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Corzine denies charges of cover-up, sources say Harold Hodes hires lawyer relating to Coniglio probe, Garrett signs bi-partisan letter to develop Iraq policy, judge said New Jersey in crisis over voting machines.


“Gov. Jon Corzine declared "there is no cover-up." Republicans continued to call for a special investigation. And the man at the center of the latest Trenton controversy held a news conference at his house but answered no questions — then called the cops when reporters wouldn't leave.

The governor yesterday repeated his assertion that he did nothing wrong when he gave $15,000 and promised a private-sector job to Rocco Riccio, the brother-in-law of Corzine's former girlfriend, union leader Carla Katz.

Riccio received the money after he was pressured to quit a Turnpike Authority job in January. At the time, the administration was facing questions about Riccio's ties to Corzine, and about anonymous accusations that Riccio, a former state employee, had snooped into the state tax records of potential political enemies.

Corzine said yesterday that he offered the money and job assistance because Riccio was a friend in need. He also he said that state officials had reviewed Riccio's activities, but did not elaborate.

"There is no cover-up," the governor told reporters after a football stadium groundbreaking at the Meadowlands. "There were reviews done. I can't speak to what's in personnel files — but it would be beneficial to have that information in the public forum."

GOP officials have used the episode to ramp up their longstanding demands that the governor reveal his financial connections to Katz, who heads the largest state workers union. Corzine, who dated Katz while a senator, gave her millions of dollars in gifts when they broke up, but has declined to elaborate beyond saying that their financial entanglements ended when he became governor.

"A cloud of corruption continues to hover over Jon Corzine as it pertains to his ties to Carla Katz and her influence over his actions," Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson said yesterday.” (Margolin and Martin, Star-Ledger)



“Lobbyist Harold Hodes, a top advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in New Jersey and one of the state’s most powerful political insiders, has retained a prominent criminal defense attorney as part of the federal corruption probe of State Sen. Joseph Coniglio, according to several sources.

Public Strategies/Impact, Hodes’ firm, has represented Hackensack University Medical Center, which employed Coniglio as a plumbing consultant. The hospital received over $1 million in state grants while the Bergen County Democrat was on their payroll.

Hodes has not received a target letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to people with knowledge of the Coniglio investigation, but is being represented by Justin Walder. Walder’s partner, Joseph Hayden, said his firm does not comment on who their clients are. Hodes did not return repeated phone calls to his office, home and cell phone over the last several weeks seeking comment…………..

Nearly forty leaders of Clinton’s New Jersey campaign were in Washington on Tuesday to meet with the Democratic presidential candidate, but Hodes was not in attendance. Clinton will address the New Jersey Democratic State Committee’s Annual Conference in Atlantic City on Friday.” (Editor,


“U.S. Reps. Scott Garrett and Charlie Dent rank among a handful of House lawmakers pleading with House leaders to develop a bipartisan Iraq policy.

Garrett, R-Warren/Sussex, and Dent, R-Lehigh Valley, signed a letter dated Sept. 4 that urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner to adopt a bipartisan plan for stabilizing Iraq and bringing U.S. troops back to the United States.

Eleven lawmakers signed the bipartisan Iraq letter.

"Since 2003, over 3,700 American military personnel have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than 25,000 have been injured," the lawmakers' letter to House leaders said. "We have also spent over $400 billion in the course of this conflict. It is clear that the American people want a straightforward plan regarding our involvement and long-term interests in the region."…………..

Dent and Garrett have not supported any legislation thus far that would require President Bush to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by any fixed date.

"The lives and well-being of our troops, as well as the security of our nation for years to come, hangs in the balance here," Garrett said in a news statement that he issued Wednesday. "There's too much at stake for this to be a political issue. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle simply must come together to devise a strategy for stabilizing Iraq and safely returning our troops to their families."” (Cahir, Express-Times)

“Garrett, who has voted repeatedly against Democrat-sponsored measures to set timetables for bringing home troops from Iraq, said his signing the letter did not constitute a call for a troop withdrawal.

