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    Miguel Angel Corea Diaz is accused of directing MS-13 drug operations in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and elsewhere.

    MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A man identified by prosecutors as the leader of the MS-13 gang in New Jersey, other East Coast states and elsewhere says he's suffering from his Long Island jail lockdown.

    Newsday reports that Miguel Angel Corea Diaz recently asked a judge for an improvement in jail conditions.

    His lawyer, Scott Gross, says Corea Diaz has been locked in a cell for about 23 hours a day and only has limited phone access.

    Corea Diaz says he has been unable to talk to his children. He also said he had received death threats from outside the jail.

    The judge said she would look into his request. Nassau County declined to comment.

    An indictment alleges Corea Diaz ordered beatings and killings while directing MS-13 drug operations in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and elsewhere. He has pleaded not guilty.

    MS-13, or La Mara Salvatrucha, recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras -- though many gang members were born in the U.S.



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    The 17-year-old driver is charged with vehicular homicide

    A 17-year-old boy has been charged with vehicular homicide after crashing a stolen car that left his 14-year-old passenger dead early Friday morning, the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said Monday.

    Police responded to the area of Ashwood Court in Warren Township for a suspicious persons report at 1 a.m. when an officer saw a vehicle the area of Skyline Drive.

    When police attempted to pull over the car, it sped away, the prosecutor's office said.

    The car veered off the road on Martinsville Road in Bernards Township, overturned and rolled into a utility pole, ejecting Alexis Pabon, 14, of Newark.

    Pabon was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital shortly after the crash.

    The 17-year-old driver, who is also from Newark, fled the crash scene on foot, but police captured him a short distance from the scene, the prosecutor's office said.

    He was also rushed to the hospital for non life-threatening injuries.

    The 17-year-old faces charges of second-degree death by auto, eluding, and knowingly leaving the scene of a motor vehicle death, as well as felony motor vehicle theft.

    The prosecutor's office on Monday said they were not make public the driver's name, office spokeswoman Detective Jeanne Trillhaase said.

    Anyone with information about the incident can contact the prosecutor's Major Crimes Unit at 908-231-7100, the Warren Township Police Department at 908-753-1000, or the Bernards Township Police Department at 908-766-1122.

    Gianluca D'Elia may be reached at gdelia@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @gianluca_delia. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    these recruits will help replenish the departments ranks after 167 officers were laid off in late November 2010.

    Newark, on Monday, began training 144 recruits to become new police officers.

    Members of the New Jersey State Police will train recruits in the state's academy in Sea Girt. The class will graduate in December.

    "This group of police recruits will receive advanced training in protecting residents and will become an integral part of the communities they serve," said Mayor Ras Baraka. "They will grow to understand that their job is to treat residents the way they would treat members of their own families."

    The officers will also serve as role models, Baraka said.

    "Wherever you go, justice and good and lightness should follow you," he said.

    And, he said, that won't be easy because "people will talk to you and harass you and they will even jump on your car."

    Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose said these recruits will help restore the department's ranks after 167 officers were laid off in late November 2010 due to financial reasons. He said the new hires will make the city safer.

    "I am delighted that we are steadily replenishing our numbers following the layoffs and attrition that occurred in the police department since 2010," Ambrose said. 

    The class is made-up of 109 men and 35 women, of which 46 are African-American, 63 are Hispanic or Latino and 35 are white.

    The department currently has 1,082 officers. If the entire class graduates, it would bring the department's ranks up to 1,226, Newark police officials said.

    - Patti Sapone contributed to this report.

    Robin Wilson-Glover may be reached at rglover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @RobinGlover. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    A prestigious New York City private school can't be held accountable for the alleged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old student by a former headmaster more than 30 years ago because the court where the suit was filed doesn't have jurisdiction over it, the school claims in court papers.

    A prestigious New York City private school can't be held accountable for the alleged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old student by a former headmaster more than 30 years ago because the court where the suit was filed doesn't have jurisdiction over it, the school claims in court papers.

    The Dalton School is named as a defendant with former headmaster Gardner Dunnan in the suit filed in June by the former student, identified by the initials J.S. She claims Dunnan sexually assaulted her at his homes in New York City and New Jersey in 1986, when she lived with him and his wife while attending the school.

    Dunnan has denied the allegations, saying in June that he was "heartbroken about these false accusations." He is expected to file a response to the lawsuit in the next few weeks.

    In a motion to dismiss the suit filed on Friday, the school argued New Jersey's district court doesn't have proper jurisdiction because the school doesn't actively solicit students, teachers or funding in New Jersey.

    "It is undisputed that Dalton is incorporated in New York and that its principal place of business is New York," the school wrote. "While a small number of Dalton's students and faculty happen to be New Jersey residents (and come to New York to attend school or perform their jobs), that cannot give rise to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey."

    Even if the allegations were true, the school also wrote, Dunnan's alleged behavior would have fallen outside the scope of his duties at the school.

    According to the suit, Dunnan "repeatedly touched J.S. without her consent, fondling her breasts, sticking his tongue in her mouth, disrobing and groping her, laying on top of her, and thrusting his genitals against her," the lawsuit alleged.

