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    Monument unveiled for Medal of Honor recipient

    For 58 years, the body of a New Jersey World War I Medal of Honor recipient lay in an unmarked grave.

    For 100 years, Fred Stockham's heroism went unacknowledged in the town he called home when he went off to fight in Europe.

    That changed just eight weeks ago, when the Belleville Historical Society learned of Stockham's heroism in the mustard gas killing fields of Belleau Wood in France.

    Not that Fred Stockham was forgotten. His name was etched on the Belleville World War I memorial as one of the 13 men from that town killed in action - but there was no special mention of his extreme heroism.

    It was Tim Daudelin, the commandant of the Marine Corps League of Saddle River, who notified the historical society that the town had a second Medal of Honor recipient on its war memorial roles.

    "Tim is an encyclopedia of New Jersey Medal of Honor recipients," said Michael Perrone, the historical society's president. "Once he told us, we knew we had to do something."

    On Saturday, the historical society unveiled a monument honoring Stockham at St. Peter's Church, on the 100th anniversary of his death.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns 

    The other Belleville Medal of Honor recipient was Henry Svehla who, at the age of 19, smothered a grenade with his body in Pyongony, Korea, to protect his comrades. Prior to that, he had been hit by mortar fire but refused medical treatment to continue fighting an uphill and outnumbered battle against Chinese forces.

    Svehla was posthumously awarded the medal by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony on May 2, 2011. That was the day after Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and great attention was paid to military heroics, past and present.

    Fred Stockham's heroism and Medal of Honor, went nearly unnoticed in Belleville.

    "He had no family, he was an orphan," said Perrone, a mason who built the monument, which was engraved by Val Hadshinow. It displays a black-and-white photo of Stockham under glass and the Medal of Honor symbol in gold relief.

    "We just didn't want him to be forgotten any longer," Perrone said.

    Stockham joined the Marine Corps in 1903, serving in China and the Philippines. When he re-enlisted in 1912, he gave his occupation as a fireman, and it is believed he worked for the Belleville department, which had a station four blocks from his house across from St. Peter's Church.

    "He was a little guy, no more than 5-foot-5," Perrone said. "Just an ordinary guy, really."

    When World War I broke out, Stockham was a veteran leader, and a combat veteran from Marine involvement in Nicaragua. On the day he died, he was a 37-year-old gunnery sergeant, surrounded by boys in their teens.

    "He died sacrificing his life for a 19-year-old kid," said Perrone.

    The battle of Belleau Wood was one of the bloodiest of World War I, and the German use of mustard gas was one of the great war atrocities of all time.

    To understand what happened to Stockham that day, Perrone found a U.S. Marine Corps-issued gas mask on eBay.

    "This was really a cumbersome, impractical set-up," he said, showing how a yellow charcoal canister was linked to the mask by a canvas hose.

    "The German design had the charcoal canister connected to the mask," Perrone said, handling the Marine contraption. "How can you go into battle with this?"

    With shells exploding and the battlefield covered with the oily residue of gas, Stockham began to remove his wounded men. As he carried a 19-year-old Marine named Barak Mattingly, they were hit by mortar fire and Mattingly's gas mask was destroyed.

    Stockham removed his - a certain death sentence - and placed it over the young man's mouth and nose and carried him to safety. He returned to the field to evacuate more men without a mask, but eventually collapsed. He died nine days later.

    "They called it the 'Agony of the Damned,' " Perrone said. "It was an agonizing death. You were basically burned alive from the inside out."

    In recommending Stockham for the Medal of Honor, his company commander 2d Lt. Clifton Cates wrote, "No man has ever displayed greater heroism or courage and showed more utter contempt of personal danger. His bravery was an inspiration to his men, and his actions undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his wounded comrades."

    Somehow, though, the recommendation got lost and it wasn't until 20 years later that Stockham was honored.

    As Cates rose through the ranks, and eventually became Commandant of the Marine Corps after World War II, he realized the recommendation never went through. In the late 1930s, he pushed President Franklin Roosevelt to award Stockham the Medal of Honor, supported by Mattingly, who became a prominent Republican in his home state of Missouri. It was awarded on Dec. 21, 1939.

    Also lost was the location of Stockham's remains. He was buried two years after his death in Hollywood Cemetery in Union in the plot of Sophie Heinz, the woman who raised him. The grave was unmarked until 1979, when Union County veterans tracked down the cemetery records and placed a marker there.

    "It's interesting how many people wanted to bring honor to this man," Perrone said. "His heroism was never really forgotten. We just didn't know the Belleville connection until eight weeks ago."

    True enough. Stockham has had two Navy ships named after him, a World War II destroyer, and a container ship still in service today.

    "That's pretty impressive in itself," Perrone said.

    And now, his local legend has been restored. The Marine Corps League arrived at St. Peter's Church on Saturday with a full squad and bagpipes. Marine Corps flags still hang through downtown of Belleville this week. The dirt around the polished granite marker at the church remains freshly turned, and the stone tells the story of the extraordinary heroism of an ordinary man.

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook. 

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    When it comes to radio stations in Hudson County's cities, there's nothing quite like digital The shows on the station, which bills itself as "the people's radio station," are indeed hosted by people who reflect different voices among a population Joseph notes is predominantly African-American (over 50%) and Latino (about 30%).

    Both notable artists themselves, Newarkers Sheena She and Daniel Joseph often put the spotlight on other local artists and innovators through Chainsaws and Jelly.

    She, a film photographer, founded Chainsaws and Jelly in its original (and continuing) form at as a venue to spotlight artists that puts a premium on underdogs. Newark is of course in Essex County, which when it comes to art worlds She says is a "perfect example of the underdog next to Hudson County."

