Squad leader claims ‘harassment’

22 05 2008

Letter says Jewish group not up to code

PASSAIC — The city has told one of two Passaic-based Orthodox Jewish volunteer ambulance squads that it must shut down because the squad isn’t up to city code.

But the squad’s founder called the city’s action “harassment” and questioned why the other Jewish squad wasn’t scrutinized.

On Monday, the city sent a letter signed by its law firm, Scarinci & Hollenbeck, to David Kaplan, 26, founder of Hatzolah EMS of North Jersey, saying the squad wasn’t in compliance with city law.

The letter said Hatzolah must shut down operations by the end of the day on May 19 if it did not fulfill the requirements of proving that all volunteers are qualified and that the squad has insurance that covers any legal action against the city up to $2 million. The requirements are outlined in a 2004 ordinance.

Kaplan said his squad does meet city requirements and showed necessary proof to the city last September. A letter to Kaplan from former Mayor Samuel Rivera, dated Sept. 12, states that Hatzolah is qualified to provide emergency medical services in Passaic and that a certificate remains in effect for two years from that date.

But Acting Mayor Gary Schaer said to the best of his knowledge Hatzolah had not met all the city’s requirements.

Hatzolah is licensed to operate by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, although a license is not necessary to operate, said spokeswoman Marilyn Riley.

As of Wednesday, Hatzolah had not provided documentation to the city, Kaplan said. But Hatzolah is continuing operations anyway, he said, because Kaplan believes the city’s letter is unfair and unfounded.

To complicate matters, a second Hatzolah ambulance service with a similar name — Hatzolah of Passaic/Clifton — has never been used informally by the city and is not on the list of squads the city uses. Hatzolah means “rescue” in Hebrew. The squads are local chapters of a worldwide organization that has volunteer ambulance squads in Jewish neighborhoods.

Greg Hill, the business administrator, said the city has not checked whether the second Jewish squad is violating city law. Schaer, an Orthodox Jew, said he asked Hill on Tuesday to verify that all private ambulance squads comply with city law. Passaic has only the two Hatzolahs as private squads.

The city’s paid squad, which has two ambulances, is overseen by the Police Department. When both vehicles are in use, the city calls other municipalities and private squads to ask if they can dispatch an ambulance immediately. Andy White, police spokesman, said Kaplan’s Hatzolah has been called in recent months after the Clifton squad and a private company based at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Last week, the City Council entertained a resolution that would formally add Kaplan’s Hatzolah to the city’s list of mutual aid services. But the resolution was defeated by a 3-3 tie vote. A tie means the measure is rejected.

The three Orthodox Jewish council members voted against the resolution, while the three Hispanic members voted in favor.

Schaer, who proposed the resolution, said he voted against it because he believes Hatzolah was stoking ethnic divide in the city.

“Picking up an ambulance group that’s working primarily in one part of town — I don’t think it’s a good idea, if we’re continuing our fight to unite Passaic,” Schaer said.

Kaplan said Hatzolah serves the entire city, not just Jews.

“It’s ludicrous, because the whole point of doing 911 is we service anybody. We don’t ask them, ‘Are you Jewish? Are you Orthodox?’ when someone calls,” Kaplan said. “Gary Schaer has furthered the stereotype that we only want to help ourselves.”

Hatzolah gets an average of 600 calls a year to its direct line, Kaplan said. He did not know what percentage was Jewish.

Councilman Gerardo Fernandez said he supports the squad.

“We never had a problem before. We voted for it. I voted ‘yes’ because they’re providing a service with the community. They’ve been doing it all along,” Fernandez said.

On Tuesday, Schaer said that the letter sent to Kaplan was purely out of concern for public safety.

“It’s not my personal feelings at play here. This affects the health and welfare of city residents,” he said. “What’s relevant is what’s in compliance.”

