Pres. Of UN General Assembly To Speak At William Paterson U.

WAYNE, NJ — Maria Mernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the United General Assembly, will deliver a lecture at William Paterson University this month.

A native of Ecuador, Garcés is only the fourth woman to serve as president of the United Nations. Her lecture is titled “The United Nations: Multilateralism, Democracy, Immigrant Rights and Gender Equity.”

The lecture will be held from 11 a.m. to noon in the University Commons Ballrooms on campus. The event is free and open to the public.

“International institutions such as the United Nations are critical in increasing cooperation, and decreasing conflict among nation-states,” said Richard Huizar, assistant professor of political science and director of the University’s Latin American and Latino Studies Program. “This lecture is of particular importance for those interested in learning more about the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela, U.S.-Mexico relations, and other issues of global importance such as Brexit.”


Videos Show Fire Raging At Ocean Grove ‘Dunes’ Pavilion (UPDATE)

Firefighters continued to battle a working structure fire at a pavilion in Ocean Grove on Sunday, officials said. Videos show the scene where the boardwalk was closed as the fire continued well into Saturday afternoon and overnight (see below).

Parts of the boardwalk were destroyed as the fire appeared to devastate the pavilion known as the Dunes Cafe at the north end of the boardwalk. The fire continued to rage well into the evening, more than eight hours after the fire was reported.

Smoke could still be seen coming from the building last Saturday and on Sunday:

Eyewitnesses said the roof of the building collapsed and that emergency personnel were telling people on the beach to stay back after the 11:30 a.m. fire broke out (story continues below the video).

Police were telling people to avoid the area, officials said. No injuries were reported.

Asbury Park was also getting intense smoke from the fire:

This is a developing story. Patch will have more information as it comes in.

Here are videos and pictures from the scene:

Tax incentive task force makes first criminal referral

The special task force convened by Gov. Phil Murphy to investigate potential abuse of the tax incentives programs administered through the state Economic Development Authority made its first criminal referral Friday.

A letter by Chairman Ronald Chen refers to law enforcement evidence “of unregistered lobbying on behalf of special interests, which materially affected the legislation and regulations governing New Jersey’s tax incentives granted to businesses,” according to a statement from the task force.

“As we have said, we are going to follow the facts in a search for the truth,” Chen said in the statement. “Whether that means recertifying companies, seeking voluntary payments and terminations, or making referrals, we plan to be thorough, objective and efficient.”

The statement did not list specific details, and that did not sit well with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who issued a statement of his own.

“The announcement by the task force of alleged criminal activity regarding the state’s tax incentives is vague and incomplete,” Sweeney said. “Everyone agrees that the public should scrutinize state spending, which is why the task force must say who is being investigated, what law was broken, and which law enforcement agency was notified.

“This task force was asked to ‘follow the facts’ and ‘get to the truth.’ They should follow their own mandate and allow the public to see the truth.

“If any companies violated their agreements or defaulted on their promises to the EDA they should be identified. If anyone committed fraud, lied or cheated, they should be held accountable.”

In the task force’s statement, Special Counsel Jim Walden reiterated a message from its first hearing last month, encouraging businesses who may be out of compliance to come forward voluntarily.

“We are grateful to the many companies who promised cooperation from Day One, and we encourage more to come forward,” he said. “But we will also be diligent in ferreting out wrongdoing where we must, including by making referrals to other civil or criminal investigators when we find sufficient evidence.”

The task force’s next hearing will be on May 2 in Newark.

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Man Is A ‘Weird Pervert’ For Making Sexy Easter Display: Readers

PASSAIC COUNTY, NJ — Both sides are to blame for a woman destroying her neighbor’s sexy Easter display, Patch readers have said.

Desiree Shepstone, 37, of Clifton, was charged with third-degree criminal mischief for damage exceeding $2,000, according to court records, for tearing the display down. A news crew filmed Shepstone taking it down.

Wayne Gangi put up the display outside of his Clifton dental office as a tribute to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. And it received a lot of attention. Some thought it was funny, but others, especially Shepstone, thought it was offensive. (See related: NJ Woman Destroys Neighbor’s Sexy Easter Display [VIDEO])

We asked readers what they thought about the display and what Shepstone did. Here’s what they said:

“I do find it distasteful for Easter but on the other hand I don’t think he meant any harm and did in humor and for the attention,” Patch user Darlene said. “She on the other hand has no right dismantling and taking it down on his private property. What she should have done is had a petition going and bring it to the board of Clifton if it bothers her that much.”

