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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Memorial service for Sally Beckwith this afternoon

Sally Beckwith in 2001 production of 'Driving Miss Daisy'
with Jordan Hunt (left) and Harry Ailster (right).
Relatives, friends and colleagues will gather this afternoon at 3:00 at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield to celebrate the life of longtime Plainfield resident and activist Sally Beckwith, who passed away April 20 (see the Courier obituary here).

I first met Sally not long after moving to Plainfield, when I began attending Grace Episcopal Church, where she had sung in the choir.

Always elegantly dressed and coiffed, Sally had a wonderfully rich voice and she and I sat near each other and enjoyed singing the parts to the hymns while the congregation sang the melody.

But as well as her musical gifts, Sally was deeply committed to social justice and she and I were part of the original gathering of Plainfield community members responding to the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Those early meetings, hosted at the Unitarian Society and chaired by its then-pastor Rev. Margot Campbell-Gross, eventually developed into Faith, Bricks and Mortar.

FB&M went on to become a major developer of affordable new and renovated housing for the Plainfield community.

Sally also brought her wit, drive and energy to the ACT IV theater group, which produces plays
in the parish theater at FUSP with  local talent. Particularly memorable was the production of 'Driving Miss Daisy' in 2001 from which the above illustration was taken.


3:00 PM

First Unitarian Society of Plainfield
724 Park Avenue
(Parking on the street, or in public lot across from church)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Garage Sale today benefits women's musical group

Plainfield resident Roberta Smith is hosting the 'garage sale of all garage sales' today to benefit the Harmony Celebration Chorus, a 60-member women's musical group that has been a regional champion of the Sweet Adelines competitions.

Members have contributed tons of stuff you simply can't live without -- jewelry, china, decorative accessories, bric-a-brac, tools, electronics, and women's and children's clothing.

Stop by for a free cup of coffee and a donut and see what you need to make your life complete!


1105 Park Terrace
(off Belvidere Avenue near East 7th Street)

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM TODAY ONLY
Info/Directions:  (908) 419-8860

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Carmen highlights close Symphony season; Vose and Palermo honored

Music Director Charles Prince will close the Plainfield Symphony's 91st season Saturday evening with a salute to 'L'Opéra Français', featuring highlights from Bizet's Carmen and Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah.

Though 'love' might be the common thematic thread in the two operas, the composers' conceptions, subject matter and techniques render quite different experiences.

Whether it is the deceiving Delilah or the torrid Carmen, the crowd is sure to be pleased with the performances of soloists Deborah Berruete Fuhrman and Adam Herskowitz in these ever-popular classics.

In his first season, music director Charles Prince has wowed the PSO audiences with his exciting programming, his entrancing pre-concert chats, and his approachability and bonhomie. While orchestras across the country are in great difficulties, it has been a real pleasure to see the Plainfield Symphony moving ahead in these times.

The Conductor's Circle reception that follows will honor longtime Plainfield Symphony patrons and community supporters Donna Vose and Gregory Palermo, MD.

Donna Vose is celebrated by many for her contributions to the community through activities that range from having been a Republican Councilwoman for the Second Ward, to serving on the Muhlenberg and Plainfield Health Center boards, to taking part in a charter revision panel that was mandated to study Plainfield's form of government and recommend whether it should be changed (it wasn't, but perhaps that should be revisited at some point).

Her husband, Dr. Gregory Palermo (known affectionately to all as 'Greg'), has also been active in the community, serving for many years on the Historic Preservation Commission and then as a founding member and chairperson of the Plainfield Shade Tree Commission.

The reception will be at the Prospect Avenue home of Randy and Laura Stevens, where attendees will be offered a buffet and drinks as well as desserts.

Tickets for the concert may be reserved online or purchased at the door.  Reception attendees may pay at the door.


7:00 PM

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church
East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue
(Parking in church lot, on street, or in Swain Galleries lot)

Tickets: $45/Reserved, $25/General admission, $15/Seniors/Students, under 12 free
Info: (908) 561-5140 or visit the PSO website

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Weekend Youth Summit starts tonight at PHS

Plainfield's long-awaited weekend Youth Summit kicks off at Plainfield High School with an evening of entertainment and music tonight, beginning at 7:00 PM.

Saturday will be filled with youth-for-youth workshops for those in grades 8 through 12, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (plus one for parents, titled 'Parents Just Don't Understand').

Workshop topics include: Conflict Resolution/Management; Da Truth of Snitching; Relationships 101; Status, Swag, and Self-Respect; 'Turned Around' (real-life stories); and 'The Plain Field Experience'.

