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    There have been reported incidents on separate Air India flights out of Newark in the past week

    Passengers have been bitten by bed bugs on multiple Air India flights out of Newark Liberty International Airport in the past week, according to a passenger accounts and a published report.

    Pravin Tonsekar said that the business class seats he, his wife and children had for a 17-hour flight to Mumbai on Tuesday were infested with bed bugs.

    Tonsekar posted photos of what appear to be bed bugs on the plane's seats. He wrote that both of his daughters were bitten "all over their bodies."

    Air India replied it is "sorry to hear this. Sharing the details with our maintenance team for corrective measures in this regard."

    Tonsekar couldn't be reached for comment by NJ Advance Media. 

    Enraged United Airlines passenger delays flight to Newark for 5 hours

    Another passenger also sent tweets to Air India complaining about bed bugs on flights. The man said his wife and three children took flight 144 out of Newark on Wednesday afternoon and also were bitten by bed bugs. He added that a doctor has prescribed 10 days of medicine for his wife. 

    On Thursday, other children, including an 8-month-old were bitten on the same Newark-Mumbai route, but aboard different aircraft than Tonsekar flew on, according to TimesofIndia.com.

    A spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the agency hasn't received any reports about bed bugs in the terminal or other areas of the airport. 

    Air India didn't respond to a request from NJ Advance Media for comment. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     


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    The attack injured a clinic staff member and 2 patients, including a pregnant woman

    A Massachusetts man pleaded not guilty Friday morning to terrorism charges after prosecutors say he deliberately crashed a stolen truck into a Planned Parenthood clinic in East Orange earlier this year.

    Marckles Alcius, 32, of Lowell, Massachusetts, is one of a few defendants in New Jersey to be charged with terrorism. The first-degree offense carries a sentence of 30 years to life in prison and has to be approved by the state Attorney General's Office.

    Alcius, prosecutors say, stole a bakery delivery truck on Feb. 14 and drove it into an East Orange Planned Parenthood "with the purpose to promote an act of terror."

    The incident injured a clinic staff member and two patients, including a pregnant woman. The crash also caused "extensive" damage to the building, officials said.

    Alcius was not injured.

    A grand jury returned a 14-count indictment against Alcius on July 6, which included multiple charges of aggravated assault and weapons offenses. On Friday, his attorney, William Fitzsimmons, entered in a plea of not guilty on Alcius' behalf before Superior Court Judge Nancy Sivilli.

    Fitzsimmons declined to comment following the brief hearing.

    Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Adam Wells said at a previous hearing in February that Alcius, a Haitian national who is not a U.S. citizen but is believed to be in the country legally, began researching the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics more than a year before the East Orange incident.

    The indictment alleges Alcius tried to cause widespread injury or damage by purposely trying to cause the collapse of the building.

    He indicated to investigators after his arrest that the act was intentional and that he was willing to die, Wells said.

    Alcius was living with family members, including some in the Newark area, at the time of the attack. He gave authorities an address in Lowell, Massachusetts, that was for an abandoned building. 

    Alcius, who is being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, is scheduled to be back in court on Sept. 24 of this year.

    In June, the attorney general approved terrorism charges for a 19-year-old Cream Ridge man who is accused of attempting to obtain a gun with the intention of conducting a shooting at his high school graduation. 

    The first defendant to be convicted on terrorism charges was the man responsible for killing Livingston native Brendan Tevlin, Ali Muhammad Brown. Brown, 34, was sentenced in May to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at anapoliello@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Some of the lifers are eligible for parole. Here what got them locked up


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    A New Jersey boxer is a contestant on 'The Contender,' a reality show set to air next month.


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    If the accusations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick bear out -- including a new case reported Friday involving an 11-year-old boy -- will Francis revoke his title as cardinal?

    Revelations that one of the most respected U.S. cardinals allegedly sexually abused both boys and adult seminarians have raised questions about who in the Catholic Church hierarchy knew -- and what Pope Francis is going to do about it.

    If the accusations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick bear out -- including a new case reported Friday involving an 11-year-old boy -- will Francis revoke his title as cardinal? Sanction him to a lifetime of penance and prayer? Or even defrock him, the expected sanction if McCarrick were a mere priest?

    And will Francis, who has already denounced a "culture of cover-up" in the church, take the investigation all the way to the top, where it will inevitably lead? McCarrick's alleged sexual misdeeds with adults were reportedly brought to the Vatican's attention years ago.

    The matter is now on the desk of the pope, who has already spent the better part of 2018 dealing with a spiraling child sex abuse, adult gay priest sex and cover-up scandal in Chile that was so vast the entire bishops' conference offered to resign in May.

    And on Friday, Francis accepted the resignation of the Honduran deputy to Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is one of Francis' top advisers. Auxiliary Bishop Juan Jose Pineda Fasquelle, 57, was accused of sexual misconduct with seminarians and lavish spending on his lovers that was so obvious to Honduras' poverty-wracked faithful that Maradiaga is now under pressure to reveal what he knew of Pineda's misdeeds and why he tolerated a sexually active gay bishop in his ranks.

