Widow seeks child support from taxpayers for son conceived after police captain’s death

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New Jersey pension board officials are considering whether to provide pension benefits for a child that was conceived through in-vitro fertilization using sperm harvested from the body of a retired Newark police captain, who died in a scuba diving accident.

The N.J. police officer's widow is seeking pension benefits for the child, who was born more than a year after the officer died in an accident.

The retired police captain, Gary Prystauk, was 50 at the time of the accident, in which doctors say he had a heart attack while diving in the icy Shrewsbury River in November 2006.

His widow, Francia Prystauk, says that the couple had been married for 18 years and had tried numerous times to start a family, but each attempt resulted in a miscarriage. After the accident, while she was at the hospital, she made the decision to harvest her husband’s sperm, after a business card fell out of her purse from a fertility clinic that the couple had  visited earlier.

“I had a moment of clarity,” she said. “I took it as a sign.” Doctors removed a specimen about six hours after the husband’s death.

Prystauk used the specimen several months later, and the child was conceived in March 2007. Her son Jacob was born on Dec. 7, 2007.

The pension board originally denied paying benefits to her son because he was born more than one year after the death of his biological father. Her new appeal is based on a court ruling she received declaring Jacob to be the biological son of Gary Prystauk.

Prystauk, 40, is currently receiving pension benefits of $4,273.50 per month as the widow of a retired officer. She is seeking another $1,282.05 for Jacob, which he would receive until the age of 18.

A recent appellate court ruling in Philadelphia found that a child who was conceived after his father’s death was entitled to social security survivor benefits. In that case however, the sperm was donated by the father while he was still alive and the father was involved in the decision to have the child

The police and fireman’s pension board said it does not know what to do, and has turned the matter over to its attorneys to decide.

However, the widow Prystauk thinks the issue is clear: “Jacob had a father, he just happened to pass away.”

The Star-Ledger

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Corruption and waste exposed at NJ sewer agency, Christie demands full disclosure

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Long under fired for nepotism, inflated salaries and questionable payments to consultants, lobbyists and outside vendors,  Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners have been called out by Gov. Chris Christie to provide details of their family and friends on the agency’s payroll, before making good on a pledge to demand all seven resign.

Christie’s challenge came a day after The Star-Ledger published a report detailing abuses and corruption by the sewerage commission in which jobs were routinely given out based on an insider’s-lottery system, similar to the NFL draft. Internal records showed that a formal numbering system was kept, tracking the commissioner next in line to hand out desirable jobs, which in many instances, were given to family members, friends or those politically connected.

After the story appeared detailing some of the job assignments, Christie said, “My initial inclination would have been to demand resignations, but fairness would dictate allowing them seven days to explain themselves.”

The sewerage commission, the largest in the state, covers four counties in northern New Jersey and serves more than 1.5 million people. The agency employs 567 people, 85 of whom make over $100,000 per year.

Shortly after taking office, Christie took aim at the commission, saying it was one of the worst examples of government waste in New Jersey. The PVSC was often called a hotspot for nepotism and political cronyism.

Some of the hiring abuses uncovered through the Star-Ledger’s public records request were:

  • Commissioner Carl Czaplicki sponsored his wife in a 21st round draft in 2003. Vanessa Czaplicki was hired as a clerk at a salary of $47,664; she now earns $70, 676. His brother John also is employed at the agency making $90,000 per year.
  • Commissioner Frank Calendriello, who is also the mayor of Garfield, reported on financial disclose forms that four relatives work at the agency: two cousins, his cousin’s wife, and his brother-in-law.
  • Former commissioner Kenneth Pengitore, also mayor of Haledon, hired his son, daughter and daughter-in-law soon after he was seated on the commission. He is now the agency’s chief financial officer, making $163,869 per year, after being given the job by fellow commissioners.
  • The top-paid employee in the agency is Anthony Ardis, another former commissioner, who makes $220,443, and is given the use of a Ford Expidition SUV for his personal use.