Instead, Garrett sees the letter — which became public Tuesday but was drafted in late July — as a recognition that partisan politics needs to be removed from the debate.

The letter was signed by six Republicans and five Democrats, many of them political moderates. It contained no specific timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces and took no position on earlier calls to limit future funds for the war.” (Woolley, Star-Ledger)



“New Jersey has one week to come up with plans to replace every voting machine in the state, a judge ruled yesterday.

"This is a crisis," Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg said at a hearing in Trenton.

A state law requires all 10,000 of the state's electronic voting machines to be refitted by January with printers, as a safeguard against digital tampering. Voters could review — though not keep — paper versions of their electronic ballots, and those printouts could be used for recounts.

But printers from three vendors were found deficient this summer by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the state Attorney General's Office told the judge yesterday that retesting will take at least six more weeks.

"It's getting too close. You need to tell me what the alternatives are," Feinberg told Deputy Attorney General Jason Orlando. She directed him to report back by next Thursday, with a hearing to follow Sept. 17.

At stake, potentially, is New Jersey's role in the presidential sweepstakes. Aiming to be a bigger player, the state has moved its primary to February. That's when the printers would debut; the last thing officials want is a technological meltdown.” (Coughlin, Star-Ledger)



“Showing a capacity for Jersey road rage at the start of the political season, Republicans stood on the side of the Garden State Parkway in Cape May County today and vowed, once they win the majority, not to post a bill that would enable the leasing of the state’s toll toads.

This press conference, held in district 1 where state Sen. Nicholas Asselta is in a re-election tussle with challenger Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, featured Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, Asselta and his running mates, Michael J. Donohue and Norris Clark.

They say they’re against the leasing of state assets, but at the very least the GOP want to know more. "I call on the governor to release the details of his plan," said Lance……………

In the Assembly, Van Drew voted against tabling an amendment sponsored by GOP Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck that would have nixed the governor’s request for the study. But his later vote for the budget as a whole – including the study – prompted Asselta out of his chair in protest.

The trouble with Asselta’s outrage, Van Drew maintains, is the senator voted for a 1999 bill enabling the state treasurer to examine asset monetization……………

The presence of Lance and DeCroce down here underscored the Republicans’ commitment as a team to stand in the way of leasing or selling the state’s toll roads. "I can assure you, once we are in the majority there will be no plan to go forward with asset monetization," said DeCroce. (Pizarro,



“After facing criticism for not being aggressive enough against Democrats, Republicans have coalesced around a new cause.

Although Republicans offered no comment on Sunday or Monday after The Star Ledger broke the story about Gov. Corzine’s $15,000 gift to ex-girlfriend Carla Katz’s brother-in-law Rocco Riccio, the GOP has now seized on this latest scandal to erupt over Gov. Corzine’s relationship with Katz in what appears to be a coordinated effort to turn it into a campaign issue.

In the latest twist involving Corzine’s monetary relationship with Katz, the governor gave Riccio $15,000 after he was forced to resign from a job at the Turnpike Authority, following rumors that he had looked into the tax record of Corzine’s political enemies. Corzine also promised to help find Riccio work in the private sector.

GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson, who has been the Republicans’ point man in Katz-related issues, came out swinging yesterday, comparing Corzine’s monetary gift to Riccio to the Watergate scandal. That same day, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce called on Attorney General Anne Milgram to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the dealings.

Today, the Assembly Republicans suggested to reporters “some questions Riccio should answer,” including “What exactly did Corzine Administration officials promise Mr. Riccio when he lost his job at the Turnpike Authority? Why did Governor Corzine pay Mr. Riccio $15,000, and who was the first person to bring up the issue of money? Did Riccio ask for money? Did Corzine or his aides suggest a payment?”

And in the 12th district, Republican Assembly candidates challenged their opponents to join Alex DeCroce in a bi-partisan call for an investigation into the messy matter.” (Friedman,



“TOMS RIVER — Gregory P. McGuckin, Republican mayoral candidate and current Township Council president, has been hit with federal tax liens of over $120,000 for unpaid income tax liabilities, according to documents filed with the Ocean County clerk.

