By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
Two Passaic men driving two stolen cars were collared in North Arlington early on March 12 after they led police from several surrounding communities on a wild chase that included a foot pursuit through Holy Cross Cemetery.
North Arlington Police Capt. James Hearn gave this account of the episode:
At 3:01 a.m., a borough patrol officer traveling on Hendel Ave. near Ridge Road observed a dark-colored Mercury make a sharp turn off Ridge on to Hendel, followed by a silver Toyota, both ignoring a stop sign.
The officer then activated his overhead lights and attempted to conduct a motor-vehicle stop but, at that point, both vehicles sped up and fled the scene, with the officer in pursuit.
Both the Mercury and the Toyota made multiple turns and ran multiple stop signs, proceeding down to River Road where the Toyota continued straight on that road while the Mercury turned on to Boston Ave.
The officer opted to follow the Mercury for several blocks, eventually, on to Schuyler Ave. where the driver of the Mercury — which had sustained damage to one tire — lost control of the vehicle, which struck a curb, causing it to spin out of control and strike the curb on the opposite side of the street, where it came to rest.
At this point, the driver, later identified as, 23, jumped out, climbed a fence and fled through Holy Cross Cemetery.
Borough police conducted a search for the driver but came up empty.
But the NAPD had put out a call for help and, a short time later, with the aid of officers from the Kearny PD, Lyndhurst PD, Rutherford PD and East Rutherford PD, along with Bergen County Police Department, police spotted a man walking on River Road near the Belleville Pike and stopped him for questioning.
He was identified as Aaron Deleon, 19, who, investigators learned, had sometime earlier dumped the Toyota — the other vehicle involved in the original chase — in the middle of Biltmore St. and began walking through the borough.
After discovering that Deleon was wanted on an active no-bail warrant from Bergen County, police arrested him on the warrant.
Investigators later determined that Deleon and Hill had stolen the Toyota in Clifton earlier in the evening and, as the pair drove through Lyndhurst, Hill jumped out and stole the Mercury that the NAPD officer later ended up in pursuit of, along with the Toyota.
Meanwhile, police responded to Beaver Ave. and Legion Place after a resident had called about a suspicious party wandering in the area. That individual turned out to be Hill, who, police surmise, had crossed through the cemetery to the opposite end. He was placed under arrest.
Investigators determined that Deleon and Hill had stolen the Toyota in Clifton earlier in the evening and, while traveling through Lyndhurst, Hill had exited and stolen the Mercury before both took off in separate cars, ending up in North Arlington.
Both Deleon and Hill were charged with receiving stolen property (the vehicles) and eluding police and were also issued multiple motor vehicle summonses for driving while suspended, failing to stop for red light signals, failing to comply with stop sign, reckless driving, among others.
Hill was additionally charged with obstruction for fleeing the NAPD officer on Schuyler Ave. and defiant trespass by entering the cemetery after normal hours.
Both were sent to Bergen County Jail.
Bail for Hill was set at $23,500 with no 10% cash option; bail for Deleon was fixed at $20,000, also with no 10% option.
A special Board of Education meeting to unveil plans for a new Harrison school will take place at 6:30 p.m., March 24 at the board offices, 501 Hamilton St. Officials originally said the meeting would take place at a different time. Please note the the new meeting time.
By Ron Leir
Last Monday, March 9, at his second day on trial in Camden Federal Court for his alleged participation in a $13 million mortgage fraud scheme that, according to the government, used fake documents and “straw buyers” to make illegal profits on overbuilt condos at the Jersey Shore, former Kearny lawmaker/school trustee John Leadbeater, 58, pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud.
In return for his plea, the government dropped a second charge of money laundering for which he had been indicted (along with wire fraud) nearly two years ago.
Leadbeater, a former Kearny Board of Education vice president and a former member of the Kearny Town Council who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2009, will be sentenced June 26 by U.S. District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle in Camden.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, as a first offender, Leadbeater could face a minimum of 46 to 57 months to a maximum of 30 years in prison, depending on other factors, plus a fine of up to $1 million. He will also be expected to make restitution for any losses to the lenders.
