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Covering Hamilton and Robbinsville townships in-depth for The Trentonian. I can be reached at (609) 989-7800 ext. 207 or (609) 468-6962. Email me at or follow me @awisefool.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Crime rates rise in New Jersey

Crime, overall, came in as a mixed bag for New Jersey in 2011. Violent crime went down by less than half a percent, while crime overall went up by about three percent.
Trenton saw an increase of less than one percent in overall crime. Hamilton had 2,015 crimes reported to authorities over the year, down from 2,076 in 2010. Crime went up by about two percent countywide.
Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede said the department there has taken steps to deal with the year-over-year rise in crime in neighboring Trenton, which has cut more than 100 police officers in the past two years.
“Our police department has prepared to address any anticipated crime coming into Hamilton from our border areas,” she said. “we will continue to be proactive in addressing crime and crime statistics. What we’ve realized is in our prep for criminal that are coming into Hamilton is they are more likely to stay in Trenton. People are more likely to realize it is easier to commit a crime in Trenton than it is in Hamilton.”
You can read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Great interactive New Jersey crime map

NJ Spotlight has put together a great interactive on the latest annual crime data for the state. Overall, it went up about two percent, but violent crime dropped.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hamilton PBA declines Benci check

You can find the rest of the story here.

Steve Gould, president of the Hamilton Police Benevolent Association, said the group declined the $10,000 donation offered by Bencivengo this week.

He said that while it would be legal for them to accept the donation, and the organization could have done good with it, they preferred not to get involved.

"For us, we would just rather stay out of the whole situation," he said.

Benci Claus: Former mayor donates campaign cash to charities

Former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has started clearing his campaign house.

The convicted felon has donated more than $50,000 from his campaign accounts to charities in and around the township.

A letter he sent along with the donation checks said “I have decided to donate funds to organizations and institutions that as mayor I learned were significant to a better quality of life for all people, every race every color and every creed.”

Last month a jury convicted Bencivengo last month of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba in exchange for his influence with several members of the school board on her behalf as the district’s health insurance broker.

Vinnie Cappodano, former Democratic councilman, said the mayor had decided to try and do the best he could with the situation he found himself in.

“He wanted me to let the people of Hamilton Township know how much he loved being their mayor and how much he loved the town and loved the people and how much he wished them well in the new year,” he said. “I hope people remember all the good he’s done for the town.”

Cappodano said Bencivengo donated to the charities as follows:

Hamilton Police Benevolent Association, $10,000
Trenton Catholic Academy, $5,000
Our Lady of Angels Parish, $5,000
Hamilton YMCA, $5,000
Sunshine Foundation, $5,000
Hamilton Patriotic Committee, $5,000
Wounded Warrior Project, $5,000
Mobile Meals of Hamilton $5,000
The Arc of Mercer, $2,000
Mercer Street Friends, $2,000
Veterans of Foreign Wars post 3525, $2,000
Hamilton Education Foundation, $2,000
Knights of Columbus, $1,800

A Hamilton YMCA staffer said the organization did not receive any donations yet from the campaign, the Friends of John Bencivengo. An October Election Law Enforcement Commission filing showed Bencivengo had about $60,000 in his campaign account.

Hamilton board of education questions audit of its finances

Hamilton’s Board of Education took a look at how it looks at its finances, especially in the wake of the scandal involving Mayor John Bencivengo.
Board members spent about half an hour of their meeting Wednesday night questioning the district’s auditor, its auditing practices and why the body didn’t get modifications to the audit the members requested.
Bob Morrison, the district’s outside auditor, said in his presentation that last year’s audit had come in clean, without any further recommendations for changes. The board had already addressed two points in the report with a new purchasing manual approved by the board earlier in the fall.
“This is as clean an opinion as we can issue,” he said.
Morrison’s report is the first such systemic look at the district’s finances to come out since the trial of former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo on federal corruption charges. Last month a jury convicted Bencivengo last month of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba in exchange for his influence with several members of the school board on her behalf as the district’s health insurance broker.
Board Member Ron Tola, the head of the audit committee, questioned the results of the report and why it did not include recommendations for best practices.
“The public has totally lost faith in the ability of the board to control finances,” he said. “We wanted to look at best practices and want to look at what we should be doing."

