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    Who are the finalists for's most prestigious award?

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    A parish priest, Linder established New Community Corp. in the wake of the 1967 Newark riots, looking to bring back neighborhoods that had burned to the ground and left many with no hope. Watch video

    Asked once how he saw his role in a place that many had abandoned, Monsignor William J. Linder was blunt.

    "We take care of people no one else does," he declared.

    The monsignor, who became a major force and a national figure in the transformation of Newark's devastated Central Ward following the infamous riots of 1967, died Thursday in the city where he had firmly drawn a line in the sand.

    He had just turned 82 earlier this week.

    Officials at New Community Corp., the social welfare organization he founded after the riots, confirmed his death at an extended care facility not far from the church where he once served as a parish priest.

    Linder, who had lived in Newark since 1963, established New Community in response to the wide swath of destruction that had burned down so many blocks around him, and left many with no hope.

    Working with local residents to put neighborhoods back together, he leveraged state money, block grants and federal and state housing funds--to build thousands of housing units, establish health clinics, and put up the city's first major supermarket in 25 years.

    The monsignor, who later won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his work, was often sharply critical of those who had seemingly abandoned the city, even at the risk of alienating city officials and others.

    "I don't apologize," he once lectured a reporter, sitting in the quiet rectory dining room of St. Rose of Lima in Newark where he was then pastor over questions regarding the financial health of New Community, which at the time had been under increasing strain due to a stormy relationship at the time with Newark city officials.

    "It's hardly significant," he said of the organization's troubles. "I'll never lose a night's sleep over it."  

    NT CARTER EXWORK23 PATHE LD 2Monsignor William J. Linder at the dedication of NCC's Workforce Development Center in Newark in 1999. (Jim Pathe | Star-Ledger file photo)

    Linder, with a strong voice and a shock of white hair, would typically introduce himself as Bill. He grew up in Hudson County. Born in Jersey City, he attended engineering school at Manhattan College before he left to study at Seton Hall University. He entered the Immaculate Conception Seminary in 1958 and was ordained as a priest on in May 1963.

    His first pastoral assignment was Queen of Angels Church on Irvine Turner Boulevard, an all-black parish, where he founded New Community with a small group of community activists in 1968.

    One of the non-profit group's first major developments was the conversion of the former St. Joseph's Church on West Market Street was turned into a 24,000-square-foot headquarters that created 75 jobs. That began a series of projects that were aimed not only at delivering social services, but economic development. And as the organization began talking of building medical offices and a supermarket not unlike what could be found in any suburban community, New Community drew increasing national attention.

    From the beginning, the monsignor said he had tried to leverage whatever cash they had, because he knew it would take a lot of borrowing to rebuild the Central Ward. In an interview, Linder recalled being offered a $40,000 grant in 1969 from the late industrialist Charles Engelhard, then president of Engelhard Industries.

    Linder said he turned it down, because if he depended only on grants, it would take care of far fewer people.

    "We wanted a loan instead," the monsignor explained. "After that, we'd have credit."

    Stunned at first, Engelhard arranged for a $200,000 loan, said Linder, starting New Community on a path of large-scale financing. The strategy over the years allowed the group to build thousands of apartment and housing units, set up a credit union, an employment center, a modular housing factory, day care centers, fast-food outlets, charter schools and a nursing home. Some likened the organization to "a city within the city," served by a fleet of vans, buses and other vehicles.

    "His motto was faith, hope and leverage," noted New Community CEO Richard Rohrman. "The leverage part was that he wanted every single dollar at work. He wasn't big on reserves, or those kind of things. In his mind, any dollar not being used was equated to people not being helped."

    At the same time, Rohrman said the monsignor never sweated about finances. "He felt whatever arose, we would be carried through that. That we would come through it," he remarked.

    These days, Rohrman said New Community is in strong financial shape and is preparing to open a new residential complex on 14th Avenue in Newark that will provide 20 units of supportive housing for chronic homeless.

    "The people of the city of Newark have lost their greatest and most persistent champion. There is physical evidence of Monsignor Linder's legacy throughout the city, but his most important legacy is the difference he's made in many people's lives through the New Community mission," he said.

    Rohrman said they did a study last year to look at the lives affected by the organization Linder launched 50 years ago.

    "In one month, we touched 42,000 people in one way or another," he said.

    Services for the monsignor had yet to be finalized.

    Ted Sherman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find on Facebook.

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    The State Police said the accident occurred at 4:35 p.m. at mile marker 104.4 in Newark.

    Two people were killed Friday afternoon in a crash when a truck overturned on the New Jersey Turnpike, authorities said.

    The State Police did not identify the people who were killed.

    Police said the accident occurred at 4:35 p.m. at mile marker 104.4 in Newark.

    Police said there were lane closures and delays in the area.

    The accident blocked the right lane and shoulder of the outer roadway south of Interchange 14 and Route 78, according to 511nj.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find on Facebook.


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    President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration. Watch video

    WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump approved disaster aid to New Jersey to help local governments cover the costs of last March's winter storm.

