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Classmates in court

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY–  The three young men, pictured above in their Kearny High School yearbook photos, had their whole lives ahead of them. Who knew where the future would take them? No one would have guessed that, a bit more than a decade later, it […]

Serial robber guilty

TRENTON – An accused serial robber has admitted to playing a role in 11 robberies, primarily of drug stores, in Harrison, Newark and Jersey City over a period of eight months, it was announced by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. On July 21, Christopher Mojica, 23, pleaded guilty to […]


Blue ranks get reinforcements

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent LYNDHURST – Talk about parallel life paths: Joseph White and Matthew Giunta went to pre-school (St. Michael’s) together, then to Franklin Elementary School, then Lyndhurst High. And, last Friday, they entered the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah to begin […]


Slow-paced developments

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  BELLEVILLE –  It’s been a year and two months since Gov. Chris Christie presided at a ballyhooed groundbreaking for Franklin Manor, an age-restricted 137-unit apartment complex for those 55 and over – the first such senior development for Belleville in more than three decades. […]


Still waiting for wall’s restoration

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  A property dispute between a longtime Harrison business and some neighbors that has been simmering for a few years now appears to be coming to a boil. Smack in the middle of the controversy are Bergen St. homeowners Victor and Eleanor Villalta […]


Blue Tide volleyball bunch comes close to shocking the world

Photo courtesy of Ronald Shields The Harrison High School boys’ volleyball team upset state-ranked St. Peter’s Prep before falling to another state-ranked team Bayonne in the Hudson County Tournament finals last Friday night.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Shields
The Harrison High School boys’ volleyball team upset state-ranked St. Peter’s Prep before falling to another state-ranked
team Bayonne in the Hudson County Tournament finals last Friday night.

Upsets St. Peter’s in county semifinals, then falls to Bayonne in finale

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When the Harrison High School boys’ volleyball team reached the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament last week, it would have been a crowning achievement on its own. After all, the Blue Tide comes from a Group I enrollment school, while most of the competition in the county tourney features much bigger schools.

“We’re not even supposed to be there,” said Harrison head volleyball coach Nick Landy. “We’ve been pretty good now for about four or five years, but we’re a small Group I school. All the others teams are much bigger.”

So last Thursday, Harrison traveled to downtown Jersey City to face St. Peter’s Prep, a program that has been featured as among the best in New Jersey for the last decade. The Marauders were ranked No. 9 in the state at the time of their semifinal showdown with the Blue Tide.

And Landy was confident that his little team could knock off the giant.

“I’m confident with the team we have,” Landy said. “We have a very good offensive team, maybe the best we’ve ever had. I’m always kind of positive. If you don’t think you can win, then you’re in trouble.”

Landy started to feel better about his team’s chances on Wednesday.

“The day before, we had a really good practice, maybe our best practice of the year,” Landy said. “That gave us a little bit of confidence.”

Landy said that he scouted the Marauders against Kearny and realized that his team had a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset.

“I realized that they weren’t as good as they had been in the past,” Landy said. “I knew that we were playing a really good team, but we had nothing to lose. If we played together and stayed away from mistakes, then we’ll see what was going to happen.”

However, things didn’t look good when the Marauders lost the first game of the match, 25-13.

“I thought we were in trouble,” Landy said. “But we’ve come back before. Some of it was just survival, but we started playing better.”

The Blue Tide rebounded and won the second game, 25-15, then stormed back and captured the deciding game by a 25-21 margin. They had shocked the Marauders, two games to one, to advance to the county tournament final against defending champion Bayonne.

It was clearly the biggest win in Harrison volleyball history.

“It was amazing,” Landy said. “It was brilliant. We spent a lot of energy on winning Thursday.”

The Blue Tide then had to come back and face Bayonne a day later.

“I wish we could have bottled what we did Thursday,” Landy said. “Some of what we did Thursday was surreal. I was walking around Friday in a fog after we beat St. Peter’s. We beat a powerhouse, the No. 9 team in the state. The kids were the same way. Emotionally, it was tough to overcome. I wish we had a few days before we played Bayonne. There was a lot of emotion going on.”

Unfortunately, the Blue Tide couldn’t overcome the emotional win on Thursday and fell in straight games, 25-15, 25- 19, to Bayonne at New Jersey City University Friday night.

“We suffered a tough loss,” Landy said. “But it was something to build on. I’m glad we were there. No one thought we could get there. It showed that the hard work paid off.”

Leading the way for the Blue Tide is senior outside hitter Carlos Gutierrrez, who is also the goalkeeper for the Harrison soccer team.

“When he’s on, he’s on,” Landy said. “He can hit the ball hard. He can serve. He can do it all.”

The team’s other outside hitter is senior Tijani Rezki.

“He’s like a court general and leader out there,” Landy said. “He keeps the team together. He leads the team in service points and is ranked among the top 10 in the state.”

The key middle hitter is senior Verinder Singh. The 6-foot-5 Singh controls the net every match.

“He finishes the play hard and usually stops the other team by blocking the ball,” Landy said.

Senior Matt Oliviera is another middle hitter.

“He’s also a good hitter and blocker,” Landy said. “He stepped it up big in the county tournament.”

Vinny Yoshimoto is the team’s setter. The junior Yoshimoto is a bundle of energy.

