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Haven nightclub manager sues Atlantic City Mayor Gilliam

ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.’s legal woes continue as a civil suit claiming breach of contract was filed against him Monday in state Superior Court.

Meredith Adele Godfrey claims she lent Gilliam $5,000 in August “with the expectation that he would pay her back as soon as possible.” She is seeking repayment of the loan plus interest, court costs and legal fees totaling $10,082.

Gilliam declined to comment. Godfrey referred all questions to her attorney, former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

The complaint alleges a “close personal relationship” between the mayor and Godfrey, who is an entertainment director at Haven Nightclub in Golden Nugget Atlantic City, but Guadagno declined to elaborate on the nature of the relationship.

Gilliam and Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II were part of a scuffle outside Haven on Nov. 11 that involved three employees from the nightclub.

According to the suit, Godfrey attempted to collect the debt in October and November but Gilliam either failed to respond to text messages or pay her back. The two-count complaint accuses Gilliam of theft and conversion as well as breach of contract.

“All (Godfrey) is trying to do is collect money that is owed to her by the mayor,” said Guadagno, who joined the law firm of Connell Foley in April 2018 after serving for eight years as lieutenant governor under Chris Christie and unsuccessfully running as the Republican nominee for governor in 2017.

Guadagno said her client tried to avoid filing a complaint and did not want to go to court over the issue.

According to the complaint, Gilliam sought the loan so he could “pay an attorney for trademark advice regarding a tourism slogan for Atlantic City.”

Tourism marketing in Atlantic City is typically handled by Meet AC and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The now-defunct Atlantic City Alliance created the city’s current marketing slogan, “Do AC,” in 2012, and the previous marketing effort, “Always Turned On,” was created in 2003 by the also-defunct Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to questions about why Gilliam would have sought to use personal funds to pay for legal advice related to his professional position.

Council President Marty Small Sr., who challenged Gilliam in the 2017 Democratic mayoral primary, said he was “aware of the situation” on Thursday afternoon but that his focus was on the city’s 2019 budget.

“What’s going on is between Frank Gilliam and the young lady,” he said. “There’s always going to be distractions in government, and I’m not talking about Frank’s situation (specifically). There are distractions that happen, but it’s important to not be distracted.”

The civil suit comes less than a week after charges of simple assault and harassment against Gilliam and Fauntleroy were dismissed in municipal court. The charges were the result of the two elected officials’ involvement in a November melee outside Haven at 2:23 a.m. that was captured on security cameras at Golden Nugget.

Three Haven employees — Julie Rodriguez, Gregory Aulicino and Joseph Camarata — signed complaints against Gilliam and Fauntleroy.

On the video, Gilliam and another unidentified individual can be seen exchanging punches with Camarata. At one point in the video, Fauntleroy is seen tossing Aulicino to the ground from behind. Rodriguez can be seen having a verbal exchange with both elected officials and claimed the two officials threatened to “(expletive) her up,” according to the complaint.

The charges were dismissed Feb. 28 in North Wildwood municipal court. Fauntleroy pleaded guilty to violating an Atlantic City ordinance prohibiting the obstruction of traffic flow in a public space and was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

On Dec. 3, federal authorities from the FBI and the IRS executed a search warrant on Gilliam’s North Ohio Avenue home. Investigators spent nearly four hours there and left with cardboard boxes and computer equipment. Authorities have not said why Gilliam’s home was subject to a search, and the mayor has not been charged with any crime stemming from the search.

Additionally, a criminal complaint was filed in March 2018 by members of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee who claimed Gilliam stole a $10,000 check, but a Superior Court judge found no probable cause and dismissed the charges.

This story was first reported by SaveJersey, a Conservative political blog run by Camden County attorney Matt Rooney.

Paper ballots come around again — as cutting-edge way to vote

TRENTON — An old technology is new again, as paper ballots are making a big comeback thanks to fears about Russia — and others — hacking U.S. elections.

Voting machines on display at the first-ever Election Technology for New Jersey Now and Tomorrow trade show, held by the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey Association of Election Officials, virtually all incorporated paper ballots, even when the votes were cast electronically.

“Voters continue to want a secure paper trail,” said Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti.

That’s something New Jersey voters don’t yet have, except for those in Warren County.

For years, advocates have been calling on New Jersey to update its direct-recording electronic voting machines, which record votes directly into a computer’s memory, with those that also create a paper trail.

