Ruth and Bill Iko of East Brunswick have continued an old family tradition that began when Ruth’s parents would set up a village under the Christmas tree. The village is almost the size of their living room.
SPOTSWOOD — The former tax preparer for television personality Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino and his brother Marc Sorrentino pleaded guilty on Dec. 16 to filing fraudulent tax returns on their behalf.
Gregg Mark, 51, of Spotswood, admitted to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to a statement prepared by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman and Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
Mark, formerly an accountant at a Staten Island, New York-based accounting firm, admitted preparing the fraudulent tax returns for the Sorrentinos for tax years 2010 and 2011 during which time the Sorrentinos and their businesses, MPS Enterprises LLC and Situation Nation Inc., received millions of dollars in income.
To reduce the taxes the Sorrentinos owed, Mark filed fraudulent business and personal tax returns, defrauding the IRS out of $550,000 to $1.5 million, according to the press release.
Mark’s guilty plea carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for March 24.
On Sept. 24, a grand jury in Newark returned a seven-count indictment charging the Sorrentinos with conspiracy to defraud the United States and filing false tax returns. Michael Sorrentino was also charged with failing to file a tax return.
According to the indictment, the brothers received several million dollars in connection with Michael Sorrentino’s role on the MTV show “Jersey Shore” and other promotional activities.
The brothers are charged with failing to report all of the income they received, according to the press release. They are also charged with claiming personal expenses as business expenses, including payments for luxury vehicles, high-end clothing and making distributions or direct payments from the businesses to personal bank accounts.
Both have pleaded not guilty, but no trial date has been set.
Area grocery stores are slowly changing the way they cater to their customers by providing more services and programs to help make a regular trip to the supermarket a day filled with fun, learning and adventure.
From nutritional assistance, children’s classes and even free home delivery services, supermarkets have become hotspots of activities and resources, showing it is not just about the shopping, but about community togetherness. “I feel like we are definitely providing something more than just shopping,” said Laura Fette, marketing team leader at Whole Foods Market in Marlboro.
“I feel like the store has been a destination for events, whether kid- or adult-focused, and we are even finding people within the community, partnering with them and helping them to build their own businesses, and I think that has been what has worked really well here — finding what our community needs and really catering to it.”
According to Fette, Whole Foods in Marlboro offers some unique partnerships and classes for its clientele, such as with Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge for cooking classes and Macaroni Kids of Western Monmouth County, where children get to make their own pizza and macaroni necklaces.
“Finding these local experts who are really trying to build their businesses as well, and collaborating together to bring programming inside the store, people see we are beyond a shopping destination,” Fette said. “We’re offering the full scope of things.”
Fette also said the store offers a You & Me Toddler Program several times a month.
“Each Whole Foods Market is different, and I really feel like that we cater to our community … we’re becoming a part of people’s routine beyond just shopping,” she said.
Aside from classes, Michael Sinatra, public relations and public affairs director at Whole Foods Market’s Northeast Region, said the supermarket chain also offers additional services such as catering and takes pride in giving back to local communities.
“A lot of people enjoy taking advantage of our programming, such as our special ordering and catering services and our special menus,” he said.
At Whole Foods Market, customers can make shopping quick and easy by reserving and ordering meals, entrees, and party must-haves online and then picking them up at the store.
“We definitely see a higher volume of orders this time of year, but customers are aware and use this service at various times of the year,” Sinatra said.
The supermarket chain also participates in community giving days or what they refer to as “5% Days.”
“Each store is always donating food to area food banks and shelters,” Sinatra said. “Then several times a year, we hold community giving days where five percent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local area charity or educational organization.”
The Whole Foods Market in Marlboro will also join the Manalapan and Marlboro municipalities for holiday tree lighting events, providing baked goods, hot chocolate and company.
“I feel like we do a lot in the community,” Fette said. “People are coming here for things, but we’re also coming to them as well … and I think that makes a big difference too.”