“I think it would be very hard to justify hiring your wife and brother, or hiring commissioners to high-paid positions — whether it’s Mr. Ardis or Mr. Pengitore,” said Christie. “I can hardly see the justification for the salaries and cars for folks that are helping us handle sewage.”

Other abuses and questionable practices that have been noted in the past include out-of-state travel, paid holidays that exceed the number given to other state employees, and the use of highly-paid lobbyists.

Over the past two years, the PVSC paid lobbyists over $500,000 in consulting fees to represent the agency. Critics say that there is no need for the commission, which is part of the government itself, to hire representatives to lobby lawmakers.

The current executive director, Wayne J. Forrest, is a Christie appointee, who was given a mandate by the governor to begin putting the agency’s house in order. A former Somerset County prosecutor, Forrest is being paid $174,000, down from the $313,000 paid his predecessor, Bryan Christiansen, who was pressured into resigning last year by Christie.

Last week, the agency adopted a new budget that reduces spending for the next fiscal year by $3 million, to $161 million. Along with the reduced budget comes a zero-percent rate increase for customers, the first in many years.

Since Forrest’s appointment six months ago, he instituted a salary and wage freeze, and dumped rules that often allowed employees to get multiple raises in a single year. Forrest said, “We had a system where an employee might receive three pay raises in any given year.  That system has been abolished.”

The Star-Ledger

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NJ lawmaker proposes law to require license plates on bicycles

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Last week, New Jersey Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker, introduced legislation that would require all bicycle owners in the state to register their bikes with the Motor Vehicle Commission and pay a $10 annual fee.

The requirement would apply to both adults and children, although parents or guardians could handle the registration for those under 15 years of age.

The license plates would be required when riding on any public property, such as a sidewalk or street, anywhere in the state.  Owners that fail to comply with the proposed law would be fined up to $100.

Tucker said that she proposed the legislation because she was told by some senior citizens that they had been hit by bicycle riders, but had no way to report them to the police without any identification. NJ.com attempted to talk to Tucker about the bill, but her office voicemail box was full.

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Retired construction laborers in N.J. get hammered with six-fold increase in healthcare contributions

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Retired members of Local 394 of the Laborers International Union of North America, or LIUNA, recently received a dose of bad news regarding their monthly health care contributions, right before the holidays this year.

According to NJ.com, a letter sent on Nov. 30 by the Board of Trustees of the New Jersey Building Laborers Statewide Welfare Plan told 1,360 retirees over age 65 that their healthcare contributions were being raised from $50 to $305 for plans with prescription coverage, and from $50 to $156 for plans without prescription coverage.

Younger retirees, ages 62 through 65 were hit even harder. Their monthly contribution for full coverage was raised from $50 to $864, and coverage without prescription medication was upped from $50 to $678.

The health fund is financed through current contributions from employers, and since the economic slowdown has impacted new construction projects, there are fewer employers to pick up retirees’ monthly healthcare costs.

Healthcare costs are largely unfunded within the union’s plan, so when times are good, employers and current members pick up the tab for retirees’ monthly bill. However, when business is slow, everyone suffers, including those unemployed, and those already retired.

New Jersey residents, both in the private and public sectors are being hit hard by the increases in healthcare costs. Gov. Chris Christie is attempting to address the issue within the public sector by increasing the retirement age and requiring larger employee contributions to health and pension plans

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New Jersey unfunded pension liability soars

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New Jersey is finding itself in even a more precarious position than previously thought regarding its unfunded pension liability.

A report released on Thursday by the state Department of Treasury showed that the unfunded liability grew by over $8 billion in the most recent fiscal year ended June 2010. The total deficit now amounts to $53.9 billion. Besides the unfunded pension liability, the state has an additional $67 billion unfunded balance in healthcare benefits for current and future retired employees.

At June 30, the pension system was about 62 percent funded, down from 66 percent one year earlier.  The statewide system covers about 728,000 working and retired state, county and municipal employees.

