Category: State of NJ

Acting AG Bruck Sues Charity and Individuals Who Raised Money for Fallen and Injured Law Enforcement Officers but Misused Funds for Personal Enrichment

The Complaint Seeks to Recover Misused Funds and Shutter the Organization, and the State has Frozen the Charity’s Assets

January 21, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced a lawsuit against a charitable organization, the National Police Relief Association based in Brick, New Jersey, and several of its board members for allegedly misusing more than $200,000 in charitable donations that were raised primarily to benefit law enforcement officers and their families, and in particular families of officers killed or injured in the line of duty. Instead, the organization made direct payments to the board members and financed their personal expenses, including restaurant outings and vacations to Walt Disney World.

The Complaint, filed in Ocean County, alleges that these improper payments and benefits to board members were approximately fifteen times the total amount donated to fallen law enforcement officers or their families and more than double the amount directed to any charitable purpose at all.

Together with the Complaint, the Acting Attorney General and the Division filed an Order to Show Cause seeking immediate protective measures. The State has obtained a court order temporarily restraining Defendants from, among other things, engaging in further solicitation of charitable contributions, disposing of assets in the charitable account, or destroying financial records. The State sought these restraints in order to protect prospective donors immediately, ensure the availability of National Police Relief Association’s remaining assets, and preserve relevant evidence of the organization’s activities.

In addition to National Police Relief Association, the defendants include the organization’s Vice President, Frank John, and Secretary, Antoinette John, a married couple, as well as the estate of the former President, Michael Davis, who is now deceased. Both Frank John and Michael Davis previously worked at the New Jersey Department of Corrections, according to the Complaint.

“New Jersey’s police officers put their lives on the line for us,” said Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck. “It’s disgusting that people would raise money for fallen and injured law enforcement officers only to misuse it on themselves. We will hold accountable this so-called charity and the people associated with it.” 

Of approximately $208,000 in charitable funds that were misused from 2014 to 2020, the State’s Complaint alleges that Davis and Antoinette John paid themselves approximately $185,000 in direct payments with no apparent connection to work performed for the charity, and failed to disclose it as income. Additionally, the Complaint alleges that National Police Relief Association spent nearly $25,000 on personal dining, automobile expenses and leisure travel for board members (including the three individual defendants) with no discernable link to its charitable purpose. This amount includes over $7,000 for a weeklong Walt Disney World trip for multiple board members and their adult family members.

As also alleged in the Complaint, National Police Relief Association reported nearly $2,500,000 in contributions for 2014 through 2019. Of that amount, it is alleged that more than $1,800,000 was remitted to paid fundraisers. Less than $14,000 was directed to the families of officers who had been killed in the line of duty from 2014 to 2020, according to the Complaint, though additional amounts were redirected to charities serving other purposes.

“Donors should have confidence that a charity will use their donations consistent with the charity’s purpose and mission,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division. “We will continue to hold accountable those who ignore our laws and use charitable funds as their personal piggy bank.”

Among other relief, the complaint seeks the return of money unlawfully obtained from members of the public, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and an order enjoining the defendants’ unlawful practices. The State is also asking the court to dissolve National Police Relief Association, shut down its website and affiliated online accounts, and permanently bar Frank and Antoinette John from registering or operating any charity in New Jersey.

Deputy Attorney General Erica Salerno of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group is representing the State in the matter. Investigator Brian M. Penn of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.

Consumers can seek information about a charity from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Visit the Division’s Charities Registration page or use the Division’s free “New Jersey Charity Search” smartphone app.

Consumers are encouraged to report suspicious solicitations to their local police and to the Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.

TSA highlights the top 21 accomplishments in transportation security to close out 2021; 5,972 Guns Discovered in Cary-On Bags in 2021

Agency remains committed to being vigilant, agile, and innovative

January 18, 2022

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) closed 2021 demonstrating the agency’s commitment to the security of the nation’s transportation system, and the ability to drive innovation and address emerging threats.

“In many ways, 2021 was a year of resilience as the dedicated TSA workforce worked diligently to screen near pre-pandemic passenger volumes at the nation’s airports while facing three major waves of COVID-19 across the country,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Despite the challenges, we facilitated freedom of movement for passengers and goods, and we made great progress in security innovation in close coordination with our federal partners and industry stakeholders.”

During the year, TSA recorded the following 21 highlights and accomplishments:

#1 TSA’s 20th Anniversary – In November, TSA recognized the 20th anniversary of the agency’s establishment, which occurred in 2001 when President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA).

#2 Passenger Volume – In 2021, travel volume increased to near pre-pandemic levels last seen in 2019. TSA Officers screened 585.3 million travelers in 2021, averaging about 1.6 million passengers per day. On average, 97.6% of passengers waited less than 20 minutes at airport security checkpoints, while 96.2% of passengers in TSA PreCheck® lanes waited less than 5 minutes.

#3 Commitment to the Frontline Workforce – Transportation Security Officers serve in uniform on the frontline of transportation security and represent the backbone of the agency. In June, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced new efforts to support the TSA workforce and  expressed the Department’s commitment to improving their compensation. In September, TSA reached an agreement with the Merit Systems Protection Board to handle adverse action appeals and better align TSA standards with other government agencies. Additionally, in 2021, Administrator Pekoske introduced new pay and compensation initiatives. These actions are important steps to more closely match the TSA workforce rights and compensation with that of other federal agencies.

#4 Customer Experience – The TSA Contact Center answered 1.7 million calls and email messages throughout 2021 and @AskTSA responded directly to 1.5 million traveler questions, typically within 2 minutes, over social media. TSA Cares, the agency’s helpline, provided assistance to 26,056 travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, or other special conditions.

As part of TSA’s support of the Presidential Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Service, the agency made significant progress toward a live chat feature with travelers over the agency’s website. Foundational work completed in 2021 will enable the introduction of live chat in 2022.

#5 Transportation Security Officers Stopped Firearms – In early October, TSA officers prevented an all-time record number of firearms from being carried into airplane passenger cabins or the secure area of airports, topping the previous record set in 2019.  

As of December 31, TSA officers stopped 5,972 firearms at our checkpoints, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms caught at checkpoints in the full calendar year 2019. The majority of those firearms (86%) were loaded. Firearms at TSA checkpoints represent an unnecessary risk and an expensive mistake for passengers who do not follow requirements to declare firearms in advance and properly pack them in checked baggage.

#6 Addressing Unruly Passengers – Unruly passengers impact the entire aviation industry as a safety and security risk; incidents escalated in 2021. To address this issue, TSA resumed Crew Member Self-Defense (CMSD) training in early July to equip flight crew members with the skills to defend themselves against attack. In 2021, Federal Air Marshal instructors from across the country trained almost 1,500 flight crew members. Additionally, TSA partnered with the FAA to share information on unruly passengers and rescind TSA PreCheck® eligibility for passengers who receive FAA fines for being disruptive aboard flights.

#7 Innovation – In 2021, TSA leveraged co-creation and crowdsourcing initiatives to broaden innovation and build a pipeline of new security solutions for the agency. Through the Power of the Passengers Challenge, TSA and TechConnect Ventures awarded $215,000 to 11 technology institutions for their innovative ideas. The competition resulted in 125 new concepts geared toward enhancing security throughout the transportation system, several of which are now being tested. A similar effort, called Hacking for Homeland Security, engaged Carnegie Mellon University graduate students on solving complex issues in transportation security and generated 5 graduate presentations, each with commercialization potential.

#8 Technology – Throughout 2021, TSA deployed 1,520 Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units and added to its 320 Computed Tomography (CT) X-ray scanners at airport checkpoints, significantly reducing physical contact, while improving security effectiveness. The agency also awarded a $198 million contract to procure additional CT scanners. At many airports, passengers can scan their own IDs in CAT units at the travel document checker podium, which further reduces physical contact.

#9 Mobile Driver’s Licenses – In September, Apple announced a collaboration with TSA on the development of a mobile driver’s license in Apple Wallet. TSA’s efforts in 2021 laid the groundwork for mobile driver’s license applications and readers that will enable future travelers to transfer license data using their iPhones at equipped checkpoints for ID verification.

#10 Facial Recognition –TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched a new voluntary digital identity program in cooperation with Delta Air Lines at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The technology, which is available to TSA PreCheck and Delta SkyMiles® members who opt-in, compares the passenger’s live photo to a pre-staged gallery of photos previously provided to the government, such as that found on a passport.

#11 Strengthening Pipeline Cybersecurity – When a cybersecurity ransomware attack shuttered a major petroleum pipeline company in 2021, it reinforced the importance of TSA’s mission within the surface transportation sector. Following five private sector engagements and the adjudication of over 360 comments from pipeline industry stakeholders, TSA issued two security directives to help build critical infrastructure resilience against future cybersecurity threats for the most critical pipelines in our country.

#12 Rail and Aviation Cybersecurity – As part of Secretary Mayorkas’s Transportation Cybersecurity Sprint, TSA announced new cybersecurity requirements for higher-risk freight railroads, passenger rail, and rail transit operators to strengthen critical infrastructure and enhance resilience against cyberattacks. In separate guidance, TSA recommended that all lower-risk surface transportation owners and operators voluntarily implement the same measures and updated aviation security programs to require that airport and airline operators designate a cybersecurity coordinator and report cybersecurity incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within 24 hours.

#13 TSA PreCheck Growth – Last year, seven new airlines joined the TSA PreCheck program and over 1.8 million individuals enrolled in the expedited screening program, bringing the total number of Known Traveler Number holders to over 11 million. The agency also reduced the cost to renew online.

#14 Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion – TSA launched a Spanish-language virtual assistant for @AskTSA in September enabling the agency to respond to Spanish speaking travelers’ social media inquiries. During the annual Disability and Multicultural Coalition Conference, TSA honored the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Minority Humanitarian Foundation for their engagement with TSA and their commitment to providing their community members with tips and information to support a positive checkpoint screening experience. In December, TSA published its Inclusion Action Committee report, which represents a 16-month internal review and forges a path to improve diversity, equity and inclusion for TSA employees.

#15 Air Cargo – TSA published the Air Cargo Security Roadmap to provide a 5-year vision and strategic plan for modernizing, streamlining, and securing air cargo transportation operations.

#16 Unmanned Aircraft Systems – TSA selected Miami International Airport for its initial test of technologies that will detect, track, and identify drones entering restricted airspace. Drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), pose a threat to aviation security when flown in restricted airspaces and such tests help TSA assess technological effectiveness in a live airport environment. A similar test was announced at Los Angeles International Airport.

#17 Hiring Surge – In February 2021, TSA launched a recruiting and hiring campaign to support passenger volumes projected throughout the year. TSA continues these efforts nationwide and has introduced unprecedented recruitment, readiness, and retention incentives to remain competitive in the nationwide labor market. For more information and videos about this mission-critical work, visit The Face of TSA.

#18 Strengthening Partnerships – TSA has always welcomed and actively pursued engagement and alignment with our many partners who are vital to ensuring our transportation network remains safe and secure. In 2021, TSA officials conducted over 700 meetings with industry stakeholders and coalition partners across all modes of transportation, in addition to its daily interactions on a variety of issues. These exchanges are essential to working towards our mutual objectives of keeping passengers, cargo and goods secure, while also ensuring a positive travel experience. In 2021, TSA announced the addition of Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee members with pipeline and cybersecurity experience. The agency also announced new members within its Aviation Security Advisory Committee.

#19 Federal Air Marshals – Throughout 2021, Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) deployed to assess, address and mitigate potential risks and threats to transportation and millions of travelers daily across the various transportation modes. As TSA’s primary law enforcement arm, FAMs comprise the agency’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams and provide inflight security aboard thousands of commercial aircraft to ensure the safety of passengers, flight crew members, and the aircraft. FAMs supported DHS law enforcement partners at special events and humanitarian efforts that included natural disasters and the operation to resettle Afghan refugees in U.S. communities.

#20 Working with Canines – In 2021, TSA trained and deployed more than 1,000 explosives detection canine teams at airports and mass-transit facilities. These teams supported Super Bowl LV, the 59th Presidential Inauguration, and enhanced security operations at airports nationwide. In November, TSA released its 2022 TSA Canine Calendar, featuring winners of the Cutest Canine Contest.

#21 Support for Operation Allies Welcome – Beginning in late August, the Department of Homeland Security led the Nation’s unified effort to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who worked alongside the Nation’s Armed Forces during the last two decades. TSA deployed more than 560 employees in support of this mission to overseas transit locations in third countries and to military installations in the United States, also known as safe havens, where Afghans were provided temporary housing prior to resettlement. Other TSA employees provided dedicated support to the effort from their principal duty stations.

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation Supporting Veterans and Members of the Armed Forces

January 18, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER) – Governor Phil Murphy today signed several pieces of legislation (A-259, A-1121, A-5694, and A-6012) which support and protect New Jersey’s veteran and armed forces communities. These bills will expand civil service preference for veterans, upgrade penalties for misrepresentation of members of the armed forces, ease public school access for dependents of armed forces members, and provide funding to support the commissioning of the new USS New Jersey.

“Our veterans and members of the armed forces have selflessly dedicated their careers and their lives to serving our country and our state,” said Governor Murphy. “The legislation I am signing today will benefit these brave New Jerseyans and their families. Today, and every day, we are grateful for the sacrifices made by New Jersey’s veterans and reserve and active-duty soldiers, and we will continue to support them in every way we can.”

“These bills expand support for families planning military moves to New Jersey, as well as veterans aspiring to the civil service,” said Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou, D.O.  “A1121 toughens the stance against veteran status fraud, which is disrespectful to the more than 325,000 proud veterans of our great state. Finally, I hope all residents will share in excitement for the commissioning of the USS New Jersey this year.”

Primary sponsors of A-259 include Assemblymembers Wayne DeAngelo, Raj Mukherji, and Daniel Benson, and Senators Vin Gopal, and Joseph Pennacchio.

“This bill signing will help veterans find employment more quickly after leaving the armed forces. Stable employment in a steady job is one of the best ways veterans can assimilate into life outside of the military,” said Senator Joe Pennacchio. “It is a well-deserved benefit for the courageous men and women making the transition from military to civilian life.”

“Veterans who participated in a military campaign for which a medal has been designated or supported combat operations without direct presence in the actual theater of war should not be denied civil service preference for their faithful service to our country,” said Assemblymembers Wayne DeAngelo, Raj Mukherji, and Dan Benson, in a joint statement. “This legislation will address an unnecessary distinction to assist certain service members in their quest for civilian employment.”

This legislation provides civil service preference to military service members who did not serve in a theater of operation, but did serve during a war or conflict for which the federal government authorized a campaign or expedition medal.