His Jersey City defense attorneys, Thomas Cammarata and Jeffrey Garrigan, issued a statement last week which said that their client entered his plea “after lengthy negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
In early October 2014, federal prosecutors had sought – and were granted – a three-month extension of the original Dec. 1, 2014 trial date to prepare their case against Leadbeater on the grounds that it was a “complex case,” because it required more intensive judicial management … involving multiple parties … geographically diverse witnesses … numerous expert witnesses, complex subject matter” and other factors.
In granting the government’s request for more time, Judge Simandle noted that the case involved allegations of wrongdoing involving a “voluminous” case file covering “a period of several years.”
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Matthew Reilly declined to say how many witnesses the government had prepared to call or how many days the trial had been expected to last.
Asked whether Leadbeater could hold public office at some future date, Reilly said he would have to research that question.
Leadbeaters’ defense team, in their statement, sought to narrow the extent of his participation in the conspiracy.
They said their client “pled guilty to conspiracy in that he advanced deposits for buyers in certain transactions involving homes in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest … without disclosing this fact on the closing statements sent to the lenders for the buyers.” But, they added that, “His admission of guilt did not include any involvement in activities of others regarding false loan applications. He regrets his bad judgment and is anxious to put this matter behind him.”
Cammarata said that his client received a “finder’s fee” for each property for which he – not the buyers — advanced deposits and that those fees were recorded in the mortgage closing documents. While Leadbeater is not licensed as a real estate agent, Cammarata said that has no relevancy to the crime to which he has admitted guilt.
According to the plea agreement, Leadbeater was involved in seven property transactions in Wildwood and two in Wildwood Crest for which he wired loan amounts from a variety of brokers totaling $4,711,556.86 between July 24, 2007, and March 27, 2008.
However, Cammarata noted that the total loss to the lenders has been reduced to the extent that the properties involved have been resold, accounting for a reduction in the overall loss to between $1 million and $2.5 million, which will be taken into consideration by the court at sentencing.
By Ron Leir
If no significant environmental issues arise, the municipal parking lot across the street from Washington Middle School will become the site for a new school for kindergarten and pre-K students in Harrison to help relieve overcrowding at Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools.
And the $33 million project will cost taxpayers not one dime to build, school officials insist, because the Board of Education owns the property and because the state has committed to picking up the entire tab.
So reported James Doran, the district’s director of personnel, and Michael Pichowicz, the board attorney, in an interview with The Observer at the BOE office last Thursday.
Doran said the BOE – which has yet to vote on designating the lot as the place where the new facility will rise – nonetheless want to forewarn residents now because during the Easter holiday period – between April 6 and 16 – the parking lot at Washington St. and Harrison Ave. will be closed.
That’s when the N.J. Schools Development Authority has directed the Morristownbased Louis Berger Group to drill holes in the lot, take soil samples and analyze them to see if a school building can be safely supported there, Doran said.
Residents who rely on the lot for overnight parking will have more access to street spaces in the neighborhood during that time because the town will be suspending street cleaning on Washington St. and on Harrison Ave., between Fifth and Sixth Sts., so residents with the required stickers will be able to park during the night on those blocks, Doran said. Looking ahead, Doran said there has been “preliminary discussion” with the BOE about replacing the lot, once the SDA officially greenlights the school project.
“The goal is that before any construction starts, we would have an engineering firm look at relocating the underutilized Shields Park (which is next to Washington School) to an area near Harrison High School and extending the resident parking lot at Patterson St. and Harrison Ave. to the area now occupied by the park,” Doran said.
That reconfiguration would, he said, “double the size” of the existing Patterson St. parking area while also accommodating school staff from Washington School and the new school.
Meanwhile, plans for the new school – (no name has been designated for it yet) – will be unveiled publicly for the first time at a special BOE meeting set for 6:30 p.m. March 24 at the board offices, 501 Hamilton St. [Please note time change to 6:30 p.m.]
“This has been three years in the making,” said Doran, who talked up the idea during his previous service as the district’s superintendent of schools, as a strategy to ease the pressure of growing enrollment, particularly in pre-K to grade 5.
