MAYS LANDING — Inside a dimly lit visitation room at the Atlantic County jail, Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello emerges from behind a locked, windowed room and walks to sit down at a small, round table.
His face is framed by an untrimmed gray goatee and dark gray hair down to the middle of his back, held back by a pair of reading glasses. He sits down, slightly hunched over, and rests his arms on the table, palms down and fingers interlocked.
Exposed under his off-white thermal shirt beneath his orange jail outfit are his arm tattoos: “Pagans M.C.” surrounded by orange flames, and another fire-encircled tattoo that reads “1%.”
Augello, 61, charged with murder and racketeering in the 2012 death of April Kauffman, didn’t deny his onetime involvement with the Pagans, a national outlaw motorcycle club formed in 1959 in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
But he disputes the organization’s involvement in racketeering and denied being an active leader, saying he retired in 2009 and was now merely a “figurehead.”
“Like the King of England,” he said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City from the Atlantic County jail. “I’m an old guy with a jacket on who goes to parties.”
Augello is accused of using his Pagans ties to help James Kauffman find a hitman to kill his wife, April, a move prosecutors say was motivated by the two men’s desire to keep running an opioid drug ring through Kauffman’s medical practice.
The alleged hitman, Francis Mulholland, died in October 2013. And Kauffman died in January inside a Hudson County jail cell, an apparent suicide.
Now, nearly six years since April Kauffman was found murdered in her home, Augello is the only person alive who prosecutors allege was involved in her death.
At the time of the charges, Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said Augello was the reputed the leader of the Cape May County Pagans chapter who hired the now-deceased hitman. Augello was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder of James Kauffman, who was then moved from the Atlantic County jail to Hudson County.
Six other defendants were charged with racketeering in the case.
He has been sitting in the county jail since his arrest Jan. 9 but has yet to be indicted, although the state has 90 days to do so.
His day-to-day is “Groundhog Day,” he said: waking up, doing the same things and talking to the same people.
He first reached out to The Press through a letter dated Feb. 19 in which he alleged unfair jail conditions. He later agreed to be interviewed from inside the jail.
While avoiding discussing the specifics of his case — for “legal reasons,” he said — he talked openly about the day of his arrest and scoffed at the allegations against him, which he said were “built on garbage and nonsense.”
“My civil rights have been violated as a person,” he said. “How can I ever have a trial in this area that’s fair?”
Asked to comment on his claims, Augello’s public defender declined. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Just before dawn Jan. 9 in a quiet neighborhood in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township, Augello said a “21-man, military force” burst through the doors of the home he lived in with his girlfriend and her adult children.
Dozens of cars lined the street, and everyone in the home was handcuffed while weapons were drawn, he said.
“I say, ‘Why are you doing this? You could have called me on the phone,’” Augello said.
Authorities told him they knew he had guns, which Augello said were all legally owned and he had a state firearms license.
“The whole thing was a farce,” Augello said of the arrest.
He said he didn’t know why the police were at his home and called the charges “ridiculous.”
During parts of Augello’s interview, he stretched his arm across the table, as if he was looking for understanding. His feet, in black sneakers, stayed flat on the floor.
As he spoke, inmates filed in and out of the room for visits with professionals. The room was narrow and stark, with glass partitions that, on other days, inmates might sit behind to speak with visitors.
Dust pooled in the corners of the room, and a guard sat several feet away controlling the flow of inmates.
In the letter Augello wrote to The Press, he said he believed inmates weren’t being treated with respect and cited an incident at the facility that “warranted disciplinary action” for a few responsible people. The incident resulted in a lockdown, but Augello complained it was a “collective punishment,” and expressed frustration with one corrections officer in particular.
Warden Geraldine Cohen wouldn’t elaborate on the February incident but said the inmates were not being punished and had been in lockdown during an investigation. All inmates in the area are put on lockdown until an investigation is complete, she said.
“We don’t ever use something like a lockdown as a punishment. Not only is it against the regulations, but it would be counterproductive,” she said. “We only do it (a lockdown) when we absolutely have to.”
The corrections officer Augello referenced in the letter was the same officer who escorted the two reporters into the visitation room. Augello, after seeing the officer that day, said he was “just doing his job” and his treatment had been fair. Still, he disagreed with the food quality, phone access and cleanliness of the facility, he said.
Augello spoke briefly about one of his co-defendants, Tabitha Chapman, also charged with racketeering in the case. In the affidavit against Augello, Chapman is described as Augello’s former girlfriend. Augello said that is not the case. While he does know Chapman, it is because he dated her mom for many years.
“Tabitha was not an associate of my motorcycle club. She never came to any parties,” he said. “This whole incident has nothing to do with my motorcycle club.”
Augello said he wasn’t surprised his co-defendants were released from jail pending trial because they didn’t have “the charges.”
“There’s no one charged with murder but me and Kauffman, and Kauffman killed himself,” he said.
Augello would not talk about his relationship with James Kauffman other than to say he was never Kauffman’s patient. He said he met April Kauffman once when she asked for a sign for her catering business. He called her a “potential client” but said it didn’t work out.
Augello said the charges against him, and the resulting “media circus,” ruined the 35 years he put into his career as a sign maker at Freddymade Guitars and Graphics, formerly Arizona Signs.
“Let’s say they let me out tomorrow, everything is ruined,” he said.
He maintains the charges were a plot against him, and that he’s been prosecuted in the media before he has been indicted or convicted.
“It’s like a made-for-TV movie,” Augello said of the allegations in the case. “They needed a monster.”