    The McCarrick scandal poses the same questions. It was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles that "Uncle Ted" invited seminarians to his beach house, and into his bed.

    While such an abuse of power may have been quietly tolerated for decades, it doesn't fly in the #MeToo era. And there has been a deafening silence from McCarrick's brother bishops about what they might have known and when.

    Ask Alexa

    Fraternal solidarity is common among clerics, but some observers point to it as possible evidence of the so-called "gay lobby" or "lavender mafia" at work. These euphemisms -- frequently denounced as politically incorrect displays of homophobia in the church -- are used by some to describe a perceived protection and promotion network of gay Catholic clergy.

    "There is going to be so much clamor for the Holy Father to remove the red hat, to formally un-cardinalize him," said the Rev. Thomas Berg, vice rector and director of admissions at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, the seminary of the archdiocese of New York.

    Berg said the church needs to ensure that men with deep-seated same-sex attraction simply don't enter seminaries -- a position recently reinforced by the Vatican at large and by Francis in comments to Chilean and Italian bishops.

    Berg said the church also needs to take action when celibacy vows are violated.

    "We can't effectively prevent the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults by clergy while habitual and widespread failures in celibacy are quietly tolerated," he said.

    McCarrick, the 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington and confidante to three popes, was ultimately undone when the U.S. church announced June 20 that Francis had ordered him removed from public ministry. The sanction was issued pending a full investigation into a "credible" allegation that he fondled a teenager more than 40 years ago in New York City.

    The dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, New Jersey, simultaneously revealed that they had received three complaints of misconduct by McCarrick against adults and had settled two of them.

    Another alleged victim, the son of a McCarrick family friend identified as James, came forward in a report in The New York Times and subsequently in an interview with The Associated Press. James said he was 11 when McCarrick first exposed himself to him. From there, McCarrick began a sexually abusive relationship that continued for another two decades, James told AP.

    "I was the first guy he baptized," James told AP. "I was his little boy. I was his special kid."

    McCarrick has denied the initial allegation of abuse against a minor and accepted the pope's decision to remove him from public ministry.

    Asked Friday about James, a spokeswoman said McCarrick hadn't received formal notice of any new allegation but would follow the civil and church processes in place to investigate them.

    Even now, Francis could take immediate action to remove McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, said Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America.

    He recalled the case of the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who recused himself from the 2013 conclave that elected Francis pope after unidentified priests alleged in newspapers that he engaged in sexual misconduct. In 2015, after a Vatican investigation, Francis accepted O'Brien's resignation after he relinquished the rights and privileges of being a cardinal.

    O'Brien was, however, allowed to retain the cardinal's title and he died a member of the college.

    "I think that is totally unsatisfactory," Martens said, noting that just as the pope can grant the title of cardinal, he can also take it away. "O'Brien resigned, the pope accepted it. Isn't that the world upside down that someone picks his own penalty?"

    O'Brien was never accused of sexually abusing a minor, however, as McCarrick now stands.

    The stiffest punishment that an ordinary priest would face if such an accusation is proven would be dismissal from the clerical state, or laicization.

    The Vatican rarely if ever, however, imposes such a penalty on elderly prelates. It also is loath to do so for bishops, because theologically speaking, defrocked bishops can still validly ordain priests and bishops.

    Not even the serial rapist Rev. Marcial Maciel was defrocked after the Vatican finally convicted him of abusing Legion of Christ seminarians. Maciel was sentenced to a lifetime of penance and prayer -- the likely canonical sanction for McCarrick if he is found guilty of abusing a minor in a church trial.

     

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    State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, has long been vocal in his fight against legalization of marijuana

    As the debate continues in Trenton over legalized marijuana, one New Jersey politician's recent comments about the topic have raised some eyebrows.  

    State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, has long been vocal in his fight against legalization of marijuana, but in his recent sit down with NJTV he discussed his disdain for certain weed products that possibly could end up in stores.  

    "If, in fact, we legalize recreational marijuana ... they're going to put up stores that do retail selling of cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toy oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kind of products that kids can get and people can get," Rice said to NJTV. 

    "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people that have never used any type of drugs goes up substantially with drug use," he said. 

    The state senator could not be reached for comment Saturday. 

    NJTV also talked to Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, who argued for expungements. 

    "Expungements have to happen. I will not support it unless there's language in there to support expungement," Holley said. "There's individuals who look like me, and those individuals who do not look like me, that are incarcerated for little, small portions of marijuana."

    Holley recently sat down with NJ Cannabis Insider to outline some of the top amendments to the recreational marijuana bill, which was introduced last month by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union.

    Those amendments include no limits on dispensaries, easier to clear criminal records, mandatory social equity and clear plans for tax revenue.

    Are you interested in the N.J. cannabis industry? Subscribe here for exclusive insider information from NJ Cannabis Insider.

    Taylor Tiamoyo Harris may be reached at tharris@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @ladytiamoyoFind NJ.com on Facebook

     

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    And paying passengers are up 145 percent in the past five calendar years


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    From tax evasion charges to a fake bomb threat, celebrities from the Garden State and those passing through it have wound up in all types of trouble with the law


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    Each of New Jersey's 21 counties is governed by a board of chosen freeholders. The number of members on the boards vary from three to nine.