Valerie Fox, media relations coordinator at Wegmans Food Markets, said providing services such as catering and a free public app is about making customers’ lives and shopping experience as simple as possible.
“Wegmans’ aim is always to help mealtimes for families be as great and easy as possible,” she said.
“Our services help save customers time … but I think the number one thing that separates us are our people and customer service representatives who provide an added convenience.”
One service Fox said Wegmans provides is a free downloadable app that makes going to the supermarket less of a hassle.
“The Wegmans app is a very useful tool,” she said. “Customers can create their shopping list right there, and it’ll sort everything by aisle, and as you add items to your list, it will automatically estimate the total so you can manage your budget.”
On the app, customers can also browse through hundreds of recipes and add ingredients to their shopping list with just one touch and can even watch easy how-to videos to make meals easier.
“We also offer three ways for customers to enjoy our catering services, and that is either by going online, ordering by phone or by coming into your local Wegmans store,” Fox said.
From simple cheese and deli platters to cocktail party menus, complete holiday dinners and even delicious dessert trays, catering experts and chefs help with cooking and planning so families can have a memorable gathering.
“Many families have told us that they just don’t have time to do all the prep work themselves, so while this is not a full catering service with people coming to your home to serve, it provides our customers a service where they can order all their party-planning needs in one place.”
At ShopRite, a growing service is the supermarket’s ShopRite From Home program, which allows customers to save time and energy by ordering their groceries from the convenience of their own residence.
“The majority of ShopRite stores offer the ShopRite From Home service, which allows customers to shop online and pick up groceries at the store or have those groceries delivered right to their doorstep,” said Karen O’Shea, spokeswoman for Wakefern Food Corp.
Whether you are a busy parent, are injured or can’t make it to the store for some other reason, the ShopRite From Home service is an effortless way to get all the groceries you need with the click of a button.
“The ShopRite Mobile App and ShopRite From Home service allow customers to place orders electronically, and those grocery orders are then shopped in store by personal, trained shoppers,” O’Shea said. “Customers can tell our shoppers how they like their produce picked or cold cuts sliced. Our shoppers will also call customers at home if we are out of a certain item.
“Service is key, and it’s the reason our ShopRite From Home service continues to grow each year.”
Heather Casey of Edison said that, with being a mom of four sons and she and her husband both working full time, ShopRite from Home allows her to order her groceries on her time and schedule the deliveries for when it is most convenient.
“With four kids and both my husband and I working full time, every second counts,” Casey said. “We started using ShopRite from Home when my youngest son was born and food shopping became an added challenge.
“It is so helpful because we can shop from our phones or computer early in the morning or late in the evening when the kids are asleep and schedule pickups [or] deliveries around our work/family schedules. I rarely see the inside of the store any more because this service is so helpful!”
The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes getting prescriptions easier for customers.
“The ShopRite Pharmacy App makes managing prescriptions simple by allowing customers to refill prescriptions and transfer prescriptions right to their local ShopRite,” O’Shea said.
Diana Fransis, retail dietitian program supervisor at Wakefern Food Corp., works closely with more than 120 registered dietitians across 130 stores, training them to work with customers and educating them on making healthier choices while food shopping, as well as carrying out these choices by preparing healthy, well-balanced meals.
“Our registered dietitians will sit down with customers in a free one-on-one consultation, talk about their needs and goals, find out what they are looking for, dive into a diet plan and will even walk around the store with customers showing them where the food that is best for them is,” Fransis said.
ShopRite’s Culinary Workshops is a hands-on cooking class program taught by professionals who share their skills and knowledge, helping customers acquire limitless meal possibilities that include delicious, healthy ingredients.
“They’re cooking full meals with appetizers, entrees, desserts, and we even have a kids cooking class that teaches them how to make a very easy meal.”