Others agreed.

“It was tacky and really stupid but the woman who took it down should have ignored it since it was on private property,” Patch user Michele O’Brien said. “I have to admit though… I think the man who put this in front of his dental office is a weird pervert. I would not want to go to him for a checkup.”

Still, others placed the blame solely on Gangi.

“Inappropriate for a dentist who may have children for patients and the neighborhood children. He should have known better,” Patch user Lenore said. “Put it up in your backyard where only you can see it.”

Click here to view Patch’s question to readers about the display, or to post your opinion about what happened.


After ‘Chopped’ Win, Chef Claude Lewis Looks Ahead to New Opportunities

Chef Claude Lewis at Porta in Jersey City. Photo courtesy of Pete Bonacci

On March 12, Porta executive chef Claude Lewis competed on Chopped, ultimately winning the culinary competition with his West Indian flavors that shined through nightmare basket ingredients like margarita cotton candy and gefilte fish. The son of Antiguan immigrants, the Jersey City native has a rooted, ambitious culinary perspective that he’s newly energized to share—with more than just Food Network judges. We caught up with Lewis in the after-glow of his TV win to talk about being an Antiguan certified pizzaiolo at Porta, honoring family tradition, and what he’s going to do with all the post-Chopped visibility. Hint: it involves transforming his four year-old West Indian catering into something more stationary.

Table Hopping: Tell us about your background.
Claude Lewis: My parents are from Antigua in the West Indies. They moved here in 1980 and I was born the year they moved here. All the traditions and the food was deep-rooted West Indian. My mom was an at-home cook, she cooked everything. And hospitality jobs are the easiest to get for immigrants, so my dad got into kitchens. He came over here and worked his way up. So I got to taste so many different styles, so many things.

TH: You started at Porta in 2014. What was it like to take on Italian cuisine?
CL: I ended up starting as a sous chef, actually starting their pizza program. I was head pizzaiolo there for a year. Roberto Caporuscio—he’s the president of the Association of Neopolitan Pizza Makers —he certified me one-and-a-half years ago. I’m super proud. I’m West Indian, but I take a lot of respect for how seriously pizza is done. It really made me turn up my knowledge and my passion. And the feel for home that I have from my parents, cooking, growing up around food, allowed me to be able to put the same love and dedication into any cuisine I’m working on. It stems from West Indian roots of appreciating food, appreciating ingredients to get a certain feel from home.

“I wanted to go on the show to bring awareness to the food I grew up eating. To give homage to my island and my family.”

TH: Why, and when, did you audition for Chopped?
CL: I’m very competitive and wanted to challenge myself and see how far I can really go—see if I can go on to be recognized. To be honest with you, West Indian food, the food of my culture, is not something that’s widely spoken of or recognized in America. There are no Michelin-star chefs that represent this kind of food. I really want to be the one. I want to be the person to try to bring it to the forefront. I wanted to go on the show to bring awareness to the food I grew up eating. To give homage to my island and my family.

I applied three years ago. It took months to get a call. After three or four interviews, I found out I was scheduled for a date to come and shoot. After we shot it, it was another year and six months for the episode to air.

TH: You said you want to bring West Indian flavors to the fore in your career. Was that your game plan on the show?
CL: It was. I wanted to put my family’s name on the map. I was taking them on a trip to Antigua any way that I could.

TH: As in your Caribbean Gefilte Fish Stew.
CL: Yes. There’s a more modern approach to a lot of the food that I make. This is a play on a Caribbean dish, usually Porgy, okra in a stew. You need deep fish flavor, normally from fish bones, but you can add texture and flavor with charred gefilte fish. And the beets [from the basket] are like the yucca, cut and cooked to still have bite. And of course I added some allspice and cumin. Everything put together gave it that feel of West Indian fish stew.

TH: You won the show with flavors like that. What have you been doing since you filmed?
CL: In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been able to build a brand of West Indian food. [I did] a couple events with Midnight Market in Jersey City—they’re great. I’ve gotten our name out, Freetown Road Project.