“He hustles and is all over the court,” Landy said. “He gets to balls that no one else could.”

Junior Piero Martinez is another setter.

“He’s a good student of the game,” Landy said.

The libero, or defensive specialist, is sophomore David Penaherrera.

“He’s a true libero,” Landy said. “He gets to every ball in the back. He knew the sport before he got here and that’s a big plus. He makes the future look very good.”

Freshman Piotr Namiotko stepped in and played a big role right away as a reserve outside hitter.

“He’s above any freshman we’ve ever had,” Landy said.

Junior Ramon Madiera came up big in the tourney as an outside hitter.

“Because he’s long and lanky, you would think he couldn’t hit the ball,” Landy said. “But he has surprising power. He’s going to be pretty good.”

The 16-7 Blue Tide will begin play in the Group II state tournament Thursday when they travel to face Summit.

“It’s been a great season,” Landy said. “Even with the way we played against Bayonne, we played well against a great team. Everything else now is gravy and we can build on it. We can use the experience in the county now for the state tourney.”

For Landy, it was a bit of a personal redemption, because he learned last week that he will not return as the head boys’ basketball coach, that another coach has been hired.

“I’m throwing everything into volleyball and hopefully, I think I’ll be around for a while,” Landy said. “But it’s been tough, really tough, with the other.” Landy is a dutiful soldier, as loyal as they come, to Harrison High.

He deserves the chance to be coaching a team in the program for many years to come.

NA hoop coach Walsh resigns

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington coach Dave Walsh (l.) surveys a practice with New York Knicks radio analyst Brendan Brown, a longtime friend who came to an NA practice every year. Walsh announced his resignation last week after 10 years at NA.

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington coach Dave Walsh (l.) surveys a practice with New York Knicks
radio analyst Brendan Brown, a longtime friend who came to an NA practice
every year. Walsh announced his resignation last week after 10 years at NA.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Dave Walsh was approached 10 years ago by then-North Arlington High School Principal Bob Kinloch about becoming the head boys’ basketball coach at his alma mater, Walsh didn’t know what to think.

After all, Walsh had spent most of his time as a coach on the collegiate level, with stops at Upsala, Montclair State, Rutgers-Newark and finally William Paterson.

“Bob called me and said he needed a coach,” Walsh said. “It was my alma mater. It was the first place I ever coached. I was a volunteer coach at NA. I had a chance to get back in the high school game. It re-energized me.”

Walsh remained as the Vikings’ head coach for the last decade, until last week, when he decided to step down.

“I had a lot of fun, but it’s time to move on,” Walsh said. “Our job was to be competitive every year. I think that’s what we did. We were in every game and other coaches knew that if they were coming to play North Arlington, it was going to be a battle and certainly no walk in the park.”

Although Walsh said it wasn’t the primary reason for his resignation, he did admit that recent life-altering events aided in him stepping down.

Plain and simple, Walsh is battling colon cancer.

“I went for a colonoscopy on Feb. 18 and on Feb. 25, I was being operated on,” Walsh said.

Doctors removed nine centimeters of Walsh’s colon through a labroscopic procedure.

“Chop and reattach,” Walsh said.

However, three spots were also spotted on Walsh’s liver.

“That was the beginning of the battle,” Walsh said. “I missed one game, our state playoff game. I was home three days after the surgery.”

But Walsh has been enduring a regimen of chemotherapy.

“I’m currently in my fourth cycle,” Walsh said. “I have 12 cycles to go through. It’s general maintenance stuff. But as I go through this, it’s going to be really tough at night for me to have enough energy.”

Doctors have told Walsh that his cancer is “very treatable.”

“Unfortunately, with my diagnosis, I have to worry about getting treated,” Walsh said.

Of course, Walsh is worried about his health, but he said he might have stepped away even if he wasn’t diagnosed with colon cancer.

“I liked being there at my school,” said Walsh, who is a teacher in the East Orange school district full-time. “I was able to develop a program. But after doing the same thing, it sort of grows on you. After being the head coach for so long, I want someone else to make the decisions. It grows old.”

Walsh said that being a head coach at the NJSIAA Group I enrollment level is always a struggle.

“You don’t know when you’re going to be good. The spokes are never in the wheel at the same time. There’s a limited amount of kids in the school to begin with.”

But Walsh enjoyed building the Vikings’ program.

“The year before I got there, they won five games,” Walsh said. “I got there and we won 15. We changed the culture of the program. We had kids who were excited about being there and wanted to learn and wanted to win. They were a hungry group of kids.”

Walsh said that he will miss coaching at his alma mater.

“The best part for me was the pre-game planning,” Walsh said. “I liked getting ready for a game. I liked seeing the kids get better. I’ll miss all of that. But this is the right time for a new challenge.”

Walsh said that he enjoyed coaching the North Arlington players, guys like Peter Santos and Tyler Krychkowski, who became 1,000-point scorers and were both named as Observer Male Athlete of the Year.

“It was a great group of kids,” Walsh said. “They always played hard and gave their all. We were in almost every game we played. We were limited with what we could do, but we worked off the strengths we had.”

Walsh said that he will always remember his first practice as the head coach.

“I had a group of kids who didn’t know me and I didn’t know them,” Walsh said. “I didn’t know what to expect. But we had the hardest practice for a two-hour shot. I figured that if these kids could do this every day, play with that kind of high energy, then we’re going to win games. I didn’t care what happened before. Those kids came to play.

