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.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bencivengo reports to prison for sentence on federal corruption charges

HAMILTON — Former mayor John Bencivengo will report for his 38-month sentence in federal prison Thursday, after a month-long delay from the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Bencivengo, who was convicted of five felony corruption counts last November, will be staying at the minimum security prison camp in Leavenworth, Kan. The former mayor learned of his assigned facility two weeks ago, and will begin his sentence a full month after it was scheduled on April 29.
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said the low security facilities in the prison system can differ significantly from the perception of federal prisons. He said the inmates there have greater access to libraries and exercise equipment, as well as more free time in the facility itself.
“There are generally open-bay type housing rather than locking cell doors,” he said. “There is generally no perimeter fencing, or if there is, it is mostly to delineate where inmates are not allowed.”
You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mercer County to hold American flag decommissioning ceremony in Hamilton

HAMILTON — American flags that are no longer fit for display will be decommissioned on June 6.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and the Mercer County Office of Veteran Services are inviting citizens, civic groups and local scout organizations to participate in an official flag decommissioning ceremony on June 6 at 6 p.m. at Veterans Park at the Klockner Road entrance in Hamilton.
Each year the Office of Veteran Services partners with local veterans from the American Legion Post 31 and the Hamilton Township Patriotic Committee to hold the decommissioning event also referred to as “flag retirement.”
For the past several months Veterans Services has collected thousands of flags eligible retirement from American Legion Post 31, private homes, the veterans section of Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton and government offices including the Mercer County Clerk’s Office and Sheriff’s Office.
You can read the full story here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Hamilton to use COPS grant to hire new officers

HAMILTON — Thetownship will apply for funding for more than half a dozen new police officers through a federal program this week.
The township, if it receives the grant, would need to furnish $1.6 million to receive $1 million in federal matching funds, which would be used to hire eight officers above the department’s current 169-officer complement.
The Community Oriented Policing Services grant application added to an ongoing discussion on council and in the township about the number of police officers in the department. Councilman Kevin Meara said he wants the township to hire more officers, regardless of whether it receives the grant.
“If we need these police officers then they should be in the budget right now, regardless of the grant,” he said.
Township Business Administrator John Ricci equated it to the many other grant programs the township applies for over the year.He said the township applies for a large number of grants, which vary from road construction to placing trees along the turnpike.
“For instance, with road projects, we apply for a grant and if it is approved we will pave more roads, but if we don’t get it we don’t pave those roads,” he said.
Meara said he wanted the township to look at hiring more police officers as part of a larger plan to curb crime in Hamilton.
“If the taxpayers are going to be liable for more than $1 million then you don’t do it because it would be nice, you have to have a plan,” he said. “Personally I have an inkling we do need additional police officers. I think that is an a decision of the administration that we don’t need more officers.”
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hamilton says town water is safe

HAMILTON — Thetownship’s council discussed the safety of residents’ water, a grant for new police officers and a $500,000 grant for affordable housing at its meeting Tuesday night.
The council asked questions about the handling of Trenton Water Works’ testing in Hamilton Township, which resulted in a letter sent out to residents last month for elevated levels of trihalomethanes. The chemicals were found at levels that exceed Department of Environmental Protection standards from May 2012 to February 2013. The letter said the city will fix the problem within the next two years.
Councilman Dennis Pone said he had followed up on the concerns raised by residents at the last meeting about the safety of the water. He said the state’s environmental commission had said that the chemicals were at safe levels.
“They said filters, charcoal-type filters would remove the particular contaminant, which is a byproduct of the chlorination process,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hamilton district’s schools flunk architect’s exam

