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Kauffman co-defendant pleads guilty, says Augello 'was the boss'

MAYS LANDING — Joseph Mulholland stood with his hands clasped in front of him Thursday morning as he admitted to his part in the opioid drug ring connected to the 2012 death of radio host and veterans advocate April Kauffman.

Mulholland, 53, of the Villas section of Lower Township, pleaded guilty to second-degree racketeering before Judge Bernard E. DeLury in Atlantic County Superior Court. As part of the plea deal, he will testify during the trial and could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in state prison.

Mulholland said he got OxyContin prescriptions from now-deceased Dr. James Kauffman and then sold them to Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello, with whom he rode motorcycles, six or seven times. He described himself as “a worker” when asked by DeLury to explain his role in the scheme’s hierarchy.

Asked what Augello’s role was, Mulholland said: “He was the boss.”

Augello, 62, of Upper Township, an alleged Pagans motorcycle gang leader, is charged with murder and accused of hiring a hitman to kill April Kauffman — a move prosecutors say was motivated by husband James Kauffman’s desire to hide the drug ring he ran through his Egg Harbor Township medical practice with Augello, who pleaded not guilty during his arraignment April 19.

Augello’s public defender, Mary Linehan, was not surprised that Mulholland entered into the plea deal and said it doesn’t change anything for her client.

“Mulholland had been cooperating with the state for a while,” she said. “He gave statements to police that he was the driver for the man that was alleged to have killed April Kauffman.”

Francis Mulholland, whom authorities pegged as the hitman in the killing, died in October 2013. The two Mulhollands are not related.

Linehan said she suspected Joseph Mulholland was already cooperating with the state because he was never indicted in April Kauffman’s death.

“My client has already provided statements,” Ed Weinstock, Mulholland’s attorney, said after the conference. “It’s no secret what his involvement was.”

Mulholland’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 25 before DeLury.

Augello was also scheduled for a status conference Thursday morning before DeLury but waived his right to appear.

DeLury has still not received a copy of the purported suicide note left by James Kauffman after he was found dead of an apparent suicide Jan. 9 in jail in Hudson County. Several of the attorneys on the case have requested to see the note, but DeLury said he wants to review it before entering it into evidence.

Augello is scheduled for a pretrial conference July 19, and a trial is set for Sept. 11.

Augello attorney seeking Kauffman suicide note, informant

MAYS LANDING — A Superior Court Judge said Thursday he wants to read Dr. James Kauffman’s suicide note before deciding whether to give it to the lawyer for the man charged with murder in the 2012 killing of his wife, April Kauffman.

Asked whether the plea deal will affect the other defendants, Weinstock said that’s up to the other defendants and their attorneys.

Five other defendants in the case pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, distribution of drugs and conspiracy to distribute drugs as part of the drug ring: Beverly Augello, 48, of Summerland Key, Florida; Glenn Seeler, 37, of Sanford, North Carolina; Paul Pagano, 61, of Egg Harbor Township; Tabitha Chapman, 35, of Absecon; and Cheryl Pizza, 36, of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

Chapman, Beverly Augello, Seeler and Pagano are scheduled for status conferences at 9 a.m. July 26, while co-defendant Pizza is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. that same day.

A collection of front pages from the April Kauffman story

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer  

Augello Ferdinand Augello, alongside public defenders Mary Linehan and Omar Aguilar, pled not guilty to charges of murder in the killing of April Kauffman, attempted murder of James Kauffman and leading a drug trafficking network out of James Kauffman’s medical practice in front of Judge Bernard DeLury in Atlantic County Criminal Court on Thursday morning. Thursday, April 19

'48 Blocks' art celebration to take over Atlantic City streets

ATLANTIC CITY — About a year after Christian Correa moved back to Atlantic County from California, he was on Lexington Avenue in the city standing on a lift and painting a blank wall to capture “the spirit of Atlantic City.”

His mural next to Little Water Distillery seeks to capture the music and entertainment that have made up the city. He drew his inspiration from talking with residents.

“It’s such a beautiful town with such a beautiful, rich history,” said Correa, 37. “The spirit of A.C. is that aliveness.”

Correa, who also works as a yoga teacher at Tennessee Avenue’s The Leadership Studio, is one of dozens of artists working on art projects for this year’s 48 Blocks Atlantic City event, a weekend-long arts festival showcasing more than 100 art projects throughout all six wards and 48 blocks that make up the city.

The goal is to cover the resort town in art and to inspire those coming in and out, organizers said.

“All of these projects have come to us from the community,” said Joyce Hagen, executive director of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation. “It was suggested by all of these folks to do these really cool things.”

The first installation of 48 Blocks last June was intended to uncover resources and opportunities in the city for creative people to showcase their talent. It was a joint project between the Atlantic City Arts Foundation and Stockton University, which is also a sponsor of the event.

Since September 2017, organizers have been holding community meetings, most often in the Noyes Arts Garage, bringing about 50 people together on their off-time to plan.

Maria Cristina Bernard, 44, of Atlantic City, said she plans to work with about 25 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Our Lady Star of the Sea School to produce 3-D chalk art in the parking lot at California Avenue. Bernard moved to Atlantic City from Switzerland in 2003 and continues to express herself through art.

“I’m just an artist, and I have kids there in school,” she said. “I wanted to participate with my family, and then I thought, ‘Why not the whole class?’”

New York City student and artist Mark Chu, 29, was about 50 feet up on the side of a Vietnamese restaurant on Atlantic Avenue painting a large chicken this week as his mural.