Added Walsh, “And that’s what we did all the time. North Arlington kids come to play.

The teams I had played hard. They were representing the school and the town as a team. Individually, they played hard for themselves. It was that first practice that stood out. I’ll never forget that.”

Walsh doesn’t know what comes next.

“For me, it’s the right time for a new challenge,” Walsh said. “But I have a lot of other things going on now.”

First and foremost, Walsh’s focus is on getting healthy.

“I don’t have a lot of options,” Walsh said. “It has to come first.”

During his tenure at NA, Walsh was known for being a great coach who got his players to overachieve and fear no obstacles. That’s the way Dave Walsh has to approach this battle. Fear nothing. Overcome the obstacles. If Walsh can achieve in life what he did as a coach, then cancer will be just another opponent on the road of life.

Kearny’s Happel finds home with Rutgers-Newark track team

Photo courtesy of Rutgers-Newark sports information Kearny native Chris Happel has been tearing up the track for the Rutgers- Newark track team.

Photo courtesy of Rutgers-Newark sports information
Kearny native Chris Happel has been tearing up the track for the Rutgers-
Newark track team.

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Chris Happel is definitely a late bloomer in the sport of track and field – twice over.

When he was a student at Kearny High School, Happel was first a baseball and basketball player for his first three years.

“I just ran the bases and was a designated hitter,” Happel said. “I wasn’t getting much more playing time.”

So a friend suggested that Happel give track and field a try.

“I decided to try it,” Happel said. “I ran for only my senior year of high school.”

As it turned out, Happel became a very versatile performer for the Kardinals, running in the 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relays, as well as throwing the javelin and competing in the triple jump.

“I had only one outdoor season, but by the time I was finished, we won the county championship for the first time ever,” Happel said. “It was a great year for us and I had a lot of fun.”

After his time at Kearny High was completed, Happel then went to William Paterson University.

“But they didn’t have a track team there,” Happel said. “I went to William Paterson for a year and transferred to Rutgers-Newark.”

While Rutgers-Newark did have a track team, Happel didn’t think he could compete.

“I was committed to my academics,” said Happel, a psychology major. “I thought about getting back into track, but I had been away from the sport for two years. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to do it at the college level.”

When Happel first approached Rutgers-Newark head track and field coach Juan Edney in the spring of 2012, he had grown to 240 pounds.

“He came in and noticed he was a big kid,” Edney said.

So Edney was tempted to hand Happel a shot put or a discus to throw, because he had a thrower’s frame.

“He told me he was a runner, that he wanted to run the 400 (meters),” Edney said. “I don’t knock anyone until I could see for myself. He definitely could run, but it was going to take a little while for him to get into shape.”

Happel was encouraged by the opportunity to run at Rutgers-Newark.

“I really wanted to run,” Happel said. “I did the javelin in high school, but I wanted to run here. I knew I was at a big disadvantage, because I was out of running shape. I just wanted to see if I could keep up with my old standards.”

Happel started to lose weight in rapid fashion by simply working out with the other members of the Scarlet Raider program.

“He was down to 210 by the end of the outdoor season and ran a 52 (second time in the 400-meter run),” Edney said.

Happel instantly became a member of the program and made a promise to the other members of the team at the end of last season.

“At the ECAC meet last year, Chris told everyone that he was going to get a spot on the (mile) relay team,” Edney said. “He didn’t say who he was going to beat. But he said he was coming after a spot, that they better watch out.”

“I wanted to be part of something bigger, being part of the A team here,” Happel said. “I didn’t want to be in the shadows here. In high school, I really didn’t make a name for myself. So I made a promise to the team and made a promise to myself that I would make the relay team this year. It made me work harder for this year.”

So Happel worked with the Scarlet Raider cross country program in the fall.

“It was the first time I ever ran cross country and I wasn’t used to running those distances,” Happel said. “It took a toll on my body, but it helped with my stamina. I was then able to focus on speed along with my stamina.”

There was only one problem in the fall. Happel could not stay healthy.

“He was always catching a cold,” Edney said. “I would stay on him to take vitamins and dress warmer. But he was constantly getting sick.”

The illnesses caught up with Happel as the indoor season began.

“Ever since he came to us, he’s always been a great worker,” Edney said. “He’s a great kid. He’s very respectful. He’ll do anything I ask of him. I love him to death.”

Happel has really enjoyed a breakthrough season in the current outdoor campaign. He ran a 50.5 in the 400-meter leg of the mile relay at the Penn Relays and posted a split of 50.8 seconds in the mile relay at the recent New Jersey Athletic Conference championships. The team ran a 3:19 for the mile, breaking a school record, with Happel running the anchor leg.

“I still think he can give me a little bit more,” Edney said. “He has one semester left of school. I’m trying to have him take the extra semester and run outdoor next year. He’s still learning how to run. He’s getting better and better each time. If he continues, the sky’s the limit.”

Happel has made such an impact on the program that Edney hopes he becomes the program’s graduate assistant coach after he graduates.

“He still doesn’t know what he’s doing and he hasn’t reached his full potential,” Edney said. “But you tell him something, he does it. He works on it and gets better. He loves to work hard. He’s been a big addition to our program.”

Happel said that he was flattered to hear that Edney wants him to become a coach.