    Gov. Phil Murphy formally requested the aid in May with the support of the entire New Jersey congressional delegation, led by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

    The declaration authorizes federal assistance for Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Somerset counties. Other areas could be added later if the state discovers additional damage and requests assistance.

    Murphy asks Trump for federal storm aid

    "The back-to-back nor'easters in March really took their toll on the state, burying us in snow, causing severe damage, and leaving thousands in the dark," Menendez said. "This disaster declaration will provide New Jersey with federal assistance to help alleviate the significant burden the storms created on our state's limited resources."

    The storms, which dropped more than two feet of snow in some locations, cost the region $20 million. Around 337,000 utility customers lost power, some of them for days.

    Murphy made the request after an assessment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Police Office of Emergency Management found that the damage incurred by the March 6-8 storm was significant enough to qualify for federal aid, spokesman Dan Bryan said at the time.

    In its announcement, FEMA said the declaration covers assistance for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged in the storm.

    Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    Kendrick Lamar and all of Top Dawg Entertainment's biggest names took the stage in Camden on Friday night, but New Jersey songstress SZA was notably absent.

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    A box truck on Friday struck a guardrail and overturned, trapping the driver and a passenger.

    One of two people who were killed Friday when a box truck overturned on the New Jersey Turnpike in Newark was a 43-year-old from Brooklyn, police said Saturday.

    Kakha Komckhidze died in the crash around 4:35 p.m. near mile marker 104.4, State Police Sgt. Jeff Flynn said.

    The box truck was going south in the center lane when it veered right, hit a guardrail and overturned, trapping the driver and a passenger, Flynn said. He said both died, and he did not know whether Komckhidze was the driver or a passenger.

    Flynn said the other person who was killed was from the country of Georgia. Police have not released that person's name because next of kin have not been notified. 

    Another passenger was able to get out of the truck uninjured, Flynn said. 

    The truck was the only vehicle involved in the crash, Flynn said, contrary to initial information police released Friday. 

    Marisa Iati may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find on Facebook

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    Washington Elementary School students deliver food donations to food pantry.

    ex0610schoolwestorangefood_edited.jpgStudents at Washington Elementary School formed a human chain to pass their food donations to the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry.  

    WEST ORANGE -- On May 25 students at Washington Elementary School carried out an annual school ritual and formed a human chain to deliver food they collected during their annual food drive to the Holy Trinity-West Orange Food Pantry, located across the street from the school.

    The West Orange Police Department blocked traffic on Franklin Avenue so the line of students could pass the 1,001 cans of nonperishable food items hand-to-hand to their final destination.

    "The kids are so excited to help and it's an amazing thing to see," said pantry administrator and West Orange Schools communications coordinator Cynthia Cumming.

    To submit school news send an email to

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    Some smaller districts would see their state aid double, triple or even quadruple.

    If you live in New Jersey, there's a good chance your school district is getting cheated.

    The state has a formula that says exactly much money it should give each district so kids get the education they deserve. But it hasn't fully paid in almost a decade, leaving districts to raise taxes, cut jobs and put off new initiatives to make up the difference.

    Things may finally be about to change, however. 

    Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic lawmakers are working on plans to fully fund that formula within the next few years and remove a cap on much new aid a district can get each year. 

    If they can get it done, the impact will be huge. 

    About two-thirds of all districts would see their school funding increase, more than 50 districts would eventually get at least a $10 million boost, and some smaller districts would see their state aid double, triple or even quadruple over time (looking at you, Chesterfield). 

    That could mean modest property tax reductions (or smaller hikes, at least), fewer budget cuts and more spending on textbooks, technology and other classroom needs. 

    But before you celebrate, beware of one thing. Some districts already get more than what the formula says they should because lawmakers previously made a deal to prevent districts from losing state dollars. 

    In order to get every district what it's owed, the state is considering reducing aid to those "overfunded" districts and reallocating funds to those that have been shorted. It's the most controversial part of the plan and could lead to local tax hikes or budget cuts. 

    Time will tell if anything actually changes. For now, underfunded school districts can dream. 

    Use the search tool below to see how much state funding your district receives now and what it could get if New Jersey fully funds its schools in the future.


    Carla Astudillo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook.


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    Expect some delays and closures until around 6 p.m., as events wind down for this year's event. Watch video

    Newark again celebrated its annual weekend-long Portugal Day Festival with a parade Sunday, closing a few streets for most of the day.

    Every year, the city celebrates Portugal Day -- officially known as "Dia de Portugal, de Camoes e das Comunidades Portuguesas" -- on June 10, as crowds gather over the weekend to celebrate Portuguese cuisine and culture.

    This year's festival in the Ironbound district included musical performances, Portuguese food and art. Sunday, the festival hosted a parade and several performances throughout the day. 

    "We look forward to seeing our residents and visitors enjoy this weekend's Portuguese Feast and all that the City of Newark has to offer," Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said.

    "We simply request that everyone celebrate safely and responsibly."

    Expo preview

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

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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption from shelters and rescue groups.

    Here is this week's collection of some of the dogs and cats in need of adoption in New Jersey.

