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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    It is surprising is that a sitting mayor is asking New Jersey to step in and do a forensic audit of the city's finances.

    Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora has pulled back the curtain surrounding City Hall to give us a peek at what he is seeing. And what he sees is cause for concern.

    Gusciora, who took office in July, said his administration has found a "lack of stringent bookkeeping'' and "budget inconsistencies."

    There was no outcry in the previous administration that our tax dollars were not being spent wisely. But that is not surprising. No mayor wants to bow out with a legacy of poor fiscal stewardship.

    What is surprising is that a sitting mayor is asking the state to step in and do a forensic audit of the city's finances.

    Gusciora recently sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver requesting that the state Department of Community Affairs do the audit.

    "We need fiscal prudence and responsible stewardship of city finances, which is why I'm asking for a thorough review as soon as possible," Gusciora wrote in his letter.

    The usual scenario in such cases is for the state to demand an audit upon learning of possible financial mismanagement on the local level.

    Indeed, you would think that that is how it would work in Trenton's situation because the city is still under state oversight as a condition of receiving transitional aid funding.

    Trenton swears in Reed Gusciora as city's new mayor

    An analogous situation would be NJ Transit asking Gov. Phil Murphy to do an audit of its operations instead of the other way around. The governor recently released the results of the audit he ordered and, as expected, it was highly critical of the transit agency.

    In his letter to the state, Gusciora hinted at the city's dire financial condition.

    "In my first few months as Mayor of Trenton, I am only now fully realizing the depth of the City's financial distress."

    The mayor was short on specifics, but it appears he wants to prepare us for some bad news down the road.

    As a tactical move, it was a smart one for Gusciora to make. He can blame the sins of the past administrations for the city's current financial mess. He is also being proactive in asking the state to do the audit, which in all likelihood will validate the city's financial problems.

    A lot of Trenton's money woes are systemic and difficult to overcome, such as a tax base that is limited by so many tax-exempt government properties that don't generate the tax revenue that private businesses do.

    By throwing the ball into the state's lap, Gusciora is challenging the state to come up with solutions.

    This story has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Six people were already charged this year for their involvement in the Trenton murder of two men from Philadelphia.

    Two more people have been charged for their involvement in the Trenton slaying of two Philadelphia men in January, bringing the number of defendants in the case to eight.

    Earlier this year, authorities charged six people for the shooting deaths of Jerard Perdomo Santana, 25, and Ivan Rodriguez, 19. Four are facing accomplice to murder charges, while two others are charged with hindering an investigation. 

    Last week authorities charged two others -- Bobby Hood, 26, and Kimberly Whitaker, 23, -- for their roles in covering up the murder. 

    Detectives monitoring calls from Mercer County Jail allege that the pair was talking on the phone with Shaquille McNeil, one of the men charged for shooting Santana and Rodriguez, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said. 

    Authorities allege Hood and Whitaker spoke with McNeil about killing an unnamed witness in the case. 

    The pair is now facing conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering charges, prosecutors say. 

    Authorities charged the original six defendants in May, after using security footage to piece together how the Jan. 22 murders took place. 

    Here's what the cameras revealed, as alleged in the affidavit: While waiting to sell a pill to a Trenton resident that January afternoon, Santana and Rodrigues sat in a black Ford Taurus on the 300 block of Ashmore Avenue. Three men approached the vehicle, and one climbed into the back seat. 

    First responders found the bodies of Santana and Rodriguez minutes later. They'd been shot in the back of their heads and necks, and $40 was left in the back seat. 

    The first suspected arrested and charged were Tashawn Santiago, 25, Cecil Blake, 31, and McNeil, 24. Lakeisha Hill, 29, of Philadelphia, was arrested shortly after on additional accomplice to murder charges. 

    Felicita Gee, 44, and her daughter, Fantasia Gee, 23, were later charged with hindering the investigation. 

    Hood and Whitaker are the seventh and eighth people charged in the investigation. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.


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    No one was injured but 7 apartments were heavily damaged

    No one was injured when a fire damaged seven units in an East Windsor apartment complex on Monday morning, authorities said. 

    The fire broke out and about 1:30 a.m. in the 600 building of Windsor Commons, East Windsor police said in a statement. 

    Heavy smoke and flames were pouring from the rear of an apartment when authorities arrived but everyone escaped safely.  All 21 apartments in the building are temporarily uninhabitable as power had to be shut off, police said. 

    East Windsor police and the Mercer County Fire Marshal are investigating the cause of the fire. Fifteen departments from Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties helped knock down the fire. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook



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    Police don't yet know what caused the crash

    A Trenton man driving a tractor trailer in Virginia died when his truck left a highway and crashed late Friday night, Virginia State Police said. 

    Bruce Daymon Worley, 51, was driving eastbound on Interstate 64 in Henrico County, Virginia when he crashed at about 10:30 p.m. Friday.

    He was driving a 2015 International tractor trailer that ran off the left side of the road near mile marker 181 and struck a tree, police said. 

    Authorities said Worley died from his injuries at the scene. 

    Virginia State Police initially announced the fatal crash early Saturday morning, and by late Sunday had identified Worley to the public. 