A dance party Saturday evening (open to attendees of the workshops only) will close the event.

Registration is required and may be made online at the Monroe Avenue Family Development Corporation's website here.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Plainfield Board of Ed will have plenty on its plate

Congratulations to Plainfield Board of Ed election winners Jameelah Surgeon, Alex Edache and Dorien Hurtt.

With their election on Wednesday (see results here), the Grand Slam team has consolidated a definitive majority on the Board. Counting ally Lisa Logan-Leach, the current Board president, there is now a 7-2 balance on the nine member Board.

Best wishes to the winners as they assume their places at the table and join in tackling the many challenges facing the Board.

Having lost more than one seventh of its enrollment to charter schools over the past decade and with continuing problems with student achievement,
leadership turnover, excessive administrative ratios, staff stability, pressure on state aid and property taxes, and a paradoxical overcrowding and excess capacity at the same time, the District certainly has its plate full of challenges.

To deal with all these challenges, the District has an admirable mission statement --

The Plainfield Public Schools
In partnership with its community
Shall do whatever it takes for
Every student to achieve
High academic standards
No alibis, No excuses, No exceptions!

As Renata so correctly says, 'Now let the REAL work begin!'

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Plainfield BOE election results

Preliminary results of Wednesday's Plainfield Board of Education election --

Candidate Tally
Edache 851
Surgeon 880
Cathcart 611

Budget Question 518 Yes
445 No

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Plainfeld school board election today

Whether you are voting in the PlainFELD or the PlainFIELD school board race, you must do it today, between 2:00 PM and 9:00 PM at your regular polling place.

Besides four candidates running for three three-year seats, voters will weigh in on the proposed local levy of $22,285,795 for the school budget for the 2011-12 school year.

I will be voting for Lenny Cathcart, Line 3.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Man shot in head, medevaced

1300-block of West 3rd Street (Google).
Violence in Plainfield's West End continued early Wednesday morning when a man was shot in the head in the 1300-block of West 3rd Street.

The critically wounded victim was medevaced to RWJ Medical Center in New Brunswick.

More as details become available.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Apologies to Reid, but questions remain

Following up on yesterday's post on the visit of Plainfield Council candidate Tony Rucker, Dwayne Wilkins and Councilor Bill Reid to 'Dee' Dameron's workplace (see here) --

First, apologies to Councilor Reid for misidentifying him as Mr. Rucker's campaign treasurer. Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Rucker have both cleared that up in comments made to that post;

Second, you will find that both Mr. Wilkins (in his comment to my post) and Mr. Rucker (in his post of today, see here) have laid out their version of events -- finally (this is the seventh day since the Town Hall meeting).

Third, while you will find that Messrs Rucker and Wilkins have issues with me and with Councilor Reid, you will not find a word of apology to Ms. Dameron for the discomfort the visit to her office caused her. (My mother taught me that sometimes you have to say you're sorry, even when you're not at fault.)

Fourth, none of this means that Reid's prior visit -- uninvited and unannounced -- to Ms. Dameron's workplace was anything less than highly inappropriate, if not part of a 'dirty trick' to put her in hot water with her employer.

Fifth, Mr. Wilkins did not hear, and Mr. Rucker fails to mention the advice I gave him after his explanation to Ms. Dameron: As a political candidate, one cannot simply assume one goes along blithely without asking questions of everyone and everything. I suggested the proper metaphor was 'defensive driving', trying to figure out what everyone else on the road is up to or likely to do, while at the same time operating  your vehicle safely and getting to where you are going. It ain't as simple as it sounds.

All this being said, some questions remain --

  • Will Mr. Reid apologize to Ms. Dameron?
  • Will Mr. Rucker avoid further gaffes?
  • Will Dan ever stop needling?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thank you Freeholder Carter

The rough section is clearly visible in this satellite image from Google.
Union County road crews have been out the past two days patching a really rough 100-foot or so stretch of West 7th Street along the property occupied by Plainfield Tower West.

While the section has been potholed every spring for years, it finally deteriorated to the point that even tractor trailers and dump trucks were swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid the entire section of the street.

Spoke to Freeholder Carter about it at the last Council business meeting and she said she would speak to the County road folks.

Said, and now done. And, by the way, looks to be infrared patching.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Rucker part of Jerry's first dirty trick of 2011 campaign?