    We accept dogs and cats to appear in the gallery from nonprofit shelters and rescues throughout New Jersey. If a group wishes to participate in this weekly gallery on, please contact Greg Hatala at or call 973-836-4922.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Two civil suits -- one filed in 2016 and another last month -- both allege a pattern of pervasive harassment and inappropriate comments by a Newark Police Lt. who supervised both women.

    After turning in her paperwork for the day, police officer Lisa Rodriguez was leaving the precinct in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood when she said she was cornered by her supervisor -- and groped.

    He allegedly pinned her to the wall and audibly moaned before rubbing his hands down the sides of her breast, waist and butt, according a lawsuit she filed against him.

    The incident, Rodriguez claims, was part of a pattern of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct perpetuated by her boss at the time: Lt. Jose Pereira, according to a 2016 complaint filed in Essex County Superior Court against him and the city.

    Now, a second Newark officer has come forward. She, too, alleges pervasive harassment by Pereira, including being followed on her shifts for no reason -- even during a bathroom break.

    Officer Claudia Martinez said Pereira inappropriately rubbed his frontside against her backside as he handed her a pay stub. She filed a lawsuit against Pereira and the city last month.

    Pereira, who remains employed at the Newark Police Division as a lieutenant, denied all the allegations through his attorney. This week, he filed a defamation complaint against both women, claiming his reputation is "impeccable" and both women are acting out of greed and making wrongful assertions.

    "It remains both bemusing and quizzical that there are no witnesses whatsoever to any of these absurd and defamatory assertions other than the plaintiffs themselves, which begs the age old adage that the love of money oftentimes makes people do outlandish things," Pereira's lawyer, Patrick Toscano, said in an email. He called the lawsuits "unreservedly frivolous, meretricious and just plain silly." 

    Rodriguez's lawsuit, however, claims that an internal complaint she made against Pereira was substantiated by the city's personnel director and referred to the police department.

    It's not clear what happened to that investigation. But Pereira said he was suspended for 25 days for using foul language -- a suspension he is fighting in his own whistleblower lawsuit against the city. That lawsuit said the department never brought any sexual harassment charges against him but nonetheless used Rodriguez's complaints to derail his promotion to captain and wrongfully suspended him for foul language.

    Pereira, a 29-year veteran of the police force, earns $116,000, public records show. 

    The city declined to comment; it's police division did not return requests for comment. 

    Rodriguez and Martinez, who are both represented by attorney Greg Noble, did not want to comment for the story. Both are also accusing the city's police department of failing to properly address sexual harassment complaints and allowing the abuse to continue. 

    "We look forward to our opportunity to proving the allegations as set forth in our clients' respective complaints," Noble said. 

    A pretty girl to 'conquer'

    Rodriguez began working as a Newark police officer in 2002 and said she was immediately subject to unwanted sexual advances and harassment by her superiors, her complaint said.  

    A sergeant once told her she was a pretty girl that people wanted to "conquer." But Rodriguez resisted their advances and was frequently transferred to different posts because of it, her complaint said. She was eventually assigned to the 3rd Precinct in February 2015. At the time, Pereira was acting captain and allegedly began harassing her from day one, the complaint said. 

    Once, Pereira allegedly brushed up against Rodriguez's butt in front of another officer and when asked why he did that, Pereira said Rodriguez had paint on her butt, the complaint said. 

    The next month was when he allegedly prevented her from exiting the precinct, moved close to her face and moaned before grabbing her with his hands at the sides of her breasts and then rubbing his hands down to her waist and butt, the complaint said. 

    Rodriguez struggled to break free but Pereira allegedly smiled and pinned her against the wall harder until someone tried to come in the door and Rodriguez broke free, the complaint said.

    In April 2015, months after the alleged harassment started, Rodriguez said she filed an internal complaint of sexual harassment. She was subsequently transferred three more times, which the suit claims was retaliatory. 

    Pereira said in his Aug. 2017 whistleblower suit that Rodriguez had behavioral issues that he had to reprimand. Those actions, he said, prompted the "myriad of false and misleading accusations" against him. 

    Claudia Martinez began at the Newark police department in Sept. 2015 and alleges Pereira began harassing her in 2017 -- after Rodriguez had already filed her internal complaint and related suit, and Pereira had filed his whistleblower complaint. 

    "We remain confident that Lieutenant Pereira will rightly be promoted to the rank of Captain when the merits of his lawsuit are proven true," Toscano, who is representing Pereira is his whistleblower suit and defamation case, said. "He is a career law enforcement officer of the quintessential moral value."

    Anthony Fusco, who is defending Pereira in the Rodriguez case, declined to comment. 

    Read more: 

    Lawsuit alleges ex-employee endured sexual assault, harassment at N.J. eatery

    Sex, harassment and abuse: An inside look at the dark side of N.J. restaurants

    This city worker says the ex-mayor confessed his love for her. Now she's suing him

    Karen Yi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook


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    Diane Guerrero, who stars in Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black, spoke about her advocacy around immigration, while she visited Audible's headquarter's in Newark.