Primary sponsors of A-1121 include Assemblymembers Carol Murphy, Ronald Dancer, and Sterley Stanley, and Senators Joseph Lagana, and Joseph Pennacchio.

“Current and former members of our military have protected and served our country to earn their much-deserved benefits,” said Assemblymembers Carol Murphy and Sterley Stanley in a joint statement. “Those who unjustly misrepresent themselves as US veterans, through ‘stolen valor’ to take advantage of our system deserve a harsh penalty.  This measure will ensure that those who break the law and impersonate a war hero receive the proper and upgraded punishment.”       

“No one should get a mere slap on the wrist for putting on the uniform to defraud someone,” said Assemblyman Ron Dancer. “As a veteran myself, I find it abhorrent that anyone would deceive others for gain by impersonating our proud men and women who sacrificially serve our country. It’s my goal that these tougher penalties will deter would-be frauds.”  

“Impersonating a member of our volunteer military or a veteran who has faithfully served this country and helped to protect the freedoms and institutions we hold dear is a shameful act, and one that should bring the highest possible penalty within reason,” said Senator Joseph Lagana. “With this law we hope to curtail this cynical activity, and make the punishment for this deceit better fit the crime.”

“It is inspiring to see veterans who honorably served our nation return home and continue serving their community. Unfortunately, there are scammers who portray veterans to claim benefits reserved for those who truly served,” said Senator Joe Pennacchio. “This new law increases punishment and helps discourage this despicable behavior.”

This legislation upgrades certain crimes of misrepresenting oneself as a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces or organized militia. Under current law, it is a crime of the third degree, subject to a minimum fine of $1,000, for any person to knowingly, with the intent to impersonate or deceive for the purpose of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefit, to misrepresent oneself as a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces or organized militia or a recipient of any decoration or medal created by Federal and State laws and regulations to honor the members or veterans of the United States Armed Forces or the organized militia. Under this legislation, these crimes have now been upgraded to a second degree if the actor obtains money, property or other tangible benefit in the amount of $75,000 or more. If the actor obtains money, property or other tangible benefit less than $75,000, then the crime would remain as a crime of the third degree, subject to a minimum fine of $1,000.

Primary sponsors of A-5694 include Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, and Senators Vin Gopal, and Fred Madden. Former Assemblymembers Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey were primary sponsors of this legislation in the prior legislative session.

“It’s a stressful time for families when they receive relocation orders,” said Assemblyman Ron Dancer. “Military families already face so many challenges, and the children of those moms and dads in our armed forces face additional difficulties moving to a new school district where everything is unfamiliar. Allowing these students to walk into that new school knowing who their teachers are, and what classes they will be attending, can offer peace of mind to them and their parents.”   

“Our military families undergo a great deal of stress when they receive relocation orders, and strict school registration requirements only add to their burden,” said Assembly sponsors Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey. “Not allowing service members to enroll their children in their anticipated school district until they physically move puts those children at risk of missing important deadlines, which can have serious repercussions such as summer school or delayed graduation.

This legislation permits the dependents of a military member to enroll in a public school district in advance of the military member’s relocation to the district. Under current law, such dependents cannot enroll in the district until proof of residence can be provided. This legislation allows enrollment upon the presentation of a copy of the military member’s relocation orders even if the family has not yet physically relocated to the school district. Once enrolled, the child shall be permitted to attend classes and receive services free of charge in the same manner as if they were already a resident of the school district.

Primary sponsors of A-6012 include Assemblymembers William Moen, Carol Murphy, and Roy Freiman, and Senators Paul Sarlo, and Vin Gopal. 

“This appropriation to support the commissioning of the USS New Jersey and the officers and crew assigned to the boat is the right thing to do,” said Assemblymembers Bill Moen, Carol Murphy, and Roy Freiman, in a joint statement.  “A ship’s commissioning is an historic event that brings together our military, veterans, and local community with significant economic benefits for the surrounding region. We’re proud that the Battleship New Jersey is now a museum and memorial moored on the Camden City Waterfront. We will continue to do everything possible to honor our veterans and their families”

This legislation appropriates up to $500,000 from the General Fund to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for the USS New Jersey Commissioning Committee. The purpose of the appropriation is to support the commissioning of the USS New Jersey and the officers and crew assigned to the ship. Contributions to the USS New Jersey Commissioning Committee support traditional Commissioning Week activities, visits to the state by crewmembers, and habitability upgrades to the boat for the crew. Expenditure of the amount appropriated is subject to approval by the Adjutant General of an itemized plan for the expenditure to be submitted by the USS New Jersey Commissioning Committee. Any amount unexpended shall be donated for the support of personnel and their families and for the funding of existing or the creation of new United States Navy scholarship programs. 

“First, I would like to take and moment to applaud the Governor and state legislatures for acknowledging  the sacrifices made by veterans and those who are currently serving,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of New Jersey Commander Luddie H. Austin. “As veteran and resident of our great state I am thankful for the Governor in  recognizing  our heroes in the workforce and society, as he seeks to enhance the benefits and entitlements of veterans.  I look forward to our healthy relationship as we continue to advocate on behalf of all veterans.”

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars is grateful for the passage and signing of this legislation which will greatly enhance employment opportunities for veterans and ensure the children of our military service members receive an uninterrupted education,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars State Adjutant and Quartermaster Ken Hagemann. “The VFW has advocated for decades that a vet is a vet regardless of era or conflict. We are pleased that these arbitrary barriers are finally coming down for state benefits and that all veterans are now becoming equally entitled to those benefits. We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to make New Jersey a place where veterans will want to live and thrive.”

Governor Murphy Announces Nomination of Victoria Kuhn as Department of Corrections Commissioner

January 13, 2022

TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today announced his nomination of Victoria Kuhn as the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC). Kuhn has served as Acting Commissioner since June 2021. 

“Since Victoria was first asked to lead the Department of Corrections, she has impressed myself and many others with her dedication to reform and integrity,” said Governor Murphy. “As a career corrections staffer, Victoria has the experience and knowledge to lead the Department during this pivotal time. I look forward to her confirmation by the Senate and to continuing our prison reform efforts together.” 

“I am truly grateful to Governor Murphy for entrusting me with leading the NJDOC team as we embark to establish this Department as the national model for leaders in prison reform and reintegration,” said Victoria L. Kuhn, Esq., Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. “I do not take this honor – or responsibility – lightly.  This is the time for new beginnings – to launch new reform and reintegration initiatives, to ensure dignity and safety for our female offenders, and to establish mission-critical relationships with outside stakeholders and advocates. Equally important, we must recognize and re-invest in our dedicated staff, their welfare, and training, as they are integral to the success of the mission of the Department. We have much work to do, and I am proud to be a part of this extraordinary team.” 

As Acting Commissioner of the State’s second-largest Department, Kuhn is responsible for a budget of nearly $1 billion, approximately 8,000 employees, and the oversight of approximately 13,000 state-sentenced people housed across 11 correctional facilities, county jails, and community halfway houses. Ensuring the Department realizes its mission of operating safe and humane correctional facilities is the Department’s core focus, along with the holistic rehabilitation of people who are incarcerated through behavioral therapy, addiction treatment, vocational and educational training, and staff well-being through training and issuance of holistic health resources. 

Kuhn is a veteran corrections official, having worked for the Department of Corrections since 2007. Before she was appointed Acting Commissioner for the NJDOC, Kuhn served as the Department’s Chief of Staff, and previously as the Deputy Chief of Staff, spearheading a number of initiatives. Prior to those roles, Kuhn led the Department’s Equal Employment Division, which is charged with ensuring a discrimination and harassment-free work environment. She also oversaw the Office of Employee Relations, responsible for union labor relations, hearing employee grievances, reviewing misconduct, and imposing related discipline. Her career started as an Assistant Prosecutor, before transitioning to the Office of the Attorney General – Division of Law, where she addressed law enforcement and corrections matters, including federal and state court litigation, excessive force, Megan’s Law, conditions of confinement and the development of the protocol regarding the sexually violent predator and CSL/PSL laws. 

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Drew University, and earned her J.D. from the Seton Hall University School of Law.

“In the decades during which we’ve been advocates on behalf of people in prison in New Jersey, we have not – until now – had the experience of prisoner contact, transparency, and genuineness of interest and commitment evidenced by the present Acting Commissioner and her team,” said Prison Watch Program Director Bonnie Kerness. “Indeed, Governor Murphy’s team of “Acting” staff has shown the kind of leadership which should be elevated nationally. Acting Commissioner Kuhn is a model of what a real Department of “corrections” can be. Her outreach to community activists has encouraged appropriate and non-hostile communications within the prison community and improved safety on both sides of the walls.”

“On behalf of those involved with the Department of Corrections, and the State Parole Board through New Jersey Reentry Programs, I am thrilled with the announcement by Governor Murphy selecting Victoria Kuhn as his candidate for Commissioner of Corrections,” said Volunteers of America Delaware Valley President and CEO Daniel L. Lombardo. “In her acting capacity, Ms. Kuhn has been an innovator, and an outcome-driven professional committed to rebuilding the reputation of the Department. The work that Ms. Kuhn has already begun in the reestablishment of relationships with the State Parole Board, community providers, as well as departmental clients and their families is illustrative of what we can expect under her continued leadership. We applaud Governor Murphy and enthusiastically support the candidacy of Ms. Kuhn as the Commissioner of Corrections.”

Governor Murphy Signs Historic Legislation to Expand and Protect Reproductive Freedom in New Jersey   

Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act Codifies Reproductive Choice into State Law   

January 13, 2022

TEANECK – Governor Phil Murphy, alongside Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senate President Nicholas Scutari, former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Alexis McGill Johnson, President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and many other legislative sponsors and advocates, today signed the historic Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act (S49/A6260), which codifies the constitutional right to freedom of reproductive choice in New Jersey. Governor Murphy also signed S413/A4698, which expands the contraception coverage required under private insurance and Medicaid from a 6-month supply to a 12-month supply.   

These laws expand and protect reproductive freedom in New Jersey at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to limit or overturn the ruling in Roe v. Wade. With this legislation, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the right to reproductive choice would be protected in New Jersey.   

“In New Jersey, we trust each individual person to make their reproductive choices for themselves,” said Governor Murphy. “With Roe v. Wade under attack, today’s historic legislation makes clear that New Jersey’s position in supporting the right to reproductive choice remains protected. Together, with expanding contraception coverage, these two pieces of legislation serve to meaningfully and tangibly increase access to reproductive health care, and ensure that New Jersey residents are now, and will remain, in control of their reproductive choices.”  

“Reproductive health and the ability for women to make medical decisions about their own bodies are fundamental rights that should never be taken away. Today, we are codifying those rights into law in New Jersey,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver. “I want to thank the legislators who have championed this bill and Governor Murphy for signing it into law. Women’s rights are human rights and will always be respected and protected in New Jersey.”

“Today is a historic day for reproductive health in the Garden State,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “By ensuring that reproductive health decisions — about birth control, abortion, and pregnancy — are protected in state law, New Jersey has taken an important step forward for reproductive freedom. We are grateful for the constant advocacy by the governor, legislative champions, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, the Thrive New Jersey Coalition, and more to ensure the state met the moment and secured access to essential health care in the state. At a time when access to reproductive health care is under attack across the country, New Jersey has shown what it means to stand up for its residents. Planned Parenthood is eager to continue working to ensure that abortion is not only a right, but accessible for all New Jerseyans, regardless of their immigration status, insurance coverage, or income.” 

Primary sponsors for S49/A6260 include former Senate Majority Leader Weinberg, former Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Senators Greenstein and Gopal. Assembly sponsors include former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Assemblymembers Mila Jasey and Raj Mukherji.  

“With a woman’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade under attack in the U.S. Supreme Court, it is critical that we have enacted legislation rooted in the New Jersey Constitution that clearly and unequivocally protects freedom of reproductive choice, including the right to access contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term,” said former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who was the lead sponsor of the bill.

“January 22nd is the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. With the enactment of S49 into law,  the Legislature and the Governor are sending a clear message to the nation that in New Jersey, a woman’s right to choose is, and will remain, a fundamental right,” said former Senate President Steve Sweeney, a prime sponsor of the bill. “I was proud to join Senator Weinberg in fighting to ensure that the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act would become law.”

“Enacting the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act into statute will help protect the reproductive rights of women in New Jersey against the potential reversal by the United States Supreme Court. It is rooted in the State Constitution, consistent with decisions by the New Jersey Supreme Court and written to safeguard the fundamental right of women to make their own decisions on reproductive care. We will not allow these rights to be lost to forces outside the state that run counter to the core beliefs of the people of New Jersey, including the principle of equal treatment for women by insurance companies. Coverage for contraceptives should be granted the same level of importance as other prescriptions. These laws enshrine protections and make progress for women in New Jersey,”  said Senate President Nicholas Scutari.   

“The Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act is a comprehensive bill that guarantees women will continue to have the right to make their own personal decisions on their  reproductive care, regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules,” said Senator Linda Greenstein. 

“A person’s right of reproductive choice, in effect a right of control over one’s own body, remains a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “This law, the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, will protect this basic freedom under New Jersey statute and ensure individual choice on when and whether to have children in a time and place that is compatible with their lifestyles and beliefs. Self-determination is one of the founding principles of this state and this nation. That principle should and must extend to any person in New Jersey regarding reproductive rights.”

“Everyone has the right to reproductive choice, yet there have been far too many attempts throughout our country to control the decisions a person can make in that regard. Legal challenges to the reproductive rights of Americans, which have steadily increased in recent years, threaten to limit access to family planning services. This act will promote the health and well-being of the people in our state while showing the country that New Jersey stands for compassion, dignity and freedom,” said Assemblymembers Vainieri Huttle, Jasey, and Mukherji. 

Primary sponsors for S413/A4698 include Senators Shirley Turner and Teresa Ruiz, as well as former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Assemblymembers Mila Jasey and Raj Mukherji.   

“With a woman’s right to safely choose to end an unwanted pregnancy now being threatened, we must counter that threat by putting the policies in place that help to protect the health of women,” said Senator Shirley Turner.  “This law will make it easier for women to access contraceptives to prevent pregnancy from happening in the first place, which is one of the best ways to help women maintain control over their own bodies and their lives.”

“Many other medications are available to order long term supplies to ensure individuals are able to take them without interruption. Unfortunately, insurance companies are not always willing to cover a 12-month supply of birth control,” said Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz. “There is no reason contraceptives should not be granted the same level of importance as other prescriptions. This law will ensure residents are able to get their medication in a manner that is conducive to their schedule.”