“When he spoke to me about that, I was in such astonishment,” Happel said. “I was so happy to hear that, because it means that Coach Edney has so much faith in me to help the program. He wants me to get better and if I get better, then I can give back to the program.”

Sure enough, the promise that Happel made last year came true, as he was set to run the anchor leg this weekend at the ECAC Championships.

“I made my promise and I lived up to it,” Happel said. “I have loved every minute of being part of this team. I wish I did track earlier in my life, because I love the sport and I have a good time.”

So Happel will return next fall in some capacity.

“I will see if I can run one more semester and give it my all,” Happel said.

Like he’s done since he arrived in Newark.


Ramon Melo Gonzalez

Ramon Melo Gonzalez died on May 16. He was 51.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home in Kearny.

Ramon is married to Elena (Morel) and is the father of Elaine, Genesis and Lino. Also surviving are his mother Oliva and many siblings. Burial will be in the Dominican Republic.

Elizabeth A. (Beth) Higgins

Elizabeth A. Higgins peacefully passed away on May 14.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated at Holy Cross Church, Harrison. Interment was in Immaculate Conception Cemetery, Montclair.

For information or to send condolences, please visit mulliganfuneralhome.org.

Beth was born on Jan. 23, 1951, to Peter B. Higgins Jr. and Eilish B. Toner. She graduated from Holy Cross Elementary School, St. Vincent Academy and Kean College. Beth was a loving sister to Peter, Jack and Michael, devoted sister- in- law to Doreen, Terry and Mary Jean, and loving aunt to Brian, Karen, Kevin, Jack, Annie and Kate.

In 1979, Beth began her longtime service to the Town of Harrison. In 1986 she was appointed to the position of Municipal Treasurer for Harrison and the role of CFO was added in 1997. In addition, Beth was treasurer for the Harrison Redevelopment Agency in 2002 and the custodian of school funds for the Board of Education. From 2001 to 2010, Beth also served as the municipal treasurer and CFO for the Borough of East Newark. She retired from all of her positions in 2010 due to her illness.

Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough said: “Beth was a great woman who loved the town and the people of Harrison. She put her heart and soul in her job and worked long hours. She brought her whole department into the 21st century. All the computers, data terminals were brought in by her. Beth had a big heart – she tried to help a lot of people. The whole Higgins family is a class act.”

Prior to her service to the citizens of Harrison, Beth worked for Motel 6 Corp. in California and Squire, Schilling & Skiff in Newark.

She served as treasurer for the Tax Collectors and Treasurers Association of New Jersey 2006-2010. She was also a member of the Tax Collector and Treasures Association of Essex, Hudson, Union and Passaic counties.

When not working, Beth spent much of her time in South Belmar/Lake Como enjoying the Jersey Shore with her family. Beth is predeceased by her father Peter B. Higgins Jr, mother Eilish B. Higgins (nee Toner), brother Peter B. Higgins III, and sister-in-law Terry Spano. Her spirit will live on in those who survive her: brothers Jack of Roseland, and Michael of Emmaus, Pa., her sisters-in-law Doreen Higgins, of Lake Como, and Mary Jean Higgins, of Emmaus, Pa., her nephew Brian and his wife Karen of Macungie, Pa., Kevin of Lake Como, Jack and his wife Anne of High Bridge and her niece Kate of Bethlehem, Pa., and her great-nephews Zack, Timmy, Sean and Daniel. She will also be greatly missed by her aunts, Catherine Hayner, of Verona and Helen Robinson, of Lakewood, and many cousins. In the last years of her life she received loving care from her brothers and sisters-in-law as well as her dear cousin Patti Gerris.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Beth’s name to Camp Fatima of New Jersey, P.O. Box 654, Harrison, N.J. 07029 or c/o Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison, N.J. 07029.

Veronica Kaduscwicz

Veronica Kaduscwicz, (nee Doyle) 82, of Kearny, died on May 11.

Beloved wife of the late John Kaduscwicz, she was the devoted mother of John, Ronald and Michael Kaduscwicz, Mrs. Nancy Lo Bianco and her husband William, and Mrs. Maureen Harris; cherished grandmother of Kimberly, Ronald, Nicole, Pamela, Kenneth, Lindsay, Crystal, Lisa, and Jeffrey and great- grandmother of Thomas, Jason, Alexandra, Trinity and Vincent; dear sister of the late Dorothy McBride, Joan Malinowski, John Doyle, Margaret Alfano, and Patrick Doyle and mother-in-law of the late Maureen, Judith, Lorraine and Michael.

Born in Kearny, she lived in Harrison before moving to Kearny in 1980.

Veronica was a homemaker. Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. A funeral Mass was held at St. Cecilia’s Church, Kearny on Wednesday, May 15. Her interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. For information or to send condolences to the family, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The American Cancer Society, c/o the funeral home in memory of Veronica.

Brunette Kahn Mallon

Brunette Kahn Mallon, 80, passed away peacefully on May 17.

She grew up in Kearny, prior to moving to West Orange 52 years ago. She was a loving and caring person. She enjoyed people and found her calling as the social director at Sun Valley Swim Club, Cabana Club and finally at Daughters of Israel.

Brunette was the president of the Jewish War Veterans Post 538, named for her brother Sanford L. Kahn. She was involved in veterans’ causes throughout her life. These activities included visiting VA hospitals as well as decorating the graves of veterans.