In 'The Wizard of Oz', the man behind the curtain
tried to secretly run the show -- until he was unmasked.
An audible gasp went up from the audience when Council candidate 'Dee' Dameron got up to the microphone at the Plainfield City Council's Town Hall meeting last Wednesday and revealed that Councilor Bill Reid had come -- uninvited and unnannounced -- to her place of employment to harangue her about her run for the Council seat.

Not only that, Dameron continued, Reid reappeared at her job the day before the Town Hall with Ward 2 candidate Tony Rucker and his campaign manager Dwayne Wilkins in tow, to question her run for the Council seat yet again.

Dameron put
Rucker, Reid and Wilkins (who by that time had left the meeting) on notice that any further attempted contacts by the three would be met with legal action, as she believed their intent was to harass and intimidate her and put her job at risk by coming to her workplace.

Once she resumed her seat, Rucker sprang to the microphone, rudely cutting in line in front of several waiting speakers, attempting to explain himself by saying he 'didn't know where he was'. Council President Annie McWilliams cut him off, noting he had had the floor twice before and telling him to take the matter up with Ms. Dameron on the side.

When McWilliams adjourned the meeting, Rucker went to Dameron and wanted to get her in a corner away from the crowd to explain  himself. Dameron pointed to a seat next to her and said she was fine with him talking right there in front of witnesses (myself and Dr. Inez Durham, Dameron's campaign manager).

The gist of Rucker's explanation was that he and Wilkins had run into Councilor Reid after coming out of the Plainfield Donut Shop and accompanied him to Dameron's nearby workplace.

When I asked him directly if he had business to take care of at her workplace, Rucker said 'no', but offered no explanation as to why he had gone there with Councilor Reid.

Dameron made it quite clear that she viewed the incident as an attempt to intimidate her and to put pressure on her in front of her employer in the hopes of provoking an incident with her employer or of pressuring her to withdraw from the campaign.

As I was leaving the Cedarbrook School, attendees were already buzzing about whether the visits by
Rucker, Reid and Wilkins were part of a 'dirty trick' by Assemblyman Jerry Green, chair of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee.

Green had acknowledged being surprised by Dameron's appearance before the committee to explain her candidacy, so moves by Green to protect the candidacy of his handpicked candidate
Vera Greaves are not unexpected. Reid's unannounced visit to Dameron's workplace happened the morning of April 11, the Monday following the City Committee meeting.

The Rucker, Reid and Wilkins visit occurred on Tuesday, April 19, the day before the Council's Town Hall meeting. Dameron told me that when she emerged from the ladies' room, she was told the three had specifically asked for her. Their attempt to harass Dameron was cut short by her appointment with a client.

Plainfield being the small town that it is, it quickly came out that Rucker was dissimulating. Far from 'running into' Councilor Reid, I have been told that Rucker, Reid and Wilkins were at Investor's Savings Bank together, opening Rucker's campaign account.

With Bill Reid as treasurer. Reid also happens to be the treasurer for Assemblyman Green's campaign committee as well as that of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Has Jerry called in the first of an endless string of chits he will hold over Rucker's head?

What do you think?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter a time of renewal

Let earth and all her inhabitants shake off winter's dullness.

Possibilities await.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shooting Good Friday evening

A man was shot in the arm on Good Friday evening in the West 3rd Street and Halsey Street area. More when info becomes available.

UPDATE SUNDAY AM: The Courier has an online report here; the unnamed and uncooperative victim may lose part of his arm.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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St. Mary's Good Friday Procession

A giant crucifix, borne on the shoulders of congregants is the procession's focal point.

St. Mary's Church's Good Friday procession has grown greatly over the years since Plainfield photographer Jean Mattson used to chronicle its route from the Plainfield Public Library to the church.

In recent years, the procession has moved its originating point to the plaza in front of the County office building, where I guesstimated this year's crowd in excess of one thousand.

Attendees gather in the plaza, where brief devotions are held before the procession begins.

With guitars and drums, the procession steps off.

Parish youth portray characters in the Good Friday story (Pontius Pilate here),
as well as carrying placards denoting the Stations of the Cross.

Both the Crucifix and the Pieta are borne aloft on the shoulders of parishioners.

Exiting the Park-Madison lot, the procession was escorted by
Plainfield police up Madison Avenue.
I can't help but wonder what will happen when this sleeping giant becomes politically active.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, April 22, 2011

PHS Robotics Team recognized

Members of the 2010-11 PHS Robotics Club were honored Tuesday evening.
Club faculty advisor Deborah Johnson is front and center.
While Plainfield High School's Cardinals boys basketball team has garnered much attention for its Region 3 state title (the first in 27 years), I was pleased to find the District's Robotics Club team also being honored at this past Tuesday night's Board of Ed meeting.

