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    A New Jersey appeals court affirms a $525,000 jury award against a Newark company for creating a hostile workplace environment.

    Before she was lost her job in 2011, Marilyn Velez said her supervisor told her they should go out for drinks, stared at her breasts, and talked about engaging in a three-way assignation.

    Then she was let go.

    A New Jersey appeals court this week affirmed a $525,000 jury award against Velez's employer for creating a hostile workplace environment and unlawful retaliation against the former customer service representative.

    "The award does not shock the judicial conscience and was supported by the evidence," said the three-judge panel in an opinion that was issued on Monday.

    The ruling was first reported by the New Jersey Law Journal.

    According to the court documents, Velez was employed at RockTenn Co., a corrugated box company in Newark, where she was worked from November 2010 until April 2011.

    Velez said that within days of being hired, her boss began to engaged "in a course of sexually harassing behavior." She said the supervisor, Raymond Perry, showed her a picture of his girlfriend, and told her about their sexual relationship and recent break up. Velez, who is Latino, said Perry also told her repeatedly that he loved Latino women, and touched her hand inappropriately.

    Have you been a victim of sexual harassment?

    During a company holiday party, she said he announced in the presence of other employees that his girlfriend was trying to convince him to "have a threesome."

    He also prevented her from completing mandatory training, which required her to work in other departments--telling her it was unnecessary.

    In early 2011, with RockTenn's sales declining, the court records said senior company managers looked to cut labor costs and Velez was ultimately targeted for downsizing by Perry "due to a reduction in business." The termination came days after the company hired another customer service representative, the court documents noted.

    After she was let go, Velez filed a complaint, alleging that she had complained about Perry to human resources, but no action had been taken. While she admitted during depositions that she never called the company's compliance hotline, she said she made at least nine complaints to the HR director.

    At trial, Perry denied the allegations of harassment, but an Essex County jury awarded the a $525,000 in damages to Velez for emotional distress and economic loss.

    Ask Alexa

    RockTenn appealed, arguing that the actions did not "rise to the level of actionable harassment," and taken collectively, were not "extreme or pervasive enough to alter one's working conditions. The company also said there was no showing of a link between the allegations and the termination of Velez, and that the court had made errors that should have mandated a new trial.

    In a ruling written by Appellate Division Judge Greta Gooden Brown and joined by Judges Jose Fuentes and Marie Simonelli, the three-judge panel upheld the jury award, rejecting contentions that there was no showing that Perry's actions "were sufficiently pervasive or severe to alter the working conditions," or had failed to establish that the conduct occurred because of her gender.

    Rejecting all of the company's arguments for a reversal, Gooden Brown said the law "does not require a plaintiff to suffer serious psychological harm in order to recover on a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim." The judge said it was "the harasser's conduct, not the plaintiff's injury" that must be severe or pervasive.

    "We reject each point and affirm," she said.

    Attorneys for Velez and for RockTenn did not return calls for comment.

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

     

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    Its 35 airport stores, including the one at Newark Liberty International Airport will remain open


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    The effort to cut down on violence in New Jersey city centers has been dubbed "Operation Summer in the City."

    The New Jersey Attorney General's Office announced Thursday the arrests of 166 fugitives from four cities across the state in a summer effort to curb violent crime. 

    From July 16 to 20, The U.S. Marshals NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force teamed with local authorities to target New Jersey's gang members and most violent offenders in Jersey City, Camden, Trenton and Newark, the Attorney General's statement said. 

    Marshals and task force officers focused on fugitives with violent charges and documented gang relations. 

    Among the 166 fugitive arrests, 61 of which were documented gang members. They included 42 Bloods, 13 Crips, three Latin Kings, and one Surenos member and one Trinitarios gangster.

    The attorney general's office did not identify any of the arrestees.

    Eleven firearms, over seven kilograms of narcotics, one vehicle, and $100,000 in cash were seized confiscated during the arrests. 