Predeceased by her husband of 43 years, Heywood, she is survived by her three children: Manette (Jeffrey) Scheininger, Alette (Keith) Slobodien, and Sanford (Pam) Mallon. She is also survived by seven grandchildren: Daniel and Ava Scheininger, Michael and AJ Mallon, and Sayde, Rachel, and Harrison Solobodien, as well as her “brother” Sidney Weiss.

Funeral services were held Monday, May 20, at Temple B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills. Interment was at B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery, Hillside.

Donations in her memory can be made to Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills. Arrangements were by Bernheim- Apter-Kreitzman Suburan Funeral Chapel, Livingston.

Lynn Catherine Olson

Lynn Catherine Olson, 65, of Franklin, N.C., passed away on Friday, May 17.

Born in Newark, she was the daughter of Clifford Olson and the l ate Catherine Smith Olson. Lynn was a member of St. Agnes Episcopal Church.

In addition to her father, she is survived by a goddaughter, Regina Mascellino.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 23, at St. Agnes Episcopal Church, Franklin, N.C. The Rev. Dori Pratt will officiate. Interment will follow at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Memorial donations can be made to St. Agnes Episcopal Church, c/o Karen Welch, 84 Church St., Franklin, N.C. 28734.

Macon Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements. Online condolences can be made at maconfuneralhome.com.

Alley fire on main business district


Photos by Ron Leir Firefighters (top) spray walls on either side of alleyway between 498 and 500 Kearny Ave. and (bottom) vent roof of 498 Kearny Ave.

Photos by Ron Leir
Firefighters (top) spray walls on either side of alleyway between 498 and 500 Kearny Ave. and (bottom) vent roof
of 498 Kearny Ave.

Firefighters quickly doused a smoky blaze that sprang up in an alley between two stores on Kearny’s main shopping block on Monday.

No was was reported hurt in the fire that began at around 4:15 p.m. in the alley separating Gamer’s Edge, an Inernet games shop at 498 Kearny, and Mace Electronics at 500 Kearny.

Cause of the blaze was being investigated by Kearny Fire Official John Donovan.

Dyl said the fire “was stopped in the walls of both buildings.” Firefighters used a saw and axe to open up the roof of Gamer’s to vent the building and to expose the fire in the walls.

Jeff Mace, owner of the electronics shop, said there were youths hanging outside the store and he said one of them may have tossed a cigarette into some debris in the alley, possibly causing a fire to start.

“But everyone’s okay and that’s the important thing,” Mace said.

Fifteen firefighters, led by Tour Chief John Harris, responded aboard four engines and one ladder truck.

A new low?


Photos courtesy of N.J. Office of Attorney General



By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent

See that pickup truck. It’s painted with the names of FDNY and NYPD and Port Authority first responders who died at Ground Zero on 9/11. Nice tribute, right? Dramatic statement of patriotism, right?

We saw the truck, which also is decorated with an image of the Twin Towers, on the road once and thought those things. But we couldn’t see who was driving. Turns out, it was operated by leeches. Correction. Alleged leeches.

On May 3, a state grand jury sitting in Mercer County indicted two New Jersey men for allegedly using the truck for phony fundraising, collecting more than $50,000, supposedly for 9/11 charities and WTC victims’ families.

Neither the legitimate charities nor the families saw a cent, authorities said.

And now, the state Division of Criminal Justice would like to hear from anyone who was scammed by the alleged con men.

The accused are Mark Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas Scalgione, 41, of Manahawkin, both of whom face third-degree charges of conspiracy and theft by deception, N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.

Although neither suspect resides in this area, the men reportedly brought the truck to various 9/11-related and other patriotic events throughout New Jersey from June 1, 2010, through July 4, 2012, selling T-shirts and collecting donations. It is possible Observer readers might have crossed paths with them and been taken in.

Photos courtesy of N.J. Office of Attorney General Indicted: Thomas Scalgione

Photos courtesy of N.J. Office of Attorney General
Indicted: Thomas Scalgione


Mark Niemczyk

Photos courtesy of N.J. Office of Attorney General
Indicted: Mark Niemczyk


If that happened to you, Chiesa’s office has a request: “Anyone who encountered the defendants and their 9/11 truck at events and who either gave them money for T-shirts or donations — or who have information about their activities — are urged to call the Division of Criminal Justice confidentially at its toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. The public can also log on to the Division of Criminal Justice Web page at www.njdcj.org to report information confidentially.”

“It’s a sad reality that, in the wake of a devastating tragedy, when so many want to help, there are always parasites who view the tragedy and the generosity of others as nothing more than the opportunity and the means to turn a crooked profit for themselves,” Chiesa said. “The conduct of these two men wasn’t just despicable,”he added, “it was criminal, and we are bringing them to justice.”

In addition to misrepresenting their cause, the pair misrepresented themselves, authorities charged. Elie Honig, director of the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice, said: “We allege that these defendants told a barrage of lies to further their scheme, with Niemczyk claiming he was a Navy SEAL who served three tours of duty in Vietnam, and both men telling donors they were fatherand- son firefighters who were working at a firehouse near the World Trade Center on 9/11.”

Honig described their conduct as “outrageous.”

