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Crime
Ventnor 'in shock' after fatal beating, robbery of mother and grandmother

VENTNOR — The arrest of a city woman this week in the fatal beating and robbery of her grandmother and mother shocked many who knew the family in this Downbeach resort.

“We’re still in shock. It was a brutal murder. You don’t hear about that too often down here,” Cheryl Venezia, owner of Annette’s Restaurant on Dorset Avenue, told The Press of Atlantic City on Thursday.

Elaine Rosen, 87, and her daughter Michelle Gordon, 67, were found dead at 10:25 a.m. Sunday inside a residence at the luxury high-rise Vassar Square Condominiums at 4800 Boardwalk, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said in a statement. For both victims, the cause of death was multiple blunt impact injuries and the manner of death was homicide, Tyner said.

Heather Barbera, 41, of Ventnor, remained in custody Thursday after she was charged Wednesday with two counts of murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose — a nightstick — and robbery, he said. Barbera was taken to the New York Police Department Midtown South Precinct pending extradition to New Jersey, authorities said.

Venezia said Rosen had visited the restaurant for the past 10 years and Rosen and Gordon ate there three to four times a week for the past four years.

The mother and daughter were last in the restaurant Saturday — one day before they were killed.

“We were probably the last people to see them,” Venezia said.

Venezia described the mother and daughter as nice and quiet.

Rosen usually ordered either a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato or a bowl of oatmeal. Gordon ordered fish and burgers. They often came in about 1 p.m. and were the last people in the restaurant before it closed at 2 p.m., Venezia said.

Venezia said Barbera had been coming to the restaurant with her mother and grandmother in recent weeks and had also had lunch there prior to the winter.

Son discovered mother, sister dead in Ventnor homicides

VENTNOR — An overnight trip to Atlantic City ended in a grim discovery for Richard Rosen, of New York, who found the bodies of his mother and sister dead inside their luxury highrise condo, victims of an apparent homicide.

She said Barbera and Gordon sometimes had mother-daughter disputes at the eatery, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Richard Rosen, 50, of Brooklyn, New York, said in a telephone interview he discovered the bodies of his sister and mother Sunday when he couldn’t reach them and went to check on them. Rosen said a security guard let him in the apartment after there was no answer to his knock on the door.

Richard Rosen did not return a phone call Thursday. However, in a telephone interview Wednesday night, he mourned them.

“I lost them on the same day,” Rosen said.

And, of Rosen’s niece, Heather Barbera, he said: “She killed my whole life.”

Rosen described his mother and sister as “simple, quiet people.”

He also said Wednesday he “knew” it was his niece all along. However, Rosen said, he didn’t discuss his opinion with the media Tuesday out of concern his niece wouldn’t get caught.

However, “I knew 100 percent that she did it,” Rosen said, adding he had no relationship with Barbera. He said he “wanted” police to arrest her.

Tyner’s statement said Barbera took a bus to New York City after committing the killings.

Venezia said she and her staff also were shocked when they learned Wednesday that Barbera was charged in the slayings.

Barbera was identified Wednesday afternoon at the Midtown Manhattan Port Authority at 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue by New York police officers and taken into custody, Tyner said.

The Prosecutor’s Major Crimes Unit and the Ventnor Police Department investigated the deaths, authorities said.


Technology
Atlantic City police partner with businesses for camera-sharing

ATLANTIC CITY — Bill Draper sat on a bench near Texas Avenue on the Boardwalk Wednesday afternoon and knew he was being watched.

Draper, of Livonia, New York, was fully aware the cameras that dot the Boardwalk were recording his vacation, and he didn’t have a problem with it at all. In fact, he was encouraged by it.

In this day and age, “you have to do it,” he said, adding the cameras “keep people honest.”

Those cameras are not limited to the Boardwalk.

In total, police monitor 971 cameras throughout the city, Atlantic City police Deputy Chief James Sarkos said, only 178 of which are city-owned. Through project PACT, which stands for Protecting Atlantic City Together, the Police Department has partnered with 19 businesses that share their camera feeds with the police in an effort to stop crime before it happens, increase security and solve crimes.

The camera feeds are monitored 24/7 by surveillance officers conducting “virtual patrols” in the Atlantic City Headquarters for Intelligence Logistics Electronic Surveillance, or ACHILES, Sarkos said. These officers are all retired from the department and “know the hot spots” of the city, he added.

The officers monitor several camera feeds at once on their computer screens and screens mounted to the wall, and are able to seamlessly switch from camera to camera.

The city’s Housing Authority was the first to partner with police through the project, Sarkos said.

“It’s been very successful for us,” said Tom Hannon, executive director of the Housing Authority, who has 500 cameras feeding to the police in real time. “It helps to give them all the more views of our properties, and it’s changed from being a reactive to a proactive policing model.”

