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Child porn charges vs Pleasantville High School principal upgraded

Child pornography charges against the principal of Pleasantville High School have been upgraded to first degree following his arrest Wednesday, when police say they found more than 1,000 images and videos on his school-issued computer.

Edward James Bonek, 48, of Absecon, made his initial appearance Thursday via video before Judge Michael Mosca in Atlantic County Superior Court. He will remain in jail until a detention hearing Tuesday, the judge said.

If convicted on the first-degree charges, Bonek faces 10 to 20 years in state prison for each count.

Bonek, who sometimes went by his middle name, “Jim,” is no longer listed as principal on the school’s website.

“School district officials are fully cooperating with law enforcement agencies as they investigate the matter,” Superintendent Clarence Alston said in a statement on the district’s website. “The district is following all appropriate requirements set forth by the Department of Education and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Board of Education remains fully committed to the well-being and safety of our students.”

Pleasantville school officials did not return requests for further comment, nor did teachers’ union representatives.

According to charging documents in the case, Bonek used a school-issued computer to share more than 1,000 images and videos of sexual exploitation or abuse of children over the peer-to-peer file-sharing network BitTorrent.

According to state records, Bonek made an annual salary of $130,964 and has been part of the state pension system since 1995. He served as assistant principal in Pleasantville before being named interim principal during the 2016-17 school year and appointed the full-time principal in the 2017-18 school year.

Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle said everyone was in “total shock” when they heard about the arrest Wednesday.

Ex-Port Republic teacher gets 5 years for sexually assaulting student

MAYS LANDING — A former choir director who sexually assaulted a student he taught at Port Republic Elementary School said he takes “ownership” and “responsibility” for his actions, and apologized to his family, church, school and the victim before his sentencing Friday in Atlantic County Superior Court.

“I’ve seen the enthusiasm that (Bonek) had for the kids, and then you see something like this and it’s baffling,” Tweedle said Thursday. “I have no tolerance for something like this. … It just leaves you speechless.”

Tweedle added he did not receive any prior notice that an arrest was coming Wednesday. He got a call that the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office was at the school, and his phone “exploded” shortly after the story was put online, he said.

“Everyone I talked to is just in total disbelief,” he said.

Bonek is charged with possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography, possession of child pornography with intent to distribute, maintaining a file-sharing program making child pornography available for distribution, and official misconduct.

Assistant Prosecutor Dave Ruffenach said the prosecution had filed a motion for detention. Bonek was represented by Deputy Public Defender Scott Sherwood. Sherwood said he was unsure whether Bonek would seek to obtain a private defense counsel.

A.C. Expressway accident halts traffic, debris litters lanes

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A building-materials company dump truck hit an overpass along the Atlantic City Expressway on Thursday, shutting off a portion of the road for more than five hours and slowing traffic on surrounding roads.

The accident occurred at 8 a.m., when the Penn Jersey Building Materials truck hit the Fire Road bridge overpass, according to State Police, sending cinder blocks spilling from atop the vehicle onto the expressway, striking a Kia Optima.

“There was debris throughout each lane,” said Jason Smart-El, 27, of Mays Landing, who was caught in the traffic. “There were chunks of cinder blocks everywhere.”

An employee at Penn Jersey’s Pleasantville location confirmed the truck involved in the accident was theirs but referred additional comment to an operations manager who did not return calls from The Press.

By 1:40 p.m., lanes on the expressway had reopened, according to the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the expressway. Mark Amorosi, a spokesman for the SJTA, said cleanup was ongoing.

Traffic was detoured from the expressway to the Garden State Parkway south, with most motorists taking the Washington Avenue exit. Traffic lights at the parkway exit on Washington Avenue, at Fire Road and at Doughty Road forced gridlock for motorists making the trek east on Washington Avenue.

Both Route 9 and Fire Road between Washington Avenue in Egg Harbor Township and Delilah Road in Pleasantville were closed for several hours as a result of the crash, according to officials.

