years.

A report published in patch. com said that family and friends of Prestianni are seeking donations for the cost of her funeral which was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 20, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Zarro Funeral Home, Bloomfield.

Prestianni was an owner of Pupcake Dog Grooming & Bakery in Caldwell. Tributes to her were posted on Facebook. One woman called her “an amazing woman, kind, loving and always greeted you with a smile. Lucy (rescue dog) grew to trust her because of her mild manner – even when she was running behind schedule.” Another said Prestianni “may be gone but she will never be forgotten.”

Among other incidents logged on the NPD blotter between Jan. 10 and 16 were these:

 Jan. 10 

Police responded to a report of a dispute at a Passaic Ave. location where officers learned that a man with a bat was trying to enter a store where someone inside was holding the door closed. Police said they were able to identify the would-be intruder based on descriptions given at the scene but couldn’t immediately locate him. However, police said the suspect, Louis Giardelli, 51, of Clifton, voluntarily turned himself in at HQ and was charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon. He was released after posting bail, pending a court date.

Jan. 11 

Linda Ramirez, 39, of Clifton, and John Turnick, 23, of Congers, N.Y., were arrested at Centre St. and Franklin Ave. on active warrants. Police said Ramirez was wanted in Paterson while Turnick had two warrants from Paterson, one from Mahwah, one from Edison and one from New York for a parole violation. Police said a search of Ramirez turned up a Newport cigarette pack with two glassine envelopes inside. She was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and turned over to Paterson PD. Police said Turnick, who allegedly originally told officers his name was “Joe Madden,” was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia (a crack pipe) and hindering apprehension. He was taken to Essex County Jail after he was unable to post bail, police said.

Jan. 12 

Michael Brown, 27, of Bloomfield, was arrested in a Franklin Ave. parking lot after officers learned there was an active warrant on him from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department. He was picked up by Essex County PD for transfer.

Jan. 13 

Police said they observed a road rage incident on Franklin Ave., south of Brookfield Ave., when a man who appeared very agitated, exited his vehicle and approached a female driver, yelling at her, then began smacking the driver’s side window and screaming. Eli Raam, 52, of Nutley, was arrested and taken to HQ where he was charged with disorderly conduct and released pending a court date.

•••

A Bloomfield Ave. resident reported that someone removed their impaired driver placard from their unlocked vehicle while it was parked in their driveway.

Jan. 15 

Police conducted a motor vehicle stop after they said they observed a Nissan Maxima traveling south on Washington Ave. swerving over the center double yellow line. The driver, Gabriel Aquino, 23, of Kearny, was issued summonses for failure to maintain lane and failure to exhibit registration. Police said Aquino also had an active warrant from Montclair. He was arrested and, later, released after posting bail pending court appearances.

•••

An individual told police they were shopping in a Franklin Ave. store and was unloading groceries in the parking lot when they realized that their Michael Kors wallet containing $200, credit/bank cards and personal items, was missing from the cart. Shortly after reporting it missing, the wallet was found behind a trash can and it still had the personal items but the cash was gone, police said. The victim canceled the card accounts as a precaution.

– Ron Leir 

Drug suspects indicted

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KEARNY – 

Three suspects — one from the Bronx and two from Kansas — arrested by N.J. State Police outside the Kearny Walmart in October, were indicted Friday on first-degree drug charges, Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced.

When the trio were nabbed, they were allegedly in possession of nearly one pound of methamphetamine.

Named in the indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau were: Juan Perez-Nunez, 46, of the Bronx; Juan Guerrero-Estrada, 30, of Olathe, Kan.; and Juan Flores-Santos, 37, of Kansas City, Kan.

According to Hoffman’s office, the defendants were arrested on Oct. 22 after Perez-Nunez met up with the other two men in the Walmart parking lot, which was under surveillance by a State Police anti-drug trafficking unit.

The officers reportedly first spotted a Mercedes-Benz with a Kansas plate parked in a remote area of the lot. The car, occupied by Guerrero-Estrada and Flores-Santos, later slowly circled the lot and then parked in a new location, where Perez- Nunez arrived driving a Honda Civic, authorities said.

The drivers spoke outside their cars, and Perez-Nunez then pulled the Honda alongside the Mercedes. At that point, a red-and-white plastic bag reportedly was tossed from the Mercedes into the rear window of the Honda.

As both vehicles departed, they were stopped by the state troopers.

Police said Perez-Nunez consented to a search of the Honda, in which they found the bag, allegedly containing nearly 16 ounces of crystal meth. The three were then arrested.

In the indictment handed up by the state grand jury, each of the defendants was charged with second-degree conspiracy, first-degree possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and third-degree possession of meth.

Guerrero-Estrada and Flores- Santos also were charged with first-degree distribution of methamphetamine.

