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    An attorney for Brendan DeVera offered a defense after the former Rutgers linebacker was charged as being part of a credit card fraud scheme.


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    Which are the top games to watch this weekend?


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    From breakout teams to perennial powers vying for more hardware, see the biggest boys soccer storylines entering this season.


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    All-State and All-Group girls soccer players returning in 2018


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    From opening day on Thursday right through to two special Turkey Day matchups, here are 50 of the H.S. football games we are particularly excited to see in 2018.


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    The hard working folks that kept New Jersey going.

    It's a safe bet that, good or bad, everyone remembers their first job.

    Some folks have had the good fortune to enjoy working for one employer for their entire career, and then there are people like me who have had so many jobs that there's a really long pause after the question 'And what do YOU do?'

    But whether you had only a handful of employers or were on your way to working for everyone in New Jersey, you'll likely enjoy this gallery of the hard working people of New Jersey over the years.

    Folks in fields like education, law enforcement and public safety will be covered in different galleries, so keep an eye out for them in the future.

    And here are links to more galleries you'll enjoy.

    Vintage photos of people hard at work in N.J.

    Vintage photos of jobs and workers in N.J.

    Vintage photos of working people in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    There was no shortage of football head coaching changes across New Jersey during the off-season. NJ.com introduces fans to the 40 new head coaches across the state in 2018.


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    Rutgers says the professor violated its policy for harassment and discrimination.

    James Livingston was grabbing dinner at a burger joint near his Harlem home this May when he noticed the place was, as he said, "overrun with little caucasian a--holes." 

    "OK, I officially now hate white people," Livingston, a white Rutgers University professor, wrote on Facebook, later adding: "I hereby resign from my race. F--- these people."

    It was one Facebook post, an off-the-cuff rant about gentrification that Livingston would later claim was satire. But the incident incited backlash from conservative groups and made national headlines. And now, Livingston's union reps say, Rutgers is trying to suspend the professor from his $129,000-a-year job. 

    He's hardly the only left-leaning professor whose comments have gotten him in trouble lately. In Pennsylvania, a college professor asked for white genocide for Christmas. In California, another professor celebrated the death of "the witch" Barbara Bush.

    Closer to home, there was the case of the Essex County College professor vilified after she appeared on Fox News and said "You white people are angry because you couldn't use your white privilege card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter's all-black Memorial Day Celebration." 

    In the Trump era of right-wing distrust of higher education and dueling who-can-scream-the-loudest outrage chambers, these incidents have quickly gone viral -- and have mostly served only to deepen each sides' contempt for the other. 

    Conservatives view these cases as proof of liberal hypocrisy, a college professor saying things about white people or establishment Republicans that would easily get them fired if they were said about a minority group or a beloved Democrat. But these professors' supporters see the outrage as an attack on the First Amendment, an internet mob of alt-right activists hellbent on silencing voices on the left. 

    Caught in the middle? Universities like Rutgers, which have long prided themselves as bastions of free speech and which now find themselves having to twist into pretzel knots in order to satisfy all parties.

    Escalating battles

    The Livingston case is far from resolved. Forced to consider the question of whether a white college professor can say f--- white people and actually get away with it, Rutgers officials determined Livingston crossed a line.

    The university said the tenured history professor broke its policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment, according to university documents he released. 

    Livingston, awaiting his punishment and prepared to fight back, insists Rutgers got it wrong. 

    "Allowing human resource administrators to tell a professor of 30 years what he can and can't say on Facebook means that the tradition of academic freedom in our public universities is essentially over," Livingston, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement to media outlets. "I respect that tradition too much not to protest."

    The Livingston case follows on the heels of a number of others, none of which have gone quietly into the night. The Essex County College professor, Lisa Durden, was ultimately fired for her comments on Fox News about white people. She has since sued the college. 

    At Brookdale Community College, a professor yelled "f--- your life" at a conservative student this spring, forcing the college to apologize and dismiss his outburst as "uncivil." 

    No one, of course, is denying anybody's right to say these things, however unpopular those sentiments might be. But while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, it doesn't mean your employer can't punish or even fire you for saying something controversial, said Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law and a First Amendment expert. 

    Employees have varying levels of protection depending on whether they are employed by the government or a private company and the laws in the state where they work, Volokh said.

    In Livingston's case, as a government employee, he can't be punished unless Rutgers can show his Facebook post disrupts the function of the university, Volokh said. That may be especially difficult to show because professors are expected to challenge students' beliefs and express alternative points of view even if it might be controversial, he added. 

    Rutgers declined to comment on the specifics of Livingston's case because it is a personnel matter. But the university's position on free speech is clear, spokeswoman Dory Devlin said. 