The liens totaling $121,913.87 are for unpaid individual taxes from the years 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to a pair of Notices of Federal Tax Lien from the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement released Wednesday, McGuckin said he is "embarrassed" and knows "my mistakes will be used as a campaign issue," but said he believes in "what I have done as a councilman, what I am currently doing to serve the public and what I hope to do to make our town a better place."

McGuckin said the liens were issued after he misjudged the amount of federal income taxes he owed.

His opponents in the November mayoral race blasted McGuckin on Wednesday for what they characterized as the council president raising taxes while not paying his own.

Richard P. Strada, the Democratic candidate, said, "I find it deeply troubling that the Republican mayoral candidate who raised our municipal taxes 44 percent has not paid his own federal income tax."……………….

McGuckin said he is in the process of refinancing his house at 123 Cardinal Drive and anticipates paying off the entire liability within the next two weeks. The house was assessed at $142,300 in 2006…………..

"The simple fact is that when I became a partner (in the Forked River, Lacey-based law firm of Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Cherkos & Connors) instead of an employee, I became responsible for my own filing and paying my own withholding taxes, and I misjudged the amounts I would owe," McGuckin said.” (Kidd, Asbury Park Press)



Joe Ferriero's planned takedown of New Jersey's marquee campaign finance law has ignited calls for change — although not exactly the kind he had in mind.

The Bergen County Democratic Organization chairman's pledge to ask a federal judge to strike down New Jersey's "pay-to-play" bans on contractors' contributions has jarred political leaders and campaign finance watchdogs out of a yearlong lull. They are now clamoring to close loopholes in the law and for the next phase of comprehensive reform.

Among them is Governor Corzine, who peevishly dismissed Ferriero's lawsuit on Tuesday as "not a good idea" and who vowed to begin pressing for new campaign finance laws later this year.

(Corzine appealed to Ferriero over breakfast Wednesday in his Newark office to drop the planned lawsuit to no avail, the governor's spokeswoman said. A final decision on the suit is expected after the BCDO executive committee meets Monday.)

The governor said he might broker new reforms during budget negotiations — a strategy he used this year to prod reluctant lawmakers to accept a watered-down bill on dual office-holding.

"We'll be making it important to the budget … and we'll look for openings," he said, minutes after signing the dual-office holding ban………………

Senate President Richard Codey, who marshaled support for the 2005 pay-to-play ban, said the goal is to regulate the shuttling of contributions without impairing each party's ability to help candidates in tight races. Codey said it simply may mean stating in plain language that wheeling to skirt donation limits is illegal.

News of the lawsuit also prompted Citizens' Campaign, a watchdog group, to demand swift action by Corzine. The group wants Corzine to issue executive orders that would close loopholes allowing lawyers, engineers and other professionals hired by government to skirt pay-to-play bans by dumping cash into municipal committees or legislative leadership kitties. Both were exempted by the 2005 law………………

Still, if Ferriero's planned lawsuit backfires and leads to more campaign finance laws, it would be the Mother of All Political Ironies: Joe Ferriero could take credit for being a reformer.” (Stile, Bergen Record)



“Desperate for cash to expand overcrowded campuses and modernize dank libraries and laboratories, New Jersey's colleges have asked the powerful building industry to help them lobby for billions in construction funds.

Representatives of 45 of the state's 59 colleges and universities say they need nearly $6 billion in improvements, some of which are under way. In Trenton yesterday, they asked builders, engineers and architects to help them get money from the state to stem the schools' growing debt burdens, which often are passed on to students.

"The problem with the capital development of New Jersey's campuses is reaching crisis proportions," Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole said at the event hosted by the New Jersey Alliance for Action. "We have brought ourselves to this situation after decades of neglect, and we have to turn it around."