Reach Karen Keller at 973-569-7158 or kellerk@northjersey.com myheraldnews.com


No shortage of ideas for campaign, ethics reform

22 05 2008

Trenton’s triumvirate of Democratic leadership — Governor Corzine, Senate President Dick Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts — promised us The Great Campaign Finance and Ethics Reform Crusade for 2008.

But as we close in on the year’s halfway mark, the accomplishments have been modest, at best. Successive waves of scandals and FBI stings produced a bumper crop of proposals, but little action.

If anything, Corzine took a step backward, proposing a $750,000 cut in the Election Law Enforcement Commission’s budget. Howls of criticism led him to restore most of the money, but there seems little interest in taking any leaps forward.

The triumvirs say they want to do something. Roberts supports public financing for all legislative contests someday. Corzine has pounded his fists, vowing to modernize the campaign system. And Codey, who argues that great strides already have been taken, has kept his door open.

They need not look far for ideas. There has been a below-the-radar, bipartisan push for reform. Here are a few ideas that would not cost much, other than some political capital.

The Sammy Rivera Legal Defense Fund Act. Legal defense funds have become an outgrowth of the corruption scandals in recent years. Rivera, the former Passaic mayor who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges this month, set one up. So did former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio of Paramus, who is also facing federal corruption charges.

Both men can take unlimited sums of money from friends, family and political donors without having to publicly disclose it. And there is nothing to stop them from spending the money for personal needs. Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Teaneck Democrat, and Republican Sen. Diane Allen want ELEC to regulate the funds and require routine disclosure of contributions and expenses.

The Jonathan Soto Ethics Training Act. Soto, the former Passaic City councilman, was swept up in the same federal bribery sting that ensnared Rivera.

“I have other friends in other municipalities and I’m all for getting my feet wet as well, man,” Soto allegedly told federal agents posing as insurance company officials eager for Passaic business.

One bipartisan bill would require ethics training for elected officials. I’m not sure such a bill will prevent new corrupt buccaneers, but a strong presentation — complete with footage of shackled public officials in orange jump suits — might keep a few hands out of the cookie jar.

The Attack Ad Awareness Act. Candidates would be free to participate in so called “issue advocacy” organizations as long as they came clean and disclosed their involvement to ELEC. These groups, which enjoy tax-exempt status, run attack ads to boost the prospects of their favored candidate. Confronted, they insist that their operations are totally independent, but no one believes it. Sen. Leonard Lance, a Republican from Hunterdon County, would require candidates to disclose their involvement, the names of donors and what they gave.

Wind Down the Wheeling Act of 2009. Several bills would severely curb the massive blocks of cash county parties donate or “wheel” into local and legislative races. The practice allows party brokers to amass large sums of money from around the state and pump them into local contests. It allows special interests to evade contribution limits and expands their influence on newly elected (and beholden) lawmakers.

The Paul Sarlo Dual Office Ban: The Sequel. Lawmakers grudgingly agreed to bar future lawmakers from holding another elected office. But it allowed 17 lawmakers to remain double-dippers until they retire or are booted out of office. That could mean decades. Why not abolish it in time for the 2009 campaign? Note to Sen. Paul Sarlo, who is also Wood-Ridge’s mayor: Why not take the lead by resigning the city hall post and sponsoring the complete ban? Not a bad way for an ambitious lawmaker to boost his statewide profile.

The Anthony Impreveduto Lobbying Ban: Part II. The Legislature did ban convicted ex-legislators from becoming lobbyists, like former Secaucus Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, who resigned from the Legislature in 2005 for improper personal use of campaign funds. Weinberg and state Sen. Bill Baroni, a Republican from Mercer County, also want to bar them from representing clients before local governments and agencies.

E-mail: stile@northjersey.com


20 05 2008

How smart are drivers in AMERICA? Not very, according to the 4th annual GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test. 33 million licensed Americans would not pass a written drivers exam if taken today and may be unfit for the roads!

But where are the smartest and dumbest drivers?
For the first time ever New Jersey drivers rank as the dumbest. And to throw salt on the wound, they have the lowest average score ever. No score has been below 70% before.