    "All of the members of our community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens," Devlin said. "Yet at Rutgers University we also must foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination." 

    Drawing the line 

    One thing does seem clear, though: Professors used to being protected and cosseted by tenure and university tradition must tread carefully. In Livingston's case, it could be argued that his vitriol played directly into the hands of conservative critics of academia. 

    The fallout from the Facebook post was swift and deep.  

    The Daily Caller, a conservative website, published a screenshots of his Facebook post the next day. The story was quickly picked up by more than a dozen websites, including the New York Post and forums for white nationalists. 

    "Almost immediately the white supremacists came out of the cyber-woodwork and began sending vile messages  -- including a half-dozen death threats -- to my email account and to Facebook," Livingston told Rutgers, according to university documents. 

    Rutgers also received anonymous complaints through its Rutgers Compliance Hotline describing Livingston as "racist" and demanding action from the university.

    Rutgers determined Livingston's case came down to two questions, university documents show. 

    First, were his comments protected by the First Amendment?

    Livingston satisfied two of the three requirements he needed to meet that threshold because he was speaking on a matter of public interest (gentrification) and made the comments outside of his role as a college professor, university documents show. 

    But the university said Livingston didn't meet the third key criteria -- the significance of his remarks did not outweigh the potential impact on the university's mission. 

    In its decision, the university wrote that the national coverage of Livingston's comments "have inflicted reputational damage on the university... which could realistically impact recruitment and fundraising in the future."

    Since Rutgers decided Livingston's comments were not protected, it then considered the second question: Did his speech rise to the level of harassment or discrimination? 

    In addition to saying he hated white people in the Facebook post, Livingston also wrote "slide around the floor, you little s---head, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your white to be white." 

    After that post was removed by Facebook for violating its standards on hate speech, Livingston wrote a follow-up post explaining his first. 

    "I just don't want little Caucasians overrunning my life, as they did last night. Please God, remand them to the suburbs where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant," he wrote in part of the explanation. 

    Livingston told Rutgers that there was no such thing as reverse-racism, according to university documents. 

    But the university said its policy has a blanket prohibition on discrimination based on any race, and a reasonable student might worry about being stigmatized in Livingston's class because of his or her race, documents show. 

    Now, Rutgers is trying to suspend Livingston, a process that includes a review by a committee of Livingston's peers, said David Hughes, the vice president of Rutgers faculty union. 

    "It sends a message to us of watch what you say to your friends, to your Facebook friends, to your family," Hughes said, "because at any moment, any speech by a faculty member can become a national scandal and our administration can treat that as grounds to suspend us." 

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    N.J. rockers The Gaslight Anthem took to Twitter Wednesday night to discuss recent claims


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    But the university president called the remarks "insensitive and reckless"

    Rutgers University President Robert Barchi has ordered university officials to take a second look at their decision that a white professor who said he hates white people violated university policy. 

    In a letter to top officials, Barchi said the ruling that professor James Livingston's speech was not protected by the First Amendment must be analyzed "more rigorously."

    Barchi is convening a special advisory group, including Rutgers' attorneys, faculty and First Amendment experts, to help guide the Office of Employment Equity, which made the original ruling that could lead to a suspension. 

    "Like many in our community, I found that Professor Livingston's comments showed exceptionally poor judgment, were offensive, and, despite the professor's claims of satire, were not at all funny," Barchi wrote Wednesday. "At the same time, few values are as important to the university as the protection of our First Amendment rights -- even when the speech we are protecting is insensitive and reckless." 

    Livingston, a tenured history professor, was dismayed when he went to get a burger in Harlem this May and saw the restaurant was "overrun with little caucasian a--holes." 

    "OK, I officially now hate white people," Livingston wrote on Facebook, later adding: "I hereby resign from my race. F--- these people."

    He also wrote "slide around the floor, you little s---head, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white." 

    He later said his rant was satire meant as commentary on gentrification, but the incident made national headlines and incited outrage among conservative groups. 

    In its initial ruling, the university Office of Employment Equity determined Livingston broke the Rutgers policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment.

    It said his speech was not protected because its significance did not outweigh the potential disruption to the university's mission. And it said Rutgers has a blanket policy covering discrimination against any race, even though Livingston argued there's no such thing as reverse-racism. 

    Livingston was facing a possible suspension from his $129,000 position, according to faculty union officials, but said he would fight the ruling. 

    Barchi ordered the review "in light of the complexities of this matter and the importance of our considering these matters with exceptional diligence," he wrote. 

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    There are six group titles up for grabs. Which teams take the crowns?


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    NJ Advance Media breaks out the predictions for Week 0.


