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James Kauffman's fake military service factored into wife's murder, warrant says

James Kauffman’s lie to his wife and his community about serving in the military sparked distrust in his marriage and could have played a role in his wife’s death, according to a search warrant executed in June 2017.

The search warrant executed by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at Kauffman’s Egg Harbor Township medical office last year sought evidence related to health care fraud, but also information on Kauffman’s military service records and divorce proceedings between James and April Kauffman, the latter of whom was murdered in 2012.

According to federal military records obtained recently with the assistance of Guardians of the Green Beret, Kauffman never served in the military.

After her murder, friends of April Kauffman told investigators it was James Kauffman’s alleged military service that attracted April to him in the first place, according to the warrant.

“However, within a year of her murder, April became aware that Dr. Kauffman had never served in Armed Forces and was not a veteran in any capacity,” the warrant states. “It is known that April was devastated by this revelation and it is believed that she threatened to use this information to procure a beneficial divorce from him.”

Photos from the April Kauffman murder case

Before 2012, James Kauffman was a locally respected doctor who, with his wife, April, a local veterans advocate, hosted Coast Guard recruits for the holidays. Kauffman had apparently told others, including his wife and stepdaughter, that he was a combat veteran.

During that time, Kauffman regularly appeared with his wife at public events to promote veterans affairs and even filled in for her on her radio show now and again.

April’s friend and fellow veterans advocate Donna Clementoni said James Kauffman was always “standoffish” with her, adding she believes April’s veterans work became a “thorn in his side.”

“I don’t think he had the pure patriotism like April did,” she said. “I think it was a matter of convenience when he was before somebody.”

April Kauffman, 47, was found by a caretaker shot twice on May 10, 2012, in the bedroom of her Linwood home. Five years later, Kauffman was arrested on weapons and obstruction charges resulting from a 45-minute armed standoff with police as they attempted to execute the search warrant.

In January, after he was charged in April’s murder, James Kauffman, 69, died inside the Hudson County jail, where he apparently hanged himself.

Several nonprofit groups, such as Guardians of the Green Beret, help to expose those with “stolen valor,” a term for the phenomenon of people claiming military service or recognition they did not earn. One spokesman for the organization, who asked not to be identified for his safety, said people fake military service or rank for many reasons, but mainly for financial gain.

“We were finding out that individuals were posing as Green Berets to actually gain access to VA benefits. They were putting this on resumes for high-level paying contract positions,” the spokesman said. “We’ve actually exposed people running for office.”

A federal law signed by President Barack Obama in 2013 makes it illegal to fraudulently claim having received a valor award for financial or other tangible benefits, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that simply wearing unearned medals is protected by the First Amendment.

PHOTOS of Dr. James Kauffman in court

On a recent episode of ABC’s “20/20,” April’s daughter, Kimberly Pack, tells the story of how James Kauffman had several military medals on display at their home in Linwood. She said she even wrote about Kauffman’s alleged service in Vietnam, including being captured by the Viet Cong, for a college essay. Kauffman had one caveat to the conversation they had for her essay: His stepdaughter had to destroy the tape and never let his mother, Ruth, know about it. In a deposition with Pack’s attorney, Kauffman admits he never served.

For many veterans and advocates, faking military service is the lowest of lows.

Atlantic County Director of Veterans Services Bob Frolow said pretending to be in the military is “taking credit for something that you never did and not giving credit to someone who deserves it.”

Frolow, who first met April Kauffman about seven years ago at a breakfast at the former Northfield Diner before joining her on several veterans projects, said although James Kauffman never told him explicitly he was a veteran, he did things like wearing a green beret or fatigues to insinuate that he was.

“Little things where you would assume he was a veteran,” Frolow said. “He would make little innuendos that he was in the service.”

Frolow said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear Kauffman admit he never served in the deposition he gave to Pack’s attorneys, Pat and Andrew D’Arcy.

“I think it’s an inexcusable fraud,” Clementoni said. “If they’re pretending to be somebody that served, they really have no idea what it means to potentially put your life on the line.”

PHOTOS from stories about the April Kauffman homicide

Every office has an ocean view at local beach service

CAPE MAY — Steve Steger grabbed a navy-blue umbrella from the stack, hoisted it over his tan shoulder and trotted through the soft sand at Stockton Beach last week.

Fellow beachgoers hopped in pain while trying to get from the Promenade to the water’s edge. Steger, the 59-year-old owner of Steger’s Beach Service, didn’t seem to be bothered by the scorching sand, perhaps because the soles of his feet have grown used to it over the years.

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” he said with a laugh. “Ever since I was a little kid.”

