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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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.


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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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.


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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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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“I’m pretty far to the left,” Al Strasburger told us with a note of caution over the phone the other day, before we met him at his Oakland Street home for an interview.

Looking back, we now see what a considerate gesture this was. Clearly the man has a sense of his own toxicity, as measured by today’s political standards. He was gently trying to spare us from… well, a shock, no doubt.

Of course, the warning only whetted our interest. What passes for the ideological “spectrum” in America today is actually a range from the barely-left-of-center to the far right. We thought it would be refreshing to meet a real hairshirt liberal, the kind who might actually resemble the bogeymen that far-right radio screechers have gotten rich warning us about.

So we eagerly made our way past the cartoonishly overgrown yard—which, swear to Allah, Strasburger maintains with a sickle, because he doesn’t own a lawnmower—and into his musty, poster-lined living room, where a two-foot-high stack of Cuban art magazines stood in a corner.

A couple of hours later we departed, having met perhaps the most charming, erudite, Chevy-driving, Phillies-loving defender of Stalin we are ever likely to encounter in these parts.

And yeah, the hair was standing up on the backs of our necks.

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The Southies got the crowd they wanted—and the startled attention of Red Bank’s governing body—as an overflow throng descended on the Borough Council Monday night to demand a halt to rising property taxes.


Responding to a recent leafletting campaign launched by South Street homeowners, residents packed the council chambers, catching elected officials off guard both with their numbers and with their calls for an end to tax hikes.

“I obviously didn’t know we were going to have this many people here,” Mayor Ed McKenna said near the outset of the meeting, a remark that was echoed by two council members.

“We’re here to tell you we’re hurting,” rally organizer Marta Rambaud told the council. “We need to change the trend. We’re hurting and we need help. That help has to come from you, or we’ll have to move away.”

By the end of the nearly two-hour session, the audience had been treated to an emotional call by McKenna for respect he said was due him for “over one thousand nights of my life” spent attending public meetings; yet another volatile exchange between McKenna, who is not seeking re-election, and mayoral candidate John Curley; and a Leighton Avenue resident’s Vaudevillian re-enactment of his encounter with a topless prostitute as he retrieved his morning newspaper recently.

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The state of New Jersey has apparently had it with Sea Bright beach club owners—and the borough, too—over the question of just who owns the beach.


Using a pair of court rulings as leverage, acting Attorney General Anne Milgram today sued Sea Bright and nine private beach clubs for failing to provide unrestricted public access to shorefront that state claims was “almost entirely built through a publicly funded shore protection project in 1995.”

The multifaceted suit also accuses Sea Bright of breaching an agreement to convert the former site of the Peninsula House hotel to a public beach. Instead, the state claims, the borough has left the parcel in disrepair and even tried to barter it away for landlocked property for the site of a new municipal building.

And Sea Bright hasn’t paid a dime of the more than $556,000 it owes the state for its share of a 2003 beach replenishment, the state claims. It demands payment.

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At this point, it’s a far cry from Proposition 13, the landmark 1970s effort that resulted in constitutional limits on property-tax increases in California.

And it’s barely a whisper compared to the noise made by the toilet-paper flaunting brigades who turned out in Trenton after Gov. Jim Florio raised the New Jersey sales tax in 1990.

Still, there may be a tax rebellion developing in Red Bank. And it will face its first test of strength next week.

A group of South Street homeowners has been leafletting the borough in recent days in an effort to pack next Monday night’s Borough Council meeting with residents and business owners.

Their message: do something to stop tax increases.

Their aim is to draw a crowd—ideally, one as large as the unexpected throng that jammed the council chambers in July 2005, when the council’s Democratic majority hoped to resurrect dormant plans for a White Street parking garage that would be financed with public funds. That night, a standing-room crowd spilled out of the chambers into the first-floor hallway of the municipal building—and the parking lot plan got shelved.

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As predicted by the Star-Ledger’s Josh Margolin in June, Rumson resident James R. Zazzali, Associate Justice on the state Supreme Court, is Gov. Jon Corzine’s choice to succeed Chief Justice Deborah Poritz upon her expected retirement next month, according to the Associated Press.