College presidents have stepped up their pleas for state funding recently, even as the Legislature's investigative arm prepares to release a report on a two-year probe into financial management at a number of colleges and universities. The state Commission of Investigation report, due in the next few weeks, will critique governing boards, debt, purchasing practices and foundation management. ” (Alaya, Star-Ledger)



“Eight years after New Jersey acknowledged that troopers were focusing on black and Hispanic drivers at traffic stops, federal monitors said on Wednesday that the New Jersey State Police had made so much progress in its attempts to eliminate racial profiling that it no longer needed federal supervision.

The monitors concluded in a report that in periodic reviews during the past eight years, the police had shown significant improvement in procedures and training.

In a consent decree signed in 1999, the state agreed to allow the federal Department of Justice to oversee how traffic stops were conducted, along with other State Police activities.

Stating that “compliance requirements in all areas are now at 100 percent levels,” the report said that “it appears the ultimate goal has been attained.”

“Ample evidence exists to suggest that the agency has become self-monitoring and self-correcting to a degree not often observed in American law enforcement,” the report added.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine appointed a 21-member committee last year to determine whether to ask the federal government if the consent decree should be lifted. This report does not eliminate the federal supervision by itself, so it is up to the state to file a request with federal officials to have it end.” (Chen, New York Times)



“HAMILTON — Politics and theater sometimes seem interchangeable, but candidate debates aren't generally known for attracting a fee-paying crowd — not even in a political hot zone like Hamilton.

That isn't deterring the Hamilton chapter of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce from charging nonmembers $55 for admission to a Sept. 25 debate it is hosting between Democratic Mayor Glen D. Gilmore and his Republican challenger, John Bencivengo.

The mayoral debate, moderated by the League of Women Voters, will be the main event of the Hamilton chapter's September net working luncheon meeting.

But if Hamilton residents want to hear what both candidates have to say during the Chamber debate, they cannot simply skip on the fee by passing on the catered lunch.

"We will not be able to have the general public attend (for free)," said Angie Hollis, event manager for the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. "If they wish to attend, they must pay the $55 nonmember rate for the luncheon." The debate is open to the press.

Even so, Hamilton resident Antonio Gambino contends that charging admission to an election debate undermines civic discourse because it likely will deter other wise interested voters from attending.

Doris Weisberg, a coordinating moderator for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey who worked with the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce to provide a moderator for the Sept. 25 debate, said she isn't going to second- guess the Chamber's decision to charge for admission……………….

Although Bencivengo said Hamilton residents "should not be charged to hear debates," he praised the Chamber for hosting and stopped short of criticizing the organization for charging admis sion or calling for it to waive the fee.

Still, Bencivengo said it only reinforces his view that more free debates are needed. He has proposed 10 of them throughout Hamilton in the campaign's final 10 weeks but Gilmore's camp has declined. Gilmore and Bencivengo have participated in just one debate, a free one at Steinert High School in May.

Gilmore could not be reached for comment yesterday. Last week, his spokesman Doug Suessegger said two debates between the candidates are enough to give voters a feel for the issues before the Nov. 6 election.” (Stern, Trenton Times)



“Video posted on the Internet may provide clues to who is responsible for vandalism that occurred at the local office of U.S. Rep. Chris Smith during a "public eviction" protest staged by anti-war activists last month.

In a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office, Smith said yesterday that cords linking the computers in his Kuser Road office were ripped from a central hub, crashing the system. While Smith said nobody saw the vandalism occur, the damage was discovered by a member of his staff just 30 minutes after protesters left his office following a demonstration o n Aug. 29.

"The computers were running without a glitch before they came in and then everything came to a halt," Smith said. "There is (video evidence) that clearly shows at least one if not more people in our computer room."

But Smith stressed that no one from his staff had seen the vandalism take place.

Police Lt. James Kostoplis said investigators are reviewing a pair of videos of the protest posted on and checking forensic evidence and interviewing protesters who were in Smith's office that day.

The video shows about 20 angry protesters demanding Smith leave the publicly funded office because of his support for the war in Iraq. Smith was not present during the protest, but a staffer is seen asking the protesters not to block the entrance to the office.” (Isherwood, Trenton Times)



“As Gov. Jon Corzine works on a plan to pay down New Jersey's long-term debt, that bill continued to grow yesterday when a state transportation panel approved borrowing up to $1.25 billion to pay for highway and mass transit projects for another year.