    The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, contends Dalton "knew or should have known that Dunnan engaged in acts of inappropriate, abusive, and/or harmful behavior toward individuals over whom he had power or control."

    The former student has suffered from depression and anxiety in the years since the alleged abuse, and only began to realize the depth of the harm it caused after sexual assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men were publicized, according to the suit.

    That "reasonable discovery of her injuries" occurred less than two years ago, keeping the claims within the statute of limitations, the suit claims.

     

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    One person was killed early Tuesday morning, the other during daylight hours.

    Homicide detectives are investigating separate slayings that left two people dead in Newark Tuesday morning, law enforcement authorities confirmed.

    A spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said a 25-year-old woman was the victim of a fatal shooting reported around 1 a.m. in the 900 block of Franklin Avenue in the city's North Ward.

    The woman's name and hometown were not immediately available.

    Just over eight hours later, the prosecutor's office said, a male victim was killed around 9 a.m. in the 300 block of West Market Street in the Central Ward. 

    Photos and videos posted to social media showed a heavy police presence at the site.

    A prosecutor's office spokesperson did not have any additional information about the slayings when reached by email Tuesday morning.

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

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    Jessica Scott also settled with the snow removal contractor for an additional $180,000 after breaking her ankle

    A woman who slipped and fell in an icy Newark parking lot outside her apartment more than three years ago has been awarded $1.3 million, her attorney said Tuesday. 

    Jessica Scott, now 38, broke her left ankle when she tumbled to the ground while trying to place one of her children into a car at the Georgia King Village apartments in Newark on March 2, 2015, according to Stephen Brown, her West Orange-based lawyer. After the fall, Scott had surgery that included having pins and screws inserted into her ankle, the attorney said. She later had an additional surgery to remove the hardware. 

    Man gets $750K settlement after cracking skull in icy sidewalk fall

    The snow removal contractor,  Abraham General Construction of West Orange, settled with Scott for $180,000 on June 26. Then on July 19, a jury sitting in Essex County said Scott was entitled to an additional $1.3 million from Georgia King -- $500,000 for future pain and suffering, $500,000 for future disability and impairment, $150,000 for past pain and suffering, and $150,000 for past disability and impairment.

    Scott still suffers pain and is developing arthritis as a result of the injury, Brown said. She moved out of Georgia King shortly after her injury. 

    Georgia King has filed a motion for re-consideration which will be heard at the end of the month but Brown anticipates the court will rule in Scott's favor after an eventual appeal. 

    New Jersey Law Journal was the first to report on the verdict. 

    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 officers have not been identified, because the investigation is continuing. The first officer who encountered the man has been on the force seven months. The second is a 10-year veteran.

    In sending off the new recruit class for the Newark police Monday, Mayor Ras Baraka spoke "justice" and "good" and "lightness" as he sent the group of 144 men and women off to Sea Girt for training.

    But, he added, "We don't want you to be weak. We want you to do what's just and what's right, but we do want you to be strong. We need you to protect us, our community our children and our families."

    The mayor went on to say the community did not want to be harassed and his police force is being trained "to treat residents the way they would treat members of their own families."  

    On Saturday afternoon, the tight rope every cop walks between weakness and strength, and harassment and enforcing order got very slippery for two Newark officers, who today are suspended for failing to act when a young man began jumping on police cars.

    "Officers are trained and equipped with less methods lethal if needed," said Anthony Ambrose, Newark's public safety director. "These officers either sat in a car or had their hands in their pockets. They didn't do their jobs."

    The officers have not been identified, because the investigation is continuing. The first officer who encountered the man has been on the force seven months. The second is a 10-year veteran.

    The incident began Saturday around noon near the intersection of Clinton Place and Weequahic Avenue in Newark's South Ward.

    A young man, shirtless and in baggy jean shorts was videoed by resident Habib Beyah, as he leaned against a police car, on the driver's side window.  He is animated as he talks through the window at the officer inside. At one point, someone the video says, "he must be on drugs," and also notes the officer "ain't even gettin' out the car."

    That's the part that has Ambrose angry.

    "Let's not mix up restraint versus not doing their job," he said.

    The young man climbs on the engine hood of the car, he begins stomping it. The impact is clearly heard and the dents he makes are clearly seen on the video, which has been shared 678,000 on Facebook. He then climbs to the roof of the car and begins to yell out to gathering crowd.  

    Another voice questions why the cop "ain't doing nothing" when a siren is heard, and a backup unit arrives. At that point, the man stays on the roof and the second officer also stays put. It isn't until the third backup unit arrives that an officer gets out to rein in the man.

    He then jumps from the roof, and mounts the second car, then the third. He stands on the roof yelling to the crowd that had swelled to about 50 people. Almost all had their cellphones out.

    During his speech to recruits Monday, the mayor warned the recruits, that "people will talk to you and harass you and they will even jump on your car.

    ""You will be asked to do a very, very, very difficult job in very, very, very difficult times," he said. "You will be under scrutiny from the very people you're are trying to protect."

    And in the Saturday incident, that was exactly what was happening. As the third officer confronted the man, more cellphone cameras came out. The man came of the cars and walked right up to the officer and got in his face. The officer is heard saying, "Back up, bro" twice in a calm voice, and backs up slightly himself.

