Matawan’s municipal tax rate to drop 1.2 cents

Public hearing on $7.5 million plan is scheduled for April 4

By Paul dowd

Staff Writer

MATAWAN — Residents will receive a tax decrease for 2000 based on the municipal budget introduced last week.

Borough residents can expect a tax decrease of 1.2 cents, down to 75 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. In 1999, the assessment was 76.2 cents per $100.

A public hearing on the municipal budget is scheduled for April 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Matawan Community Center.

The budget totals $7,541,702, up $325,000 from last year.

The tax levy for residents will be $3,094,626, a decrease of $21,351 from the preceding year.

For the past two years, the Borough Council has taken an aggressive approach to collecting on tax liens, some which date as far back as the 1960s. This contributed to about half of the borough’s near-million-dollar surplus, according to council members.

The budget will use $650,000 of the surplus to reduce the tax rate, leaving a balance of more than $300,000.

The budget passed by a vote of 5-1, with Democrat Councilman James Shea casting the lone vote of dissent. Shea wanted to know why it was only a decrease of 1.2 cents and couldn’t be reduced to 1.4 cents.

Republican Councilwoman Sharon Roselli, who is the finance commissioner, took exception to Shea’s comment, stating, "We worked long and hard on this. There was a copy of the budget available since February, and I could’ve easily been reached by phone."

Roselli was optimistic about achieving the tax reduction and credited the expertise of Borough Auditor Steve Gabey in accomplishing her goal. Council President Joseph Penniplede said that services will stand and praised Roselli for her hard work and effort in preparation for this budget.

Mayor Robert Clifton added, "We were able to achieve a 1.2 cent tax decrease even with increases of $140,000 in sanitation and $90,000 in police budgets. We are fortunate to have a strong economy, which is the reason our tax collection rate is as high as it is. Also, the collection of several old tax liens, which began in 1998, has helped our financial situation."

Councilman Shea also took issue with the proposed school tax rate in which Matawan has a nearly 5-cent increase as compared to Aberdeen’s 2-cent increase. The two municipalities comprise the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.

Councilwoman Deborah Buragina, who is on the council’s education committee, said the tax increase could be reduced if more state aid, for which the district applied, is granted.

Holmdel broker pleads guilty to $40M fraud

Hedge fund reported $50M in assets while on verge of collapse

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Holmdel stockbroker has pleaded guilty to what authorities call the largest hedge fund fraud in the state.

John Natale, 45, pleaded guilty March 3 to a three-count accusation before Judge Joseph A. Falcone in state Superior Court in Essex County, according to Attorney General John Farmer. Natale is charged with securities fraud, theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property.

Natale, who is well-known in the Holmdel community having served as president of the Holmdel Youth Athletic Association, turned himself in at the Attorney General’s office in Trenton. "He walked in and confessed a couple weeks before he pleaded," said Chuck Davis, a public information spokesman with the office.

According to authorities, Natale, who also has a Long Branch residence and was named Man of the Year by the Holmdel Republican Club last spring, admitted that over an eight-year period he received approximately $40 million by falsely reporting profits from investment partnerships he managed through his Red Bank investment business.

On paper, the partnerships reported assets of over $50 million, when, in fact, they were on the verge of collapse with assets of less than $3 million.

As part of the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Natale be sentenced to 10 years in prison and that he serve four years before becoming eligible for parole, Farmer said. Natale also has agreed to make restitution to the approximately 180 investors.

Natale’s bail was set at $500,000, and sentencing is scheduled for May 19.

Following the criminal plea, Farmer moved before Superior Court Judge Benjamin Cohen to restrain any assets that remain and to appoint a receiver to protect investors from further harm, taking possession, among other things, of Natale’s personal assets.

Natale ran his two hedge fund partnerships, Cambridge Partners, L.P. and Cambridge Partners II, L.P., out of Red Bank.

A hedge fund is a partnership of investors not currently required to be registered with securities regulators. Because they are not registered, they can use riskier trading strategies that are forbidden or restricted in registered funds.

In Natale’s case, according to Paul Zoubek, director of the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice, the high risk hedge funds bet that certain stocks, particularly technology stocks, would fall in value over time. The gamble on technology stocks was consistently wrong, according to Zoubek.

"Natale admitted that he controlled and managed two hedge funds that suffered substantial losses under his management," Farmer said.

"Within a short time after starting the funds in 1992, he lost $20,000," Farmer said. "Instead of reporting that loss and further losses in later years, Natale falsified financial and securities documents over the next eight years to show the value of the fund had reached $50 million. He kept taking in investors’ money and losing it until the losses reached approximately $40 million."