“Prescription contraceptives safeguard the mental and physical health of countless women by giving them more control over their lives,” said former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. “Ensuring coverage of these prescriptions for up to 12 months will allow more New Jerseyans to prepare ahead. Making it easier and more likely for women to access birth control is a crucial component of the family planning services our state is taking steps to protect.”

“Access to reproductive health care and a woman’s right to choose are fundamental rights in New Jersey,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Now more than ever, the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act is crucial.” 

“Today’s historic legislation affirms the dignity and bodily autonomy of every New Jerseyan,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “Further, expanding access to and affordability of reproductive health care, including contraception, is an essential part of our efforts to solve our state’s maternal health crisis. I am incredibly proud to see New Jersey take this important step forward.”

“With Governor Murphy’s signature today, New Jersey reaffirmed and protected the right to abortion,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “In light of ongoing attacks on reproductive rights across the country, codifying a declaration of strong, unwavering rights is crucial. However, far too many New Jerseyans remain unable to access this fundamental right. We urge our state’s leaders, through legislation and regulatory action, to not only affirm reproductive freedom, but make it truly accessible by lifting financial barriers to ensure we do not leave any communities behind.” 

“Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey applauds the strong declaration of reproductive rights in S49/A6260, as well as the expansion of birth control access through S413/A4698,” said Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, Vice President of Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey. “This new legislation ensures decisions about contraception, abortion, and carrying a pregnancy to term are protected in state statute. This is a day of celebration in New Jersey. The work is far from over, and we look forward to continuing our advocacy alongside Governor Murphy to ensure that every New Jerseyan can access the reproductive health care they need.” 

“If we are to achieve equality of the sexes, we must trust women and allow them to control their reproductive cycles without governmental interference,” said Anjali Mehrotra, President, National Organization for Women of New Jersey. “Access to comprehensive reproductive health care allows women to plan out their lives, enabling them to pursue education and career opportunities, which leads to increased workforce attachment and wages over time. The codification of the right to abortion in statute is good for women, it is good for families, it is good for business, it is good for New Jersey.”  
“Abortion care is just as much about economic justice as it is about reproductive freedom,” said Sheila Reynertson, Senior Policy Analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective. “The reality is that, for far too many families, carrying an unplanned pregnancy can have devastating financial consequences. One’s future plans are put at risk, like going to college or building a career. It’s no surprise that those who cannot access this time-sensitive care are more likely to live in poverty, raise children alone, and struggle to afford basic needs. We thank Governor Murphy and the bill sponsors for taking a stand in support of reproductive autonomy, and we look forward to working with the administration on ways to improve access to abortion care for all.” 

“BlueWaveNJ celebrates New Jersey’s passage of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act,” said Marcia Marley, President of BlueWave. “It is a strong statement guaranteeing the full range of reproductive rights, including abortion, passed at a time when other states are eliminating or threatening these rights.  We are deeply grateful to Governor Murphy, his staff, and legislators –particularly Senator Loretta Weinberg– for their tenacity in the negotiations.  Does this bill have everything New Jersey needs?  No, but it represents an important and essential foundation we can build on. BlueWaveNJ looks forward to continuing to work with the administration and the legislature to ensure that everyone in our state can access and afford all reproductive services.”  

 “The National Council of Jewish Women, New Jersey Sections, (NCJW-NJ) applaud the passage of S49/A6260, Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which codifies in statute the full array of reproductive rights, including abortion, and thanks Governor Murphy for his steadfast support,” said the National Council of Jewish Women, New Jersey Sections. “While personal autonomy and decision-making is a priority, so is the care of others to ensure that their access to these rights is unimpeded.  To this end, NCJW- NJ looks forward to working with the Governor and all legislators to pass needed equity and access provisions.” 

“As independent abortion providers who have served our community for over forty years, and now, through a pandemic, Cherry Hill Women’s Center recognizes that the passage of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act is a historic moment for the people in our state, the patients who we care for every day.  Today, New Jerseyans who can become pregnant will no longer question our right to make fundamental decisions about our health, our lives, and our futures,” said Roxanne Sutocky, Director of Community Engagement for Cherry Hill Women’s Center. “Every day our fierce and fearless team of dedicated caregivers provides excellent abortion services and are called to guide our patients as they navigate the financial and logistical barriers blocking their ability to exercise their reproductive rights.  We appreciate the efforts of the legislature and the Governor to pass this historic legislation and we call on these representatives to do more to eliminate the remaining barriers which fall hardest on people working to make ends meet, people living in rural areas, undocumented people, and LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and reproductive oppression.” 

New Jersey Student Loan Borrowers to Receive More than $60 Million in Relief from Settlement with Navient Corp. in State’s Lawsuit Alleging Deceptive, Misleading Tactics by the Student Loan Servicer

Settlement Is Part of $1.85 Billion Nationwide Resolution

January 13, 2022

Newark – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that New Jersey student loan borrowers will receive over $60 million in relief from a settlement with Navient Corp. and its subsidiary Navient Solutions LLC (Navient) that resolves a 2020 lawsuit filed by the State against the student loan servicing giant. The State’s lawsuit alleged that Navient engaged in unconscionable commercial practices, deceptive conduct, and misrepresentations when servicing thousands of New Jersey consumers’ student loans over the past decade – boosting company profits at the expense of struggling borrowers.

The Navient settlement includes approximately $57.2 million in debt relief and $3.1 million in restitution payments to New Jersey borrowers, as well as a $3 million payment to the State.

New Jersey’s settlement is part of a nationwide settlement of claims by 38 States and the District of Columbia alleging widespread abuses in Navient’s student loan origination and servicing business. The total value of the nationwide settlement is approximately $1.85 billion.

Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, was one of the nation’s largest servicers of both federal and private student loans, until partially exiting the business in September 2021. Student loan servicers are a critical link between borrowers and lenders. In addition to managing borrowers’ accounts and processing their monthly payments, student loan servicers are responsible for assisting financially struggling borrowers to enroll in alternative repayment plans or request a modification of loan terms from lenders.

“Too many New Jerseyans have struggled to pay off their student loans,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “And too many of those borrowers have had a harder time because their student loan servicer put corporate profits above their best interests. With today’s settlement, we are holding one of the country’s largest student loan servicers accountable, and we are putting millions of dollars back in our residents’ pockets.”

From 1989 to 2016, the average cost of obtaining a degree from a four-year college or university in the United States rose about eight times as fast as the average wage. Faced with the soaring cost of higher education, over 44 million people in the United States have taken out student loans. Total student loan debt is now more than $1.75 trillion nationwide, and the average New Jersey borrower carries $35,730 in student debt, among the highest in the country, according to some sources. 

Statistics show that certain groups of borrowers are particularly at risk. 

In 2019, the New York Federal Reserve found that borrowers in Black-majority zip codes are more likely to borrow to fund their education, have higher average loan balances, and fall into default at almost double the rate of white-majority zip code borrowers. Moreover, the findings show that borrowers who received Pell Grants—most of whom have family incomes below $40,000—were five times as likely to default within 12 years; borrowers whose parents did not attend college were more than twice as likely to default than borrowers whose parents did attend college; and borrowers who began their education at for-profit colleges defaulted at seven times the rate of those who attended public colleges.

“Student loan borrowers who thought college would be a path to success instead found themselves on the road to financial ruin as a result of Navient’s unlawful conduct,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Navient’s failure to provide fair and honest services to New Jersey borrowers violated consumer protection laws and heaped more debt on individuals who could least afford it. The settlement announced today holds Navient accountable for its unconscionable conduct, and provides meaningful financial relief to the borrowers harmed by it.”

In its civil suit against Navient, the State alleged that instead of fulfilling its legal obligation to student loan borrowers Navient put its own financial self-interests first through deceptive and unconscionable tactics that at various times over the last decade have included:

  • Steering borrowers into forbearance instead of income-driven repayment plans better suited to their financial circumstances. Instead of taking the time (and incurring the operational expense) to assist borrowers experiencing long-term financial hardship choose the most appropriate loan repayment option for them, such as those setting monthly payments based on what they could afford to pay, Navient’s call center representatives steered borrowers toward forbearance—usually a costlier option for such borrowers than income-driven repayment plans. Navient incentivized its call center representatives to adopt this approach because it allowed representatives to handle calls more quickly, at less cost to the company. As a result, borrowers steered into forbearance suffered consequences including the unnecessary accrual of interest, the addition of interest to the principal, and the loss of months of timely payments that would have otherwise counted toward loan forgiveness.
  • Failing to inform borrowers of deadlines to recertify their eligibility for certain income-driven repayment plans. Borrowers in income-driven repayment plans typically must recertify their eligibility on an annual basis. Navient failed to clearly communicate to borrowers the deadline to recertify their eligibility and the consequences of non-renewal. As a result, many student loan borrowers’ repayment plans expired unnecessarily, resulting in immediate increases in their monthly payments and other financial harm.
  • Enticing borrowers to take out private student loans with a cosigner, and then making it exceedingly difficult to obtain a cosigner release. For loans originated by Navient, the company deceptively encouraged borrowers to have family members or others guarantee their loans as cosigners, which increased Navient’s chances of being repaid if the student defaulted. Navient then set various hurdles to make it difficult for borrowers to meet the company’s requirements for releasing a cosigner from a loan, which benefited Navient by maintaining additional sources of payment if a borrower failed to pay.
  • Misleading borrowers about the amount of their delinquency. Navient employees were trained to attempt to collect more than the past due amount from borrowers behind on their loans by using language that misled borrowers about how much they owed. Specifically, Navient sought to collect not only the delinquent amount, but also the next month’s payment by misleadingly calling the amount sought the “Present Amount Due.” This practice resulted in borrowers paying hundreds of dollars a month more than a borrower may have budgeted for the payment.

Under the terms of the settlement, Navient will make a total of $95 million in restitution payments of about $260 each to approximately 350,000 harmed consumers in the 39 jurisdictions, and it will cancel more than $1.7 billion in subprime private student loans owed by approximately 66,000 borrowers nationwide.

Borrowers who will receive restitution or forgiveness span all generations: Navient’s harmful conduct impacted everyone from students who enrolled in colleges and universities immediately after high school to mid-career students who dropped out after enrolling in a for-profit school in the early 2000s. Parents or grandparents who co-signed their children or grandchildren’s subprime loans will also receive relief.

Approximately 2,040 New Jersey borrowers will receive a total of $57,234,256 in debt cancellation and another 11,522 New Jersey borrowers will receive a total of $3,071,421 in restitution payments.

The settlement also requires Navient to notify borrowers of the Department of Education’s important changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which offers millions of qualifying public servants a waiver that may count past payments towards loan forgiveness. The Attorney General encourages all New Jersey residents who work in the government or non-profit sectors to review the PSLF website to determine whether they might qualify for loan forgiveness.

On October 20, 2021, Navient’s contract to service 5.6 million loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education was transferred to Maximus/AidVantage. Following completion of this transfer, Navient will continue to service its existing portfolio of private student loans and legacy Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program loans issued before the FFEL program ended in 2010.

Acting Attorney General Bruck filed the settlement as a proposed Consent Judgment today in Superior Court in Essex County. The settlement will require court approval.

Consumers do not need to take any action to receive the benefits required under the settlement. Consumers receiving private loan debt cancellation will receive a notice from Navient, and they will receive refunds of any payments made after June 30, 2021.

Consumers who are eligible for a restitution payment will automatically receive a restitution check of approximately $260 from the Attorney General’s settlement administrator in mid-2022. To ensure the settlement administrator can find you, federal loan borrowers who may be eligible for a restitution payment are encouraged to update their contact information in their account or create an account if they do not already have one. For additional information, please visit the settlement website at

Deputy Attorneys General Ana Atta-Alla, Cathleen O’Donnell, Isabella Pitt, Christina Garfield, Peter Van Brunt, and Alex Schmidt of the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, represented the State in the matter. They were supervised by Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section Chief Patricia Schiripo and Assistant Attorneys General Janine Matton and Brian McDonough. Investigators Michelle Davis, Walter Kaminski, and Jared O’Cone conducted the investigation on behalf of the Division of Consumer Affairs and the State of New Jersey.

FAA Implements More Efficient Descent Procedures to Reduce Fuel Burn, Emissions

January 13, 2022

WASHINGTON—Descent procedures that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place across the country in the 2021 will save millions of gallons of fuel and reduce CO2 and other emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons. The 42 new Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs) allow planes to glide down safely from cruising altitudes into airspace for some of the nation’s largest airports instead of the fuel-consuming stair-step procedure.

“These new efficient descent procedures both save fuel and dramatically reduce emissions, moving us closer to our goal of net-zero aviation emissions by 2050,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. 

For each group of descents used at an airport, the FAA estimates that an average 2 million gallons of fuel is saved and 40 million pounds of emissions reduced annually. That is equivalent to eliminating the fuel and CO2 emissions of 1,300 Boeing 737 flights from Atlanta to Dallas.

“When we multiply the impact by thousands of flights, we gain real fuel savings and real environmental benefits,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said.

In 2021, the FAA implemented OPDs for Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, Lakehurst Maxfield Field in New Jersey, Love Field in Dallas, Miami International Airport, North Las Vegas Airport, Orlando International Airport, Port Columbus International Airport, Portland International Jetport, Tampa International Airport and numerous mid-size airports.

Under traditional staircase descent procedures, aircraft repeatedly level off and power up the engines. This burns more fuel and requires air traffic controllers to issue instructions at each step. With optimized descents, aircraft descend from cruising altitude to the runway in a smooth, continuous path with the engines set at near idle.

Since 2014, the FAA also has developed OPD procedures at airports in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Northern California, Southern California and Washington, D.C. More OPD procedures will be added in 2022.

The FAA employs a growing number of new flight procedures that use less fuel and reduce noise. These include NextGen initiatives such as Performance-Based Navigation (PBN). These procedures bring more precision to routes and result in less fuel burn and reductions in CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

In November, the U.S. released its first-ever comprehensive Aviation Climate Action Plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Earlier in 2021, the FAA announced more than $100 million in matching grants to increase aircraft efficiency, reduce noise and aircraft emissions, and develop and implement new software to reduce taxi delays. The White House also announced its Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, a government-wide initiative designed to catalyze the production of at least three billion gallons per year by 2030.

Find more information about the FAA and its environmental efforts at its Sustainability Gateway Page

Governor Murphy Reinstates Public Health Emergency to Respond to Omicron Variant of COVID-19

January 11, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER) – Governor Phil Murphy today reinstated a Public Health Emergency, effective immediately, in order to ensure that the State is able to respond to the continued threat of COVID-19 and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Executive Order No. 280 declares a Public Health Emergency and restates the existing State of Emergency across all 21 counties in New Jersey, allowing state agencies and departments to utilize state resources to assist the State’s healthcare system and affected communities responding to and recovering from COVID-19 cases. Executive Order No. 281 continues Executive Orders Nos. 111, 112, and 207, allows Executive Orders Nos. 251, 252, 253, 264, and 271 to remain in effect, and extends various regulatory actions taken by the departments in response to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 remains a significant threat to our State and we must commit every resource available to beating back the wave caused by the Omicron variant,” said Governor Murphy. “While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking today is a commonsense measure that will protect the safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents while allowing state government to respond to the continuing threat that COVID-19 poses to our daily lives.”