    But at this point in the video, there are several calls of "here we go," as they were expecting the police to subdue the man. He gets more vocal with cop, egged on by crowd, feeling the power of incitement.

    And this is where things could have got ugly, and the video would not have been of a fool trying to make fools of the cops, but the cops in yet another ugly clip of using force, maybe crossing into "excessive," to subdue the man.

    But asked if the cops used proper restraint, Ambrose bristled said, "Let's not mix restraint with not doing their jobs. I'm getting calls from people saying, 'Why didn't they arrest him? Instead, they just let him walk away. There's $5,000 of damage to the cars. It's not the money, it's the fact they didn't do their jobs."

    The man was later arrested and identified as Althariq Aulston, 18.

    For the city force trying to change its reputation, the non-action by the officers was a little too kinder and gentler. The Newark police remain under a consent decree after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found evidence of excessive force, unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures and racial discrimination in arrests.

    One other charge was police retaliated against people who tried to observe or record police activity. That certainly didn't happen Saturday, as the cellphone users jockeyed for position to get unobstructed views of the non-confrontation without police objection. 

    "We still have to do our jobs," Ambrose said. "This sends the wrong message. The majority of our 1,100 officers work hard and would have handled it as they are trained. There is no room in the NPD for non-workers looking for a pay check. Their fellow officers and Newark residents don't deserve that type of disservice."

    Ambrose said a review of the incident all included footage of the body cameras from the officers at the scene.  

    "A picture is worth a thousand words," he said. "We want truth and transparency, and we got it."

    For better or worse.  

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at mdiionno@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @MarkDiIonno. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    They looked like Air Jordans. But they had no Nike logos until after the sneakers left New Jersey.

    They looked like thousands of generic shoes without any logos or labels.

    But that was just the start of the ruse.

    Federal authorities on Tuesday arrested five individuals charged in a scheme to import more than $70 million in counterfeit Nike Air Jordans through Port Newark from China.

    The sneakers were manufactured to resemble various editions of Jordans, which typically retail for $190, but without any identifying markings so they would not be flagged by customs officials, authorities said. Fake logos were allegedly added to the shoes after they came through the port, and then the footwear was sold to people throughout the U.S.

    jordan.jpgReal Air Jordans. (Nike)

    The five -- Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang and Kin Lui Chen, all of New York, and Songhua Qu and Fangrang Qu of Hicksville, N.Y. -- are accused of importing at least 42 shipping containers between 2016 and 2018, bringing in an estimated more than 380,000 pairs of sneakers. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

    It is not an uncommon scam, officials say.

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year seized $1 billion in counterfeit goods, and inspectors say they frequently come across shoes, handbags and other consumer goods that appear generic because there are no identifying brand names affixed to them. Those logos and names are then added after the items pass through customs, they said.

    In one case, a shipment of Timberland boots had an insert glued over the logo on the bottom of the boot. An inspector discovered the ruse with a flick of a knife on the heel-side of the shoe.

    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 Essex County Prosecutor's Office said she was fatally shot just after midnight.

    Law enforcement authorities on Tuesday afternoon identified a 25-year-old Belleville woman as the victim of an early morning homicide in Newark.

    Janell Johnson was fatally shot in in the Stephen Crane Village Housing Complex, in the 900 block of Franklin Avenue, just after midnight, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

    Johnson, who was transported to University Hospital, was pronounced dead at 12:54 a.m., the prosecutor's office said.

    Authorities said her killing remains the subject of an "active and ongoing" investigation.

    Johnson was the first of two people to fall victim to fatal acts of violence in the city Tuesday. The prosecutor's office said another, male victim was killed around 9 a.m. in the 300 block of West Market Street. 

    Authorities had not released any further information about that slaying as of Tuesday afternoon.

    The prosecutor's office has asked that anyone with information about Johnson's death call the Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force tips line at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432. 

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

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    The first victim was fatally wounded in a county park on Monday morning, authorities said.

    A 33-year-old East Orange man became Newark's third homicide victim in a 24-hour period when he was gunned down Tuesday morning in broad daylight, authorities said.

    Nathaniel Fuller was pronounced dead at 9:32 a.m. after he was shot inside a vehicle parked in the 300 block of West Market Street, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

    Just over 24 hours prior, Essex County sheriff's officers made their own gruesome discovery when they found a 25-year-old man suffering from a gunshot wound on a bench in Weequahic Park, a county park located in the city's South Ward.

    Godfrey L. Jones, who was shot around 9:15 a.m. Monday, died at University Hospital in Newark at 5:27 p.m., the prosecutor's office said.

    In a statement, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said his office is offering a reward of up to $10,000 through its Crime Stoppers program for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Jones' killing.

    A third victim, Janell Johnson, 25, of Belleville, was shot just after midnight Tuesday in the Stephen Crane Village Housing Complex on Franklin Avenue. Investigators said she was pronounced dead at University Hospital just before 1 a.m.

    Authorities gave no indication in prepared statements Tuesday afternoon as to whether there was any connection between the shootings, which appeared to be separate incidents, nor did they publicly identify any suspects or motives in the killings.

    The prosecutor's office asked that anyone with information about any of the cases call the county's Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force tips line at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432. 