    They say they don't yet know what caused Worley to crash, and that the incident is still under investigation. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross


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    No many details were divulged about the early Monday incident

    A Hamilton man was treated for a gunshot wound after he was shot while asleep in his home early Monday, police said

    The 28-year-old told first responders he was asleep in his home on the 1500 block of Genesee Street around 6:20 a.m. Monday morning when he accosted by a gunman.

    The victim was taken to a local hospital and treated for injuries that police say are non life-threatening. 

    Police later Monday would not divulge any more details about the incident, or any suspected shooter or shooters, or how they may have entered the man's home.

    No one has been arrested and the investigation into the shooting is ongoing, police said. 

    Anyone with information regarding the shooting is asked to contact Hamilton Detective Jason Moulds at 609-689-5825 or the Hamilton crime tipline at 609-581-4008.

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.


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    A federal pilot program will get new funding to hire additional psychologists, expand addiction treatment and build partnerships.

    For way too long, patients needing access to mental-health services faced daunting challenges.

    Waiting times for medical appointments were interminable. Transportation to treatment was spotty, and often the only recourse in times of crisis was a trip to the nearest emergency room.

    Now backers of a federal pilot program designed to enhance behavioral healthcare in eight states - including New Jersey - have announced new funding that will allow local agencies to hire additional psychologists, expand addiction treatment and build partnerships with hospitals and clinics.

    Among the Garden State groups to benefit from the welcome news is Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Trenton, which reaches out to an estimated 100,000 area residents via addiction treatment, short-term counseling and residential services for people living with mental illness.

    New Jersey's U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, who pushed for the funding, note that only one in 10 Americans with addiction receives appropriate treatment, while less than half get the care they need to treat serious mental illness.

    End insurance inequalities for mental illness, substance use | Opinion

    Some 3,000 of our neighbors are expected to die this year alone in drug-related incidents, they point out.

    One of the most important aspects of the latest round of funding is the emphasis on creating and sustaining partnerships with other care-giving organizations in the vicinity, partnerships that can go a long way toward mending what experts see as a patchwork system that too often creates gaps in coverage.

    Seven New Jersey organizations received financial support when the two-year pilot program began in July of 2017.

    In this year's go-around, community-based providers will divide up some $10 million in grants from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The mission of the agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness in communities across the country.

    Former Gov. Chris Christie deserves credit for expanding access to inpatient mental-health care for Garden State residents during his administration, including seeking new beds and guaranteeing that health insurance covered mental-health issues as well.

    More recently, his successor, Phil Murphy, also has pledged support for the non-profit and for-profit groups that work with the state to serve those in need.

    Further demonstrating the urgency of the issue, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th) has been at the helm of a bipartisan group of Congress members who have introduced legislation to expand the pilot program.

    Though the measure has not yet moved forward, we hope his colleagues are visionary enough to keep the dollars flowing for this extremely important initiative.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Authorities were tipped off that the suspect would be moving a large amount of heroin

    A Trenton man was arrested and charged last week after authorities allegedly found him with $140,000 worth of heroin in his car, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday. 

    Erik Pinto copy.jpgErik Pinto-Polanco (Police photo) 

    Detectives with the prosecutor's countywide Narcotics Task Force received a tip that Erik Pinto-Polanco, 39, would be moving a large amount of heroin last Friday night, the prosecutor's office said in a statement. 

    Detectives who were surveilling Pinto-Polanco pulled over his Nissan Quest near the intersection of Park Avenue and South Broad Street in Hamilton at 7:30 p.m. 

    A New Jersey state trooper and his K-9, Odin, inspected the car. Odin gave a positive indication that there were narcotics in the front passenger side door, the office said.

    Officers then found about 700 grams of heroin, estimated to be worth about $140,000. They also found $685 in cash on Pinto-Polanco, the office alleged. 

    Pinto-Polanco faces first-degree drug charges, the prosecutor's office said. 

    Princeton, Hamilton and Trenton police participated in the investigation as well as state police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's HIDTA 3 under the command of the prosecutor's office's Special Investigations Unit. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.


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    Men, women and children participated in the Scottish hammer throw as part of the Highland Games at Kilt Fest 2018

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    About a week after an elderly woman lost a large sum of cash in a Santander Bank parking lot, police in Upper Makefield, Pennsylvania, went online to try and solve the case.

    About a week after an elderly woman lost a large sum of cash in a Santander Bank parking lot, police in Upper Makefield, Pennsylvania, went online to try and solve the case.

    They described it on their Facebook page, how the woman had a lot on her mind that day - Oct. 3 - due to it being the anniversary of her husband's death.

    "If you found this money, we ask that you please contact us. No questions asked. No charges. We just want to get the money back to her. So, please do the right thing and call us. We will do the rest," Upper Makefield police wrote.

    They got comments, reaction and suggestions, but not the money.

    But now a local restaurant, Isaac Newton's in nearby Newtown, is taking it another step. They know the woman from the restaurant, and they started a GoFundMe page for her.

    "When we saw the amount of community members commenting about how they could help but unsure of where to begin, we thought we'd get the ball rolling!" the restaurant said on the fundraiser.