The first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $300,000. The seconddegree charge carries a five-to- 10-year sentence and a fine of up to $150,000; the third-degree charge, three to five years and a fine of up to $35,000.

The indictment was handed up in Mercer County to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson, who has assigned the case to Hudson County.

The defendants are being held in the Hudson County Jail with bail set at $175,000 for Perez-Nunez and $300,000 each for Guerrero-Estrada and Flores-Santos.

– Karen Zautyk 

Township gets 3 new cops

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LYNDHURST – 

The Lyndhurst Police Department has three new members. Officers Michael LeStrange, Steve Batista and John DeCamp were sworn in last Monday, Jan. 12, at Town Hall ceremonies with Police Chief James O’Connor and Public Safety Commissioner John Montillo Jr. presiding.

On Jan. 23, Batista and DeCamp were scheduled to begin their 22 weeks of training at the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Complex in Mahwah and, if successful, should be available for duty on June 19, at which point they’ll be assigned to field training officers (FTO) who will teach, guide and evaluate them for up to six months, according to O’Connor.

LeStrange, meanwhile, is currently enrolled in the Essex County Police Academy as an alternate route candidate and is expected to graduate next month and be assigned to an FTO and report for patrol duty.

Batista, 30, a Lyndhurst High School alumnus, is the department’s first combat veteran hired since 2003. He was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps after having served three combat tours in Iraq and he holds numerous decorations, medals and citations for his actions during deployment. Batista has advanced training in weapons, self-defense and team building.

LeStrange, 30, has seen prior service as a Paterson PD Auxiliary, Ridgefield Park PD dispatcher and Federal Reserve Police Officer. He holds numerous law enforcement training certificates and is now doing his alternate route training in Essex County. He has an associate degree from Bergen County Community College.

DeCamp, 22, is a Becton Regional High School graduate, has a bachelor’s degree in justice studies from Montclair State University and is a volunteer coach for a variety of youth sporting programs.

– Ron Leir 

Today’s vocabulary lesson

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Ready for another column on the Great War? (I warned you I was fanatical about it.) This won’t deal with battles and strategy, however. It’s about the simple things. Like words.

World War I, I have discovered in my research, produced innumerable contributions to our vocabulary: words and phrases still in use today by people who (like me) have had no idea of their origin.

For example: Have you ever been so tired, you just conked out? If so, you were replicating a disabled aircraft.

“Conk” originated with the pilots of the U.S. Army Air Service (antecedent of the Air Force). It reportedly was the last sound the engines of the early bi-planes made before catastrophic failure.

If you did conk out, it would be nice to have done so in a cushy bed. “Cushy” arrived on the Western Front with British troops who had served in India and comes from an Urdu word, “kushi,” meaning “pleasant” or “easy-going.”

If not for WWI, there would be no souvenir shops in Times Square or down the Shore. Until then, such places sold keepsakes. “Souvenir” was the French word for remembrance, incorporated into the English language by the soldiers.

The enemy also broadened our vocabulary, with Allied troops adopting “ersatz,” the German term for “substitute,” and “kaput,” which means the same thing in both languages (although the Germans spelled it with two t’s).

“Chow,” meaning food, became common slang thanks to the British soldiers, who had gotten it from British sailors, supposedly after visiting Asia.

When you’re really getting down to business, you’re “digging in.” Which comes from the description of how all those WWI trenches were made.

And speaking of which, there is the still-popular trench coat, which offered excellent protection against the rain and mud. It made its debut in the British Army, but only officers were allowed to wear them. According to www.worldwar1.com, “The ranks just got wet.”

The ranks also had to deal with other “lousy” conditions. Literally. Lice infestation was inevitable in the trenches.

And haven’t you heard someone say, “That’s over the top”? Meaning “extreme.” “Over the top” referred to the troops climbing out of the trenches to advance toward the enemy across No Man’s Land.

“No Man’s Land,”I had always thought, originated in World War I. But I have since found two sources which state that the term was in use from the 14th century and described “waste ground between two kingdoms.” (I intend to do more research on that.)

And then, we have “doughboy,” which was the slang term for an American soldier. There are apparently innumerable theories as to its origin, and no clear consensus. You are welcome to do your own investigation. But please be aware, it has nothing to do with Pillsbury.

– Karen Zautyk

 If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, the Oxford English Dictionary has compiled “100 Words That Define The First World War,” accessible at http://oxford.ly/ww- 1word 

Cops nab suspect in church burglary

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A man who police described as the “primary suspect” in last year’s theft of a sacred relic – since recovered – from Holy Cross Church has been arrested after police said he was allegedly spotted returning to the scene of the crime.

Calvin Battle, 56, listed as homeless, was nabbed at 1:35 p.m. last Thursday, Jan. 15, outside the Holy Cross Rectory after police had received a call that someone was trying to break into the church.