“As of 2008-2009, we were already at capacity in our elementary schools,” Doran said. Since then, enrollment district-wide jumped from 1,866 to 2,096 currently. Lincoln School, which houses kindergarten through grade 3 with the aid of trailers, climbed from 557 to 651 and Hamilton, which has grades 4 and 5, went from 262 to 302, district records show.
In prior years, the SDA had proposed expanding Washington School’s population – which handles grades 6, 7 and 8 – by adding grade 5 which, according to Doran, would have required placement of trailers along the Hamilton St. side of the school. It never happened.
Now the plan is to construct a new two-story school on the roughly one-acre parking lot site to accommodate nine kindergarten classrooms, nine first-grade classrooms and two pre-K special education classrooms. The facility would have an elevator, a combination cafeteria/ auditorium and gym. There would also be some type of outdoor play space. The entrance would be from Washington St. The existing vehicular traffic pattern would remain.
SDA regulations mandated the district to conduct an inventory of potential school sites, with priority given to district-owned property first, then municipal-owned. Pichowicz said the district identified 38 parcels for consideration and “it came down to Roosevelt Park outside the town library and the parking lot.”
The district had acquired the parking lot site some years ago with the idea of putting a new school there at some point, he said.
The new school would accommodate a capacity of 420 students and could be ready for occupancy by September 2018, Doran said. The Berger firm will design and build it, he added.
Of the 360 Harrison youngsters currently in pre-K programs in outside facilities, all but the 15 currently housed at the town Community Center would stay where they are but the 15 would shift to the new school, Doran said.
As part of the district’s grade realignment, both Lincoln and Hamilton would handle grades 2 through 5, he said.
With the reconfiguration of space, Doran said, “We could expand our cafeterias at Lincoln and Hamilton, add a computer lab and music room at Lincoln, add an instrumental music room at Hamilton and possibly make room for additional class sections, where needed.”
An East Orange man who was a passenger in a vehicle whose driver was fatally shot by police after a chase ended with a crash at the Lyndhurst-Rutherford border last fall, ended up a fatal shooting victim last week, according to published reports.
The Associated Press and other media sites cited a report by Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray that Jemmaine Bynes, 31, was slain after a shooting at a S. 10th St. location in Newark at around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bynes was pronounced dead at the scene shortly before midnight, according to Murray.
Murray was quoted by NJ Advance Media as saying that Bynes had received multiple gunshot wounds in an apartment complex courtyard at S. 10th St. and Woodland Ave.
No further details were readily available about the shooting incident and Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, could not be reached last week.
The Observer had reported last year that the state Attorney General’s office became the lead agency for releasing information on last year’s shooting incident. The AG’s office said that Bynes was riding in a stolen Nissan Armada SUV driven by Kashad Ashford, 23, of Newark, during the early morning on Sept. 16, 2014.
A statement issued by the AG’s office said that at some point, the SUV rolled through North Arlington and one of its occupants tried to break into a vehicle parked in a resident’s driveway. North Arlington Police Chief Louis Ghione said that borough police responded to a Newell Place location at 2 a.m. on a report of a burglary and theft of a motor vehicle but, as cops approached, the suspects drove off.
Soon after the attempted break-in, the AG’s office said, Lyndhurst PD spotted the SUV and tried to pull it over but the SUV driver “proceeded to drive recklessly through Lyndhurst and surrounding towns,” pursued by Lyndhurst and Rutherford PD and State Police.
The AG’s office said the chase ended when the SUV hit a guardrail at the Ridge Road bridge at the Rt. 3 approach and patrol cars surrounded the vehicle in an effort to block it but the driver put the car in reverse, spinning the tires and filling the road with smoke, before backing the SUV into a patrol car.
At that point, the AG’s office said, officers fired at the driver, striking him. Ashford was taken to Hackensack Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 a.m.
(The cliffviewpilot.com website reported that Ashford had a prior criminal record, including having served more than three years on a conviction for aggravated assault and “resisting arrest by fleeing in a motor vehicle, creating a risk of injury.”)