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    Pets throughout the state await adoption from shelters and rescues.

    If you're interested in helping homeless animals but aren't able to adopt one, there are a number of other ways you can be of assistance.

    Realistically, not everyone can adopt. People who live in apartments or developments that have no-pets policies fall into that category, as do people with allergies or disabilities that will not allow them to care for pets of their own. Here are some suggestions for ways people who want to help can participate in caring for homeless animals.

    * Help out at a local shelter. It's not glamorous work by any means, but it's vital and will be very much appreciated. You can do anything from help walk dogs to bottle feed kittens, help clean kennels or cat's cages or even help with bathing and grooming. Contact your local shelter to find out their policies regarding volunteers.

    * If you're handy, you can lend a hand in many ways. Shelters usually need repairs of many kinds, so fixer-uppers can help out like that. If you sew, quilt or crochet, you can make blankets for your local shelter.

    * Help out at an adoption event. Many shelters and rescue groups participate in local events by hosting a table with pets available for adoption. They also hold these program at malls, pet supply stores and banks, and can always use a helping hand.

    * For galleries like this one and for online adoptions sites, often a shelter or rescue group doesn't have the time or equipment to shoot good photos of their adoptable pets. Something as simple as making yourself available to shoot and provide digital files of pet photos can be a big help.

    * Donate. It doesn't have to be money; shelters need cleaning supplies, pet food, toys for the animals and often even things we don't think twice about getting rid of like old towels and newspapers. Every little bit helps.

    If you don't know where your local animal shelter or rescue group is, a quick online search will reveal a number of results. It doesn't take a lot of time or effort to get involved but it provides immeasurable assistance.

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


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    University Hospital is scrapping a plan to reduce the number of beds for child patients.

    University Hospital's plan to outsource its inpatient services for children to another Newark hospital is off the table for now, a spokesman confirmed Monday. 

    The proposal to transfer inpatient pediatric services to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center three miles away had angered many doctors and nurses who said such a move would be a "death blow" for the city's children. 

    University Hospital is the only Level 1 trauma center in North Jersey and houses New Jersey Medical School's primary teaching hospital. 

    "While our proposal was based on the clinical needs and volume of patients we see in the pediatric inpatient program, based on the feedback we have received and our ongoing assessment, we have decided to keep the unit operating at its current level," a hospital spokesman said in a statement. 

    The hospital had submitted an application to the Department of Health to reduce its pediatric services but has since withdrawn it. Hospital CEO Jon Kastanis previously said that the move was necessary because of the low volume of child patients. 

    Kastanis said the intensive care unit for pediatrics was often closed and only three to four children required inpatient services a day. 

    But some worried reducing inpatient pediatric care would risk the hospital's Level 1 trauma designation. Others worried about how it could impact the level of care at the state's only public hospital. 

    "It is unfathomable to us as nurses that the hospital's administration believes reducing services is in the best interest of Newark residents," Cynthia McDougall, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, Local 5089 said in a statement. 

    HPAE opposed the plan and said it was relieved to hear the application was withdrawn. 

    The union worked to keep the community informed of the plan over the last few months and vowed to continue to do so for any future changes. 

    A hospital spokesman said its pediatrics unit would remain as is, but the hospital will continue to gather community input. 

    "We are constantly assessing the needs of our patients, the needs of the community, and our responsibility to operate a hospital that is financially sound," the spokesman said. 

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

     

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    Man accused of "unconscionable" theft from people trying to get storm recovery funds.

    A former aid worker at a state-run Hurricane Sandy recovery center in Newark was indicted Friday on charges he collected thousands in bribes and phony fees from storm victims, authorities said.

    Ronald-Golden.jpgRonald Golden, 43, of Pennsylvania.  

    Ronald Golden, 43, is accused of accepting $5,770 from two Sandy victims and attempting to solicit another $3,000 from a third in return for helping them obtain federal aid money in the aftermath of the 2012 storm.

    He faces charges of bribery, theft by deception and identify theft. Golden, of Norristown, Pennsylvania, could not be reached for comment and authorities had not been notified whether he retained an attorney.

    He is one of 220 people accused of fraud by state authorities since the historic storm wrecked communities across the state, according to Veronica Allende, the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice.

    Authorities say Golden used his father's date of birth and Social Security number to circumvent a background check and get a job as a housing adviser for the recovery center in June 2013. He was fired in October 2014 for "unrelated reasons," according to the Attorney General's Office.

    In one case, Golden told a storm victim he was a lawyer and obtained a $200 "retainer fee" to file a lawsuit against her insurance company, authorities claim.

    Most of the money he received was in return for promises to fast-track victims' applications for relief money provided by the federal government and administered by the state. But, authorities said, Golden "had no authority whatsoever to approve grant awards, increase grant amounts, or expedite the application process."

    "For an aid worker to exploit vulnerable disaster victims and prey upon their desire to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible, as alleged here, is absolutely unconscionable," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement announcing the indictment.