The Public Health Emergency will allow the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, implementation of any applicable recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19, staffing and resource allocation, and other critical components of the State’s COVID-19 response. The new Public Health Emergency will allow for existing orders requiring masking in school and daycare settings to remain in effect.

Governor Murphy’s public health emergency declaration also empowers all State agencies to take all appropriate steps to continue to address the public health hazard resulting from new variants of COVID-19.  

Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, the Public Health Emergency will expire after 30 days, unless renewed. State COVID-19 metrics will be re-evaluated at the time of expiration to determine if an extension will be needed. 

For a video message from Governor Murphy on the Public Health Emergency, please click here

For a copy of Executive Order No. 280, please click here.

For a copy of Executive Order No. 281, please click here.

For the past two years our lives have been upended by this global pandemic. 

Our health care system has been stretched to the limit by variant after variant.

We’ve been forced to change the way we celebrate and gather with our families. 

And the virus altered the trajectory of our economy. 

As I stand here today, we are registering nearly 35,000 new cases a day. In the past two weeks alone, more than 10,000 of our fellow New Jerseyans have required hospitalization due to COVID. 

And though these numbers are a stark reminder of the seriousness of this moment in our history, I have a strong sense of optimism that we are moving forward in defeating this virus. 

Even today, the vast majority of our schools are open. 

We have recovered 70 percent of the jobs lost due to the pandemic.

Our children are back on playgrounds, back in the gym, and back on the ice.

And the vaccines mean we have the tools necessary to finally put this virus behind us … 

The tools required to maintain our best-in-class testing infrastructure and vaccine distribution … 

The tools necessary to keep our kids safe in and out of school … 

The tools necessary to protect our hospital networks and healthcare workers.

These tools all stem from the Public Health Emergency declaration that we made at the pandemic’s start, and which prepared us to carry on through its various heights. 

We have come so far, and we cannot stop now.

Therefore, in consultation with the Legislature, I have taken the necessary step of re-declaring a Public Health Emergency to ensure we keep moving forward in our response against COVID – and so we can put this virus behind us.

I am certain that there are some who are going to do their best to continue to spread misinformation about what this means.

So, I want you to hear it from me. 

This is what this does not mean.

It does not mean any new universal mandates or passports. 

It does not mean lockdowns.

It does not mean any business restrictions or gathering limits.

It does not mean going backward from any of the progress we’ve made together over the past 22 months.

In fact, in your day-to-day life, this step won’t have any new impact at all.

What it does mean is that we can continue moving forward with our coordinated and responsible approach to putting Omicron and COVID behind us.

It means keeping our schools, businesses, and communities open. 

It means we’ll be able to move vaccination and testing resources more easily to the places they need to be and to the residents who need them.

It means that right now – with record-high new cases because of Omicron and more people in our hospitals than at any point since the Spring of 2020 – our hospitals and health-care system will have every tool at their disposal to ensure the best care possible for everyone who needs it.

And, critically, it will mean we continue to stand on a firm base of science and facts, and not politics and conspiracies, to keep your family and your community safe by getting ahead of Omicron and staying there.

This step means getting our state moving to a real and lasting sense of normal.

A little more than a month ago, just as we thought we had finally gotten ahead of COVID, the Omicron variant came along. 

And while Omicron is doing its best to stop us in our tracks and push us back, we’re not going to let it. 

Look, we’ve been together in this fight for nearly two years. And I know you’re all frustrated. I know you’re tired. I know you want nothing more than to get back to normal. Well, so do I.

But together, we’re going to be keep pushing forward – together and we’re going to beat this thing.

So, keep doing everything you’ve been doing. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Keep masking up. 

And keep moving forward.

Thank you. Happy new year. And God bless you all. 

Governor Murphy Applauds Confirmation of Seven Superior Court Judges

Confirmations Further Murphy Administration’s Commitment to Filling Judicial Vacancies

January 11, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)– Governor Murphy today applauded the confirmation of seven Superior Court judges. The Senate yesterday confirmed Joanne Cocchiola, Lori Grifa, MeLinda Hawkins Taylor, Heather V. Taylor, Linda Hynes, Jill S. Mayer, and Aldo Russo tothe Essex, Burlington, and Camden vicinages.

“This highly-qualified group of judges will make substantial contributions to our state’s judiciary for decades to come,” said Governor Murphy. “Since the beginning of our Administration, we have responded to vacancies in the courts with 116 nominations, of which 81 have been confirmed. I look forward to continuing to make progress on nominations to the Superior Court.   

“I am especially honored that the Chief Ethics Officer in the Governor’s Office, Heather Taylor, was confirmed as a Superior Court judge today,” continued Governor Murphy. “Heather has served two gubernatorial administrations with an unwavering sense of integrity since 2014, and while I am sad to see her leave our Administration, I know that she will serve our state well in her new capacity.”

Governor Murphy Signs the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act

January 10, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER) – Governor Murphy today signed the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act (S4701) to create new tools for protecting transit workers throughout the state. In addition to upgrading the penalty for all assaults on a motorbus or autobus operator, an operator’s supervisor, or a rail passenger employee, the bill enables NJ TRANSIT and other carriers to suspend or prohibit from ridership individuals who commit assaults against employees and ensures NJ TRANSIT and private bus companies equip all buses and trains with communications systems to quickly contact law enforcement in an emergency.

“I cannot overstate the value of the hardworking people who ensure the safe, efficient operations of our mass transit system,” said Governor Murphy. “It is critical that we protect New Jersey’s frontline transportation workers who provide vital services to commuters across our state. These essential safeguards will promote better environments for passengers and employees.”  

Primary sponsors of S4701 include Senators Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Robert Singer, and Assembly Members Daniel R. Benson, Yvonne Lopez, and Harold J. Wirths.   

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that deadly viruses can spread easily and quickly on mass transit because of the limited distance between passengers. However, as NJ public train and bus operators work to continue to give riders a safe experience, they, themselves find their health at risk with unruly passengers,” said Senator Diegnan. “Signing this legislation will take steps to ensure that NJ TRANSIT operators are physically protected from harm and exposure at the hands of unruly passengers.”

“There have been too many instances where bus and train operators have been assaulted by unruly passengers,” said Senator Robert Singer. “These violent attacks put the lives of the operator and every other passenger at risk. This new law will significantly increase the penalties for these dangerous assaults and help make our transportation systems safer.”

“Transportation workers are far too often subjected to vicious attacks by irate passengers for simply doing their jobs,” said Assemblyman Benson. “This new law will work towards preventing that violence while making it clear these attacks unacceptable. Our bus and rail employees must be protected as they fulfill their critical duties on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of commuters in our state.”

“The hard-working employees on our trains and buses are invaluable to New Jersey’s transportation system and deserve our respect,” said Assemblywoman Lopez. “It is unacceptable that so many of these employees fear for their safety due to the frequency of violent attacks, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must put safeguards in place to enable a safer working environment going forward.”  

“Since the pandemic, mass transit employees have put their lives on the line while being asked to do more than ever before. We need to do a better job of protecting our front-line mass transit workers while sending a strong message to passengers that assaults will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths. “Upgrading fines and implementing additional safety measures will go a long way toward ensuring a smoother ride for employees and law-abiding passengers alike.”

S4701 requires NJ TRANSIT and motorbus companies to coordinate with law enforcement and transit police to help protect bus operators and rail employees on potentially problematic routes. The bill also requires NJ TRANSIT and motorbus companies to establish an employee assistance program for bus operators and rail employees that have been assaulted and to provide periodic de-escalation to bus operators and rail employees and to make such training available to other transportation operators in the state in order to develop best practices.

“Governor Murphy’s commitment to transportation workers has been highly visible throughout his administration,” said Jerome Johnson, General President and Chairman of SMART-TD Local 60. “I am proud to support legislation that protects the safety and well-being of the hard-working men and women who make our state run.”

“The Amalgamated Transit Union commends Governor Murphy’s unwavering support for our transit workers who are frontline heroes, tasked with the essential job of keeping our state moving. Today’s signing of the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act calls for increased penalties on those who attack transit workers, and will provide critical mental health assistance and support to victims of an attack,” said Ray Greaves, ATU International Vice President. “This is undoubtedly meaningful legislation that will better protect our members and those who ride mass transit. Our thanks and appreciation to Governor Murphy for today’s signing and to all those who worked so hard to make this happen.”

“At NJ TRANSIT, the safety of our employees is of paramount importance and we are pleased that Governor Murphy is signing this important bill into law,” said NJ TRANSIT President & CEO Kevin S. Corbett. “This legislation is critical to ensuring our frontline employees, many of whom I ride with on my daily commute, are protected while delivering the essential transit services our customers depend on every day.”

“In New Jersey, assaults on NJ Transit workers have increased and become more violent with passengers refusing to follow the federal mask mandate on public transit,” said ATU Chairman, Orlando Riley. Our members are the subject of that abuse, which not only endangers them, but the passengers they’re responsible for. We thank Governor Murphy for recognizing the importance of this legislation to protect our members and the leadership of Assemblyman Daniel Benson, Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, and Assemblyman Harold Wirths in getting this bill to the finish line.”

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation Requiring Age-Appropriate School Security Drills

January 10, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER) – Governor Phil Murphy today signed legislation (A-5727/S-3726) which requires school security drills to be age-appropriate and to prevent unnecessary traumatization of schoolchildren. Among other requirements, the legislation prohibits the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots or explosions in school security drills. The legislation, which Governor Murphy announced his support for last April, will strike an appropriate balance between ensuring that students are informed and ready for threats that schools face in the present day, while being sensitive to the mental health needs of schoolchildren.

“Unfortunately, school security drills are a reality of the environment that our students are living in,” said Governor Murphy. “These necessary exercises are proven to save lives but may also traumatize young children if not conducted in an appropriate manner. This legislation will ensure that school security drills provide students with the information and preparedness that they need to stay safe in emergency situations, while also taking steps to prevent drills from having a harmful impact on the mental health of our schoolchildren.”

“This measure strikes a balance that will continue to ensure students and staff in our schools remain safe and prepared to respond to emergencies, while also aiming to prevent drills from causing undue confusion or alarm,” said Acting Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen McMillan. “We have always maintained the need for schools to provide a balanced, age-appropriate approach to school safety – a point that we have stressed in the numerous training programs and drill observations the Department has conducted, and continues to conduct.” 

“I applaud Governor Murphy and our legislators for their continued dedication to the security of communities, and most importantly, to our children in schools,” said Acting Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Laurie Doran. “As threats continue to evolve, so does the need for our tactics. This bill helps ensure our school security efforts embrace students and families in a way that cultivates a culture of preparedness through continual improvement. Working with our State and local partners, NJOHSP will continue to prioritize the safety and security of schools by providing training, assessments, outreach and other resources to ensure the collective resilience of our school communities.”

Primary sponsors of this legislation include Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt, Louis Greenwald, and Ralph Caputo, and Senators Loretta Weinberg, and Shirley Turner.

“While it is important to prepare our students for worst-case scenarios, it is just as important to ensure that security drills do not expose them to unnecessary trauma,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt. “Studies show that active shooter drills can cause increases in depression, stress, anxiety and physiological health problems. Our schools must be a place where students feel safe and ready to learn, but security drills that result in student trauma have the opposite effect.”

“Security drills do not have to mimic many students’ biggest fear in order to be effective,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald. “We can make sure our students know what to do during real security events by providing them with proper resources and using less-intense security drills instead of relying on damaging scare tactics.” 

“Being a student is stressful enough without the looming threat of school shootings,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo. “Adding to that with deceptively realistic active-shooter drills and other intense lockdown drills is a disservice to New Jersey’s students. With this law, we can protect our students from unnecessary trauma.”

“When it comes to so-called ‘active-shooter’ drills in our schools, we need to make sure we are consistent in our messaging, so as to make sure students know the difference between a drill and a real-time event,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg. “Our students have enough stress in their lives without adding one more layer of trauma. While we need to prepare our students for the worst, we also need also to continue to address the gun issue directly – especially in regard to ease of accessing firearms and the mental health issues that so often play an underlying role in the nation’s rising epidemic of gun violence.”

“Training students and staff to respond in emergency situations will help save lives, but safety drills that are conducted without warning can add to the fear, stress, and anxiety that students and teachers have about gun situations and other crises in their schools,” said Senator Shirley K. Turner.  “Students and teachers can be prepared and feel safe without making safety drills into traumatic experiences.”

A-5727/S-3726 requires the following guidance and procedures for school districts conducting school security drills when students are present:

  • Drills will include clear, developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff at the conclusion of the drill that the event is a drill and no current danger exists;
  • Drills cannot include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee;
  • Drills must be accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students;
  • School districts shall provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill, which notice shall be provided to the parent or guardian by no later than the end of the school day on which the school security drill is conducted;
  • School districts may permit emergency personnel access to the buildings and grounds of its schools for school security drills that are scheduled outside of school hours and during such times as students are not present;
  • District shall review and update their school security drill procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan developed pursuant to N.J.A.C.6A:16-5.1 and collects input from emergency personnel, parents and guardians of students enrolled in the district, teachers and staff employed in the district, mental health professionals, and student government representatives from multiple grade levels;
  • School districts will annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and shall report the data to the commissioner. 

“We have to keep our students safe, and that includes protecting their mental and emotional health,” said NJEA President Sean M. Spiller. “We applaud Gov. Murphy and the Legislature for taking this step to ensure that the safety drills intended to protect students from physical harm are also designed to protect them from unnecessary fear and trauma.”

“This is a historic day. Thanks to Gov. Murphy’s and the New Jersey Legislature’s leadership and foresight, New Jersey is now the first state in the nation to begin addressing the trauma inflicted on our children by active shooter drills,” said Brady Board Chair Kevin Quinn. “This is the result of hard work and advocacy from grassroots activists and expert counsel from clinical social worker and family therapist Nancy Kislin, who has studied and brought awareness to the harm that many active shooter drills cause to our children. Brady is grateful to Ms. Kislin for leading the way on this cause and to Gov. Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature for passing this bill that prioritizes the mental health and well-being of our children.” 

