Blogs > Hamilton in focus

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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Local pharmaceutical company researches vaccine for ricin

One Princeton company has been working on a vaccine to protect people from the toxic effects of the poison ricin that has splashed across the headlines this month.
Earlier this month, police found several letters addressed to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R- Miss.) and earlier to Mississippi Judge Sadie Holland, that tested positive for ricin. The FBI initially made an arrest in the case, but released the man and the investigation is ongoing.
Soligenix Inc., has been developing a vaccine for ricin exposure that allows the body to create antibodies that respond to the toxin and fight it. Christopher Schaber, the company’s president and CEO, said the vaccine has been able to reach human testing for the vaccine, called RiVax.
“It’s a pretty lethal toxin ... relatively easy to get the materials and relatively easy for people to make,” he said. He also said exposure to the toxin can be lethal within hours.
“The best way to deal with it is to prevent it,” he said.
The company’s efforts, which Schaber said have gone on for nearly a decade, have been largely based on government grants — also the vaccine’s most likely customer.
Schaber said after 9/11 investors started looking into biodefense as an industry, but could not find a stable market for the products. He said such biopharmaceuticals are geared toward unpredictable emergencies, after all.
You can read the full story here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bencivengo won't report to prison April 29

Former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has another few days of free air before reporting to federal prison after a delay from the Bureau of Prisons.

According to a notice filed with the court this week, the government has not told Bencivengo where to report to prison. He was originally scheduled to report for his 38-month sentence on April 29, but the order set aside that date in favor of whatever date the bureau sets for him to report.

District Judge Anne Thompson sentenced him to 38 months in prison with two years of supervised release, a $3,000 fine and $7,400 forfeiture last month.
A jury convicted Bencivengo in November of extortion under color of official right, attempted extortion under color of official right, two violations of the travel act and one charge of money laundering. He resigned shortly thereafter, and Council Vice President Kelly Yaede was selected to step into the office until a special election this fall.
A government cooperating witness, Marliese Ljuba, testified she gave him that $12,400 in three payments over the course of 2011 in exchange for his influence with two members of the local board of education. She meant to keep her lucrative health insurance brokerage with the district and prevent it from going out to public bid.
Bencivengo has maintained his innocence since the scandal broke last year, claiming the $12,400 was a loan and not a bribe. He filed a disclosure to that effect before the trial last year.
Bencivengo filed an appeal of his sentence and conviction last month as well, and claimed he could no longer afford counsel. He has been represented throughout the trial by Jerome Ballarotto.

The convicted middleman in the case, Robert Warney, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on one count of money laundering. He admitted to funneling one $5,000 payment from Ljuba to Bencivengo and testified for the prosecution at trial. Warney is set to report to prison May 3, according to the sentencing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hamilton School Board to set up fraud hotline

HAMILTON — When they see something strange — or someone up to no good — Hamilton school district employees might soon have someone to call in a third party fraud hotline.
At Wednesday night’s board meeting, the body unanimously passed a measure to get bids on such a hotline after hearing a presentation from Keith Ingling, from the district’s new auditing firm, Hoffman Freina Allison, P.C. He said establishing such a hotline would give his firm the opportunity to assess risk in the district above and beyond the staff interviews his firm would conduct.
“Some people already have spoken to us, but we believe there are a lot of other people out there who we believe are afraid to speak to us,” he said.
The proposed hotline would go through a third party vendor and he said any complaints made would be evaluated by an attorney, ideally one with prosecutorial experience. Then, the district would hire a licensed investigator to root out any complaints that the attorney had merit. He said the board and taxpayers would likely be most satisfied by a process that involved the district administration as little as possible.
“Given the circumstances surrounding the current situation here, a lot of people might believe that sort of defeats the purpose,” if the district received such complaints, he said.
You can read the full story here.

