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Atlantic City mayor's legal issues taint political future

ATLANTIC CITY — One day after being involved in a fight outside a casino nightclub, Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. filed campaign paperwork with the state for the 2021 Democratic primary. Three weeks to the day after the state received that paperwork, Gilliam’s home was raided by federal investigators.

The first-term mayor, whose tenure has been overshadowed by state oversight and controversy, now has both legal and political hurdles to overcome.

Jeffrey S. Freeman, a tax attorney with Freeman Tax Law, which has offices in 15 states, including New Jersey, said that by the time federal authorities come to someone’s front door with a search warrant — as they did with Gilliam — a positive outcome is unlikely.

Freeman, who spoke in general terms and was unfamiliar with the specific circumstances surrounding Gilliam, said the execution of a search warrant by federal law enforcement is one of the last steps in an ongoing investigation.

“There’s some cause for it. There’s smoke, but there’s usually fire, too,” he said. “They have you — you’re done.”

Authorities gave no indication what they were looking for at Gilliam’s residence, but investigators left the home with several cardboard boxes and computer equipment. Nearly a dozen agents from the FBI and the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division searched his North Ohio Avenue home for more than four hours Monday.

Freeman said the IRS is most often included in a federal investigation based on evidence from improper business dealings and records, very often related to violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.

Irregular banking activity, such as consistently depositing cash under the $10,000 filing threshold, requires the banking institution to file a suspicious activity report, which “always triggers the IRS,” Freeman said.

Even before the raid on his home, Gilliam and At-Large Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II were facing potential criminal charges related to their roles in a fight captured on surveillance cameras Nov. 11 outside Haven Nightclub at Golden Nugget Atlantic City. The duo are scheduled to make a first appearance in North Wildwood Municipal Court on Dec. 11 in response to citizen complaints filed for simple assault and harassment, both of which are disorderly persons offenses.

Should Gilliam not be charged or be cleared in any of his legal issues, he most certainly faces a difficult political landscape going forward, according to experts.

For starters, Gilliam could be the subject of a recall petition effort.

The Atlantic City Democratic Committee formally adopted a resolution earlier this month denouncing Gilliam and Fauntleroy for their role in the nightclub incident. And in Atlantic City, which has a well-documented history of political corruption and criminality, the public perception of guilt could outweigh the reality of the situation, said John Weingart, associate director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics and director of the institute’s Center on the America Governor.

“Even if the mayor is exonerated, the past slows down political momentum,” said Weingart.

Carl Golden, a former press secretary for two past New Jersey governors and a senior contributing analyst at Stockton University’s William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, said while it is “certainly plausible” for elected officials to emerge unscathed from criminal allegations — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was re-elected in November after he was acquitted of federal bribery and corruption charges — the more likely outcome is that their “political future is gone.”

“He’s going to have a hard time changing the subject,” Golden said of Gilliam. “The video (of the casino nightclub fight) is there forever. The media coverage is something he’s going to have deal with. But, he’s given ammunition to his opponents.”

Golden said the attention being paid to Gilliam’s actions and behavior counter the positive momentum Atlantic City had earned from a historic year, which saw the openings of Stockton’s Boardwalk campus, two new casino hotels and a major corporate headquarters in addition to other smaller-scale economic developments.

“At a time when Atlantic City begins to show signs of a resurgence, this looks like more of the same old, same old to a lot of people,” he said. “It’s caused serious damage to the city and its image. ... It’s the last thing the city needed right now.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam

America remembers its World War II veterans as Vietnam veterans take charge

John Sherman was 13 on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese conducted a surprise military strike against the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

“It was a Sunday morning, and we had the Washington Star delivered. They put it in the paper box,” said Sherman, now 91, of Cape May Court House. “I went out to get the paper, and when I came back in the house with the paper, my grandmother said, ‘Pearl Harbor was just bombed.’”

Three years later, when he was 16, Sherman wanted to enlist in the military and fight the Japanese, but his mother vetoed the idea.

He did join the Navy at age 17 and was stationed on the USS Niobrara in the Pacific during World War II’s last year.

World War II veterans, who were hailed as heroes for defeating Adolf Hitler and saving Europe, are now in their 90s. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1.7 million of them remain.