    She used to tell people her parents were astronauts. Or that they were retired and not around. And sometimes, that her parents were dead. 

    But when Diane Guerrero ascended to stardom, with roles in "Jane the Virgin" and "Orange is the New Black," she said those excuses weren't going to cut it anymore. 

    "I just got tired of being silent, I really wanted to be a part of the conversation, especially where I had this platform," Guerrero told a group of Audible employees at the company's Newark headquarters last week. "I so desperately wanted to be honest and I so desperately wanted to love myself and accept myself for who I was."

    Guerrero's parents were both deported to Colombia when she was 14 years old. For a long time, she held that secret close to her, until she finally went public with her story in an op-ed piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times in 2014. It went viral. 

    "I had to learn quickly after that how to use this and how to try to help my community with this story," Guerrero said on June 4. "As much as it's been difficult to tell my story over and over again, it has been the best thing that has ever happened to me."

    Since then, the actress has become a loud voice for immigration reform and a strong advocate for the immigrant community. In 2016, Guerrero wrote a memoir titled "In the Country We Love: My Family Divided" and narrated an audio version for Audible. 

    As part of its speaker series, Audible invites its narrators, which have included former vice president Joe Biden, to speak to employees about their performances at the company's Newark headquarters.

    "I don't think you're ever ready to read your life back to yourself and try to make it entertaining for others," Guerrero said of her experience recording her memoir for Audible. "I cried a lot in that booth and I learned a lot about myself. I honestly cannot wait to do it again."

    Guerrero was born in Passaic but grew up in Boston, though she said she came back to New Jersey often over the summer. She volunteers with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a nonprofit group that advances immigrants' rights. While she said the current administration's rhetoric toward immigrant communities has been hurtful, it has also provided an opportunity to come together. 

    "Right now, it's all about uniting our community, it's all about reaching out to those people who think they don't have a voice. They have a voice, we have to ignite that. We need to continue educating people and we need to continue having these conversations," Guerrero said. 

    She encouraged immigrant communities to get involved, educate themselves on their rights and most importantly, find relatives who can vote -- and elect representatives who will pass immigration reform. 

    "We need a path to citizenship; we need to stop separating families," Guerrero said.

    Asked by NJ Advance Media what advice she has for kids who find themselves in similar situations and at risk of losing a family member to deportation, she suggested young people needed to think clearly about what they want for their lives and how to get there, taking every opportunity they can.

    "Wherever you are, getting discouraged is not the answer, doing the best you can is the answer," she said in an interview. "They need to understand that their role in all of this is important, not just for themselves and their families, but for the whole community."

    Guerrero came home from school to find her parents had been detained and her house was empty. The authorities never came for her and a family friend took her in. But she continued to study at a performing arts school. 

    "All of these people helped me to get here and that's why I think community is so important," she said.

    Guerrero said she identifies with the three central characters she's played -- Maritza Ramos in "Orange is the New Black," Lina in "Jane the Virgin," and Sofia in CBS's "Superior Donuts" -- but hasn't yet had a chance to play herself: shy and anxiety-ridden, she said. 

    "Call me," she joked. 

    Karen Yi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

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    Destiny Apartments in the 100 block of Watson Avenue caught fire about 6:40 a.m. Monday

    One person died Monday after being pulled from an apartment fire in East Orange, authorities said.

    Destiny Apartments in the 100 block of Watson Avenue caught fire about 6:40 a.m. The blaze was under control by about 6:52 a.m., officials said.

    A person living in an apartment in the three-story, brick building was taken to East Orange General Hospital. The victim later died at the hospital, according to Connie Jackson, spokeswoman for the city.

    "The cause of fire is under investigation," Jackson said in an email.

    The Essex County Prosecutor's Office is handling the investigation.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find on Facebook.

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    James Edwards will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence

    A man was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for killing a Newark woman found decapitated and wrapped in a blanket in the garage of a city home in late 2015.

    pamela-davis-62109741041ca1ad.pngPamela Davis 

    James Edwards will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence under the No Early Release Act (NERA) for the death of Pamela Davis, 50. He'd pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and desecration of human remains, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Davis was reported missing in October 2015, and found about a month later, in the 800 block of South 11th Street - a home friends and relatives say is connected to Edwards.

    Authorities have said Edwards and Davis were in a dispute and that Edwards killed her - possibly over $5 - and attempted to get rid of the body by dismembering her remains.

    Davis' head and neck were severed from her body, and were never recovered, authorities said.

    Davis' family members remembered Davis as a "good, strong loving woman with the heart of a lion," who spent her days caring for her four children and making money by helping elderly people in the neighborhood.

    Edwards remains for now at the Essex County jail, where records show he's also being detained on charges of failing to register as a sex offender.

    - Reporter Thomas Moriarty contributed to this report.

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

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    Firefighters found a resident unresponsive in a smoke-filled apartment after an early Monday fire at a multi-unit complex.

    Officials identified the man who died after he was pulled from an apartment fire Monday in East Orange as a 57-year-old resident.