Chu moved to New York from Melbourne, Australia, in 2012 to go to graduate school, and he said he was drawn to American vacation destinations and was interested in participating in the art project here.

“I think that there’s something very deeply American about these places,” he said.

A few blocks closer to the new Ocean Resort Casino, artist David Weeks, 33, of Brooklyn, New York, chose to paint a tribute to the Vera Coking house.

For years, Coking resisted attempts by Donald Trump and casino developers to buy her three-story boarding home on Columbia Place even with the development around it.

Weeks grew up in the area, went to Oakcrest High School in Hamilton Township and wanted his mural to resonate with people.

“I really wanted to say this, I really wanted to paint this,” he said. “It’s a story everyone knows, but no one knows the full story.”

In a city that’s experiencing an economic resurgence with the opening of two new casinos, new businesses and a new Stockton University campus, project organizers say they wanted to bring people together from all parts of town.

“At the ground floor of any resurgence of any major city is art,” said Zach Katzen, program director of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation. “When people start to feel like they have nothing, they turn to art, and it’s how they express themselves to get out how they feel. That invokes something in other people.”

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer/  

Mulholland Joseph Mulholland stands in front of Judge Bernard DeLury for a detention hearing following being charged with first degree racketeering for his alleged involvement in a drug ring being operated out of the Northfield practice of James Kauffman. Thursday, January 18 (ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer)

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Ocean Resort Casino granted license, ready to open June 28

ATLANTIC CITY — Bruce Deifik was close to tears Thursday as he reflected on an arduous journey that began with a $10 million investment on an unseen property in an unfamiliar city.

“Now the work truly starts,” said Deifik, owner and chairman of Ocean Resort Casino, after the Casino Control Commission granted the new owner of the former Revel Casino Hotel a license, exactly one week before the property is scheduled to open to the public.

Deifik said that after a “very hard 13 months,” to finally be granted a casino license was a “dream come true for myself and my entire family.”

The casino is scheduled to open at 1 p.m. June 28.

The licensure came with a list of conditions laid out by state regulators at the Division of Gaming Enforcement. The 26 conditions address the property’s financial resources and its relationship with one of its lenders, JPMorgan Chase, in an effort to ensure Ocean Resort does not fall victim to the economic challenges that doomed its predecessor.

Casino Control Commission Chairman James Plousis said he believed the conditions to be “reasonable.”

Commissioner Alisa Cooper said that prior to the start of the two-day hearing, she had “very serious concerns,” and based on the number of recommendations, “the Division of Gaming Enforcement felt the same way.”

“But after listening to the very extensive, and personal, testimony of the past two days, my concerns have been eased,” Cooper said.

Deifik, a real estate developer from Colorado, and the property’s chief financial officer, Alan Greenstein, testified Wednesday on their vision for the luxury casino hotel, the group’s finances and changes made to the property. On Thursday, Ocean Resort CEO Frank Leone, who previously worked at Caesars Atlantic City and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, testified on the resort’s marketing strategy and plans to attract, and keep, guests.

“I can assure you that we’re going to speak loudly and clearly to the core casino audience,” Leone said when discussing how Ocean Resort would differ from the property’s prior occupant. “Our promise is to have an unwavering commitment to exceeding guests’ expectations.”

Leone said Ocean Resort would allow smoking — identified as the biggest complaint from focus groups of former Revel guests, according to his testimony — and offer single-night stays, incorporate a market-competitive player rewards program and a buffet, which will open “late 2018 or early 2019.”

Other changes included in the nearly $50 million renovation are a reconfigured casino floor, the removal of the Boardwalk wall that was an impediment to direct casino access and two-foot glass safety panels around the escalators, he said.

Asked whether Ocean Resort would be ready to open June 28, Leone responded, “Absolutely. We’re looking forward to it.”

Ocean Resort will employ close to 3,300 people. Of the team members already hired and working on the property, Leone said almost 25 percent were Atlantic City residents and more than 80 percent had casino experience.

Deifik said interacting with the new employees has been rewarding.

“To walk up and down the halls and have people come up to you and say, ‘Thank you for the job, thank you for the opportunity, thank you for believing in us’ is a big deal,” Deifik said.

Deifik purchased the 6.3 million-square foot casino hotel from Florida developer Glenn Straub for $200 million on Jan. 4. Straub acquired the property out of bankruptcy for $82 million in 2015. Revel closed in 2014 after two years of operation because of insurmountable debt and revenue shortcomings.

Ocean Resort has a total of 1,399 rooms open and Deifik has pledged to complete another 600, which are located on 12 unfinished floors. 

The 130,000-square-foot casino floor will feature almost 2,000 slot machines, more than 100 table games and eight poker tables.

A number of high-profile DJs will be at the property’s day/nightclub, HQ2, Deifik said Wednesday.

The property’s 7,500-square-foot sports book, which will be operated by William Hill US, will not immediately be open, Leone said Thursday. However, sports betting will be available June 28 at a temporary sports book until the final facility is completed in about six weeks.

Ocean Resort has also applied for an internet gaming license with partner GAN, which runs BetFair online casino gaming for Golden Nugget Atlantic City, and expects to offer the option beginning July 1.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is scheduled to open at noon June 28 at the site of the former Trump Taj Mahal. The CCC approved its gaming license May 9.

Elsewhere in the South Inlet, on Thursday, it was announced that The Showboat, the former casino between Ocean Resort and Hard Rock that has been operating as a non-gambling hotel since July 2016, will open all 1,331 of its hotel rooms starting June 28. It had been operating with just 852 available rooms.