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

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    Alexis Pabon was 14 years old

    Alexis Pabon's life was cut short early last Friday when the car in which he was a passenger - which police were chasing - flipped over and hit a utility pole in Bernards Township.

    The 14-year-old from Newark was ejected. The driver of the car, a 17-year-old charged with causing Pabon's death, veered off of Martinsville Road while attempting to elude police, authorities said Monday.

    Avon Avenue Elementary School, where Pabon once attended, posted that the school community was devastated by the loss.

    "Learning of his untimely passing has brought a heaviness to many within our school community," the school said in a Facebook post. "We pray for the solace of all affected by this loss."

    Pabon's football team, the South East Stallions, hosted a memorial Monday at 7 p.m. on the Shabazz High School Athletic Field, in Newark. 

    He was a member of the Newark Pop Warner Little Scholars, a non-profit youth football and cheerleading program.

    Friends of Pabon have also started a GoFundMe page to aid his mother, the page says.

    The driver of the car, a 17-year-old who is also from Newark, faces charges of death by automobile, leaving the scene of a motor vehicle crash, eluding and motor vehicle theft, the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said Monday.

    The office said it does not plan to release the teenager's name.

    Authorities have said they first attempted to pull over the vehicle in Warren Township, about five minutes away from the scene, when they responded to a report of suspicious persons near Ashwood Court. They spotted a car, which was reported stolen, and it sped away, leading to a pursuit.

    Pabon will be interred Friday after services Thursday and Friday.

    Gianluca D'Elia may be reached at gdelia@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @gianluca_delia. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    There's about $157 billion worth of tax-exempt land that houses schools, churches, cemeteries, nonprofits, government offices or federally protected fields, state data show.


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    Some districts are warning of devastating budget cuts. Is the state to blame?

    In Haddon Township, students won't get new science equipment. In Toms River, officials are tapping reserves to stave off budget cuts. In Jersey City, the school board is eliminating 25 jobs. 

    Across New Jersey, more than 150 districts have spent the past month scrambling to offset reductions in state funding announced in July, after they had already passed their budgets for the coming school year. The worst part, they say? Their state aid is set to get slashed again and again under a new state law. 

    "This is a disaster," Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas said at a special meeting last week to discuss the more than $3 million in lost state aid. "War has been declared on this district."

    The combined $32 million in aid reductions are part of a complex school funding deal that increases New Jersey's education spending by more than $300 million for the upcoming school year and changes how some aid is distributed. 

    That plan pumps millions more into both urban and suburban districts long underfunded by the state. But it comes with a catch: Some of the dollars headed to those underfunded districts is money taken away from others.  

    Find out if your district is losing aid

    State officials say those districts should lose money now because they were winners for far too long, collecting more than their fair share of state funding over the past decade. Local school leaders, however, argue the state is effectively robbing Pemberton to pay Paulsboro and setting up districts for devastating cuts in the years to come. 

    The fallout underscores a practical and political reality of the latest school funding deal: Even if some districts were getting extra funding for all those years, the state was never going to be able to reduce it without affecting kids and angering school officials. 

    "You spend what the state gives you," said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science at Montclair State University. "No one ever says, 'Well, we don't really need that money.'" 

    Less money, more problems 

    Can the school districts that are losing aid still get by without those state dollars?

    State officials say they should be fine. Local school chiefs disagree. And the answer isn't so simple, said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. 

    New Jersey's school funding formula tells the state exactly how much each district should spend, how much of a district's funding should come from the state and how much the district should generate in local property tax revenue. 

    There are 172 districts losing state aid, and all of them have been receiving more than the formula says they need, with some collecting millions and millions in aid for roughly a decade. 

    Of those districts, 153 have been spending at or more than the state says they should in order to provide a quality education, according an Education Law Center analysis. 

    Those districts are better positioned to survive the state's seven-year phase-out of extra aid, but that doesn't make budget cuts any less painful, and any reductions could quickly drop them below their target spending level, Sciarra said. 

    The districts in a more perilous position are the 19 that are seeing their state aid reduced even though they weren't spending what the state says is needed, he said. 

    That group of districts hasn't generated enough local tax revenue to cover their responsibility for funding their schools, and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney has characterized them as using the state as a piggybank. 

    "They can undertax locally because they get our money," Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said during budget negotiations. "Our money is leaving."

    Sciarra argues those districts have been miscast by politicians. 

    Some of the districts haven't been able to raise enough tax revenue because of the state's 2 percent cap on property tax hikes, Sciarra said. When chunks of their state aid disappear, they'll be left with little ability to make it up, he said. 

    "This is the point we have been trying to make all along," said Sciarra, who opposed the state aid cuts.  

    An uncertain future 

    School officials in Toms River are already warning of "dramatic budget cuts" after this school year. 

    The district received about $18 million in extra state aid last school year toward its $228 million budget, but still spent about $25 million less than the state says it needs to, according to an Education Law Center analysis. 

    Now, the state is phasing out that $18 million, beginning with a nearly $1 million reduction this year, followed by incrementally larger reductions through 2025. 

    District officials said property tax hikes won't be enough to avoid budget cuts. 