    Firefighters found Raymond Beasley unresponsive in his smoke-filled residence around 6:30 a.m. at the Destiny Apartments, according to authorities. Facing flames and heavy smoke, responders forced their way inside and brought Beasley to East Orange General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

    Essex County Prosecutor's Office detectives were probing what caused the blaze, but it did not appear suspicious, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly said. The flames were contained to Beasley's apartment, where the fire started.

    Emergency responders went to the multi-unit three-story, brick building after receiving a fire alarm from the Watson Avenue building.

    A building manager could not be reached Monday afternoon.

    Anyone with information can call the prosecutor's office (877) 847-7432.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind on Facebook.



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    The roundup also included those with convictions for aggravated assault, child endangerment, criminal sexual contact, kidnapping, homicide, drug offenses and other crimes, officials said.

    Federal officials said that 91 foreign nationals - including some with violent criminal records - were arrested in a five-day sweep across the state.

    The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation netted an El Salvadoran national in West New York who was wanted on a warrant from international policing group Interpol for being a member of the MS-13 gang, and trafficking drugs and guns, ICE said Monday.

    The roundup also included those with convictions for aggravated assault, child endangerment, criminal sexual contact, kidnapping, homicide, drug offenses and other crimes, officials said. About 70 of the people arrested were previously convicted of criminal offenses.

    "This operation focuses on the arrest of individuals convicted of serious crimes and are a threat to public safety," John Tsoukaris, field office director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in Newark, said in a statement. "Because of the targeted efforts of these professional officers, there are 91 fewer criminals in our communities."

    Nationals of Anguilla, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Korea, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Peru, Poland, Spain, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Venezuela were arrested in the operation, according to ICE.

    Arrests took place in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Passaic, Union, and Warren counties.

    Those arrested will face proceedings before an immigration judge while others under a final order of removal will be deported from the country.

    ICE has launched a series of immigration operations around the country, including another five-day sweep around New Jersey in April. The agency has faced criticism for arresting people who pose no danger and do not have criminal backgrounds.

    The agency has said its operations focus on people who pose threats to national security, public safety and border security. Under the Trump Administration, ICE no longer exempts some from possible enforcement. Instead, anyone violating immigration laws could face being arrested, held and removed from the country.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind on Facebook.


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    The state's largest housing authority is now considered "troubled" -- the lowest performance rating issued by HUD.

    The Newark Housing Authority plans to cut about $2 million in salaries and benefits by the end of the month in order to plug its $5 million budget shortfall and avoid a federal takeover. 

    The state's largest housing authority is now considered "troubled" -- the lowest performance rating issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

    A HUD spokeswoman said the housing authority's financial deficit and lack of capital funding to fix aging buildings prompted the designation. 

    Housing authorities, which receive federal money, are assessed every year in four areas (physical, financial, management and capital fund). The agency's 2016 assessment scores were released this March. 

    In its 2016 assessment, the housing authority scored 4 out of 25 in finances and 23 out of 40 for the physical condition of the buildings. It also received no points when it was graded on occupancy. HUD said the housing authority has a high vacancy rate and not enough money to repair those units for use. 

    The Newark Housing Authority oversees about 6,800 units and 6,900 housing vouchers, according to its annual plan. 

    "I'm here to clean up," said Victor Cirilo, executive director of the housing authority, who took over last fall. "Our properties are not in good shape, we need to improve them. Our finances are in disarray."

    Cirilo said he was looking for ways to increase revenues for the agency, including increasing its work as a redevelopment agency, repairing dilapidated units to bring back on the market, renegotiating vendor contracts and cutting positions for non-essential services. 

    "We're trying to find ways to save money and move people into capacities where they are fully maximized," he told NJ Advance Media. 

    Cirilo declined to say how many positions would be eliminated or reassigned but confirmed layoffs began last week and would continue through the month, with a target of saving $2 million in administrative costs.

    The housing authority's 2018 budget is $183 million.  

    Last year, the former executive director, Keith Kinard, announced forced furloughs across the board that would save $1.2 million and avoid any layoffs.  

    But employees only took two of the 12 furlough days before the Board of Commissioners rescinded that decision a few months later and instead gave workers a $1.7 million raise. 

    By then, Kinard had left and the agency was looking for his replacement. The move even left union leaders perplexed; one questioned how the agency went from broke to offering retroactive raises. 

    "Unfortunately it's unsustainable and that's why we need to make difficult decisions for the housing authority's financial health," Cirilo said. "We have been living beyond our means for quite some time, it has resulted in depletion of our reserves."

    The housing authority employs about 400 full-time workers.

    Cirilo said there are 500 housing units offline that need repairs before they are rented out. Fifty Newark workers from Laborers Local 55 are improving those units; Cirilo wants to increase the pool of workers to 75.

    Housing authority employees have also been terminated recently for improperly renting units, Cirilo confirmed. He declined to give further details, adding, "we have zero tolerance for impropriety."

    Cirilo said the housing authority is working to finalize a recovery plan with HUD. Once both parties agree, the housing authority will have two years to earn a passing score or else risk a HUD takeover. 

