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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    Check out who's rising and who's falling.

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    Mark Holmes, 56, pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree theft by unlawful taking and faces five years in state prison when he appears for sentencing in April.

    The former mayor and councilman of Lawrence Township has admitted to stealing thousands of dollars for unapproved salary increases while serving as the executive director of Asbury Park Housing Authority. 

    Mark Holmes, 56, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by unlawful taking and faces five years in state prison when he appears for sentencing before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge John Tassini on April 6, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni announced in a press release Wednesday.

    Holmes was indicted in December 2015 on 38 counts of official misconduct and other offenses. He was arrested at his Lawrence home in 2013 but was released from jail after posting $70,000 bail. 

    Holmes admitted Tuesday to stealing more than $90,000 by using state grant money intended to help low-income residents of Asbury Park to give himself a salary increase that wasn't approved by the agency's board between 2008 and 2011. 

    Before becoming the executive director, Holmes served as the agency's deputy director. Prior to taking over as executive director, Holmes applied for -- and received -- a $99,897 grant from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The money was intended to be spent on training in computers and other skills for residents who qualified for public housing in Asbury Park.

    An investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office's financial crimes and public corruption bureau found that between November 2008 and August 2009 Holmes transferred $75,721 of the grant into the general operating fund for the housing authority and then moved the money into his own accounts, authorities said.

    Holmes created the APHA Community Development Corporation, where he funneled $58,000 to give himself a $50,000 salary increase without board approval, Gramiccioni said.

    The prosecutor's office statement said the investigation found that Holmes opened credit cards in the name of the APHA and the APHA Community Development Corporation and used the cards for personal expenses. He had the bills go directly to his home and accrued more than $30,000 in debt on the cards.

    Holmes, who went on more than 30 business trips across the country, also received $22,000 in per diem payments from the authority for meals while on business trips. Even though he had money for the meals, Holmes filed them in his expense reports and then collected the money, Gramiccioni said.

    "Holmes also used APHA funds for personal expenditures while on these trips, including spa treatments, hotel in-room movies, and gentlemen's clubs," Gramiccioni said in the press release. "On at least three occasions, he used APHA funds to pay for stretch limousine service to transport him and his family to and from the airport."

    Holmes used more than $13,000 of APHA funds for unauthorized meal expenses in the Asbury Park and Lawrenceville areas, according to Gramiccioni.

    Holmes' attorney, Mark Davis, called those accusations "unfounded and unproven." 

    He said his client admitted to padding his salary but that "all those other things about trips and expenses ... those are still untrue allegations." 

    As part of a plea agreement, Holmes was ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution and must surrender his pension. He will also not be allowed to serve any public jobs in New Jersey. 

    "Everyone, including public officials, must be held accountable when they break the law. Public service is a privilege and requires a level of trust by our constituents -- a trust that Mr. Holmes exploited," Gramiccioni said.

    Holmes was on the Lawrence zoning board for three years in the 1990s and was elected to council in 1997.

    He was the executive director of the East Orange Housing Authority until 2007, when he resigned after John Hansbury, the Mercer County Republican chairman at the time, filed a complaint with the federal government saying Holmes had violated the Hatch Act. The federal law prohibits state, county or municipal employees who are involved with federal loans or grants from running as a partisan candidate.

    In 2004 the Lawrence council, which selects the mayor from among its members, gave Holmes the job, making him the township's first black mayor.

    He served as mayor again in 2008 but quit the council in December of that year, saying his new position as executive director of the Asbury Park Housing Authority had created a conflict. Taking the job meant he would not be able to run for re-election to council, he said at the time.

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    Police and firefighters managed to pull dog from a frozen pond in Middletown after it slipped through a hole Thursday morning but the animal died, Chief of Police R. Crag Weber said in a statement.  Emergency workers responded to a Melrose Terrace home around 11 a.m. and found paw prints leading to the hole. The dog, a 4-year-old beagle,...

    Police and firefighters managed to pull dog from a frozen pond in Middletown after it slipped through a hole Thursday morning but the animal died, Chief of Police R. Crag Weber said in a statement. 

    Emergency workers responded to a Melrose Terrace home around 11 a.m. and found paw prints leading to the hole. The dog, a 4-year-old beagle, had become submerged beneath the surface, Weber said. 