    The operation, called "Operation Summer in the City," also aimed to impact on the quality of life for the residents in the four cities, the statement said. 

    "Law enforcement agencies work best when they work together, and this sweep of gang members and violent offenders is an outstanding example," Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in the statement.  

    "We listened to you loud and clearly, and we will continue pursuing these violent fugitives that are hiding in every corner of your city," Juan Mattos, the U.S. Marshal for the District of New Jersey said.

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

     

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    Investigators first obtained a warrant for his arrest more than 14 years ago

    More than 14 years after a Newark resident was killed in a shooting police said was linked to MS-13, a Salvadoran man been extradited to the Garden State to face a murder charge.

    Marvin Argueta, referred to in prior reporting as Marvin Aguarta, was returned to the United States with the help of the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Marshals Service, Essex County authorities said in a statement Thursday.

    The Essex County Prosecutor's Office and Newark police had been seeking Argueta, 35, since Feb. 15, 2004, when authorities say he fatally shot Miguel Gamez and injured three others in the La Caverna Bar on Mulberry Street around 1 a.m.

    Authorities at the time linked the killing to MS-13 -- an international street gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha -- and a 16-year-old affiliate of the gang was ultimately sentenced to five years in state prison for taking part in the shooting.

    Gamez, 31, was sitting at the bar with his siblings when Argueta came in with another man and his teenage accomplice, Luis Delcid, and sprayed the establishment with bullets, authorities told The Star-Ledger at the time.

    Delcid, who pleaded guilty as an adult to a conspiracy charge, took part in the shooting to impress fellow gang members, authorities said.

    Gamez, an unemployed construction worker, later died at University Hospital.

    Police said Argueta had been arguing over a woman at a Valentine's Day party prior to the shooting.

    Investigators obtained a warrant for Argueta's arrest on murder, assault and weapons charges, but were unable to find him. A grand jury nonetheless indicted him on the charges that November.

    It wasn't until 2015, the prosecutor's office said Thursday, that investigators finally tracked him down in El Salvador, and not until July that the country's Supreme Court approved his extradition.

    In a statement, Assistant Prosecutor Justin Edwab, who is handling the case, said he was pleased Argueta had finally been brought back to face what he called "very serious charges."

    It was unclear from publicly accessible jail records whether Argueta had been lodged in the Essex County Correctional Facility as of Thursday evening, or whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

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

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    Prosecutors said she admitted giving the boy adult cough medicine and that tests showed cocaine and methadone in his system.

    In what appears to be one of at least two such cases in New Jersey this year, a Newark woman has been jailed on accusations she allowed an infant to ingest a fatal dose of both legal and illegal drugs.

    Chaintae GardnerChaintae Gardner. (Essex County Prosecutor's Office)

    The arrest of Chaintae L. Gardner, 38, followed the May 13 death this year of a 1-year-old child in 200 block of 14th Avenue in Newark, according to Essex County Prosecutor's Office records.

    During a June 7, 2018, hearing in Superior Court in Newark -- audio of which was reviewed by NJ Advance Media -- an assistant prosecutor told the judge Gardner had admitted to investigators that she gave the infant adult cough medication while he was temporarily in her care.

    Gardner was not the child's biological mother, attorneys said in court.

    Further toxicology tests, the prosecutor said, revealed the presence of cocaine and what a preliminary screening of the child's blood indicated was methadone.

    Gardner now faces charges of aggravated manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child through drug use and strict liability for a drug induced death, according to court records.

    During the June hearing -- to decide whether she stayed jailed pending trial -- Gardner's court-appointed attorney argued the court was still awaiting medical reports and autopsy results, and that she had only been taking care of the child for a small period of time prior to the child's death.

    Judge Ronald D. Wigler ultimately granted the state's motion for continued pre-trial detention, calling Gardner's case "a very, very disturbing set of circumstances."

    A 34-year-old South Brunswick woman was arrested in June on similar allegations stemming from the death of her 2-year-old son, whom authorities said had ingested methadone. The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said the methadone had been prescribed to the defendant in that case.