Citing an unnamed source, the AP also reports that Corzine will nominate Appellate Court Judge Helen E. Hoens as an associate high court justice. Corzine is expected to make a formal announcement this morning.

Zazzali, a Democrat, was appointed to the high court by by then-Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, in 2000.

If confirmed, he’s unlikely to hold the job for long, because the state Constitution requires that justices retire at age 70, a milestone Zazzali will reach in a year. Poritz turns 70 in October.

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Only a few months ago, the Red Bank Charter School appeared to be on the brink of financial disaster. Now it’s on a hot streak of fiscal good fortune, one that continued yesterday.


Last month, the state Department of Education slashed a pending fine against the school from $1 million to $55,000 following an appeal. The fine had been imposed in May, 2005 for what state officials ruled were violations of bidding laws in conection with the Oakland Street school’s renovations.

Yesterday, according to the Asbury Park Press, the state agreed to allow the school to pay the fine over five years.

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Jack Westlake, the Monouth Couty Board of Taxation president who last week pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges, will quit his part-time county post, the Asbury Park Press reports, citing Westlake’s lawyer.


Westlake, whom the Press says is a Red Bank resident, is expected to step down by Friday, his lawyer, John C. Whipple, told the Press. Westlake is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 19 to between 10 and 16 months in prison, under the terms of a plea deal.

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News that the state had slashed a fine on the Red Bank Charter School from $1 million to $55,000 arrived just in time for the school’s annual picnic, which made the event at Eastside Park rather more jubilant than it otherwise might have been, Larry Higgs reports in today’s Asbury Park Press.


From the story:

“I just heard, and it’s fantastic,” said Sima Williams of Bridge Avenue, parent of two students. “We were all concerned. It’s money we’ll have to pay, but it’s definitely more affordable than $1 million.”


The Department of Education decided last week to reduce the fine, levied in May 2005, after it found that school officials violated public bidding laws in renovating school buildings on Oakland Street. State officials cited the school’s implementation of a corrective action plan to deal with issues in the report, in their decision on the appeal. The school’s board of trustees must approve the state’s settlement.

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Councilman and mayoral wannabe John P. Curley was booted from his post overseeing the borough’s finance department last night, according to Larry Higgs in today’s Asbury Park Press.


Mayor Ed McKenna initiated the ouster, repeating his claim that lax oversight of now-departed borough CFO Terence Whalen by Curley forced the council to raise property taxes.

The vote to kick Curley to the curb went along party lines, with the four Democrats, including mayoral contender Pat Menna, voting in favor. Curley and fellow Republican Kaye Ernst voted against it, the Press reports.

“Why don’t you just take me down to Broad Street and hang me?” Curley is reported have said.

He defended his role in monitoring the finance department, saying…

that until the 2005 audit, which was delivered this summer, other reports from the auditor revealed no problems in the finance department.

“I got the reports from the auditor, and the reports were everything was fine,” he said. “I am not the CFO or the auditor. I can only go by the reports.”

Curley also reminded McKenna that he has appointed him to consecutive terms as finance chairman.

McKenna, though, compared Curley’s handling of the assignment to that of his three predecessors, and found Curley’s actions wanting, to say the least. Unlike Curley, the previous overseers of the department met regularly with the CFO and provided updates to the council, McKenna said.

From the story:

“There is nothing personal or political about what I will propose here. This is strictly business,” McKenna told the council. “In any other business, if a department chairman or head had $400,000 in losses, they would be fired.”

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A Trenton lawmaker is proposing a ban on foie gras, the cracker-meat that comes from, well, read for yourself, from the story in the Atlantic City Press:

“To produce the delicacy, poultry farmers force-feed ducks or geese through metal tubes pushed down the birds’ throats, so the birds’ livers expand to several times the normal size.

The result is a duck or goose liver with a rich, buttery taste.”

That’s just “cruel and barbaric,” says Assemblywoman Joan Voss, D-Bergen. “To intentionally induce pain and suffering on these birds just to create a gourmet appetizer is appalling.”

As is often the case, of course, there’s someone to claim a purported commercial interest that should trump any concerns about barbarity. Ariane Daguin, who owns D’Artagnan, a national foie gras distributor based in Newark, tells the Press that prohibiting Garden State farmers from producing foie gras will put them at a competitive disadvantage against other states.