HAMILTON — The grades are in, and for many of Hamilton Township’s school buildings, they aren’t good.
The district’s architectural firm, Fraytak Veisz Hopkins Duthie, PC, compiled a report card that gave each of the 24 schools in the district a letter grade, which it presented to the board this week. The Trentonian obtained a copy through an Open Public Records Act request.
The report card comes as part of the district’s larger review of the structural problems it faces in its 24 schools. A preliminary estimate of the price to fix the district’s schools totaled out at $134 million over the next five years.
The firm will also work on further reports that will include cost estimates for the repairs and renovations it outlines, along with a larger capital project list for the board to review.
Board Vice President Joe Malagrino, the head of the Facilities Committee, said the committee and the district will still need to take more information into account before making decisions about the schools.
“This is still premature, we still have to digest and gather more information and figure out where we are going with this,” he said at Tuesday’s board meeting.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hamilton Board of Education discusses building issues, financial problems

Hamilton Township’s Board of Education addressed a number of long-standing issues at its meeting Tuesday night, including its aging infrastructure and financial mismanagement in the district.
Board Vice President Joe Malagrino said the district’s architect had submitted a report that graded the conditions of the district’s schools. The district is working on revising a plan to renovate and repair the district’s schools, which initially estimated the cost at $134 million.
“This is still premature, we still have to digest and gather more information and figure out where we are going with this,” he said.
Greenwood school, which had a problem with bricks falling off of its external façade earlier this year, received an “F” from the district’s architect. Another school also almost received an “F” grade from the architect, but board members did not mention the name of that school.
John Miranda, the district’s new director of facilities, said the district has also lined up a number of projects for the summer months, including renovation of Hamilton High West’s sewer system and locker room area.
“We have several large projects kicking off as soon as school ends,” he said. “There is a lot of work that has to be done here and not all of it can be done in one year.”
You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bencivengo to report for 38-month sentence on federal corruption charges May 30

Former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo will soon report to Leavenworth, Kan., to begin serving his 38-month sentence.

It’s not the fabled federal penitentiary but a minimum security camp nearby where he will serve out his term on five federal corruption charges, attorney Jerome Ballarotto said Monday. Bencivengo will report to the facility on May 30 after a delay of close to a month from when he was supposed to report to prison.

“At this point he just wants to get it over with,” Ballarotto said.

Bencivengo was originally scheduled to report for his 38-month sentence on April 29, but a judge’s order set aside that date last month in favor of whatever date the bureau sets for him to report.

The Bureau of Prisons normally notifies inmates by letter the facility where they are supposed to report, but Bencivengo had not received that letter, the court filing said.

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 in March.

You can read the full story here.

Money pours into Hamilton mayor's race

HAMILTON — Donors on both sides have started plunking down cash for Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede and her Democratic opponent, Barbara Plumeri, even with the special election still more than six months away.

The pair raised large amounts for a municipal race — more, even than the legislative candidates for the 14th district, which has been regarded as a close race — according to state disclosures. Both took it as a sign of their support from the people of Hamilton, and their campaign.

“I’m very pleased by the support,” Yaede said. “I believe that it shows improvement in the confidence of the mayor’s position in the township.”

“They believe as I do that it is past time to clean up from the mess of the Bencivengo-Yaede years and restore ethics to town hall,” Plumeri said.

Yaede raised $109,809.95 since January and Plumeri raised $65,575. Expenses for the campaigns bring the two a little closer to each other: Yaede has $65,167.46 in her campaign account and Plumeri has $51,008. Still, the amount of cash-on-hand both have more closely resembles the war chests incumbent mayors have had in past elections than the relatively new campaigns of Yaede and Plumeri.

Both Yaede and Plumeri followed through on pledges to disclose all donations, whether or not they met the $300 threshold. The records come from the 30-day primary election report with the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission.

“I congratulate her for joining me in doing it. It is the right thing to do,” Plumeri said.

You can read the full story here.

Doobie Don: state Senate candidate lights up in park

HAMILTON — Monday afternoon in Hamilton’s Veterans Park, Don DeZarn lit up a joint to protest the nation’s drug laws; he also wants to represent New Jersey’s 14th district in the state Senate.