According to Fransis, part of the supermarket’s Health and Wellness program includes the Dietitian’s Selection recipe program, a collection of recipes featuring healthy ingredients and essential nutrients while limiting the amount of fats, cholesterol and sodium.
“People are becoming much more aware about healthy eating and getting proper nutrition, and there is so much that our registered dietitians and chefs offer and can help with,” Fransis said. “All our services are free.”
Arlene Putterman, manager of public and community relations at Stop & Shop’s New York Metro Division, said getting prepared for the holidays or other festive occasions is easy as customers can order party platters, desserts, cakes and other arrangements online for in-store pickup and can order flowers.
“Stop & Shop provides fully prepared holiday dinners,” she said. “All the fixings without the prep work.”
Putterman said the supermarket’s Peapod service also makes delivering groceries to your home or business easy.
“Peapod online home delivery service strives to deliver convenience and value,” she said. “Customers can order online or on Peapod’s free mobile app for grocery home delivery or car-side service at one of our many pickup locations.”
Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo has been released from jail.
Spicuzzo was sentenced in 2013 to nine years in prison for running a jobs-for-cash scheme that yielded him approximately $112,000 in bribes from those seeking positions or promotions in the sheriff’s department, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said at the time.
He was released from the Central Reception and Assignment Facility (CRAF) in Trenton on Dec. 17, according to a receptionist at the CRAF. Spicuzzo had to serve at least two years before becoming eligible for parole. He faced numerous charges in the scheme, but entered into a deal in which he pleaded guilty to only one of them.
The 70-year-old Helmetta resident was sentenced in state Superior Court in Monmouth County on Sept. 20, 2013, after pleading guilty to a charge of accepting $25,000 in exchange for a job in his office.
He was the Middlesex County sheriff for three decades, from 1980 until his 2010 retirement, and was chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization for 16 years.
Former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Investigator Darrin P. DiBiasi, 47, of Monmouth Junction, and former Middlesex County Sheriff’s Officer Paul A. Lucarelli, 50, of South River, also submitted guilty pleas. The two men admitted to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to make illegal gifts to a public servant.
DiBiasi was sentenced on Sept. 20, 2013, to 364 days in jail, five years probation, 200 hours community service and a $5,000 fine.
Lucarelli was sentenced to three years probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service on Oct. 4, 2013.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.
Woodbridge Police Capt. Roy Hoppock said package theft has become a growing issue, and there are very few ways to address it.
“It’s a problem. It’s a crime of opportunity is what it comes down to,” he said. “So many more people are [shopping online] and more and more packages are being left on people’s front steps, and people drive by and they see them and they grab them.”
Hoppock said Woodbridge police recently made an arrest involving package theft and charged a woman with three counts of theft by unlawful taking after three packages were taken from an apartment complex on Dec. 7 in the Fords section of Woodbridge.
“We did a follow-up and on Dec. 13 we made an arrest of a female that was staying at [a nearby hotel],” he said. “Most of the time it is difficult to make an arrest unless there is video.”
“If they have the luxury of having some neighbors that don’t work or if the person knows there is going to be a delivery in a day or two, let your neighbor know,” Hoppock said. “That seems to be the best, but not everybody has that luxury.”
Howell Police Detective Sgt. Christian Antunez said thefts of this nature occur sporadically throughout the year, but increase in frequency significantly during the holiday season. He said that as of Dec. 14, police had received at least five reports of thefts of packages since Nov. 1.
“The number is likely higher because some people do not report the thefts to police. We strongly encourage residents to report any thefts to the police department,” Antunez said.
In a public awareness announcement, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said most thefts of packages occur during the afternoon and/or early evening hours.
Victims are asked to report thefts online at www.howellpolice.org or call the police. In the event the person who stole the item is caught, the merchandise could be returned, Kudrick said.
“Once the item is confirmed to have been delivered and most likely stolen, call the police immediately and file a report with as much information about the theft as possible, including the number of boxes, the items stolen, the value of items stolen, carrier, the time and date of delivery,” Antunez said.