But the Press notes that:

No foie gras farms currently exist in the state. In fact only three such farms operate in the U.S., one in California and two in upstate New York.

Well, that takes care of that non-issue.

Still, D’Artagnan defends the practice of force-feeding ducks and geese as something they tolerate well, and wants to deflect attention to the way other fowl are treated. “Go see how chickens are being raised,” Daguin said. “It’s terrifying. It’s bad. It’s cruel.”

Why, yes, we see your point, Ariane! Let’s start force-feeding chickens, too! It’s the only humane thing to do!

Chicago recently banned the sale of foie-gras, and a California ban will become effective in 2012. Worldwide, 16 countries prohibit the production and/or sale of foie gras, according to a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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The acrimony between departing Mayor Ed McKenna and mayoral candidate John Curley spilled over into the business of the Monmouth County Freeholders last night.

Today’s Asbury Park Press reports that Curley and other Republicans were, um, displeased with the Freeholders’ hiring of law firms.

McKenna’s firm—McKenna, Dupont, Higgins & Stone—was named as a special counsel. The Freeholders also re-appointed, by a 3-2 vote, Malcolm V. Carton as county counsel, re-upping Carton in a post he’s held since 1985.

Carton’s lock on the job had appeared in danger amid rising concern about the size of his bills and his naked fundraising for Republican candidates.

But under new rules adopted by the Freeholders, the county counsel will be prohibited from making any political contributions to candidates for county office, and is now barred from hosting fundraisers for the freeholders, sheriff, county clerk or county surrogate.

The Freeholders also brought in six new law firms, including McKenna’s, with both Democratic and Republican affiliations.

Not good enough, according to Curley and other critics who took a throw-the-bums-out approach.

From the story:

“It is a night of shame for the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders,” Curley said. “The county is not moving to clean itself up. They appoint the same cronies…the same old boys club.”

OK, so that was arguably a broad-brush attack not necessarily aimed solely at McKenna. But it makes for a tidy entry in the back-and-forth between McKenna, who ran on the same ticket as Curley in 2002, and Curley, who later switched parties, from Democratic to Republican.

A week ago, McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the borough council.

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Red Bank Middle School and Red Bank Regional High School were among the 643 schools statewide that failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state Department of Education disclosed today. The results were based on preliminary data.

The Red Bank Charter School and the elementary school were each classified as having made adequate progress.

At the high school, where 79 percent of the students must demonstrate language arts literacy, the shortcomings showed up among Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. In math, which requires 64 percent of students to pass a test, Hispanics, African-Americans and students with disabilities came up short of the law’s targets.

The high school is classified as a “school in need of improvement” for failing to meet the law’s standards for 4 years in a row. According to the Asbury Park Press,

Schools not meeting standards in the same content area for four consecutive years are deemed to be in need of corrective action. The actions can include instituting a new curriculum, extending the school day or school year, or replacing staff who are deemed relevant to the school not making adequate progress.

Here’s what Edward Westervelt, Red Bank Regional superintendent, told the Press last October:

“We’ve improved scores, but we didn’t improve enough to prevent from being identified as needing improvement,” Westervelt said. “There are no excuses. We will remediate. I’m convinced we’ll be off the list next year.”

At the middle school, the sole shortcoming was the failure to meet a required 95-percent “participation rate” of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged kids in language arts and literature, according to the report.

Schools in Rumson, Fair haven, Little Silver, Shrewsbury and Tinton Falls all made the grade. In Middletown, all schools met the standards except Thorne Middle School.

From the Department of Education announcement:

A total of 643 schools—26.5 percent of New Jersey’s total 2,422 schools and 29 percent of the tested schools—did not make AYP. In 2004-05, 822 schools—34 percent of the total public schools in the state last year and 37.8 percent of the tested schools—did not meet the AYP benchmarks.

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For anyone who’s ever craved a few minutes more peace and quiet before the anal leaf-blower next door starts his weekly lawn scour, Middletown is offering a modicum of relief.

Under an ordinance approved by the town council last night, the screech of leaf blowers, mowers and other motorized tools would be prohibited after 9p and before 7a on weekdays and from 9p to 8a on weekends, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press.