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    Sen. Joseph Vitale also vowed to renew his efforts to pass legislation that would abolish the two-year statute of limitations on filing civil sexual abuse claims.


    Incensed by the flood of new revelations about sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church, a state senator Thursday called on Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to impanel a grand jury to investigate the decades of crimes and cover-ups in New Jersey. 

    Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said he wanted New Jersey to embark on a similar investigation that led a Pennsylvania grand jury to reveal the names of 300 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse over a 70-year period, according to the 1,356-page grand jury's report released on Aug 14. 

    The lawmaker said he would also renew his effort to eliminate New Jersey's two-year statute of limitations in sex abuse cases. 

    Vitale said he felt compelled to act in the wake of the resignation of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick amid allegations he sexually abused young boys, seminarians and priests, and the $180,000 in settlements paid to two priests. 

    McCarrick was bishop for the Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 to 1986, leaving to become archbishop for the Newark diocese, where he served until 2000. Pope John Paul II chose him to be Washington's archbishop, elevating him to cardinal in 2001.

    "Given the wide scope of abuse found in Pennsylvania and the Vatican's action against McCarrick, we must investigate now. Victims should not have to wait any longer for accountability and for justice," Vitale said. 

    Vitale said he had requested a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, who ordered a reexamination of sexual abuse cases involving clergy, officials said.

    Vitale also called on Grewal to create a hotline for victims to encourage them to come forward.

    In a statement from his office late Thursday, Grewal agreed to establish a hotline.

    "We are working to establish a dedicated hotline as quickly as possible similar to the one that currently exists for victims of human trafficking," according to a statement from Sharon Lauchaire, Grewal's spokeswoman.

    Lauchaire said it was too soon to say how his office will respond to Vitale's broader request for a grand jury investigation.

    "We are reviewing the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the work undertaken by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office to determine what, if any, additional actions are appropriate in New Jersey," she said. "As a general matter, we do not confirm or deny any ongoing criminal investigations."

    Patrick Brannigan, executive director for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said the church "looks forward to continuing dialogue with Senator Vitale in his efforts - and our own efforts - to ensure the safety of our children and to help victims of abuse to heal." 

    "However, New Jersey is not Pennsylvania," Brannigan said. "Since 2002, the Catholic Church in New Jersey has complied with a Memorandum of Understanding with the Attorney General and all 21 County Prosecutors under which every complaint is forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency."

    In addition, the dioceses have provided "safe environment" training for 2.3 million employees, clergy, volunteers and church members, and performed 380,000 criminal background checks on diocesan and parish employees who come into contact with minors, Brannigan's statement said.

    Here's how much N.J. Catholic dioceses paid out to sex abuse victims

    "We regret that in decades past, some in the Church failed in their responsibility to protect children," the statement said. "However, today, no institution, public or private, has done more to prevent abuse than the Catholic Church in New Jersey." 

    New Jersey's five Catholic dioceses have paid out at least $50 million to sexual abuse victims, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ Advance Media reported last week.

    Vitale vowed to pursue two pieces of legislation to force more transparency and accountability.

    One bill would make the results of the grand jury public, including the names of any clergy members "credibly accused." 

    "This change will allow for greater accountability, transparency and justice," Vitale's statement said. 

    He also said he would renew his efforts to pass legislation that would abolish the two-year statute of limitations on civil sexual abuse claims -- a bill first introduced in the state Legislature in 2002 but has been stymied by nervous lawmakers afraid to vote against the Catholic Church. Opponents to the bill said the lawsuits would drive churches and other nonprofits into insolvency.

    "It is far past due for New Jersey to do something," Vitale's statement said. "The only way forward is legislation that holds institutions and individual perpetrators responsible while giving victims more time to bring a case and face their abusers." 

    Joe Capozzi, a 49-year-old sexual abuse survivor who received a $50,000 settlement from the Newark Archdiocese 12 years ago, said Vitale's announcement cames as a relief.

    "It's about time," said Capozzi, a writer and actor who released a short film about his experience in 2016. "If the Attorney General investigates, the findings "are going to be a carbon copy of what happened in Pennsylvania."

    If church leaders are serious about wanting victims to heal, they would stop fighting the legislation that abolishes the statute of limitations on lawsuits, Capozzi said.

    At age 36, he told the archdiocese that Monsignor Peter Cheplic had sexually abused him for years, beginning when he was a 16-year-old growing up in Ridgefield Park in Bergen County. 

    "There is no expiration on memories and trauma," he said. "There should be no expiration date on a crime of this impact."     

    More than 1,000 children were sexually abused by at least 300 priests in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania while top church officials tried to cover up the problem for decades, the Pennsylvania grand jury report said.