    Last year Joseph, an emcee and hip hop artist, created the radio show iteration of Chainsaws and Jelly on 

    "Chainsaws and Jelly started off as a visual dumping ground from when I would browse around the internet," says She. "I love art, especially works that aren't featured too often .... I am also connected within the music scene of New Jersey so I would also post shows and events happening in music as well as art. Chainsaws and Jelly has a 'Polite Conversations' category where I used to 'interview' people from N.J., as well as around the world, asking them small questions.

    "Now we expanded and have a radio show ... which is live every other Tuesdays," says She. "We have the same format as the website, a polite conversation, we mention happenings around N.J., have special guest DJs and an 'Ear Jelly' (another category which is "Music of the Day"). It's hosted by Daniel Joseph, and I produce it." 

    When it comes to radio stations in Hudson County's cities, there's nothing quite like digital The shows on the station, which bills itself as "the people's radio station," are indeed hosted by people who reflect different voices among a population Joseph notes is predominantly African-American (over 50%) and Latino (about 30%).

    Through Chainsaws and Jelly, She tries to showcase people across the board. But "... I mostly love underdogs because as an underdog myself, I know how one can feel not being a part of something or someone who gets overlooked but has so much potential. I am not looking for the most popular artist who has the (most significant) resume, even though, I also include that....I always try to include all but will always root for the underdogs."

    In Newark, which Joseph says is in the "very early stages of gentrification," longtime and native artists seem to be the underdogs in the public arts scene. 

    "... Art is being used to create vibrant scenery in locations that are going through development, IE Mcarter Highway mural, but not a lot of native Newarkers were approached to do the work," says Joseph. "(However) in more traditional neighborhoods like Ironbound and the Northward many local graffiti artists are using creative place making methods to build up their neighborhoods, while making sure that it's not used as a tool to gentrify a marginalized area.

    Joseph says he and She see more local street artists (that they know) in Jersey City with works in gentrified areas -- "Grove Street/Downtown as the best examples" -- and that he would hope that a developer's agenda wasn't behind it. Since the artists they know are friends that love Jersey City, says Joseph, he's sure any boon to developers is coincidental.   

    "Overall," says Joseph, "I think the key players in Newark's art scene are folks who have been stakeholders in the area for many years, including those who took chances when no one else wanted to be a part of Newark in any capacity.

    "A lot of our galleries have been here for 10-plus years with the good intention of showcasing local artists," says Joseph. "A great example would be Galley Aferro."

    For She, the appeal of Downtown Jersey City belies the appeal of a place like Newark that, like many areas of Jersey City, is seen as sort of being the opposite of Downtown's "hustle and bustle and aesthetics." "...Some are still scared of Newark and haven't discovered or even had the experience and will automatically have that (fear) in their mind," says She.

    "We have such a prominent art world out here with gallery spaces, art studios and pop-ups. We have the same thing to offer as Hudson County's art worlds, but what I think what makes us different is our raw and genuine auras. We have transplants and we have locals just as any area. All of the art world is a popularity contest and about who you know in both counties, but something about the vibe is different when you step into Newark...Newark has a more rootsy feel to it." 

    For She, "rootsy" is something distinctly different from worlds that are driven by notions of "success." As someone who's tried to give a platform to artists with no regard to "success," She laments that "when people get one ounce of buzz to their name, they only help themselves out or whoever they run with or are cool with and never seem to keep me in mind. 

    "I understand the rat race and how being 'successful' means you play dirty and selfish. I just always try to be the opposite of that."

    When an art gallery in Newark had an exhibition called "Who Is the Renaissance For?", "a man came in because my piece had his building in it," says She, "and he heard us talking about gentrification. He wanted to sound like he was with us and on our side, but I had to walk away from that conversation because a person who came into Newark because it was cheaper for him to live in but for me my rent goes up, I just can't relate to him being on the same side!"

    "In the end, when a community doesn't stand up, or – for lack of better words – want to take care of their neighborhood, gentrification happens," says She.  "Someone else comes in to clean up the mess. We all play a part somehow. The non-gentrification parts of Newark and Jersey City are the same, definitely.  Neighborhoods are forgotten but the gems are the people that try their hardest to keep it as best as they can."

    Chainsaws & Jelly finished their 14th episode with special guest Kala of Girls on Bikes. Listen at , and tune in for their next show on July 3.

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    The giant operation included charges against doctors and other medical professionals.

    A doctor, a medical billing company owner and an MTA bus driver from Middlesex County were among the eight people charged in New Jersey this week as part of what federal officials are calling "the largest health care fraud and opioid enforcement action ever taken by the Justice Department."

    Six of the eight charged in New Jersey hail from the state.

    They include Anthony Pepe III, 40, of Cherry Hill, and Daniel Watson, 39, of Bellmawr, who allegedly worked with a Philadelphia man, Prussia Hing, 35, to sell oxycodone pills in front of the hospital where one of them worked as an anesthesiology technologist, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey.

    Charged in connection with alleged fake health care billing schemes were Brian Catanzarite, 42, of Cedar Grove, Enver Kalaba, 36, of Old Bridge, Tiffany Marsh, 40, of West Orange, and Keasam Johnson, 34, of East Orange, the release said. Robert Agresti, 61, a doctor from from Essex Falls, New York, was also charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

    The wide-ranging investigation led to the arrests of 601 people across the country, the U.S. Attorney's Office said, including 165 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals for alleged health care fraud schemes. The office said 76 doctors were charged with illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics.

    Some have already taken plea deals, but the three accused in the drug trafficking operation and arrested Tuesday, have not.

    According to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the federal court complaints, FBI agents used a confidential informant and an undercover officer to get inside the alleged drug ring from January to May, making eight controlled purchases worth over $25,000.