    S.P. Sullivan may be reached at ssullivan@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Prosecutors said he sold the gun to an undercover federal agent.

    When he was convicted in 1993 of sexually assaulting a minor, David Lutter was legally barred from owning firearms. So he bought a replica.

    But when Lutter met with an undercover federal agent in Verona in January 2017, federal prosecutors said Monday, the replica hadn't just become a functioning firearm -- it was a full-fledged machine gun.

    In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Lutter, 69, of Verona, on pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court in Newark to possessing a total of three firearms as a previously convicted felon, an offense that carries a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison.

    In a criminal complaint filed this winter, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Lutter had offered the converted replica of a Thompson sub-machine gun to the undercover agent for the price of $400 -- a deal that included 50 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition.

    Lutter told the undercover agent he'd fitted the now-functioning sub-machine gun with a "rock-and-roll switch" to select between semi-automatic and fully automatic fire, according to the affidavit.

    Prosecutors said Lutter, who was represented in court by the Federal Public Defender's Office, also sold the agent a .32-caliber revolver and 50 rounds of ammunition for $125 as part of the same transaction, and a Colt .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, bullets and gun parts four months later for $500.

    Investigators found more gun parts and hundreds of additional rounds of ammunition when they searched Lutter's storage unit following his arrest last June, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

    Lutter's sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 30, 2018, in front of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas.

    His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at tmoriarty@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriartyFind NJ.com on Facebook.

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    Kristjan Sokoli was quick to learn how to ride a bike in Albania, to learn English and football in Bloomfield and to adapt to NFL demands. Can he stay ahead of the curve and make Giants roster? Watch video

    Working as a bank teller in Albania, Gjon Sokoli could not afford to buy his 5-year-old son a bicycle like the one belonging to the neighbor.

    So the wise father hatched a plan to buy the bicycle and give it to his son with an ultimatum: Kristjan had 24 hours to teach himself to ride or else it went back to the store.

    Totally foolproof. Except ...

    "I go to work 7 a.m. and come back 6 p.m.," Gjon said. "My wife tells me, 'You want to see your son on the bike?' He comes riding from the front to backyard. Kristjan said, 'I don't want the bike to go back.' I can't believe it. I said, 'You keep it.'"

    Thus began Giants defensive end Kristjan Sokoli's journey into the family business of beating odds and maximizing opportunities, much like his parents did in fleeing the only home they had known when the Albanian Civil War ravaged the coastal southern European country.

    "Kids 10-17 years old, everybody had guns," Gjon said. "They shot people like they shot the birds. I was scared. My decision to bring my family to United States saved my life. It was The American Dream. Everything I find better and better and better."

    Gjon first arrived by plane in New Jersey in 1997, sleeping in a different basement every night and scraping together savings from roofing and construction jobs to bring over his wife in 1999. Their two sons joined in 2000, and the eldest boy learned English after six months in school.

    The bike stayed behind.

    "I've always been the type," Kristjan Sokoli told NJ Advance Media, "if I want to do something I'm not like, 'Let me look into this.' I'm all about it."

    The next challenge will be Sokoli's greatest yet.

    From his new home in Bloomfield, a 9-year-old Kristjan became a Giants fan and wore a Jeremy Shockey jersey to school. From that same spot, he watched last fall as the NFL played on without him after his release from the Saints in September.

    Where are they now? Locating ex-Giants in training camps

    Sokoli, 26, signed with the depleted Giants two days before the 2017 season finale and stuck around on a non-guaranteed Futures contract through offseason changes to the coaching staff, defensive scheme and roster.

    The former sixth-round draft choice of the Seahawks will be part of the 90-man roster as training camp opens Wednesday, but the ultimate goal is to be one of 53 who survives preseason cuts Sept. 1.

    "I feel a bit like an underdog. Nobody really knows me, but I'm very OK with that," Sokoli said. "I'm confident. I've been waiting for this opportunity for a while."

    Albanian roots vs. football roots

    As sweat dripped off Sokoli's 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame and pooled at his feet last week after an intense pre-camp workout at TEST Football Academy, he was reminded of his blood.

    Sokoli's mother, Gjyste, remembers a time of her son's tears, too -- back in the early days of assimilating to new surroundings.

    "It's a culture shock," Sokoli said. "Growing up in Albania, things were a little more serious and I had to mature faster. Here, it's a little different: Not only the language, but the way people interact and act. But you adapt."

    Sokoli keeps an Albanian flag scarf draped across the dashboard of his truck and still speaks the language, honoring his believed place as the first native of his country to play in the NFL. The Giants are his fourth team since appearing in one game as a rookie in 2015.

    "After my mom left, I lived in the capital of Albania with my cousins for about a year," Sokoli said. "I was the younger kid, so my grandma was spoiling me. She would sneak me into the backyard and be like, 'Here, I got a banana for you.'"

    Convincing his parents to let him play football was its own banana peel. He didn't join a team until seventh grade, and the sport didn't come as easy as ... well ... riding a bike.

    "It was a rude awakening," Sokoli said. "The way I imagined football would be, it was nothing like it. I tried to play quarterback or receiver. They put me at left guard. I remember saying to myself, 'I am definitely the worst kid on the field right now.'

