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.