He said the Ramtown area of Howell south of Lakewood-Allenwood Road appeared to be a target for this type of illegal activity.
“We are adding extra patrols in the area to stop and identify suspicious vehicles and persons and to increase visibility. This also includes plainclothes personnel,” Antunez said, adding that the reported thefts remain under investigation.
He said police are working diligently to investigate the crimes that have occurred and to prevent future crimes.
“We encourage residents to be vigilant and to contact the police immediately if they see suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhood. Suspicious vehicles can include vehicles driving aimlessly, very slowly, up and down the street, apparently lost, such as driving down cul-de-sacs or dead end streets, and other similar actions.
“Suspicious people can exhibit similar behavior and also include clothing meant to conceal their identity, approaching houses and then asking about lost dogs or other fictitious stories when confronted by homeowners and other similar behavior,” Antunez said. “Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at once, so we ask that residents bring their delivered packages inside as soon as possible to limit their exposure to thieves. We also ask that neighbors be aware of their surroundings as much as possible to protect the community and to look out for one another.” Kudrick suggested residents might want to view a www.travelers.com “How to Protect Yourself from Package Theft and ID Fraud” article. Tips include having packages delivered at work or choosing a specific delivery time if the retailer provides such an option. Delivery alerts and a trusted neighbor to take one’s package inside for safekeeping are also advised.
“There are undesirables always looking to take advantage of you,” Kudrick said, adding that residents should be aware of their surroundings.
Manalapan Lt. Edward Niesz said the Manalapan Police Department has tips for consumers shopping online.
“We try to get people to either use one of the shipping locations to pick up there, to have the tracking devices so they know exactly when their package is going to be arriving or set up a delivery with a friend, or what a lot of people do now is have packages delivered to their place of employment,” Niesz said.
Niesz said while the problem seems to be growing nationwide, it hasn’t been that big of an issue in Manalapan.
“There is a heightened awareness about it and in our township it hasn’t been as much of a problem,” he said. “In Manalapan we haven’t seen a great increase in it as of late, it’s been sporadic here and there.”
Niesz said while it is difficult to solve crimes involving stolen packages, a lot of homeowners are now using surveillance cameras and uploading the footage to social media to help identify the perpetrators.
Michael, the supervisor of customer service for the U.S. Postal Service in Red Bank, who wouldn’t disclose his last name, said the growing theft problem began about six years ago as online shopping increased.
He said mail carriers are taught different ways to conceal packages so they are not just left in plain site.
“If they have a screen door and the package fits, a lot of times the carriers will put it in between the doors,” Michael said. “Sometimes if they have a side door, they will do something like that, but other than that there is nothing to prevent it.”
Residents are being put on notice that packages delivered to and left outside homes are a target for thieves, particularly around the holidays.
“It is getting worse and worse,” Michael said. “After Thanksgiving is when it becomes larger.
“That’s when it becomes big but it is an all year round problem.”
In a statement from United Parcel Service (UPS), which delivers an estimated 630 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve, the company has not seen an increase in package theft in recent years.
“UPS delivers about 18 million packages every day, and our data indicate that the rate of incidents involving UPS has been relatively flat over the last few years,” the statement reads. “We have procedures in place to ensure all of our packages are properly delivered.
“We alert our drivers and seasonal driver helpers to specific incidents where law enforcement has contacted us. If a customer contacts UPS to report a stolen package, UPS would work with the original shipper through our claims process to make the consumer whole.”
If you are not going to be home, have your packages delivered to work, a neighbor’s or relative’s house
Have your package delivered to a local store for pick-up
Track your package so you can be notified when a package arrives
Pick up the package from the delivery company’s closest facility
Ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation for delivery
Give the delivery company instructions where packages can be left out of sight from the road
MONROE — A Superior Court Appellate Division upheld decisions that two paid firefighters in Monroe Township Fire District No. 1 were wrongfully terminated five years ago.