As with veterans of other generations, they had to return to civilian society, deal with their memories of combat and decide how much volunteering they wanted to do with military service organizations.

“Every generation returns home from war thinking nobody understand me,” said Joe Davis, director of communications for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

It is hard for anyone who didn’t serve to imagine what Sherman went through as a teenager.

The Niobrara, a tanker that was used to refuel the ships that were striking against Japan, was bombarded by Japanese kamikaze planes that would fall out of the sky in the pitch black of night.

Sherman was deployed to the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on those cities in 1945.

“People’s shadows were embedded into the concrete,” said Sherman, who recalled these memories while sitting in a chair in his home with his Quilt of Valor to keep him warm.

After the war, when Sherman was back home in Maryland, he said it did not matter to people that he was a World War II veteran.

“They had so much war. They really didn’t care,” he said.

Sherman joined the American Legion in the late 1950s and marched in parades, but he devoted most of his time to raising his five children, working at Atlantic City Electric for 38 years and being one of the founding fathers of the Middle Township Ambulance Corps.

Honoring Our Veterans Photo Gallery

Just like Sherman decades earlier, Robert E. McNulty Sr. volunteered to join the Navy in 1969 during the Vietnam War when he was 18.

McNulty spent four years using his engineering skills on a ship in the combat zone of the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam. His ship was fired on a number of times.

After the war, McNulty continued to give of himself to others by being a volunteer firefighter. He did not start working with military service organizations until 25 years had passed. He started his involvement with the Vietnam Veterans of America in 1998, going on to lead the Egg Harbor Township chapter.

“Somebody had to carry the torch. We are leading in the challenge to make a difference,” said McNulty, 68, of Egg Harbor Township.

The Vietnam veterans faced such different challenges than the veterans who came before them that they started their own organization, instead of immediately joining the American Legion or the VFW.

They suffered the consequences of Agent Orange, which was not used during earlier wars. The term post-traumatic stress disorder was not even in the vocabulary until the Vietnam era. And, of course, the war was unpopular, so veterans were not greeted as conquering heroes upon their return.

Vietnam veterans also deal with Hepatitis C issues, McNulty said.

McNulty is currently involved with legislative affairs with the Fleet Reserve Association, an organization that represents the interests of enlisted Navy, Coast Guard and Marine veterans and active duty personnel.

With more than 40 new members of Congress taking office next month, McNulty will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to let the new members of Congress know what his organization is looking for as far as veterans in general.

“Our work is far from over. The mission continues,” McNulty said.

Military Branch : Air Force Town From Time At Service : Ocean City Highest Rank : Lt. Col. Years In Service : 37 years Overseas Deployment: World War II, Korea, the Belgian Congo and 387 combat missions in Vietnam. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, while he was a junior at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, NJ, Rocky enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age seventeen. He immediately entered pilot training. Soon after his high school class graduated, Rocky graduated from Pilot Training and became a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. At age twenty, he was flying the B-29 Super Fortress. For the next 37 years, he flew six thousand hours in thirty-four different aircraft. He flew as a combat pilot in World War II, Korea, the Belgian Congo and 387 combat missions in Vietnam. He is active in his community. He is an Eagle Scout and has been active in Scouting for 80 years. He has been married to his wife, Roberta Gause, for 67 years. They have three grown children, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Lt. Col. Roland J. “Rocky” Gannon, thank you for your service!

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

Gilliam Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center is held the “Ride and Drive” event to promote electric vehicles and oppose federal efforts to roll back clean-car standards, according to Director Doug O’Malley .Mayor Frank Gilliam, Atlantic County Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick, Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo will participate, said O’Malley. Oct. 22, 2018, (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

Victim of fatal police shooting in Vineland linked to Lower Township attempted murder

Three people have been accused of attempted murder stemming from an October home invasion in Lower Township that indirectly resulted in the fatal shooting of a Millville teen by authorities in Vineland the next day.

Just after midnight Oct. 17, Lower Township police received a 911 call regarding an assault in the 100 block of Old Mill Road in the North Cape May section, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland said.

Officers found Barry Van Orden, 48, badly beaten, Sutherland said. Van Orden was transported in critical condition to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City. He was released days later from the hospital.