Morrison said the audit tested the legal minimum based on his contract, about eight percent of the district’s 8,000 annual transactions. He said he had sent in a revised proposal to the Business Administrator and Board Secretary Joe Tramontana, who was placed on administrative leave following testimony about him at the Bencivengo trial, that would have expanded his work, but it did not go before the board.
“Is there a better way to contract out health insurance? It is not part of a financial audit,” Morrison said. “In hindsight, was there a better way to procure health insurance? Probably.”
Tola and Board Member Will Harvey said they were worried about the administration’s interaction with the auditor.
“You’re assuming that sample has not been tainted, and that’s my concern, that’s our concern…that the sample had been tainted in some way,” he said.
The last meeting for this year’s Hamilton Township Board of Education included a summary of the district’s finances, security issues in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and recognition for the state Group III football champions, Nottingham High School.
The district might also get a visit from Gov. Chris Christie, said Board President Patty Del Giudice. She said she attended a breakfast with several dozen other board members from around the state where the governor talked school financing issues and Christie mentioned he might visit the board next month.
The district will likely receive flat funding form last year she said, unless the cost of Hurricane Sandy recovery proves too expensive.
“We need our funding and I think he understands that,” she said.
Most of the audience, waving their own version of the Terrible Towel, came for the recognition of the Nottingham team. The board played a short highlight video from the season and gave out certificates recognizing the team’s achievement, the first such championship for the township.
“If anyone made a mistake on the field, they were never chastised by their teammates. They just gave them a knuckle on the back and told them not to worry about it. That’s what makes champions,” Parla said. “The coaches did a wonderful job. The players did a wonderful job.”
Parla said the district also took time in the past week to review its security procedures in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Board Member Jeff Hewitson suggested the district install enough cameras in schools to cover all their entrances and panic buttons for principals. He and Parla said they wanted to make sure the sign-in procedures for visitors across schools
Board Member Joe Malagrino said the district needs to address malfunctioning public address systems at various schools in the district.
“You can be calling an emergency in these schools and people won’t hear it,” he said.
Parla also said the district finished its bond refinancing, which will save the district more than $4 million over the next decade, and an average of $300,000 a year.
“The refinancing went way better than we thought it would go,” he said.
Next meeting, they will swear in three new board members ­— Jennifer Barnock-Riddell, Al Gayzik and Dina Thornton — to replace Tola, Troy Stevenson and Eric Hamilton.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hamilton council names Ileana Schirmer to vacancy

Hamilton town council has filled the vacancy left by Mayor Kelly Yaede. Tuesday night they voted in their newest colleague, local businesswoman Ileana Schirmer.

Schirmer, who ran a local private preschool for more than seven years and had experience in the pharmaceutical industry, said she was honored by the council’s unanimous vote and would work on behalf of the citizens of the township.

“I have some very big shoes to fill,“ she said, referring to Yaede, the former vice president of the council. “My first thing is to learn.”

Yaede replaced Council President Kevin Meara as mayor after a contentious council meeting two weeks ago. Meara stepped in as mayor from his position as council president following former Mayor John Bencivengo’s resignation last month. Yaede serves as mayor until a special election next fall, which will decide who will hold the office until 2015.

The council voted between Michael Dill, a former assistant business administrator and CFO, Schirmer, , and David Walsh, an employee of Campbell Supply Company, who were selected by the municipal GOP committee.

Schirmer pointed to her experience in the pharmaceutical industry and running a private preschool as qualifying her for the post.

“You are the person making the decisions; the tough decisions, the easy decisions, everything,” she said. “I see this position as an opportunity to help the residents, to do something good for the township that has been so good to me and my family.”

A jury convicted Bencivengo of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, in exchange for his influence with the Hamilton Board of Education, so that she could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage for her employer, Allen Associates.
The council passed a $17,700 contract with the Arcadis engineering firm after rejecting an $8,900 bid from the controversial engineering firm Birdsall Services Group at the last meeting. Arcadis originally bid about $18,000 for the work, to inspect damage at the township’s RBC building.