    "Make no mistake," Superintendent David Healy wrote in a letter to parents. "Our district will be nothing short of gutted and fully decimated if something does not change with regards to the allocation of school aid." 

    Neighboring Brick Township Public Schools is also spending below its goal and facing annual state aid cuts moving forward. Officials say the state funding formula doesn't accurately capture ratables lost in Hurricane Sandy and expects Shore towns to generate an unrealistic amount of property tax revenue.

    The district will get by this year by using $1.3 million from its reserves and leaving six teaching jobs and two administrative positions vacant, Superintendent Gerard Dalton said.  

    After that, he said, he's not sure what will happen. 

    "We are worried about the future," he said. 

    In Cumberland County, Commercial Township spent about $500,000 less than the state recommends last year. Now, it's losing about $1 million in state aid right away with more money disappearing down the road. 

    The district just eliminated seven positions, including five layoffs, interim Superintendent Jean Smith said.  

    "Devastating is the word I would use," Smith said. 

    Murphy's proposed budget didn't reduce funding to any district, but he agreed to the changes as part of a compromise with Sweeney, who had pushed for a redistribution of school aid. 

    Dan Bryan, the governor's spokesman, pointed to the fact that the state has attempted to soften the blow on some districts.

    For instance, the state will allow some urban districts to raise taxes beyond the 2 percent cap to offset state aid reductions. And Murphy agreed to allow Jersey City to create a special 1 percent payroll tax paid by employers to generate extra revenue for its public schools. 

    "Gov. Murphy signed landmark school funding legislation that sets the state on the path to a fairer and more equitable educational system," Bryan said. 

    The state will also offer emergency aid for districts that are able to demonstrate fiscal distress, Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple said. 

    Even though the state aid reductions weren't Murphy's idea, he can expect to take the blame for them, Harrison said, even in districts that are spending more than the state expectation. 

    "The reality is that if you try to level the funding, the schools that are receiving a disproportionate amount of money and see their aid reduced are going to have to belt tighten," Harrison said. "And that is not going to be politically popular." 

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook

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

     

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    Authorities say they swiped a Bentley, Alfa Romeo and Audis and a Benz in 4 counties

    Authorities say they've busted a crew of car thieves that targeted expensive vehicles in affluent towns - including one set of wheels that sells for just under $200,000.

    The six alleged thieves - four have been arrested, two are sought - are from Newark.

    They stole vehicles in Bergen, Burlington, Somerset and Monmouth counties, including four in one day in Holmdel, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday evening.

    Dante Jones, 18; Kevon Wright, 18; Omari Shomari, 18; Ismeal Merrill, 25;  Muhammad Merrill, 21; and Layquan Davis, 18, are charged with second-degree conspiracy to receive stolen property.

    All have been arrested except for Ismeal Merrill and Shomari, who remained fugitives Tuesday night.

    They're charged with stealing the following cars in July, all which had their key fob left inside the vehicle, were parked in the driveway. They were all later recovered in Newark.

    - a 2017 Bentley Continental from Monmouth Beach, on July 11

    - a 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio from Moorestown, on July 16

    - a 2015 Land Rover Evoque from Warren, on July 17

    - a 2018 Audi Q5 from Hillsdale, on July 19

    - a 2017 Mercedes Benz C300 from Holmdel, on July 24

    - a 2016 Land Rover Range Rover from Holmdel, on July 24

    - a 2018 Audi from Holmdel, on July 24

    - a 2018 Ford F150 from Holmdel, on July 24 

    The Bentley Continental typically sells for just under $200,000.

    In all, the eight vehicles are worth about $500,000, according to Assistant Prosecutor Joseph A. Giordano, who is handling the case.

    "As we celebrate National Night Out Against Crime today, everyone should be mindful that they can decrease the rate of auto burglaries and theft in this state by locking their vehicles and taking their car keys or fobs with them,'' Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino said in an announcement.

    Muhammad Merrill appeared before a judge Tuesday, who ordered he be detained until trial, while Davis and Wright were released under home confinement, the prosecutor's office said.

    Jones has a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

    In addition to the stolen property charge, Davis was charged with possessing 200 grams of marijuana and one deck of heroin, and both Merrills are also charged with credit card thefts. The prosecutor's office said they used credit cards belonging to the Alfa Romeo owner at a WalMart in Kearny. 

    The New Jersey State Police Auto Theft Task Force started the investigation with assistance from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office Special Prosecutions Unit.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     


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    Suburban counties have mostly halted their six-year slide in population, new data shows, suggesting Millennials might be leaving cities for greener pastures.

    Want to be on the cutting edge of the hot new trend in housing?

    It may be time to take a second look at the suburbs.

    After bleeding population for the better part of a decade, northern New Jersey's suburbs appear to be swinging back into favor, new Census data shows.

    That's right, those places with garages and yards once seen as so uncool might be on the rebound as Millennials begin seeking greener pastures. 

    Hunterdon, Monmouth and Hudson saw their year-over-year population losses slow or halt between 2016 and 2017, while more urbanized counties like Hudson and Union experienced significant slowdowns in their recent breakneck growth.  