While in reality he was losing millions, Natale reported such consistently successful earnings that at times his funds were listed as recommended investments on sophisticated investors’ Internet Web sites, Farmer noted.

In court, Natale admitted to defrauding not only individual investors in New Jersey and other parts of the country, but institutional and foreign investors who had invested heavily, according to Farmer. The victims were provided financial statements which were based on inflated reports Natale provided to his accountant. Natale stated that his accountant was unaware the reports were inflated.

"People placed a trust in the defendant and he deceived them until his scheme fell apart," Farmer said. "Natale has agreed to cooperate, and over the next several months my office will examine how such a scheme was able to continue for such a long period of time and with such great losses."

At the investment partnership’s inception in 1992, victims paid $50,000 to buy a stake in Natale’s funds, and because of its falsely reported success, he attracted approximately 60 limited partners. Within a short time, Natale lost $20,000, but rather than report the loss, according to Zoubek, he altered the fund’s monthly statements. Investors in the funds were provided tax documents showing that they had made a profit when in fact they had sustained significant losses.

When he created Cambridge Partners II, L.P., Natale raised the minimum investment in the fund to $250,000. From the initial loss to the closing of the fund with the court proceedings, Natale duped nearly 180 investors out of more than $40 million, Zoubek said.

In a coordinated filing, the state Division of Law, on behalf of the Bureau of Securities within the Division of Consumer Affairs, filed a complaint against Natale seeking to appoint a receiver for the remaining assets in the funds.

The state asked the Superior Court to appoint former Attorney General James R. Zazzali to act as a receiver for the funds. The receiver will have the power to collect the remaining money in the funds, as well as Natale’s assets, in order to compensate investors.

Victims were to be contacted by letter and told how the process will work.

"This individual stole millions of dollars from people who trusted him to invest in their futures," said Division of Consumer Affairs Director Mark S. Herr. "He not only robbed them of their money, but of their sense of trust and their futures."

In the civil proceeding, Judge Cohen ordered the parties to appear at a status conference at a later date.

At the time of the court proceedings, Natale stated that the funds had less than $3 million in assets. Those assets, Natale’s own personal assets and any others the receiver uncovers, will provide the basis of restitution payments to the victims.

Deputy Attorney General Rodger Wolf, of the Financial Crimes & Antitrust Bureau within the Division of Criminal Justice, represented the state at the criminal proceeding. State investigator Kim Karasiewicz conducted the investigation.

At the civil proceeding, Deputy Attorney General Joshua I. Savitz represented the state. New Jersey Bureau of Securities Enforcement Chief Investigator Richard Barry conducted the investigation for the Division of Consumer Affairs.

"The rules are pretty basic: You can’t steal," said the attorney general. "This case shows that civil and criminal authorities in the Attorney General’s Office will work together to prosecute those who steal from anyone."

County ferry project moving along smoothly

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This Matawan Creek bridge, which connects Aberdeen and Keyport on Amboy Avenue-West Front Street, is slated to get some temporary repairs. For the story, see page 8.

MIDDLETOWN — The county is forging ahead with Phase I of its Belford Ferry Terminal project and is anticipating that the service will be operational later this year.

At a workshop meeting of the Township Committee on Monday, Monmouth County Planning Board member Kevin Ganson, who is also the project coordinator, gave a presentation explaining the current status of the project while offering the committee a rough timeline for future work.

"We’ve hit a lot of hoops and hurdles because we’re using federal money," he said.

However, Ganson, along with Rich Watson, a project engineer, agreed that the project is moving along smoothly, despite having to meet several conditions set forth by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The county is currently concentrating on "stabilizing the ground" in front of where the ferry would be accessed as well as by the adjacent landfill area. Ganson also explained how, as part of the stabilizing effort, the county is using dredge materials to cap the landfill area to make the area environmentally sound.

"We’re using as much material from the site as possible in order to limit truck traffic," he said.

As part of the initial phase of the project, the county is concentrating on the development of 500 parking spaces, a pair of docks for the ferry boats, a bridge on the site’s main access road, which has already been completed, and the finalization of construction specifications for the terminal building, which will serve as a loading area.

According to Ganson, the county expects to go out to bid for the construction of the building sometime this month. The building will contain a tower, which will be available to the township’s marine police, and will be located in the upper corner of the site closest to the water.

"This building will not be a monster by any means," Ganson said. "It is to serve as a drop-off point where people can get shelter while they wait for the boats to load."

Members of the committee asked Ganson questions about where the service would go, how much it would cost, and if any other services would be available to commuters within the building.