The new loan, to replenish the state Transportation Trust Fund, is the second of five annual installments of debt that Corzine and lawmakers authorized when they restructured the trust fund last year.

The new loan will raise the total amount of debt on the transportation authority's books to about $9.3 billion, and will not be fully repaid until 2039.

The new borrowing comes as Corzine and top members of his administration are working on a plan to "monetize" public assets like the tolls paid by motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike to generate a windfall that would help pay down the state's outstanding debt.

New Jersey closed out last year with $33.7 billion in state debt, the fourth-highest among all states. Repaying that bill costs taxpayers about $3 billion each year. ” (McNichol, Star-Ledger)



“Four months after the state Assembly's top Democrat dismissed it as a "kangaroo court" that should be disbanded, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ethical Standards is scheduled to reconvene in Trenton today for an unusual double-header.

In one proceeding, the committee is scheduled to meet to consider an agenda topped by the need to select a new chairman.

Last October, after going more than a year without meeting, the committee bickered for six hours before finally selecting a chairman, who ended up quitting after less than six months on the job. The 16-member committee met in May but was unable to agree on a chairman and adjourned for the summer.

Also scheduled to meet today is an ad hoc ethics panel formed specifically to handle a batch of ethics complaints that targeted many of the legislators on the regular ethics committee. The special panel will include some members of the regular ethics committee along with four substitutes.

On tap for that version of the panel is a proposal from Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) that the committee reconsider its decision to dismiss a complaint against Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen).

Coniglio was one of 35 lawmakers Bogota Mayor and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Steven Lonegan accused of conflict of interest for allegedly steering state budget funds to organizations that employed them or a family member.” (McNichol, Star-Ledger)


Almost 99 percent of the state's public school teachers are "highly qualified" under the No Child Left Behind law according to the 2006-07 report released by the state Department of Education Wednesday.

The remaining 1.3 percent, or 1,329 of the state's 99,660 teachers in 2006-07, were primarily in special-education positions in high poverty districts.

Commissioner Lucille Davy noted that the gap between qualified teachers in poor and wealthier districts has shrunk dramatically in the past three years, from 10 percent in 2004-05 to 1.6 percent in 2006-07.

Assistant Commissioner Jay Doolan said that they are still looking at issues in urban districts, such as higher teacher turnover rates and difficulty in recruiting teachers.

He said special education is lagging slightly behind because many of the teachers must now be certified both as teachers of the handicapped and in the subject area they teach” (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)



“A suspect in the murders of three college students in Newark last month was entitled to bail on separate charges even though he was in the country illegally, a retired judge said Wednesday.

Former Hudson County Assignment Judge Arthur N. D'Italia also said the public outcry over the case of 28-year-old Jose Carranza of Peru reflected "a profoundly flawed understanding of the right to bail."

Carranza was out on bail at the time of the Aug. 4 slayings despite having been indicted on child rape and separate aggravated assault charges stemming from a bar fight.

"The primary purpose of bail in this state is to insure presence of the accused at trial, and the constitutional right to bail should not be unduly burdened," D'Italia wrote, quoting a 1972 state Supreme Court decision. "Carranza was entitled to a reasonable bail that would insure his presence at trial on serious charges," he continued. "In fact, he appeared when required at two hearings subsequent to posting bail.” (AP)



“More than five months after a local lawyer proposed taking a stronger stance against pay-to-play, township council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits private contractors who do business with the municipality from donating money to political parties or candidates.

Josh Aronovitch, a Turnersville resident and lawyer with the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton, first approached council in March with a draft of law created in conjunction with the Metuchen-based nonprofit Center for Civic Responsibility.

Aronovitch and four additional petitioners — Laina Cohen, Ryan Kinch, Stacey Kind and Patricia Pisauro — collected more than 1,700 signatures seeking to place the matter on the ballot in November.