    "It could be a blip in the data, but we were quite surprised," said James Hughes, dean emeritus of Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. 

    while one year doesn't make a trend, Hughes, who has been studying the flight from the suburbs since 2014, said it's worth noting that housing prices in urbanized counties have skyrocketed with the demand of recent years.

    That might be sending young people looking elsewhere for more affordable living, especially as they begin to think about growing their families.

    "It could be that they're going to follow the same pattern of previous generations," Hughes said. 

    Many suburbs in both northern and southern New Jersey still don't offer the walkable downtowns and access to transit prized by current home buyers.

    Hughes said the coming years could be pivotal in shaping the demographic profile of the state's 565 municipalities, as urban centers work to retain new residents and suburban and rural areas attempt to lure them away with the promise of more space and lower taxes. 

    Towns like Somerville, in Somerset County, are hoping they are uniquely situated to attract young home buyers. 

    Somerville is one of the few towns in New Jersey's more rural counties that is based around a traditional downtown with a train station. Mayor Ellen Brain said the town of about 12,000 has bet heavily on this, and is seeing it pay dividends.

    "There was nobody coming to Somerville," Brain said, noting she was continuing the work of previous administrations. "We took a look at data on what we would need to move Somerville from where it was, which was failing." 

    The town approved the development of new apartments downtown, which drew in a younger audience. New businesses followed to what was already a fairly well-known restaurant scene. 

    Today, Somerville's housing stock has regained most of the value it lost following the recession, something only a handful of municipalities can claim

    "We have a very low available housing stock right now," said Council President Granville Brady. "It used to be you'd have a for sale sign on every block. Now people put up their houses and they sell in just a few days." 

    Hughes said there will be challenges for both urban and suburban communities in the years moving forward. Popular urban centers like Jersey City have soaring housing prices and low-ranked schools.

    Meanwhile, suburban towns built out in the sprawl of the 1980s and 1990s have no central downtown, have an abundance of antiquated office space and no immediate access to public transit. 

    "Everything is in flux," he said. "We're destroying jobs and creating new ones at the same time. But there can be some pretty quick adaptations that towns can make."  

    Stephen Stirling may be reached at sstirling@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @sstirling. Find him on Facebook
     

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    One of Newark's own is coming home. Watch video

    The largest residential project in Newark -- towering at 33 stories with 370 units -- will soon make its mark on the city's landscape. 

    And to match the magnitude of the building, one of Newark's own towering figures will claim one of the penthouses: NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal.  

    The Central Planning Board approved the project's plan on Monday, paving the way for construction to begin sometime next year, the developer said.  

    O'Neal, who is a partner in the project, previously said publicly he plans to take up residence at a penthouse apartment atop the development on 777 McCarter Highway that he's dubbed "The House that Shaq built."

    "He's thrilled to be in Newark. He believes in it," developer Wasseem Boraie, of Boraie Development LLC, said. He said O'Neal is in the area a few times a year, though owns property elsewhere, too. 

    "The House that Shaq built is coming to the citizens of Newark, soon!" O'Neal said in a statement through Boraie. 

    Boraie said the $150 million project is 100 feet from Newark Penn Station and close to the Prudential Center. 

    "It's going to be the ultimate commuter destination product in Newark," he said. "It's a further feather in the cap of the administration. I think the city has shown that they are working hard; they are letting the market do what the market does."

    Newark Plaza Tower - 06.jpg777 McCarter Highway rendering. (Courtesy: Boraie Development LLC)
     

    The development will have 20 percent affordable units, Boraie said. Through a program called Project IMPACT, Boraie said local residents will be trained for unionized construction jobs and hired to do work on site. 

    There will be 15,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and 10,000 square feet of amenities, including a roof-deck plaza, a private residence lounge, a pool, private worker lounge and 225 parking spaces. 

    Construction is slated to take 20 to 22 months. Boraie said he will seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the city to help finance the project; Goldman Sachs is also investing in the project. 

    Boraie and O'Neal are also behind 1 Rector Street, a 22-story apartment tower steps from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The $79 million development and its 168 apartments will open early next year

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

     

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    Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced Wednesday that he was withdrawing all county accounts from Wells Fargo.

    Essex County is severing its relationship with Wells Fargo and pulling $3.8 million from its accounts, citing the bank's "malicious and insensitive" treatment of people and "aggressive" foreclosure practices. 

    "The predatory lending schemes and aggressive foreclosure proceedings practiced by Wells Fargo destabilizes neighborhoods and has a negative impact on families and the community," County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday. 

    He said the county began yanking its accounts with Wells Fargo in mid-June. 

    "We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the county's decision in the press," Wells Fargo said in a statement. "We have reached out to the county and look forward to discussing their concerns."  

    Cities like East Orange and Newark have also cut ties with the bank. A spokesman for Newark said the city began closing its Wells Fargo accounts, which contained at least $50 million, in October 2016. One account is still open to accept payments coming in but has no more than $2,000 in the account. 

    The news comes on the heels of recent reports that Wells Fargo incorrectly denied more than 600 people in foreclosure the chance to modify their mortgages to make their homes more affordable. 

    DiVincenzo said that was "further evidence of the bank's malicious and insensitive treatment of people who placed their trust and financial futures with the bank."

    There were 598 total property foreclosures in the county from May to July, officials said. 