    In the Newark case, the prosecutor's office said Gardner, who has been jailed at the Essex County Correctional Facility since her arrest, acknowledged going to a methadone clinic while the infant was in her care.

    The state Public Defender's Office, which is representing Gardner in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on the charges against her.

    Court records show Gardner's case has been referred to a grand jury.

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

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    Newark Archdiocese agrees to take a new look at the allegations raised by a priest of abuse he endured while still a young seminarian.

    The case was resolved more than a decade ago.

    A young seminarian from the Archdiocese of Newark alleged he had been abused in 1988 by two transitional deacons at St. Benedict's Parish in Newark. The allegations were deemed "credible" by the Archdiocese of Newark's Review Board, but that they could not be substantiated.

    So the Rev. Desmond Rossi said he agreed to a settlement with the archdiocese in 2004, for about $35,000, to cover the cost of counseling, and put it in the past.

    But with the recent surfacing of allegations of sexual abuse against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who had once been the the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, Rossi asked the church to reopen the case he brought so many years ago.

    On Thursday, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the head of New Jersey's largest Catholic diocese, agreed to take another look at the matter, which involves a still-active priest who is in ministry in New Jersey.

    Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness, who would not identify the priest accused in the case, said the cardinal agreed to honor the request, which will be referred to the Archdiocese Office of Canonical Affairs.

    Rossi, who left the priesthood for several years and the returned, where he is now a priest in the Albany Diocese, said he received a call informing him of the decision earlier in the day.

    "I expected it, to be honest," he said. "It's the right decision, if we're looking for all the facts."

    Rossi, who shared letters from the archdiocese when he filed his complaint, recalled the incident in an interview.

    "I wanted it to go away," he said.

    Rossi, who is originally from New Jersey and grew up in Garwood, said he had sought to become a priest because he had felt a strong sense of spirituality from an early age.

    "The church has always been a strong part of my life," he remarked.

    While at St. Benedict's, Rossi said he was assaulted at the rectory after a night of drinking by two transitional deacons, which is a step in the ordination process. He said one of the men threw him onto the bed and began kissing him. The other tried performing oral sex on him.

    "I weighed 140 pounds," Rossi said. He was traumatized by the events, but did not immediately come forward. When he did, the archdiocese did not take action.

    "I went before the review board. It was found credible, but nothing happened. They tried to turn it on me," he said.

    When he finally sought out a lawyer, he was advised that the statute of limitations on criminal charges had already expired. Finally he just sought to be reimbursed for counseling.

    He was offered $35,000 and he agreed to take it. A 2003 letter he received from the law firm representing the archdiocese outlined not a settlement of the matter, but rather a "charitable payment and release."

    While he spoke of a number of encounters with McCarrick that he described as "creepy," Rossi said he was never victimized by the cardinal.

    But the events of recent weeks that led to the cardinal's resignation from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse allegations gave Rossi a renewed sense to come forward, especially with one of his own alleged abusers still in the ministry.The other alleged abuser has since died, he said.

    "I decided I just can no longer stay quiet and afraid," he said.

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


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    The cars had been parked on Craneway Street in an auto processing lot on Port Newark property

    A fire reported around midnight Thursday damaged at least 12 cars and left a police officer injured at the Port Authority facility in Newark, authorities said.

    The cars had been parked on Craneway Street in an auto processing lot on Port Newark property, according to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

    "When PAPD officers arrived, they found several cars on fire," Coleman said in an email.

    Coleman said police were able to move 50 to 60 vehicles "to try to prevent them from also going on fire."

    The fire was extinguished by the Newark Fire Department.

    "The preliminary cause was a faulty car battery," Coleman said.

    In all, 12 vehicles were burned. Also, some of the other vehicles that were moved may have been damaged in the fire, Coleman said.

    Coleman said one officer who suffered smoke inhalation was treated at a local hospital and released.

    The Newark Arson Unit is investigating, Coleman said.