Hamilton to foot bill for volunteer background checks

Hamilton Township will soon foot the bill for its volunteers’ background checks, after a grant through the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation has run out.
Business Administrator John Ricci said the township has set aside $20,000 in the budget for reimbursing those background checks, which cost $26 each. Because it is based on the number of new volunteers, Ricci said not all of the $20,000 might be used this year.
“I am sure that Richard, Maureen and the Foundation will continue to work each and every day to receive a grant yet again, and in the meantime, Hamilton Township is proud to be able to fulfill the need for funding this important program,” Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede said in a press release.
Ricci said the township will reimburse the coaches through the various league and organizations they volunteer for. He said the checks are required by ordinance for any volunteers who work with children, including coaches.
He said the foundation, run by Richard and Maureen Kanka, was able to obtain a grant to cover the program for the past several years, but that money had run out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Authorities find ecstasy, marijuana in two Hamilton homes

From police reporter Brian Dzenis:

HAMILTON — Detectives from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Investigations Unit recovered thousands of dollars in ecstasy and marijuana after raiding two Hamilton homes Friday morning.

Authorities hit a home on the 300 block of Sewell Avenue and arrested Tremayne Pickett, 28, and recovered 72 grams of ecstasy, a cutting agent for the ecstasy, two digital scales, a plastic bag full of empty pill capsules, 12 ounces of marijuana and $202 in cash. According the prosecutor’s office, the ecstasy was valued at $9,000 and the value of the marijuana was $3,000.

Authorities also raided a home on the first block of Annabelle Avenue and arrested 30-year-old Shakaar Johnson. In his home, detectives found $5,925 in cash, a loaded 16-gauge Mossberg shotgun, a military style flak jacket, two ecstasy pills and numerous empty pill capsules.

Both Pickett and Johnson received numerous narcotics-related charges, with Johnson also getting charged with possession of a weapon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hamilton could see second Hilton extended stay hotel

Hamilton Township could soon see another Hilton marquee go up within its borders.

At a press conference at the existing Hamilton Garden Inn Tuesday afternoon, Christopher Vernon, the general partner for the hotel, announced plans for a 117-room extended stay hotel at the former Harley Davidson site on Route 130 north of the 195 onramp. He said it would be based on guests staying anywhere between four days to several months.

The Hilton Homewood Suites, which could also include space for a restaurant, could open by late 2014, or early 2015 if all goes to plan, Vernon said. He said he and the partner company, Gulf Creek Corporation, wanted to take advantage of increased tourism along with large corporations such as Amazon making investments in the area.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of demand and meet that as it grows,” he said.

Each unit will have a kitchenette, he said, and they will vary from single bedroom suites to 2 bedroom suites. The rooms there would have a lower rate than a traditional hotel, with a lower rate the longer the guests stayed there. Vernon said that model has worked in other towns such as Princeton, and hoped it would work in Hamilton as well.

Michael Angarone, the director of Technology and Economic Development for Hamilton, said the application might go before the zoning board as early as May, but could get pushed back to June.

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede said the application for the new hotel showed that one of the promises of her administration and her campaign (she’s running against Democrat Barbara Plumeri this fall) was coming through.

“We want to make sure the stores are open and make sure that there are commercial ratables on the tax books for years to come,” she said. “This is a perfect example of the way government can work with business in Hamilton Township.”

Angarone said the township could also be announcing several more development applications in the next two months, which he said was an indication of increased interest in the township.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Roma Bank gives Robbinsville alternatives to planned building

After months hanging in the air for months, Robbinsville township could soon find a municipal home.
Roma Bank, after backing out of plans that would have given the township a floor on a new building on Route 33, has given the town two other options.
Mayor David Fried said in a radio interview Thursday afternoon that the bank, which backed out of the building after a merger last year with Investors Bank, offered the township the plot of the proposed building, or a favorable rent on space in the current Roma Bank building. He said two other developers had reached out to the township with similar offers.
“We think it is a very fair offering and something we are going to take seriously,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Princeton agrees to retirement of police chief, harassment allegations dropped