Councilman Dennis Pone, who voted for the Birdsall contract, said he would vote for the more expensive contract but he wasn’t happy about it.

“I call this buckling under the pressure of perception to the detriment of taxpayers,” he said. “I know the work has to get done, but in ‘Realsville’ I’m disappointed we have to spend $9,500 more than we need to.”

The Attorney General brought charges against two executives at the firm: Phil Angarone Jr., 40, of Hamilton, who plead guilty and Thomas Rospos, 60, of Belmar, who has been indicted in the scheme.
The company would pay employees for their political donations — all less than the $300 which requires disclosure to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission — to various politicians on both sides of the aisle where the firm had contracts, according to press releases from the Attorney General’s office.
Rospos was accused of making more than $100,000 in donations, and Angarone will forfeit more than $29,000 in contributions he was reimbursed for as part of his plea agreement.
Councilman Ed Gore, who voted against the contract at the last meeting, said the township should not award contracts to Birdsall Services Group.

“I certainly feel a lot more comfortable voting on this one than the one,” Gore said, referring to the Arcadis contract. “I could not in good conscience reward that company [Birdsall] with one penny of township money.”

Hamilton Township police also have a new tool in dealing with underage drinking. The council passed an ordinance that allows police to choose between a traditional criminal charge and a municipal violation, which carries a scaling fine, loss of driving privileges and mandatory substance abuse education.

“We don’t have to take every young person into the criminal system,” Councilman Dave Kenny said. “This type of early intervention can be helpful.”

A few residents, including Maria Picardi-Kenyon, said they did not think the town should “let everyone off” in situations involving underage drinking.

“Unless I’m completely misunderstanding…If they are not 21 they are not supposed to drink,” she said.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Open space in Robbinsville could become ‘mini park’

ROBBINSVILLE— Robbinsville might just be a little greener in the future.
Last night the town council voted to designate six acres of township property near the Foxmoor Estates development as open space after a year-long process. Mayor Dave Fried said the administration originally meant for the area to house the new township building.
“It’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where people spoke up and the government had to listen.”
The council voted to designate the land as an open space, with possible plans to make it a park in the future.
Jayme Race, a resident of nearby Foxmoor Estates, said more than 800 residents had signed a petition to keep the space open. He was part of a “steering committee” that will be submitting proposals on how to use the space.
“It’s a good place for a mini park,” he said. “The idea was to keep it simple. Use the KISS principle and keep it simple.”

You can read the full story here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hamilton Tree lighting

Hamilton Township officially welcomed in the holiday season with its annual tree lighting Thursday afternoon.

Mayor Kelly Yaede lead the event at the township building on Greenwood Avenue. Several dozen residents and township employees attended the ceremony, which included a performance by Steinert High School’s choir and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The choir performed several songs and carols, including “Ding, Dong, Merrily on High,” “Fesitval Deck the Hall” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” for the crowd before Yaede lead a countdown to light the tree.

Yaede and the Clauses also took time to give candy canes to children from nearby Greenwood Elementary School. The children lined the fence to greet the mayor

Yaede said she attended Greenwood and encouraged the students to reach for their goals.

“Don’t ever let your dreams go,” she said.

Rich Schneider, the director of the Steinert choir, said he enjoyed having the choir perform at the annual tree lighting. He said they have sang there since former Mayor Glen Gilmore’s administration.

“It’s always fun, its always positive and its nice to give the mayor a good start,” he said.

The lighting marked the biggest public event so far for the town’s first female mayor. She took office two weeks ago following a contentious council meeting that voted her in to replace former Mayor John Bencivengo.

A jury convicted Bencivengo of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, in exchange for his influence with the Hamilton Board of Education, so that she could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage for her employer, Allen Associates.

“When I took office I promised it would be a new day in Hamilton and it is a new day,” she said.

At the end of the ceremony, several students from the choir asked to pose with the mayor for photos, saying they were inspired by her example as the town’s first female mayor.

You can find more photos from the event here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Second executive indicted in pay-to-play case

Thomas Rospos
A second executive in the evolving pay-to-play scandal for a Monmouth-County based engineering firm has been indicted.