Neither the driver of the dump truck nor the driver of the Optima was injured, State Police said.

Atlantic County planning and engineering officials checked the scene for damage, county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore said.

Smart-El said he was glad no one was hurt.

“There was so much smoke,” he said. “But the truck driver was standing and seemed OK.”

Marissa Luca contributed to this report.

Gov. Murphy faces NJ Transit rail commuters' fury

NEWARK — Gov. Phil Murphy, on the job for seven months, pinned NJ Transit’s commuter-train troubles on his predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, and offered better communication with riders as the only immediate fix.

“I don’t blame commuters one bit for their anger and cynicism,” Murphy, a 60-year-old Democrat, told reporters Thursday at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark. “We are climbing out of a deep hole after eight years of failure.”

The rail service’s troubles extend to South Jersey, where the Atlantic City Rail Line to Philadelphia is being suspended starting Sept. 5 and carrying into next year, to allow for installation of federally mandated safety improvements. NJ Transit has said it will expand bus service between Atlantic City and Lindenwold as a result.

NJ Transit authorizes $45M for programs amid rail cancellations

NEWARK — NJ Transit’s Board of Directors heard from commuters and rail advocates frustrated by dozens of last minute-train cancellations during Wednesday’s meeting but still managed to authorize spending $45 million in federal and state funds for local transportation programs throughout the state.

Once a national leader, NJ Transit’s railroad has the most accidents and safety fines after two terms of Christie budget cuts. Murphy, a multimillionaire Goldman Sachs Group Inc. retiree and former U.S. ambassador, has promised to turn around the agency, while warning that fixes will take time. Five trains were canceled Thursday morning, while 20 or more have been scrubbed on recent days.

“We own this at the moment,” Murphy said. “We’re committed to getting this right. If anything, I underestimated the mess.”

Murphy, alongside NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett and Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, said the agency had failed to update riders about cancellations as they happen, and will make sure the information goes to each station in real time. None offered immediate solutions to faulty air conditioning, packed cars and other inconveniences that for weeks have plagued riders of the nation’s second-busiest commuter rail system.

“There’s nothing that’s going to happen today, tomorrow, that makes such an appreciable difference that you’re not going to come and have this conversation with me next month,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “Planning and good management started in February. You’ve just got to give us time to actually start to see the fruits of that labor.”

Corbett said riders should be aware of “the bigger picture” and stressed the need to study equipment life cycles to better predict mechanical trouble. Faulty air conditioning during a heat wave in Secaucus, where thousands board trains to and from Manhattan, were a symptom of neglect on Christie’s watch, he said.

The governor met Thursday morning with NJ Transit administrators for about an hour. The briefing in Newark was announced soon after riders at a Wednesday agency board meeting criticized Murphy’s handling of the troubled agency and demanded answers.

Northeast Corridor rail service suspended after person hit

METUCHEN, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Transit says a person was struck and killed along the tracks on the Northeast Corridor line, and rail service on both NJ Transit and Amtrak has been suspended between Trenton and New York's Penn Station.

Hours before Thursday morning’s meeting, a fatality on the tracks caused NJ Transit to suspend rush-hour service for more than 90 minutes on the Northeast Corridor, its busiest line. More than two hours after service resumed, commuters still faced delays of up to 30 minutes. Amtrak, which owns the tracks it shares with NJ Transit, also had late trains.

Social media users complained that NJ Transit’s smartphone app didn’t communicate the incident, and criticized the agency for suggesting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s PATH trains, with a limited service area, as an alternative.

Democratic Senate and Assembly members who head transportation committees scheduled an Aug. 16 hearing in Trenton to examine weeks of cancellations, engineer call-outs and an ongoing emergency-braking project that have upended rush-hour service for tens of thousands who work in New York City.

The NJ Transit board on Wednesday approved $3.8 billion in spending for 2019 that almost doubled the state’s contribution, to $332 million. It also included a record $511 million shift from the capital account, intended for long-term improvements, to cover day-to-day operations, plus $236 million from other state funds, including more than $18 million from the Casino Revenue Tax Fund for seniors and disabled residents. Murphy had criticized those budgeting practices as unsound.

