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Co-conspirator with Dr. James Kauffman wanted him dead, court docs show

A member of the Pagan motorcycle gang, a guitar-maker and partner in James Kauffman’s alleged drug ring, spent months trying to find a way to kill the doctor to keep him from talking to authorities, according to court documents.

But in a number of secretly recorded conversations with a confidential informant, Ferdinand Augello, 61, describes the drug operation he had run with Kauffman and his efforts to find a hitman to kill the doctor, a court affidavit states.

Between November 2017 and January, Augello began conspiring to get a mafia member to kill Kauffman, and when that failed, he thought he’d found someone to kill the suspended doctor in the Atlantic County jail, the affidavit shows.

“Augello advised that he wanted Kauffman killed because he was concerned that Kauffman could implicate him in criminal activity,” the affidavit states.

Augello’s concern: that Kauffman, arrested in June on weapons and obstruction charges after he pulled a gun on police and federal agents who were executing a search warrant at his medical office, might talk to authorities, court documents show.

Instead, it was Augello who did much of the talking, according to the documents. Besides telling the informant about his efforts to kill the doctor, he, among other unnamed individuals, allegedly described how the ring operated, with Kauffman writing scripts for Oxycontin painkillers to Pagan members and associates whom Augello would send to Kauffman’s medical practice.

Those associates would pay Kauffman cash, and give cash or a portion of the pills to Augello, the affidavits stated. They also served as messengers between Kauffman and Augello.

Augello was president of the Cape May chapter of the Pagan Outlaw Motorcycle Club when the drug empire was started, according to affidavits.

The proceeds of the drug sales went back to the motorcycle club and Kauffman, with other money being spent on guitars, guns, cars and a home in Arizona, the documents stated.

On Thursday, Kauffman, charged with the May 2012 murder of his wife, April, made his court appearance via video from a Hudson County jail. Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said he was moved there for his own safety.

Atlantic County addiction rally brings people together for solutions

LINWOOD — If there’s one thing people in Atlantic County are passionate about, it’s promoting discussion and action on the state’s addiction epidemic.

More than 150 people filed into the auditorium at Mainland Regional High School on Thursday night to rally around initiatives and plans focused on how to prevent, treat and support the recovery efforts of people addicted to opioid prescriptions, heroin and other substances.

“I believe we’ve found another level in recovery after treatment,” said Ted Khoury, a community advocate who is in long-term recovery from alcoholism. “We have people doing some great things out there. We have a problem, we just need more resources.”

The public event, “A Time for Action, A Reason for Hope,” was put together by Recovery Force of Atlantic County, a nonprofit recovery community organization, and led by Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler, who was elected in November.

The forum brought together local and national leaders with backgrounds in law enforcement and addiction treatment and recovery, as well as people in long-term recovery from opioid, heroin and alcohol addictions, to talk about what more Atlantic County can do to address addiction.

State experts estimate 2016 overdose deaths eclipsed 2015’s toll of 1,587. Most died from taking heroin or prescription opioids, data from the state Medical Examiner’s Office show, and deaths related to the use of fentanyl are on the rise.

Atlantic County had 85 drug-related overdose deaths in 2015, but officials said the numbers are likely higher.

Scheffler said he was among the many who judged addiction before it affected his own family.

“Everybody has been touched, including my family, and it changed my life,” he said. “We need an army of recovery to move forward.”

As sheriff, he wants to focus on recovery efforts in Atlantic County, including pushing a social platform that deals with mental health and addiction and getting more people into treatment before they are arrested.

Scheffler also said he wants to work to break down the stigma surrounding those in addiction that exists among law enforcement officers and officials.

Recovery Force founder and CEO Bob Catalano Jr. said the treatment services and recovery efforts work, but some gaps in remain.

“We have to stop blaming people who relapse when we have a system that doesn’t support them,” he said.

As someone in recovery himself, Catalano said the recovery community needs to grow so people are able to stand up and not feel ashamed to say they are in recovery.

Catalano started the Atlantic County-based organization a year and a half after his younger brother, Dennis Catalano, 45, of Atlantic City, died of an overdose Nov. 3, 2013. He left behind a young son and daughter.

Recovery Force was selected as one of four recovery community organizations nationwide to participate in a pilot program called Building Strength through Mentorship, run by Faces and Voices of Recovery and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Vanessa Vitolo called the rally a call to arms and an event that touched home to her roots growing up in Absecon. After graduating from college, Vitolo was prescribed opioid painkillers for an injury. It eventually spiraled into a heroin addiction.

After graduating from the state’s drug court program, Vitolo has more than three years of sobriety, a job as a recovery advocate and is involved in the state’s REACHNJ campaign.

“Recovery is possible. I’m living proof of that,” she said. “The time is now.”