“We applaud Gov. Murphy for taking proactive steps to prioritize student mental health in preventing school shootings and violence in New Jersey,” said Mark Barden, CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “We must do all we can to protect our children from the trauma of a school shooting, beginning with our safety drills.”

Active Shooter Drills have forced millions of young people to become experts in survival but these drills have shown to be traumatizing as well harmful to the mental health of both students and staff,” said Jai B. Patel, March For Our Lives Movement Organizer. “The work of the Murphy Administration and the gun violence prevention movement on A5727 reminds us that a student’s most important lesson should not be how to survive. This is a start to end the generational trauma caused by lockdown drills in New Jersey.” 

“Once again, Governor Murphy continues to put the safety of our children first by signing this critical legislation, ” said Amy Faucher, a volunteer with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action. “This bill provides necessary, modernized reforms to the way our schools practice active shooter drills, to ensure that they are trauma-informed and age-appropriate for students. We are grateful to Governor Murphy for his leadership and we look forward to supporting further legislative action to reduce gun violence in New Jersey in the 2022 session.”

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation to Enshrine Marriage Equality into State Law

January 10, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER) – Governor Murphy today signed into law S3416, which codifies marriage equality in New Jersey law by providing that all laws concerning marriage and civil union are to be read with gender neutral intent. Marriage equality currently exists in New Jersey based on state and federal Court decisions. This new law demonstrates the Governor and Legislature’s commitment to protecting marriage equality by codifying it into New Jersey law. 

“Despite the progress we have made as a country, there is still much work to be done to protect the LGBTQ+ community from intolerance and injustice. New Jersey is stronger and fairer when every member of our LGBTQ+ family is valued and given equal protection under the law,” said Governor Murphy. “I am honored to sign legislation that represents our New Jersey values and codifies marriage equality into state law.”

Primary sponsors of the bill include Senators Steve Sweeney, Loretta Weinberg, and Vin Gopal, and Assemblymembers Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Mila M. Jasey, Annette Quijano, Andrew Zwicker, and Joann Downey.  

“This is about acting to ensure equal treatment and civil rights for all New Jerseyans, including same-sex couples,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “Marriage equality respects the rights of loving couples who deserve to be treated equally. The courts have ruled that same-sex marriages are a fundamental right, but we want to put it into statute to protect against any backtracking by the U. S. Supreme Court.  It is the right thing to do.”

 “Devoted same-sex couples all across New Jersey are raising families as contributing members of their communities,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “We fought to correct the injustice that denied these rights for too many loving couples for far too long. We don’t want to see those rights lost to an arch-conservative agenda of recent Supreme Court appointees.”

 “Basic equal rights should not be denied to any class of citizen, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “The law must protect all civil rights and continue to honor the union between two people who love each other. We need to make these rights more secure by writing them into law.”

“In 2012, I was proud to be a prime sponsor of New Jersey’s Marriage Equality Act. Following Governor Christie’s veto, advocates continued the fight to the New Jersey Supreme Court, where they were finally successful in legalizing same-sex marriage,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “I am proud to once again have led the charge to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community are safeguarded.”

“As Justice Kennedy so eloquently observed in Obergefell, ‘No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. “Today, we recommit to guaranteeing that one of ‘civilization’s oldest institutions’ is forever enshrined in statute for all who desire to embark upon the commitment above all others.”

“Today we take action with this new law in order to preserve marriage equality in New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. “We remain committed to our friends in the Garden State’s LGBTQ community and do all we can to ensure same-sex couples have equal rights under the law which includes marriage.”

“In 2013, I was ecstatic and grateful that the Court ruled that New Jersey must recognize same-sex marriage,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. “Today, I am proud to stand in solidarity with everyone who fought the good fight for a right that couples should have always had: the right for someone to marry who they love. It is important for State law to forever enshrine the legality of marriage equality.”

“This new law is just one more step to show we continue to stand strong against discrimination and prejudice, and we seek to create a New Jersey that is inclusive and unified for all people,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey.

This legislation brings New Jersey statutory law into conformance with the 2013 decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow as well as the 2015 United Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right and that all states are required to allow same-sex couples to marry. Enacting S3416 into law ensures that the right to same-sex marriage will continue to exist in New Jersey even if these state and federal court precedents were to be overturned.  

“How the world has changed since last time the legislature passed marriage equality in 2012. This time we have a Governor who is a champion of civil and human rights second to none,” said Steven Goldstein, founder of Garden State Equality. “I am also thrilled this new statue marks the final law steered to passage by our equality legend Senator Loretta Weinberg. What a fitting, crowning legacy.”

“Securing marriage equality in New Jersey for committed same-sex couples and their families has literally been a labor of love at Garden State Equality for nearly two decades,” said Thomas Prol, a founding and current Garden State Equality executive committee member and co-author of the legislation. “We are grateful to the Governor and the legislative leadership for helping us protect these vital rights from the national onslaught being leveled against the LGBTQ community every day. Our community can now sleep tight knowing that their relationships are cemented in New Jersey’s statutory law books.”

“Twelve years ago, the Senate failed to pass marriage equality and then Senate President Dick Codey predicted that one day they would all look back and say, ‘what were we thinking?’ As one of the first couples to be married when marriage equality was established, our gratitude goes to all who saw this as a civil rights issue then and continued the fight to bring us to this day, especially Senators Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak,” said Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin. “Special thanks to Governor Phil Murphy for keeping his promise to move New Jersey forward and codifying the right for all New Jerseyans to marry the one they love into law.”

Newark Liberty #9 and Atlantic City #10 Airports Make TSA’s Top 10 List of Most Unusual Items Found Nationwide at Checkpoints

January 10, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Atlantic City Internation Airport (ACY) made it into the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) list of Top 10 List of most unusual items found nationwide at security checkpoints in 2021. TSA released the list in an on-line video it posted on the agency’s Twitter account.

What was the item from the airport that ranked as #9 on the Top 10 List? Read on . . .

On August 21, 2021, the TSA officers at EWR detected a long-barreled revolver with a wooden grip that looked very much like an antique pistol. It was the type of handgun that you might have seen pulled during one of several movie shootouts in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” 

Of course, guns are not permitted to be carried through an airport security checkpoint.

#10 on the list was bullets found in deodorant at Atlantic City Internation Airport (ACY).

Hamilton, NJ, Man, 36, Charged with Multiple Counts of Sexual Assault, Sexual Contact, Robbery, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon

January 9, 2022

PARSIPPANY, NJ (MORRIS)–Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll, Chief of Detectives Christoph Kimker, and Parsippany Police Department Acting Chief Richard Pantina, announce the arrest of Earl L. Kelly, age 36, of Hamilton, N.J.  

Kelly has been charged with four counts of Aggravated Sexual Assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3) and N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(4), crimes of the First Degree; two counts of Sexual Assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(1) crimes of the Second Degree; two counts of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3a, crimes of the Third Degree; one count of Criminal Sexual Contact, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3b, a crime of the Fourth Degree; one count of Robbery, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a(2), a crime of the First Degree; one count of Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b, a crime of the Second Degree; Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a, a crime of the Second Degree; Aggravated Assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(4), a crime of the Fourth Degree; and Criminal Restraint in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2a, a crime of the Third Degree. 

It is alleged that on December 24, 2021, the defendant sexually assaulted and robbed a 19-year-old victim while armed with a handgun at the Holiday Inn in Parsippany. Following an investigation, the defendant was apprehended by members of the Edison Police Department on January 7, 2022.

After the defendant’s arrest, he was transported to the Morris County Correctional Facility.

Anyone with information relating to this case or any related incident is asked to call Detective Thomas Laird of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-285-6245.

Prosecutor Carroll would like to thank the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office’s Sex Crimes/Child Endangerment Unit, the Parsippany Police Department, the Hamilton Township Police Division, and the Edison Police Department for their efforts in the investigation and arrest of this defendant.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. Despite this accusation, the defendant is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Governor Murphy Announces New Jersey National Guard Deployment to Assist Long-Term Care Facilities 

January 7, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Murphy today announced that the New Jersey National Guard will be deploying to long-term care facilities throughout New Jersey to assist with COVID-19 response efforts and to augment facilities’ staffing. This is an extension of Joint Task Force COVID Guardian, which has provided coordinated assistance to numerous long-term care facilities since the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Time and time again, the New Jersey National Guard has stepped up to the plate throughout this pandemic,” said Governor Murphy. “This deployment will send members of our National Guard to long-term care facilities with staffing needs and will act to protect the health and safety of long-term-care residents while the Omicron variant surges throughout the nation. 

“COVID-19 is still a threat to our New Jersey communities,” said Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou, D.O. “The Soldiers and Airmen of the New Jersey National Guard are working hard every day to protect public health.”

“We are grateful to the National Guard for their assistance in caring for the residents of those facilities most in need,” said Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Throughout this pandemic, protecting our most vulnerable residents has been paramount. As we have seen in the community, COVID-19 cases and outbreaks have been rising for several weeks in our long-term care facilities. We continue to work closely with long-term care facilities throughout the state to ensure that they have the staff they need.”

Approximately 150 Soldiers and Airmen of the New Jersey National Guard are preparing to support staffing requirements of more than a dozen long-term care facilities around the state. Guard members will assist regular staff with a variety of tasks, including administrative and logistical support. Members are undergoing training and work is anticipated to start at their assigned locations on Monday, January 10, 2022.

Tasks that National Guard members will assist with will include:

  • Assist residents with getting from bed to chair, walking
  • Assistance in dressing and daily hygiene activities
  • Meal set-up and feeding
  • Routine assistance
  • Testing and screening staff, residents, and visitors’

First Lady Tammy Murphy Tests Positive for COVID-19

January 2, 2022

Earlier today, First Lady Tammy Murphy tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test. She is asymptomatic. Governor Murphy and the rest of the family have tested negative, and they will continue to test regularly in the coming days. The Governor and First Lady tested themselves due to a recent known non-family contact in their home. Required procedures for reporting, case investigation, and contact tracing have been followed. Tomorrow’s regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing will shift to a virtual format and stream online. As the Governor is vaccinated and boosted, he is not required to quarantine per CDC guidance. He will continue to wear a mask in all public settings. Both the Governor and First Lady are vaccinated and boosted, and have exercised caution whenever possible, including double masking. They urge all New Jerseyans to get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask, and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

CDC Updates and Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period for General Population

December 27, 2021

Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.

Additionally, CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for those exposed to COVID-19. For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.  For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

Isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Isolation for 5 days followed by wearing a well-fitting mask will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Both updates come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.

Data from South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrate that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35%. A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75%. COVID-19 vaccination decreases the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. CDC strongly encourages COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 5 and older and boosters for everyone 16 and older. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our communities.

The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.” CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky

If You Test Positive for COVID-19 (Isolate):

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

  • Stay home for 5 days.
  • If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after 5 days, you can leave your house.
  • Continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.

If you have a fever, continue to stay home until your fever resolves.

If You Were Exposed to Someone with COVID-19 (Quarantine):

If you:

Have been boosted
Completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last 6 months
Completed the primary series of J&J vaccine within the last 2 months

  • Wear a mask around others for 10 days.
  • Test on day 5, if possible.

If you develop symptoms get a test and stay home.

If you:

Completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over 6 months ago and are not boosted
Completed the primary series of J&J over 2 months ago and are not boosted
Are unvaccinated

  • Stay home for 5 days. After that continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.
  • If you can’t quarantine you must wear a mask for 10 days.
  • Test on day 5 if possible.

If you develop symptoms get a test and stay home

TSA officer jumps into action to perform Heimlich maneuver on infant who stopped breathing at Newark Liberty International Airport

Newly hired TSA officer hailed as a hero for saving infant’s life

December 23, 2021

NEWARK, NJ –When Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer Cecilia Morales heard people screaming for help, she knew if she didn’t act quickly, the outcome was going to be grim.

A young mother picked up her two-month old son from his car carrier seat to carry him through the security checkpoint at a Newark Liberty International Airport, but when the mom lifted him up, she saw that the boy wasn’t breathing. She immediately sought help from her co-travelers and shouted for help when she realized her attempts at rousing her son were unsuccessful.

Morales, a trained emergency medical technician (EMT) with 10 years of experience serving in several Northern New Jersey towns, shouted instructions over to the mother “but she was so nervous and I knew if I didn’t get over there, it wasn’t going to be a good outcome. I jumped over the checkpoint conveyor belt rollers and she gave me the baby. I performed the infant Heimlich maneuver on him.” She held the infant carefully to keep his airway open. Then she placed him face down on her arm and patted him on the back. No response. She tried again, and the second time he started to breathe again.

“The mother was too nervous and in shock to hold her son, so I carried the infant through the walk through metal detector” and waited for the pediatric EMT to arrive to give the baby some oxygen a short time later.

Morales, a Newark resident who joined TSA in late October, previously performed the Heimlich on adults and children as an EMT, but this was the first time she had performed the life-saving technique on an infant.

“Two months on the job and she’s literally a life-saver,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey. “Officer Morales’s quick reaction and actions helped ensure that this family will have a happy holiday season. Her actions were inspiring.”

“I saw the video afterward,” Morales said. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen myself in action, saving a life. It was mind-blowing to watch. I felt that my training and experience just took over.”

“If Officer Morales did not utilize her critical thinking, knowledge and quick response, perhaps we could have had a terrible outcome,” said TSA Manager Ayrana Frazier. “In the moment Officer Morales was selfless, and her priority was to save a life. We are proud to call her one of our own.”

Governor Murphy Launches New Jersey Health Care Cost Benchmark Program

Program Widely Supported by Advocates, Health Care Providers, and Insurers

December 21, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy today signed Executive Order #277, launching the New Jersey Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Program, joined by Governor’s Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency Director Shabnam Salih, Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride, New Jersey Hospital Association CEO Cathy Bennett, New Jersey Association of Health Plans President Wardell Sanders, and Sandkamp Woodworks owner Tony Sandkamp. The Governor also announced a stakeholder compact that unites New Jersey insurers, health care providers, and health care advocates in support of the new program and the goal of working together to provide more affordable health care for all New Jerseyans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores just how important it is that New Jersey continues to work to lower the cost of health care for residents, and we recognize that affordable, quality health care is a critical part of our COVID-19 recovery,” said Governor Murphy. “Making New Jersey a more affordable place to call home for our residents and businesses means working to address the cost of high health care prices. New Jersey has world class health care institutions and providers, and we want to ensure that New Jerseyans have more affordable access to these services.”

“New Jerseysans deserve the piece of mind of quality and accessible health care and we know that access often begins with being able to afford the care you need without sacrificing other critical needs,” said Governor’s Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency Director Shabnam Salih. “As we continue our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and think about our collective recovery, I’m proud that my Office has been able to support the development and launch of this important program so we can establish a future for a comprehensive health care affordability work in New Jersey for years to come.”