According to investigators, Niemczyk bought a Ford F-150 pickup truck in June 2010 and had it custom-painted with 9/11 themes, including the World Trade Center towers, police and fire department logos, and the names of the first responders who perished in New York on 9/11.

Niemczyk and Scalgione reputedly worked as partners to bring the truck to 9/11 events both inside and outside New Jersey, selling shirts and collecting donations. Scalgione is said to have acted as the “public relations” person, making arrangements for their participation at 9/11 events.

According to the indictment, the defendants purchased hundreds of T-shirts printed with 9/11 themes similar to those painted on the truck. They reportedly paid vendors between $3 and $6.90 per shirt and then sold them from the truck for $20 apiece at various 9/11 events, where they would also put out a jug to collect cash donations, authorities said.

At times, the defendants are said to have represented that they ran an established charity or were affiliated with a registered 9/11 one. The men were not registered with the State of New Jersey as a charitable organization as required by law, authorities said.

According to the indictment, no proceeds went to 9/11 families or charities. Instead, proceeds in excess of $50,000 were allegedly deposited into Niemczyk’s personal bank accounts. A second count of theft by deception relates to the defendants’ reportedly obtaining discounts from two T-shirt vendors by falsely representing where the proceeds from their sale would go. One vendor gave discounts of $3,312; the other, discounts totaling $1,378, it is alleged. In addition to the charges of conspiracy and theft by deception, Niemczyk is also charged with failure to file a personal state income tax return in 2011. While Niemczyk receives tax-exempt Social Security benefits, he collected thousands of dollars in proceeds at 9/11 events in 2011 and he won $55,000 at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City on Sept. 6, 2011, which he was required to report, authorities said.

In November, the state Division of Consumer Affairs secured a final consent judgment in a civil action against the defendants, under which they must pay more than $200,000, representing disgorgement of donations and payment of civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.

The judgment also bars Niemczyck and Scalgione from ever working for any charitable organization in New Jersey.

The May 3 indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Ocean County, where the defendants were to appear for arraignment.

Rec coaches cautioned on conduct

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


The Kearny Recreation Commission has cautioned two of its volunteer coaches to clean up their act or risk the chance of being disciplined for any potential future missteps.

Commission Chairwoman Lyla DeCastro Lawdanski said the seven members attending a special session held May 3 voted to send “written warnings” to Frank Goresh and Carlos Chavez to cease “inappropriate language and conduct.”

Goresh, a former president of Kearny Little League, which is sponsored by the town’s Recreation Department, is the current coach of the Cali Little League senior baseball team. Chavez coaches the Applebee’s Little League squad. Players are ages 14 and 15.

The commission received a complaint from one of the coaches about an incident that happened during a game between the Cali and Applebee’s teams played April 26 at the Gunnell Oval recreation complex and the commission felt it was serious enough to follow through, according to DeCastro Lawdanski.

To gather more information on the matter, the commission met in closed session for more than two and a half hours Friday night, May 3, in the Town Hall council chambers.

There, Commissioners Lewis Battista, Amelia Rendeiro, Jeanne O’Malley, Joseph Nigro, Nelson Rodrigues, Colleen McClelland and DeCastro Lawdanski listened to accounts of what occurred from the two coaches involved and from several parents who were at the game.

“Both coaches agreed they behaved inappropriately,” she said.

DeCastro Lawdanski declined to detail the events that triggered the dispute other than to say that there was an incident that happened at the beginning of the game and another towards the end. “The coaches’ conduct and behavior and language used were the primary issues. We want our coaches to teach sportsmanship and be positive role models for our kids,” she said.

The Observer filed an Open Public Records Act request for copies of the letters sent to the coaches but the Town Clerk’s office responded that the documents were exempt from disclosure as “information generated by or on behalf of public employers or public employees in connection with any … grievance filed by or against an individual ….”

When The Observer noted that recreation coaches are volunteers, and not paid employees, Town Clerk Pat Carpenter said she would seek further legal interpretation from the town attorney.

The Kearny Recreation Parent Code of Conduct calls on adults involved in youth sports events “… to be responsible for [their] words and actions while attending, coaching, officiating, or participating in any youth sporting events .…”

It also expects adults to “… not engage in un-sportsmanlike conduct with any coach, parent, guardian, player, participant, official or any other attendee” and to “… not engage in any behavior, which would endanger the health, safety or well-being of any coach, parent, guardian, player, official or any other attendee,” nor to “engage in verbal, or physical threats or abuse aimed at any coach, parent, guardian, player, participant, official or any other attendee.”

Any further breaches of the code by either coach could lead to “suspension or immediate ejection” from a game, a “season suspension” or “multiple season suspension,” according to the Code of Conduct. “

These type of incidents are not something to be taken lightly,” DeCastro Lawdanski said.

Neither coach could be reached for comment.

Farewell to the chief

Photo by Ron Leir Police Chief Kenneth Sheehan

Photo by Ron Leir
Police Chief Kenneth Sheehan

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Hudson County’s smallest municipal police force – nine cops plus one special – will be diminished by one on May 31.

That’s when Police Chief Kenneth Sheehan will bid farewell to the troops. “I’ll have 28 years and nine months on the job,” he said during a recent interview in his tiny office at Borough Hall.

“It’s been a great career,” Sheehan said. “I’ve had a great working relationship with the mayor and council. They’ve always been very supportive of my role.”