Bynes surrendered and, after officers reportedly recovered a loaded .357-caliber Magnum handgun and a ski mask from the SUV, charged him with unlawful possession of a handgun, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon and receiving stolen property. He was taken to Bergen County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.
NJ Advance Media reported that according to Bergen County Sheriff’s records, Bynes was released from jail in November 2014 after posting bail.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has asked anyone with information on Bynes’ shooting to call detectives with the office’s Homicide and Major Crimes Task Force at 877-847-7432 or 973-621-4586.
Because an investigation of last September’s fatal shooting was undertaken by the AG’s Shooting Response Team, local police departments involved in the incident refused to provide further details about the circumstances of the shooting and the state appeals court has denied OPRA requests by two media outlets for information about the case.
Results of that investigation have yet to surface.
By Ron Leir
The N.J. Department of Education has adopted a “no opt-out” policy for the administration of its newly mandated PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) online test for grades 3 to 11.
But it has left the implementation and enforcement of that policy up to the discretion of local school districts.
And while school districts in The Observer coverage area have (some more strongly than others) encouraged participation – since they risk having some of their fderal aid sliced if too few students take the test – many parents have instructed their kids to refuse to take it.
Since the test is administered to different grades over different times during a multi-week period, it is difficult to secure precise figures on the number of students who have opted out.
But, based on phone interviews with various district officials, it is clear that many students in Kearny and Lyndhurst, primarily on the secondary level, did not partake.
In Kearny, where testing – as in most districts – began March 2 and was due to continue through March 27, there were reportedly as many as 400 high school students opting out in the early going.
KHS Principal Al Gilson declined to confirm that figure and referred The Observer to Superintendent Patricia Blood, who said she’d heard there were “a lot of sophomores” among those sitting out the test, but she couldn’t provide actual figures.
“We had a handful in our elementary schools,” Blood said.
Blood reasoned that some parents read or heard information on the internet or in the media that the questions posed by the PARCC were too difficult, that it was unfair to subject their kids to it and that concern spread by word of mouth.
“I think it just snowballed,” she said.
Parents should realize, Blood said, that the PARCC “does give us valuable information” about areas where students are weak and that it will take three years for the PARCC phase-in.
In any case, Blood said, parents who did not want their kids taking the test were asked to “notify the district in writing” and on testing days, their kids “were provided an alternate setting” where they could do school-related work.
Some of the students who did take the PARCC “reported back to their teachers that the test was not as difficult as the test samples they had been exposed to for practice,” Blood said.
At the same time, she said, those students were saying that there appeared to be more types of test problems that relied on students’ “critical thinking” skills, rather than simply multiple-choice questions.
On the technical end, Blood said that everything was “smooth running. The only glitch was on the first day, and it was on the Pearson [the test distributor] end,” but she said it was quickly remedied and did not interfere with the testing itself.
In Lyndhurst, Schools Superintendent Tracey Marinelli said the district had a “seemless transition” to the PARCC. “There were no glitches and our kids were prepared – students arrived at the high school with their iPads fully charged and ready to go and our elementary school kids took the test in their computer labs,” she said.
There were, however, “quite a few opt-outs,” Marinelli said. Of the district’s 200 third-graders, 10 did not take the test; of 1,000 students in grades 4 to 8, 91 opted out; and of about 550 kids in grades 9 to 11, 155 sat out the test, she said.
Although the district sought to educate parents about the test and offered practice sessions, Marinelli said that there was an “active campaign” by some who had concerns about the PARCC.
In Harrison, Personnel Director James Doran said the district experienced a “very good” implementation of the test, with only “a couple of computer glitches but the students didn’t lose any of the work.” And “about a dozen” students were instructed by their parents not to take the test, he said.
Newly installed Belleville Schools Superintendent Richard Tomko reported that despite some serious computer infrastructure issues previously encountered by the district, “all of our schools have the equipment needed for the testing on track.”
Adapting to the technology “was a little bit of a learning curve for our teachers,” Tomko said, “but we made sure that we had extra IT support on hand for the first day of testing to get us through.”
By Tomko’s reckoning, the district had 270 students who opted out that first day and they were “evenly distributed throughout the district.”