    "Football is one of those sports that when you first do it, it is so uncomfortable. If you don't give yourself a chance to get through that discomfort, you never figure out what you could be."

    Sokoli credits his cousin, Edmir, for buying him new equipment and opening a tab at a nearby deli so he could gain the necessary weight to withstand practices and workouts under Bloomfield High School coach Mike Carter and trainer Andre Reed at Pinnacle Fitness.

    "The way he's kept developing, developing, developing is simply refusal to take no for an answer," Carter said. "The physical part was easy for him, but he liked watching film and doing all things you have to do to improve. A lot of what he does is for family pride."

    But two hairline wrist fractures - one on each arm - suffered as a high school player didn't help his argument with his parents, his candidacy for all-state teams or his recruiting profile.

    The college scholarship he kept mentioning -- the one his parents' own experiences said never to believe possible -- seemed to be slipping away.

    "I just watched football to support him," Gjyste said. "Too dangerous. One time I said to him, 'When are you stopping football?' He said, 'I'm never going to stop. I'll break all my body.' We prayed for him."

    With Rutgers offering only a preferred walk-on spot, the University at Buffalo called with an answer just before National Signing Day.

    Sokoli committed on the spot, without knowing Buffalo's exact location in New York or his academic plans. He became his nuclear family's first college graduate.

    "My wife and I can't believe that he got a scholarship free," Gjon said. "It's hard to explain how much love he gave to us. At first, I don't believe it is true. Then, I said, 'This is America.'"

    Home base

    In the era of sports specialization, Sokoli's quick learning showed up again when the Seahawks moved him from defensive line to offensive line.

    Whether it worked in favor of Sokoli - extending his career when so many others are short-lived - or against him - preventing his full development on defense - might never be known.

    Two-way NFL linemen are a scarcity, but the Seahawks have found some success with conversions.

    "If that kid wants to do something, he'll just do it," Gjon said. "It's hard to stop him."

    But when the offensive line-needy Giants worked out Sokoli last October, he took a risk. The Colts and Saints had tried Sokoli at offensive line, and his inconsistent pass-blocking seemed to be holding him back.

    "I told them, 'I'd really like if you gave me a shot on the defensive line because that's where I feel more comfortable,'" Sokoli said. "They know they can throw me on O-line if it's needed in an emergency. I still have faith in what I can do. But I say this whole-heartedly: I'm a defensive lineman by nature."

    The Giants enter training camp with starting and backup jobs up for grabs on the defensive line.

    Long a point of organizational pride, pass rush will be a concern until a few relative unknowns step up, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher is fond of ends who have experience as inside run-stuffers.

    "I think the scheme is really suiting for me," said Sokoli, who played nose tackle in a 3-3-5 defense at Buffalo. "It lets me get off the ball and attack. I get to be more physical and take advantage of my explosiveness."

    With a strong performance in the preseason, Sokoli might find himself home again.

    "This is our home base," he said of New Jersey. "It's pretty surreal to get out of practice and hop on (Route) 3 West and see a lot of folks at home."

    One of Sokoli's cousins manages the State Street Grill in Bloomfield. Another operates ANT Global construction company. Another (Edmir) is an aspiring MMA fighter.

    For Kristjan?

    "Me, I liked lawyer," Gjyste said, breaking into a laugh. "My husband liked doctor. Or soccer."

    They ended up with something even more definitively American.

    "It shows you how crazy this life is," Sokoli said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would get to live in America, let alone play professional sports."

    Ryan Dunleavy may be reached at rdunleavy@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @rydunleavy. Find our Giants coverage on Facebook.


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    Scott Spina, of Bloomfield, pleaded guilty in April in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud for illegal credit card activity that totaled about $550,000.

    A Bloomfield man who sold sneakers to athletes and went into business with rapper Fat Joe was sentenced Monday to 35 months in prison for defrauding customers and stealing credit card information, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    Scott Spina, 21, pleaded guilty in April in federal court to one count of wire fraud for illegal credit card activity that totaled about $550,000.

    In addition to the prison term, Spina was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $516,396.33.

    Spina, who went by the name "Scotty Kickz," promised his clients, some of whom were professional athletes and entertainers, high-end sneakers.

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    But he ended up swiping credit card numbers and using the information to buy a golf cart, an all-terrain vehicle and other items, federal officials said.

    Spina also made personal purchases using credit card information provided by his customers and others without their authorization, officials said.

    In addition, he contacted his credit card company and falsely claimed that numerous purchases on his account were fraudulent, officials said.

    Spina began selling sneakers online as a teenager and eventually got contacted on social media by then-Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who asked Spina to personally deliver him the footwear to the team's facility in East Rutherford.

    The teenager soon became acquainted other players through Jacobs and according to SoleCollector.com later met and partnered with Fat Joe, a rapper from the Bronx, New York.

    The two later opened sneaker store UP NYC in New York City. But the relationship soured and Spina later sued Fat Joe, a 47-year-old whose given name is Joseph Cartagena.