Previously, the town’s laws addressed only noise levels, not hours of operation.

From the story:

The ordinance was adopted in a 4-1 vote, which followed a public hearing where one resident spoke. Committeewoman Rosemarie Peters cast the dissenting vote.

Peters said she is in favor of regulating noise but thinks the hours could be altered.

“I think 7 a.m. is really too early to allow the kind of noise that this ordinance covers,” she said. “I think 8 a.m. is a little bit more reasonable.”

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Fatalities on New Jersey’s major raodways are up this year by 18 percent, reversing a general trend of increasing roadway safety, today’s Bergen Record reports.


The article comes less than a week after two accidents on a short stretch of Route 95 claimed five lives, including three members of a Queens family. The Record reports the highway had been relatively safe in recent years.

From the story:

In contrast, the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Route 80 claim many more lives. In 2004, there were 40 fatal accidents on the parkway, which is by far the state’s busiest roadway. There were 25 fatal accidents on the turnpike and 18 on Route 80.

Joe Orlando, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said the number of fatal accidents on the parkway has grown in spite of police enforcement.

“State police on the turnpike and parkway are at the highest complement of troopers they have been at in years,” he said.

Orlando said a high number of fatalities on the parkway occurred late at night, and involved a single vehicle. He said the geometry of the parkway may also present more problems for distracted motorists.

“The turnpike is very straight,” he said. “The parkway has more bends in it, and keep in mind there are a lot of sections of the parkway that are without guardrail.”

State highway and police officials are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss what’s behind the recent spurt in fatalities and what to do about it, the Record reports.

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Disaster planners in New Jersey will have to come up with strategies for saving pets in an emergency under a law signed by Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday.

The law was inspired by numerous reports of pet owners forced by circumstance to abandon their animals during Hurricane Katrina last year.

According to the Star-Ledger (lower portion of story), emergency management offices at the state, county and local levels are now required to make the rescue and safeguarding of pets a priority in an emergency.

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The buck for the latest increase in Red Bank property taxes stops at the far right end of the Borough Council dais, where John P. Curley sits, according to Mayor Ed McKenna.

McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the council yesterday. In McKenna’s view, Curley failed to exercise proper oversight of former borough chief financial officer Terence Whalen, who quit in June, shortly before the release of an audit that found his department rife with mismanagement that will set the town back $400,000. No fraud was alleged.

According to Larry Higgs’ account in the Asbury Park Press, McKenna accused Curley, the council’s finance committee chairman, for failing to monitor Whalen.

“The taxpayers of this borough should hold you accountable for four cents of the tax increase,” McKenna said.

McKenna said the borough tax rate would be flat if not for the problems in the finance office.

“We have an excellent budget. I wish it was better, but due to negligence in one department, it cost us $400,000,” McKenna said.

Curley said it isn’t his job to monitor full-time employees. That is the job of full-time borough employees, he said.

“I’m not the CFO or the auditor,” he replied.

Other finance committee chairmen met with the CFO during the week and got updates on whether the borough was under or over budget, McKenna said.

“That’s what you should have been doing,” McKenna said. “You knew we had a new CFO and should have been monitoring him on a microscopic basis.”

McKenna’s accusation followed criticism by Curley of the council’s failure to slash the budget across all departments by five percent from last year’s spending, as Curley had proposed.

The new spending plan calls for $16.27 million, with the local portion of property taxes pegged at $8.32 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the average home, assessed at $179,000, that means a bill of $1,489, up $75 from the previous budget.

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New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber, who had 12 speeding tickets, four bench warrants issued for her arrest and three license suspensions even before her questionable intervention in a Bergen County traffic stop involving her boyfriend in May, has been asked to resign, according to the Star-Ledger.

The newspaper, citing “a senior Democratic official familiar with the meeting” between Gov. Jon Corzine and Farber, says Corzine made the request earlier today. The request followed the filing of a report by Richard J. Williams, a special prosecutor appointed by Corzine, who concluded that Farber hadn’t broken any laws, but had violated state ethics rules when she raced to the scene of a traffic stop involving her boyfriend, lawyer Hamlet Goore, on a traffic violation.