Ganson told the committee that the ferries will travel to Manhattan, which should take about 40 to 45 minutes, and may also travel to JFK Airport, which may take as little as 29 minutes.

The cost of the service is to be determined at a later date; however, Ganson emphasized that the service is aimed at being competitively priced with other area ferry services.

Members of the committee pointed out that a low cost of $15 to $19 per day for the service might draw commuters who are currently using the train to get to work, which might help alleviate the parking problem at the train station.

Toward the conclusion of his presentation, Ganson told the committee that the county currently has all of its permits in order to continue with the project, although it is preparing a response to the corps’ concerns about the number of available parking spaces at existing ferry sites operated by New York Fast Ferry and Seastreak Ferry in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands.

"The corps wants us to re-examine the parking issue based on Congressman (Frank) Pallone’s letter," he said. "But their argument is based on what-ifs; whereas, we had professional engineers look at this. Right now we have the permits necessary. … We will respond to their concerns, hopefully this week."

Ganson also dispelled questions about whether a N.Y. Fast Ferry service in Keyport, which the Keyport Borough Council is considering, would lessen the need for the ferry service in Belford.

"They have a significant ways to go before that may happen (in Keyport)," he said. "And that service would serve a different ridership. But regardless, this service is to complement existing ferry services, not to compete with them."

Matawan revitalization

entering a new phase

Brookdale program to give town ‘a boost,’

says mayor

MATAWAN — In this tiny borough of historic buildings and a downtown commercial district struggling to make a comeback, there’s a new sense of excitement .

The Borough Council recently approved $3,000 to retain the input of eight architecture students at Brookdale Community College in Middletown under the guidance of Professor Edward O’Neill to create a more pleasing streetscape in the downtown business area.

The inaugural meeting between the students, who will design streetscapes in accordance with guidelines provided by the borough, Mayor Robert Clifton and representatives from the Downtown Matawan Alliance (DMA) and the Matawan Historical Society took place March 1 at the Matawan Community Center.

The study area is along the center portion of Main Street, from Cartan Lane to Summit Street.

"This program with Brookdale is a psychological boost for all of Matawan," Mayor Clifton said.

Although the inaugural meeting drew only about 25 residents, fewer than had been hoped for, more meetings are planned.

One resident questioned the intent of this program, whether it was for aesthetic or business purposes.

"This program will give us the ability to create an ambiance to enhance business," answered Downtown Alliance Director Ralph Treadway. "We’re not competing with the malls, but revitalization will certainly make it more attractive for people to shop in downtown."

"Right now there is a collage of many different buildings, unattractive signage, and unsightly power lines," added Robert Montfort, president of the Historical Society and member of the Historic Sites Committee. "By making it prettier, it will increase business."

The eight Brookdale students are Andrew Burian and Vincent Parise, both Middletown; Glenn Dantuono, Manalapan; Ralph Delia, Long Branch; Shuhel Kawogoe, Tinton Falls; Mark Kinn-Gurzo, Manasquan; Al Stewart, Union Beach; and Keith Wickersty, Marlboro.

Although this project is the first of its kind for these students, former Brookdale architecture classes have worked on similar projects in the North Middletown and Campbell’s Junction neighborhood commercial districts in Middletown and on two different projects in Red Bank.

With the North Middletown project, Middletown was able to secure $150,000 in grants via a booklet proposal submitted by the Brookdale students. For this project, the students will be rendering a similar booklet proposal.

The Matawan target area has a mix of architectural styles, including Victorian, Queen Anne and Colonial. The area just south of the study area, from roughly Summit Street to Route 34, dates almost exclusively to the 19th century, with 80 percent of the buildings having been constructed between 1830 and 1900.

The Downtown Alliance, in conjunction with the Historical Society and the Borough Council, has moved the revitalization program to this stage of dialogue and design, with the Brookdale partnership viewed as the first step in a long-term project.

Currently in Matawan, there is no historic district, and a Downtown Preservation District covers only two blocks. The possibility of a historic area designation is something that will be addressed in the near future.

Fred Sklenar, a Downtown Alliance board member, said that what is presented by the students, called the "deliverables," will be used toward the overall assessment of architecture in the downtown and surrounding areas.

The next phase for the students will be to develop design principles and apply them to the various styles of architecture.

At the next meeting O’Neill said that the students sitting beside him will be the ones to field the questions. He figures about three more meetings will take place, though no dates have been set.

Mid’town teen talent attracts Liza Minnelli

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Jennifer Rush Jacobs

17-year-old singer

influenced by Village

School music teacher

MIDDLETOWN — For 17-year-old Jennifer Rush Jacobs, a normal day includes getting up, going to school … and singing with Liza Minnelli.