DeZarn pulled the joint, which he said was marijuana, out of his sock after speaking to reporters for 15 minutes on his views on drug laws, property taxes, school choice and open government.

He was aware of the illegality; in the press release announcing the bit of civil disobedience, he said “Yes, I will be firing one up in public. Hopefully you will be able to run a story on Tuesday titled ‘State Senate candidate arrested at press conference.’”

No police officers showed up, but DeZarn spoke about his views on the drug, which he thinks should be legalized and regulated in the same way that alcohol and cigarettes are.

“Who is this for? This is for all of my brothers and sisters who are being held prisoners of war by our government as a result of our war on drugs,” he said after taking his second hit.

DeZarn is running on the Libertarian Party ticket against Democratic Sen. Linda Greenstein and Republican Former Sen. Peter Inverso. Greenstein has held the seat since 2010. He said he came to his views on marijuana after seeing the way the government handled drug enforcement spending.

“It’s just something that I see as a tremendous waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “It’s complete insanity that we spend that type of money when there are far worse things out there. ... There isn’t really a good reason for it to be illegal in my mind.”

You can read the full story here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Robbinsville passes rent control ordinance, budget in council meeting

ROBBINSVILLE — Residents of Robbinsville expressed their frustrations and concerns with the township’s new rent ordinance before the council passed the ordinance.

Several dozen residents came for that ordinance and the township’s budget and some expressed concerns over potential rent increases, more utility payments and real estate tax payments that could come from the ordinance.

Township Attorney Mark Roselli said the ordinance came about from negotiations with the park owner, Larry Kaufman after he filed a lawsuit in 2009 over the township’s previous rent control ordinance. He said the township’s previous ordinance would not have held up in court and would have likely been struck down.

“I believe these are reasonable accommodations that would pass judicial muster and I know the existing ordinance would not,” he said.

He said the new terms, aside from rent increases, would not affect residents with a current lease, but new residents or residents who sign a new lease, could have to pay the new charges.

Residents of the park said they were concerned about how their leases would be affected by the new ordinance. Betty Sutch, the president of the homeowners’ association for the park, said the residents did not want to open themselves up to negative repercussions.

“The people in this park are afraid, we have been hurt so many times and we are afraid of what he is going to pull on us,” she said.

You can read the full story here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Women arrested in multiple Hamilton burglaries

From police reporter Brian Dzenis:

Hamilton — Two Mercer County women have been charged in connection with four Hamilton Township burglaries, according to police.
Katie Proietti, 27, of Hamilton and Brittany Farley, 27, of Ewing, are alleged to have committed a series of burglaries in February and March of this year. Police have connected the pair to a burglary on the 100 block of Deacon Drive on Feb. 10, one on the first block of Arrowhead Drive on March 1 and two on the first block of Magawan Drive on March 11.
Proietti and Farley have both been charged with four counts of burglary and theft. Bail has been set at $280,000 each.
Anyone with further information on the above burglaries or similar incidents can contact Hamilton Police at 609-581-4008.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Former council candidate Dumont still on primary ballot

HAMILTON — The council candidate who withdrew from the race Monday will still appear on the June primary ballot.
Mercer County Clerk Pamela Sollami-Covello said the mail-in ballots for the June 4 primary have already been printed, so Robynn Dumont will appear on the Democratic ballot regardless. Several prominent Democrats, including the mayoral nominee asked her to step out of the race after a report in a local paper detailed a dispute with one of her accounting clients that has resulted in a lawsuit and a criminal complaint against her.
Dumont dropped out of the race Monday in a press release that also denied the allegations.
“The focus of this election should not be on scurrilous false accusations about any one of the candidates running, including me. I have therefore decided to withdraw my name from the race so the electorate is not distracted from the serious issues confronting our township,” she said in the release.
She said she had not been sued in criminal or civil court, and the controversy grew out of a long-standing dispute in Joy Lippincott’s family.
“I have always vigorously and passionately served Mrs. Lippincott’s interests with the highest standards of professionalism and consistent with my ethical obligations as an accountant. I am in the process of consulting my attorneys concerning the initiation of a defamation action,” she said.
Read the full story here.