“Today we are coming together with health care partners and employers to say that we are all committed to the shared goal of providing relief to residents in our state as they seek the quality care they need,” said Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride. “The health care cost growth benchmark program will promote increased transparency and accountability for health care spending, and slow the rate of growth to make health care more affordable and sustainable for families, individuals, employers, and the state.” 

“In many ways, today’s announcement is a fitting end to 2021. No industry has been more tested than healthcare and more committed to caring for our patients and communities,” said New Jersey Hospital Association President and CEO Cathy Bennett. “But cost should never become a barrier to people accessing the healthcare services they need. We are committed to the Governor’s vision of making healthcare affordable to consumers and ensuring access to quality care. We also will continue supporting the state’s efforts to identify and understand the many factors that contribute to healthcare cost trends.” 

“NJAHP appreciates the multi-stakeholder work that has gone into developing a mechanism to examine and stem rising health care costs, which remain the greatest barrier to access to care for New Jersey residents,” said New Jersey Association of Health Plans President Ward Sanders.

“This compact is an important recognition that making health care more affordable can only occur when everyone is at the table with the patient’s best interests – health and financial – as their priority,” said Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey President and CEO Gary D. St. Hillaire. “From our early work developing patient centered medical homes to launching the OMNIA Health Alliance, this kind of collaboration has been at the heart of Horizon’s work with our provider partners for more than a decade. On behalf of our 3.8 million members and the thousands of employers who trust Horizon to provide coverage for their most important asset – their people – I thank Governor Murphy for his leadership and all of my colleagues and the organizations they represent for their commitment to rolling up our collective sleeves to do the hard work it will take to make health care more affordable.”  

“The New Jersey Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Program represents a significant first step in ensuring that quality and affordable healthcare remains available for all New Jersey residents and businesses,” said Mitch Livingston, NJM President, and Chief Executive Officer. “For over a century, NJM Insurance Group has remained committed to offering our employees comprehensive healthcare benefits as they serve the needs of our policyholders.  We applaud the Administration’s efforts and the work of the Task Force to ensure that businesses like NJM can continue to meet that commitment.”

“At AmeriHealth New Jersey we are dedicated to the people and communities across the Garden State. We are pleased that Governor Murphy is focused on bringing stability and affordability to the New Jersey health insurance market,” said AmeriHealth New Jersey Market President Mike Munoz. “The Murphy Administration and the legislature have worked to expand access to health insurance. Now we must commit to reducing the cost of care to ensure the health and well-being of many New Jersey residents are not at risk. I will continue to be an active member of the Health Care Affordability Advisory Group as we work together on lowering health care costs in our state.”

From 2010 to 2016 in New Jersey, health care premiums and deductibles have grown roughly three times faster than residents’ incomes and in 2016, premiums equaled almost a third of median household income. Further, a survey of more than 900 New Jersey adults, conducted from May 7, 2020 to May 12, 2020 found that more than three-quarters (77%) are worried about affording healthcare in the future.

Recognizing the unsustainability of these trends and the economic hardship on residents and businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on January 28, 2021, the Governor signed Executive Order #217 directing the development of a health care cost growth benchmark program to mitigate the rate of health care cost growth in the State. With Executive Order #277, the Governor formally establishes the New Jersey Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Program and takes a concrete step toward curbing health care cost growth. The benchmark program also offers an important opportunity for the implementation of market-based strategies rooted in broad stakeholder commitment and industry- wide collaboration to support benchmark attainment. 

The New Jersey Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Program will provide everyone in the state with a shared understanding of how much health care costs are growing and factors contributing to high costs and cost growth. Over time, the benchmark program aims to decrease how much health care costs grow each year, and to contribute to making health care more affordable. The Governor’s Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency and the Department of Banking and Insurance will lead the efforts of the benchmark program, along with committed partners at the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Treasury, and the Division of Community Affairs. The Health Care Affordability Advisory Group, developed per EO #217 has also been critical to the development and launch of this program. 

The program is also bolstered by a stakeholder compact organized by the Murphy Administration consisting of advocacy groups, hospitals and health care providers, leading insurers, a union, employers and other stakeholders across New Jersey and is a collaborative agreement memorializing the collective commitment of stakeholders to work toward implementing the benchmark program, it sets forth the benchmark plan and establishes a commitment to take actions to make health care more affordable and to participate in the data collection, validation, analysis and reporting processes. 

The following organizations, advocacy groups, and businesses have signed onto the compact:

  • AmeriHealth New Jersey
  • Atlantic Health System
  • Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers
  • Cooper University Health Care
  • Hackensack Meridian Health
  • Horizon Blue Cross / Blue Shield of New Jersey
  • New Jersey Association of Health Plans
  • New Jersey Citizen Action
  • New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute
  • New Jersey Hospital Association
  • NJM Insurance Group
  • Rutgers University AAUP-AFT
  • RWJ Barnabas Health
  • Sandkamp Woodworks
  • St. Joseph’s Health
  • Summit Health
  • Virtua Health

“Health care affordability is a critical issue that must be addressed in our State and one that requires a collaborative team effort,” said Atlantic Health System President & CEO Brian Gragnolati. “I thank Governor Murphy for his leadership in pulling together key stakeholders on behalf of patients and caregivers. Atlantic Health System looks forward to continuing to participate in this essential work.” 

“Cooper is honored to be part of Governor Murphy’s NJ Health Care Cost Growth Program as we all work to mitigate unsustainable health care cost increases while ensuring our system continues to provide advanced, high quality care for our state’s residents,” said Co- CEO of Cooper University Health Care Kevin O’Dowd, JD.

“As part of our longstanding commitment to ensuring affordable, quality and equitable care to our communities, we are proud to sign on to this compact,” said Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert C. Garrett. “We look forward to our continued partnership with the state and other key leaders.”

“This important project will shed light on what is driving New Jersey health care costs higher and enable us to craft solutions to address the problem at its source,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Health Care Program Director Maura Collingsgru. “Controlling costs while not diminishing access is critical if we are to achieve our shared goal of universal health care for all New Jerseyans. We look forward to continue working alongside the Governor, Legislature and all our allies to lower costs and increase access until that goal is reached.”

“The New Jersey Healthcare Cost Benchmark Program is the most significant attempt to bring together all health care stakeholders to the benefit of our caregivers and those needing care,” said Rutgers AAUP-AFT Executive Director Patrick Nowlan. “We commend Governor Murphy and his Team for their leadership in controlling healthcare costs while improving healthy outcomes. New Jersey’s working families need relief from the burden of high healthcare costs and this is our best opportunity yet. Labor is ready to take these benchmark goals and, in partnership with providers, payers and the State, drive meaningful cost savings results that positively impact the mental and physical well-being of our members and all New Jerseyans.”

“RWJBarnabas Health is committed to making healthcare affordable for all the residents of New Jersey while continuing to enhance patient care and increasing access,” said President and CEO for RWJBarnabas Health Barry H. Ostrowsky. “I applaud Governor Murphy and thank him for his efforts in bringing providers, insurers and the business community together to work collaboratively on this critical issue.  We couldn’t be more excited to be an integral part of this process.”

“On behalf of Summit Health, I am honored to join this important cross-sector initiative and support the NJ Health Care Cost Growth Benchmark Program to help advance the shared goals of improved health care affordability, accessibility, and transparency,” said Summit Health CEO Jeff Alter.

“Everyone in New Jersey should have access to quality, affordable, and equitable health care. Virtua Health is proud to participate in Governor Murphy’s Health Care Cost Benchmark Program and work toward sustainable solutions that support individuals and families in our region,” said Virtua Health President and CEO Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE.

For more information about the program please click here.

For the stakeholder compact please click here.

For a copy of Executive Order #277, please click here.

Acting AG Bruck, JJC Announce Rules Establishing Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program

$8.4 million in Funding to be Distributed to Implement 2-Year Pilot Programs in Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton

December 20, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) today announced rules and opened the grant application process for a pilot program establishing restorative justice hubs and community-based wraparound services for at-risk youth in four target cities, paving the way for a new approach to juvenile justice in New Jersey.

“New Jersey once again stands out as a national leader in juvenile justice reform through the creation of the restorative justice hubs pilot program,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “Thanks to the support of the Murphy Administration, we are taking steps to end the cycle of incarceration for youth – especially youth of color – and help equip them with the services and skills they need to succeed.”

Legislation signed into law in August 2021 established the two-year pilot program within the JJC to reduce initial and repeat youth involvement with the youth justice system, and appropriated $8.4 million to assist the implementation of the program in four pilot cities: Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton.

Restorative justice hubs will be physical spaces within the community where youth and families can heal, reconnect, and build healthy relationships, and where local conflicts can be resolved through dialogue instead of punitive measures. An array of social support services – including employment assistance and mentoring – will be available in addition to mental health services, substance abuse treatment and recovery, education and housing support, and financial literacy and life skills. The restorative justice hubs will serve both at-risk and court-involved youth in the community and those discharged from a juvenile justice facility.

The services will be available to youth who reside in the pilot municipalities in five primary circumstances through referrals by:

  • School administrators for school-based incidents in lieu of suspension, expulsion, or referring the matter to law enforcement.
  • Local law enforcement officials as a stationhouse adjustment or in lieu of formal charging.
  • The court as part of a diversion, detention alternative, deferred disposition, or probation disposition.
  • The JJC or a county youth detention center to provide transitional support for youth returning home from a juvenile justice facility.
  • The Children’s System of Care (CSOC), Department of Children and Families, for youth who are aging out of or not eligible for CSOC services.

And for the first time, through the program rules announced today, the JJC will provide up to 25 percent of the grant funds up-front to cover program start-up costs. This policy reflects the Acting Attorney General’s racial justice initiative announced on December 16 for the Divisions within the Department of Law and Public Safety to promote racial justice and address historic inequities. The JJC’s action here recognizes that in the past, small businesses and local non-profit organizations – many of which are operated by members of communities of color – did not have the resources or access to funds to provide services first and wait for reimbursement later. The regulations also direct the counties to prioritize funding to service-providers located in and employing residents of the four municipalities implementing the pilot program.

“The rules announced today will allow the Juvenile Justice Commission to continue to fulfill its mission to lead the reform of New Jersey’s youth justice system. The JJC looks forward to working with the target communities – those most impacted by the justice system – to implement this significant investment in our youth, an investment that represents a significant expansion of funding for community-based programs,” said Dr. Jennifer LeBaron, Acting Executive Director of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission. “We recognize that there are many grassroots and community-based organizations that have thoughtful and meaningful programs to offer as part of New Jersey’s important reform efforts. We’re breaking down barriers that previously prevented some of our valued community partners from participating in our efforts and being active participants in building stronger families and communities.”

The JJC today posted a Notice of Availability of Funds and the Program Administration and Guidelines for this funding opportunity on its website.

The program rules will be published in the January 3, 2022 edition of the New Jersey Register.

The JJC was established in 1995 to serve as the single agency of State government with centralized authority for planning, policy development, and provision of services in the juvenile justice system. The JJC is committed to implementing and promoting policies and practices that improve outcomes for young people involved with the juvenile justice system, their families, and their communities.

The JJC’s three primary responsibilities are providing care, custody, and rehabilitative services to youth committed to the agency by the courts, supervising and coordinating services for youth released from custody on parole, and supporting local efforts to provide prevention and early intervention services to at-risk and court-involved youth.

Across a continuum of care, which includes secure care facilities, residential community homes, and community-based parole and transitional services, the JJC provides programming, supports, and opportunities designed to help youth grow and thrive and to become independent, productive, and law-abiding citizens.

Dancer Bill Creating Permanent State Firefighter Museum and Memorial Advances to Governor’s Desk

December 20, 2021

UPPER FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, NJ (MONMOUTH)–TRENTON, NJ –Assemblyman Ron Dancer’s bill establishing a permanent New Jersey museum and memorial honoring the history and sacrifice of firefighters was back in the Assembly today to concur with Senate amendments.

The bill (A5075/S4001) removes the New Jersey Fire Museum from Department of Environmental Protection oversight and creates an independent commission to take over those responsibilities.

Since 2015, the fire museum has displayed its donated memorabilia in a private warehouse provided by Upper Freehold Township. The state has been unsuccessful at obtaining funding or finding a permanent location for the museum for the last 50 years.

“A commission that is committed to New Jersey’s firefighting history will be in a better position to procure a stable home for the museum, which will provide more opportunities to engage and educate the public,” Dancer (R-Ocean) explained. “From preserving historic fire equipment to honoring our fallen heroes, the museum serves an important mission and deserves a dedicated space.”

Under the bill, the museum and memorial will have the ability to manage its own affairs by adopting rules for its governance, utilizing state offices and hiring staff, and entering into state contracts for the museum and its projects. The commission can address budgeting issues and oversee the museum’s expansion and development.

The bill appropriates $200,000 to help fund the museum and its projects. It was advanced to the governor’s desk by a unanimous vote in the Assembly on Monday.

Acting AG Bruck Announces Recipients of 2021 Excellence in Policing Awards

In the MidJersey.News coverage area:

The Police Chaplain of the Year: Pastor John R. Taylor of Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton, who is Chief Chaplain of the New Jersey State Police.

The Outstanding Youth Engagement Award: Patrolwoman Charleigh Logothetis of the Hazlet Township Police Department.

December 17, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)—Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck today announced the winners of this year’s Excellence in Policing Awards during a virtual ceremony that highlighted the tremendous service displayed by New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies, officers, and professionals.

For video of the event:

Now in their second year, the annual Excellence in Policing Awards reflect the comprehensive package of policy initiatives advanced by the Attorney General’s Office, designed to encourage and reinforce the Garden State’s commitment to building a national model for strengthening trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

“Today we honor these officers, professionals, and departments, who, through their exemplary service and innovation, have stood out as representing the best of New Jersey’s law enforcement,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “I’m honored to present these awards to dedicated public servants who are committed to keeping our residents safe, promoting resiliency among our officer ranks, and building greater trust between law enforcement and the public.”

The following Excellence in Policing Awards were awarded today:

The Detective Joseph Seals Valor Award honors a police officer or officers who demonstrated an act of extraordinary bravery or heroism in the line of duty. The award honors Detective Joseph Seals, a 13-year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department, who lost his life in the line of duty in December 2019. Detective Seals’ actions in December 2019 likely saved the lives of many others. Detective Seals was not a stranger to heroism; in 2008, he broke through a window and stopped the rape of a 41-year-old woman on Christmas Eve. This year the Detective Joseph Seals Valor Award is presented to the Borough of Carteret Police Department. On July 23, 2021, nine officers— Lt. John Kelly, Detective Louis Maldonado, Detective Raul Martinez, Detective Anthony Ramos, Detective Eric Guzman, Detective Justin Craig, Officer Michael Kelly, Officer Javier Borrero, and Officer Derrick Clavijo—responded to a fire at Bristol Station Apartments, and directed and safely evacuated all occupants out of fire-engulfed Building #4, and then helped evacuate occupants out of nearby Building #6. The officers then remained at the scene to assist the Fire Department.