Princeton Police Chief David Dudeck will retire Oct. 1, and harassment allegations against him will be dropped, according to an agreement approved by Princeton council Thursday night.
Dudeck has been on medical leave since the allegations, brought up by the township Police Benevolent Association, came to light in late February. Mayor Liz Lempert said the agreement did not include any money beyond what Dudeck would have received had he retired under normal circumstances. Lempert also said that, because the agreement was a personnel matter they would not be able to discuss specifics of the allegations.
“This separation agreement accepts that retirement and provides him the benefits he is entitled to as a result of his position and no more than that,” she said.
You can read the full story here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Week in Mercer: David Fried and Rick Hrabchak

On This Week in Mercer, you heard from a Mercer County native who was at the bombings in Boston earlier this week.

Princeton native Rick Hrabchak finished the race minutes before the first bomb went off, and was waiting in a runners-only area less than 200 feet from the finish line. He and more than two dozen others from the Mercer County area ran in the event as some of the more than 20,000 other competitors.

He said he plans to run again, this year was his 13th Boston Marathon, and talked about his experience and the community around runners and marathons.

Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried talked about the town’s recent budget which included a tax cut of four percent and its troubles with local bank, Roma. The bank was bought last year by Investors Bank, which will take official control of the bank later this year.

Investors has backed out of a deal with Robbinsville to house its municipal offices in a new building, and will also lay off some 57 employees effective in May.

You can listen to the show or download it below:

This Week in Mercer: Boston Marathon bombing

On This Week in Mercer, you’ll hear from a Mercer County native who was at the bombings in Boston earlier this week.

Princeton native Rick Hrabchak finished the race minutes before the first bomb went off, and was waiting in a runners-only area less than 200 feet from the finish line. He and more than two dozen others from the Mercer County area ran in the event as some of the more than 20,000 other competitors.

He said he plans to run again, this year was his 13th Boston Marathon, and will talk more about his experience and the community around runners and marathons.

Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried will also talk about the town’s recent budget which included a tax cut of four percent and its troubles with local bank, Roma. The bank was bought last year by Investors Bank, which will take official control of the bank later this year.

Investors has backed out of a deal with Robbinsville to house its municipal offices in a new building, and will also lay off some 57 employees effective in May.

You’ll find a live stream of the show here. A copy of the show will be available later on

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two arrested for sexual assault at Mountain Lakes Preserve in Princeton

PRINCETON — Two men were arrested after they allegedly plied to teenage girls with alcohol and sexually assaulted them at the Mountain Lakes Preserve during the weekend, according to Princeton Police.
On Saturday, police were notified about Brian Espina-Martinez, 21, of Princeton and David Stevens-Parker, 21, of Montgomery Township allegedly giving a two girls, aged 15 and 16, respectively, alcohol.
The victims told police that they had become so intoxicated that they were assaulted by the two men. After a follow up investigation by police, Espina-Martinez and Stevens-Parker were arrested.
You can read the full story here.

Mercer residents recall experience at Boston Marathon

Of the more than 20,000 runners who took to the streets of Boston for the Marathon Monday before the bombing that killed three and injured hundreds, more than two dozen came from the Trenton area.
Princeton native Rick Hrabchak finished the race minutes before the first bomb went off, and was waiting in a runners-only area less than 200 feet from the finish line. When he heard the first explosion on Boyleston Street, he immediately knew something was wrong.
“I felt ‘this is what it’s like in Israel, this is what they have to deal with in Jerusalem and the Middle East,” he said.
Hrabchak said he and the other runners in that area, who had just finished the 26.2 mile race, were told to “run, run, get out of here, move” for several minutes before going back closer to the finish line. He and other runners went back to two of the tents, one held the personal items of runners and the other would soon house many of the dozens of injured from the two bomb blasts.
“There were ambulances all over the place and no runners anywhere,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Princeton to meet about accused police chief

Princeton council will meet on April 18 at 5 p.m. to talk about accused police Chief David Dudeck, according to a notice sent by the clerk's office.