    In addition, the company that handled the store's credit card sales filed a lawsuit against both men, SoleCollector.com reported.

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

     

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    This is the third of five trip reports in our search for N.J.'s best hot dog joint.


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    A couple 50 years in the making finally got married.


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    The documents are at the heart of a bitter court battle waged by excluded hospitals to break into OMNIA's top tier. The hospitals claim they are losing millions of dollars. They documents suggest that was the plan.

    Editor's note: Please click here if you are reading this story from nj.com's mobile app. 

    These are the documents Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey did not want you to see.

    NJ Advance Media successfully sued to obtain reports prepared by the healthcare consultant McKinsey & Company to help Horizon develop a revolutionary line of insurance products that shook up the state's health insurance market.

    Horizon would later name the line OMNIA, debuting it during the November 2015 open enrollment period.

    The company's promise was simple: It pledged to consumers that hospitals and doctors in its Tier 1 network would deliver high quality care with far fewer out-of-pocket expenses. Consumers could still use providers in OMNIA's Tier 2 category, but they should expect to pay more. 

    In addition to NJ Advance Media's fight for documents, Horizon has been locked in other legal tussles. Still playing out is a bitter court battle  waged by Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, Tier 2 hospitals fighting to break into OMNIA's top tier. These hospitals say they are losing millions of dollars a year and are at risk of having to cut services or merge to stay alive.

    Their lawsuit said Horizon "breached its duty to act in good faith" by excluding them from the Tier 1 category and developing a plan to include the largest hospital chains and exclude all others, regardless of cost or quality. And by wielding its immense influence, Horizon -- which covers 3.8 million out of New Jersey's population of 8.9 million people -- has determined the winners and losers in New Jersey's health care system, the hospitals say.

    How Horizon picked its Tier 1 hospitals has been the heart of the debate for years. And the newly released documents show how Horizon executives - notably CEO Kevin Conlin, who at the time was an executive vice president and "executive sponsor" of the OMNIA project, took an active role is shaping the metrics McKinsey would use.

    Horizon declined to answer specific questions about the documents because they "go straight to issues in the case, and Horizon's principal obligation is to protect the interest of our members," company spokesman Tom Wilson said.

    The documents show Conlin directed McKinsey to play down the size and cost of the hospital chains that would be OMNIA's flagship partners.

    At a cost of $1.7 million, McKinsey produced three reports over 10 weeks in early 2014 describing how Horizon could develop OMNIA and, ultimately, reshape the future of healthcare across New Jersey. The hospitals have claimed the reports show how Horizon drove the research to make sure McKinsey arrived at the conclusions the Newark-based company wanted.

    Here's a closer look at the documents and how the game plan changed.

    Note: Clicking on the annotated note will take you to the entire document. Some of the documents were redacted by the court. 

    The first memo, March 26, 2014 

    The authors outlined the objectives -- to narrow down the hospitals and doctors and to lower Horizon's total cost of care. The memo below highlights the need to "identify good partners."

     

    How hospitals should measure up

    Here McKinsey attaches weight to each characteristic every hospital should possess. The Tier 2 hospitals note quality is not its own metric, but included within "consumer attractiveness."

     

    The first round of scoring

    The next chart below compares the partnership score - the various qualities that make a hospital or hospital chain desirable, found on the left side - to the cost of care, found on the bottom of the chart below. Anything higher than 1.0 is more expensive than the average cost of care in the county.

    HUMC, Hackensack University Medical Center, scores the highest on the partnership score, at about 3.7. It is the most expensive hospital in New Jersey, at the 1.3 mark, which means it is 30 percent higher than the county average. Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) is the most expensive hospital overall.  

     

    Who made the short list

    In the excerpt below, McKinsey highlighted 14 New Jersey hospitals and hospital systems (and three in Philadelphia) based on a combination of a high "partnership score" and a "lower than average cost."

    When the plan debuted 18 months later, however, seven of the 14 had been relegated to Tier 2. All seven sued. They were Capital Health System in Trenton and Hopewell; Centrastate in Freehold; Holy Name in Teaneck; JFK Medical Center in Edison; Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth and Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick. All but Valley Hospital and CentraState settled with Horizon or withdrew their case -- either because they had won a monetary settlement or they had been acquired by a Tier 1 network hospital.

    Valley Hospital is the only hospital that sued that had fallen into a near-miss category because of its higher costs.

    Absent from McKinsey's top 14? Hackensack, Saint Barnabas, Robert Wood Johnson, Atlantic Health -- all the major systems that would fill out Tier 1.

    Horizon's reaction to first report

    Conlin asked McKinsey to describe the potential partners another way other than them being the most expensive. His email below, Conlin says the McKinsey scores "oversimplifies" certain elements. Conlin sends the report back and asks for changes that he highlights in set of points.

    Second report April 21, 2014

    OMNIA's "Core Beliefs"

    McKinsey - after receiving Conlin's directive -- explains that Horizon has given it new parameters to measure which hospitals would make good partners. 

    Cost is not one of them. Why? Because Horizon has said it intends to revolutionize how it pays doctors and hospitals for care. This, according to Horizon, is one of the fundamentals driving OMNIA.