The attorney general announced this afternoon they had brought charges against Thomas Rospos, 60, of Belmar, a former vice president of Birdsall Services Group for second-degree counts of conspiracy, making false representations for government contracts, misconduct by a corporate official, and money laundering.

“Mr. Rospos allegedly conspired with others at Birdsall Services Group to circumvent New Jersey’s pay-to-play law through a fraudulent scheme in which extra bonuses were paid to employees to reimburse them for making unreported political contributions,” said Attorney General Chiesa in a press release.

Rospos is the second such executive to be brought into the case; on November 30 the firm’s former marketing director, Phil Angarone Jr. 40, of Hamilton, plead guilty to funneling cash to campaigns through employees Birdsall, according to a press release from the state attorney general’s office. The donations by employees were reimbursed by the company.

The release said that beginning in 2008, Angarone helped pass bundles of checks from his employer to various political campaigns. Each check would be less than the $300 required to be reported to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

In addition, he plead guilty to falsely reporting that the company had complied with the state’s pay-to-play law in annual disclosure forms required of companies that receive more than $50,000 in public contracts.

The latest charges might not be the last, either. In today’s release announcing the indictment, officials said the investigation has not ended yet.

“We’re continuing our investigation into illegal corporate political contributions made on behalf of Birdsall Services Group,” said Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, in the release. “Each of these actions we have taken, including this indictment and the recent guilty plea, serve to move our case forward substantially.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Roundup of goings on in Hamilton, Robbinsville

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede puts it all on the line

From Jeff Edelstein:

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede does not lack for confidence.

I say this in the most armchair psychologist way imaginable, having talked to her a few days after she was sworn in as mayor. See, I’ve talked to a handful of first-time mayors days after moving into their offices, and all of them had a little bit of the deer-in-the-headlights thing going on. Yaede, however, looked like she belonged.

And that “belonging” sentiment is something many Hamilton watchers, residents and township Republicans have long whispered about Yaede: She was, for many people, mayoral material. Born and raised Hamiltonian. Familiar face. Respected councilwoman.

And now, after a near-literal whirlwind of activity, Yaede finds herself sitting on top of the Hamilton political mountain...

Robbinsville and school district's negotiations falter, head toward super-conciliator

From Mike Davis at the Times:

Negotiations between the school district and its teachers are heading to a super-conciliator, marking nearly 18 months of unsuccessful negotiations.

The move to a super-conciliator, who would be appointed by the Public Employment Relations Commission, follows a period of talks with an appointed “fact finder,” who was unable to bring the two sides to agreement and did not have the power for force a pact. In November, state-appointed fact-finder Martin Schienman recommended the sides agree on a 1.5 percent salary increase that would have taken effect on June 30 of this year. There would not have been any retroactive payments...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, others indicted

TRENTON — A federal grand jury in Trenton today returned an eight-count indictment charging Trenton Mayor Tony F. Mack, his brother, Ralphiel Mack, and Mayor Mack’s close associate, Joseph A. “JoJo” Giorgianni, with extortion, bribery and mail and wire fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the indictment in a press release Thursday afternoon which detailed a scheme to accept $119,000 in bribes in exchange for Tony Mack assisting cooperating witnesses in developing an automated parking garage on city property.
“It was the object of the conspiracy to obtain money and other things of value, in exchange for the official action and influence of defendant Tony F. Mack,” the indictment said.
Giorgianni, who owns JoJo’s Steakhouse in Trenton, also is a convicted sex offender.
The investigation, which involved several cooperating witnesses, recordings and another coconspirator who worked with the FBI to unravel the scheme. The indictment also states the defendants used code phrases like “Uncle Remus” for corrupt payments, aliases like “Honey Fitz” for Tony Mack and Ralphiel Mack as an intermediary to shield Tony Mack from prosecution.
“The defendants went to great lengths to conceal their corrupt activity and keep Mayor Mack ‘safe’ from law enforcement,” the release said.
Up to the arrests of the three defendants in September, both Macks and Giorgianni had accepted some $54,000 in bribes of the planned $119,000 in payments, the indictment said. In exchange for those payments, the indictment said Mack would make the city offer the lot on East State Street to the developer for $100,000.

