WINE-CRAWL AUCTION ACTION

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What a terrific idea for a fundraiser.

First, gather a couple of hundred well-heeled folks in blue jeans in the greenhouse at Sickles Market in Little Silver.

Hold a series of silent auctions for bottles of fine wine and gourmet foods as a warm-up.

Then, auction off “wine crawl” dinners, at which some of this region’s finest private wine cellars are thrown open, chefs from some of the best area restaurants provide signature dishes, and the winning bidders get limousined from one stop to the next in a head-spinning moveable feast.

Stand back. These folks will be waving their wallets and elbowing each other aside for a shot at the primo vino.

According to spokeswoman Karen Irvine, last year’s installment of the Sickles Market Wine & Cheese Tasting and Fundraiser “was a sort of quasi garage sale of the upper oenophile stratosphere” in which the crawls accounted for $9,000 of the $45,000 raised.

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TRADER FROM LITTLE SILVER SENTENCED

A New York Stock Exchange floor trader from Little Silver was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison yesterday for his guilty plea to charges of “trading ahead” of clients, or buying stocks for his or his firm’s account at prices better than those available to clients.

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Patrick McGagh Jr., 40, a former senior trader with Van Der Moolen Specialists USA, was indicted in April 2005 as part of a wide-ranging sweep of floor specialist firms that cost investors some $19 million, according to federal prosecutors.

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FAIR HAVEN ARCHITECT INDICTED

An architect and member of the Fair Haven Zoning Board was indicted earlier this week on federal charges of shaking down a contractor for $100,000 in connection with his work in Bayonne.

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Today’s Jersey Journal has the details on the case against Avelino “Al” Sambade.

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LIKE A VISIT TO GRANDMA’S HOUSE

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They were on their very best behavior.

No candidate cast aspersions at another’s character or profession. No citizen got sucked into a verbal brawl with an elected official or council wannabe.

In fact, no one said much of anything at Wednesday’s “Meet the Candidates Night” that anyone in the audience or on the dais got noticeably worked up about.

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Maybe it was the dampening effect of the rain outside, but even on issues that Red Bank residents or their designees normally do get worked up about, there was no hostility.

The whole thing, in fact, could hardly have been more civil if tea and scones had been laid out on the refreshments table instead of coffee and chocolate-chip cookies.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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We had two readers venture that last week’s image of a brick wall with a spectral silhouette of a house inlaid in it was from the Red Bank Middle School.

Sorry, no. And otherwise, the guess box was devoid of entries. Thus, we have no winners to report this week. Perhaps you detect the note of unspeakable sadness in our words.

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O’GRADY GETS 43 MONTHS

Former Middletown Committeeman Raymond O’Grady, Just_insmall_2 who purportedly told undercover FBI investigators that he could “smell a cop…a mile away,” was sentenced to 43 years in federal prison today for his role in the wide-ranging corruption probe called Operation Bid Rig.

The Asbury Park Press has details of the sentencing, at which U.S. District Judge William J. Martini said the evidence “showed a public official ready and willing to take bribes in his public capacity.”

O’Grady, Martini said, “had numerous opportunities to say no.”

O’Grady was convicted at trial in June on five counts of bribery and extortion for accepting $8,000 in graft, both in his official capacity in Middletown and in his role as manager of Monmouth County’s vehicle fleet.

His lawyer, Kevin Roe, told the Press that O’Grady continues to maintain his innocence and will appeal both the verdict and the sentence.

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COMING TO THREE SCREENS NEAR YOU

It is, quite simply, a movie lover’s dream: hour after hour of new indie films offered up on three screens in a thriving cultural hub.

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And it unspools this weekend, the cornucopia of cinematic riches known as the Red Bank International Film Festival, sponsored by the Freedom Film Society.

Taking over a trio of top-notch venues—Clearview Cinemas, Count Basie Theatre and the Two River Theater—is a wide-ranging program that inludes 50 features, documentaries, animated shorts, live-action shorts, foreign films, classics and experimental films.

Knowing which to pass up may be the hardest part for attendees.

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DID CURLEY BOOT HIMSELF?

The Asbury Park Press has an article today on the Red Bank Borough Council’s formation this week of a committee on education and technology, and how Councilman John Curley’s vote on the matter may have backfired against him.

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Curley’s was the lone ‘no’ on the vote to create the committee, the brainchild of Council President Pasquale Menna, Curley’s Democratic rival to succeed Ed McKenna as mayor. And Curley’s opposition apparently took McKenna by surprise.

“I was going to put him on [the committee], but he voted no,” McKenna told the Press’ Larry Higgs.