    Attempts to revive the dog after it was found failed, Weber also said. 

    Paul Milo may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@PaulMilo2. Find on Facebook.  



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    Picking the top players and teams through the season's first half.

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    The NJ Advance Media wrestling staff releases its first group and conference rankings of the season

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    Are you OK if your town allows marijuana sales?

    New Jersey voters told pollsters from Quinnipiac University last September that they're OK with allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use by a 59 to 38 percent margin. But 55 percent of voters said they would "definitely not try" marijuana even if it were legal. Nine percent say they would "definitely try" it and 12 percent say they would "probably try it." 

    Well, the moment of truth is fast approaching. Democrats in the state Legislature yesterday introduced a bill to make recreational pot legal in the Garden State.

    Incoming-Gov. Phil Murphy has said he would sign the measure if it came across his desk. Experts believe that'll happen by spring.

    The pressure is now on the towns to decide if they'll allow dispensaries or farms within their borders. The state expects it to be a $300 million business, but only municipalities that participate will share in the windfall. 

    Jersey City and Asbury Park say they're fine with it. Point Pleasant isn't.

    But let's go back to that poll up top. Fifty-nine percent are OK with the theory, but 55 percent say it's not for them. Now that recreational marijuana is closer to becoming a reality, are you OK if your town permits marijuana sales?

    Vote in our informal, unscientific poll and tell us how you voted in the comments. 


    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said his pick for education commissioner

    Gov.-elect Phil Murphy announced Friday he's nominating the superintendent of Asbury Park schools to be New Jersey's next education commissioner -- and tasked him with helping "revolutionize learning" in the state. 

    Murphy said Lamont Repollet -- who has run the Monmouth County city's school system since 2014 -- will help him with some of his biggest goals for eduction: eliminating controversial PARCC testing and improving the state's relationship with teachers after eight years of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

    "Not every child has the same educational opportunity," Murphy, a Democrat who takes office Tuesday, said during a news conference at Barack Obama Elementary School in Asbury Park. "If we are to move ahead, we must close these gaps. If we are to move ahead, we need new leadership."

    Phil Murphy's new interview with NJ Advance Media

    As with most Cabinet nominees, Repollet -- pronounced "Rep-o-let" -- will need to be confirmed by the Democratic-controlled state Senate. 

    By picking Repollet, who is black, Murphy also continues his vow to make his Cabinet reflective of New Jersey's diversity.

    Murphy campaigned on departing from several of Christie's education policies and tapped the president of the New Jersey Education Association -- the state's largest teachers union and a frequent Christie foe -- as the co-chair of his transition committee on educational issues. 

    As head of the state Department of Education, Repollet will be tasked with finding a replacement for the PARCC exams and with revising the state's graduation requirements. Murphy has said he will drop New Jersey's longstanding rule that high school students must pass a standardized test in reading and math in order to graduate, something several other states have already stopped.

    Repollet will also help shape the Murphy administration's influence on school choice and charter schools, one of the state's most hotly debated education policy issues.

    And Murphy said Repollet would also help put the state on a path toward universal pre-K. 

    He said what Repollet has done in Asbury Park the last few years is "nothing short of a turnaround," helping improve literacy, test scores, and attendance. 

    "The long-term success of our state relies on the ability to provide children with education equity and access to quality education," Repollet said Friday.

    In selecting Repollet, Murphy chose the leader of a school district Christie often held up as a prime example of wasteful spending and what he called the state's failed investment in urban districts.

    When Christie proposed a drastic overhaul of the state's school funding system in 2016, he pointed to Asbury Park, which was spending about $33,000 per student - more than any other traditional school district in the state -- with a 66 percent high school graduation rate.

    Murphy said he wants to "change the tone" of the way the state treats teachers, holding educators up "on a pedestal" and treat them with "respect."

    The Democrat has been criticized for being too cozy with the NJEA. He said Friday he's a "big believer in organized labor."

    "This is a state that used to celebrate and embrace organized labor," Murphy said. "We've gotten away from that."

    Murphy has also vowed to fully fund the state's education formula after Christie shortchanged schools by $9 billion. 

    Repollet, 47, came to Asbury Park after nine years as principal of the high school in Carteret, his hometown. 

    He recalled Friday how his parents struggled with unemployment and had to rely on money from the government. 