    Read more: 

    N.J. won't be 'red-headed stepchild' of affordable housing, HUD vows

    Left in limbo: Employee suspended for 3 years and counting, lawyer says

    It could cost $26M to fix this crumbling public housing, but is it worth it?

    Karen Yi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook


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    A basketball game with fathers and male role models began in Newark eight years ago to show students that there are men in the community who care about them.

    Eric Nixon, an administrator at a Newark alternative high school, asked his male students in a mentoring group to write a letter of appreciation to their dads for Father's Day.

    The answers he received from that writing exercise eight years ago bothered him.

    "I don't have a father," a number of students said.

    Nixon recalled being disappointed by what he heard.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns 

    "How about a father figure?" said Nixon, trying another approach.

    "I don't have anybody like that, either,'' many answered.

    Nixon wouldn't leave it alone.

    "I needed to go back and point out to these kids that there has to be some positive male role model in their life,'' he said.

    That's when Nixon organized a father and son basketball game and told the students to invite a man, older than 21, to play. They brought fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, grandfathers -- someone who had a positive influence on their young lives.

    The tradition, in its seventh year, continued Saturday at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, where Nixon is manager of the freshman academy.

    Jayshawn Pearson, 16, brought his uncle Qaasim Sherrod, 28, of Newark, who was shocked that his nephew wanted him to play in the game.

    "For my nephew to look at me as a father figure,'' said Sherrod, pausing to place his hand over his heart. "It touched me.''

    Pearson, a sophomore at Malcolm X Shabazz, said he loves his father, even though the relationship is not as strong as he would like. His uncle is the one he leans on for support.

    "He (uncle) is my father and I'm his son,'' he said.  "It makes me feel special.''

    Damon Powell of Newark gets the title of dad from Xavier Holmes, 15, who said Powell, his stepdad, has been in his life since he was 1 year old.

    "I just call him Dad,'' Holmes said.

    Powell, who works two jobs, changed his schedule on the second gig so he could play in the game.  A former Marine who served 12 years, Powell said he picks up the slack for other kids, as well. He brought along Holmes' cousin, Enaaji Wright, 15, of Newark, who said a lot of kids unfortunately don't have a father in their life.

    "I'm one of them,'' Wright said. "My dad is not here to share this with me.''

    His dad died last year.

    Powell wanted Wright to be a part of Saturday's event, so he had him come to the game. "Don't sit at home and think nobody is here for you,'' Powell said.

    Faheem Ellis, vice principal at Malcolm X Shabazz, said a son's relationship with a father is one of the most impressionable relationships a young man can have.

    "It can produce positive outcomes," said Ellis, who came to the game with his 15-year-old son, Ja'zon Ellis.

    "Although some students grow up without a dad in the household, they do receive that support in other walks of life."

    For Artis Wiggins, that support came from Nixon, whom he considers a father figure.

    Wiggins, now 22, was one of the students first asked by Nixon to write that letter of appreciation to their fathers.

    At the time, Wiggins told Nixon he had never seen his father or talked to him.

    Nixon told Wiggins he would help him find his father, not thinking about what he'd actually said until Wiggins followed up with him.

    Nixon started with Facebook, then "people-search websites" looking for Arthur Wiggins, the father's name. When he found a close match that coincided with family information Wiggins gave, Nixon wrote a letter to the man he thought was Wiggins' father in Virginia.

    After a week, Nixon said, the father called him at school, saying he received the letter.

    "I was like wow,'' Nixon said.

    Nixon gave the father's phone number to Wiggins and his grandmother, who had been raising Wiggins after his mother died in 2011.

    "I was stunned,'' Wiggins said. "In two to three weeks, he had a number. That was crazy.''

    Wiggins said he and his dad talked. Nixon tried to get his father to come to the basketball game, but he never showed. Wiggins said he and his dad were supposed to meet each other at some later point, but that didn't happen, either. They had a few more conversations and unfortunately haven't spoken since.

    Wiggins is not angry, though.

    "It is what it is,'' he said.

    MORE CARTER: Newark HUBB is the center of healing and saving lives | Carter  

    Wiggins is not alone. He has Nixon, who took an interest in him at the alternative high school.

    "I probably would have given up if it wasn't for Mr. Nixon,'' Wiggins said.

    Wiggins said he "hated school" and went only once or twice a week until Nixon picked up on his absence and had him return regularly.

    "Even though I didn't want to be there, I came on the simple fact that he wanted me to,'' Wiggins said.

    "He believed in me.''

    This is what Ellis, the vice principal, meant when he spoke about the impression a father or positive male figure can have on a young man's life.

    Ellis turned to a quote from the late Jim Valvano, former basketball coach at North Carolina State University. It resonated with Ellis before the game, but it also frames the connection between Nixon and Wiggins.

    "The greatest gift you can give your children is to believe in them,'' Valvano said.

    Nixon, who doesn't have any kids of his own, believes in the students at Malcolm X Shabazz.

    He's a big brother, an uncle, a father figure, someone worthy of an appreciation letter.

    Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or or or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL

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    The final rankings of the 2018 girls lacrosse season.

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    Producers have high hopes for the musical, based on the true story of the NETSational senior hip-hop dance team founded by the New Jersey Nets. The dancers, all 60 and up, starred in the 2008 documentary 'Gotta Dance.' Watch video

    Cars filled every inch of the parking lots at Paper Mill Playhouse on Thursday, spilling out into a gravel clearing down the street, thanks to the excitement surrounding its latest show.

    But the party officially started when nine senior citizens in stretch pants and tracksuits got loose to some hip-hop beats. They didn't have rap songs when they were young, but they would shake it, shake it anyway -- just as long as they didn't break it, break it. 

    In the musical, "Half Time," the latest Paper Mill show expected to make the leap to Broadway, veterans of the Great White Way play members of an all-senior hip-hop dance team from New Jersey. The story is inspired by a real group of Nets dancers that first came together in East Rutherford more than a decade ago. 

    Opening Tuesday for a limited engagement after a week of previews, the show is slated to run through July 1. Even when members of the audience aren't hip to the hop, they're drawn in by the show's energy and pure charm.

    half-time-paper-mill-playhouse-nj.jpgThe Nifty Shades of Gray, aka the Nu Hip Crew, a team of seniors who dance to hip-hop music for the New Jersey Cougars. (Jerry Dalia)

    "I don't like hip-hop, but I enjoyed that," said one woman, leaving the theater, stocked with seniors like herself -- OGs, if you will -- but also young students. 

    "Half Time" is based on "Gotta Dance," Dori Berinstein's 2008 documentary about the NETSational dancers, the NBA's first senior hip-hop dance team. The team formed in 2006 in East Rutherford after the New Jersey Nets, then still playing in New Jersey, hosted an open call for dancers 60 and up. Making the cut were 12 women and one man. They initially had no idea they would be asked to dance to hip-hop. 

    The film chronicles management's concern that the dancers, whose strengths included swing and tap dancing (though none danced professionally), will not be able to pick up the dance style in time for a performance at center court. But after three weeks of intensive training, the silver-haired retirees are dripping in swagger and brushing their shoulders off like pros. Trading shiny raincoats and a "Singin' in the Rain" routine for the chance to "make it rain" to a Fat Joe and Lil Wayne song, they send the crowd into hysterics.

    "Half Time" loosely follows the journey of the real team, fictionalizing many details. In the story, the Nets become the New Jersey Cougars. But specific characters do take cues from actual seniors on the team, which includes seniors from New Jersey and New York (they've since performed for the Brooklyn Nets). The musical is the latest iteration of a production that opened in Chicago in 2015 as "Gotta Dance." 

    The soft-voiced Emmy and Tony nominee Georgia Engel ("Drowsy Chaperone," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), 69, headlines the show as Dorothy, a woman whose expressive alter ego, Dottie, has an unmistakable passion for hip-hop. (She played the same role in the Chicago production.) By the end, she's rapping like a veteran MC. Dottie is based on a kindergarten teacher named Betsy Walkup, whose zest for rap is immediately clear in the documentary, as expressed through her own alter ego, Betty. To her, hip-hop is a dance for the masses, perfect for baby boomers accustomed to doing "The Twist." 

    "I really let loose," Betsy says in the film, her flaxen hair framing her face in neat waves. "I really kind of did a poll dance, honestly." 

    As "Half Time" progresses, Dottie, a kind of exaggeration of Betty, is appointed the leader of the squad and proceeds to school her teammates on the distinctions between the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. By the end of the show, she's invoking Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."  

    Tony nominee and Emmy winner Andre De Shields ("The Wiz," "Full Monty"), 72, plays the widower Ron, the only male dancer on the team, which is initially called Nifty Shades of Gray.

    "It sounds like a bunch of seniors dressed in leather, spanking each other," Ron says, rejecting the name. (By the end, they transition to the "Nu Hip Crew.") His character, who prefers swing dancing, is a nod to Joe Bianco, the only man on the NETSational team.  

    Buzzwords of 2018 -- diversity, inclusion, equity -- they're all covered in he show, says De Shields, who has been with the production since Chicago. He says he appreciates the show giving veteran actors a path to sustainability and longevity, and encouraging the same for anyone watching in the audience. 

    "It's the kind of thing that keeps us alive, reinvigorated, vivified," he says. 

    Gotta-Dance-documentary-Half-Time-New-Jersey-Netsationals.jpgThe NETsational senior hip-hop dance team makes its center court debut in Dori Berinstein's 2008 documentary 'Gotta Dance,' the story that inspired the musical. (New Jersey Nets)

    "Half Time" produces instant laughs as the seniors' creaky, earnest shimmying -- along with their complaints about the room temperature and music -- is held up against the slick moves of the regular dance team, the Cougarettes.

    One song is actually titled "Who Wants To See That?"

    Berinstein, the producer of the Paper Mill show alongside Bill Damaschke, has won four Tonys in her career, including back-to-back honors in for best revival of a play with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 2001 and for best musical with "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in 2002. She's been guiding the project since she first had the idea to make an age-defying film. Beyond Broadway, she sees the story being adapted into a movie musical or TV series. 