    In court documents, FBI Special Agent Stuart Sobin said Hing was the source for the pills -- both pure oxycodone and diluted, pressed pills. He sold the drugs to Pepe, who sold them to Watson, who sold them to the informant, according to Stobin's sworn statement.

    In Bellmawr starting in January, the informant made controlled purchases from Watson and introduced him to the undercover officer, who then made four purchases, Sobin said.

    Eventually, Sobin wrote in court documents, the informant and Watson met Pepe while he was on break outside the hospital, and purchased the drugs from him there. Agents also watched Pepe exchange items -- once hidden in a surgical mask -- with Hing in his car at the same location, Stobin said.

    During one conversation, Sobin wrote, Watson bragged that he was getting 100 to 150 pills a day from Pepe to sell. "We been cranking them motherf---ers out," he told the informant, according to Sobin.

    "The idea of a medical professional taking a work break to push pills on the street, as alleged in the complaint, is at once disheartening and infuriating," Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, said in a statement. 

    Millions in prescription drug fraud

    Also as part of the operation, two other New Jersey residents and a New York doctor have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for using phony compounded prescriptions to defraud insurance companies and collect kickbacks.

    The U.S. Attorney's Office did not say if the arrests were related to the multi-million dollar scheme federal agents uncovered stretching across South Jersey and into other states.

    In that case, medical professionals, a compounding pharmacy, recruiters and public employees worked together to use fake prescriptions for expensive medications to collect insurance money that was then paid out to everyone involved. Because compounded drugs are specially mixed to order, they are much more expensive for insurance companies. Over a dozen people have pleaded guilty.

    One of those arrested in this week's operation was Dr. Agresti, who admitted to defrauding insurance companies, including New Jersey employee health benefit programs, by prescribing medically unnecessary compounded prescriptions in exchange for $300 cash he received from the company marketing the prescriptions. His phony prescriptions cost insurers $8.9 million, the press release said.

    Also pleading guilty this week was Catanzarite, who admitted that he recruited members of a gym he owned to work as sales representatives for the company that marketed compounded medicines.

    Catanzarite convinced state employees to get prescriptions for compounded medication that they didn't need, so both he and the state employee could get the kickback. He also paid a nurse practitioner to fraudulently obtain compounded medication prescriptions, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

    "Altogether, Catanzarite caused losses of at least $3.5 million and personally made over $1.1 million from the scheme," the release said.

    Kalaba, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver from Old Bridge, pleaded guilty this week in a similar scheme. He acted as a sales representative of the medication marketing company and paid his colleagues "monthly cash bribes" and $100 per phony prescription they could obtain. He cost his insurer $2.9 million, the release said.

    "Our investigation is ongoing to determine the extent to which additional MTA employees may have participated in this fraudulent scheme," Inspector General Barry Kluger of the MTA said in the statement.

    Faking services

    Two other New Jersey residents were charged this week for allegedly conspiring to collect insurance reimbursements for 800 chiropractic appointments that never happened, the release said.

    The U.S. Attorney's office alleges that between 2016 and 2017, Marsh, a medical billing company owner, used her access to a chiropractor's billing software to generate false claims for services.

    She worked with Johnson, a telecommunications company employee, who recruited employees to allow the claims to be made in their names for a cut of the proceeds, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    "At a time when many Americans worry about securing health insurance for their families, we've seen far too many instances where public and private insurance providers are raided for millions in phony reimbursements for compounded medications or non-existent therapy services," U.S. Attorney Carpenito said in the statement. 

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find on Facebook.

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    The pre-Fourth of July weekend will be sizzling hot in New Jersey and New York City, with temperatures making a run for 100 degrees and high humidity making it feel even more oppressive.

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    Hundreds of thousands of people opposed to President Donald Trump's immigration policies are expected to rally and march in events across the country June 30.

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    Newark kids gear up for camp with Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund

    Sharese Pulliam was nervous during the parent orientation session with the Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund.

    Pulliam had agreed to allow her 11-year-old son, Tyler Harrison, to attend overnight camp, but she was still agonizing over the decision.

    "That's my baby," said Pulliam, of Newark. "He's never been away from me."

    She wanted to know if he could bring his cellphone to Camp Tecumseh in Pittstown, but Evon Garvin, the Fresh Air Fund coordinator, said that wasn't possible.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns  

    "Absolutely not," Garvin said.

    Phones are a distraction from what kids go to camp to experience.

    "It's about nature," Garvin said. "It's about them becoming one with nature."

    Since 1882, that's what city kids have experienced through the Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund, a popular summer camp program operated by the Newark Day Center, the oldest social service agency in New Jersey.

    "If you don't hear from them (kids), that's a good thing," Garvin told Pulliam.

    The nervous mother gradually began to feel better listening to Garvin, but 12-year-old Zakiyyah Dodard and her mother were able to ease Pulliam's anxiety.

    "I don't want nobody bullying him," Pulliam said. "I don't want nobody picking on him."

    Zakiyyah's mother, Sakeena Daniels, told Pulliam how much her daughter enjoyed camping and that she has made many friends.

    If Tyler hangs with Zakiyyah, he'll be in good hands.

    "She won't let nobody bother him," Daniels said.

    The Newark girl is a camping pro and, most likely, can show Tyler the ropes when they get to camp.

    Zakiyyah has been going to different camps, her mother said, since she was 6 years old.

    The great outdoors can't come soon enough for Zakiyyah. In fact, before she goes to Camp Tecumseh, Zakiyyah will have already attended another overnight camp, in Lebanon Township.

    Zakiyyah loves camping, telling me about her adventures in a rowboat, swimming in a lake, seeing frogs jump and how hard the horse was breathing that she rode uphill in the woods.

    "I can't wait," Zakiyyah said.  "Do they have camps for one month?"

    That's how much wants to be in camp.

