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Warrant out for pilot who stole plane and landed at Cape May Coast Guard beach

CAPE MAY — Authorities are searching and have issued an arrest warrant for the pilot of a single-engine plane that was stolen from a Middle Township landing strip and illegally landed on a Coast Guard beach in the city.

The plane was identified as a Piper PA12 aircraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and was taken from Paramount Air in the Green Creek section. The FAA said it is investigating the incident.

The plane’s owner, Barbara Tomalino, president of Paramount Air Services, said it is used to fly banners over the beach.

“It was used by one of our employees without permission,” Tomalino said. “We didn’t even realize it was gone.”

Eric Springer, Tomalino’s son who also works for Paramount, said the FAA is currently taking the plane apart and bringing it back to the hangar.

He added he could not yet release the name of the employee who took the plane, but said he would “definitely like to have a conversation with him.”

The Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May increased security after the craft landed on its beach just before 8 p.m. Sunday. That heightened security has since been relaxed, the Coast Guard said.

Cape May city police and Coast Guard police responded at about 8:10 p.m. Sunday. By then, the pilot had already run away.

The Coast Guard said Monday footprints were found leading away from the plane and added there was no sign of damage to the plane. The Coast Guard also said it was not aware of the plane’s presence prior to it landing.

Samantha Haws, of Wildwood, said she and other bystanders saw the plane flying low Sunday and said the plane was close to hitting Wildwood homes and businesses.

“Bystanders were ducking,” Haws said. “At first I thought it was an airshow, but then once I saw it going the way it was, I thought it was going to it the homes. It was definitely scary for several people outside.”

The Coast Guard said officers became aware of the incident when the plane was spotted on closed-circuit cameras.

Martin Pagliughi, director of the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, said threats from the air are real, though there isn’t a textbook way to prevent something like this from happening.

Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including the Coast Guard Fire Department, Cape May city police, the Cape May County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, Coast Guard police and Coast Guard Investigative Services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Stolen metals fuel N.J. opioid crisis, state report says

Drug addicts are paying for their next fix by stealing tens of millions of dollars worth of metals ripped from cellphone towers, power stations and even cemeteries, then fencing them at scrap yards and thrift stores, according to a report from a state agency.

The thefts are so vast, they lead to breakdowns in cell service and electrical power, and also create higher cost for taxpayers who foot the bill for manhole covers and other metal stolen from communities and businesses, according to a recent report by the State Commission of Investigation, a watchdog agency.

The stolen metals are fueling the state’s opioid crisis, according to the report, which is titled “Corrupt Commerce: Heroin, Thievery and the Underground Trade in Stolen Goods.”

More than a third of overdose victims in two counties are in databases of people who had sold materials to thrift and to secondhand stores, scrap-metal yards and pawn dealers. The report also indicates some owners or employees of the businesses ask addicts to steal the metals, the commission reported.

The reports also cited the case of a Galloway Township man and woman who led a ring that stole $100,000 by shoplifting from local Target and TJMaxx stores, returning the goods for gift cards and selling them at half price all so they could feed their heroin habits.

Sandy Androckitis, clinical director for Cape Assist, a Wildwood-based organization preventing and treating substance abuse, said it’s not uncommon for addicts to resort to theft.

“I think the phrase is ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures,’” Androckitis said.

She said addicts steal because they need to buy drugs, but they also need to pay for rent money after spending money on drugs.

The report cites instances in which thieves ripped the risers from bleachers at schools, made off with aluminum street lamps from highways and stole bronze vases from graves.

Rod Mesiano, manager of Landis Building Service and Recycling in Vineland, said he buys copper wiring daily, but they are all from his verified accounts.

“I have a lot of plumbers, electricians and heating and air guys. They work with that stuff everyday,” Mesiano said.

If Mesiano were to buy bleachers, he said he would have to have a complete certificate of where they were coming from, including who was bringing them in and what school or facility they were coming from.

Recyclers defended themselves, saying they’re always on the lookout for stolen metal.

“If somebody would come in with a roll of brand new copper wire, I mean, that’s very suspicious,” said George Luciano, CEO of Cumberland Recycling Corp. in Millville. “If it was an individual, it would draw a red flag from us, and we would notify the authorities.” Luciano’s company was not cited in the report issued by the State Commission of Investigation.

Cumberland Recycling Corp. says it won’t accept stolen streetlights; it will only accept it if it is coming from a utility, Luciano said. Even railroad material, the business would only take it if it is coming from an authorized railroad company.