According to a story moved by the Associated Press, Williams said in a report to Corzine that

Farber violated state ethics laws by “approving actions which allowed Mr. Goore to drive his vehicle home.” Specifically, Williams pointed to ethics code provisions that say state officials should not use their positions to receive “unwarranted privileges, benefits, or advantages for themselves or others.”

According to the Ledger:

The sources said Farber did not immediately agree to resign and it remains unclear whether she will honor the governor’s request or fight for her job.



A profusion of decals pasted to signs and lampposts on Monmouth Street prompted attorney William Meyer to ask the Borough Council last night if businesses that issue them might be held liable for the cost of removal.

No, says councilman and mayoral candidate Pasquale Menna. He says the borough has twice tried to prosecute issuers, but both times, a municipal court has ruled they can’t be held responsible for the actions of third parties who attach the stickers to public property.

Menna says he’ll investigate if other laws, such as those barring the sale of some spray paints favored by grafitti artists, might be used to deter the slap-happy.

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The Monmouth County Freeholders voted last night to put a nonbinding public question on the Nov. 7 ballot. At issue is a proposed countywide tax of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value to be used to fund the acquisition and upkeep of open space and farmland.

Andrea Alexander of the Asbury Park Press has the story today.

According to the Press, the tax would generate revenue of $16 million in its first year—the same amount now allocated by the county for the purpose under three public questions approved by voters since 1987. The difference in this proposal is that revenue collection would increase as property values rise, according to proponents, who contend the current level of funding is insufficient.

From the Press:

Under the current method for raising open-space funds, the county apportions the $16 million among the 53 towns in the county and sets a tax rate based on the property values in each of those towns, said Mark E. Acker, county finance director.

The change would not affect individual tax bills in its first year, but the long-term impact is unclear.

Since 1960, the county has preserved 14,421 acres of parks, recreation and open space worth $244 million as part of the Monmouth County Park System. The Open Space Trust Fund has been used to preserve 4,591 acres since 1989.

The recommendation of a tax was made in a new county open space plan proposed by the park system. The plan calls for the acquisition of property for five new parks, including sections of Fort Monmouth and the 145-acre Marlboro Airport site on Route 79.



The three owners of the Red Bank house shown here have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with an alleged plot to defraud the government through a kickback scheme at Fort Monmouth.

A story in today’s Asbury Park Press says the trio bilked the government out of more than $990,000.

In federal court in Trenton Wednesday, Michael Rzeplinski, 56, admitted that in 2002 he used his position as a program director of the General Services Administration at the fort to arrange no-show jobs for Kirsten Davidson, 33, with a fort contractor. The arrangement netted Davidson some $283,000 for work she didn’t perform.

Rzeplinksi also admitted setting up a phony subcontracting firm that that bilked the fort out of $4,500 a month.

From the Press:

“It’s as if the government was a pinata and they were all taking swings at it,” said James Murawski, a Department of Defense investigator.

Davidson admitted to her role in the no-show scheme. Her mother, Connie Davidson, another fort employee, admitted she knew of the fraud but did nothing to stop it.

Rzeplinski, 56, bought the house, located at 192 Branch Avenue, in 2003 for $300,000. Monmouth County records show he transferred the deed to himself and the two Davidson women in early 2005. In recent months, an extensive addition to the house, including the construction of a large garage, has been underway.

redbankgreen stopped by the house earlier today, where a woman who identified herself as Kirsten Davidson said she would have no comment until “later.”

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 13 in Trenton. The defendants, who remain free on bond, face prison terms of up to 10 years.

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Seventy-nine percent of New Jerseyans have “absolutely no interest” in reading ex-Guv. Jim McGreevey’s upcoming book about his struggles with homosexuality and his 2004 political flame-out, according to the Monmouth University Polling Institute.


Five percent expressed “a lot’ of interest, and 14 percent had at least some interest in reading the book, titled ‘The Confession.’ It’s due out Sept. 19. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has details.

According to an excerpt obtained by the Star-Ledger in May (story archived), McGreevey’s tell-all includes disclosures about his attempts to satisfy “a particularly rank, unfulfilling variety of lust” via sexual encounters in highway rest-stops and other drive-thru locales.

He’s scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show Sept. 18. Polls aside, if he jumps up and down on her sofa or admits to plagiarism, look for book sales to skyrocket.

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