    Four of them had served in New Jersey. One went to prison. Another died awaiting trial. One was placed on leave, but escaped prosecution because the statute of limitations had expired. Another was removed from ministry and retired.

    Vitale said although the focus of his attention is on the Catholic church, "I know, and all of the advocates and victims out there know, abuse happens at the hands of many different types of perpetrators, and many different institutions who should be held culpable."

    "I am remaining steadfast in my work to bring full justice to all victims of child sex abuse who are pursuing a civil case against their abusers," his statement said.    

    NJ Advance Media Staff Writers S.P. Sullivan, Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman contributed to this report.

    Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously said Se. Joseph Vitale requested he Archdiocese of Newark to establish a victim hotline. He asked Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 


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    With summer's unofficial end on the horizon, beachgoers head to Seaside Heights, one of many popular beaches at the Jersey Shore to enjoy the last days of beach time before Labor Day.


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    Find out which teacher from your county made the cut.


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    Who will be the top players and teams in 2018? We'll take our guesses as to who will finish on top.


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    See which teams are expected to make a run in each of N.J.'s six groups this fall.


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    The women claim they were assaulted by therapists at Massage Envy locations in Piscataway, Closter, Mays Landing and Short Hills.

    Four women in New Jersey have sued Massage Envy, claiming they were sexually assaulted while on the massage table and then discouraged by management from going to the police.

    The suit, filed Thursday in Middlesex County by the law firm Laffey, Bucci & Kent, claims the assaults occurred from January 2015 to November 2016 at franchises in Piscataway, Closter, Mays Landing and Short Hills. The allegations include claims of penetration and massaging of intimate areas without consent.

    All of the allegations involve male massage therapists who allegedly assaulted female customers.

    The women allege vicarious liability, conspiracy and fraud.

    According to a BuzzFeed report last year, more than 180 women have made allegations of assault at Massage Envy locations nationwide.

    "We allege that Massage Envy knew about the problem of sexual assault at its Massage Envy locations and, beyond simply doing nothing, in fact discouraged reporting to police and other authorities," Stewart Ryan, an attorney for the women, said in an email.

    In a letter released on Monday, Massage Envy CEO Joseph C. Magnacca said the company has strengthened existing policies to prevent inappropriate conduct in its therapy rooms.

    "One incident is too many, which is why our rigorous commitment-to-safety plan is in place to identify and implement measures that will keep the clients and therapists at Massage Envy franchise locations safe," Magnacca said.

    A woman identified as "Jane Doe #1" claims she was assaulted at the Piscataway location by a therapist who repeatedly massaged her buttocks, breasts and nipples. When she asked him to stop, he "touched the area between her legs and made contact with her vaginal area," the suit says.

    Another woman who sought a massage in Mays Landing for a shoulder injury claims the male masseuse brushed up against her with his erect penis, "wrapped his hands around her neck, choking her," and then "penetrated (her) vagina with his finger."

    The woman, identified as "Jane Doe #2," claims she was terrified during the massage.

    "She froze and was unable to stop (the massage therapist) from physically or sexually assaulting her," the suit claims.

    Attorneys claim the therapist had an extensive criminal history and was not properly licensed by the New Jersey Board of Massage and Body Work Therapy.

    A woman in Short Hills claims that she was sexually assaulted by her Massage Envy masseuse and then tried to report it to management.

    "She was told that if she reported the incident to law enforcement there was a lot of red tape and it was unlikely any action would be taken," the suit claims.

    In Closter, a woman claims a Massage Envy therapist penetrated her vagina with his finger and that when she went back to the business to complain, she was told the man had resigned.

    The business owners have refused to give the woman or her attorneys the therapist's name or say where he is working now, the suit states.

    Company CEO Magnacca said the company created an eight-member safety advisory council to provide training for all franchisees and managers.

    The attorneys for the New Jersey women, however, say Massage Envy should warn customers about "the dangers associated with" its therapists.

    Have you been sexually harassed?

    "Every person who receives massage therapy, whether for medical reasons, stress relief, or otherwise, deserves (a) full reporting of all the instances of sexual misconduct committed by Massage Envy massage therapists as well as preventative and remedial measures taken by the company to prevent future assaults," Stewart said.

    "We hope that Massage Envy, through these lawsuits and otherwise, will begin to put the priority of its customers' safety above profits and protecting its brand," the attorney added.

    The lawsuit seeks exemplary and punitive damages to punish Massage Envy "and deter other such persons from committing such wrongful and malicious acts in the future."

    In addition to the New Jersey franchises, the suit names Massage Envy corporate headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.