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BARKING MAD AT BOROUGH HALL

Another Red Bank Council meeting, another ugly blow-up. And last night’s was a Richter-scale doozie.

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As usual, the main event was Mayor Ed McKenna v. Councilman John Curley, but two other council members and a borough resident got into the finger-pointing and shouting.

Through it all, Curley’s opponent in the race to succeed McKenna, Council President Pasquale Menna, stayed on the sidelines before restoring an air of calm to the proceedings.

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MERCER DEM ASKS FOR BECK PROBE

A Democratic state legislator is calling for a criminal investigation into whether Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck improperly lobbied the state Lottery Commission on behalf of a contractor at a time that she was employed by a firm doing public relations work for the commission, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

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At issue is the purported role that Beck played when lottery operator GTech won a five-year contract in August 2005 to run the lottery with a $106.7 million bid, despite a bid from contender Scientific Games that might have cost the state just $75 million.

The request for an investigation was made by letter to the state Division of Criminal Justice on Sept. 29 by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Mercer County.

Beck, of Red Bank, told the Press that she never lobbied for the contract in question, and left the lobbying firm, MWW Group, nine months before the contract was awarded. Beck now works for QualCare Inc. in Piscataway, a health maintenance organization owned by New Jersey hospitals.

“Reed should really do his homework,” Beck told the Press. “I had been gone from MWW for almost a year at the time the GTech contract was awarded. These are the same deceptive tactics that they used against me during the campaign last year.”

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THRILL OF THE HUNT

Joe Torrence’s hobby involves moving at something less than turtle speed with his head down and a large pair of headphones covering his ears.

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It’s relaxing and therapeutic, especially given his occupation, says Torrence, a Middletown resident who drives a taxicab five days a week. But the real appeal, he says with eyes-wide enthusiasm, is “the anticipation. You never know what you’re going to find.”

OK, so most of what he does find is not likely to cause much of a blip on the average person’s radar.

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MASS. TAX

The Star-Ledger’s Steve Chambers takes a look today at a 26-year-old state law that limits local budget increases in Massachusetts to 2.5 percent, an idea that’s getting some consideration here in New Jersey.

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No surprise, it turns out not to be a panacea. For one thing, while residential property owners in the Bay State pay about $550 a year less, on average, than New Jersey homeowners, they also pay $525 more in income taxes.

And the cap isn’t ironclad. There’s a loophole that allows local officials to ask voters’ permission to override the cap.

From the story:

“Property taxes are still too high, but one of the reasons is that voters are voting to override the limit,” said Barbara Anderson, whose Citizens for Limited Taxation organized the 1980 campaign that got “Prop 2 1/2” passed…

This year, about half of the 150 override efforts passed. In places like the affluent Boston suburb of Weston, such measures have never been voted down.

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CASH CRUNCH AT KARA

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[UPDATE, 12:57 am, Oct. 6, 2006: After the following story was posted, Kara Homes filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, claiming assets of $350.2 million and liabilities of $296.8 million.]

Kara Homes, builder of big-ticket houses on the former site of the Tradewinds beach club in Sea Bright, is laying off workers and plans to file for protection from its creditors under federal bankruptcy laws, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The Press cited “a letter given to laid-off employees earlier this week” as its source for word of the imminent bankruptcy filing.

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TAKE-OUT TROUBLE?

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The West Side property that’s the site of Best Liquors has been home to retail businesses for 90 years. For a good part of that history, it was a grocery, but since 1965, it’s been a liquor retailer, says store owner Pankaj ‘Sunny’ Sharma.

Sharma, who’s 30 years old, drives a red sports car and could pass for a matinee idol, has had the store for just three years. But in that time, he says, he’s been diligent about upgrading and maintaining the property.

He matched public funds to pay for a colorful mural along the store’s exposed southern wall. He installed halogen lighting outside and a camera system so he could keep an eye on things from his cash register. Recently, after complaints from neighbors, he hired someone to come by twice a day to pick up wrappers and other debris that customers drop on the sidewalk.

“All of this stuff, the store didn’t have before,” says Sharma. The effect, he says, has been to improve both the look of the corner and the safety. “Even the police chief said that in the last five years, crime is down 70 percent at this corner,” he says.

But Sharma’s neighbors, all of them homeowners, aren’t buying it. Citing a welter of complaints about noise, littering, public urination and prostitution that they say is getting worse—and which they link directly to the store’s presence—they insist that it’s time for the shop’s long run to end.

No matter what it takes, they say, it’s time to shut Sunny down.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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High fives to Peg Riley of Shrewsbury, who was the first to identify last week’s ‘Where.’ It’s a sculpture at the Guild of Creative Art on Broad Street (Route 35) in Shrewsbury, opposite The Grove, and a full view is at left.