The Detective Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award honors a law enforcement officer who developed an innovative program or initiative to improve officer safety and wellness. It is named for Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Detective Pablo Santiago, who lost his life to suicide in December 2018. Detective Santiago’s untimely death was the inspiration for the Attorney General’s Statewide Law Enforcement Resiliency Program. The Detective Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award is presented to Lt. William Walsh of the Voorhees Township Police Department and the Multi-Agency Police Peer Support (MAPPS) team. Lt. Walsh spearheaded the program in 2020 in collaboration with the Voorhees, Cherry Hill, and Gloucester Township police departments to bridge the needs of officers recovering from work-related traumatic events, and to create an environment accepting of those seeking assistance. Officers or civilian staff from the three departments may reach out to peer officers for support.

The Attorney General’s Community Outreach Award honors a county prosecutor’s office or police department that exhibited outstanding community outreach efforts. This year the Attorney General’s Community Outreach Award is presented to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. In September 2020, BCPO partnered with Bergen County law enforcement and the Bergen County Sherriff’s Office to create the Community Engagement Task Force (CETF) to address residents’ needs and build stronger relationships between law and enforcement and the community. For example, during the pandemic, CETF partnered with local groups to deliver food to vulnerable residents over a seven-month period, and helped local seniors to avoid scams.

The Outstanding Community Partnership Award honors a county prosecutor’s office or police department that has implemented or strengthened a community partnership or collaboration with community stakeholders to advance public safety. This year, the Outstanding Community Partnership Award is presented to the West Orange Police Department, who partnered with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris to create a co-responder model where trained clinicians respond with police on mental health crisis calls. This community-related response facilitates treatment for those who need it, while reducing involvement in the criminal justice system.

The Police Chaplain of the Year honors an exceptional chaplain who goes above and beyond the normal duties of a police chaplain to serve the needs of the department and community. This year the Police Chaplain of the Year is Pastor John R. Taylor of Friendship Baptist Church in Trenton, who is Chief Chaplain of the New Jersey State Police. Pastor Taylor is responsible for overseeing 20 police chaplains of various denominations, is an integral contributor to the statewide dialogue on police-community relations, is a long-time law enforcement trainer, and has been instrumental in advancing community policing in tandem with NJSP and other law enforcement agencies throughout the State.

The Outstanding Youth Engagement Award honors a law enforcement officer who designed and implemented an innovative program or initiative to promote stronger police-youth engagement. The Outstanding Youth Engagement Award is presented to Patrolwoman Charleigh Logothetis of the Hazlet Township Police Department. In October 2021, Officer Logothetis pioneered the HTPD’s Inaugural Special Needs Open House, an impactful program designed to build a positive foundation with the community, especially concentrating on youth with special needs, while collaborating with local and statewide programs and organizations.

Acting AG Bruck Announces Initiatives to Promote Racial Justice Using Broad Authority of Department of Law and Public Safety

December 16 2021

TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck today announced an expansive package of initiatives to use the broad reach of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety to promote racial justice throughout New Jersey. The package includes a number of significant policy changes, including rulemaking to root out discrimination among New Jersey’s 720,000 licensed professionals and a directive to prioritize racial justice through civil investigations and enforcement actions. In July 2021, on his first day in office, Acting Attorney General Bruck directed the Department’s 17 divisions to identify specific projects to advance racial justice that they could complete using their existing authorities in the next six months.

Today’s announcement provides the first public summary of the projects underway across the Department as part of the “LPS Racial Justice Initiative,” which Acting Attorney General Bruck identified as one of his top priorities in office.

 “While the Department of Law and Public Safety cannot fix longstanding racial disparities and injustices on its own, we have a moral obligation to use the tremendous reach of the department to achieve the maximum impact in promoting racial justice,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “I’m grateful that the leaders and staff of our many divisions have fully embraced this crucial initiative. The programs announced today underscore Governor Murphy’s commitment to pursue racial equity for all New Jerseyans, and we’re proud to take on this important work in our department.” 

“I’m proud that our office is advancing this important, department-wide initiative for the benefit of New Jersey’s residents,” said Lora Fong, Assistant Attorney General and the Department’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. “Each of our divisions has responded to Acting Attorney General Bruck’s directive with a sharp focus on how our systems and services can be more inclusive and equitable, and is committed to taking specific steps and swift action.” 

“The LPS Racial Justice Initiative is an important step forward in strengthening and expanding our community engagement efforts across the state,” said Bryn Whittle, Senior Counsel to the Acting Attorney General and Director of Community Engagement. “By establishing this as a priority across the department, we are sending a strong message to our stakeholders that we are dedicated to promoting and advancing racial justice and equity in underserved communities. I appreciate Acting Attorney General Bruck’s vision and leadership on this significant issue.” 

In response to Acting Attorney General Bruck’s call to action, the Department’s divisions and offices proposed a total of nearly 100 new initiatives designed to advance racial justice and equity for underserved communities. The initiatives—which rely on the Department’s enforcement and regulatory authorities, community engagement, grantmaking, and other tools—include initiatives in the following areas, among others:

  • Combatting bias, discrimination, and hate.
  • Ensuring fairer treatment for justice-involved individuals.
  • Promoting equity and addressing past wrongs.
  • Strengthening relationships with the community.

Highlights of the racial justice initiatives being pursued by the Divisions include:

  1. Acting Attorney General Bruck has proposed anti-discrimination regulations for all professional boards supported by the Division of Consumer Affairs. If adopted, the proposal will make clear that discrimination and bias-based harassment constitute professional misconduct that provides a basis for a board’s disciplinary action. The rule will apply to approximately 720,000 licensees overseen by 51 professional and occupational boards.
  2. Today, Acting Attorney General Bruck issued a directive to the Department’s civil enforcement divisions—the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Division of Consumer Affairs, the Division on Civil Rights, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, and the New Jersey Racing Commission—instructing them to prioritize racial justice when identifying matters for investigation and enforcement. The Directive includes strategies and best practices to ensure that the Department deploys its civil enforcement tools to more effectively serve the needs of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. No other state attorney general’s office has ever issued a directive that so comprehensively incorporates racial justice into its enforcement priorities.
  3. The Division of Administration is creating an interdisciplinary grant review team and revamping the process for evaluating grant applications to promote the equitable distribution of funds. The Department awards millions of dollars of grants every year, many of them to assist underserved individuals or victims of crime. The Division will lead efforts to make the teams reviewing grants reflect the diversity of those applying for them, which will promote the equitable expenditure of funds.
  4. To provide greater access to work opportunities in the alcohol industry for people with histories of criminal justice involvement, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is revisiting how it implements disqualifications to individuals seeking to be licensed or employed by the liquor industry. This work is focusing on what constitutes a crime of “moral turpitude,” and easing the financial burdens for those applying for reinstatement permits. Additionally, in response to Attorney General Directive No. 2021-8 and following the Division’s acknowledgement of past misconduct against the LGBTQ+ community, the Division will be supplementing its findings on whether its enforcement authority was historically used in a discriminatory manner against marginalized groups.
  5. The Division on Civil Rights is introducing a training on bystander intervention for the workplace, launching a virtual seminar on the factors that inhibit and encourage bystander intervention, especially in situations involving bias, harassment, and discrimination. Participants also will learn about the Law Against Discrimination and the importance of bystander intervention within the context of civil rights law.
  6. The Division of Criminal Justice is leading the development of an innovative pilot program focusing on domestic violence occurring in two underserved immigrant and low-income communities. This pilot program, which will be undertaken with one or two County Prosecutors’ Offices, will create a one-year diversionary program for certain domestic violence cases as a means of reducing collateral consequences for victims and the community stemming from police involvement in domestic violence incidents. Eligible participants will be required to participate in court-ordered programming (for example, anger management, substance use disorder counseling) and remain arrest-free, in order for charges to be dismissed.
  7. The Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor is launching community engagement and outreach initiatives focused on vulnerable communities to promote equitable enforcement of the law. The first will focus on reducing the victimization of and improving reporting of fraud in communities with limited-English proficiency and barriers to communication—communities where past outreach efforts have been insufficient. The second campaign, in coordination with the Elder Protection Task Force, will address elder abuse in underserved communities, marginalized communities, and communities of color through targeted engagement and outreach to key stakeholders, including by working with clergy and community coalitions.
  8. The Juvenile Justice Commission is revising its mission statement to include a focus on racial justice and ensuring equitable outcomes for youth, and will analyze the implementation of select policies to ensure equitable outcomes are achieved. In addition, the JJC is establishing a community liaison role for a focused engagement with community stakeholders and to provide the community with voice in policy and programming decisions.
  9. The newly created Office of Justice Data is leading a data needs assessment with the goal of using data transparency to promote racial justice and advance equity in myriad ways. Among other things, the Office will coordinate with the Department’s divisions to identify what data collection or analysis resources are needed to implement racial justice initiatives. The Office also will work with community stakeholders to identify areas of interest and priorities where the Department does not currently provide a comprehensive data picture.
  10. The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJCARES) is raising public awareness about the opioid epidemic’s increasing toll on communities of color. In recent years, an increasing percentage of drug-related deaths are occurring among Blacks and Hispanics. NJCARES co-sponsored a statewide webinar this month to share these findings with the public and explore strategies for addressing the underlying causes, and it will make this information available to the public on its website.
  11. The Attorney General’s public integrity watchdog, the Office of Public Integrity & Accountability, is improving detection of public corruption affecting underserved communities through more inclusive and accessible outreach to individuals with limited English language proficiency and/or other barriers to communication, including the launch of Spanish-language resources for reporting corruption.
  12. The New Jersey State Police is expanding its Citizens’ Academy program, which is designed to improve community relations by educating and engaging communities, allowing State Police to have more ambassadors throughout New Jersey. The Citizens’ Academy enrolls leaders and members of New Jersey’s diverse communities in weekly classes in which they learn about the responsibilities and operations of the State Police, while also having open conversations with NJSP troopers and commanders about critical issues of mutual concern.
  13. The Victims of Crime Compensation Office is expanding outreach and training to promote awareness of the agency and to establish trust with and provide support to victims and family survivors. The effort will focus on Victim Witness Coordinators and Hospital Violence Intervention Programs to build trust with impacted communities so they may be more willing to utilize services. 

In addition to the package announced today, the Department of Law and Public Safety is continuing its ongoing efforts to promote racial justice in other ways. The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability recently completed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s use-of-force policy to address police conduct that disproportionately affects communities of color and to require regular analysis of racial disparities going forward. The Division on Civil Rights is finalizing rules to implement the historic Fair Chance in Housing Act, which is focused on dismantling systemic racial disparities in access to housing. And all New Jersey State Troopers, as well as all prosecutors and detectives employed by the Division of Criminal Justice and 21 County Prosecutors’ Offices, have received implicit bias training. Acting AG Bruck also announced today the receipt of resources to help implement aspects of the racial justice initiative through the award of two competitive U.S. Department of Justice grants totaling more than $1 million to combat hate crimes in New Jersey:

  • $750,000 for Public Awareness Campaign. This grant, from the Collaborative Approaches Toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime-Demonstration Projects Program, will fund a major public awareness campaign using television, print, radio, digital, and social media to encourage New Jersey residents to confront the rising tide of hate by, among other things, recognizing and reporting bias incidents and crimes. It also will fund community events and training programs for law enforcement and victim services professionals.
  • $300,000 to Enhance Bias Incident Reporting. This grant, from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Program, will be used to improve bias incident reporting by funding upgrades to record management systems to enable law enforcement agencies to participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

The need for action was underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed and exacerbated racial disparities that have long plagued our country and New Jersey. To cite just a few examples, Black infants in New Jersey are four times more likely than white infants to die in their first year; people of color make up approximately 44 percent of New Jersey’s population, but represent over 75 percent of the state’s prison population; and among New Jersey’s Asian American Pacific Islander population—which makes up 10 percent of the State’s total population—36 percent have limited English language proficiency, adversely affecting employment, earnings, and access to services.

Police arrest Pennsylvania man after TSA detects concealed handgun and ammunition in baggage at Newark Airport 

December 14, 2021

NEWARK, N.J.—Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers detected a handgun and ammunition artfully concealed inside a traveler’s checked baggage yesterday (December 13) resulting in his arrest.

The gun was found taped and wrapped in an ace bandage along with a handful of bullets that were detected inside a hollowed-out bar of soap. The items were detected among the traveler’s other belongings inside his checked bag. When the TSA officer spotted the items, Port Authority Police (PAPD) were contacted and the man was called to return to the airline check-in counter. PAPD arrested the man, a resident of Chester, Pa., on a weapons charge. He told officials that the gun was given to him by a deceased relative and he was planning to take it to Lagos, Nigeria.

“This individual knew what was in his checked bag and he intentionally attempting to conceal both the gun and ammunition to bring overseas,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey. “In addition to screening carry-on bags, TSA officers also screen all checked baggage before it is permitted to be loaded onto an airplane. This was a good catch on the part of our officers.”

TSA officers detected these bullets artfully concealed in a hollowed out bar of soap among his carry-on items. (TSA photo)

First Omicron Variant Case in New Jersey Confirmed

December 3, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)— Governor Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli today announced that the New Jersey Department of Health has identified a case of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in a traveler to the state. The individual, an adult female, who is a fully vaccinated Georgia resident, had recently traveled to South Africa. 

Since testing positive on November 28, the woman has remained in isolation. She experienced moderate symptoms and is now recovering after receiving care in a North Jersey emergency department. The New Jersey Department of Health laboratory performed sequencing on the specimen to confirm it was the Omicron variant.

“The Omicron variant is among us and we need to take steps to stop its spread. It is vital that residents remain as vigilant as possible as we await more information about the variant,” said Governor Murphy. “Vaccinations and mask wearing have proven to be an effective tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and I urge everyone ages 18 and over to receive a booster.”

“With cases increasing and the identification of the Omicron in the state, the fight against COVID-19 is not over,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “We are still learning about the Omicron variant, but we have tools to stop the spread of the virus, most important among them is to get vaccinated and get a booster dose. The public should continue to mask up, get tested if they have symptoms, physically distance, avoid crowded events, stay home when sick and wash hands frequently.”