“I don’t have a strong hold on why that happened,” Tomko said. “I assume that parents read something negative about the test on an internet posting or elsewhere.” Before the PARCC was administered, Tomko said he met with PTO leaders in an effort to dispel any fears about the test.
Nutley Board of Education President Charles Kucinski said the district was “more than prepared” for the PARCC, having set aside between $300,000 and $400,000 annually for the past three years to acquire sufficient numbers of computers and technical equipment to accommodate the new testing protocol and ensuring that “our teachers were comfortable” with the testing environment.
“A couple of glitches” developed with computers which Kucinski attributed to the state connection.
As for opt-outs, Kucinski said that, “according to the last count the superintendent (Russell Lazovick) gave us, there were 20 throughout the district.” The purpose of the PARCC, Kucinski said, “is really to assess what students might not know and make adjustments annually” so the aim is to achieve “positive results.”
Prior to the test, Kucinski said administrators “met with parents offline with the expectation that they could enlighten them, not frighten them.”
A New York man who reportedly stiffed a cabbie before taking off was subsequently found hiding in a Lyndhurst apartment where police said they discovered a cache of illegal drugs. Lyndhurst Police Det. Capt. John Valente said the episode began on Monday, March 9, when police responded to 855 Valley Brook Road after getting a call, at 1:23 a.m., from a taxi driver about a theft of service. Valente said the driver, 39, of Sunnyside, N.Y., told officers that he had picked up a fare in Queens, N.Y., and transported him to a Lyndhurst location when the passenger – listed as a Latino – ran away, failing to pay his $110 fare, heading toward a condominium apartment complex at 855 Valley Brook.
Valente said Officers Charles Giangeruso, Rob Fernandez and Anthony Ricigliano, knowing the suspect’s direction of flight, followed a trail of footprints and tracks in the snow to an apartment in the complex where they believed he ended up.
Police talked with an Asian man who, they said, lived in the condo apartment but who told the officers he had no knowledge of the man they were seeking and claimed the only other individual living in the apartment was an Asian roommate, Valente said.
After they were allowed entry to the apartment, Valente said the officers observed a large assortment of drugs and paraphernalia on table tops, counters and other locations in plain view. And, he said, they discovered a man matching the description of the suspect hiding in the flat.
Both men were taken into custody and Dets. Ronald Guirland and Vincent Auteri successfully applied for and executed a search warrant for the remainder of the apartment.
Jonathan Rodriguez, 31, of Elmhurst, N.Y., the original suspect, and Andrew Lee, 24, of Lyndhurst, the apartment occupant, were both charged with possession of Alprazolam with intent to distribute same within 1,000 feet of a school and within 500 feet of a park, possession of Psilocybin, possession of marijuana and paraphernalia (digital scale and baggies) within 1,000 feet of a school and 500 feet of a park and possession with intent to distribute marijuana greater than 16 ounces.
Lee was also charged with possession of a weapon (brass knuckles) and possession of hollow point bullets (.45-caliber and 9 mm), while Rodriguez was additionally charged with theft of services.
Both were taken to Bergen County Jail in lieu of $110,000 bail for Lee and $100,000 bail for Rodriguez.
– Ron Leir
(Editor’s note: Earlier this month, preceding its St. Patrick’s Parade, the Nutley Irish-American Alliance held its annual Mass at St. Mary’s Church in that township. This year, Msgr. John J. Gilchrist of Kearny was the guest speaker. In honor of March 17, The Observer would like to share a portion of his homily, and its local history lesson, with our readers. )
This annual parade has two great purposes. The first is, of course, to give glory to God and show gratitude to the Lord for sending St. Patrick to us to bring the great gift of faith.
Secondly, all of us who carry the Celtic DNA want to pay tribute to our forefathers and to those who brought us to this great country and especially to those who settled in this beautiful area that was once known as Avondale, then Franklin, and that we now call Nutley. And so, we represent faith, heritage, and gratitude to those who went before us.
You know the Irish came to this area as refugees from famine and persecution.