He said while it hasn’t eliminated crime, the presence of cameras has decreased break-ins and vandalism.

Hannon said the residents know the cameras are there, and they “spread the word that PD is always watching.”

Sarkos said the cameras “transform the way we do things,” adding the old way of canvassing an area after responding to a crime took up valuable time and resources.

“It increases our ability to respond to these calls both efficiently and effectively,” he said. The cameras have caught assaults and burglaries in progress and even bicycle thefts, he said.

Donna Danielson, general manager of Tanger Outlets The Walk at the base of the Atlantic City Expressway, said sharing the camera feeds is mutually beneficial for her and the Police Department.

Although the police don’t have access to cameras inside the stores, they see real-time video from the ones trained on the sidewalk and streets.

“We’re on city streets, so they get to see the traffic flow,” she said. “We can just work together on any issues or incidents that take place.”

Capt. Bob Campbell, who heads the Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit, said camera coverage has assisted police with investigating and even solving nonfatal shootings.

So far this year, cameras assisted police in five of seven nonfatal shooting investigations, Campbell said.

“Having that real-time access has been huge,” Sarkos said. “It’s really helped us a lot because time matters when you’re doing these investigations, and the sooner we can get it, the better we are at solving these crimes.”

The effort — and the city’s web of cameras — is growing.

A new piece of surveillance equipment called Skywatch was debuted at the Sam Hunt beach concert July 1. The 28-foot-tall portable observation tower has seven cameras, including one thermal imaging camera, Sarkos said. It will be deployed during the Miss America Competition in September and the airshow in August and can be put in any neighborhood. In addition, 16 cameras were added to Harold Brown Memorial Park between Stanley Holmes Village and the Schoolhouse Apartments in the 3rd Ward.

And the department’s newest PACT partner is Stockton University, which will begin sharing its camera feeds as soon as the city campus is opened this fall, Sarkos said.

“Our ultimate goal in having all these cameras is that people see the cameras and decide not to commit a crime,” he said. “It’s great that we make an arrest after a crime happens, but if we can stop that crime from ever occurring, then we’re truly successful.”


Atlantic
Family filing new lawsuit to overturn suicide ruling for Tiffany Valiante

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Dianne Valiante is steadfast in her belief that something sinister happened to her daughter on the night she was struck by a train down the road from her home three years ago. Although the state Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled Tiffany Valiante’s 2015 death a suicide, her family has persistently pursued litigation to overturn that finding.

On Thursday, the third anniversary of Valiante’s death, a third lawsuit was filed by the family’s attorney, Paul R. D’Amato of Egg Harbor Township, alleging violation of the family’s civil rights.

“I want my daughter to live on. This was not her choice to not be here,” Dianne Valiante said. “I’m hoping that someone will start listening. There’s a murderer out there.”

D’Amato said the new suit contends Tiffany’s parents have a right to have the cause of death listed on her death certificate changed from “suicide” to “undetermined” because of “the clear negligent conduct of the state Medical Examiner’s Office” in relying on what they believe are contradictory statements of a student engineer.

He said that conduct is “arbitrary and capricious and thus is a violation of the rights of the parents to substantive due process and procedural due process.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, which oversees the medical examiner, declined to comment.

Last year, the Valiantes filed a civil suit in an attempt to reopen the death investigation. In March, New Jersey Medical Examiner Andrew Falzon wrote to D’Amato that after he had reviewed the case, the manner and cause of death should not be changed.

D’Amato said if the medical examiner had changed the death certificate earlier this year, he would not be filing the case. He said his office also will rescind the 2017 lawsuit until they can name defendants in the case.

The family recently asked Gov. Phil Murphy to intervene. D’Amato said they have not received a reply to their letter dated May 15.

On Thursday, to mark the anniversary of Tiffany’s death, the family held a vigil at their Mays Landing home, releasing dozens of biodegradable balloons into the air, as they have each year. The gathering this year is a little smaller than in years past, Dianne Valiante said, as friends’ obligations have grown.

The circumstances of Tiffany’s death have led to the family’s relentless pursuit of more answers. Dianne Valiante said she has always questioned why no one showed up to interview her or her family in the days after the crash.

In early August 2015, as she walked the path Tiffany, 18, was said to have taken that night between their home and the train tracks, Dianne stumbled across her daughter’s headband and shoes.

Valiante recalled her distress and her findings’ implications in the death investigation.

“I don’t want it to happen to somebody else,” she said, sobbing. “I’m not stopping until I find out who did it.”

She pointed to a light on the tree that the family installed for Tiffany when she began driving. Valiante said the motion sensor light has not worked since Tiffany died — a sign she is with them.