    Rev. Ronald L. Slaughter, pastor of Saint James AME Church in Newark, who has been calling for action on the foreclosures in the county, praised the move. 

    "It sends a message that the county stands with its citizens. (DiVincenzo) cannot affect how the bank operates but he can affect how he does business with them," he said.

    Slaughter said there have been 133 properties foreclosed on by Wells Fargo that were slated for sale between July and October by the Essex County Sheriff's Office. Statewide, there's more than 1,100 foreclosed homes for sale in the same time period, he said.  

    Nearly 70,000 properties went through the foreclosure process in New Jersey last year, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data firm. 

    While the 2008 foreclosure crisis devastated homeowners across the country, Slaughter said the crisis never faded in urban centers like Newark. 

    "It never went away in the urban areas," he said. 

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

     

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    Kofi Owens, a beloved East Orange High School teacher, was a community giant who left a legacy of mentoring young people

    The skies opened up Tuesday night, unleashing heavy rains threatening a candlelight vigil for a community giant.

    But Kofi Owens wouldn't allow it.

    "We feel his presence here tonight,'' said East Orange Mayor Ted Green.

    Everyone did. His family. His friends. His students and colleagues. Hundreds crowded on to the grounds of East Orange STEM Academy, a magnet high school where Owens was a treasure, a mentor, and a technology teacher who gave his all.

    His stature in life Tuesday night overshadowed his death. Last week, Owens, 45, of Newark, was shot and killed around 1 a.m. Friday while sitting inside his parked car on South 16th Street in East Orange. His 25-year-old son was in the car and was injured in the shooting, too, his family said. Another young man was in the back seat when someone fired into the vehicle. The three were listening to a song that Owens and the young man had recorded, according to family members.

    No one has been arrested, but the Essex County Sheriff's Department's Crime Stoppers program is offering up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest.

    The downpour Tuesday didn't deter anyone from coming to celebrate Owens' life. When the evening clouds cleared, his heavenly journey was complete, a reward for the talents and gifts he shared with young people who believed nothing was impossible because of him.

    "You don't know the impact he had on our lives,'' said Anisaa Jean-Pierre, a 16-year-old sophomore.

    She wasn't just talking to the crowd. She was looking at Owens' mother, Gloria, who was steps away standing with her son, Kwame, and his daughter.

    "He always treated us like kings and queens,'' Jean-Pierre said.

    That's how he would greet them in class, in the hallway, at the beginning of a school year. He believed it, and they did, too.

    fd285434336345.573897e9ef34b.jpgKofi Owens.
     

    "He did right by us,'' Jean-Pierre said. "There is always going to be a part of us that he left.''

    Gloria Owens smiled as the young lady spoke. Her son's impact was evident. You could hear and feel it resonate from current and former students before and after the vigil, too.

    "He never let you look down on yourself,'' said Alyssa Dumas, 14, a freshman.

    "You could go to him with anything,'' said Kimberly Green, a Rutgers University-Newark student he taught in the sixth grade. "He was that one person you could go to and he won't judge you.''

    The testimonies make Owens' mother proud, a thought she shared at the vigil and hours before in her living room. She was at peace, knowing her son had done all he could during his time here.

    "Kofi came out the gate sharing his gifts and talents,'' she said. "I told him one time, when I grow up I want to be just like you.''

    Even as a teenager, she said he was creative, always tinkering. She remembered a talent show in which he used her hair weave to make dread locks that he wore under her floppy hat to imitate the reggae group, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.

    His greatest gift, however, was connecting with young people and talking to them on their level.

    He may have picked it up from his aunt, the late Barbara Owens Hayward, a teacher in Elizabeth whom Owens looked up to. He saw how she mentored her students, the compassion she had for the homeless when he traveled with her to shelters, or when she produced Christian plays in which performed.

    A graduate of Bloomfield College, Owens' sojourn with young people started 10 years ago, when he was hired by the East Orange School District. In that time, the impact he's had can't be measured.

    "He had a gift of being able to give everyone a special piece of him that was different than that which he shared with anyone else,'' said Charity Bracey, a teacher.

    He loved all of the students, not just the ones who were articulate and received good grades, but the students who made wrong decisions, stood in the corner or got in trouble and needed guidance. Every Thursday, Superintendent Kevin West said Owens was part of a mentoring program with 82 boys at the school. He was consistent, reliable and always there, giving of himself.

    He did it through poetry, video projects and producing socially-conscious hip-hop music. Owens was once with a group called the Conglomerate, but more recently with KGB - Know Good Broductions.

    Kojo Aidoo, a hip-hop artist known as "Drift," said Owens had a knack for getting young people to appreciate old-school rap artists, whose lyrics were meaningful and carried a message.

    "He was able to impress that on the kids and they received it,'' Aidoo said.

    A married father of two children -- a 16-year-old daughter and a 25-year-old son -- Owens was down to earth and made time for everybody, the mourners said. Whenever a new Batman movie debuted, he would take his brother, Kwame, to see his favorite superhero.

    "My brother was Bruce Wayne at work, but when he's off and we're together, we were Batman and Robin and I don't mind being Robin,'' Kwame Owens said.