Several police officers accused Dudeck, who was named police chief of the consolidated municipality after Jan. 1, of workplace harassment that lasted for years. Dudeck was named police chief of the borough in 2009 and has worked for the township police for 30 years.

Dudeck has been on leave for more than a month after news of the allegations broke, and the matter was forwarded to the county prosecutor's office. Township Business Administrator Robert Bruschi said the investigation was not criminal and the chief had no prior disciplinary problems on his record.

The clerk confirmed the date of the meeting and also said she did not have a meeting agenda yet. The notice also said formal action could be taken.

From The Times: Reforming Megan's Law

From the Times' Mike Davis:

After her 7-year-old daughter, Megan, was sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbor, Maureen Kanka made it her mission that no other family would experience a similar tragedy.

Working with local legislators, Kanka oversaw the creation of Megan’s Law in 1994. It required sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies so residents could be notified of a sex offender’s intention to move into their community.

You can read the full story here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Robbinsville moves toward public hearing on $21.9 million budget

Robbinsville Township Council now has a budget in front of it, after its formal introduction Thursday night.
The $21.9 million budget includes a 4 percent tax cut, which Mayor David Fried said came primarily from the tax deal with Internet commerce giant Amazon when he presented the plan. The company will open a warehouse in the township by next year, and provide more than $600,000 annual payments in lieu of taxes.
Fried said the average homeowner in the township, valued at more than $400,000, would see a reduction of about $76, when he introduced it two months ago. The council, which will hold a public hearing on May 9 before deciding on the spending plan, has already tinkered some with the numbers, including adding money for economic development and police overtime and equipment.
The budget reaches the tax decrease through the PILOT program with Amazon and using an additional $800,000 from the township’s reserves. Business Administrator Joy Tozzi said the township also increased payments to the township’s debts, which will lower future payments.
The budget would cut $30,000 from the mayor’s budget, $30,000 from fire department salaries, and a $50,000 increase for engineering services, and $200,000 increase for employee insurance. Tozzi said the full budget would be put on the township’s website.
You can read the full story here.

This Week in Mercer April 11: David Foster and Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede

On this week's show we had Trentonian reporter David Foster and Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede.

Foster talked about his stories on a Trenton bar owner alleging he has been given bogus tickets by Trenton police. He also talked some about the TCNJ senior who went missing this week, and the status of the search for her.

Yaede talked about economic development, taxes, her budget and her race against her opponent, Democrat Barbara Plumeri.

As a reminder, next week's show will start at 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. You can find the full show and download a copy here:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

From This Week in Mercer: Interview with Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede

The full show will be going up tomorrow, but in the meantime here's the interview with Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede.

Appointed last year form her position as council vice president, she faces a special election in the fall to fill out the rest of former Mayor John Bencivengo's term in what promises to be a close race against Democrat Barbara Plumeri.

She talks about the campaign, public safety, taxes and economic development, along with her budget. You can listen or download your own copy below:

Hamilton schools face monumental infrastructure problems

Hamilton School District’s new facilities director has his work cut out for him. He faces a district with decades-old, decaying buildings too small to fit their current students.
Some of the schools hold class in storage closets. In another, a weight gym and metal shop share the same space. There are regular problems with leaks, mold, drainage and heating in the schools.
A preliminary estimate of the price to fix the district’s schools totaled out at $134 million over the next five years. The district had gone without a facilities director for more than a year and used cheap “band-aid” fixes for far longer, Superintendent James Parla said. John Miranda, a former state police officer, said he accepted the job as the district’s facilities director with his eyes wide open.
“I couldn’t come into it thinking there are no problems here,” he said.
His appointment did not come without objections. Board Member Patricia DelGiudice said she thought the district needed a supervisor with engineering experience to oversee the extensive work the district needs.
“We have clear issues in our buildings,” DelGiudice said. “We need someone with the right experience. This is a major mistake we’re making.”