Investigators from Lower Township and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office determined that Jacob L. Servais, 19, of Millville, Michael Woods Jr., 20, of Millville, and Jeramy J. Thompson-Pierce, 19, of Vineland, aided by Deshyamma R. Dalton, 22, of Salem, entered Van Orden’s residence, restrained him and assaulted him, causing severe injuries to his head and hand, Sutherland said.

Van Orden was struck repeatedly with a rifle over an extended period of time with significant enough force to break the wooden stock off the rifle, Sutherland said.

On Oct. 18, the day after the home invasion, Servais was fatally shot by Cape May County Prosecutor’s Detective John Caccia in the parking lot of Just for Wheels Car, Truck and Van Rental in Vineland.

Servais allegedly resisted police and threatened or attacked an officer, or another, with a car before Caccia shot him three times, according to the use-of-force report.

Sutherland said members of the Prosecutor’s Office and Lower Township police were in Vineland investigating the home invasion “with the hope and intent of arresting” Dalton while she was returning a rental car.

No video of fatal police shooting in Vineland

There is no body camera footage of a Cape May County Prosecutor’s detective fatally shooting a teenager in Vineland last month, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Authorities said Dalton was Servais’ girlfriend but were unaware he would be with her in Vineland.

Sutherland could not comment on Servais’ involvement with the home invasion, due to an ongoing investigation.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating Servais’ shooting.

Caccia has been placed on administrative leave. Caccia’s annual salary is $73,518, public records show.

State Police charged Servais in June with death by auto in an Elk Township, Gloucester County, crash that killed Servais’ 17-year-old passenger, according to the Daily Journal of Vineland. The crash came after a police chase that started in Franklin Township, the Journal reported.

Dalton was charged Oct. 26 and lodged in the Cape May County jail pending court, Sutherland said.

Thompson-Pierce was arrested in Bridgeton and Woods in Millville on Nov. 20. Both men are in the Cape May County jail.

Thompson-Pierce and Woods were each charged with attempted murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit attempted murder, aggravated assault, criminal restraint and theft. Additionally, they were each charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon.

Dalton was charged with robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, aggravated assault, criminal restraint and theft, Sutherland said.

Staff Writers Amanda Auble and Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.

10 Atlantic City police officers, including Josh Vadell, sue city over unpaid sick time

ATLANTIC CITY — Former city police Officer Josh Vadell, who was shot in the head while on duty in 2016, is one of 10 officers suing the city and the state for not paying more than $900,000 worth of unused sick time.

In March 2017, the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees Atlantic City, issued a notice that, among other changes, sick leave payouts would be capped at $15,000 between June 7, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2021.

The DCA did not respond to a request for comment.

The plaintiffs claim the changes to the contract were not collectively bargained.

“(The city) reaped the benefits of (these officers) coming into work every day,” the lawsuit states, “and not requiring the payment of sick time and overtime to cover (the officers) if they called out.”

Vadell’s accumulated sick time amounts to more than $65,000, according to the lawsuit.

At the time Vadell was shot, he was covered under a collective bargaining agreement stating he would be compensated for all unused sick time when he retired, according to the lawsuit. Vadell retired in May 2017 at age 30 as a result of his injuries.

“Atlantic City had a contract with these officers. In no other setting in America is a party just permitted to void a contract. If you want to change the rules, change them moving forward, not retroactively,” said Charles J. Sciarra, attorney for Vadell.

Over the years, unused sick time payouts have been a hotly debated issue in New Jersey. Former Gov. Chris Christie referred to the payments as “boat checks.”

Atlantic City had set aside more than $7.6 million in an escrow fund to pay for accumulated sick-leave liabilities, according to the lawsuit.

Other officers, such as Edward Riegel, who was on the force for 25 years, and Eugene Maier, who was on the force for 26 years, say they accumulated sick time amounts of more than $100,000, the lawsuit states.

Earlier collective bargaining agreements, including one that expired Dec. 31, 2015, provided for paid accumulated sick time upon retirement.

After years of financial mismanagement, the city’s municipal operations were taken over by the DCA in 2016. The state was given the authority to “unilaterally modify collective bargaining agreements.”

Other officers suing the city and state are Andy Pronovost, Jerry String, David Madamba, Lonell Jones, Joseph Iacovone, Constant Hackney and Michael Gavin.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photo