    Repollet said he was able to attend Trenton State College -- now the College of New Jersey -- thanks to the Equal Opportunity Fund. He graduated in 1994 with a degree in communications and received a master's degree in educational leadership from Kean University and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. 

    "I'm proud to say education saved my life," Repollet said.

    NJ Advance Media staff writer Adam Clark contributed to this report.

    Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    Joel Stone examines the space between pleasantness and dread and heaven and hell at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

    At the opening of "The Calling," a world-premiere play by Joel Stone now running at the New Jersey Rep, conditions seem pleasant enough: While tidying up after a funeral service, a modest priest has stumbled upon a man asleep in a pew, and after some initial awkwardness the two laugh off the incident while the man helps the priest with his chores.

    It is not long before the proceedings turn dark. Carl (Jared Michael Delaney) confesses plans to kill himself this night in this church, and Father Dan (Ames Adamson), caught unawares, must spring into action.

    Over the 90 minutes of this ambitious if uneven play, Stone is most interested in examining the space between pleasantness and dread -- or between heaven and hell, if you prefer -- always aware that the confluence of just a few factors can tip this church into one condition or the other. The play mingles haphazardly and not very successfully with grand notions of theodicy, but its strength is in keeping the darkness below its surface on a steady simmer, always ready to boil over.

    Consistently at the New Jersey Rep, Delaney has proven a master of this very dynamic -- revealing only glimpses of restrained, complex, often ominous interiority -- a skill that serves him and this play well. Suicide, it turns out, is not the only or even the most drastic of Carl's designs, but Stone and Delaney build this character carefully and methodically. Under the direction of Even Bergman, Delaney's Carl becomes richer and more foreboding as the play progresses.

    Adamson does fine work as the simple pastor, but in Father Dan Stone has not crafted Carl's equal. The priest seems earnest, but when backed into a corner over the course of the play he has recourse to little other than spouting Christian platitudes. His responses are of course exactly what Carl expects, having come to the church at the end of his theological rope. His confession of suicidal intentions early in the play is presented as an offer for Father Dan to save him, as if granting the Church one last opportunity to show Carl the real-world applicability of its teachings, but Father Dan's preaching of the same-old-same-old does little more than aggravate Carl further.

    This clash of an angry, bitter lapsed Catholic and a stalwartly faithful priest could be fruitful ground for high drama, but "The Calling" consistently offers only the most pedestrian versions of Christian teachings and the quandaries they engender. All of Carl's angry interrogation can be reduced to asking why God lets bad things happen to good people, and all of Father Dan's responses to rote explanations of Jesus' love and God's master plan. Neither man has spent much time wrestling with the challenges and complexities of their respective religious stance, and so the central drama of "The Calling" seems impoverished as a result.

    Ultimately, "The Calling" shows us the devil strolling into a church to pick a fight, but struggling to find his opponent up to the task.


    The NJ Repertory Company

    179 Broadway, Long Branch

    Tickets available online (, running through February 4.

    Patrick Maley may be reached at Find him on Twitter and Instagram @PatrickJMaley. Find on Facebook.

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    The money was taken between 2012 and 2016, authorities said.

    The ex-treasurer of the Freehold Soccer League in Monmouth County is heading to prison for six years after stealing $400,000 from the organization, officials say.

    Anthony Gallo took the money between 2012 and 2016, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

    In addition to the prison time, Gallo, 57, of Freehold Township, must pay $280,000 in restitution, Superior Court Judge Vincent N. Falcetano Jr. ordered at Gallo's sentencing Friday in Freehold.

    Gallo pleaded guilty in November to second-degree theft.

    Gramiccioni said the league president notified authorities when bills weren't paid and funds were found missing from league accounts.

    Before he was caught, Gallo paid back more than $119,000 in an effort to try to prevent the thefts from being detected, according to Gramiccioni who said Gallo used the money for personal expenses.

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


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    Gov. Chris Christie issued 26 pardons late Friday night. The outgoing governor even called one of the recipients himself.

    Brandon Fregm was sitting with his family in Brogue, Pennsylvania, Friday night when the 30-year-old got the phone call that he said will allow him to go back to work and move on with his life. 

    The 8 p.m. call was from an attorney who told him Gov. Chris Christie had issued a pardon that ends his two-year legal battle in the New Jersey court system over a weapons conviction.