“[Michael Mangeri and David Shapter] are very happy about the court’s decision,” said Dan Zirrith, attorney for the Monroe Township Professional Firefighters Association, International Association of Firefighters, and Local 3170.
Zirrith said the two men would “very much like to be reinstated to District 1.”
“They have served as both paid and volunteer firefighters in the past for District 1,” he said.
In 2014, the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) upheld the findings of a hearing examiner, who determined that “anti-union animus” was a substantial or motivating factor for the termination.
“We affirm PERC’s determination and conclude PERC did not overstep its remedial authority by requiring the board to offer to reinstate the terminated employees with substantially the same work hours, responsibilities and benefits,” the three-panel judge stated in a 31-page opinion delivered on Dec. 8.
Zirrith said it is hard to come up with an exact dollar amount owed to the two firefighters; however, he said it is approximately “several hundred thousand.”
The Monroe Township Professional Firefighters Association, International Association of Firefighters, and Local 3170 argued that the District 1 Board of Fire Commissioners retaliated by firing Mangeri and Shapter after the union lodged unfair labor practice charges against the board.
The board had maintained the discontinuation of full-time firefighters in favor of using volunteers was designed to save taxpayer money for the township.
On appeal, the board again asserted its managerial action fell within its rights to assure fiscal responsibility and contended PERC had no authority to review the matter and, even if it did, it overstepped its remedial authority.
There are three fire districts in the township.
In 1999, the District 1 board hired three full-time firefighters: Mangeri, Shapter and Joseph Calella. In 2007, the board added a per diem firefighter to comply with a regulation requiring that four firefighters battle certain fires.
Calella later resigned due to a disability, and the board replaced him with a per diem firefighter rather than a full-time, permanent career firefighter.
In 2008, James Grande, the president of Local 3170 at the time, attended a board meeting and requested that the board fill the full-time firefighter position vacated by Calella.
The request created a back-and-forth between Local 3170’s counsel and the Board of Fire Commissioners. In 2010, the board unanimously passed a resolution dissolving the full-time paid firefighting staff in District No. 1.
Local 3170 alleged that the board violated the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act “by unilaterally assigning bargaining unit work to non-bargaining employees and retaliating against Local 3170 through threats and intimidation.”
Jonathan Cohen, of Apruzzese McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, P.C., represents the Board of Fire Commissioners.
He said the board filed a motion on Dec. 17 for reconsideration by the Appellate Division. He said the court had relied on an erroneous fact, which states “the board did not replace its career firefighters with volunteers for 2010. Rather, it contracted with District No. 3 to provide its weekday, day fire services for an equivalent amount earmarked in the 2010 budget to compensate the full-time paid staff.”
“That is demonstrably false,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said the court did not consider all the arguments that were made. He said the court relied on the money and surplus in District
No. 1’s 2010 budget that showed that it could compensate the career firefighters and per diem firefighters.
However, he said excluding the one person that is argued in court papers to be antiunion, there was no consideration given to reports from the fire chief showing that the volunteer firefighters could do the job just as well as the paid firefighters.
Cohen said there is no argument that there were available funds for paid firefighters; however, the Board of Fire Commissioners is tasked with making reasonable cost-saving analyses for Fire District No. 1, which he said was done in 2010.
He also noted that if taxpayers were unhappy with the fire board’s decision, the members could have been voted out of office.
Zirrith said he is aware of the Board of Fire Commissioners’ appeal for reconsideration; however, he said he believes it would not change the final decision in the matter.
OLD BRIDGE — Dana Rogers, a native of Old Bridge who is a songwriting major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, recently performed in the “Christmas at Belmont” concert at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a performance which was taped live and will air nationally this holiday season on PBS.