It will cost more than $60 million to replace all the voting machines in the state, estimated Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.

He has a bill pending in the Legislature that would require counties, when they replace voting machines, to do so with a type that creates a paper trail.

“It sounds like we’re going backwards,” said Mazzeo of using paper ballots. But today’s paper ballot goes hand in hand with high-tech machinery, he said.

And it remains the best protection against hackers, Mazzeo said. Paper ballots can be counted if there is ever a reason to doubt machine totals.

“And with new technology, it’s quick — you can cast a vote in seven seconds,” he said.

New Jersey is in a minority of states that do not create a paper trail in their voting systems, according to

Thursday’s event was designed to let legislators, election officials and others see the latest in voting technology, said Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections Maureen Bugdon, who also is the executive vice president of the New Jersey Association of Election Officials.

She said Secretary of State Tahesha Way, whose department oversees elections in New Jersey, has been supportive of helping modernize.

“During the 2018 general election, several of our counties took part in pilot programs using voting systems that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail,” said Way in a statement. “As part of this pilot program, we have also trained those counties in the use of risk-limiting audits.”

Voting machines on display in Trenton included touch-screen models that create paper ballots as voters press buttons on screens. The paper ballots stay behind glass on the side of the machine, where voters can check to be sure the votes are being printed properly. When the voters cast the votes, the paper ballots fall down inside the machine to provide a paper trail for audits or recounts.

They also included a voting process that starts with a paper ballot voters complete by filling in little ovals next to the candidates’ names, similar to filling out an SAT test sheet. Voters then feed them into an optical reader machine to cast their votes.

Atlantic and Cape May counties both bought their voting machines about 15 years ago, when the federal government was helping fund improvements after the 2000 presidential election identified weaknesses in the voting system and the Help America Vote Act became law in 2002. They create an electronic record that can be retabulated, but no paper trail.

The DRE machines have proved reliable, said Bugdon.

“They are workhorses, and we have confidence in the fact they are secure,” she said. “But it is getting more difficult to find replacement parts.”

She is hopeful the state will help counties buy new machines, and feels voters would welcome “stepping a little further into the future.”

Princeton University professor Andrew Appel has testified before the Legislature, urging it to replace the state’s DRE machines quickly.

He has showed legislators how they can be mistakenly programmed incorrectly, which results in incorrect vote totals (as happened in Cumberland County in 2011) and how they can be hacked.

Appel was there looking at all of the equipment but declined to comment on which he felt worked best, saying he had to spend a lot more time examining them.

In addition to voting machines, vendors showed electronic poll books, which would allow poll workers to see the most updated information about a voter and allow counties to avoid having to publish poll books; and electronic sample ballots, which can include a much wider variety of information about a candidate and the office he or she seeks.

“This is a beautiful tool,” said Fulginiti of the digital sample ballot, which showed people photos of candidates and detailed information about them, as well as details about the office they were seeking.

Paper sample ballots, which by law must be mailed to every active voter, have room for much less information, Fulginiti said.

“I’m here looking for what’s new in technology and useful for voters,” said Fulginiti. She said purchasing decisions would be made by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

“That would be a bonding situation,” she said.

N.J. fishermen and offshore wind firms learning to coexist

TOMS RIVER — Hunched over a laptop, Jeff Dement pointed to a virtual map showing lease areas for offshore wind off New Jersey’s coast.

He clicked on the legend and added a layer showing where scallop fishing overlaps with potential turbine locations.

“You could do this for days,” said Dement, fish tagging program director for the American Littoral Society, as he gave a tutorial of an online data portal published by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean.

A few anglers gathered behind him inside a conference room in the Ocean County Library, where offshore wind developers and fishers met Wednesday evening to discuss how the two groups can lessen proposed wind projects’ disturbance of wildlife.

Three offshore wind firms — Equinor, Orsted and EDF Renewables — have submitted applications to the state to build in federal waters, but where they construct turbines and place cables on the ocean floor can impact fisheries and anglers’ access to certain species.

“We’re really putting our trust in these companies,” Dement said.

The goal: collect and use data to avoid prime fishing areas and migratory pathways.

Paul Eidman, of Anglers for Offshore Wind Power, emphasized the importance of giving fishermen a seat at the table.