    Police never said how much money the woman lost, but the GoFundMe has a goal of $3,200.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    It's in your hands. Decide which New Jersey downtown ranks as Number 1.

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    The state will be able to track his movements until his trial

    At a detention hearing Wednesday, a Mercer County Superior Court judge released from custody a man accused of trying to lure a 5-year-old girl into his car earlier this month.

    Darren Maglione, 47, of Robbinsville has conditions on his freedom.

    He was arrested Oct. 12 for allegedly approaching a 5-year-old girl a few days prior in a black Porsche in the Prospect Village apartments in Trenton.

    He told the the girl to "hop in the car" three times, authorities alleged.

    maglione.jpgDarren Maglione (Police photo)

    The girl said no, but the man persisted, repeating the line, "hop in the car," the criminal complaint against Maglione says. Witnesses intervened and took down the license plate of the black SUV, which later matched Maglione's vehicle. 

    Since the arrest, Maglione has been detained in Mercer County Jail, and the prosecutor's office had filed a motion to keep him detained, pending his trial. 

    But Judge Anthony Massi ultimately decided Wednesday morning that Maglione may be set free with certain conditions.

    Massi cited Maglione's low Public Safety Assessment (PSA) score -- factors like if the alleged crime was a violent one or if the defendant had previous convictions -- as one of the reasons he would allow a release. 

    Maglione was acquitted at trial in 2014 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old West Windsor girl in 2009. The jury was hung on an endangering the welfare of a child charge, but prosecutors declined to prosecute the case further.

    Maglione's attorney Robin Lord argued Wednesday that he wasn't a risk to the public, saying "I don't know how saying 'hop in the car' is a crime."

    The prosecutor's office argued that he would be free to try and commit the crime again. 

    Judge Massi allowed Maglione's release with conditions. He is allowed out of his house only between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., and must wear an ankle monitor at all times to track his location. 

    And aside from his children, Maglione is also not allowed contact with minors. He must also stay at least a half mile away from the home of the 5-year-old girl he was allegedly talking to. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.


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    Police said the teen did not use a nearby crosswalk functional pedestrian crossing signal

    A 14-year-old Plainsboro boy suffered serious injuries when he was struck by a car on Clarksville Road in West Windsor Tuesday night, township police said.

    The teen was hit at about 8:50 p.m. when he ran across Clarksville Road at the entrance of Windsor Athletic Center. He was coming from Raven Boulevard in the Princeton Terrace Apartments across the street, police said.

    Police said the teen did not use a nearby crosswalk functional pedestrian crossing signal.

    He was struck by a southbound vehicle driven by a 40-year-old man who had his two children in the car. At the time of the crash, another vehicle was traveling north on Clarksville Road and was about to make a right turn on Raven Boulevard into the apartments, police said.

    West Windsor first responders took the teen to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton. The injuries to his head, face, torso and shoulder were later deemed to be non life-threatening.

    No charges have been filed in the incident, police said Wednesday.

    Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact West Windsor Officer Frank LaTorre at 609-799-1222 or

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kevintshea. Find on Facebook.




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    Investigators say they heard 5 suspects talking about killing a witness

    In the criminal justice world, suspects who cooperate with police are often referred to by fellow suspects as "rats."

    But in a recent case of several suspects charged with conspiring to kill a witness, the suspects called their alleged target "Chuck E. Cheese" while allegedly discussing the plot in calls from the county jail.

    That's a term for a "rat," police said in an affidavit in the case.

    shaquille-mcneill.jpgShaquille McNeil

    Last week authorities charged Bobby Hood, 26, and Kimberly Whitaker, 23, for allegedly talking about offing a witness in the January double murder investigation of Jerard Perdomo Santana, 25, and Ivan Rodriguez, 19, both of Philadelphia.

    An affidavit in the case shows that that four suspects -- Hood, Whitaker, Timothy Lewis and Yahonatan Salter -- were formulating a plot to kill one of the three co-defendants originally charged with the murder of Santana and Rodriguez.

    The plot was allegedly masterminded by Shaquille McNeil, one of the alleged gunman in the Santana/Rodriguez slayings.

    The affidavit, written by Detective Scott Peterson, says on recorded jail phone calls that McNeil talked in coded language about killing a codefendant, who he believed was cooperating with investigators. (The codefendant is identified in the affidavit only by his initials only by his initials.)

    He referred to co-defendant as "Chuck E. Cheese," and told Whitaker that his address was the first number of her phone password and the numbers "four" and "seven," the affidavit alleges.

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    The affidavit states that Whitaker would add Hood to jail phone calls with McNeil, and that they would talk to Lewis and Salter about the plot.

    At one point, the affidavit said, Salter told McNeil he would "get that done" for him.

    Authorities allege all five were involved in the plans to kill the co-defendant. The plot was detected before any harm to the alleged target/co-defendant.

    Hood, Whitaker, Lewis and Salter were all arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering on Oct. 12. McNeil was also charged, in addition to his accomplice to murder charges from earlier this year.

    The Mercer County Prosecutor's office has filed motions to detain the four pending their trials. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.


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