Returning the compliment, Mayor Joseph Smith – who named Sheehan acting chief in May 2000 and appointed him permanently in January 2002 – lauded the chief with reviving the morale and performance of the department.

“He always would stick up for the [rank and file],” Smith said. “He always put them first. … To have the men as happy as they are, he should get the credit. And he led by setting a good example.”

The chief, who received a 3% pay hike, retroactive to Jan. 1, will retire with pension of about $8,000 per month.

Sheehan’s path to borough bluecoats boss was a bit circuitous.

Sheehan was born in Staten Island, N.Y., but the family – (he was one of seven children) – moved to the Colonia section of Woodbridge when he was nine. He graduated from Colonia High School where he excelled at football and wrestling.

In 1981 he married Patricia Tighe, whose family has deep roots in East Newark. The couple took up residency in the borough and in May 1982, Sheehan got his introduction to public service when he was accepted as a member of the borough’s volunteer Fire Department.

Sheehan said he had notions of transitioning to a job as a paid firefighter because “I thought that would be a good career.”

But he changed direction in August 1984 when then-Mayor Ray Graham offered him a position with the borough Police Department and, after successfully completing his police academy training in December 1984, he was appointed as patrolman – becoming the first cop in his family.

At the same time, he continued serving as a volunteer firefighter with the borough.

Sheehan was promoted to police captain in December 1993 and was elevated to deputy chief in 1996.

During 1997 and 1998, he was chief of the volunteer firefighters.

“I believe I’m the only one in the borough who has served as chief of both [Police and Fire] Departments,” he noted.

As a cop, Sheehan earned numerous commendations, including a Valor Award presented by the Hudson County 200 Club in recognition of the role he played in a life-saving incident at the Clay St. Bridge on Sept. 13, 1987.

He also became an advocate for his fellow officers, serving as president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association from 1988 to 1992. “We were the first to negotiate a contract as an independent branch of Harrison PBA Local 22 and we never went to arbitration,” Sheehan said, “because we and the borough were able to work together to get a fair agreement.”

Sheehan is a member of the New Jersey Police Honor Legion, which supports a police Widows and Orphans Fund for the families of officers killed in the line of duty, and sponsors competitive college scholarships for members’ children and programs for children with disabilities.

As a member of the Hudson County Police Chiefs Association, Sheehan served as its secretary-treasurer and was president in 2005-2006.

He has served as East Newark delegate to the United Irish Association for West Hudson, former grand marshal (in 1995) of the UIAWH St. Patrick’s Parade and Irishman of the Year (1987).

And he’s been a Democratic county committeeman for his district since 1991.

During his tenure with the Police Department, the starting annual pay for a rookie cop has risen from $15,500 to $27,000 but, as the borough began feeling economically pinched, it extended the number of steps to reach maximum pay.

With such a small department – and only one supervisory officer (a sergeant) other than the chief – Sheehan said he’s “proud’’ of the way his rank-and-file cops have learned to react as a first-responder in a public safety situation, such as taking control of a domestic dispute scene until a superior can respond or deciding what to charge a suspect when executing a warrant.

As a reflection of the borough’s changing demographics, the Police Department has tried to adjust to the needs of local residents in another way: Six officers are bilingual, Sheehan noted.

On those occasions when he’s had to suspend or remove a member of the department, Sheehan said he’s “always had the support of the mayor and council. Never once has there been any political interference in unpopular decisions I’ve made that I thought were in the best interests of the department, as long as I could legally justify my actions.”

While short on personnel, Sheehan has incorporated technology as a law enforcement aid with the placement of visual and audio units in patrol vehicles, Mayor Smith said. “That gave our cops another set of eyes and it also cut down on the number of citizen complaints,” he said.

“Also, starting six or seven years ago, acting on the chief’s recommendation, we started buying police cars on three-year leases, getting them fully under guarantee, other than tires and brakes,” the mayor noted. That has turned out to be a money saver for the borough, he said.

As Sheehan turns his focus to more time with his family, particularly 3-year-old grandson Maddon, at least one family member – Ken Sheehan Jr., 23, is following in his dad’s footsteps: He’s a public safety officer with New Jersey Institute of Technology. Daughter Courtney, 30, is also pursuing public service; she’s working for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

They’ll be going ‘ROV’-ing to Indianapolis

Photo courtesy of Ken Bania Students prepare to assemble their ROV.

Photo courtesy of Ken Bania
Students prepare to assemble their ROV.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


On May 18, a group of Nutley High School students will be going down to the sea (of sorts) … in robots.

It’s all due to the U.S. Navy and Ken Bania, the school district’s science coordinator, with a big assist from physics teachers Michael Naumoff and Marc Kasner.

The students are participating in the 2013 National SeaPerch Challenge, a competition that engages students in “engineering concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications” in an underwater robotics program, according to a Navy fact sheet.

The Navy, in partnership with the Association for Underwater Vehicle Systems International Foundation, furnishes students with a kit of resources which they use to build a “Remotely Operated Vehicle” – ROV in Navy parlance – and guide it through a series of underwater maneuvers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology helped found the program in 2003.

Judges grade students on the basis of performance, design, oral presentation, planning and team spirit.

Bania brought the idea of NHS experimenting with the program to Principal Denis Williams after seeing a SeaPerch demonstration at a National Science Teachers seminar in Atlantic City in May 2012.