The indictment said the two people Giorgianni approached with the scheme were cooperating with the FBI. Sources said the first cooperating witness is Lemuel H. Blackburn Jr., a former Trenton-area attorney who was disbarred in 2002 after admitting he could not successfully defend pending disciplinary charges.
The FBI’s complaint alleges CW-1 met with Giorgianni on Sept. 14, 2010, at JoJo’s Steakhouse to begin discussions on the alleged extortion scheme. “CW-1 has cooperated with law enforcement in the hopes of obtaining a more favorable outcome with respect to criminal charges,” according to the FBI. CW-1 presented himself to Giorgianni as a consultant for CW-2.
CW-2, according to sources, is North Bergen developer firm Seymour Building. CW-2 was proposing to build a parking garage on East State Street in Trenton. In reality, there was no parking garage plan, just a group of federal agents and the cooperating witnesses wiretapping the mayor and Giorgianni.
In order to keep Tony Mack out of legal trouble, the conspirators used various “buffers” who included, Giorgianni, Ralphiel Mack and CC-1, who sources have identified as Charles Hall III, is a recreation department employee, according to the indictment.
They limited their conversations over the phone to frustrate electronic surveillance and used code phrases such as “Uncle Remus” to refer to corrupt payments, according to the indictment. The coconspirators in the case also met outside of City Hall, at JoJo’s Steakhouse, Giorgianni’s house, Giorgianni’s Clubhouse and Atlantic City restaurants.
Giorgianni was also indicted with scheming to steer a power washing contract to a city vendor in exchange for a kickback to a city employee. That scheme involved CC-1 (Hall) and another unnamed co-conspirator who the indictment identifies as running JoJo’s Steakhouse in Trenton.
The indictment said Giorgianni extorted money from the owner of a car detailing business in order to give it to Hall, in exchange for that unnamed individual getting a contract with the city.
Giorgianni had the company owner inflate the invoice by more than $1,000, which was left with CC-2 at JoJo’s Steakhouse. Giorgianni then passed the money to Hall in Atlantic City.
Giorgianni is involved in a second case regarding an oxycodone distribution conspiracy, that also involved Hall, which is on a continuance and might be indicted before February.

Another Republican comes forward for open council seat

Steve Cook, community activist and CEO of The Arc of Mercer, has put his name into the ring for Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede's seat on council.

Cook, who also served as chief of staff to former state Sen. Peter Inverso, has been working in the township with the Citizens Campaign to encourage good government initiatives such as public bid processes for professional contracts. He made the announcement through a press release emailed to reporters.

“I run something, I’ve done something about reform, I helped to saved a million in taxes and I have a plan to do more,” Cook said in the release. “Hopefully the selection committee and Council will entertain these qualities when selecting the next member of the Council.”

Yaede replaced Meara as mayor after a contentious council meeting Friday. Meara stepped in as mayor from his position as council president following former Mayor John Bencivengo’s resignation two weeks ago.

A jury convicted Bencivengo of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, in exchange for his influence with the Hamilton Board of Education, so that she could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage for her employer, Allen Associates.

Now, the municipal GOP committee will chose a list of three names to council. The municipal party will be accepting names until Friday, and pick the three names to send to council in a convention Monday night. Council President Kevin Meara scheduled the selection of Yaede's replacement for Dec. 20.

David Maher, former county freeholder candidate and Notthingham fire commissioner, has already said he would submit his name for council when he was up for mayor.

Township wary on working with firm in pay-to-play violations case

HAMILTON — The engineering firm at the center of a pay-to-play violations case might not get any more work with Hamilton township after its latest contract got voted down by council.

The vote came after debate by several members of council over whether it was in the best interest of the township to save $10,000 or to not offer work to a firm allegedly involved in illegal activity. Council voted down the contract with a 2-2 vote.

After the vote came down, new Mayor Kelly Yaede said she shared some of the same concerns as the members of council who voted down the contract with Birdsall Services Group.

“I don’t see anything on the horizon with Birdsall,” she said. “I’m uncomfortable proceeding to work with Birdsall until I receive further information about the case.”