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


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    Kofi A. Owens was shot and killed on South 16th Street around 1 a.m.

    A 45-year-old high school teacher was shot to death in East Orange early Friday, authorities said. 

    Kofi A. Owens, of Newark, was stuck by gunfire on South 16th Street around 1 a.m. the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement. He was pronounced dead at 1:18 a.m.

    fd285434336345.573897e9ef34b.jpgKofi A. Owens  

    A 25-year-old man also shot is in stable condition. South 16th Street straddles the East Orange-Newark border.

    Owens was a teacher at STEM Academy in East Orange, a magnet school for students in grades 6 through 12. 

    No arrests have been made and the investigation is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call the prosecutor's office tips line at 1-877-847-7432.

    "Mr. Kofi Owens was a dedicated employee who worked in the school district for over 10 years," East Orange superintendent Dr. Kevin West said in a statement. "He was well-respected by his colleagues and students. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family."

    Born in Brooklyn, New York, Owens moved to East Orange when he was 12, according to an online bio.

    He graduated from Essex County Vocational Technical School's North 13th Street campus before going on to obtain a bachelor's degree from Bloomfield College. He has been a teacher in East Orange since 2006, most recently working as STEM Academy's technology coordinator. 

    Students took to social media to post remembrances of their former teacher. 

    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 vehicles were purchased with federal grant money.

    Newark purchased 46 new fire, public works and sanitation vehicles with the help of nearly $600,000 in federal grant money, officials announced Friday.

    "Acquiring the latest and most effective fire and sanitation technologies goes hand in hand with our work to implement technological advances throughout the City of Newark," Mayor Ras Baraka said at a press conference in front of City Hall. "The deployment of this new equipment underscores progress we've made in updating antiquated equipment because of our improved financial situation. It also highlights our commitment to safeguarding our residents and visitors and to appropriately address their direct needs during emergency situations."

    The vehicles, purchased in 2015 and 2016, cost $77,000 each, officials said. They were bought with $539,000 from the Urban Area Security Initiative. 

    The fire department ladder trucks were purchased through a capital bond project for a total of $2,059,302, according to officials. 

    "I am pleased that the people of the City of Newark have access to state-of-the-art fire, Haz-Mat, rescue and sanitation equipment," Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said. "We are constantly improving our public safety emergency and sanitation resources so that we serve our communities using the most efficient and effective tools possible."

    Five of the dump trucks purchased are equipped with snow plows and salt spreaders to help clear city streets after snowstorms. 

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


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    Gerard Benoit, 63, of Irvington, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and endangering an injured person.

    A woman was struck and killed by a taxi early Friday morning in Newark, authorities said.

    The woman, 51, was on the 600 block of Frelinghuysen Avenue around 1:55 a.m. when she was hit. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:17 a.m., according to a statement from Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino and Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose.

    The woman's name is not being released because next of kin have not yet been notified.

    But investigators identified the driver as Gerard Benoit, a 63-year-old Irvington resident. Benoit, who is in custody, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and endangering an injured person.

    Authorities are still investigating the case. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Essex County Prosecutor's Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force tips line at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    "The life sentence imposed by Judge Sules today ensures that this defendant, Rakeem Johnson, will never again be able to fatally shoot someone,'' Essex County Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Roger Imhof said.

    The Newark man who gunned down a Jersey City man in a robbery gone wrong three years ago has been sentenced to life in prison.

    Rakeem Y. Johnson, 37, was convicted of first-degree armed robbery, felony murder, and weapons charges by a jury in July. 

    Photo of Rakeem Johnson.jpgRakeem Y. Johnson 

     "The life sentence imposed by Judge Sules today ensures that this defendant, Rakeem Johnson, will never again be able to fatally shoot someone,'' Essex County Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Roger Imhof said in a statement Friday. "This is his second homicide. He has clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that he poses a serious and ongoing threat to the community."

    Johnson had killed 36-year-old Abner Dominguez on Dec. 22, 2015. 