Where are the smartest drivers?          The home of Dorothy and the Jayhawks (Kansas) rises from fifth smartest to smartest in 2008. They just beat out Idaho and Nebraska which rank second and third.


Bush tells Israeli media peace does not depend on Olmert

13 05 2008

US President George W. Bush said in interviews published Tuesday ahead of a visit to Israel that the country’s peace process with the Palestinians does not depend on embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.


Police suspect Olmert illicitly took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from an American fund-raiser. The Israeli leader has said he would resign if indicted. (AP)

Sammy Rivera’s last lie

13 05 2008

KNOWING what we know about the man, it would be foolish to try to guess when Sammy Rivera will end his long and largely successful career of deceit. But now that he has left the Passaic mayor’s office under much duress, he has probably told his last lie as a public official. Give him credit for making it a big one.

The mayor’s valedictory whopper had to do with his innocence. Last week, he pleaded guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe in exchange for a city insurance contract. That admission capped eight months of vehement insistence, in and out of court, that he had done nothing of the kind. It was like Rivera’s farewell fabrication tour — three seasons of shameless, outright fraud.

“Definitely, I’m innocent,” Rivera told a Herald News reporter interviewing him at his home earlier this year. “Definitely,” he told a Record reporter calling to ask if he still maintained his innocence, despite signs of plea negotiations.

In September, shortly after the FBI revealed that Rivera and 10 other public officials had been arrested in a bribery sting, the former wrestler vowed, “I’m not going down. I’m going to beat this.” He said he had never heard of the other figures in the case and that the recorded evidence must have been doctored.

After pleading not guilty in January, Rivera continued to refuse calls for his resignation, saying, “The only people who can put me out of office are the courts, and they won’t do that. I am innocent until they find otherwise.”

All the while, Rivera was subjecting the people of Passaic to that many more months of tainted, dysfunctional government. He let his center for day laborers begin to fall apart, engaged in quixotic opposition to bus shelters, forgot to replace the chairman of the library board and gestured obscenely at a resident who criticized him during a City Council meeting.

He even helped paralyze the city government by engaging in a standoff over who would fill the council seat vacated by Marcellus Jackson, who had been found guilty in the same FBI sting.

Rivera’s history of dishonesty dates at least to 1980, when, as a policeman in Puerto Rico, he stabbed himself to help his partner cover up an unjustified fatal shooting.

Decades later, he was so confident in his abilities as a storyteller that he expected us to believe in his innocence even though U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has a perfect record of more than 120 corruption indictments without an acquittal — and even as Rivera’s partners in crime, those arrested in the same setup, began to acknowledge their guilt, one by one. And so Rivera passed up one last chance to do what was honorable, admit his crime and mercifully relieve the people of his services.NorthJersey.com

Assemblywoman Angelini to Seek Legal Opinion on Dual Office Ban as Schaer Assumes Third Public Position and Violates the spirit of the law

12 05 2008

Saying Assemblyman and Passaic City Council President Gary Schaer’s new role as acting mayor of Passaic seems to violate the spirit of the Legislature’s ban on dual office holding, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini said today she will request a legal opinion on the matter from the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS).

“As we are all well aware, the Legislature passed a feeble dual office holding ban last year which grandfathered in dual officeholders who were elected before February 2008,” explained Angelini, R-Monmouth. “This allows Mr. Schaer to serve as a state lawmaker and local councilman. However, now that he has the powers that come with being acting mayor of Passaic as well, it seems he may be violating the spirit of the ban on dual office holding. Since it’s a gray area, I will be requesting a legal opinion from OLS.”

Schaer, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, assumed the role of mayor late last week, following the resignation of Mayor Samuel Rivera who pleaded guilty to extortion in federal court.

Angelini questioned the viability of one person serving in three primary public roles.

“How can one person serve their constituents with excellence when you are juggling three different government positions?” she asked. “There aren’t enough hours in a day to make that possible. The bottom line is you cannot serve two masters. Somewhere in that mix, your constituents will be short-changed.”