    In her South 12th Street neighborhood, Zakiyyah said, there aren't many kids to play with. 

    "She likes to be around other children," her mother said. "There's so much that can happen in the street. Kids can't play outside. So, when camp comes around, she's so happy to get away."

    Several parents showed up throughout the day last week for orientation to find out more about the camp their kids will be attending.

    The Fresh Air Fund sends children to 11 camps, which includes day camp, overnight camp and camp programs for children with disabilities. It relies on public donations and money from an annual softball tournament to provide the camping experience for low-income children who reside in urban communities.

    The tournament - Battle of the Barristers - is on July 24 and raises $100,000 annually when law firms hit the field to compete for a good cause.

    But if you would like to donate as well, please send your check to the Fresh Air Fund, 43 Hill St., Newark N.J. 07102, or you can give by credit card at

    MORE CARTER: It's a wrap: Wawa is not coming to Newark | Carter

    Edward Cornell, of Newark, is grateful for all that the Fresh Air Fund does to help families send kids to camp. Cornell, whose children will be going to camp, said he's recovering from kidney cancer.

    "It's a rough time," he said about finances. "When the money person who is an earner, can't earn, times get hard. This is going to be a big help for us."

    By the end of the orientation session, Pulliam was no longer on the edge, and her son seemed fine with the idea of leaving home for a week. He has football and arts and crafts on his mind.

    "It's nothing like hearing from somebody who has actually gone through what you are about to go through," Pulliam said. "She (Zakiyyah) seemed like she had a good time. I'm like, OK."

    Zakiyyah is counting down the days. She's excited, but her eyes lit up when I told her that I would include her comments in this story.

    "I'm going to be famous?'' she asked.

    Not so fast.

    But you definitely have been a source of comfort for a parent who is no longer nervous about sending her kid to camp.

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

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    VERONA -- Annin Flag Co. employees in Verona rush to fill orders following the approval of Alaska as the 49th state. MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey Although efforts toward statehood had begun as far back as 1946, it wasn't approved by Congress until July 7, 1958; the official proclamation was signed by President Eisenhower on January 3, 1959. MORE:...

    VERONA -- Annin Flag Co. employees in Verona rush to fill orders following the approval of Alaska as the 49th state.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Although efforts toward statehood had begun as far back as 1946, it wasn't approved by Congress until July 7, 1958; the official proclamation was signed by President Eisenhower on January 3, 1959.

    MORE: Glimpses of history from around New Jersey

    If you would like to share a photo that provides a glimpse of history in your community, please call 973-836-4922 or send an email to And, check out more glimpses of history in our online galleries on

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

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    Class 243 is the first class in New Jersey history to graduate under the new title of correctional police officers Watch video

    TRENTON --  The state Department of Corrections presented badges to 147 new officers Thursday.

    Acting DOC Director Marcus O. Hicks, Esq. administered the oath of office and presented each new officer with his or her badge.

    During the ceremony at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in downtown Trenton, the department also celebrated recent officer promotions and presented individual awards and honors to 11 new officers.

    Class President Officer Gregory P. Cinnella III pointed out in his address that "Class 243 has the distinction of being the first class in the history of New Jersey to graduate under the new title of correctional police officers."

    He called the class, "One cohesive team charged with one righteous mission" and encouraged them to, "Hold your heads up high because we have earned every bit of our way here today."

    Expo preview

    The graduates of Class 243 come from 17 of New Jersey's 21 counties, with 28 from Essex County, and 20 from Middlesex County.

    The rest of the officers and their county of residence:

    Atlantic, 1; Bergen, 16; Burlington, 2; Camden, 3; Cape May, 1; Cumberland, 12; Gloucester, 2; Hudson, 10; Hunterdon, 1; Mercer, 11; Monmouth, 11; Ocean, 11; Passaic 7; Somerset, 1; Sussex, 2; and Union, 8.

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso, Instagram @michaelmancuso and Facebook @michaelmancuso
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    Wendi Winters, a mother of 4, was president of Montclair's Universalist Unitarian Congregation and of the Montclair PTA Council during the 1990s Watch video

    Old friends from Montclair are mourning a former resident, mother of four, PTA president and church activist who was killed in Thursday's mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland.

    Wendi Anne Winters was 65, and had lived in Montclair during the 1990s, where she had served as president of the Universalist Unitarian Congregation and was active in religious education and fundraising there, members of the congregation said.

    "We're going to have a moment for her during the Sunday service," said the Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, the co-minister of the Church Street congregation. "There aren't a lot of people who were here and remember Wendi now, but the people who were here in the 1990s really, really do."

    One of them is Patty Dow, whose daughter, Courtney, now 30, played youth soccer with Winters' eldest daughter, Winter Geimer, when the girls were in grade school. Dow, 62, who now lives in West Orange, said Winters was a memorable "character," whose close friends included Dow's own father, despite his being 30 years older than her friend.

    "If you met her, you remembered her," said Dow. "She had a very big, wacky, caring personality. She stood very strongly for what she believed in. She marched to a different drummer, and she was a character."

    Winters was at work as a staff reporter with the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis on Thursday, when a shooter blasted his way through the glass door and killed her and four colleagues. The alleged gunman, identified by CNN as Jarrod Warren Ramos, 38, was arrested after the shooting.

    While living in Montclair, Winters devoted herself to raising her children, including her involvement with the PTA, and to her church, Dow said. She said Winters had four children: daughters Winter, Summer and Montana, and a son, Phoenix, all named for the season or place linked to their birth.

    Dow said she last saw Winters three years ago at a retirement celebration for the Unitarian congregation's former pastor, the Rev. Charles Bluestein Ortman, and that her last contact with her was when Winters reached out following the death of Dow's father in September.