Yes, that Liza Minnelli, the famous daughter of the famous mother.

Jennifer, a junior at Middletown High School South, discovered her musical voice during a chorus concert when she was just a fifth-grader.

"It was actually my music teacher at Middletown Village School who told me I had talent," she recalled. "I really owe a lot of my thanks to her."

Since then, Jennifer has appeared in every sort of production ranging from a solo performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark to performing at Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands.

Jennifer also enjoys performing for kids. This past Valentine’s Day, she performed for disabled children at the Children’s Specialized Hospital in Toms River.

And in 1998, she was a soloist in a "Kids in Krisis" program, which benefits underprivileged kids in urban areas.

"That’s one of my favorite things to do," said Jennifer. "Performing for an audience like that is wonderful."

Jennifer studied voice and drama at the Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and has also participated in a summer youth performance workshop at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

And most impressively she is planning one-on-one sessions with Liza Minnelli, who has agreed to serve as a mentor to Jennifer.

The relationship started when Jennifer was experiencing problems with her voice and was referred to voice coaches who work with Minnelli.

Jennifer’s voice coaches mentioned her to Minnelli, who expressed an interest in meeting the teen-ager.

"The first meeting with Liza was at her apartment" in Manhattan, said Jennifer. "I sang with her for about an hour. It was amazing."

Jennifer calls Minnelli a wonderful person for "taking the time to help out a young performer."

Jennifer’s voice coach, Linda Carroll, calls her an incredible talent. "Not many people have the instinctive ability to take recommendations and advice and put it to work immediately like Jennifer does," says Carroll. "She has remarkable talent for a 17-year-old."

Jennifer trades the compliments, praising her coaches for helping her improve her skills.

"Since working with my coaches, I have been able to extend my vocal range tremendously," she said.

While she sings pieces that best illustrate her range, she is currently looking for songwriters and would love to sing some original music.

Jennifer has many other talents besides singing, including having a black belt in karate.

"Karate is something I got into when I was younger," she said. "And it’s good because when I am traveling alone, I know I am able to protect myself."

As for the future, she has huge plans.

"In five years, I’d like to be signed to a record label and have my own album out," she said. "Then in about 10 years, I’d like to be known as an international recording artist and win a Grammy."

Jennifer’s parents feel she will have no trouble reaching this goal. "Singing is a passion that Jennifer has in her heart," says her mother Kim. "She lives and breathes music and she is very dedicated and driven."

Given her amazing voice and remarkable maturity, Jennifer may well be on her way to making her dreams a reality.

Middletown North

bomb threat a hoax

MIDDLETOWN — Police responded to a bomb threat at Middletown High School North on March 2.

According to police, the school’s secretary received a phone call from a young male at approximately 8:37 a.m., who said that a bomb was going to go off in the school.

Students and faculty members were immediately evacuated while police and members of the fire department searched the school.

No bombs were found and there are no suspects at this time, police said.

Holmdel Theatre Guild

stages ‘Anything Goes’

The Holmdel Theatre Guild, Holmdel High School, 36 Crawfords Corner Rd., Holmdel, will stage the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes.

The show will take place on March 9 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. in the school auditorium.

Tickets are $7 general admission; $5 for students and seniors and will be available at the door.

For additional information, call the school at (732) 946-1839.

Holmdel pressing to save farm

When township officials showed up at the DePalma farm at 9 a.m. Monday, family members were caught by surprise.

"On Friday, when I hung up the phone with Congressman (Rush) Holt’s assistant, I was under the impression that the meeting would be rescheduled," said a member of the DePalma family who did not wish to be identified.

"We did not want the press conference to be held on Monday on our property."

Instead of meeting at the farm, Congressman Holt (D-12), who has been a frequent visitor to Holmdel lately, addressed Mayor Gary Aumiller and other Holmdel officials on the importance of preserving open space on Wind Hill Road, which splits the De Palma property.

Holt supports a bill that would phase out state taxes for family-owned businesses and farms.

"People care about open space, and I think we should go to extraordinary measures to save it," said Holt. "This bill is intended to support what towns and states are trying to do."

Despite the last-minute location change, Larry Fink, who chairs the township’s Environmental Commission and is a member of the Open Space Advisory Council, felt that the meeting was productive.

"I think it is an honor to have a congressman take interest in a local issue," said Fink. "If we don’t preserve farms we won’t be able to call ourselves the ‘Garden State.’"

Fink added that although Holmdel has missed opportunities to preserve open space in the past, purchasing the DePalma property is something that Holmdel officials support wholeheartedly.