Tiffany Valiante was a skilled athlete, playing softball and volleyball, and had just graduated from Oakcrest High School when she died. She planned to attend Mercy College and major in criminal justice.

Krystal Summerville said her sister dreamed of becoming a police officer and moving to California.

In the past three years, Summerville has ordered 300 signs, several banners and bracelets that have been distributed around the county. The signs, asking for more information about her sister’s death, have led to some tips, Summerville said.

“The problem is the death certificate is holding this up,” said another sister, Jessica Vallauri.

Summerville said they continue to investigate, finding out through phone records that Tiffany answered a call on her cellphone for 24 seconds sometime between leaving her home and her death. New information discovered recently shows conflicting statements from the student engineer operating the train the night Tiffany died, she said.

But the vigil sends a message of hope, they said.

“We’re trying to turn a tragic day into a remembrance of her life,” Summerville said. “It gets us through the day.”


MS/sandkphoto Matthew Strabuk / For The Press  

On July 12th 2018, at the Valiante Family home in Mays Landing, a vigil is held for Tiffany Valiante. Today marks three years since her death, when she was hit by a train after disappearing after a family graduation party. Family believes it was foul play but the state medical examiners office ruled it a suicide. The Valiante family, (l-r) Stephen, Jessica, Krystal, and Dianne.


Casinos_tourism
AP
New Jersey businesses get $16M in sports bets in first two weeks

ATLANTIC CITY — Two weeks of legal sports betting and the opening of the city’s first new casinos in six years helped Atlantic City to a 7.3 percent increase in gambling revenue last month, and the best June ever for the city’s best-performing casino.

Including revenue from brick-and-mortar casinos, online gambling and sports betting, the casinos took in $233.6 million in June 2018. Internet gambling was up 12.1 percent over the prior June, to $22.6 million, according to numbers released Thursday by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa had the best June in its 15-year history, winning $65.8 million from gamblers, more than twice the amount won by its nearest competitors in Atlantic City.

June casino winnings

The city’s two newest casinos also did well in their first week of operation. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino started soft-play gambling, a test with real money but for only a small group of guests, three days before their June 28 openings. Hard Rock won $4.1 million in that period, while Ocean Resort won $3 million.

Overall, New Jersey took in $16.4 million in sports bets during the first two weeks such wagers were legal in the state. That’s more than twice as much as Delaware did in its first 20 days (just over $7 million).

Borgata and Ocean Resort and the Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport saw gross sports betting revenue of nearly $3.5 million on those bets.

But regulators caution that bets involving future outcomes, such as the winner of baseball’s World Series or football’s Super Bowl, won’t be paid out for months. Just over $1 million was wagered on such bets.

The casinos and the track are the only places legally taking sports bets right now. Of completed events that were the subject of betting, they retained 7.8 percent of the amount wagered, or about $1.2 million.

Sports betting at Borgata in Atlantic City

The report covers only the period from when sports betting began June 14 through the end of the month.

Monmouth Park took the lion’s share of sports betting revenue, at nearly $2.3 million. Borgata saw $986,831, and Ocean Resort, which had only two days of sports betting last month, saw $192,671. Regulators did not break down the total amounts bet at each outlet.

Borgata President Marcus Glover said he’s encouraged by the response to sports betting during a time when baseball and soccer’s World Cup were the main offerings.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand waiting for the NFL,” he said.

Likewise, the CEO of William Hill US, which runs the sports book at Monmouth Park, said he “can’t wait until football season.”

“While it’s still early, we’re obviously off to a great start,” CEO Joe Asher said. “We always knew there was a big appetite for legal sports betting during the years of litigation, and now it is being proven.”

The industry is set to expand soon. The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, just 6 miles from New York City, will start taking sports bets Saturday. And Atlantic City’s Hard Rock is awaiting approval for its deal to offer sports betting with British gambling firm Bet365.

Bret McKay, of Toms River, goes to Monmouth Park about once a week to bet $200 on baseball. He estimated he’s down about $400 since sports betting began but said he welcomes the ease with which it’s legally available.

GALLERY: How newspapers covered sports betting ruling

“It’s not like it was where you had to find some random guy who knows a guy to place a bet for you,” he said.

But Pete Martorana, of Ocean Township, said he misses the days when his bookie could explain every aspect of a potential bet.

“I’m confused with all these options here,” the 86-year-old said while evaluating a betting sheet outside the track Thursday. “I liked dealing with the bookies better. Just bet the (New York) Yankees every day. It’s easier. And you win most days.”


PRESS ARCHIVES/  

VALIANTE

Tiffany Valiante, 18, of Hamilton Township, was found dead on an NJ Transit train track in Galloway Township on July 12, 2015. The medical examiner determined her death a suicide, but the family is suing to overturn that.