Newly reinstated business administrator John Ricci said the township would work with the second bidder, Malcolm Pirnie, to see if it might offer a lower price to the township for the next council meeting, Dec. 18.

The contract, which is to analyze for potential needed repairs to the RBC building in the township’s Water and Pollution Control complex, is for $8,200. The other bid, from Malcolm Pirnie, came in at more than $18,000.

A call to Birdsall for comment was not immediately returned.

Council President Kevin Meara and Councilman Ed Gore voted against the measure, which prevented it from passing. Meara said he wanted to find out more information about the case before supporting further work with Birdsall.

“I think the story is still to be written on Birdsall. I don’t think we have all of the complete information,” he said. “But we have enough that my confidence has been shaken.”

Councilman Dennis Pone said, while he voted for the contract, he did consider the firm’s situation problematic.

“You’ve got a significantly lower price, but its with a company with some egg on its face. It was tough, it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, but in the end I’m beholden to the taxpayer,” he said. “I think it’s prudent to put them aside for now unless for some reason they have the only specialty on it.”

You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Birdsall contract gets voted down in council

Hamilton Town Council spent a good portion of its meeting Tuesday night talking about what one councilman called the “800 pound elephant in the room:” concerns over an engineering firm in the middle of a pay-to-play violations case.
Councilman Dennis Pone, who gave the issue the moniker, and several other members said they were worried over a proposal from the company, Birdsall Services Group, which had a bid for emergency work on the township’s sewer building before the council last night.
“We’ve all had reservations about the company,” Pone said. “But this is an emergency, this is a safety issue and we have to award a contract...I don’t like it, I don’t like what I read in the paper.”
Councilman Dave Kenny said he did not share the same concerns because the process had been publicly bid and Birdsall came in with the lowest price.
“Whatever Birdsall did doesn’t affect the price here,” he said. “I don’t see any reason not to give it to them.”
The contract, which is to analyze for potential needed repairs to the RBC building in the township’s Water and Pollution Control complex, is for $8,200. The other bid, which came from a second engineering firm, came in at more than $18,000. Council voted down the contract with a two to two vote. It is not certain what will happen with the contract now that it has been defeated in council.
Councilman Ed Gore said he could not vote to give the firm the contract. Council President Kevin Meara also voted against the measure.

“I cannot in good conscience at this time vote to give Birdsall money,” Gore said.
Acting Business Administrator John Barrett said they had only asked for the two firms because they had done work in the facility before. He said the building, which had several pipes collapse in October, presented a problem for employee safety.
“It’s a painful decision based on the information presented,” he said. “I have township workers whose safety I have to assure.”
You can read the full story here.

Court moves sentencing for former Hamilton department director

The convicted money launderer in the scandal surrounding former mayor John Bencivengo will be sentenced next year.

Originally scheduled for today, the court has moved the sentencing for Rob Warney, former Hamilton Board of Education member and Department of Community Planning and Compliance, will now be sentenced January 13.

He resigned his job with the township in June before pleading guilty to a charge he laundered money in the Bencivengo case. As part of his plea agreement, Warney also admitted to receiving $10,000 in bribes in 2006 and 2007 while on the school board.

A jury convicted Bencivengo of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, in exchange for his influence with the Hamilton Board of Education, so that she could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage for her employer, Allen Associates.

Released on a $100,000 unsecured bond, Warney could face as much as 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine in his sentence. He testified against his former "best friend," in Bencivengo in exchange for what will likely be a reduced sentence.

This is the second time Warney's sentencing has been moved; it was first scheduled for Oct. 9.

Spokesman for the US Attorney's Office Matthew Reilly said his office does not comment on proceedings being moved.

William Hughes, Warney's attorney, did not immediately respond to a phone call.

Hamilton mayor reinstates former business administrator

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede has reinstated former Business Administrator John Ricci, who was fired last week by then-mayor Kevin Meara.

“The prudent decision was to rescind the termination of John Ricci as Business Administrator due to his proven experience and dedication to Hamilton Township,” Yaede said in a press release.

It is not certain yet whether Ricci's reinstatement will need to go before the council before it becomes permanent. Ricci had been the town's business administrator since mid-2008 before being fired by Meara last Monday.