    Horizon wants to adopt a "value-based" care model, which rewards providers for keeping large numbers of people healthy rather than simply paying for each trip to the hospital. The strategy would seem to benefit larger health care providers.

    Using this model, "past financial performance is not necessarily indicative of future cost of care," according to the report.

    The plaintiffs argue this allowed Horizon to pick the largest and most expensive hospitals as its OMNIA Alliance and Tier 1 partners. Tier 2 hospitals, which tend to be among the smaller institutions and therefore do not have the bargaining power of the big chains, tends to be less expensive.

    The plaintiff's attorney Michael Furey said it has been three years since OMNIA made its debut, and yet it appears hospitals are still paid the same old way. When does the value pricing begin?

    Wilson, of Horizon, declined a request to share the extent of OMNIA's value-based reimbursement program, but claimed it is has happening.

    "We made payments in 2017 that take into account both quality and reductions in the total cost of care. This change won't happen overnight, it's a marathon not a sprint," Wilson said in a recent interview after the documents were first released.

    Geography -- where hospitals are located and how many competitors serve that region -- is another give-away to the largest hospital networks, Furey said. OMNIA is premised on tier 2 hospitals losing lots of business to tier 1 hospitals, which agreed to accept less lucrative reimbursements.

    Under this new scoring system, some of the largest hospital chains rise to the top: Barnabas, Meridian, Hackensack, Atlantic Health. Some of the larger systems, like Robert Wood Johnson, are tied or are slightly below Holy Name Medical Center (which is mistakenly identified as an out-of-state hospital) and Valley Hospital. Yet both Holy Name and Valley are relegated to Tier 2.

    Wilson said McKinsey understood "geography was always going to be a consideration in the selection of potential OMNIA Alliance partners." He pointed to language in the McKinsey scope of work (contained in a separate exhibit, below) that made geography one of the items McKinsey was tasked with considering as it developed the model.

    The Department of Banking and Insurance requires all insurance plans to meet geographic access requirements, he added.

    This is the first time the medical practices are evaluated. Summit Medical Group (SMG) in central and north Jersey was the only practice later given Tier 1 status despite Advocare in central and South Jersey scoring slightly higher.

    Additional volume can make partnership more attractive

    Using Hackensack as a model, McKinsey said the Bergen County chain could earn $50 million more in potential profit drawing patients from other hospitals in Bergen County.

    Quality counts

    In the next notation below, "clinical quality" is added to the partnership formula.

    Horizon says this proves their point that quality mattered. Clinical quality becomes its own category and 20 percent of the score, compared to the March report, in which quality was one facet of the "consumer attractiveness" category. Scale also drops from 15 percent of the score to 10 percent, blowing another hole in the plaintiffs' lawsuit arguments.

    Where geography matters

    McKinsey assessed the top 10 hospitals based on their partnership score. Barnabas, at the top with a 3.7 out of 4, is a "yes" for delivering Essex, Monmouth and Ocean counties, but Meridian, at 3.6, is a "no" because it competes with Barnabas. Meridian later mergers with Hackensack, allowing Meridian to become a Tier 1 system and compete with Barnabas.

    Final report, May 20, 2104

    The weight of each of the partnership criteria changes again, according to the notation below. Leadership/mindset dropped from 35 percent to 25 percent; clinical quality rose 20 percent to 25 percent; and consumer attractiveness rose from 15 percent to 20 percent. The other measurements remain the same.

     

    Final score for doctors 

    Only Summit Medical Group is given Tier 1 status at first, but south Jersey-dominant Advocare is added later.

     

    Controlling use of NYC hospitals

    The May 2014 report devotes considerable space to calculating how OMNIA will steer patients away from hospitals in New York. Starting below at page 24, McKinsey uses 2013 data to show how much Horizon has paid in doctors and hospitals across the Hudson River, and how much Tier 1 hospitals and doctors would gain by relegating all NYC providers into Tier 2.

    Healthcare analysts have always assumed New York hospitals take a deep bite into New Jersey hospitals' profit margin. This revealing report backs it up with dollars.

     Pennsylvania hospitals matter far less, according to the report's estimates.

     

    Squeezing the competition

    McKinsey estimates how much money the selected hospitals networks, members of the later-named OMNIA Alliance, could expect to earn annually. Hackensack, for instance, would derive $25 million in profit "from volume in other hospital in service area," and $8 million from New York and other competitors.

    The McKinsey reports are likely to be the focal point of the civil trial between Valley and CentraState some time in the fall in Bergen County. A similar case filed by Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick is expected to play out in Middlesex County.

    The trial will also explore how the rising costs altered the health care market, by driving a frenzy of hospital mergers over the last decade and consolidating buying and negotiating power in the hands of the largest providers and insurance carriers.

    Today, Horizon says OMNIA has succeeded in giving consumers -- particularly those on the individual and small group market -- a more affordable choice for their health care.

    Policy holders on average paid 24 percent higher premiums this year, however, which Horizon largely blamed on the uncertainty surrounding Obamacare under the Trump administration.