    Dow said she learned of Winters' death in a Facebook message from another congregant who was aware of their friendship.

    "I just broke down sobbing," Dow said.

    Prior to dedicating herself to reporting full time around 2002, Winters worked mainly in public relations, specializing in the fashion industry, according to her Linkedin page. She also contributed articles to the local Montclair Times newspaper, her Linkedin page said,

    The editor of The Montclair Times, a weekly newspaper that has since been acquired by Gannett, did not return a request for comment.

    Cathy Vitone was the principal of the Bradford School in Montclair when Winters' children were there. Vitone, now retired and living near Clearwater, Florida, called Winters "a great lady," with a terrific sense of humor who was well-informed on education policies and practices.

    "Sometimes you hear about parents getting involved for all kinds of crazy reasons," Vitone said. In contrast, she added, "this woman really had her heart in the right place, not just for her own kids, but for all the children in that building."

    Even in her PTA role, the future journalist was an First Amendment advocate. In a 1997 story in The New York Times, Winters was quoted expressing concern that free speech would be chilled by a defamation lawsuit that had named the PTA and individual parents for speaking in defense of a teacher accused of physically abusing a student.

    ''This has a chilling effect on First Amendment rights of people to express their opinions in a public forum,'' Winters told The Times.

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook.

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    Immigration protests across at least 16 N.J. municipalities were held Saturday in solidarity with the main event in Washington, D.C. opposing President Donald Trump's policies.

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    The Pulaski Skyway reopened Saturday after a massive rehabilitation project. But more work is to come, officials say.

    Drivers, here are the words you've all been waiting to hear: The Pulaski Skyway is open.

    And two days early, no less!

    The New Jersey Department of Transportation had said the spans that make up the Skyway would reopen by Monday, but drivers were overjoyed and even a bit confused Saturday when they found they could again travel on its lanes.

    The 85-year-old, 3.5 mile-long series of bridges connect Newark and Jersey City traveling over the Passaic and Hackensack rivers.

    Drivers who use the spans -- and have been waiting and waiting for them to reopen -- were more than happy to have their bridge back.

    The Pulaski Skyway was closed in 2014 as part of a $1 billion rehabilitation project.

    The reopening date had been pushed back many times, frustrating drivers who depend on it for their daily commute.

    New Jersey Department of Transportation officials say while traffic lanes are open, more work on the Skyway will continue and there might be some intermittent closures in the future.

    "We appreciate the public's patience while these necessary repairs were made and traffic was rerouted," DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said in a release on the project.

    "The good news is the innovative materials and methods used to rehabilitate the Skyway mean this deck will last for decades to come."

    Bill Gallo Jr. may be reached at Follow Bill Gallo Jr. on Twitter @bgallojr. Find on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us.


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    Youth Advocate Program looking for mentors for kids in trouble


    Help wanted: Advocates for Troubled Youth.

    Forty-year-old agency with proven track record of success seeks caring individuals to work as mentors for kids who need guidance to stay out of trouble and rely on the strength of their own talents and gifts.

    Part time. Pays $14-$15 an hour.

    Must be from same neighborhood as youth served, have patience and a big heart. Must have an open mind and be able to see that inside most fledgling gang members or juvenile criminals is a kid who needs love and guidance.

    For more information call (973) 624-1520.

    Yes, this is serious.

    The Youth Advocate Program (YAP), which for 40 years has steered kids headed for jail into productive lives through one-on-one mentorship and other interventions, needs people to get involved and potentially save a life.

    "Our whole program is about keeping families together and reducing reliance on institutions," said Jeff Fleischer, the national CEO of YAP, who works out of the nonprofit agency's Newark office.

    By institutions he means mainly jail. The kids referred to YAP come mostly from juvenile court. Some are serious offenders, with weapons and drug charges, or gang affiliation. 

    "We don't refuse anybody," Fleischer said.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns 

    What makes YAP different from many other intervention programs, Fleischer said, is that the people involved come from the kid's own life, not from government agencies.

    "When we sit with them and develop a program, we'll bring in who they want," he said. "Their parents, their teachers, their minister, a detention center worker they trust, even a gang leader."

    Robyn Dawson, the Essex County program director of YAP, said gang leaders are remarkably compliant in "releasing kids with potential."

    "They'll say, 'Yeah, this kid can do better,' and let them go," she said.

    "When we go into some of the neighborhoods, we know the gang members are looking out for us," she said. "They respect what we're trying to do."

    And, she added, "My car is always is exactly how I left it. I know they're watching it."

    The program works like this: when a kid is referred to YAP, the staff gathers family and friends to help identify the strengths and interests of the young person, and what kind of behavioral treatment they might need.

    The YAP advocates are people from the neighborhood who, as Fleischer said, "know the streets and the people.

    "We sit with them and ask four questions," he said. "What do you need? What can we do to help? How can we work together as equal partners? And how can you give back?

    "The key is to find their talents, and put them to good use," Fleischer said. "One of our guys was good in math. Now, instead of being in the youth house, he's tutoring other kids in math."

    One young man, he said, was headed toward youth detention for a serious offense. During the intervention, he told the YAP team he was "good at fixing bicycles," Fleischer said.

    For restitution for his crime, he was asked to fix a bunch of broken bicycles in police hands, and they were distributed to kids who needed bikes. After that, he got a job in bicycle shop, where he works as a mechanic.

    On a larger scale, Fleischer talked about a major YAP interventions in Fort Worth, Texas, with members of warring Crips, Bloods and MS-13 gangs. It reduced prison intake by 42 percent in one year.

    Here in New Jersey, there are about 1,000 kids in YAP program in all counties except Hunterdon.

    All they need, YAP staffers believe, is someone who cares.