Club members were invited to the front where they received individual certificates and shook the hands of Acting Superintendent of Schools Anna Belin-Pyles and Board of Ed members while basking in a hearty round of applause from the audience.

The club, which has participated in the annual high school robotics competition since 1997, has 43 members enrolled this year, including students from the Union County Magnet School and Union County Vo-Tech, according to faculty advisor Deborah Johnson.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Muhlenberg advisory committee meets tonight

Sign on Watchung Avenue lawn during debate over Muhlenberg's closure.

Plainfield's Community Advisory Group, charged with monitoring the Muhlenberg situation as part of the 2008 closure agreement, will meet tonight in the City Hall Library.

Meetings are not normally disclosed to the public, but this one was announced at Wednesday's City Council Town Hall meeting at Cedarbrook School.

Community Advisory Group Meeting
Thursday · April 21 · 6:30 PM

City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue
Parking and entry at rear of building.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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League of Women Voters Board of Ed candidate forum tonight

Plainfield's League of Women Voters will host a forum for Board of Ed candidates this evening at Washington Community School.

Agurs 'Lenny' Cathcart is the only incumbent among a roster of four running for three three-year board seats.

The school board election is set for Wednesday, April 27, from 2:00 - 9:00 PM.

League of Women Voters School Board Candidate Forum
Thursday · April 21 · 7:00 PM

Washington Community School
427 Darrow Avenue
Parking in the Spooner Avenue lot and on the street.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Council's third Town Hall meeting tonight at Cedarbrook School

Council tries to do the 'just and capable' thing...
A series of four Town Hall meetings planned by the Plainfield City Council to seek input from taxpayers, businesses and residents on issues of concern continues tonight with the Third Ward meeting at Cedarbrook School.

While the meetings are being held in each ward over a period of several weeks in the hopes that those interested will find a neighborhood location convenient, all the meetings are open to all regardless of residence and everyone is encouraged to find one at a convenient time and place to participate.

The Town Hall meetings continue a tradition begun under the late mayor Al McWilliams, father of the current Council President, Annie McWilliams.

Council Town Hall Meetings:  Ward 3
Wedesday · April 20 · 7:00 PM

Cedarbrook School
1049 Central Avenue
Parking in the school lot and on the street.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Armory: Opportunity or Flim-Flam?

Opportunity...or flim-flam?

[And Jesus said to them] ...which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
-- Luke 14: 28-30 [King James Version]

Plainfielders once again are finding the Armory at the center of jostling by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Assemblyman Jerry Green and others, with the suggestion there is an opportunity which must be seized now ere it is lost.

The latest dust-up, in which Assemblyman Green attacks Councilor Williams as being 'clueless' (see here), centers around whether or not the City will be on the hook if it is party to the deal being proposed by READS. Green claims Williams is misinforming the public, but avoids the crucial question: If READS is an economically viable operation, why does it have to 'partner' with the City at all?

Assemblyman Green was pursuing an Armory project when Al McWilliams was mayor and it was fraught then (as it is still) with questions concerning a fair price, and the cost of remediating and renovating the building for another use (I reviewed the history and issues with the building in 2008, see here).

Back in the late 1990s, when I was part of the AT&T-funded New Audiences for Plainfield project, a cultural inventory, assessment and plan were developed for the community under the leadership of consultant Andrea Olin-Gomes. That project included an assessment of the Armory as a potential cultural facility. At that time, Ms. Olin-Gomes felt it had enormous cost disadvantages (estimating $3-5 million 1996 dollars to bring it up to snuff) as well as nearly incurable site liabilities (limited parking and being in a residential neighborhood) which made it compare poorly against a venue such as the Strand Theater.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs has offered nothing but 'gush' about the building's usability as either a charter school or a cultural facility, and certainly has not convened a task force to judge the merits of the idea.

Assemblyman Green also seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In January, he and the Mayor were both were cited in a Courier article as advocating for the combined charter school/cultural facility use (see here). I challenged it at the time (see here) as harebrained on several grounds: the notion that it would be 'cost-free to the taxpayers', and with questions about both the proposed developer and the charter school.

At the Plainfield Democratic City Committee meeting on March 11, Assemblyman Green completely reversed himself. After giving Mayor Robinson-Briggs the floor, which she took as an opportunity to plump for the Armory project, Chairman Green then quietly slipped her the shiv, saying that he had spoken with Council President McWilliams and had been assured the Council was not in favor of any CITY INVOLVEMENT in an Armory project and that he was not pushing for the Mayor's proposal (see my post here).