Angelini said Schaer’s situation is a prime example of the need for an immediate and comprehensive ban on dual office holding and for stringent ethics reform in general, noting that the city attorney who ruled that Schaer could assume the mayoral office is the law partner of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero.

“This entire situation is a web of ethical conflicts,” stated Angelini. “Not only did Assemblyman Schaer abstain from voting on legislation that prohibits newly elected public office holders from simultaneously holding more than one elective office, but he also serves as vice chair of the Assembly State Government Committee which promulgates these rules.

“Legally, this particular situation may very well fall through a loophole, which is troublesome in itself,” she continued. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s just plain wrong. And as a representative of the people, it’s my responsibility to protect their best interests.”

Angelini suggested that the Assembly State Government Committee debate and vote on bill A-1443, sponsored by Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth and Mercer, which would eliminate the grandfathering clause within 30 days of enactment, when it meets on May 22. Politickernj.com


As many as 700 arrested in Iowa illegal immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant

12 05 2008
POSTVILLE, Iowa — A raid by federal immigration officials at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant may have resulted in as many as 700 arrests, immigration officials said Monday

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered the Agriprocessors Inc. complex in northeast Iowa Monday morning to execute a criminal search warrant for evidence relating to aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security numbers and other crimes, said Tim Counts, a Midwest ICE spokesman.

Agents are also executing a civil search warrant for people illegally in the United States, he said.

Immigration officials told aides to Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, that they expect 600 to 700 arrests. About 1,000 to 1,050 people work at the plant, according to Iowa Workforce Development, the state’s employment services agency.

Chuck Larson, a truck driver for Agriprocessing, was in the plant when the agents arrived. “There has to be 100 of them,” he said of the agents.

Larson said the agents told workers to stay in place then separated them by asking those with identification to stand to the right and those with other papers, to stand to the left.

“There was plenty of hollering,” Larson said. “You couldn’t go anywhere.”

When asked who was separated, Larson said those standing in the group with other papers were all Hispanic

ICE spokesman Harold Ort in Postville did not confirm or deny that anyone had been detained, but went on to say that the children of those detained would be cared for and that “their caregiver situation will be addressed.”

“They were asked multiple times if they have any sole-caregiver issues or any childcare issues,” Ort said.

Aides to Braley said they have been told that “hundreds” of arrests are expected because the action is more of an “investigation” than an immigration raid, and specific individuals are being targeted for arrest as part of the investigation.

Counts described the events in Postville as a “single site operation.” He said he was not aware of any other immigration raids being conducted elsewhere Monday.

Postville Police Chief Michael Halse said he did not know anything about the raid until Monday morning.

Postville is a community of more than 2,500 people that includes natives of German and Norwegian heritage and newcomers who include Hasidic Jews from New York, plus immigrants from Mexico, Russian, Ukraine and many other countries.

The Agriprocessors plant, known as the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, is northeast Iowa’s largest employer.

About 200 Hasidic Jews arrived in Postville in 1987, when butcher Aaron Rubashkin of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood reopened a defunct meat-packing plant with his two sons, Sholom and Heshy, just outside the city limits. Business boomed at the plant, reviving the depressed economy while pitting the newcomers against the predominantly Lutheran community.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said that the Postville immigration investigations were warranted despite concerns that federal official violated the constitutional rights of people in past raids.

“Remember our concern has not been about whether or not there should be raids,” Vilsack said. “It’s the way the raids have been conducted and the way in which American citizens’ rights have been violated by virtue of sort of a roundup process that’s used and what we think are inappropriate and unconstitutional actions on the part of immigration officials.”

Vilsack and others have alleged that immigration officials used humiliation, opposite-sex searches and long periods of secrecy in the Dec. 12, 2006, raids at Swift & Co. in Marshalltown, Iowa, where 90 people were arrested on immigration charges. UsaToday.com