The initiative forced council to officially vote on the ordinance. If the members rejected the proposal, it would have appeared on November's ballot.” (Huelsman, Courier-Post)



“The U.S. Senate this morning could consider an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would block any money used for transferring Fort Monmouth employees to the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground until a federally mandated report on the move is sent to Congress.

The amendment is attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2008. The Senate began deliberations on the bill Wednesday afternoon and adjourned for the day without a vote on either the amendment or the overall bill.

Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both D-N.J., proposed the measure earlier this week. It essentially reiterates a caveat attached to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission's vote to close Fort Monmouth and transfer most of its mission to Aberdeen by 2011.

The amendment would ban the appropriation of any military construction money to Aberdeen until the Department of Defense submits a report to Congress stating that the move will not adversely affect the global war on terrorism, as required by the BRAC commission.” (Brown and Bowman, Asbury Park Press)



“New Jersey's health, food and education commissioners are teaming up to fight what they called the biggest threats to children – obesity and secondhand smoke. The joint campaign, announced yesterday, aims to raise awareness about the top preventable causes of death – tobacco use and poor diet along with physical inactivity.

The joint campaign, announced yesterday, aims to raise awareness about the top preventable causes of death – tobacco use and poor diet along with physical inactivity.

Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs, Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus and Education Commissioner Lucille Davy will travel across the state in the next three months to discuss prevention strategies with dozens of groups, including schoolchildren, teachers, parents, doctors, medical students and community organizations.

For the effort to work, Jacobs said, those groups and government agencies must follow through by finding ways to foster more physical activity, portion control, healthier food choices and even breast-feeding, which is linked to a lower risk of obesity.

"Fifty percent of kids in the United States will be overweight by the year 2010," he said. "It threatens – I don't want to overstate this – our very way of life."” (Johnson, AP)



“Democratic candidates for Monmouth County freeholder say that, if elected in November, they will push for an ethics reform package that is to include limiting the number of years a board member can serve as director — a change that Republican candidate Jeff Cantor previously called for.

Cantor has spoken several times at freeholder meetings, to no avail, urging board members to support Republican Freeholder Anna C. Little's effort to create rules on rotating the directorship. The board's current director is Republican William C. Barham, who will complete his second year as director in December.

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Cantor said Wednesday. "Look at Harry Larrison."” (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)


“A large, occasionally rowdy crowd overflowed the Deerfield Township Committee meeting Wednesday night, some seeking answers and others in support of Committeewoman Carol Musso.

Resident Michele Hoffman and others came before the crowd to call Musso out, stating that she is not a taxpayer and, therefore, should not be on the committee.

At a meeting in August, she asked Musso to resign because of it.

Solicitor Michael Testa told Hoffman, as did the solicitor filling in for Testa last month, that according to state statutes and case law, committee members need only be a resident of the township for one year.

Hoffman also questioned the co-habitation of Musso and Mayor John Stanzione.

She feels it is a code of ethics violation.

"You have two people residing in the same household with two votes," Hoffman said. "There is definitely a gain from two individuals who live together." ” (Johnson, Bridgeton News)



“Morris County Free-holders Gene Feyl and William Chegwidden traveled to China and attended a software exposition in Nanjing last weekend as guests of the mainland government, both officials confirmed Wednesday.

County Administrator John Bonanni said no taxpayer money was spent on the nearly week-long trip, which was arranged by a Fairleigh Dickinson University professor who immigrated to the U.S. from China two decades ago.

Chegwidden, awaiting a connecting flight home from Chicago on Wednesday evening, said the Nanjing government paid for plane tickets and three nights in a local hotel and that he and Feyl footed the rest of the tab.” (Jennings, Daily Record)


“The head of an insurance firm that received a professional service contract from the local school district may have lied about her schooling to other districts, as well as falsified qualification packets submitted to Pleasantville.

The situation adds to the insurance problems at the Pleasantville School District, which in April had its insurance records dating to Jan. 1, 2003, subpoenaed by the FBI.” (Hardie, Press of Atlantic City)


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