Once they arrived here, they needed work. The Dutch and English who preceded them had discovered that this beautiful river valley contained copper that could be mined, then brownstone that could easily be cut into building blocks for housing, and the running water in the rivers that turned wheels for mills.
So the Irish followed the river and came here to settle and make a living mining, cutting blocks, and working in the mills of the area.
It was a hard and difficult time. The single men lived in barracks, and families lived in shanties. The men and women worked six days a week from sun-up till sundown in all sorts of weather.
Until 1880, there was no Catholic church in Avondale, as Nutley was called in those days. Catholics went to Mass in St. Peter’s in Belleville from 1838 until 1877 when Father Hubert de Burgh came and took up residence here.
I would like to tell you a story that my mother uncovered. She was a member of the Belleville Historical Society and in the 1950s she wrote a history of St. Peter’s Parish.
She wrote of a Mission that was held during Lent in the 1850s. The Irish families from the quarries, mines and mills rose long before dawn that year and walked in the dark beside the river along Main St. to Mass at 6:30 a.m.
They then walked back to Nutley to grab a bite of breakfast and then went to work until sundown at night. They filled the church each morning for the nine days of the Mission.
I have to tell you that, on these frigid cold mornings, with the snow all around, I think of those faithful Catholics. By the way, in those days the Passaic River froze over and the Irish from Kearny and Arlington walked across the river on the ice to attend Mass.
I want to leave you with that image. On these winter days, consider what religion meant to those good men and women who endured so much to find their God in the Holy Mass.
My dear friends, if you would honor these saints, for holy they were, imitate them by giving God glory by practicing the Faith that meant so much to them.
May you have a great and glorious parade.
May God bless you all.
– Msgr. John J. Gilchrist
By Ron Leir
After year and a half of occupying temporary trailers, the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority has finally moved back into its Central Ave. headquarters now that a makeover is pretty much done.
KMUA Executive Director Kevin O’Sullivan said the contractor, Daskal Construction of Wallington, began the $680,900 rehabilitation job in September 2013 with the expectation that the job would be finished by January 2014. But the pace of work continued to be snagged – which the contractor blamed on delays in delivery of construction materials, harsh winter weather conditions and some change orders, O’Sullivan said.
“He was granted one month extra time,” O’Sullivan said, but it was still slow going.
Last week, the five employees bade farewell to their temporary quarters and returned to their home building which got a new façade, roof and refurbished administrative offices, along with a new HVAC system.
O’Sullivan said the MUA board of commissioners still hasn’t accepted the job as complete because, “the contractor is still waiting for a warranty from the roof manufacturer and there are also a few punchlist items to complete.”
Until those issues are taken care of, the MUA is retaining “more than $40,000” on the overall job contract, he said.
O’Sullivan said he was confident that the job would come in at or near the original contract price.
“And the contractor will be required to post a two-year maintenance performance bond,” he said.
The building at 39 Central Ave. dates from 1955 and needed a lot of work to remedy a variety of problems, including leaks, insufficient heating during the cold months when staff had to rely on space heaters, and lack of air conditioning, according to O’Sullivan.
“Now we have a new roof, a climate-controlled building, new offices and a conference room,” he said. ‘I’m anticipating that we’ll be holding our annual rate study session and public meeting here for the first time, on April 22.”
Regular MUA commission meetings will continue to be held at Town Hall, he said.
The MUA, which recently adopted its 2015 budget of $3,997,707 – up from last year’s $3,850,891 – is gearing up for two big projects this year: rehabilitation of the Kearny Point pump station which services upstream MUA customers and the Harrison pump facility which handles the northern edge of the MUA collection district.
Both facilities were compromised by Super Storm Sandy, O’Sullivan said.
Coppola Services Inc. of Ringwood was awarded the jobs in December for about $4.5 million, most of which the MUA will get reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he said. And the MUA will also apply a $250,000 grant from the state Office of Emergency Management’s Hazardous Mitigation Fund to offset the cost of a new generator.
The work is expected to take a year and half to complete, he said.
When the job is done, O’Sullivan said, “We’ll have fully functioning pumps and reliable service for our users.”