    "OMNIA  is the first value based health plan launched on a large scale in New Jersey," according to a statement from Horizon spokesman Tom Wilson. "It has lowered premiums for hundreds of thousands of Horizon members, who opted to participate, by as much as 15 percent.

    There are roughly 400,000 to 450,000 OMNIA policy holders, Wilson said. They include 70,000 previously uninsured New Jerseyans to select a policy from the Obamacare healthcare exchange, Wilson added.

    "OMNIA members now have the power to not only choose their provider, but also the cost of their healthcare," Wilson's statement said. "This radical shift in the healthcare paradigm is exactly what Horizon members needed."

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 


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    A 14-year-old Jersey City boy had two loaded handguns on him when he was chased down and arrested after a stolen car chase ended in a crash in Newark Monday, authorities said.

    A 14-year-old Jersey City boy had two loaded handguns on him when he was chased down and arrested after a stolen car chase ended in a crash in Newark Monday, authorities said.

    The teen was charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, receiving stolen property, resisting arrest, eluding an officer and a disorderly persons summons for marijuana, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

    A 17-year-old, also from Jersey City, was also arrested and charged with receiving stolen property, eluding an officer, and resisting arrest.

    Fontoura said that Patrol Division officers responded to a radio broadcast of suspects in a stolen Nissan Xtera that was believed to be involved in a shooting earlier in the day in Orange. Information on the shooting was not immediately available.

    The SUV was stolen from Court Street in Hoboken on Sunday, Hoboken Police Lt. Edgardo Cruz said.

    Sheriff's officers said the SUV being driven erratically and at a high rate of speed on Orange Street, Fontoura said. The SUV then turned and crashed into a car and a stop sign, he said.

    The 14-year-old, the 17-year-old and another person jumped out of the SUV and fled, the sheriff said, but only the 14- and 17-year-olds were caught.

    Fontoura said that during a search of the teens, a .32 caliber H&R Arms revolver and a .22 caliber Imperial revolver, both loaded, were recovered from the 14-year-old.

    The teens were taken to the Essex County Youth Detention Center and they are awaiting a hearing in Family Court, the sheriff said.

     

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    The deal is meant to catapult the state into big-time clinical trials, medical education and research.

    One of the state's largest hospital chains Tuesday pledged $1 billion over the next 20 years to nurture medical research, lure top academic talent and expand health care opportunities throughout New Jersey.   

    RWJBarnabas Health, the $5.4 billion not-for-profit 11-hospital network, announced the financial commitment as part of a pact it introduced last summer and finalized with Rutgers University officials on Tuesday morning.

    The deal is meant to catapult the state into big-time clinical trials, medical education and research. It will also form one of the largest medical practices in the nation, comprised of 2,500 physicians and other health care professionals from RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Health, according to the announcement.

    "This unparalleled enterprise will further our shared goal to grow research activities and expand clinical trials statewide," Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom said during a press conference with Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, and other top Rutgers and RWJBarnabas officials.

    Huge deal with hospitals could put Rutgers in 'big 10' for medical research

    In 2017, Rutgers -- including the two medical schools, the Cancer Institute, the schools of Nursing, Dental Medicine, Public Health and other institutions -- drew down $150.8 million in funding, or 63 percent of the $241 million the state received from the National Institutes of Health. But 22 other states received more NIH funding than New Jersey last year.

    RWJBarnabas -- the product of a hospital mega-merger between Robert Wood Johnson University Health and Barnabas Health in 2016 -- is putting up $100 million immediately. Another $50 million a year will sustain the endeavor over two decades.

    "We have had the ability over the years to retain a certain amount of operating margin to make investments in important projects and relationships," RWJBarnabas President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky said. "This is the most meaningful investment in the history of our organization."

    "The medical schools require a great deal of support and investments in human and physical capital, and that is not available from the revenues medical school generate," Ostrowsky said. "Without that investment, they can't be as good as we want them to be."

    Part of the money will be used to recruit about 100 new high-profile principal investigators to Rutgers over ten years with the goal of doubling the amount of research, according to the announcement.

    The hospital chain also pledged to fund the construction of a new clinical and research building for the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state's only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, and an outpatient care center, both in New Brunswick.

    And $10 million is earmarked to help pay down the college debt of medical students to keep more of them working in New Jersey. Surveys say most medical students leave the state because it is too expensive to live and practice.

    RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University will remain separate organizations, but their work together will be led by a joint committee featuring equal representation from both institutions, according to the announcement.

    "Through this partnership, we have formed the largest and most comprehensive academic health system in New Jersey and are well positioned to take our place as a national leader in patient care, health science discovery and innovation," Barchi said.

    RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University.jpgThe Rutgers-RWJBarnabas Health partnership was announced Tuesday by hospital Board of Trustees chair Jack Morris, (left to right, sitting) RWJBarnabas Health president and CEO Barry Ostrowsky, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom, and Rutgers University president Robert Barchi; (standing, l-to-r) RBHS Senior Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Vicente Gracias, RBHS Senior Vice Chancellor, Finance and Administration Kathleen Bramwell, and RWJBarnabas Health Board of Trustees vice chair Marc Berson. (Courtesy Rutgers University)

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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