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Amid Kauffman arrests, Pagan gang activity shocks neighbors

Lower Township resident Annie Kniatt always believed Francis Mulholland was a horrible neighbor.

But she never thought the man she had numerous angry confrontations with was a killer.

“That’s creepy,” Kniatt said Wed-nesday. “I could have been killed.”

Mulholland, now dead, has been identified by prosecutors as the hitman hired by Dr. James Kauffman to kill his wife.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner on Tuesday announced charges against Kauffman and seven others, all members or associates of a motorcycle gang, for racketeering and murder.

The charges were the culmination of more than five years of suspicion and speculation surrounding the death of April Kauffman, a radio talk show host and veterans advocate found shot to death in her home in May 2012.

Kniatt said Mulholland was an angry and abusive neighbor.

He once drove his truck down a crowded street at a high rate of speed, he verbally attacked the mail woman and he tried to steal neighbors’ mail.

One time, he showed up in front of Kniatt’s door covered in his own blood.

“If you ever have anyone walk up to you with blood all over them, you’ll never forget it. ... You’ll never forget the smell,” she said.

As the community reels from the news that Kauffman allegedly hired a hitman to kill April, more details are emerging about the Pagan motorcycle gang members involved in the killing and the opioid drug ring.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said that long before April Kauffman died, Dr. Kauffman partnered with alleged Pagan leader Ferdinand “Fred” Augello to distribute opioid painkillers such as oxycodone out of Kauffman’s medical office.

Tyner has not revealed how the partnership between Kauffman and Augello formed, but the allegation of a drug ring involving Kauffman and a motorcycle gang surprised many, even as the charges were being announced.

Once viewed as the most powerful motorcycle gang in New Jersey, the Pagans’ influence has ebbed and flowed through the years. In the 1980s, the outlaw bikers were deeply involved in the manufacture of methamphetamine but also worked as enforcers for the mob, former. State Police Col. Clinton Pagano told The Press.

April Kauffman homicide

Augello, 61, of the Petersburg section of Upper Township, was arrested Tuesday along with seven others, including Kauffman, and charged with the murder of April Kauffman, racketeering, as well as conspiring to kill Dr. Kauffman. Dr. Kauffman’s attorney, Edwin Jacobs, did not respond to a request for comment.

In Absecon, residents on Pennsylvania Avenue know Augello as “Freddie,” a custom guitar maker and local musician who played in Who Dat Band, which performed at local casinos and bars, as well as the Atlantic City Seafood Festival.

Neighbors were in disbelief he is being charged.

Drew Dvorsky, 54, also a local guitarist, said he was never in a band with Augello but had seen him around.

“I don’t know him that well,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. Who figured it was going to be like that?”

Dvorsky said a break in the case was a long time coming.

“I’m glad they’re finally getting closure, hopefully,” he said of the family. “At least there’s going to be an end in sight instead of nothing.”

Margie Fishman, 56, has heard Augello play locally but would never have guessed he would be involved in the case.

“I would not ever in a million years think of that,” she said. “I can’t see it.”

According to records, Augello owned Freddymade Guitars and Graphics on Route 9 in the Seaville section of Upper Township. Press archives show he was also a Native American re-enactor.

The prosecutor alleges it was Augello who, after almost a year of trying, found Francis “Frank” Mulholland to carry out the murder of April Kauffman. Mulholland, 46, died in October 2013 from a drug overdose, according to Tyner. Public records show his last known address on West Jacksonville Road in the Villas section of Lower Township. Lower Township police confirmed officers there responded to a death at the residence in October 2013.

Neighbors in that area remember an angry man who acted erratically in the last year of his life.

Tyner said Mulholland, while not a Pagans member, was an associate of the motorcycle gang.