About 50 yards away, he met the husband and wife who had paid $13 for the use of an umbrella for the day. Steger opened it, jabbed the pointed end into the sand, and rocked it back and forth until it was stable. With one final movement, he tilted it slightly toward the breeze that was coming off the ocean.

It’s the way Steger’s employees have been taught to install an umbrella for decades, since the late Steven “Coach” Steger — Steve’s grandfather — started the business in 1933.

“We still have a day where we teach everyone how to do things,” Steve said. “How to put in an umbrella, how to talk to customers. We have a way of doing things that has worked for a long time.”

Steve and his eldest son, Steven, 27 and vice president of the company, have a staff of 15 beach stand attendants this summer who work at 11 stands from First Avenue to Trenton Avenue, a span of almost two miles.

They range in age from 14 to their mid 20s. They get paid a decent wage, but make most of their money on tips from setting up umbrellas, chairs and blue-and-white striped cabanas. Everyone gets two free drinks a day and a half-hour for lunch.

The older attendants have been spending their summers at Steger’s for at least five years, mainly because of the work environment.

One former employee, Joe Rossi, recently retired after 42 years.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 14,” Kevin Flad, 21, said from his post at Stockton Beach.

The Stockton Beach stand, officially located on Ocean Avenue, was the original location. Coach Steger was said to have bought both the stand and the bathhouses across the street from the Shields family in the early 1930s.

“I think Coach was a lifeguard for a while, but then saw the beach service as an opportunity,” Steve Steger said. “Because he was a teacher (and coach at the former Cape May High School), he wanted something to do in the summers.”

Over the years, he expanded it to 15 stands that rented canvas rafts for 50 cents an hour, in addition to umbrellas, chairs, tents and boxes. Sodas — Coca-Cola, 7-Up, Tab and Fresca were the popular brands — were sold for 50 cents.

Steve’s father, the late Robert Steger, ran the store on Beach Avenue that sold suntan lotion, Birdwell Beach Britches and other beach necessities after it opened in the 1960s.

Coach died in 1990, followed by Robert in 2007. The store has since closed, replaced by a string of shops that include South End Surf Shop and Coffee Tyme.

The beach service has changed over the years. Each stand now rents three boogie boards instead of a dozen rafts. A few years back, some of the bigger hotels decided to feature their own beach service. Steger’s developed a partnership with some of the other hotels and even a few rental homes to supply beach equipment for their clientele.

But every office still has an ocean view.

“I’ve thought about working at other places, but why should I?” Flad said. “This is the perfect summer job.”

Oliver North speaks on commitment, faith at Ocean City Tabernacle

OCEAN CITY — About two dozen people marched outside the Ocean City Tabernacle on Sunday morning holding signs that read “Worship God, Not Guns” and “You can’t pray guns away” in protest of former U.S. Marine Lt. Col. and newly named NRA President Oliver North speaking at two services.

Inside the Tabernacle, hundreds of people packed in and heard North, who was named president of the National Rifle Association in May, give a speech about commitment to faith, family, and freedom.

“I think this was one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve ever heard in church,” 93-year-old war veteran R.J. “Rocky” Gannon, an Ocean City native, said Sunday. “Those protesters should have been inside listening instead of outside.”

In his speech, North spoke of the value of commitment. Commitment to faith, the country, marriage and children are some of the bedrocks of America, he said, citing the commitment of the founding fathers to the country’s independence.

He also talked about his own faith and how it guided him through his time in the military and now his current role.

“The last sentence of the Declaration of Independence is a prayer ... it’s the only founding document in the world that gives credit to God,” he told the crowd. “You’ve got to come to know your Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Pete Karabashian, a U.S. Army veteran and Ventnor resident, said he was looking forward to hearing from North and was not disappointed.

“It was an excellent speech,” he said. “(North) is carrying out a mission to spread the word of the Bible.”

The announcement of North’s visit to the Tabernacle garnered a mixed reaction in the area late last week.

On Thursday, Tabernacle Chairman of the Board Virginia Weber said North was chosen as a speaker before the NRA announced in May he would be its new president.

In the 1980s, North was closely associated with the Iran-Contra scandal in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the scandal, armaments were illegally sold to Iran and proceeds sent illegally to Contra fighters battling a Marxist regime in Nicaragua.

North was identified as the person who sent the funds to the Contras. He was convicted on three felony counts in 1989, but his convictions were vacated in 1990 when an appeals court said witnesses in his trial may have been affected by his immunized congressional testimony, according to previous news reports.

On Sunday, however, the protests were about North’s connection to the NRA. Protesters repeated chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go” and “Hey NRA, how many children have died today?” as they marched in front of the Tabernacle, located at 550 Wesley Ave.