Gov. Chris Christie skipped a $3.1 billion payment to the fund this year, saying that he will continue to pass on making contributions until the entire system is overhauled.  The last contribution made to the system was in fiscal 2008, when then-governor Jon Corzine paid $1 billion.

A statement released by Treasury Spokesman Andy Pratt said “If all the required contributions to the pension funds had been made over the last decade, New Jersey would still not have enough money to pay all the benefits state and local governments have promised to public employees.”

Christie has proposed an overhaul of the system that union leaders and workers will find tough to accept. If adopted, his plan will cut the deficit to just $14 billion by 2026. On its present course, the system’s deficit would be about $125 billion by then.

The plan suggested by Christie includes freezing cost-of-living adjustments, rolling back a 9 percent benefit increase that was promised for 2011 and increasing the retirement age to 65. Employees would be required to pay 8.5 percent of their salaries into the system, up from 5.5 percent, and shoulder a much larger portion of their healthcare costs.

An October report from Chicago-based Loop Capital Markets said that 20 states, including New Jersey, California and Illinois, underfunded or skipped pension payments between 2007 and 2009. The report said that 91 of 145 pension systems it reviewed had less than the 80 percent of future benefits funded, that actuaries recommend.

Critics say the main issue in the unfunded systems is that lawmakers repeatedly agreed to union demands for ever-increasing retirement benefits, relying on unreasonable estimates of investment returns, and not identifying new sources of funds to pay for the pension payments and health benefits.

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New Jersey town spends $14,000 in legal fees to defend single $5 fee it charged resident

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In what can only be classified as a colossal lack of common sense on the part of elected officials and attorneys, the city of Bridgewater, New Jersey paid over $14,000 in legal fees, and more than $17,500 in total to defend a $5 fee it charged a resident for a CD recording of a city council meeting.

Resident Tom Coulter requested the recording of the city council meeting in October 2008. The city charged him $5, despite Coulter’s feeling that the city was obligated to charge only the actual cost of the disc.

Believing he was overcharged, Coulter filed a complaint with the New Jersey Government Record Council. Instead of refunding the $4.04 representing the amount over the disc’s actual cost of 96 cents, the city decided to fight the complaint.

The state council ruled in Coulter’s favor, instructing the city to reimburse Coulter’s legal fees of $3,500 and giving him back the $4.04.

Total cost to Bridgewater: over $17,500. No word yet on whether the city attorney will be running for office next time around.

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Six New Jersey corrections officers charged with brutalizing inmates

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Six Essex County corrections officers were charged on Tuesday with assault for their roles in three separate attacks on inmates at the county jail in Newark, according to a report in the Star-Ledger. Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino said the attacks were unprovoked and the officers did not use weapon in any of the incidents.

All six have all been charged with assault and two were accused with falsifying reports. All of the officers have since been suspended.

The first attack occurred in April when Officers William Rupp, 31, and Richard Amorosi 25, beat Kitrell Gadson, a 19 year-old Newark resident, accused of hitting a city woman while fleeing police in a stolen car last year. Gadson refused medical attention and his injuries were mostly cuts and bruises. Authorities said that Rupp and Amorosi altered a report to cover up the incident.

A few weeks later, Rupp and Amorosi, along with John Conway, 33, and Officers Mark Horst, 29, and Krzysztof Golas, attacked inmate James Kraft. His injuries were so serious that he had to be transported to University Hospital in Newark where he was hospitalized.

The third incident involved officers Conway and Dennis Phelps, 35, who allegedly attacked inmate Brian Guarino in September, and covered up the incident in a report. Guarino was also hospitalized after the attack.

The arrests are the second this year in which Essex County correction officers have been charged with a crime. In July, authorities discovered a smuggling operation, run by corrections officers including Rupp, that took and filled orders from inmates for drugs and cell phones.

More than a dozen individuals were arrested including the alleged ringleader, Officer Joseph Mastriani, Rupp and a Union County corrections officer.

NJ Online

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