Other Pagan members or associates arrested Monday and charged with racketeering were Joseph Mulholland, 52, of Villas (no relation to Francis Mulholland); Paul Pagano, 61, of Egg Harbor Township; Tabitha Chapman, 35, of Absecon; Augello’s ex-wife Beverly Augello, 47, of Summerland Keys, Florida; and Glenn Seeler, 37, of Sanford, North Carolina. Also charged was Cheryl Pizza, 36, of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

A 2010 report from State Police shows the Pagans gang active in New Jersey. Seventy-nine local police departments reported Pagans activity in their towns, up 39 percent from 2007. But only a quarter of towns with Pagans presence reported violence or thefts associated with the gang.

A map shows a concentration in Atlantic and Cape May counties but that many of the towns have fewer than 10 members. In the 2007 Street Gang Survey, Buena Vista Township, Middle Township and Wildwood all reported active recruiting or serious problems with the Pagans.

The Pagans’ presence is almost always noted at the annual Roar to the Shore motorcycle event in Wildwood. The problem with motorcycle gangs is so serious that the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office holds an annual training conference ahead of Roar to the Shore for local law enforcement.

In 2015, there was an issue at the Wildwood rally between members of the Pagans motorcycle club and the Wheels of Soul motorcycle club that police said was defused with the help of the Wildwood City Fire Department, which used a truck to separate the clubs.

Kauffman's Drug Ring PDF

Linwood’s connection to the Pagans can be traced to the 1980s, when Kenneth Weaver, a former Linwood city councilman, served as president of the Atlantic City Pagans chapter before his imprisonment, according to archives.

Kauffman, Augello, Joseph Mulholland, Pagano and Chapman are all scheduled to make an initial appearance on these charges before Judge Bernard DeLury on Thursday at the Atlantic County Criminal Complex in Mays Landing.

Courtesy of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office  

Francis Mullholland, of the Villas.

Failing water infrastructure a growing trend in New Jersey, reports say

On Friday, the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority faced an “unprecedented” 12 water main breaks that spewed drinking water into the streets and threatened to disrupt service to customers living in the area.

The breaks, which were still being fixed Wednesday, represent a growing trend in New Jersey and around the country of aging and crumbling infrastructure.

According to a comprehensive report published by Jersey Water Works, “A water infrastructure crisis is brewing across the country and in New Jersey.”

The report, published last month, said that while some of New Jersey’s water systems are well-maintained, many are past their life expectancy and suffer from decades of underfunding. This can lead to water- and sewer-main breaks that can harm public health.

“If there’s an issue with water infrastructure anywhere in the country, it can also be found, in some form, in New Jersey,” Larry Levine, a water program attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Jersey Water Works Steering Committee member, said in the report. “These challenges also create an opportunity for New Jersey to lead. If we can solve these problems in New Jersey, we can show other states how to solve them, too.”

A recent report card on the country’s infrastructure compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers concluded the United States severely lacks funds to update and replace aging water systems that provide safe drinking water to millions of people.

The drinking water is delivered through 1 million miles of pipes across the country, according ASCE. Many of those pipes were laid in the early to mid‐20th century with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years.

Across the country, about 240,000 water main breaks every year waste about 6 billion gallons of treated water that could have been safely used for drinking or bathing.

Overall, the country received a “D” grade for its drinking water infrastructure.

New Jersey scored a C.

The ASCE estimates New Jersey alone needs $933 million in investment to keep up with demands over the next 20 years.

A $1 trillion investment is needed to maintain and expand service to meet demands over the next 25 years in the United States, according to ASCE.

“New Jersey’s water infrastructure has been held together patchwork-style for a long time,” former Gov. James Florio said in the Jersey Water Works report. “And while the costs of fixing the problem are high in the short term, the costs of doing nothing will be far higher in the long term.”

The recent freezing weather much of the country has experienced may only exacerbate the problem.

In Atlantic City, the director of the Municipal Utilities Authority, Bruce Ward, said he could not remember a time when there were 12 breaks in one day.

“In a huge week, we deal with three,” Ward said last week. “In the history of the staff and memory, we have never had as many as we have right now.”

But beyond the city, the water infrastructure in Atlantic and Cape May counties held together well during the recent deep freeze.