“The purpose of our demonstration is to make a stand for the people who are voiceless ... who have been gunned down unnecessarily with gun violence,” said Georgina Shanley, a city resident who organized the protest. “They don’t have a voice anymore and we’re here to stand for them and demand that safe gun laws are enforced.”

Shanley also said they were protesting, in part, because of comments North made after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when he called gun control activists “civil terrorists.”

Ocean City police stationed at the Tabernacle said there were no incidents between protesters and churchgoers.

Jersey guys behind Hard Rock came to change Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Sitting in a private room of the restaurant Council Oak Fish, Joseph Jingoli and Jack Morris had just a few minutes Thursday afternoon to relax.

With the Boardwalk as a backdrop behind them, the quiet serenity of the room was a million miles away from the raucous energy inside the Hard Rock LIVE at Etess Arena a few hours earlier when the two were on stage smashing guitars with celebrities during the grand opening festivities of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

As part of the investment group behind the $500 million renovation of the former Trump Taj Mahal, Jingoli and Morris round out a powerhouse New Jersey quartet responsible for the casino hotel, which includes Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen and Hard Rock Atlantic City Property President Matt Harkness. Their direct ties to New Jersey are a major reason the two developers bet big on Atlantic City when all signs pointed toward the investment being folly.

Hard Rock attempts to win over A.C. community

ATLANTIC CITY — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City executives met with more than 100 community members Tuesday to stress the casino wants the residents’ help in growing the resort.

“Wall Street didn’t want to touch Atlantic City,” said Morris, CEO and president of Piscataway-based Edgewood Properties. “Timing is everything, and the time was right. We found the right partners. Without Jim Allen, without Hard Rock, without the Seminole Tribe, make no mistake about it, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

Morris, a native of Highland Park, Middlesex County, has made significant investments to development in New Brunswick, Brick and Somerville. Edgewood is currently working on Towne Place at Garden State Park, a mixed-use project on the site of the former racetrack in Cherry Hill. The company was also approved to build a 32,000-square-foot restaurant and retail space called Nantucket Galloway on the White Horse Pike in the township with construction expected to begin this year.

Gallery: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino officially opens

Jingoli and his brother Michael run Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc., the contracting and development firm behind the Stockton University Gateway Project set to open this fall on the Boardwalk. The businessman also spearheaded a transition of the state’s drug court program to being renamed recovery court in Atlantic and Cape May counties and has advocated hiring graduates of the program in casinos.

The former Atlantic City resident said one of the resort’s most attractive assets is the people. He said finding talented and capable employees from a local pool for both the construction project and the casino was “the easiest thing in the world.”

“We have a 20-year relationship here in Atlantic City,” Jingoli said. “Over those 20 years, we have met cooperative residents (and) we’ve recruited a very loyal, trainable workforce in energy, construction and now in gaming. What was written and what is the reality of Atlantic City, about the people here, are very different.”

Jingoli and Morris said that when Hard Rock was hosting hiring events prior to the June 28 grand opening, they requested recruiters take a hard look at Atlantic City residents. The result is that nearly 25 percent of the casino hotel’s 3,700-plus employees are city residents.

“Atlantic City has a very viable workforce,” Jingoli said. “There was no magic needed.”

Morris said the employees’ gratitude is “emotional” for him.

“It’s so inspiring to hear, and it’s very touching to me, personally,” he said. “We appreciate the fact that people work hard for us, and we want them, each and every one of them, to know that.”

Morris added with the power of the Hard Rock brand and the media attention on Atlantic City, the perception of the resort will begin to change. He said the attention and success of the city will eventually force others to step up and meet the demand because that’s what people will begin to expect.

“Not only in New Jersey, or the entire United States of America, but I think around the world, people are going to see that Atlantic City is alive and well,” Morris said. “And they’re going to continue to see a change in Atlantic City because people are going to have to compete to a higher standard that they didn’t have to before.”

PHOTOS: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino memorabilia

Jingoli said the group is not done in Atlantic City. But before any new projects begin to form, the focus is delivering on the promise of Hard Rock.

“We didn’t come to Atlantic City to open another casino (or) to reopen a closed casino,” Morris said. “We came here to change the city. And I think that we’ve taken the first step toward doing that.”

Dale Gerhard / Staff Photographer  

Hard Rock partner Joe Jingoli (left), Hard Rock property president Matt Harkness, (center) and Hard Rock partner Jack Morris, were at Absecon Blvd and Virginia Ave in Atlantic City, to unveil sign for the opening of the Hard Rock Casino next summer. The dismantling of the Taj Mahal on Virginia Avenue in Atlantic City, continues as workers remove spires and other architectural features as the building is being rebuilt into the Hard Rock Casino schelduled to open in the summer of 2018. Tuesday Nov. 14, 2017. (Dale Gerhard / Press of Atlantic City)