Yaede replaced Meara as mayor after a contentious council meeting Friday. Meara stepped in as mayor from his position as council president following the resignation of former Mayor John Bencivengo two weeks ago.

A jury convicted Bencivengo of taking $12,400 in bribes from the government’s cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, in exchange for his influence with the Hamilton Board of Education, so that she could keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage for her employer, Allen Associates.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hamilton Town Council odds and ends

I'll post the main story from the meeting tonight later on, but here are some various points I was not able to fit in my story.

First off, they approved a set of ordinances that eliminated bonding requirements for junk dealers, vendors and scrap dealers.

They also introduced an ordinance for underage drinking in the township that will be heard at the next meeting.

The council also talked about whether they would video record the meetings. Council President Kevin Meara said during his short tenure as mayor he had encouraged Director of Economic Development Michael Angarone to investigate the logistics of recording the meetings.

Meara said they will also have meetings on the replacement of Kelly Yaede on council Dec. 18 and Dec. 20. The Republican Committee will be accepting resumes until Friday and meet next Monday to decide the nominees.

Hamilton Town Council starts meeting

The Hamilton Town Council, done one member, has started its meeting. They are discussing the various items on their agenda.

You can follow live coverage @awisefool, as long as my Internet connection holds (which is more tenuous than one might think)

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede puts out open letter

The below comes from Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede, the second such release since she took office Friday. The town council meets in a few minutes, and we'll see if she attends.

To the Residents of Hamilton Township

            It’s a new day and a new beginning in Hamilton Township.  It is time to heal our wounds and move forward from this unfortunate chapter in Hamilton’s history.  I am truly honored and humbled by the vote of confidence by Council to serve as your Mayor of Hamilton Township.  I am keenly aware of the responsibility I have in restoring the public’s trust in their government and provide leadership and stability to the people and employees of Hamilton. 

            I would first like to address the people of Hamilton Township.  Over the last several months you have all been unfairly subjected to a sense of embarrassment and distrust due to the personal actions of one individual.  For that, you are owed an apology.  Public service is a privilege and an honor bestowed by you, the voters, and elected officials must never lose sight of that principle.

            I also have a message for the employees of Hamilton Township.  Thank you for your dedication and service to the people of Hamilton.  Your assistance directly kept the township running smoothly during the last several uncertain months and for that you should be recognized and thanked.

            Six years ago the people of Hamilton first elected me to serve as their councilwoman.  I was honored by their support, particularly when they chose to re-elect me two more times to serve on Council.  I believe the people recognize that I take my responsibilities of office seriously, and that I have never done anything to betray their trust. 

            In my many years of public service I have always been guided by four key principles, principles that I believe are important for keeping public servants true to their public responsibilities.  First, the people must come first and politics must always be subordinate to the work of the people.  Second, an elected official must have courage, strength and fortitude to make the difficult decisions, not necessarily the popular ones.  Third, an elected official must always remember that public service is an honor and that the people are always the boss.  Fourth and finally, a public servant must always show sturdy, confident and steadfast leadership in times of uncertainty or crisis.  I have always done, and will always do my best to stay true to these principles.

            The people demand that I and the Council continue the positive work that has been done over the last several years… and we will do so. 

We will continue to ensure that Hamilton Township maintains a stable tax rate as we have done over the last several years when many other towns across America have experienced sizable tax increases and even bankruptcy. 

We will continue to ensure that Hamilton Township receives perfect independent audits of our finances and financial controls.

We will continue to bring economic development to Hamilton Township so that long vacant shopping centers will once again be revitalized and jobs will be created for residents of Hamilton.

We will continue to ensure that the infrastructure of the township, such as roads and sewers, is maintained and repaired.

And we will continue to take action in order to preserve the beauty of our community as exemplified by the adoption of our vacant property ordinance. 

Hamilton Township’s brightest days are ahead of us and we must continue to strive to make our community a place where the American Dream is still attainable. 

In closing, I would like to thank the Council and the people for providing me with this opportunity to serve as your Mayor.  I will work hard and dedicate myself to restoring faith in your government and I will never take for granted the trust you have put in me.  I look forward to facing the challenges that lie ahead.  Together we can put Hamilton Township in the headlines for the progress and successes we will achieve.  Thank you.