According to a police incident report, Det. Sgt. Dave Doyle, in plainclothes at the time, spotted a black man wearing a blue puffy jacket and green skull cap standing next to the church entrance on Church Square and approached after having recalled seeing his picture on a wanted poster from South Orange where he was sought as a burglary suspect.

After calling for – and getting backup – from Officer Ray McGuire, Sgt. Rich Lourenco and Lt. Ed Markowski – Doyle asked the man’s name and the man reportedly replied: “Michael Lindsay” and said that he’d just come from the church. At this point, police detained the man while McGuire interviewed the church worker who’d called police to the scene.

The employee told police they’d seen the suspect in a private area of the church where the public was not allowed and yelled at him to leave, at which point, the man walked towards the public area of the church and, a short time later, tried to enter two church employees’ parked cars in the church’s rear parking area by pulling on the door handles, after which he tried – unsuccessfully – to open several doors near the rear of the rectory not accessible by the public.

At that point, the employee said they lost sight of the man until he was observed pushing up the screen on one of the secured rear windows of the rectory in an effort to get inside.

Battle was then placed under arrest and charged with three counts of attempted burglary.

After checking national and state digital criminal data bases, police learned that Battle was also wanted by Cranford PD as a suspect in two church burglaries reported Nov. 8, 2014, at Cranford United Methodist Church and St. Michael’s Church.

In another incident, police have charged a Newark man who, they said, has been sought since early December as a suspect in stealing three packages delivered to two Harrison addresses after being captured on video surveillance tape at those locations.

Police said Ricardo Santos, 36, was charged with three counts of theft, possession of burglar tools and was also wanted on a Hudson County Sheriff’s Department warrant for nonsupport.

Police said Det. Corey Karas spotted Santos walking south on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South near Somerset St. last Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 4:20 p.m., and, having recognized him from previous arrests, followed him for one block and then called for backup. After identifying himself as a police officer, Karas arrested Santos and a search by officers reportedly revealed a pair of wire cutters/bolt cutters inside Santos’s waist band, along with a box containing a D-Link wireless router in its original packaging inside a blue plastic bag.

Police said Santos told them he’d received the package from a friend earlier that day but couldn’t remember the friend’s name or address. Police confiscated the items and, after booking Santos, transported him to Hudson County Jail pending a court appearance.

Police said Santos allegedly stole deliveries from the front steps of residences in the 300 block of Essex St. on Nov. 28, 2014, and from the same location in the 100 block of S. Third St. on Dec. 10, 2014, and Dec. 13, 2014. None of the packages were recovered.

– Ron Leir

‘Ninja Turtles’ slowed up drug suspects

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Two East Orange men who abandoned their car in a Kearny intersection following an accident ended up in the county jail thanks to some “Ninja Turtles,” police reported.

The adventure began at 2 p.m. on Jan. 3 when Officer Rich Carbone found an unoccupied 2008 Honda sitting in the middle of the intersection of Highland and Oakwood Aves. It apparently had become disabled after hitting two parked cars.

Police said that witnesses described two men who had fled on foot south on Highland.

A BOLO was issued, and Officer Jay Ward spotted the pair “huddled around some bushes” on a residential lawn about a block away, “frantically” emptying their pockets, Chief John Dowie said.

They reportedly attempted to run but were caught. And Ward, police said, recovered “numerous” packets of drugs, specifically: 45 glassine folds of heroin stamped “Ninja Turtles” and 13 bags of cocaine.

Both men, driver Gibril Young, 23, and passenger Jamil Ware, 22, were arrested on charges of heroin and cocaine possession.

In addition, Young was charged with motor vehicle offenses: driving while suspended, driving without insurance, leaving the scene of an accident, careless driving and operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a CDS. Police said he also had two outstanding warrants from East Orange. B

ail for each suspect was set at $25,000, and they were remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

– Karen Zautyk

Suspected ‘batter’ busted & more: KPD

You can credit a sharp-eyed Kearny police officer with the arrest last Thursday of a Harrison man wanted in connection with the baseball bat attack on another man in Kearny nearly two weeks earlier.

Police said the assault occurred about 4 p.m., Jan. 3, on the 200 block of Passaic Ave., near Bergen Ave. The victim, a 25-year-old also from Harrison, told Officer Luis Moran and Sgt. Peter Gleason he had been confronted by his attacker, who was known to him, and another male, was knocked to the ground, kicked, and hit repeatedly with the bat.

EMS was summoned to the scene, but the victim reportedly declined transportation to a hospital.

Police said the assailant was identified as John Fay, 20, and a warrant was issued for his arrest for aggravated assault and on weapons charges.

At 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 15, Officer John Fabula was on patrol when he saw Fay in the passenger seat of a car near Schuyler and Oakwood Aves. and took him into custody without incident.