    Police responded to a call at around 9:50 p.m. and found Dominguez lying on the ground next to the open driver's side door of his car, which was running at the time.

    Dominguez had a gunshot wound and was rushed to University Hospital where he died, the prosecutor's office said. 

    During the trial, Imhof argued that Dominguez was a robbery victim. Witnesses said they saw Johnson running from the scene with a gun after hearing shots.

    Investigators also recovered a palm print from the outside passenger side of the vehicle where Johnson entered the car. Surveillance video captured Johnson touching the vehicle as he entered it. 

    At the time of the Dominguez's murder, Johnson was on parole for aggravated manslaughter. He had served a 17-year sentence in New Jersey State Prison for a Sept. 2, 1998 homicide. Johnson had been out of prison for just over two years when he killed Dominguez, according to Department of Corrections records.

    Records also state that Johnson was convicted of a drug distribution charge in 2000 and in a separate incident a drug distribution in a school zone, resisting arrest and aggravated assault of an office. 

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook

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    Activists from the city's largely African-American west side, which has lagged behind other parts of the booming shore resort, want a referendum on switching from an all at-large council to ward seats.


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    The takedown of Newark's Grape Street Crips is a story of drugs and firepower, betrayal and cold violence, involving a multi-million-dollar drug enterprise. And at the center of it all, say federal prosecutors, was Corey Hamlet, a 41-year-old charismatic gang leader who was more than wary about staying under the radar of law enforcement.


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    Some crimes seem to increase given the weather.


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    James McMahon was 26 years old.

    A 26-year-old East Orange man died Saturday night when he crashed his motorcycle into a tree, a city spokesperson said.

    James McMahon was riding his motorcycle on Princeton Street in East Orange around 6 p.m. when he lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree, city spokeswoman Connie Jackson told NJ Advance Media in an email. 

    McMahon was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by emergency personnel. No other people or vehicles were involved in the crash. 

    An investigation into the crash is ongoing.   

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


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    Alfred Johnson, 28, of Newark, died Saturday.

    A 28-year-old man was shot dead late Saturday night in Newark, the Essex County Prosecutor's office said.

    Alfred Johnson, 28, of Newark, was struck by bullets on the 200 block of Renner Avenue just before midnight, the prosecutor's office said.

    He was pronounced dead at University Hospital in Newark.

    No arrests have been made, and the investigation is active and ongoing at this time. 

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

     

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    "Against all the odds, many of us successfully attended colleges, graduate schools, lead productive lives, and have become great examples for others."

    Alumni of the Upward Bound program are invited to the fourth annual reunion, which is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Montclair State University.

    "In 1977, I and several other inner city kids attended the Upward Bound program,'' reunion organizer Randal J. Yorker said in an email. "Like those before and many after us, it required we participate in a Saturday program at St. Peter's College during the school year. For six weeks during the summer we resided on the campus of MSU."

    There, the students took art, science, remedial and college readiness classes, he said.

    "We also engaged in practices, which increased our life, social and leadership skills,'' he wrote. "Against all the odds, many of us successfully attended colleges, graduate schools, lead productive lives, and have become great examples for others. Many former Upward Bounders have become mentors, leaders and teachers in Jersey City and their perspective communities."

    The reunion will be hosted  by Donna Lorenzo, director of Montclair State's Health Careers and Upward Bound Program, Yorker said.

    For information or to RSVP, call Yorker at 732-371-1527 or go to the group's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/490088461141451/.


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    Some of the thousands of animals awaiting adoption throughout New Jersey.

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

    We are now accepting dogs and cats to appear in the gallery from nonprofit shelters and rescues throughout New Jersey.

    If a group wishes to participate in this weekly gallery on nj.com, please contact Greg Hatala at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com.

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


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    One N.J. county has preserved nearly as much land about the size of Washington, D.C.


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    Lawyers battled each other outside the courtroom to raise money for the Fresh Air Fund.


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