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization classified this new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and named it Omicron. On November 30, 2021, the United States also classified it as a Variant of Concern. The New Jersey Department of Health has been working with other states, local health departments, clinical laboratories, hospitals, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to rapidly identify individuals who may have been infected with the Omicron variant.

Studies show after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus and the ability to prevent infection may decrease over time. Booster doses provide essential additional protection.  While more than 70 percent of residents have received their primary vaccine series, only 31 percent of residents eligible have received a booster.

The CDC recommends that all individuals 5 and older should get vaccinated and those 18 and older receive a booster dose.

Residents should visit COVID19.NJ.GOV or call the Vaccine Call Center at 855-568-0545 to find a vaccine or booster appointment.

Additionally, CDC has issued new guidance on international travel, available at

Governor Murphy Announces Support For Comprehensive Gun Safety Bill Package in Current Legislative Session

Thanks Speaker Coughlin for His Commitment to Posting the Legislative Package

December 2, 2021

METUCHEN, NJ (MIDDLESEX) – As part of his ongoing commitment to meaningfully address the nation’s gun violence crisis, Governor Phil Murphy today urged legislators to take action in the coming weeks and pass a comprehensive gun safety legislative package that was initially proposed by the Governor in April. If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, the bill package discussed today would be the third wide-ranging gun safety package signed by the Governor since taking office. The Governor also thanked Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin for his commitment to posting the package during the current legislative session. Among the measures are reforms that would ensure firearms are handled safely, provide additional tools to law enforcement, and regulate school shooting drills.

The Governor was joined for the announcement by Speaker Coughlin, Senator Pat Diegnan, Assemblywoman Joanne Downey, Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck, and gun safety advocates.

“Over the past four years, New Jersey has become a national leader on gun safety,” said Governor Murphy. “We must continue to build on that progress and make our state safer for the over nine million people who call New Jersey home. Today, I am proud to further commit to this goal, and I hope to work with my Legislative partners to take this step by the end of this legislative session. I thank Speaker Coughlin, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, and other legislative partners for their continued commitment to gun safety.”

In partnership with the Legislature, Governor Murphy has already taken significant steps to combat the epidemic of gun violence. Among other things, New Jersey has established a “red flag” law for gun violence protective orders; criminalized firearms trafficking; strengthened background checks; reduced the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines; banned “ghost guns;” established the Rutgers Gun Violence Research Center to identify evidenced-based solutions to the gun violence crisis; and established a partnership with a coalition of states (New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut) to share crime gun data between law enforcement agencies.

“Supporting this bill package alongside the Governor today, represents just the latest installment in our ongoing effort to lead the nation on fair and robust common-sense gun safety laws,” said Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin. “Essential training, better tracking of firearms and ammunition, safer storage, and stronger policy to stem the flow of out-of-state guns into New Jersey are how we keep our communities safe. Our children deserve nothing less than to feel safe at school, and our residents to grocery shop, worship, and go about their day with peace of mind.”

“For far too long, gun violence has threatened and taken the lives of everyday people. New Jersey has consistently taken steps to minimize this threat. Gun regulations are necessary­­–they save lives,” said Senator Pat Diegnan. “As legislators, it is our duty to ensure that New Jersey residents are safe from harm. I am proud of the work that we have done and will continue to do to regulate guns and their accessibility to the public.”

“As we seem to hear about nearly every week in our country, gun violence remains a menace to society,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg. “In the interest of keeping our streets safe and our schools and houses of worship secure from gun violence, we need to continue to do what we can where we can to bolster New Jersey’s already existing strong gun safety laws, and to give our law enforcement agencies all the tools they need to prevent more gun-related deaths and injuries in the future.”

“While we have made significant strides in advancing critical gun reforms in New Jersey, we must always remain vigilant in protecting residents from the dangers of gun violence,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald. “This legislative package would close harmful loopholes, limit high-caliber weapons, ensure the proper handling and storage of firearms, and give law enforcement the tools they need to address gun violence. Each of these commonsense measures represent important steps we can and must take to promote gun safety in our communities.”

“My colleagues and I have been committed to creating legislation to address gun safety,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey. “Providing law enforcement with the proper tools to become more efficient in identifying specific firearms through microstamping technology will allow our police to better reduce gun violence. Gun safety is vital to keep the people of New Jersey safe.”

“Thanks to the ongoing and visionary efforts of Governor Murphy and the Legislature, New Jersey is a national leader in reducing gun violence and taking important steps that make our State a safer place for our residents,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “The legislation discussed by the Governor today will further our work to help communities statewide support victims of crime, while reducing the deadly cycle of gun-related violence.”

“About six months ago, the Governor convened community public safety activists from across the state and engaged us in a conversation about developing complementary strategies with law enforcement to reduce violence and crime in cities,” said Aqeela Sherrills, Director of the Newark Community Street Team. “He committed $10 million, an unprecedented investement. It is the Governor’s leadership that is making our communities and our state safe”. 

“New Jersey’s gun violence crisis requires meaningful legislative action that both prioritizes the safety of New Jersey communities and reaffirms our state’s status as a leader in the gun safety movement,” said Jenifer Berrier Gonzalez, a volunteer with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action. “We are thankful to Governor Murphy for his commitment to signing this landmark gun safety package, and we urge lawmakers to work together to achieve this important milestone before this legislative session ends.”

Governor Murphy today recommitted to the following additional reforms:

Ensuring Firearms are Handled Safely

  • Requiring Firearm Safety Training:  S-2169/A-5030 (Weinberg/Reynolds-Jackson) would modernize firearm ID cards, as well as require completion of a firearm safety course to receive a permit to purchase a gun or receive a firearm ID card. 
  • Mandating Safe Storage of Firearms:  Gun owners would be required to store guns in a lockbox or gun safe. 

Making New Jersey Safer

  • Banning .50 Caliber Firearms: S-103/A-1280 (Gill/Greenwald) would revise the definition of “destructive device” under New Jersey law so that it includes weapons of .50 caliber or greater. 
  • Closing Loophole for Importing Out-of-State Firearms:  A-3686/S-372 (Vainieri Huttle/Cryan) would require firearm owners who move to New Jersey to obtain a firearm purchaser identification card (FPIC) and register their firearms within 30 days of residing in this State.  

Giving Law Enforcement the Tools to Address Gun Violence

  • Establishing Electronic Ammunition Sales Recordkeeping:  A-1292/S-1481 (Greenwald/Weinberg) would require manufacturers or dealers of handgun ammunition to keep a detailed electronic record of ammunition sales, and report ammunition sales to the State Police. 
  • Promoting Microstamping Technology:  S-112/A-1098 (Weinberg/Downey) would require within a year that firearm manufacturers incorporate microstamping technology into new handguns sold in New Jersey, providing law enforcement with a tool to quickly link firearm cartridge casings found at the scene of a crime to a specific firearm, without having to recover the firearm itself.   

Additional Actions

  • Regulating School Shooting Drills:  New Jersey schools currently are required to conduct active shooter exercises but guidelines are not specific about how those drills should be conducted.  The Governor proposes authorizing the Department of Education to establish trauma-informed and age-appropriate standards for lockdown drills.
  • Holding the Gun Industry Accountable:  In New Jersey, almost 80% of guns used in crimes are originally purchased outside of the state.  However, the gun industry has failed to take any steps to stem the flow of guns to the illegal market through gun shows, flea markets, straw purchasers, and theft.  The Governor proposes amending the state’s public nuisance laws to prohibit the gun industry from endangering the safety or health of the public through its sale, manufacturing, importing, or marketing of guns.  

Former Chief Lending Officer Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Making False Statements to United States to Secure Federal Guarantees on Loans for Business in Robbinsville, NJ

In addition to the prison term, Judge Shipp sentenced Bortolotti to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $3.17 million to the SBA.

On Feb. 29, 2012, a consultant from the consulting firm submitted an application to the SBA for a guarantee of approximately $3.75 million on loans totaling approximately $5 million made to a small business located in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The application contained false information related to the creditworthiness of the business. Bortolotti knew the application contained false information, but he nevertheless reviewed and signed the application on behalf of the bank.

December 1, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)—A Pennsylvania man was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for securing a federal guarantee on certain loans by making false statements to the Small Business Administration (SBA) about the creditworthiness of those loans while serving as the chief lending officer of a New Jersey bank, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.

James Bortolotti, 53, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of knowingly making false statements for the purpose of influencing the action of the SBA. Judge Shipp imposed the sentence by videoconference today.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

While serving as the chief lending officer of a New Jersey bank (Bank-1), Bortolotti became aware of a Small Business Administration lending program to incentivize lenders, including banks, to loan money to small businesses by providing a 75 percent SBA-backed guarantee on loans. When a lender applies an SBA guarantee on a loan, the lender must disclose information related to the creditworthiness of the small business. Bank-1 hired a consulting firm to help the bank apply for SBA-backed guarantees.

On Feb. 29, 2012, a consultant from the consulting firm submitted an application to the SBA for a guarantee of approximately $3.75 million on loans totaling approximately $5 million made to a small business located in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The application contained false information related to the creditworthiness of the business. Bortolotti knew the application contained false information, but he nevertheless reviewed and signed the application on behalf of the bank.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Shipp sentenced Bortolotti to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $3.17 million to the SBA.

Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the SBA-Office of the Inspector General (SBA-OIG), Eastern Region, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite; the FDIC-Office of the Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), under the direction of Inspector General Jay N. Lerner; special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, and special agents of the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Robert Manchak, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee M. Cortes Jr., Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care Fraud Unit in Newark.


Defense counsel: Rod Honecker Esq., New Brunswick, New Jersey

Former State Trooper Sentenced To 1-Year in NJ State Prison For Unlawfully Stopping And Following Female Motorist in His Patrol Vehicle

December 1, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced that a former New Jersey state trooper was sentenced to state prison after pleading guilty earlier this year in connection with an incident in which he stalked a female motorist in his patrol vehicle while on duty.

Michael Patterson, 30, of Bayonne, N.J., was sentenced yesterday to 12 months in state prison without possibility of parole by Superior Court Judge Andrea Carter in Middlesex County. Patterson pleaded guilty on Aug. 17, 2021 to a charge of fourth-degree tampering with public records. As a result of his guilty plea, Patterson forfeited his position as a state trooper and is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

In pleading guilty, Patterson admitted that he purposely disabled the Digital In-Vehicle Recorder (DIVR) in his troop car to prevent it from capturing a motor vehicle stop he conducted so that he could make advances on the female motorist during the incident in question.

Deputy Attorneys General Adam Gerken and Jonathan Gilmore represented the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) at the sentencing hearing. The New Jersey State Police Office of Professional Standards initially investigated the case and referred it to the OPIA Corruption Bureau.

On Jan. 28, 2020, Trooper Patterson conducted a motor vehicle stop of a female motorist on the New Jersey Turnpike at approximately 9:30 p.m. Patterson let the woman go with a warning, but he conducted a second, unwarranted stop of her vehicle a few minutes later when she exited the Turnpike at Exit 11 in order to make advances on her. Patterson disabled the DIVR in his vehicle to prevent his conduct from being recorded during this stop. The investigation revealed that Patterson subsequently put the victim in fear by following her to her home in his patrol vehicle.

“We are committed to holding law enforcement officers accountable when they abuse their positions of trust,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “The New Jersey State Police expect the highest standards of conduct from their troopers, and the vast majority meet those standards each and every day. We owe it to the troopers, and to the public at large, to take strong action when individual officers betray those standards and engage in criminal conduct.”

“One of the primary missions of OPIA is to root out official misconduct that undermines faith in law enforcement and government,” said OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher. “This is not the first time we have encountered this type of conduct involving a law enforcement officer, but we hope that our criminal prosecutions will deter such conduct going forward.”

“The New Jersey State Police holds its troopers to the highest level of professional standards of any law enforcement agency in the country through a robust system of checks and balances that is designed to not only hold its members accountable, but to serve as a tool to provide training and counseling through early intervention,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The conduct revealed in this investigation stands in stark contrast to the core values of the New Jersey State Police and is a betrayal to the public and to the entire law enforcement community.”

OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption. The Attorney General’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at:

Defense Attorney: Joseph Surman, Esq., New Brunswick, N.J.

Florida man arrested by police after TSA catches him with loaded gun at Newark-Liberty International Airport security checkpoint

November 29, 2021

NEWARK, N.J. – A Florida resident was arrested by the police after he was stopped with his handgun at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, Nov. 26. 

A TSA officer stopped the man with his gun among his carry-on items as they entered a checkpoint X-ray unit. The man told officials that he meant to declare the gun with his airline so that it would be transported with checked baggage, but that he forgot to do so. The gun was unloaded and packed in a hard-sided case with a box containing 35 bullets, which would be how firearms should be packaged and then declared to the airline.

Instead, when TSA officers spotted the gun, they alerted Port Authority Police, who responded to the checkpoint and arrested the man.

Firearms caught at the Newark-Liberty International Airport Checkpoints, 2019 to 2021*

Newark Airport2017201820192020*2021*(As of 11-28-21)
Guns caught at the checkpoints614111113

*Significantly fewer travelers due to the pandemic.

TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns and gun parts with them at a checkpoint. Civil penalties for bringing a handgun into a checkpoint can stretch into thousands of dollars, depending on mitigating circumstances. This applies to travelers with or without concealed gun carry permits because even though an individual may have a concealed carry permit, it does not allow for a firearm to be carried onto an airplane. The complete list of civil penalties is posted online. If a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges.

When an individual shows up at a checkpoint with a firearm, the checkpoint lane comes to a standstill until the police resolve the incident. Guns at checkpoints can delay travelers from getting to their gates.

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are properly packaged and declared at their airline ticket counter to be transported in the belly of the plane. Guns are absolutely not permitted to be carried onto planes. Checked firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality and travelers should check into firearm laws before they decide to travel with their guns. Travelers should also contact their airline as they may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 3,257 firearms on passengers or their carry-on bags at checkpoints last year, although the total number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints across the country fell by 500 million compared to 2019 due to the pandemic. The result was that twice as many firearms per million passengers screened were detected at checkpoints in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, TSA caught approximately 10 firearms per million passengers as compared to about five firearms per million passengers in 2019.  Of the guns caught by TSA in 2020, about 83 percent were loaded.

Almost Total Lunar Eclipse Over NJ

November 19, 2021

ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–A partial lunar eclipse started around 2:30 a.m. peaked about 4:00 a.m. and concluded around 5:30 a.m. early this morning. The almost total partial lunar eclipse was visible over most of the United States.

Photos below were taken from the Robbinsville, Upper Freehold, Allentown area of New Jersey.

To read more about the eclipse visit NASA “An Almost Total Lunar Eclipse”