No injured in Hamilton school bus accident

From police reporter Brian Dzenis:

HAMILTON — A small school bus carrying three 7-year-old students hopped a curb and struck a fence following an accident Tuesday morning.
According to Hamilton police, Dan Murphy, 69, of Red Bank, was driving his Mercedes SUV was travelling east on Samuel Street around 9:30 a.m. when his vehicle came to a stop sign at the intersection with South Clinton Avenue. Murphy told police that he inched his vehicle into the intersection looking for oncoming traffic and assumed the coast was clear. Murphy proceeded through the intersection and his vehicle’s left front bumper struck the right front corner of the bus.
The driver of the bus, Gwendolyn Dismukes, 56, of Trenton, told police she was travelling south on South Clinton Avenue when she saw Murphy’s vehicle pull into the intersection and she applied her brakes before the collision. After the collision, the bus went southeast and hopped the curb and hit a chain link fence in the 2100 block of South Clinton Avenue.
The students on the bus were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton as a precaution. No injuries were reported. Murphy was issued a summons for failing to stop or yield.

Hamilton approves new recreation director at council meeting

HAMILTON — The township now has a new director of health, recreation, seniors and veterans after the previous director was fired during the former mayor’s trial last fall.
The council approved Martin Flynn’s nomination after discussing what they felt were the priorities of the office in the township at the meeting Tuesday night. Flynn, the athletic director for the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District also worked as the Hamilton High West baseball head coach and as the two-term president of the Colonial Valley Conference.
“This gives me an opportunity to transition to a position that I think I have the expertise for that I can contribute to my town … I’m ecstatic about it,” he said.
Read the full story here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hamilton informed pension board of disabled cop’s charges

Hamilton Township informed the state pension board of the criminal and administrative charges against a former police officer when he filed for a disability pension three years ago, township officials said Thursday.
Joseph Derrico, a police officer who retired on a disability pension in 2010, came into the spotlight this week after a report from New Jersey Watchdog and NBC 4 New York showed him roughhousing on the television show Bear Swamp Recovery. Derrico was also under the microscope for an indictment for theft by receiving stolen property at a store in Ewing Township.
Pension officials in the New Jersey Watchdog story said they did not find out about the indictment or charges against Derrico until after his pension had been awarded. But a letter Hamilton Township received on May 26, 2010, indicated the pension board had received the report of the charges against Derrico.
Business Administrator John Ricci said the township also filed notices with the board when they suspended him without pay in July and when the township filed administrative disciplinary charges against him. He said the latest notice was sent in August, and the board approved Derrico’s pension in September.
“The staff had it, what they did with it, what they showed to the board, I can’t say,” he said.
You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bencivengo retains trial attorney for appeal

Former Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has retained on his appeal of federal corruption charges the same attorney who represented him at trial.
Jerome Ballarotto represented Bencivengo throughout last year’s trial, but from the appeal filing in March, it was not clear whether Ballarotto would continue as Bencivengo’s attorney when the former mayor appealed his conviction on five federal corruption charges and a 38-month prison sentence.
Bencivengo claimed he could no longer afford counsel and asked for a lawyer to be appointed for him when he filed his appeal. But a procedural request filed in court for the trial transcript said Ballarotto was representing Bencivengo through the Criminal Justice Act, but Ballarotto said he would not comment on his client’s finances.
Ballarotto also said that Bencivengo has not received a notice from the Bureau of Prisons on where to report to jail. District Judge Ann Thompson pushed back Bencivengo’s report date, originally meant to be April 29, until the government tells Bencivengo where to go.
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.
You can read the full story here.