    Joan Newton has been a youth advocate for 25 years, beginning in Middlesex County, and has mentored "over 40 kids" in 15 years in Newark, some as young as 11.

    "I'm a people person. I always loved working with youth," said Newton, whose son is a New Jersey State Trooper. "I was a single parent and a lot of people helped me, so it's my way of giving back."

    For Fleischer, 65, this has been a lifelong passion. As a kid growing up in the Weequahic section of Newark, he remembered a troubled neighborhood boy who would strip off his clothes and run through the streets naked. When police were called, the neighborhood kids would join the chase.

    "I remember my mother telling me, 'he's got a problem, he's not an animal to be hunted,'" Fleischer said. "Then he disappeared. They may have sent him to Greystone or Overbrook. This was in the 1960s. I always wondered what happened to him, and how his life might have been different with the right program."

    As a Rutgers College student and varsity soccer player, Fleischer became a Big Brother, then got a $1,400 grant to start an afterschool program at St. John's Episcopal Church for kids from a nearby housing project.

    During his master's degree program in social work, he lived in a Perth Amboy project and worked with gang members.

    One of his next stops was La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark, where the late Ramon Rivera threw him the keys to an empty warehouse.

    "He said, 'build a youth center," Fleischer said. "That was all."

    Using skilled plumbers and electricians, Fleischer put 30 troubled kids to work, learning trades as they built the center, which still stands today at Broadway and 7th Avenue in Newark.

    "This was in the early '80s, when crack was rampant, and the violence was bad," he said.

    One of the boys from the project, Hakim Andrews, is just a few years younger than Fleischer and now works for the Newark Downtown District, helping to keep the city's business area orderly.

    "I saw him coming in today," Fleischer said. "So, we have these relationships that last decades."

    It remains that way. Many of the kids helped by YAP come back to work as advocates themselves.

    "I think that is the key," he said. "Our model builds community. We are neighbors."

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook. 

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    New Jersey shelters and rescues have hundreds of animals available for adoption.

    According to the Washington Post, new dog owners can expect to spend between $1,200 and $2,000 in the first year, and as much as $14,500 over their pup's lifetime for routine care costs alone. Unexpected accidents and illnesses also happen, and it can get expensive when they do.

    Having the essentials can help alleviate the financial aspect of bringing home a puppy. Pet parents should plan for the following:

    1. Good quality food: Read the ingredients to make sure the food is formulated for puppies and has meat as the first ingredient rather than food that is full of filler.

    2. Comfortable bedding: Make sure the puppy has a warm and quiet place to rest.

    3. Treats and toys: Treats are great training tools for a new puppy but should not make up more than 5% of his or her daily diet. When a new puppy comes home be sure to have a few interactive toys to keep them busy and help them learn to self-entertain.

    4. Collar, ID tag, leash, and microchip: Safety is key. Microchipping a pet can save their life. Having a collar and nametag to identify the pet in case they get lost is also important.

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

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    AllState Can Corp. of Morris County is accused in a lawsuit of using counterfeit pieces for air filtration systems in U.S. military tanks

    A New Jersey man has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging he was fired from his quality assurance job after complaining the company used foreign-made pieces on tanks that placed the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk.

    Jeffrey Lechowicz, of Vernon in Sussex County, filed suit earlier this month against AllState Can Corp. of Parsippany, claiming the company "fraudulently and unlawfully" violated its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

    Lechowicz claims AllState Can used foreign-made parts for filters used for the air purification system inside military tanks. The government contract stipulates the parts must be made in the United States, according to the suit filed June 12 in Essex County Superior Court.

    The parts were shipped to HDT Expeditionary Systems, Inc., which had been awarded a U.S. Department of Defense contract to provide thousands of the parts called "Individual Distribution Filtration Systems," the suit states.

    The suit claims AllState Can was six months behind on making the parts - also called "ends" - and that the company secretly resorted to buying them from China to fulfill the order.

    What's going on? Ask Alexa what's happening around New Jersey

    In an April 17 email to colleagues, Lechowicz states a company sales rep "fraudulently and criminally supplied (the military contractor) with counterfeit and illegitimate documents" stating the parts were U.S.-made when they were not.

    "I have tried everything that I possibly can to try and stop and mediate this whole mess - without success, for which I'm truly sad and very upset about," Lechowicz stated in the email.

    The email was one of several times the quality assurance manager disclosed to fellow workers and supervisors that AllState Can was shipping counterfeit parts to HDT, according to the suit.

    The day after the email was sent, Lechowicz was fired, the suit says.

    "Both federal regulations and U.S. DOD contract specifications mandated that all components (of the filtration system) be manufactured in the United States, or after approval by the U.S. DOD, a 'Qualifying Country,'" the suit states. "China is not a 'Qualifying County.'"

    The lawsuit was filed under The New Jersey Conscientious Employer Act.

    The suit, filed by Hackensack attorney Adam Kleinfeldt, claims AllState Can terminated Lechowicz, causing him to suffer "economic, emotional and psychological damages."

    In addition to AllState Can, the suit names owners Ronald and Richard "Rick" Papera, who are brothers, and other employees.

    Reached by phone Tuesday, Rick Papera said Lechowicz was dismissed from his job for threatening a co-worker. That co-worker had threatened to sue the company if they "didn't do something" about Lechowicz, Papera said.

    Papera did not know why Lechowicz allegedly threatened the other employee but conceded it could have been over the alleged counterfeit parts.

    "There's not a lot to say," Papera said. "He was terminated for threats and also for non-performance."

    As for the parts, Papera conceded they were foreign-made but only with U.S. DOD approval.

    "The parts were made in China but we had permission to make them in China," Papera said. "It's a mixed-up complaint that (Jeff) had with us that he mixed-up and made up on purpose. I think he's been planning this (the lawsuit) for a long time."