TH: This is the same West Indian catering business you founded in 2015?
CL: Yes. The name is a combination of where my parents are from in Antigua: my father’s from Freetown Road Village, my mom is from Old Road Village. All my inspiration from my food comes from them. As of right now, we’re an off-premise catering company, but we’re looking for a place in Jersey City to open a small restaurant, probably just 10 seats. We want to expand soon. With the love I’m getting from Jersey City for the Chopped appearance, we want to jump on that wagon before it’s too late.

TH: Would a new spot be similar to your strategy for Chopped—modern West Indian?
CL: That’s exactly the direction I’m looking to go. Our mission statement is to provide a modern approach to West Indian cuisine: modern techniques to bring West Indian food to the forefront. It’s going to be more focused, more seasonal, more flavor-forward. It’s going to represent my childhood growing up in America with immigrant parents. I would like to bring people to where I was when they taste it. It’s a very focused representation of West Indian food. I don’t know if it’s too early to be saying it, but I actually found a spot and we’re in talks to get it.

TH: Which means you would move on from Porta?
CL: I don’t have anything against Porta. I love where I work. It would hurt me to move on from there. But sometimes you just have to pull the trigger, try for your dreams or else regret it for the rest of your life.

You can follow Freetown Road Project on Instagram, and you can sample chef Lewis’s pizzaiolo-certified pizza at Porta at 135 Newark Avenue in Jersey City; 201-544-5199. You can also watch Chef Lewis on re-runs of his Chopped episode (Season 38, Episode 13), appropriately dubbed “Gefilte Dish.”

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NJ Legalizes Assisted Suicide As Gov. Murphy Signs Bill Into Law

New Jersey has legalized assisted suicide, enacting a law that will take effect Aug. 1.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Friday that he says will allow terminally ill New Jersey adults to end their lives peacefully, with dignity, and at their own discretion.

The bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Senator Nick Scutari, makes New Jersey the eighth state to allow such end-of-life decisions with the assistance of medical professionals.

“Allowing residents with terminal illnesses to make end-of-life choices for themselves is the right thing to do,” said Murphy. “By signing this bill today, we are providing terminally ill patients and their families with the humanity, dignity, and respect that they so richly deserve at the most difficult times any of us will face.”

The “Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act” permits terminally ill, adult patients residing in New Jersey to obtain and self-administer medication to end their lives peacefully and humanely, Murphy said.

A patient’s attending and consulting physicians must determine that the patient has a life expectancy of six months or less, has the capacity to make health care decisions, and is acting voluntarily, in order for the patient to obtain the medication, according to the Murphy administration.

Last month, the Assembly passed the bill by a 41-33 vote, while the Senate voted 21-16 in favor.

The bill contains a number of safeguards and procedures that lawmakers say would “ensure the integrity and safety of the process,” including:

  • The bill defines a “terminal disease” as an irreversible illness that has been medically confirmed and will result in a patient’s death within six months.
  • It would cover: an adult resident of New Jersey who is capable and has been determined by the patient’s attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, and has voluntarily expressed a wish to die.
  • The bill would require patients suffering from a terminal disease to first verbally request a prescription from their attending physician, followed by a second verbal request at least 15 days later.
  • The attending physician would have to offer the patient a chance to rescind the request.
  • A consulting physician would then be called upon to certify the original diagnosis and reaffirm the patient is capable of making a decision.
  • It would also require one request in writing signed by two witnesses. A valid request for medication must be signed and dated by the patient and witnessed by at least two individuals who, in the patient’s presence, attest that the patient is capable and is acting voluntarily to sign the request.
  • Only the patient would be permitted to administer the drug to themselves. At least one of the witnesses must be a person who is not: 1) a relative of the patient; 2) entitled to any portion of the estate of the patient; 3) an owner, operator, or employee of a health care facility where the patient is receiving treatment, or 4) the patient’s physician.
  • The bill requires that the patient’s attending physician recommend that the patient participate in a consultation concerning additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control options, and provide the patient with a referral to a health care professional qualified to discuss these options.
  • The attending physician would be required to document the recommendation in the patient’s medical record, and indicate whether the patient chose to participate in the consultation, and whether the patient is receiving palliative, comfort or hospice care.