Kelly A. Yaede

Hamilton GOP announces plans to fill open seat on council

After going through a week of meetings, press conferences and interviews to install Mayor Kelly Yaede, the local Republican party sets out to do it again.

Because she sat on council, because she couldn't be both on council and mayor and because she's Republican, the local party now has about 12 days to provide three names to replace her seat. Michael Chianese, the township GOP chair, said in an email they will be accepting resumes until this Friday.

The nominees, who have to be registered Republicans, then go through a selection process with the township committee before they select three names. Those then get forwarded to the council by the end of next week.

Council votes on that person to serve until a special election next fall, when Yaede will be on the ballot as well.

Hamilton Council meets tonight

Hamilton's new mayor Kelly Yaede won’t be on council to handle a number of issues that come before them Tuesday night, including one with close ties to the mayor scandal, another from the short mayoral tenure of Meara and one linked to an emerging state criminal case.
Meara, president of the council, said he had reservations about a contract on the agenda for Birdsall Services Group, an engineering firm whose former marketing director plead guilty last week to pay-to-play violations.
“I’m real uncomfortable in doing business with Birdsall at this point,” he said. “I don’t know if this was an individual and I don’t know if this was ingrained at the company.”
Councilman Dave Kenny had a different take. He said that because the township bids out all contracts, including the one on tonight’s agenda, they should not be so concerned.
“Clearly we do bid these engineering contracts that do not have to be bid,” he said. “When we’re saving taxpayers money, I think we should go forward with the award.”
Rich Watson, the director of the township’s Department of Water and Pollution Control, said his department requested the contract after corrosion caused pipes to fail, causing further damage in the RBC building before Superstorm Sandy last month. They conducted immediate repairs, and he said Sandy largely spared their facilities.
“We dodged a bullet in not having additional damage from Sandy,” he said. Watson said BSG had experience working for the township, including at the same plant. They would come in to assess the damage from before the storm and make recommendations on further repairs, if any are needed.
He said his department received two bids on the work and one was more than twice the $8,200 Birdsall presented.
You can read the full story here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Former engineering executive in Hamilton pleads guilty to pay-to-play violations

A former engineering executive and county GOP chair who did business with Mercer County municipalities has plead guilty to pay-to-play violations.

Phil Angarone, 40, of Hamilton, plead guilty Friday to funneling cash to campaigns through employees of his employer, Birdsall Services Group, according to a press release from the state attorney general’s office. The donations by emplyoees would then be reimbursed by the company.

“Illegal corporate contributions like those in this case undermine the fair and open public contracting process needed to ensure that government agencies strictly serve the public interest, not the interests of politically connected firms,” said Attorney General Chiesa in the release.

As part of his agreement, Angarone will serve up to 364 days in county jail as a condition of probation, as well as forfeit $26,775 in contributions he was reimbursed for by his employer, and he will be barred from public contracts for five years. His sentencing has been scheduled for April 26, 2013, according to the release.

The release said that beginning in 2008, Angarone helped pass bundles of checks from his employer to various political campaigns. Each check would be less than the $300 required to report to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The Trentonian previously reported that he served as the marketing director for Birdsall Services Group.

His LinkedIn page said he works for ERA Central Realty Group. That company’s website said he worked as a Realtor Associate in the company’s Bordentown office.

In addition, he plead guilty to falsely reporting that the company had complied with the state’s pay-to-play law in annual disclosure forms required of companies that receive more than $50,000 in public contracts.

Hamilton Township Council on Feb. 15, 2011, passed a resolution awarding Birdsall a $16,650 professional engineering services contract . On Sept. 20, 2011, Hamilton Council passed three separate resolutions awarding Birdsall three professional engineering services contracts totaling $104,800.

The website for the Hamilton partnership, a public-private partnership in the township, lists Angarone as a member. The website also lists several prominent politicians in the township such as  Rep. Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), Director of Economic Development Michael Angarone, former Hamilton Mayor Jack Rafferty as well as convicted former mayor John Bencivengo and convicted former Director of Community Planning and Compliance Rob Warney.