The acquisition would be in keeping with the township’s open space study, which calls for preserving "at least one large tract in northern Holmdel … for continued use as farmland" and for expanding an existing park or providing a new park in northern Holmdel. It also calls for preserving one large tract in southern Holmdel for continued use as farmland.

Should Holmdel’s bid to purchase the land be successful, the town plans to continue leasing the land to the DePalmas.

According to Wall, the township’s bid, which was submitted March 3, was based on an appraisal and made through attorney James Cleary, who has been appointed by the court to liquidate the property to satisfy out-

Holmdel pressing to save DePalma farm

JACKIE POLLACK

State Sen. John Bennett (R-12) and Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) (second and third from left) tour a portion of the DePalma Farm Monday with (continuing from l) Holmdel Deputy Mayor Art Davey and Mayor Gary Aumiller and Larry Fink.

Holt press conference

moved; publicity having negative effect

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press conference scheduled to be held at the DePalma farm in Holmdel Monday morning was moved to Wind Hill Road after the DePalmas requested that the meeting be canceled.

The 96-acre property, which has been in the spotlight lately, is the largest piece of open space in the northern part of Holmdel and all but 11 acres is to be liquidated in order to satisfy outstanding inheritance taxes.

Holmdel Township Committeeman Joe Speranza spearheaded a project to purchase the land, according to Committeeman Terence Wall, and the Township Committee unanimously decided to submit a bid last Friday to the court.

But, according to Wall, all this publicity has cast a negative light on the DePalmas’ business.

"The publicity is making people think that the farm is going out of business," said Wall. "It should be clear that the farm is fully operational, and is offering the same services they always have."

When township officials showed up at the DePalma Farm at 9 a.m. Monday, family members were caught by surprise.

"On Friday, when I hung up the phone with Congressman Holt’s assistant, I was under the impression that the meeting would be rescheduled," said a member of the DePalma family who did not wish to be identified.

"We did not want the press conference to be held on Monday on our property."

Instead of meeting at the farm, Congressman Rush Holt (D-12), who has been a frequent visitor to Holmdel lately, addressed Mayor Gary Aumiller and other Holmdel officials on the importance of preserving open space on Wind Hill Road, which splits the De Palmas’ property.

Holt supports a bill that would phase out state taxes for family-owned businesses and farms.

"People care about open space, and I think we should go to extraordinary measures to save it," said Holt. "This bill is intended to support what towns and states are trying to do."

Despite the last minute location change, Larry Fink, who chairs the township’s Environmental Commission and is a member of the Open Space Advisory Council, felt that the meeting was productive.

"I think it is an honor to have a congressman take interest in a local issue," said Fink. "If we don’t preserve farms we won’t be able to call ourselves the ‘Garden State.’"

Fink added that although Holmdel has missed opportunities to preserve open space in the past, purchasing the DePalma property is something that Holmdel officials support wholeheartedly.

The acquisition would be in keeping with the township’s open space study, which calls for preserving "at least one large tract in northern Holmdel … for continued use as farmland" and for expanding an existing park or providing a new park in northern Holmdel. It also calls for preserving one large tract in southern Holmdel for continued use as farmland.

Should Holmdel’s bid to purchase the land be successful, the town plans to continue leasing the land to the DePalmas.

According to Wall, the township’s bid, which was submitted March 3, was based on an appraisal and made through attorney James Cleary, who has been appointed by the court to liquidate the property to satisfy outstanding inheritance taxes and distribute the balance to the beneficiaries of Filomena DePalma.

Wall declined to say what the township’s bid was, but said he had heard that bids ranged from $4-6 million.

Cleary circulated a notice to potential developers inviting them to bid for a residential single family development, according to attorney Robert F. Dato, who represents the interests of Patrick, Andrew, Marie and Philip DePalma, and notified Wall, as chairman of the Holmdel Open Space Advisory Council, of the planned liquidation.

According to Dato’s Feb. 10 letter to Wall, his clients object to the sale of the property for residential development and prefer to see it preserved as open space and farmland.

"We encourage the involvement of your council and the township of Holmdel in attempting to preserve this property, and we seek your support in our efforts to discourage nonfarmland development," Dato wrote.

The property, which consists of five lots and is divided by Wind Hill Way, includes three family burying grounds, one of which would require an easement for access if the land were developed.

A total of 83 percent (77 acres) of the land is farmed and 16 percent (15 acres) is wooded, according to the township’s 1999 Preserving Open Space in Holmdel Inventory and Evaluation.

The tract is considered a potential school site in the township’s 1989 master plan.