    "They're all still dancing and as a group," she says of the NETsationals, who will be in the house for opening night. "They take their hip-hop really seriously. It's sparked in them just a great passion for life. They inspire me constantly."

    The show boasts music from Westfield native Mathew Sklar and the late Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Nell Benjamin and a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin. 

    As part of the evolution of the current production, actress and singer-songwriter Ester Dean ("Pitch Perfect"), who has worked with chart-topping artists from Beyonce to Lil Wayne, lent her talents to the project's finale.

    "This material was very challenging because it was very true; we couldn't lie about it," says Jerry Mitchell ("Kinky Boots," "La Cage aux Folles"), the musical's Tony-winning director and choreographer. He anticipates the show will make it to Broadway within the year. 

    "I don't think there will be any problems getting an audience for this show," he says.

    There is plenty of levity to be found in watching seniors try on the swagger required of hip-hop, but the show also relays deeply felt messages about aging, ageism and respect. Despite the gripes of an executive who doubts the mature dancers can pull off the routine, their coach refuses to play them for laughs.

    Another dancer, Joanne, played by Tony winner Donna McKechnie ("A Chorus Line"), clings to her youth after her proctologist husband leaves her for a younger woman. 

    "It's a curse," Joanne says, sounding hopeless. "Nobody wants you, nobody even wants to look at you anymore." 

    McKechnie, 75, says her character is loosely based on the glamorous dancer Peggy Byrne from the documentary, a former Miss Subways in New York. She says the story holds the potential for the actors "to inspire people not to abandon themselves, not to give up."

    "Getting older myself, I'm learning how to cope," she says. "You don't have the same defense mechanisms you did when you were young." The style of dance was new to McKechnie, too. The former Fosse dancer trained for three weeks in a hip-hop bootcamp, a more intense version of the original team's practice period.

    half-time-georgia-engel.jpgFrom left: Garrett Turner, Georgia Engel (Dorothy/Dottie), Alexander Aguilar and Lori Tan Chinn (Mae) in 'Half Time.' Engel's character, inspired by a dancer in the documentary 'Gotta Dance,' has an alter ego named Dottie who raps and leads the senior dance team. (Jerry Dalia)

    Camilla, another dancer (Nancy Ticotin, 60, from "Orange is the New Black"), flawlessly delivers red-hot salsa moves to the anti-ageist anthem "Como No?" 

    "Half Time" goes behind the routines to reveal the inner workings of each character and their family life -- one dancer, named Bea, played by Tony and Emmy winner Lillias White ("The Life," "Sesame Street" and "The Get Down"), 66, says the only way she can get some time with her text-happy granddaughter, Cougars dancer Kendra (Nkeki Obi-Melekwe), is to hitch a ride with her to practice (in the film, more than one senior had a granddaughter on the regular dance team). 

    Ron, meanwhile, strikes a deal with his family that if he emerges from their basement, makes the dance team and performs, he can take a trip with his grandchild to SeaWorld. Another character, Mae (Lori Tan Chinn, "Orange is the New Black"), inspired in part by Filipina grandmother Fanny Militar from the original team, delivers a number of the show's punchlines, but also has to cope with her husband forgetting who she is.

    The interplay between generations -- including the 20-something coaches and the seniors -- gets to the beating heart of the show, echoing an emotional moment in the documentary when the NETSationals perform a kind of call-and-response routine with the Nets Kids Dance Team.

    "It's very much a multigenerational story," Berinstein says. The seniors battle stereotypes, but their dance coach Tara (Haven Burton), at just 27, has also aged out of being a dancer.

    Kimberlee Garris, 39, says that character and her boss, a Cougars executive, each take cues from her real-life role. A co-producer of "Half Time," Garris was a Knicks dancer who became entertainment director for the Nets and coached the NETSationals. While she didn't age out of dancing, she did face pressure from her bosses to deliver -- if the seniors didn't perform, they'd be cut.

    "We were pushing them hard," she says. "There was never any talk about them being a joke. We were just so inspired by how determined they were." Now the joke, she says, is that their 15 minutes have lasted 12 years.  

    Original NETSational dancer Edie Ollwerther, 75, of Hasbrouck Heights, recently saw the show. She's grateful for the way the story can open people's minds. "It grows on you," she says of hip-hop. 

    Ollwerther has been a dance teacher for 43 years, for the last 22 at Edie's Dance Factory, her studio in Wood-Ridge. In 2006, she showed up to the Nets audition with her friend, Janice Mallett, figuring she didn't have anything to lose. They had been in the same tap-dancing troupe, Rutherford's Happy Hoofers. Both made the cut. 

    "I don't think any of us, including them, had any idea of where this was going to wind up," she says. "... I don't think they expected us to be as good as we were for that time."

    The group danced at a Paper Mill gala and again last week after a preview performance.

    "We still are all ready to go," Ollwerther says. "When we see each other it's like a family reunion." 

    "Half Time" runs through July 1 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn;


    Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Facebook.


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