    Papera said he had not yet seen the suit and declined to comment further until speaking with his attorney.

    Kleinfeldt said his client has denied he threatened anyone and added emails and other evidence will show AllState Can never had approval to use parts made in China.

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


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    Mayor Ras Baraka will lead Newark for another four years after a decisive win in May's municipal election against former Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins.

    Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was sworn into his second four-year term on Sunday as the 40th mayor of the state's largest city. 

    Speaking at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center before his inaugural ball at the Robert Treat Hotel, Baraka thanked residents for allowing him more time to finish what he started. 

    "I'm even more grateful today than I was four years ago ... we have much more work to do," he said, standing before eight re-elected city council members and new Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver, who all ran on his Team Baraka slate. 

    Baraka, a Democrat, urged unity after a divisive election that he previously said was not focused on policies but personal attacks.

    "We must with every ounce of our determination ... be insistent on unity ... we have to finally let to rest the old politics of division, the election is over," he said. "We cannot go forward unless we go together."

    Baraka was challenged by former Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins but won about 77 percent of the vote

    Each member of the city council, eight of whom were re-elected to their seats, were also sworn in Sunday. That included East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum and Central Ward Councilwoman McIvers who won their respective run-off races last month. 

    Also sworn in: North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James and At-Large Council members Eddie Osborne, Luis Quintana, Carlos Gonzalez and Mildred Crump. 

    The mayor's ball was held later on Sunday at the Robert Treat Hotel and attended by dignitaries from across Essex County and the state. Actor and director Danny Glover made an appearance and Johnny Gill, formerly of New Edition, performed. Sen. Robert Menendez also attended, as did Newark-born Grammy-nominated singer Raheem DeVaughn.  


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

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    The embattled Essex County College was taken off probation. It was at risk of losing its accreditation.

    It's official: Essex County College is no longer at risk of losing its accreditation status -- a move that ensures that its students will continue to be eligible to receive federal financial aid to attend.

    The news is a boon for the 50-year-old institution that serves as a lifeline for students of all ages, mostly black and Latino.

    Had the college lost its accreditation, it would likely be forced to close its doors, as the move would have affected federal grant money. Half of ECC's 8,900 student body receives some form of financial aid. 

    The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the college's accrediting agency, voted to remove the institution from probation, finding the college was back on track in the areas of finances and governance. The action was publicly released on Monday. 

    "I want to thank the students that entrusted us with their education," college president Anthony Munroe said in a statement, calling the news "fantastic."

    "Never was the quality of the education provided at ECC called into question by Middle States. I am appreciative of our dedicated faculty and staff for working tirelessly in fulfilling our mission," he went on to say. "And, I want to thank the Board of Trustees for believing in, and supporting, my leadership of Essex County College at such a time as this."

    It's been a rocky few years at the college with a revolving door of presidents, a host of scandals and infighting among its leadership that eventually prompted Middle States to cite the college for failing three accreditation standards. 

    "Essex County College is a landmark institution that has provided generations of students with a strong educational foundation that has helped them embark on successful careers," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said in a statement. He said the college's affirmed accreditation was "a team effort."

    DiVincenzo increased the county's funding for the college and appointed new members to the Board of Trustees to better work with Munroe.  

    "It's important that we all remain vigilant and continue moving the school forward so ECC continues to operate and be looked upon as a beacon of hope for its students," he added. 

    Rev. Ronald Slaughter, pastor of Saint James AME Church in Newark, who was a key voice during the college's turmoil last year, said the news was the best he'd heard all summer. 

    "We wanted to save the college ... our stirring up of good trouble was not in vain," he said. "This victory is an example of what can happen when we put people first (students, faculty, administration) and set aside our (differences) for the good of the community." 

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

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    New Jersey's weather continues to be brutally hot, with a relentless summer heat wave in full force. How much longer will it last?

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    The city-run shelter in Newark was always temporary but finally closed its doors on Monday, as temperatures hovered in the 90s.

    temporary homeless shelter in Newark finally shut its doors to residents on Monday, leaving some back on the street during one of the hottest days of the year. 

    As forecasters issued an excessive heat warning for the state with temperatures rising to the high 90s, a few of the homeless who had been staying there gathered in the park across the 224 Sussex Avenue shelter trying to find pockets of shade while they figured out where to go -- and how to get there. 

    "It's not right for them to put us out like this," said Sheila Jacobs, 61, who suffers from high blood pressure. She sat on a plastic crate underneath a tree, smoking a cigarette and wiping her sweaty forehead. 

    "It's too hot for anybody to be here," she said. 

    Though the shelter was slated to close on Saturday, one worker there said the city allowed the 180 residents to stay an extra day. 

    City officials said the facility was always meant to be a temporary winter shelter. Mayor Ras Baraka previously said the shelter was supposed to close in March but the city found additional funds to keep it running through June.

    "The city, the state and the county are all working hard and collaboratively together to find ways to house people who were living in the shelter," city spokesman Frank Baraff said Monday. 

    The Central Ward shelter principally targeted the homeless population who had nowhere else to go and gathered at Newark Penn Station, the Public Library, Military Park and Francisco Park. It was open 24 hours a day. 

    The facility opened in December and since then has serviced 290 people. The city plans to re-open the winter shelter in November and will issue a request for proposals for a facility with up to 250 beds and an organization to manage and operate the shelter, according to a city press release.

    Baraff said the mayor was also seeking private funding to re-open the shelter sooner.

    Victor Cirilo, executive director of the Newark Housing Authority, who is helping find shelter for displaced residents said the Department of Community Affairs agreed to offer 21 continuum care vouchers at state-administered facilities and 24 slots at non-profits funded by the state. Those 45 vouchers have not yet been given. 

