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Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Holy Spirit’s vs. Buena’s during high school baseball game at Holy Spirit High School Friday April 12, 2019. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Pinelands Commission puts off vote on killing SJ Gas pipeline

PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP — A last-minute letter from an attorney for South Jersey Gas prevented the Pinelands Commission from voting on a resolution to withdraw approval of the company’s planned pipeline Friday.

The letter objected to the commission voting on the matter, saying there is still a court case pending by environmentalists challenging the Feb. 27, 2017, approval. It also said the commission cannot take action without giving proper notice and holding a hearing.

South Jersey Gas did not respond to a request for comment.

Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg sent a letter to South Jersey Gas last month, saying the commission’s approval of the pipeline from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England plant in Beesleys Point, Upper Township, was no longer valid because the owners of the plant had announced they were closing the plant rather than repowering with natural gas.

The approval was given because the pipeline would benefit a plant based in the Pinelands, she said. Since that is no longer the case, the reason for approval has vanished.

The South Jersey Gas letter was received Friday morning, said Wittenberg, who said she had not yet had a chance to fully read and digest it.

“We are a little disappointed that the Pinelands Commission did not rescind their approval today for the SJ Gas pipeline,” said Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, whose organization is one of those that sued to block the pipeline approval. He said the next court date in the case is in June.

“We are also concerned that there are still Christie appointees in the commission that supported the pipeline in the first place and still do,” said Tittel. “But we will prevail, and we believe the commission will take up the vote soon and rescind this terrible project.”

The letter was discussed in executive session at the commission meeting, after which the commissioners voted to table the resolution until the commission can get legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office.

After the meeting, Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which also sued to stop the pipeline, said South Jersey Gas’ position is unusual.

“They don’t deny that the approval can’t be valid but seem to be saying the appeals court has to deal with a case that is moot,” said Montgomery.

The development keeps alive a five-year quest to build the pipeline by South Jersey Gas, even though the pipeline’s main customer no longer needs the gas.

The company has said it still wants to build a new pipeline for resiliency, to provide a second way to get natural gas to the Cape May peninsula and parts of Atlantic County now served by only one transmission line. But its spokesperson has acknowledged it is likely to run along a different route.

In the event of an accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack affecting the single transmission line, more than 100,000 people could go without needed gas for heat and other uses, the company has argued.

Another former Ventnor firefighter admits role in state health benefits fraud

CAMDEN — A former Ventnor firefighter on Friday joined a long list of local residents who pleaded guilty in a massive fraud scheme that cost the state more than $25 million in health benefits payouts to an out-of-state pharmaceutical company.

Edward Sutor Jr., 36, of Linwood, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday in Camden to defrauding New Jersey of more than $2 million in claims through the public employees health benefits system, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“He appeared today in court and entered a plea because he wanted to accept responsibility,” said Sutor’s attorney John Zarych, of Northfield.

Who's been charged in prescription fraud case?

Edward Sutor is the cousin of Ventnor firefighter Corey Sutor, of Egg Harbor Township, who also admitted in December to receiving about $150,000 for his role in the scheme. Corey Sutor’s current status with the department was unclear Friday.

“Ed was a very good firefighter. He did his job every day,” said Ventnor fire Chief Mike Cahill, who said Edward Sutor has resigned from the department. “I’m sorry this has come about like it has.”

So far, 24 people have accepted plea agreements in this case since August 2017. Seven more, including alleged ringleaders Sara and William Hickman, of Northfield, and co-conspirators John and Thomas Sher, Brian Pugh, Thomas Schallus and Christopher Broccoli, have pleaded not guilty.

Like his cousin Corey Sutor, Edward Sutor was named an owner of a company formed to market expensive and medically unnecessary compounded cream medications from May 2015 to February 2016. He and his other co-conspirators persuaded public employees like teachers, police officers, firefighters and state troopers to obtain those medications after learning the prescriptions would be reimbursed by the health insurance company for thousands of dollars for a one-month supply.

U.S. attorneys allege Edward and Corey Sutor’s company was part of an agreement to receive a percentage of the reimbursements paid to the Louisiana pharmaceutical company, which has yet to be named in court documents.