Linda Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Atlantic County, said there was one water main break in Northfield, while Dale Foster, the Cape May County engineer, said he did not know of any breaks on county roads.

Chelsea Simkins, a spokeswoman for New Jersey American Water Co., said the infrastructure in the southern coastal region of New Jersey fared much better than other parts of the state.

That was helped by a combined $29 million in upgrades in recent years, including a new water tank in Upper Township and renovations in Ocean City, she said.

Cape May residents take hard pass on redevelopment plan

CAPE MAY — After hearing hours of testimony slamming the proposal, the Planning Board rejected a plan to designate a block near the Washington Street Mall an area in need of redevelopment.

Residents turned out in force on an icy Tuesday evening to lambast the report, which some speakers said sounded like it described a block in Camden rather than Cape May. The crowd overflowed from the City Hall meeting room into the corridor and lined the balcony overlooking the room.

Several speakers took issue with any suggestion Cape May suffers from anything that could be described as blight.

The report by board engineer Craig Hurless presented the block between Lafayette and Washington streets, running from Ocean to Franklin streets, in dire terms.

“The lack of investment in the study area has resulted in reduced property values, a lack of new jobs and lack of highest and best land use and lack of development in an area designated for growth,” Hurless told the board early in the four-hour meeting. “These conditions have an overall detrimental effect on a community.”

The block includes Cape May’s only supermarket and one of the city’s largest parking lots, retail shops, historic buildings and churches. It also includes City Hall and the police station, both housed in the old Cape May High School, and the Fire Department.

Mayor Chuck Lear has created a commission to look at places to relocate City Hall and build a new headquarters for the Police and Fire departments, plans that loomed large in Tuesday’s meeting.

But they did not loom as large as developer Curtis Bashaw, the managing partner of the company that owns the parking lot and the building that houses the Acme supermarket on Lafayette. He’s well known in town for the extensive renovation of the once-dilapidated Congress Hall hotel and other businesses, and has long been an advocate for redevelopment. Several speakers indicated it was Bashaw who initiated the city’s move to create a redevelopment zone.

Bashaw did not attend the Tuesday meeting and could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Board member Bill Bezaire, unanimously re-elected chairman at the start of the meeting, called Bashaw “the elephant not in the room.”

Although Bezaire said the report was just the first step toward creating a redevelopment zone and that no plans were set, much less a developer chosen, Bezaire recused himself at the start of the meeting, citing his business dealings with Bashaw.

If the Planning Board approved the report, it would have returned to City Council for potential adoption through an ordinance, beginning a process to name the block an area in need of redevelopment. That would have offered broad tools for the renovation of the area, including creating a redevelopment plan, issuing bonds, leasing or selling lands without public bidding and using tax-abatement programs. One of the strongest tools, eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public use, was specifically excluded from Cape May’s plans for the block.

The biggest building on the block is the Acme, which Hurless reported does not meet current code.

“Observations are that conditions are generally dilapidated and obsolete,” he reported, a conclusion used for other commercial properties as well.

Two former mayors spoke against the plan — Jerry Gaffney, who is on the committee searching for a new home for police, firefighters and City Hall, and Edward Mahaney, whom Lear defeated in the 2016 mayoral election.

Mahaney said he did not oppose using redevelopment zones but criticized Hurless’ work as failing to meet the requirements under state law.

Another former mayor, Planning Board member Robert Elwell, faulted the conclusion that many of the buildings in the block were dilapidated or obsolete.

“If they were that bad, the code enforcement would be shutting them down. With all due respect to our engineer, I don’t see any hard evidence in the report,” he said.

Board member Jerry Inderwies suggested delaying a vote to gather more information. But the residents in the meeting shouted for a decision rather than a delay.

Eight of the board members voted no on the report. Lear voted yes, calling it a missed opportunity. He said that in 2009, the city’s master plan cited the area as needing redevelopment.

Board member Michael Jones, the only member to join Lear in voting yes, said earlier in the meeting the rents and property values in Washington Commons are about half those of the shops of the Washington Street Mall.