“I’m not thrilled about the mix, the sources, of that budget,” Murphy told reporters. “This notion of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, which has become a Trenton master fine art — unfortunately I don’t think we can extinguish it overnight.”

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

“I don’t blame commuters one bit for their anger and cynicism,” Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters Thursday at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark. “We are climbing out of a deep hole after eight years of failure.”

Atlantic City eyed for Arena Football League expansion

Professional sports franchises haven’t fared well in Atlantic City in recent years.

The Arena Football League is hoping to end that slump by placing a franchise in Boardwalk Hall, starting next spring.

“It’s going to happen,” said Ron Jaworski, majority owner of the Philadelphia Soul, which plans to start a franchise in Atlantic City. “There are a lot of moving parts to it, but I’m confident we can get the local support to put a team there. As everyone knows, I’ve been bullish on the Atlantic City market for a long time. We’re going to make it work.”

Jaworski, a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who owns Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township, was responsible for bringing the Philadelphia-based Maxwell Football Club to Atlantic City. It held its banquet in town for the 15th straight year in March, drawing a sellout crowd to Tropicana Atlantic City.

The 67-year-old also staged an Arena League game at Boardwalk Hall in May 2015. An announced crowd of 6,514 watched the Soul earn a 51-43 victory over the now-defunct Las Vegas Outlaws in the short-lived DraftKings Boardwalk Bowl game.

He is scheduled to meet with city officials next week.

“I think it’s a great idea,” City Council President Marty Small said. “I’m for anything that will bring family-oriented entertainment to the city.”

It would be the fifth professional sports franchise to come to Atlantic City in the past 20 years. None of the previous four is still here, although the city authorized former Atlantic City Surf owner Frank Boulton in May to try to find someone interested in placing a baseball team in Surf Stadium.

The Surf played here from 1998-2008 in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (1998-2006) and the Can-Am League (2007-08) before folding.

The Boardwalk Bullies of the East Coast Hockey League played at Boardwalk Hall for five seasons (2001-05) but failed to draw enough fans to stay. The franchise relocated to Stockton, California.

The Seagulls spent six seasons (1996-2001) in the now-defunct United States Basketball League playing at Atlantic City High School, Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom and finally at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing.

In 2004, the Atlantic City Cardsharks of the old National Indoor Football League played at Boardwalk Hall.

“I know we’ve tried (sports franchises) here before, but this is different,” Small said. “The Arena League is the major leagues of indoor football.”

The idea to bring a team to Atlantic City is part of a long-term plan by Washington businessman Ted Leonsis. Leonsis’ company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, owns a number of sports franchises, including the NHL-champion Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards and WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

He also owns two of the four active AFL franchises, the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade. The other two are the Soul and Albany (New York) Empire. Two other franchises, the Cleveland Gladiators and Tampa Bay Storm, are on hiatus while their arenas undergo renovations.

Atlantic City became attractive to Leonsis and the league because of legalized sports betting.

“(Legalized sports betting) is a new frontier for professional sports, and teams who don’t seize on this opportunity will be left behind,” Leonsis wrote on his blog in May. “It’s not hard to imagine in the near future fans on their devices analyzing data, placing bets and communicating with each other in real time during games. Legalized sports betting will only bring fans closer to the game, ramping up the action in each minute and creating more intensity.”

Bally’s Wild Wild West, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah’s Resort and Ocean Resort Casino all have on-site sports books in Atlantic City.

DraftKings, through a partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel, launched the state’s first online and mobile sports betting platforms Aug. 1. Resorts also established an online and mobile sports betting partnership with The Stars Group.

“When the league was first talking about expanding, Atlantic City was one of the top three contenders because of sports betting,” Jaworski said. “Sports betting is a game-changer.”

Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski is the owner of Blue Herons Pines Golf Course in Galloway Township.