Two-time Grammy winner Kathy Mattea served as the host to the event that saw more than 700 student musicians join the Belmont School of Music faculty and the Nashville Children’s Choir for the annual production of traditional carols, classical masterworks, world music and light-hearted seasonal favorites.
The concert premiered on PBS on Dec. 21 with an encore broadcast scheduled for 9 p.m. Dec. 24.
This year’s edition includes both classic holiday music such as “Carol of the Bells” and “Little Drummer Boy” and festive seasonal songs such as “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Deck the Halls.”
Former North Brunswick Fire Marshal Craig Snediker was sentenced to six months in prison, six months home confinement and three years supervised release after pleading guilty to embezzlement earlier this year.
Snediker, 40, of Monroe Township, will also pay a fine of $3,000 and has already paid restitution in the amount of $87,812.41, according to information provided by Matthew Reilly of the U.S. Department of Justice regarding Snediker’s sentencing on Dec. 16.
The former treasurer of North Brunswick Volunteer Fire Co. 3, Snediker confessed to one count of wire fraud in federal court on Sept. 2, charging that he embezzled at least $89,000 from the fire company since last year, according to a statement prepared by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. According to Fishman, Snediker had the authority to deposit and withdraw money from the fire company’s bank account, which held public funds and private donations, since he was the treasurer.
Snediker admitted that from March 25, 2014, through May 19, 2015, he used ATMs at banks in Middlesex County to access the funds for his personal expenses. Overall, Snediker admitted that he withdrew between $89,000 and $92,986 without the fire company’s authorization.
Snediker later concealed his actions by misrepresenting the account balance to the Township of North Brunswick, Fishman said.
Although Snediker also served as treasurer of the entire North Brunswick Fire Department, the charges themselves and the damages they caused pertain only to the bank account for Fire Company 3, not the whole fire department’s fund, according to William Skaggs, deputy public affairs officer for the United States Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey.
Snediker had been the township’s fire marshal since August 2000, his only official position with the town, according to North Brunswick Business Administrator Robert Lombard.
Donald Salzmann has been the acting fire marshal, pending the still-in-process search for a permanent replacement, Lombard said.
Snediker’s attorney, Robert C. Scrivo, a partner in McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter of Morristown, could not be reached by press time.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest speaker Sara Langberg will discuss her experiences growing up in Germany after World War II in a program set for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 at a private home in East Brunswick.
The event is sponsored by the East Brunswick Chapter of Hadassah.
For location and more information, call Beth at 908-337-1940.
The seniors were able to pick a sculpture from a large selection to paint at A Stroke of Creativity on Englishtown Road on Nov. 18.
“This was our first experience of many to come at A Stroke Of Creativity,” said Stephanie Gaber, activity director at Brandywine Senior Living. “The owners of this creative shop were patient, caring and very hands-on.”
Patty Lang was a special education teacher in Watchung. One day in 2008 she suffered a stroke while driving home. On that very same day, her husband Bob Lang lost his job at Avis.
As Bob Lang was without work, he was able to take care of their three children while his wife recovered.
“During my recovery my occupational therapist got me involved in painting. I had never painted before,” said Patty Lang, who explained it helped speed her recovery. “Then I realized, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at painting.’”
Bob Lang was unable to find work in his own profession and had his mind set on opening his own business. The Langs decided on a paint-your-own ceramic studio, assisted by friends in Virginia who ran a similar studio. “I thought of this name Stroke of Creativity because I had a stroke and then I became creative,” Patty Lang said of the business that opened in December 2008. “It’s not just a place to be creative, but a place for people who have hit life’s speed bumps to come together and share experiences, struggles, success and resources, all while enjoying the opportunity to explore their creative side.”
Brandywine Senior Living is an assisted living residence located at 155 Raymond Road, Princeton. For more information, visit www.brandycare.com or call 732-329- 8888.
A Stroke of Creativity is located at 557 Englishtown Road, Monroe. For more information, call 732-446-4268 or visit www.astrokeofcreativity.com.