    Cirilo said the state also agreed to extend rental assistance to those who are interested in construction work. In a partnership between the housing authority and Laborers' Local 55, residents are union-trained, hired by the housing authority and can receive state housing aid. The housing authority additionally applied for a $2.5 million grant for 200 housing vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

    For now, residents will have to figure out where to sleep for the night. 

    "We're doing the right thing, we just need a little help," resident John Robinson said, as he, too, sat on a plastic crate drinking bottled water donated by passers-by. 

    Robinson, 39, has a full-time job earning $14 an hour, but with mandatory child support, only makes $190 each paycheck, he said. His income disqualifies him from other shelters and he already maxed out his time at another transitional living facility with his family, he added.

    "It's hard to save money," Robinson said, adding that he'll likely return to where he spent last summer - sleeping in Military Park. He moved his three children and wife down south; otherwise, "they'd be out here with me," he said. 

    Homeless residents said they were asked to leave the facility around 6:30 a.m. A Newark police officer showed up as they walked out with their belongings and scattered back across the city, they said.

    The officer was still present when a reporter visited the handful of residents waiting in the park. 

    Some of the residents staying at the facility went back to Penn Station; others to their day programs. It's not clear how many of the residents were offered help transitioning by the city; those in the park said they were not approached with sheltering alternatives.

    A group of activists who posted videos of the displaced residents on on Facebook were able to draw donations of water, snacks and chips from the community. 

    Thomasina Thorn, who lives in Belleville, said she opened her Facebook page, saw what was happening and decided to drop off water, a cooler and ice since she had the day off. 

    Al-Juwar Douglas said he had just been hired for a job but didn't know where he would wash up and get ready for work. 

    "We are the cause of certain situations but sometimes it's out of our control. We all make mistakes," he said. "That's why the city is here, to help us." 

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

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    Regardless of how one assesses the Little Theatre, the fact remains: If you browse The Star-Ledger movie pages from the early 1990s, only two listings appear for Newark: the Cameo and the Little Theatre.

    By Whitney Strub

    Last Monday night at 10 o'clock, Newark's longest-running movie theater shuttered its doors. That it spent the past five decades showing adult films should not obscure the fact that for nearly a century, the Little Theatre charted Newark's film culture like no other place. In many ways, the history of the Little Theatre is the history of a small slice of Newark.

    The Little Theatre opened in March 1930, debuting with the Indian film "Shiraz." The trajectory of the 300-seat venue followed that of many similar small independents. In the 1930s, its manager claimed to hold exclusive rights to first-run Jewish pictures in New Jersey. Many of its films were in Yiddish, and German films starring Walter Janssen and Willy Fritsch also graced its ads. The 1940s found it screening second-run and revival titles from the Hollywood studios -- Otto Preminger's "Laura" or a double bill of "King Kong" and "Son of Kong."

    But already, the die was cast: "Ecstasy" (1932), which featured both Hedy Lamar's infamous (albeit brief) nudity and the first onscreen depiction of a female orgasm, was a longtime perennial. Young Philip Roth sneaked in to see it around 1949, and who will ever know how often that formative moment replayed itself in his mind as he wrote "Portnoy's Complaint" and other books? A tipping point was reached with Russ Meyer's 1959 "The Immoral Mr. Teas," which ushered in a "nudie" craze that found legal protection in the courts.

    Incensed Catholic leaders urged city inspectors to "find any sort of violations of plumbing, electricity, etc., that they could" to combat the looming threat of smut, but to no avail. Things grew more graphic as the sexual revolution commenced, moving from burlesque films with Tempest Storm to, ultimately, hard-core pornography in the early 1970s.

    And that's where things stayed, until Monday. The features changed -- shot on film, then video, and finally projected digitally -- but for its final decades, the Little Theatre became a place where men (overwhelmingly) gathered to watch, and often have, sex. Unlike purportedly urbane and decadent places in New York or Los Angeles, this caused relatively little consternation in Newark. I can find in news archives only one police raid, related to the North Jersey-shot "Deep Sleep" (1973). And when I interviewed locals a few years ago -- a security guard down the street, a young mother at the YMCA and others -- all agreed there was no cause for alarm. Consenting adults who knew the score went in, and what they did there was their business. I love that about Newark. 

    Danny Ganota ran the theater from 1966 until his death last year, and while he had no personal affection for porn, preferring childhood memories of Abbott and Costello or the Bowery Boys in Newark's larger downtown movie palaces, he fiercely defended his patrons. "These are people you sit and have coffee with, nice human beings," he told me.

    Based on my many trips to the Little Theatre, I agree completely. I saw plenty of cruising but zero coercion. The theater's great flaw was its tacit exclusion of women, but for men seeking the company of other men, it offered a place of respite, dingy but welcoming, sleazy but alluring.

    Maybe you don't approve of that. That's fine, of course; there were no glaring explicit posters, and nobody forced you to attend. Regardless of how one assesses the Little Theatre, the fact remains: If you browse The Star-Ledger movie pages from the early 1990s, only two listings appear for Newark: the Cameo and the Little Theatre. Both showed adult films. The Cameo closed in 2010, and no other movie theater in Newark comes close to the Little Theatre's unbroken run, 1930 to 2018. It holds a special place in our cultural history.

    I was there for the final, unceremonious, lights-out on Monday. First the hallway TV monitors (the always-dubious "third" screen, its front poster advertised) went to static, then an adult film on the big screen simply stopped, mid-scene. And that was it, a wrap for nearly a century of local cinematic culture.

    Whatever its new developers do next, as the regretful sign on the door said, "it's been a heck of a ride."

    Whitney Strub, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark, is author of "Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right" (Columbia University Press, 2010).

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    Whether you're lounging on the beach or celebrating on the roof of your apartment, here's how you can save.

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