    As much as the vigil was about honoring a man who poured his soul into the neighborhood, city leaders called on residents to take up Owens' legacy and get involved in the lives of young people.

    "Who among us will rise,'' asked Fifth Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent. "Who among us will stand to carry the torch?''

    The people did.

    They held lighted candles high in the air.

    Owens' wife, Sharonda, was emotional seeing how the community came to support her family.

    "It warms my heart to know that you guys knew him the way I knew him,'' she said through tears. "This is so overwhelming to see many people cared for him the way I cared for him and how I loved him.''

    Barry Carter may be reached at bcarter@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The City Council approved its $2 billion tax incentive package to lure Amazon.

    Newark cemented into law its $2 billion incentive on Wednesday to convince retail giant Amazon to open its second headquarters in the city. 

    The City Council gave final approval to three ordinances that would allow any corporate headquarters that creates 30,000 jobs and invests $3 billion over 20 years to qualify for tax breaks and a long-term exemption. 

    The legislation does not name Amazon specifically, but the commerce behemoth would qualify: It has promised to build a new home base and create 50,000 jobs with an average compensation of $100,000.

    Newark is one of 20 finalist cities in the running for Amazon's HQ2. A decision on the site is expected by the end of the year.

    The ordinances allow such corporate headquarters to avoid paying Newark's one percent payroll tax for any employees who live in Newark and pay 50 percent of the tax for workers who live outside the city. 

    The waiver is capped at $1 billion. 

    A second ordinance allows companies like Amazon to qualify for a 30-year tax exemption for up to $1 billion. 

    The council also acted to create a fast track for land use and permit approvals for transformative projects like Amazon. Gov. Phil Murphy will have to authorize the move through an executive order. 

    "This is the administration thinking ahead of time," Newark's corporation counsel Kenyatta Stewart told NJ Advance Media. He said the city wanted large corporations thinking of settling in Newark -- like Amazon -- to understand the expectations and available exemptions. 

    When the measures were first introduced last month, they were passed quietly by the council but on Wednesday, some residents were opposed to handing out large corporate tax breaks. 

    "The people who are living here and working here are paying the debt for these people," resident Debra Salters said. "If we took that money and invested it in our own people, we would see a boom in our economy."  

    The state has already signed off on its own $5 billion incentive package for Amazon, which last month reported a $2.5 billion quarterly profit.

    Mayor Ras Baraka said the city was "a giant step closer to being Amazon's choice for HQ2."

    "The unanimous vote of the council reflects the fact that Newark speaks in a clear and unified voice. We are ready to lead and win the Amazon bid," he said in a statement.

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

     

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    A prosecutor cited the man's 14-1/2 years at large and the potential risk to witnesses as reasons to keep him jailed.

    A Superior Court judge in Newark on Wednesday refused to release a 35-year-old Salvadoran man extradited to New Jersey this month in a gang-linked 2004 murder case, ruling the suspect should remain jailed pending the end of his case.

    Judge Martin G. Cronin's ruling came after an Essex County assistant prosecutor argued Marvin Argueta's flight from law enforcement after the Feb. 15, 2004, fatal shooting of Miguel Gamez, as well as the potential safety risk he posed to surviving victims of the same shooting, more than justified keeping him behind bars.

    Argueta, wearing a white dress shirt and khaki pants provided by his defense attorney, stood stoically at the defense table Wednesday as a Spanish-speaking interpreter translated the lawyers' arguments for him.

    The Essex County Prosecutor's Office last week announced Argueta, formerly of Newark, had been returned to the country more than 14 years after he was charged with killing Gamez, 31, of Newark, as well as shooting Gamez's girlfriend, his brother and his brother's girlfriend inside the La Caverna Bar on Mulberry Street.

    Assistant Prosecutor Justin Edwab told the judge Argueta had been arguing with the Gamez brothers before the shooting inside the bar, which most recently operated as The Arena Lounge.

    While authorities said Argueta fled the area, two other suspects, Luis Delcid and Carlos Hernandez, were arrested on the same charges of murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and weapons offenses.

    Authorities at the time linked the defendants to MS-13 -- a violent international street gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha -- saying Delcid had taken part in the shooting to impress fellow gang members.

    All three defendants were indicted in November 2004 while Argueta was at large. Both of Argueta's co-defendants each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and received sentences of five years or less, according to state records and attorneys' statements in court.

    Edwab said his office finally located Argueta in El Salvador three years ago. He had been identified by numerous witnesses as the shooter.

    "It's been 14-1/2 years that the state has been looking for the defendant," he said.

    In urging Cronin to consider alternative options such as electronic monitoring, defense attorney Adrien Moncur expressed doubt about the strength of the state's case after such a long period of time, and noted Argueta still had family in the Newark area who could make him less of a flight risk.

    The last report the defense had reviewed that confirmed the location of the state's witnesses, Moncur said, was produced by a detective in 2014.

    While Edwab said his office did not immediately know the whereabouts of Delcid and Hernandez, he indicated all of the surviving victims still lived in the area and could be produced to testify -- a safety concern he said supported keeping Argueta jailed.

    Cronin said Argueta is scheduled to be formally arraigned on the indictment Aug. 20 before Superior Court Judge Ronald D. Wigler.

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

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