The piece is titled “Dancers,” and it’s by Sid Martin, a member of the Guild who died in 1996. His widow, Susan Martin, of Ocean Township, tells us that she and Sid were big fans of the ballet, and that “Dancers” was inspired by Bugaku, the ancient dance and music of the Japanese Imperial Court.

Sid created more than 40 large pieces in a similar style, including a series of geometric forms. The works, which are all fiberglass on styrofoam, can be seen on the grounds of the Monmouth Reformed Temple on Hance Avenue in Tinton Falls.

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This week: a ghostly silhouette in brick, yes. Ahh, but where?

Email your answers, please.

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SEALFONS SEALING ITS DOORS

Sealfons, the largest store in the Grove, is moving out by the end of the year because of rising rents, the Asbury Park Press is reporting.

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The 25,000-square-foot space will be divided between Brooks Bros., which already has a store at the Grove, and Anthropologie, whose intentions with regard to the Grove were reported here in June.

The closing means the end of the family-owned Sealfons department store chain, which grew to its peak of six stores in the mid-1990s but has been in paring mode in recent years, the Press reports.

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BROKERAGE FIRM SMACKED FOR FRAUD

First Montauk Securities, based on Newman Springs Road in Lincroft, has been hit with a $475,000 fine, and the firm’s top two officials have resigned, as part of a settlement of fraud charges brought by the New Jersey Bureau of Securities.

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The settlement resolves allegations that First Montauk failed to supervise an employee, made misrepresentations to investors and participated in market manipulation in the resale of Nextel junk bonds. Those actions caused “substantial” investor losses, according to a news release on the matter posted in the Division of Community Affairs website.

Without admitting or denying the allegations, Chairman Herbert Kurinsky and Vice Chairman William Kurinsky each agreed to resign from those positions and the Board of Directors of First Montauk’s parent company, First Montauk Financial Corp. According to the Asbury Park Press, William Kurinsky is Herbert Kurinsky’s nephew, and the two men are the firm’s founders.

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ASBURY RADIO HOSTS REDBANKGREENMAN

Beg pardon, but circumstances dictate that we give ourselves a bit of a plug here.

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Readers with a burning curiosity about this four-month-old thing called redbankgreen might want to tune into Asbury Radio this Thursday night, when host Maureen Nevin interviews site co-founder and self-styled redbankgreenman John T. Ward.

We presume Nevin will be exploring what we’re up to and why. It’s a call-in show, so listeners can get in on the action, too.

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TAX TRAUMA MADE EASY

Here’s a tool that the folks who packed Red Bank Borough Hall over taxes last week will want to spend some time with. Actually, anyone who pays property taxes ought to take a look at it.

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Data maven Robert Gebeloff of the Star-Ledger has revived and upgraded an interactive tool that he debuted in 2002. It enables users to calculate their “tax trauma,” a score that takes into account average property tax bills, home values and homeowner incomes.

It also allows users to slice and dice data so many ways their heads may spin. The numbers are not likely to make too many users happy about their relative tax burdens, but in terms of putting things in perspective, the Ledger has done a real public service.

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RAIL SNAFUS SNARL SERVICE

The North Jersey Coast Line train service to Newark and New York, which was reported suspended due to Amtrak power problems earlier this hour, is said to be back in service but experiencing “significant” delays.

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Commuters are being advised to find alternate means to their destinations. PATH and NJT were reported to be cross-honoring rail tickets.

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BLASTOFF: CAMPAIGN ’06

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It’s on.

With five weeks to go until election day, the race for mayor and two council seats in Red Bank is fully underway, with campaign literature filling mailboxes and the candidates stumping door-to-door. Can the dinner-interruptus phone calls be far behind?

On Saturday, redbankgreen found Republican Councilman and mayoral hopeful John Curley and his running mates—Grace Cangemi and David Pallister—pounding the pavement on the lower East Side near Pinckney Road.

Council President Pasquale Menna, who’s running for mayor, and his Democratic crew—Councilman Arthur Murphy III and council contender Michael DuPont—were out knocking on doors Sunday on the lower West Side.

Voters looking for a head-to-head comparison of the candidates might want to mark the date of Wednesday, Oct. 11 on their calendars.

That night, starting at 7p, the Westside Community Group will hold its 10th annual Candidates Night in the community room of River Street Commons (the former school building at the corner of River Street and Shrewsbury Avenue, now used for senior housing.)

If the event is anything like last year’s, it should be quite a show. And if you add the Southies to the mix, with their ire over soaring taxes, and the Westies, burned up over declining quality-of-life issues, and it’s a must-see.

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