Bernice Paglia, writing at Plaintalker II has weighed in two days in a row on the matter (see here, and here). Bernice cites chapter and verse about why it is wise to proceed with caution and with full public disclosure.

Tony Rucker also writes about the Armory project today (see here), urging its use as a 'resource for the community'. Unfortunately, he is long on froth and short on critical analysis -- in addition to totally avoiding the 'little stuff' of the hard issue of costs and being fiscally responsible.

Meanwhile, the unnamed charter school (it is actually the Barack Obama Green Charter High School) is not waiting on the kindness of all these strangers -- it has negotiated a lease of the District's Lincoln School property on Berckman Street for an eyepopping rate better than any other charter school in the city (see my post here).

As for Jerry, Sharon and Tony Rucker, I'm sorry but I'm siding with Jesus.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Chairman Green contests New Dem city committee petitions

Is Jerry making a serious challenge?
Plainfield Democratic City Committee chairperson Assemblyman Jerry Green challenged eleven city committee candidates running on the New Dems slate. Is Jerry being a vicious pit bull or a toothless old dog past his prime?

With the entire 68 seats on the committee (one female and one male for each of 34 voting districts) up for re-election on June 7, Green is attentive to the need to minimize the chances of the New Dem candidates electing a majority to the committee, which would endanger his control.

Five Hispanic candidates in Wards 1 and 3 and one non-Hispanic were challenged for either not being registered Democrats or having the signatures of those who are not registered Democrats on their petitions.

In a letter to Chairman Green dated April 15, City Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh, writing as Plainfield's Chief Election Official, denied Green's objection, citing Lesniak v. Budzash (1993), in which the court ruled unaffiliated voters may declare party membership by SIGNING A NOMINATION PETITION.

Green challenges two other Ward 1 committee candidates as not having enough signatures and for an alleged discrepancy in a candidate's signature in two section of the petition. City Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh denied the challenge to the required number of signatures, and held that he has no way of verifying the validity of the challenged signature, to which the candidate swore under oath before a notary.

Lastly, Green challenged the petition of Ward 2 candidates Dave Beck and Lois Mattson, alleging two signatures appeared on the line indicating the petition's circulator.

This City Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh denied on the basis it was clear the notary had signed the line in error and corrected the error by crossing their name out and signing in the correct location, with the circulator writing their name above the crossed out line.

Chairman Green's only option at this point would be to take his challenges to Superior Court in Elizabeth. He has done this before, with less than happy results. Will he do so again?

That would cost money. With less than $241 in the City Committee treasury, Green would have to either find a pro bono lawyer or fork out the cash himself.

I'm betting on the toothless old dog in this one.

Thursday at 3:00 PM the ballot positions for the June Primary will be drawn at the County Clerk's office in Elizabeth.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: April 17 Ponzi scheme property ID

'House of Ponzi' is at 1220 Watchung Avenue.

Most everybody knew yesterday's Hidden Plainfield was on Watchung Avenue, 1220 to be exact.

The Ponzi scheme involved an unregistered securities firm -- Serafino Holdings LLC -- whose owner, Anthony Lucchetto Jr. lived at the Plainfield address and was accused by the State of selling unregistered securities invested in construction loans.

Accused of a $15M fraud in 2009 (see AG's complaint here; Bloomberg News here), the case was finally settled recently (reported in the Ledger Wednesday, see here). Lucchetto, who no longer appears to live at the property, agreed to make $7.2 million in restitution to those who were scammed and to pay a $1 million civil penalty to the state.

Both Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post (see here) linked Lucchetto to a much larger, $400 million Ponzi scheme run by Nicholas Cosmo and centered in Long Island.

Lucchetto's defense lawyer, William Hood III, said at the time that
Lucchetto was a victim of Cosmo's scam. The settlement suggest he was unable to prove that to the State's satisfaction.

Proceeds of the scam were evidently not spent on the property.
While Ponzi scamsters are often reported to live the high life -- including swanky properties -- on their ill-gotten gains, no such claim has been made against Lucchetto. As can be seen from the photo above, it hardly appears he invested his money in the Watchung Avenue property, and the construction permit stickers below dated 2008 show no evidence of work having been done. In fact, the house is vacant and winterized, though it is not clear whether it is a bank foreclosure.

Two construction permit stickers from 2008
show no evidence of work having been done.
Where shall we go next week?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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