If a person came into his business trying to sell a street light, Luciano said his employees know enough to ask, “Where the hell did you get it? You are just an individual.”

Collectively, the Commission estimates the businesses have bought and sold tens of millions of dollars in stolen goods in recent years.

The report mentions the case of Alicia Blackburne, 27, and Robert Campbell, 29, both of Galloway Township, who allegedly led a ring that stole $100,000 by shoplifting from Target and TJMaxx stores.

Across the country, the theft of copper and other metals costs the industry nearly $1 billion per year, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

Over the course of this inquiry, SCI investigators issued scores of subpoenas, analyzed banking records and conducted more than 100 interviews with law enforcement officers, metal recyclers, state and municipal officials, representatives of the telecommunications and retail industries, the owners and employees of the outfits engaged in suspect or illegal behavior and addicts and former addicts who carried out thefts for drug money.

The state licenses traditional pawn shops, which provide collateral-based loans, while municipalities license cash-for-gold shops, secondhand goods stores and scrap yards, the report said.

Even though the report mentions pawn shops, Sam Kaslon, co-owner and manager of K&H Coins in Vineland, people who just want to sell goods will receive less money from pawn shop — possibly half as much money — than selling their goods to a cash-for-gold store.

For the pawn shop side of the business, they are making loans that people pay back to get their merchandise back. For the coin and jewelry buying side of their business, they do keep records, Kaslon said.

Joe Giordano, one of the owners of Giordanos Vineland Scrap, said he has procedures in place to prevent buying stolen metal.

“No one comes in here to sell us stuff without the proper licenses and ID. We take a snapshot picture of everything we buy. The State Police and the police department come in, and they are able to access our software to see if someone is stealing something, if they suspect it. If they suspect somebody, they put a name into a computer, and it pops up,” Giordano said.


Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

MURPHY

Gov. Phil Murphy is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. Monday.


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breakingtop story
Hard Rock A.C. will not offer sports betting opening day

ATLANTIC CITY — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is punting on sports betting for now, which opens the door for Ocean Resort Casino to take the ball and run when the two properties open Thursday.

“We’re not opening with sports betting, but it’s something we’re taking a very hard look at for the future,” Matt Harkness, property president, told The Press of Atlantic City on Monday.

By contrast, Ocean Resort, also opening June 28, has already announced its partnership with London-based William Hill US to run its sports book operations. Executives with Ocean Resort said a 7,500-square-foot sports book will not be ready Thursday, but a temporary book will allow guests to place sports wagers on opening day.

The decision by Hard Rock — which spent more than $500 million renovating the former Trump Taj Mahal — to not immediately offer sports betting is likely welcome news to the resort’s other properties, said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a consulting firm which has performed services for Hard Rock’s Atlantic City property.

“I think it’s going to raise a sigh of relief among a number of properties, not just in this neighborhood, but throughout the city,” said Pollock. “Hard Rock is going to be a contender in any area in which it plants its flag. So, any area in which they elect to not participate, long term or short term, for whatever reason, does present an opportunity for any competing property to gain share in that segment, by definition.”

Hard Rock International, parent company of the casino hotel, has a stadium naming rights deal with the NFL and the Miami Dolphins, which Chairman Jim Allen alluded to during a license hearing in May when asked about sports betting at the Atlantic City property. Allen said the confidential agreement had “certain restrictions” while testifying in front of the state Casino Control Commission, but did not elaborate.

Hard Rock and Ocean Resort will open within one hour of each other, marking the first time in the resort’s history two casino hotels have opened on the same day.

Ocean Resort, which is opening at the site of the former Revel Casino Hotel, has promised to deliver a “best in class” sports book to the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

“Ocean Resort Casino is thrilled to partner with William Hill, the best name in sports betting, to establish a truly unique sports betting experience in the center of our resort and in Atlantic City,” said Bruce Deifik, chairman and owner of Ocean Resort following the official announcement of the partnership. “From real-time betting to exclusive hospitality for major events, the sports book will be second-to-none.”

Gov. Phil Murphy is anticipated to attend both casino openings — barring any unforeseen complications with state budget negotiations — and place a sports wager at Ocean Resort.

Murphy placed the first sports bet in New Jersey history at William Hill’s sports book at Monmouth Park Racetrack on June 14. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened its sports book 30 minutes later, where NBA Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J.” Erving and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, placed the first sports wagers at an Atlantic City casino. To date, Borgata is still the only casino to offer sports betting.

Harkness said Hard Rock is going through its options when it comes to offering sports wagers and added, “Right now, quite frankly, we’re just focused on the opening.”