The information in this case said Edward Sutor recruited others and paid them hundreds of dollars a month. He admitted he received $335,552 for his role in the scheme.

As part of his plea deal, he will need to forfeit that money and pay restitution of $2,682,708.

He faces up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000.

His sentencing is scheduled for July 17.

Edward Sutor had worked for Ventnor since 2013 and made $90,092 a year, state records show.

Staff Writer Amanda Auble contributed to this report.

As summer nears, towns grapple with enforcing beach smoking ban

Wildwood’s beach stretches 1.5 miles in length, and at some points, the walk from the Boardwalk to the water is up to 500 yards. On any given summer day, thousands of people cram onto the seemingly endless sandy expanse.

That will make enforcing a new statewide beach smoking ban nearly impossible, Mayor Ernie Troiano says.

With summer’s unofficial start a little more than a month away, shore towns are trying to figure out how to police smoking on their shorelines. And the challenge may be double for municipalities with vast beaches, like Wildwood and Atlantic City, where drinking and smoking are part of the scene on Memorial Day weekend.

“If you have a small beach, it’s not a problem,” Troiano said. “If you have a big beach, it only becomes a problem. ... We could have 300,000 people on the beach. I don’t know how you control that.”

The state law, which went into effect in January, gives towns two options: Prohibit smoking entirely or carve out up to 15% of its beaches for smokers.

Troiano said Wildwood is not allowing smoking on the sand at all. Doing otherwise, he said, could lead to quarrels over why certain sections are smoke-free and others aren’t.

But how the ban will be enforced is still up in the air.

Troiano expects it will be enforced largely through complaints, he said, since the city does not have the resources to place additional police on the beach. Already, Troiano said, there are three or four officers who patrol the beach. To strictly enforce the ban, he guesses that number would have to double.

“There’s no way I’m going to put additional officers there to make sure people aren’t smoking,” he said.

Asked how the ban would be enforced in Atlantic City, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office said lifeguards.

“We are fortunate to live so close to the beach, clean beaches and clean air are essential to our quality of life,” said Christina Bevilacqua, spokeswomen for the city, in statement. “The City of Atlantic City feels that our Beach Patrol functions as the eyes and ears of our beaches.”

Banning beach smoking has been a years-long battle in New Jersey, pitting environmentalists against municipalities and those who want the freedom to light up.

Proponents of the law, which passed the Legislature last year, sounded the alarm about the tens of thousands of cigarette butts discarded along the shore each year that could wash into the ocean and harm marine life. Some also fear the negative health effects from breathing in secondhand smoke.

In 2017, Longport became the first town in the area to ban smoking on its beaches.

Enforcement hasn’t been burdensome in the tiny borough, Sgt. Ray Burgen said.

The Beach Patrol has acted as eyes and ears for police, politely asking smokers to put out their cigarettes if a person complains, and only rarely calling the authorities if trouble arises.

With a family-friendly beach, Burgen said there were few smokers to begin with. No additional officers were assigned to the beach.

“We hardly get any complaints here,” Burgen said. “There are no bars or restaurants around like in Margate or Ventnor. ... It’s never been an issue.”

During a weekly meeting before the 2017 season, Longport Beach Patrol Chief Matt Kelm said lifeguards were taught how to handle the ordinance. Their focus, he said, should be on the water, but if a person approaches lifeguards voicing a complaint, they can either call police or inform the smoker of the ban.

In the past two years, Kelm said he has only called law enforcement once, when a beachgoer lit up a cigar.

“In a case where someone becomes belligerent, it becomes a police matter,” Kelm said.

Ocean City also stopped allowing smoking on its beaches last summer, but with the statewide ban in effect, enforcement will be stricter, said police Chief John Prettyman.

Prettyman said the city spent summer 2018 educating the public about the new rule. Smokers were reminded of the new ordinance and issued warnings.

He said police relied on beachgoers to call in and alert authorities.