You can read the full story here.

Missing TCNJ student’s car, purse, cell phone found

From The Trentonian's David Foster:

EWING — The father of a missing College of New Jersey student said Tuesday morning that his daughter’s purse, cell phone and wallet were found near the George Washington Bridge, according to an interview with 1010 WINS.
Paige Aiello, who is captain of the college’s tennis team, was last seen at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Her family also told NBC 4 that the Audi she was driving was found Thursday morning in a New Brunswick parking lot.
Aiello, who turned 22 today, is a Hillsborough native.
Police do not suspect foul play.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

From The Times: Hamilton woman stabs husband during argument

From the Times' Alex Zdan:

A 23-year-old township woman stabbed her husband in the arm with a kitchen knife during a domestic argument early Saturday morning, police said.

The two were having the dispute inside their home on the 200 block of Woodlawn Avenue, Capt. Remo DiPaolo said.

“The wife ended up stabbing the husband in the tricep,” DiPaolo said.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This Week in Mercer: Bob Prunetti and Alison Daks

Last week, we had Bob Prunetti, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Central New Jersey on to talk economic development in Mercer County, along with the state of hiring, entrepreneurship and even a little about education.

Alison Daks, the director of sexual assault support services for Womenspace also came on to talk about Sexual Assaul Awareness Month, the issues victims face and how her organization helps them deal with assaults.

You can listen to the show below or download it. Make sure to check out the show this Thursday at 4 p.m.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

This Week in Mercer: Alison Daks

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness month nationwide, and as part of that we'll talk with a number of advocates and experts about their experience with this violent crime.

This week on the show, you'll hear Alison Daks, coordinator of sexual assault support services for Womanspace. She trains the agencies volunteers and works with a variety of agencies throughout the county to deal with sexual assault. You'll be able to hear a copy of the interview later.

Two plead guilty in federal schools sports equipment fraud case

A criminal conspiracy that affected more than 20 schools districts across New Jersey and New York also touched Robbinsville, according to a federal plea agreement handed down Tuesday.
Mitchell Kurlander, 54, of Allentown, Pa. and Alan Abeshaus, 81 of Highland Beach, Fla. plead guilty to one count of mail and wire fraud conspiracy after being indicted two years ago. The two ran a criminal conspiracy through their sports equipment company, Circle Systems Group Inc., by falsifying records, overcharging schools and covering donations and gifts to public officials.
“The long-running fraud Kurlander and Abeshaus ran cheated students, teachers and the taxpayers who support them,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a release. “Just as offensive is the conduct of school officials who turned a blind eye to the deceit in exchange for cash payoffs and gifts.”
The company provided sports equipment and refurbishing services for school districts in New Jersey and New York, among other states, and would use fraudulent record keeping, duplicative billing and other practices to secure more than $800,000 for Abeshaus.
Even when school officials caught on, in many cases the company still wrung money out of them. For one New York school district that disputed $8,000 in fraudulent charges, Circle made it up later by billing for reconditioning it never did, according to the indictment.
“Circle fraudulently achieved its desired profits even when a school detected Circle’s fraudulent billing practices,” the indictment said.
You can read the full story here.

Robbinsville police to receive budget boost

Robbinsville council will increase spending in its police department by about $15,000 after a council meeting last night.
The budget, which will be formally introduced at next week’s meeting, has been discussed at the last two council meetings. Martin Masseroni, the township’s police chief, asked for a $10,000 increase in overtime and $5,000 increase for uniforms after raising concerns at the meeting.
Masseroni said the department could go over its overtime amount if “God forbid” the town experience another storm or hurricane without federal reimbursement, which the town will receive for Superstorm Sandy.
“I’m just a little concerned that we may have cut it a little too much,” he said.
Masseroni said the town might also hire three officers in the next year and the outlay for new equipment had been halved.
“If we do hire a few people this year, outfitting them the first time is not in the budget,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Vehicle plows through Hamilton repair shop