    "It was a big life-changer," Fregm said in a phone interview Saturday. "Everyone was super excited."

    The Pennsylvania man was one of 26 people granted clemency days before Christie leaves office. The outgoing governor did not say why he issued the orders hours after the courts had closed for the weekend.

     Christie doles out 26 last-minute clemency orders

    Fregm was arrested on March 9, 2015, while driving through New Jersey with a loaded handgun on the back seat of his car, according to court records. He was licensed to carry in Pennsylvania, but not New Jersey.

    After his felony conviction, Fregm said it was near impossible for him to find work as an ironworker since the majority of the contracts were for work in school or government buildings. 

    "Make sure you know the rules of the state you travel through," he said, reflecting on the charges. "One little thing turned my whole life around."

    Six others -- Brian Aitken, Hisashi Pompey, Meghan Fellenbaum, Brian Murphy, Adrian Rubio, Antonio Scott, Angel Cordero and Christopher O'Sullivan -- were pardoned for unlawful possession of a weapon. The full details of many of their cases weren't immediately accessible. 

    Pompey, a U.S. Marine, was facing two years in prison last year when Christie commuted his sentence over a nightclub incident in Fort Lee. Fellenbaum, a Pennsylvania resident, was arrested for having a firearm in her trunk. 

    Aitken's case became a symbol for gun-law advocates in the U.S. when he was convicted on multiple weapons charges after police found three unloaded handguns and ammunition in the trunk of the former Mount Laurel man's car in 2009.

    Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado. The next, year Christie commuted his seven-year sentence to time-served.  

    He was also pardoned of a simple assault conviction stemming from a separate 2009 arrest, the details of which were not known or previously reported. 

    Aitken and Pompey did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

    Eleven others had their slate wiped clean of drugs charges. Those included Altorice Frazier, a Newark resident who was sentenced in 1999 to 13 years for drug trafficking but since his release has worked to give back his community, working with ex-cons and in parent advocacy.

    The governor even called him personally, he said.

    "I was in Wendy's with my daughter, who is five, and I was just stuck," Frazier said in an interview, explaining that he froze up. "It was surreal. So, I put him on speaker phone to say 'Hi' to my daughter.

    "I really get an opportunity to now write this chapter of my life my way," he said. 

    Anthony Giarratano was also granted a pardon for his 2011 armed robbery of a drug store in Hillsborough. His mother had told the media at the time, Giarratano was on a series of medications after being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and was "mentally impaired."

    Additionally, John Pjeternikaj, who was wrapped up in a firearms raid in 1983 and later convicted of arson and a weapons sales charge, according to media reports from the time, was pardoned. 

    Pjeternikaj and his family have donated more than $10,000 to Christie's campaigns, including two donations to his failed presidential bid, according to state and federal election data.

    Pjeternikaj and Giarratano could not be reached for comment Saturday.

    Christie, who leaves office on Tuesday, has given clemency to 55 people during his tenure, according to the governor's office.

    Here are documents released by Christie detailing the nature of the crimes for which the 26 people were granted clemency. 

    Reporter S.P. Sullivan contributed to this report. 

    Craig McCarthy may be reached at 732-372-2078 or at Follow him on Twitter @createcraig and on Facebook here. Find on Facebook.

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    0 0 looks at the can't-miss dual meets, quads and county and conference tournaments for the week of Jan 15-20, 2018

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    Dogs and cats throughout the state await adoption.

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

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

    If a group wishes to participate in this weekly gallery on, please contact Greg Hatala at or call 973-836-4922.

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

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    The child and his friend are both OK after spending after falling into the Navesink River

    Two boys fell through the ice on the Navesink River in Rumson on Monday afternoon, prompting police to issue a plea for people to stay clear of the dangerous conditions.

    "We are begging people to stay off the ice -- begging them," Rumson police Chief Scott Paterson said said. "It looks safe but it's not. They got very lucky."

    Parts of N.J. could get a few inches of snow. Here's the latest forecast

    After the first boy fell through the ice off 1st Street around 1 p.m., a second boy also fell in trying to help his friend, Paterson said. Both were in the river for about three minutes, but managed to get out before police arrived, Paterson said.

    EMS workers also arrived but neither boy had to go to the hospital, Paterson said. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.


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