The rules will be enforced more aggressively this year. Like other towns, Ocean City is putting together its “seasonal operational plan” to determine whether more officers should be deployed on the sand.

“The game plan is still being determined,” Prettyman said.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

Atlantic City has places for smokers to dispose of their cigarettes along the Boardwalk.

breaking developing
Atlantic City gaming revenue up 25% in March

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino gaming revenue was up more than 25% in March, marking the 10th straight month of growth for the industry.

According to figures released Friday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, total gaming revenue last month was $273.7 million, a 25.3% increase from March 2018.

Casino gaming revenue has increased by double digits every month since the opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort in June 2018.

The increase in gaming revenue is in contrast to quarterly reports released Monday that showed a 15.4% decline in gross operating profits, which reflect earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and other charges. Gross operating profit is a widely accepted measure of profitability in the Atlantic City casino industry.

James Plousis, chairman of the state Casino Control Commission, said the lower quarterly report profit numbers take into account the money casinos have spent to attract more business.

“Earlier this week, the casinos reported tighter profit margins in 2018, but we are seeing results from the investments they’ve made,” said Plousis. “The regional economy is benefiting, and the industry is hiring. More than 2,000 jobs are open, including about 700 full-time positions.”

Through the first three months of 2019, total gaming revenue is up 22.2% compared to last year, when only seven casinos were operational. The resort’s nine casinos have reported total gaming revenue of $726.65 million this year.

“March numbers clearly indicate strength in the gaming market,” said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism. “Even without considering revenue from the two new properties, gaming revenue is up for the month by over 5% and year-to-date by more than 3%. This is a complete turnaround from last year, when March was down 1.5% and the quarter was down 5.9%.”

The addition of legalized sports betting has also increased gaming revenue for Atlantic City’s nine casinos. In March, the casinos and their online and mobile partners reported $11.4 million in revenue.

Since its introduction in June, sports bettors have wagered more than $2 billion statewide.

“Two billion dollars in bets in nine months shows just how much pent-up demand for legal sports betting existed in New Jersey,” said Dustin Gouker, lead sports betting analyst for “As quickly as the industry has ramped up, though, the next milestone should come more quickly. Three billion dollars is certainly within reach by the industry’s first anniversary in June.”

Online gaming accounted for $39.1 million in March, an increase of 53% compared to the same month last year.

“Online sports betting is clearly driving online casino growth,” said Steve Ruddock, lead online gambling analyst for “March has become a predictable spark for New Jersey’s online gambling industry and a first-half indicator for what gains the industry will make in the second half of the year. That pattern should continue this year.”

Golden Nugget Atlantic City and its online partners continue to lead the industry in internet gaming, reporting monthly revenue of more than $14.2 million in March.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa reported total gaming revenue in March of $65.7 million, more than double the next-closest property.

Bally’s Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and Tropicana Atlantic City all reported decreases in total gaming revenue in March compared to last year. Harrah’s reported the largest monthly (16.1%) and yearly (13.5%) decreases in total gaming revenue.

Dale Gerhard / Staff Photographer//  

Wildwood mayor Ernie Troiano introduces the members of the Harlem Globe Trotters during the dedication of the new courts. The World Famous Harlem Globe Trotters help dedicate five newly reconstructed tennis courts and a new basketball courts at Fox Park in Wildwood, Tuesday Aug. 14, 2018. “These courts have been completely redone,” said Director of Recreation Rich Hans. “And during the planning phase, we opted to convert one of the six tennis courts that was on site into a basketball court.” “The tennis courts were badly in need of reconstruction,” said the mayor. “ By redoing them and adding the basketball court we are giving more people, including kids, a safe place to play and enjoy their Wildwood days.” (Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City)

casino control commission / submitted/  

CCC recognizes Problem Gambling Awareness Month The Casino Control Commission adopted a resolution recognizing March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month during its regular monthly meeting. The initiative helps raise public awareness about problem gambling and informs the public about help available for compulsive gamblers and their families. Shown from left are Vice Chairman Sharon Harrington, Chairman James Plousis, Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Executive Director Neva Pryor and Commissioner Alisa Cooper.