HAMILTON — A vehicle took out a Hamilton auto repair shop’s sign, plowed into the shop, caught on fire and set the business on fire Sunday morning.
According to surveillance footage provided by B&E Service owner Ed Francis, around 1:50 a.m., the vehicle appears to be travelling westbound on East State Street toward Klockner Road when it veered off road. The car took out the Citgo sign outside the shop and the vehicle — along with the sign — went into the shop. The vehicle entered the shop through one of the repair bays, slamming into the rear of a customer’s yellow 1969 Corvette and driving it into various machinery inside the shop.
A few seconds later, a Hamilton police vehicle is seen pulling into to the shop after travelling the same route of the vehicle that actually hit the shop. The police vehicle is seen in various camera angles driving around the perimeter of the building before leaving the premises. It’s unclear why the police vehicle left the scene. Hamilton police confirmed the incident, but as of press time, have not released their account of what happened.
A few more minutes pass and evidence of the fire starting can be seen on video and as the flash of flames appear, the driver stumbles outside of the shop. According to Francis, no employees were inside the shop at the time of the crash as the business was closed for the night.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Roma Bank to lay off 57 employees as part of merger

Roma Bank will lay of 57 of its employees as part of the Robbinsville-based institution’s merger with Investors Bank announced last year.
Roma CEO and President Peter Inverso said the layoffs came from duplicative administrative employees within the bank. Forty of the employees had not interviewed for positions at Investors, he said. The layoffs are effective May 31, according to a March 28 letter from Investors Bank.
“Investors went out of their way to keep as many employees as they possibly could,” he said.
Inverso said the layoffs will not affect the front-end operations, such as loan officers, and comprises only a fraction of the bank’s 330 employees. He said the employees were all offered severance packages as part of their termination.
The letter itself said “the mass layoff will be conducted because of the anticipated merger between Investors Bank and Roma Bank and both the resulting redundancy of jobs remaining after the merger as well as the termination of certain operations,”
You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

This Week in Mercer March 28

On the last show, we had Trentonian Police reporter Brian Dzenis and Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann.

Dzenis talked about his investigative story based on travels through Trenton's bar scene, its drink girls and when and how they sell alcohol.

Steinmann talked about the problems with the Comfort Square facility, his town's budget, taxes and economic situation.

You can listen to the show below or download a copy for yourself.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Former State Sen. Peter Inverso announces run for his seat, Cook and Haas run for assembly

The race for the 14th legislative district has taken shape, with Former State Sen. Peter Inverso topping the Republican side of the ticket, along with Steven Cook and Ronald Haas.

He held the 14th district seat for 16 years from 1992 to 2008 before deciding not to run again in 2007. Inverso will face Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) this fall, in another high-stakes match up in the swing district. Greenstein won the seat from Tom Goodwin, former Hamilton councilman, in 2009 and defended it from Richard Kanka’s challenge in 2011.

“The principal concerns of the people in the 14th district mirror those of our entire state,   and they are their growing tax burden, jobs and the economy. The 14th district needs a legislator who can work in unison with the governor to advance those programs and reforms which will help remedy these concerns,” Inverso said in the release.

The county republican party has courted the former senator for some time before the announcement, nominating him last month for the seat. In talking about the potential run to The Times of Trenton last week, he characterized himself as the underdog.

Inverso, a Hamilton resident, served as president and CEO of Roma Bank, which last year announced a sale to Investors Bank. As part of the restructuring from that sale, the bank also said it would back out of plans for a building in Robbinsville that would have housed its municipal offices.

Cook, executive director of The Arc of Mercer and former chief of staff for Inverso, also announced in a press release he would run along with former pharmaceutical executive Ronald Haas. They will face Assemblymen Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton).

The 14th district covers nine municipalities outside Trenton including Hamilton, Robbinsville, and Plainsboro.