Spicuzzo released from prison

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

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 jamato@gmnews.com.

Package theft a concern

By JENNIFER ORTIZ and KENNY WALTER
Staff Writers

 STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The theft of packages delivered to doorsteps is becoming a bigger problem as more and more people shop online for their Christmas gifts.

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.”

According to Hoppock, some shoppers utilize their neighbors in an effort to thwart any potential theft.

“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.”

Delivery tips

 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

Appellate court agrees Monroe firemen were wrongfully terminated

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

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 native performs in televised Christmas concert

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.”

North Brunswick fire marshal draws 6 months for fraud

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

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 jamato@gmnews.com.

Stroke of Creativity uses art to help people cope with life’s challenges

 Brandywine Senior Living resident Alice Leach and A Stroke of Creativity owner Patty Lang work together on a ceramics project at the Monroe studio.  PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEPHANIE GABER Brandywine Senior Living resident Alice Leach and A Stroke of Creativity owner Patty Lang work together on a ceramics project at the Monroe studio. PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEPHANIE GABER Ten residents of Brandywine Senior Living in Princeton enjoyed an afternoon of ceramic painting in Monroe to express their creativity.

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.

 Brandywine resident Kirt Wedemeyer, left to right, A Stroke of Creativity owner Bob Lang, resident Nancy Pike and resident Harriet Strauss work together on a project. Brandywine resident Kirt Wedemeyer, left to right, A Stroke of Creativity owner Bob Lang, resident Nancy Pike and resident Harriet Strauss work together on a project. “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.

Sharing stories

 PHOTOS COURTESY OF ARLENE BAUM PHOTOS COURTESY OF ARLENE BAUM American Legion Post 253’s Ladies Auxiliary held its annual Christmas party for the residents of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park on Dec. 12. Eighteen veterans attended the afternoon of food, fun, music, gifts and dancing at the Spotswood post. Cub Scout Troop 35 was also in attendance to share stories with the veterans.



Festival of Lights

 PHOTO BY FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI PHOTO BY FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI Rabbi Yehuda Spitzer of Chabad House of Monroe and North Brunswick Councilman Bob Davis at the Menorah lighting ceremony as part of the annual Winterfest festivities held at the North Brunswick Municipal Building on Dec. 8.

After FEMA denial, Milltown seeks to fund substation with interim loan

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

MILLTOWN — With the most recent rejection of $11.7 million in potential funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the question of funding for a new electric substation in Milltown is again a topic of discussion.

Currently, the borough has an interim $14 million New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT) construction loan with a 19 percent principal loan forgiveness, or approximately $2.6 million, for the new substation.

Denise Biancamano, chief financial officer, said at a Borough Council meeting on Dec. 14 that borough officials had to make a decision to convert the interim loan into permanent financing for the substation or face the possibility of losing the 19 percent principal loan forgiveness if officials decided to close the trust.

“There is a possibility that we may receive [the $2.6 million], but I can’t guarantee [it],” she said.

The dilemma that borough officials had to decide was to continue with the loan and/or appeal the FEMA rejection.

Biancamano said there was a question on whether FEMA would provide funding if borough officials decided to convert the interim loan into permanent financing.

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 led borough officials on a journey to move the electrical substation to higher ground. Irene brought torrential rains that overflowed area waterways, flooding nearby streets as well as the borough’s electric substation, resulting in a nearly weeklong power outage. Borough officials shut down the substation in preparation for the floodwaters, which reportedly rose halfway up the transformers.

Officials and contracted electricians then spent five days drying and repairing the substation before restoring power.

Milltown is one of eight municipalities in the state that operates an electric utility for the benefit of its residents and businesses.

In September 2014, borough officials awarded a contract for the construction of a new electric substation.

Borough officials entered an agreement with Welsbach Electric Corp. for the Borough Electric Utility Flood Mitigation project, which includes the construction of a new electric substation for a sum not to exceed $12,368,122.

Michael Marcinczyk, department supervisor of code enforcement and zoning, said despite the FEMA rejection, there is a good chance they can win an appeal, which he said is decided at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This is the second denial of FEMA funds for the new substation.

Marcinczyk said from talking to state police officers and people from FEMA, there was an issue with the decisions that came out of the FEMA Region 2 level.

“We still stand a very good shot for the $11.7 million,” said Marcinczyk, who explained that the rejection boils down to the electric substation was not destroyed, but instead heavily damaged.

Marcinczyk said the language in FEMA’s Stafford Act includes the language “destroyed” and “damaged.”

“We have met every criteria requested from [FEMA] on why the substation should move,” he said. “I, along with the state police and OEM (Office of Emergency Management], feel confident that we will ultimately prevail once it hits Washington.”

Councilman Ron Dixon said it is important to protect the residents of Milltown and move forward with the loan as well as appeal for the FEMA funds.

The council unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with converting the interim loan into permanent financing for the new substation.

Marcinczyk said they would file an appeal and expedite the process by not waiting the 60-day window to file the appeal.

In 2013, the borough purchased the Schwendeman log cabin property adjacent to Albert Avenue and Mill Pond Park for the purpose of a land swap with Middlesex County for property adjacent to Borough Hall on Washington Avenue. The next year, the borough acquired the 1.3 acres from the county for the new substation.

The use of the property on Washington Avenue will allow the new substation to be built on higher ground, outside of the flood plain, according to the New Jersey State House Commission, which had jurisdiction over the land swap.

In exchange, Milltown will convey the former Schwendeman property — 2.6 acres on Kuhlthau Avenue — to the county.