“Recreational fishers have got to be engaged early,” said Eidman.

Some research has been done on the footprint of certain trawls and where certain species reside. The MARCO portal is one starting point, but developers have gathered data as well.

Stephen Drew, fisheries liaison for Equinor Wind U.S., said the company has mapped the migratory path of clam dredgers and squid trawlers. The company has a lease to build 17 miles off Sandy Hook, with construction possible in 2022.

“We’re soliciting feedback from fishers on draft turbine spots and cable routes,” Drew said.

It’s not known how every species will be affected in New Jersey, but offshore wind representatives said fishers could soon look to the Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island for some answers. Deepwater Wind, the company behind the wind farm, hired a team of scientists to study the effects of the turbines on fish and shellfish during and after construction.

The companies assured fishers they would have access to the waters where turbines are built. Each firm is leasing spots in federal waters from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“As developers, we don’t own the ocean. We just have rights to build there,” said Kris Ohleth, senior manager of stakeholder engagement at Orsted. The Danish company plans to build a wind farm about 10 miles off Atlantic City’s coast, creating 1,000 jobs for its three years of construction.

However, she said there may be restrictions near substations and during construction. The federal Office of Homeland Security could also restrict access given a national emergency.

By July, the state Board of Public Utilities will make its decision on which companies will receive ratepayer subsidies for projects. In addition to Orsted, EDF Renewables is also seeking to build off Atlantic City in a joint venture with Shell and will begin surveying the sea floor in the summer.

The lifespan for wind farms is 25 years. After that time, most fishers want the bases of turbines to be turned into artificial reefs to promote marine life.

Each firm needs to submit a decommissioning plan to the state detailing how the turbines will be dismantled at the end of the federal leases, the companies said.

“We want to do our best to coexist,” Ohleth said. “We’re not here to build a wind farm and then leave.”

Lawsuit holds up demolition of Atlantic City motel where gator was found

ATLANTIC CITY — The demolition of a vacant motel that serves as a symbol of blight along the resort’s entrance has been put on hold after a developer interested in buying the property sued the city.

Deep Blue Development alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that the city improperly placed a lien on the shuttered Bayview Inn, the infamous Route 40 motel where authorities found an alligator during a drug raid in 2017.

Deep Blue Development and the company’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hackensack-based group entered into a contract to purchase the property last May and claims the lien “adversely affected” their interest in buying the inn, which the city has long wanted to tear down.

“(Deep Blue) complied with the requests of (Atlantic City) and should be able to purchase the property,” the suit claims.

Deep Water lawsuit

Since authorities raided the Albany Avenue motel two years ago, the boarded-up inn has sat vacant and deteriorating. Panels on the windows are covered in graffiti, and a fence around the property is almost entirely blown down. The city believes squatters have been breaking into the rooms.

Following the raid, the city’s Licensing and Inspections Department deemed the building unsafe and ordered it taken down. In December 2017, the city passed a resolution to place a $300,100 lien on the property, which is owned by SomDev Real Estate LLC.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved funding for the demolition, and bids went out.

But Deep Blue Development then expressed interest in the motel, and plans to raze it were put on hold.

The company contends it met with city officials to discuss repairs to the property. Deep Blue boarded up windows and doors, installed a fence around the building and removed asphalt and a trailer, the suit says.

But the North Jersey group stopped responding to calls from officials and never shared their plans for the property, said Licensing and Inspections Director Dale Finch.

The city began moving forward with demolition plans a second time.

“It’s on the gateway to the city. ... Everyone feels we just need to get the property to get cleaned up to the point that it’s not an eyesore,” Finch said. “We’re going to move forward with this one way or another.”

A contractor was hired to raze the inn last month for about $250,000, Finch said, and utilities inside the building were turned off. The tear-down is now on hold until the legal matter is resolved.

“We’ve been asking, ‘What’s the deal? What’s going to happen?’” Finch said. “And nothing. ... We had to pull the trigger after being very patient.”

The former Bayview Inn is one of several dilapidated motels that line the entrance to Atlantic City. For decades, local officials have been trying to tear down the eyesores, which attract drugs and crime.

Egg Harbor Township has recently taken a new approach to the problem by applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to demolish four inns along the West Atlantic City corridor into the city. The motels combined made $3.8 million in claims over the past 10 years due to flooding. If approved, the inns would be converted into green space.