“Over the course of seven years, we’ve heard countless heartbreaking stories of terminally ill patients and their families yearning to make a personal choice that simply was not provided for under law,” said Burzichelli. “The choice for patients, who are critically ill and with a short life expectancy prescribed by their doctors, to determine their final day on this earth with dignity deserved honest and intellectual discussion.”

Englewood Developer James Demetrakis Admits Role In Loan Scheme

ENGLEWOOD, NJ — A city real estate developer admitted his role in a loan scheme to try to deceive a Bergen County bank and the federal government.

James Demetrakis, 79, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false entries to deceive a financial institution and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Newark federal court before U.S. District Judge Jose Linares.

Demetrakis was arrested and charged as part of a related case against noted Edgewater Fred Daibes and Michael McManus. (See related: Major Bergen Developer Charged In Baking Loan Scheme)

Demetrakis and Daibes were longtime business partners. Daibes was the founder and, until April 2011, chairman of the board of directors, at Mariner’s Bank in Edgewater.

From January 2008 to December 2013, Demetrakis conspired with Daibes and others to run a loan scheme designed to circumvent the lending limits by ensuring that millions of dollars in loans flowed form Mariner’s Bank to others and Diabes. He hid from the bank and the FDIC Daibes’ beneficial interests in those loans, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Demetrakis was a nominee for a $1.8 million line of credit and got two of his relatives to be nominees for a $2.6 million loan. They gave the money to Daibes, who arranged to make both the interest and principal payments on the loans.

The loans became delinquent several times when Daibes failed to give Demetrakis and the others the money to pay the loans back, Carpenito said.

Daibes and the nominees also did not disclose to Mariner’s Bank that, in certain instances, Daibes pledged the collateral for the loans, while, in other cases, he arranged to make both the interest and principal payments on the loans, Carpenito said.

In order to convince Mariner’s Bank to approve two of the loans, Michael McManus, the CFO of Daibes Enterprises, signed and provided to Mariner’s Bank a false certification attesting to the profitability of gas stations that two of the nominees had pledged as collateral after purchasing them from Daibes in sham transactions, Carpenito said.

After the FDIC investigated one of the loans, Daibes, McManus, and others created and gave a backdated sales contract to them to make it look like one of the nominees had obtained one of the loans from Mariner’s Bank in order to pay Daibes for his interest in a real estate venture, Carpenito said.

Demetrakis’ plea carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for July 23, 2019.

Daibes and McManus were indicted Oct. 30, 2018 on conspiracy and bank fraud charges, which are pending.


State monitoring CarePoint’s finances, including weekly meetings, in wake of report

One of the most highly-scrutinized for-profit health systems in the state, CarePoint Health, has become a priority for the state Department of Health to monitor — with weekly meetings taking place following a State Commission on Investigations report released March 20.

The report highlighted unusual financial operations by CarePoint owners Vivek Garipalli, James Lawler and Jeffrey Mandler — the latter of which was CEO from 2015 to 2018.

Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal told legislators at budget hearing Thursday the department is in touch on a weekly basis with CarePoint to monitor the system’s financial health.

The trio pulled the hospitals out of bankruptcy a decade ago, after which the hospitals have been under consistent criticism for a heavy reliance on emergency room visits for admissions to the hospital (at or near 90 percent), as well as a heavy reliance on Medicare (between 40 to 60 percent per hospital) and among the highest rates charged to Medicare in the country.

The report in March asked for more oversight from the DOH, and suggested developing new rules for greater transparency.

“The SCI recommends that DOH closely examine the financial and related information set forth in this report during its development of new transparency rules with respect to oversight and review,” according to the report.

In a statement, a CarePoint spokeswoman said the weekly meeting were welcome by the hospital system.

“With regard to the ‘weekly meetings’ referenced by Commissioner Elnahal, those were initiated as much by CarePoint as the DOH in an effort to assist with fostering even greater transparency,” the statement said.

“As noted in our original statement on the SCI report, we said we would be working with the DOH to help strengthen transparency and reporting protocols.”

Legislators have also said they are looking into reviving a bill that Gov. Chris Christie had vetoed that would have created greater state access to for-profit systems’ financial information.