Williams agreed, noting that SeaPerch is linked to a U.S. Department of Education “national initiative” aimed at encouraging more students to explore paths that may lead to future careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

After getting their ROV kits earlier this year, students from different grade levels in the NHS engineering club put in many after-school hours assembling their robot (a contraption of PVC pipe and motors which weighs in at a little more than two pounds), testing out design features, then putting it through its underwater paces, in the school’s outdoor koi pool.

Photo by Ron Leir Students experiment with maneuvering ROV at NHS koi pool.

Photo by Ron Leir
Students experiment with maneuvering ROV at NHS koi pool.


Nutley sent three teams to a preliminary regional competition March 25 at the City College of New York’s Mahoney Pool in the basement of the Marshak Science Building on W. 138th St., and a seven-member team led by senior Nick Sherer and junior Gabe Tortora – who are teammates on the Maroon Raiders gridiron squad was deemed good enough to advance to the nationals, Williams said.

It all began a bit more than three months ago, recalled 17-year-old junior Monica Bobila, when “they provided us with the raw materials and instructions” and the students took it from there.

“It took us about a month to tweak [the ROV] to the point where we felt it was ready,” Gabe, 17, said.

Senior Laurence Rafer, 17, recalled that the rules permitted the students “to build onto the basic specifications,” to some extent. They could spend up to $20 on modifications, Naumoff said.

This team’s modification was described by Rafer as a “detachable retractable hook” which could be manipulated through the ROV to capture and remove rings.

The other team members are juniors Zohaeb Atiq and A.J. Fernandez, both 17; and seniors Andrew Allison, 18, and Nick Sherer, 17.

For the upcoming competition – which will be held in the Olympic Pool in the Natatorium on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis – students from more than 100 high school and middle school teams from around the nation will be expected to maneuver their ROVs through two trials.

First, they’ll guide the robots through an underwater obstacle course, through hoops oriented in different directions; next, they’ll direct the robots – again, underwater – to a rack set up with rings which the robots must remove and place in baskets set at different levels, all of which must be done within a fixed time limit.

“The bigger picture here,” Williams said, “is I want, eventually, all our science classes moving this way, maybe incorporating some type of problem-solving learning activity [because] learning comes from feedback when you fail.”

Williams said he’s hoping to get more faculty to “buy in” to this concept of more experimentation.

Asked if more students were “buying in” to the sciences as a post-graduate option, Williams said that the school doesn’t follow up on every student once they’ve completed their academic obligations, but he added: “Of the top 10% of our graduating class, there seems to be a growing number pursuing careers in math and science.”

Harrison’s Bravest get the gold

Photo by Cindy Dwyer From l., Firefi ghter Willie McMahon, Firefi ghter Robert Underhill, Capt. John Dwyer, Lt. Joseph Lang, Firefi ghter Joseph Zicchinella and Firefi ghter David Prina were gold-medal recipients.

Photo by Cindy Dwyer
From l., Firefi ghter Willie McMahon, Firefi ghter Robert Underhill, Capt. John Dwyer, Lt. Joseph Lang, Firefighter Joseph Zicchinella and Firefighter David Prina were gold-medal recipients.


They may have been feuding a few weeks ago over firefighting staffing levels, but for at least one night, the New Jersey Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association (NJFMBA) and Harrison Fire Department (HFD) were on the same page.

On Saturday, April 20, the state firefighters union presented gold medals to six members of the HFD at the union’s annual Valor Awards ceremony, held this year at the Pines Manor in Edison.

The gold medal is the top award given by the union, which paid tribute to an elite group of the Bravest from around the state.

A citation presented to the HFD outlines a narrative of a fire rescue performed by members of Tour 4 on Nov. 20, 2012, for which the Harrison six – Firefighters Willie McMahon, Robert Underhill, Joseph Zicchinella and David Prina, Lt. Joseph Lang and Capt. John Dwyer – were honored.

At around 8:20 a.m. that day, the HFD was dispatched to an apartment complex at 550 Central Ave. where there was a working fire, with people on the scene reporting that a man was trapped in the second- floor apartment where the fire had originated.

Following Dwyer upstairs, Prina, serving that day as acting lieutenant; Zicchinella and Lang, of Engine 3, stretched a line to the second floor hallway, where they were met by the mother of the man in the apartment “screaming that her son was in there.”

Lang and Prina forced open the door to the son’s apartment where, despite “high heat and zero visibility,” they started to search the apartment.

At the same time, Dwyer directed Underhill and Zicchinella to raise a ground ladder to the apartment’s balcony and begin a “vent/ enter/search operation from the opposite side of the apartment.”

McMahon, meanwhile, managed water supply for interior operations.

Firefighters converging from opposite directions located the apartment’s occupant, who was “unconscious and burned but still alive,” in the hallway between the bedroom and living room.

Lang, Prina, Underhill and Zicchinella removed the man, who was 6-feet-one and about 275 pounds, to the balcony “where lifesaving rescue breathing was begun.”

Zicchinella then re-entered the apartment and put out the remaining fire.

A Reeves stretcher was sent up to the balcony, the man was placed inside, removed from the building, and transported to the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark.

“Had it not been for the extraordinary effort and teamwork displayed at this incident, there certainly would have been a much different outcome,” the citation said.

— Ron Leir