Other speakers and presenters at the rally included Tracy Smith, president and owner of Speakers for Change, Jesse Heffernan, outreach coordinator at the national Faces of Recovery organization, Brian Mooney, executive director of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, Patrick Roff, director of peer recovery services for CARES-Morris County, and Jennifer Hansen, founder and CEO of the Hansen Foundation.

Hansen talked about going from a heroin addiction spanning several years, states and treatment centers to being 21 years sober and creating a detox, treatment, counseling and recovery organization based in Atlantic County.

“We really want to mobilize a recovery force that helps people,” she said. “What do you need and how can we help you get there?”

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

LEVINSON County Executive Dennis Levinson speaks at press conference against racism in the Virginia incident. “A statement by various religious, governmental and other leaders against the horrific incident in Charlottesville, Virginia.” at City Hall in Atlantic City, NJ Wednesday Aug 16, 2017. (The Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer)

Dr. James Kauffman 'one man crime-spree,' prosecutor says

MAYS LANDING — Authorities have moved Dr. James Kauffman to a jail outside Atlantic County over fears a Pagan gang leader was trying to kill him, authorities said Thursday.

According to court documents, Ferdinand Augello, charged with helping Kauffman kill his wife in May 2012, wanted the suspended doctor killed after his arrest in June.

On Thursday, Kauffman and Augello, as well as two of the six other Pagans members or associates implicated in the drug ring, appeared via video in Atlantic County Superior Court before Judge Bernard DeLury on charges of murder in the May 2012 death of April Kauffman and of operating a drug ring through Kauffman’s practice.

Worried he could be implicated in April Kauffman’s murder, Augello, 61, of Upper Township, ordered a hit on Kauffman inside the Atlantic County jail, according to a sworn affidavit.

In addition to the murder for hire of his wife and Pagan opioid drug ring, Kauffman also may have been involved in an ongoing health benefits fraud scheme, Tyner said Thursday.

“He’s sort of a one-man crime spree,” Tyner said.

Kauffman made his appearance from the Hudson County jail, where he had been taken for his safety.

Clad in blue and with scruffy white facial hair, Kauffman said very little during the brief courtroom appearance Thursday.

The courtroom was mostly empty except for a dozen news reporters and photographers. Kauffman’s wife, Carol Weintraub, did not attend Thursday’s proceeding.

Kauffman’s attorney, Louis Barbone, of Jacobs and Barbone in Atlantic City, waived the reading of the charges, as did public defender Scott Sherwood for his clients Augello, Paul Pagano, 51, of Egg Harbor Township, and Tabitha Chapman, 35, of Absecon.

In addition to murder, both Kauffman and Augello face racketeering charges. Augello is also charged with conspiracy to commit the murder of James Kauffman. Pagano and Chapman are both charged with racketeering. A detention hearing for all four has been scheduled for Tuesday. Atlantic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy is representing the state.

Barbone maintained Kauffman’s innocence after the court appearance Thursday, but said he didn’t know anything more about the charges against his client.

“You know more than we do at this point,” Barbone told a crowd of reporters.

In a news conference Tuesday announcing the charges, Tyner said the doctor’s motive was to protect his drug ring after April Kauffman threatened divorce. Kauffman paid a hit man, identified as the now-deceased Francis Mulholland, of Villas, $20,000 to kill her, Tyner said.

Kauffman has been in jail since June, when he was arrested on weapons and obstruction charges after he pulled a gun and threatened to kill himself as police and federal agents attempted to execute a search warrant at his Ocean Heights Avenue medical office. He surrendered to authorities after a 45-minute standoff.

After Kauffman’s court appearance Thursday, Tyner said the murder and racketeering charges will likely supersede the previous charges. Prosecutors will present the new charges to a grand jury for an indictment against Kauffman, Augello and the six others arrested in the murder-for-hire and drug ring, Tyner said.

He said the break in the 5-year-old unsolved murder was the result of “just a lot of hard work.”

Asked about a sealed decision to obtain DNA evidence from Kauffman issued by DeLury in May, Tyner demurred. He said there would be a “plethora” of evidence the state reveals during trial.

“This case wasn’t made based on DNA evidence,” Tyner said.

Tyner said Francis Mulholland, the man paid to kill April Kauffman, was not associated with the investigation prior to Tyner coming into office in March. He said Mulholland’s death in October 2013 was believed at the time to be due to an accidental drug overdose, but then indicated that might not be the case.

“We don’t know,” Tyner said.

That case, he said, belongs to Lower Township because the death happened in that jurisdiction.

Tyner said the investigation in this case continues and more charges could come.

“This is the beginning of a long process,” he said.

mreil-pressofac / ACPO, provided  

Ferdinand Augello, 61, of Petersburg, N.J., was charged with first degree leader of racketeering, first degree murder of April Kauffman, conspiracy to commit murder of James Kauffman and first degree of racketeering.