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Campbell to sell Bolthouse Farms for $510M

Camden-based Campbell Soup Co. announced Friday it has agreed to sell Bolthouse Farms, a producer of organic beverages, dressings and carrots, for $510 million.

Bolthouse, Campbell said, was sold to an affiliate of Butterfly Equity, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm specializing in the food sector.

Once the deal has closed, Campbell will have divested its entire Campbell Fresh division, which included the sale of Garden Fresh Gourmet and its Everett, Washington-based refrigerated soup plant, it said.

Campbell said proceeds from the divestiture will allow it to reduce debt by approximately $570 million.

“The sale of Bolthouse Farms supports our strategy to focus on our two core North American businesses, Campbell Snacks and Campbell Meals and Beverages, where we have iconic brands and strong market positions,” Mark Clouse, CEO and president, Campbell, said.

Bolthouse Farms is based in Bakersfield and Santa Monica, California, and operates facilities in Illinois, Washington and Ontario, Canada. The company current employs about 2,200.

Centerview Partners, Goldman Sachs and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP acted as the advisors for Campbell.

The deal is expected to close by the end of fiscal 2019.

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NJ Has Highest Autism Rate Ever Recorded In This Age Group: Study

New Jersey has a shockingly high autism rate in one age group – the highest ever recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers say. And nobody seems to know why.

The report, released Thursday by Rutgers University and the CDC, found that about one in 59 4-year-old children has autism in America. New Jersey’s rate was the highest of the states studied: one in 35.

That puts the national rate of autism at 1.7 percent of the 4-year-old childhood population and New Jersey’s autism rate at 3 percent. Twenty years ago, the New Jersey rate was 1 percent.

Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

who directed the New Jersey portion of the study, called the results “consistent, broad and startling.”

Zahorodny said it was the highest rate ever recorded for the 4-year-old population, and he also thinks the number will continue to rise since it tripled in what he considers a short amount of time.

“It is very shocking because it is for this group of children,” Zahorodny told Patch. “It means that we could identify even more children.”

The new report, which was issued by the CDC but uses research by Rutgers University, also shows that the percentage of 4-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder in New Jersey increased 43 percent from 2010 to 2014 in the state.

The researchers can’t explain why autism rates have increased not just in New Jersey, but across the United States.

Factors associated with a higher risk include advanced parental age (children of parents over age 30 have heightened risk), maternal illness during pregnancy, genetic mutations, birth before 37 weeks gestation and multiple births, according to the release.

“These are true influences exerting an effect, but they are not enough to explain the high rate of autism prevalence,” said Zahorodny. “There are still undefined environmental risks that contribute to this significant increase, factors that could affect a child in its development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period. We need more research into non-genetic triggers for autism.”

New Jersey is known for excellent clinical and educational services for autism spectrum disorder, so the state’s higher rates are likely due to more accurate or complete reporting based on education and health care records, the researchers said.

Similar studies were conducted in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

The researchers analyzed information from the health and special education records of 129,354 children who were 4 years old between 2010 to 2014 and 128,655 children who were 8 years old in that time period, according to a release from Rutgers University.

They used the guidelines for autism spectrum disorder in the “American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–IV” for their primary findings, according to the release.

Across the network, the researchers found the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders ranged from a low of 8 per 1,000 children in Missouri to a high of 28 per 1,000 children in New Jersey. The average was 13 per 1,000 children.

The disorder is about two times more common among boys than girls and white children are more often diagnosed than black or Hispanic children, according to the release.

Although the estimates are not representative of the country as a whole, they are considered the benchmarks of autism spectrum disorder prevalence, Zahorodny said.

The age that children received their first evaluation ranged from 28 months in North Carolina to 39 months in Wisconsin. The researchers discovered that children with an intellectual disability or other condition were more likely to be evaluated earlier than age 4, which gives them an advantage.

“Children who are evaluated for autism early – around their second birthday – often respond better to treatment than those who are diagnosed later,” Zahorodny said. “However, it appears that only the most seriously affected children are being evaluated at the crucial time, which can delay access to treatment and special services.”

The average age of diagnosis – 53 months – has not changed in 15 years.

“Despite our greater awareness, we are not effective yet in early detection,” he said. “Our goal should be systematic, universal screening that pediatricians and other health providers provide at regular visits starting at 18 months to identify autism as soon as possible.”