“People just won’t across the street to get to Washington Commons,” he said.

The only voice in favor of the report from the public was attorney Anthony Monzo, representing Washington Commons Equities LLC, owner of the parking lot and Acme building, of which Bashaw is the managing partner. According to Monzo, much of the impetus for the drive is to support a renovation to the Acme building. The city sees keeping that supermarket open as a priority.

He supported Hurless’ assessment as a comprehensive report from an expert. The speakers at the meeting are not, he said.

“None of them are planners. None of them are experts. And they’re giving you ideas that I don’t think are accurate in terms of the process,” Monzo said.

He said Bashaw does not want the Acme to leave Cape May.

“They will lose the supermarket if this site is not developed in a way that’s economically feasible and with the flexibility that would go into a redevelopment plan,” he said. “Mr. Bashaw’s interest is in redeveloping the Acme and expanding it, entering into a long-term lease and, in the meantime, addressing some of the other concerns.”

Monzo said including the entire block makes good planning sense.

Mahaney suggested the proposal would likely end up costing the city tens of millions of dollars and said there is nothing keeping Bashaw from upgrading the Acme without the plan.

“Curtis Bashaw has the right to update, upgrade and renovate his Washington Commons properties and shopping area without obligating the Cape May taxpayers to subsidize his improvements while also forgoing property-tax and related revenue for city operations for years to come,” Mahaney said.

After the meeting, Monzo said of Bashaw, “He only wants what’s best for the city.”

Judge sets two sessions for state, A.C. firefighters to negotiate cuts

ATLANTIC CITY — Attorneys for the state and the city firefighters union will have two court-approved mediation sessions this month to try to resolve issues regarding salary cuts and a possible 10 to 12 more layoffs.

Both parties were back in court Wednesday, as Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez reviewed state-proposed staffing and salary cuts for the Fire Department in the ongoing case between International Association of Fire Fighters Local 198 and state.

In December, Mendez delayed ruling on a second round of budgetary cuts proposed by the state to hear the department’s injunction request.

Mendez in March 2017 allowed the state to make changes to the firefighters’ contract, including changes to hourly scheduling and health-insurance coverage, and cut staff 25 percent and pay 20 percent.

The state, which took over the city’s finances in November 2016, is looking to further reduce the department budget by 11.3 percent. According to statements in court, the new cuts would result in 10 to 12 department layoffs, reducing staffing to 180 members. If applied, layoffs would take effect Feb. 1.

What is next for the AC Fire Department?

IAFF Local 198 attorney Megan Mechak argued the proposed second round of salary cuts within the department would cause “irreparable harm” to the firefighters and their families.

Since 2010, the Fire Department has shrunk by 82 members through attrition and layoffs.

Mechak said the reduced staff causes an issue to public safety, with the department needing aid from neighboring departments and emergency medical response during a Jan. 4 fire at the Jeffries Tower senior apartments.

“There is no context — the numbers given are the numbers favorable to the defendants (the state). There is reason to question those numbers,” Mechak argued.

Initially, the Fire Department was looking at a 22.6 percent salary reduction, but the state Department of Community Affairs under Gov. Chris Christie agreed to absorb half of the $3.8 million cost.

State attorney Ron Israel argued the cuts to salary are needed as part of the financial plan for Atlantic City and that budgetary cuts were already made by the Police Department and the casinos.

“What we’ve heard is everyone else should pay for this,” Israel said.

Mendez concluded the hearing Wednesday by granting attorneys for the state and firefighters union two mediation sessions, on Jan. 19 and 26, in the courthouse conference room.

“The good news is we will have a new administration in the city and state,” said John Varallo, president of Local 198. “But we are in court to fight having to cut 100 members of the Fire Department and 40 percent of wages.”

Members of the Atlantic City and other local fire departments, as well as family, attended the Wednesday hearing.

Fire Chief Scott Evans attended the hearing but did not provide a comment.