Fay was remanded to the Hudson County Jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.

•••

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Jan. 4 

Shortly after midnight, Officers Tom Floyd and Ben Wuelfing responded to the Old Lincoln Highway in South Kearny on the report of an unconscious man in a vehicle. They, along with the KFD and EMS, arrived to find Ravinder Singh, 33, of Jersey City, asleep behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer, police said. Also reportedly found: an open bottle of brandy in the SUV. Following field sobriety tests, Singh was charged with DWI, careless driving and having that open container of alcohol in a MV.

Jan. 6 

At 4 p.m., at Kearny and Oakwood Aves., Vice Squad detectives observed a pedestrian hand-rolling and then lighting a cigar, from which reportedly wafted the strong odor of marijuana. Benjamin Simmons, 22, of Newark, was charged with possession of the drug and drug paraphenalia.

 Jan. 7 

Officer Fabula, dispatched to the 990 block of Davis Ave. at 3 p.m. on multiple complaints of cars blocking driveways (school was letting out), was dealing with the problem when a 2006 BMW jumped the line of traffic and drove past the patrol car. While so doing, the Beemer also set off Fabula’s onboard computer with an alert that the registration was suspended. He stopped the vehicle at Davis and Wilson Aves. and also found that driver Josue Corredor, 24, of Kearny, had a suspended license, police said. Corredor was charged with that offense, operating an unregistered vehicle, failure to surrender a suspended license, and the violation that had triggered all this trouble, improper passing.

Jan. 8 

An investigation launched by vice detectives in October into cocaine distribution in Kearny, culminated with the arrest of Jon Verastegui, 25, of Kearny on charges of possession and distribution of the drug. He was taken into custody at 6 p.m. on the 100 block of Bergen Ave.

 Jan. 9 

Officer Daniel Esteves, approaching a man at Kearny Ave. and Halstead St. at 8:45 p.m. for violating a town ordinance by publicly guzzling from a 32-oz. can of Bud Light, found that the individual had a drug-possession warrant out of Newark, police said. Francisco Gomez, 26, of Newark, was booked at headquarters and turned over to the Newark PD.

Jan. 10 

At 3:15 a.m., Officers Wuelfing and Floyd found a Chevy Blazer with Pennsylvania plates and a shredded rear tire stuck atop a high curb on Fish House Road. Its occupant, Alberto Vargas, 33, of Union City, was unable to produce a driver’s license but reportedly admitted he had consumed “10 beers,” police said. Following FSTs and an Alcotest, he was charged with DWI, careless driving and being an unlicensed driver.

Jan. 11 

Officer Jordenson Jean, responding to a 12:30 p.m. accident at Devon and Tappan Sts., arrested Miguel Redonda, 26, of Hillside, who reportedly had hit a parked car, for driving while suspended. In a search incident to arrest, police said, Redonda was found to be in possession of 90 oxycontin pills. He was then also charged with that offense and possession of a CDS in a motor vehicle.

•••

Officer Floyd responded to the report of a robbery at 2:30 p.m. at Beech St. and the Belleville Pike. The victim, a 28-year-old Bloomfield man, said he was parked in a lot, taking a photo with his cell phone, when a Hispanic male got out of a dark SUV, punched him in the face, took the phone and fled west on the Pike. Detectives are investigating and trying to track the phone.

•••

At 3:15 p.m., Officer John Travelino was patrolling at Kearny and Bergen Aves. when he observed Sidnei Antunes, 29, of Kearny, whom he knew to have multiple warrants. Antunes was arrested on five — four from Harrison, one from East Newark — taken to HQ and turned over to Harrison police.

Jan. 12 

Officer Jean responded to the 200 block of Stewart Ave. at 7:45 p.m. on the report of a suspicious person in a backyard. Found hiding in the yard, police said, was Miguel Vargas, 50, of Harrison, who “could offer no credible explanation” for being there. He was charged with criminal trespass.

•••

Officer Fabula, responding to a 9:30 p.m. accident on the 100 block of Rutherford Place, was told by the driver of a passenger car that it had been hit by a white SUV that had fled the scene. A BOLO was issued, and the suspect vehicle, with heavy front-end damage, was stopped at Chestnut St. and Columbia Ave. by Sgt. Charles Smith. With Officer Brian Wisely as backup, driver Roni Plunkett, 26, of Kearny, was given FSTs, arrested and taken to HQ for an Alcotest. She was charged with DWI, careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Jan. 15 

A burglary was reported at 8 p.m. on the 20 block of Grove St. by a resident who, after being out most of the day, returned to his apartment to find a side window pushed in, dresser drawers rifled and items missing. The victim told responding Officer Jay Ward that at least one Xbox system was taken from the first-floor residence, along with some games, watches and jewelry. Det. Scott Traynor is investigating.

– Karen Zautyk