    The law firm said in a statement that it has filed similar lawsuits against Massage Envy in California and Florida and that "similar state-wide lawsuits are being processed and will be filed in other states across the country in the coming days and weeks."

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Money, jewelry, a television and two vehicles were taken, according to the prosecutor's office. Police later recovered the stolen vehicles in Jersey City.

    Authorities on Friday announced two more arrests in the home invasion robbery of former Gov. Jim McGreevey's parents.

    Two 16-year-olds were charged with offenses, including robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, armed burglary and motor vehicle theft, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Carteret police Director Kenneth Lebrato said in a statement.

    The arrests come after authorities announced robbery and related charges against 18-year-old Diego Hernandez, of Carteret, in the Aug. 18 incident. Though the prosecutor's office did not disclose the names of the victims, sources told NJ Advance Media that McGreevey's parents were accosted at their west Carteret home shortly before 6 a.m.

    Money, jewelry, a television and two vehicles were taken, according to the prosecutor's office. Police later recovered the stolen vehicles in Jersey City.

    Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office detectives arrested one juvenile in Kearny early Friday, authorities said. The other teen was taken into custody Thursday night by Jersey City police.

    Arrest made in home invasion robbery of former gov's parents

    Police did not release the names of the teens because of their ages. Authorities have not said if the family was targeted because of their ties to the former governor.

    Jim McGreevey, who served as mayor of neighboring Woodbridge, now leads a prisoner re-entry center in Jersey City.

    "It has been a trying time for our family, also made better by the professionalism of law enforcement and the support of friends and our community," the former governor said in an email Monday.

    Carteret Mayor Dan Reiman previously said he spoke with the McGreevey family after the robbery.

    "They are obviously shaken up, but unharmed and in good spirits and look forward to the law enforcement agencies concluding their investigation to determine how or why they were targeted," Reiman said in a social media post earlier this month.

    The investigation was ongoing, the prosecutor's office said. Anyone with information was asked to call Carteret police Det. Keith Cassens at 732-541-3864, or prosecutor's office Det. Grace Brown at 732-745-3373.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at ncohen@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind NJ.com on Facebook.


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    A N.J. couple's cash was confiscated during a traffic stop in West Virginia

    Dimitrios Patlias and Tonya Smith have no plans to visit West Virginia ever again.

    The Egg Harbor City couple say a traffic stop there in June turned into a summer-long ordeal.

    Police suspected the couple of nefarious activities and confiscated more than $10,000 in cash from them, as well as gift cards and casino rewards cards during the highway stop, but didn't charge them with a crime. 

    Patlias and Smith say they had to fight to get their possessions back and feared they could have lost all of it through the way police took it - civil forfeiture.

    Under West Virginia's civil forfeiture statute, items may be confiscated and subject to forfeiture for a variety of reasons, including if they were "incident to a lawful arrest or pursuant to a search under a search warrant or an inspection warrant" or if an officer has "probable cause to believe that the property was used or intended for use in violation" of state law.

    After police found no criminal wrongdoing by the couple, they finally told them to come back to West Virginia to retrieve their belongings last week. 

    (And that happened after a West Virginia councilman drove to their New Jersey home to hear about it, and a West Virginia newspaper started looking into it.)

    A state police spokesman has not responded to requests for comment about the case.

    Vacation plans cut short

    The saga began on the evening of June 9 as Patlias and Smith were traveling to Charles Town on their way to Hollywood Casino after making recent successful visits to other casinos along the way.

    Smith, a registered nurse at Princeton Medical Center, was on maternity leave and eight months pregnant. As her husband drove, she had a book open studying for an upcoming advanced cardiac life support test.

    Just outside of Charles Town city limits, a state trooper pulled over their vehicle, telling Patlias that he had drifted out of his lane. He took Patlias' license and registration and walked back to his patrol car.

    Soon he returned and told Patlias to exit his vehicle. Smith figured it was a sobriety check. "Maybe he wants to test him to make sure he's not drinking," she said.

    Patlias complied, but didn't like his next request.

    N.J. laws allowing cops to seize assets among 'worst in country'

    The trooper asked him how much money he had in his possession and Patlias said he refused to answer the question.

    "How much money do you have on you? That's a question a thief is going to ask you, not a cop," Patlias said this week as he recalled the traffic stop.

    The trooper handcuffed Patlias and radioed for a K-9 to sniff the car for drugs. The cop searched Patlias and removed money from his pockets, as well gift cards he had in his possession, Patlias said.

    As another trooper prepared to search the 2003 GMC Envoy, Patlias insisted they needed a warrant. The officers disagreed and scoured the vehicle.

    Casino cash confiscated

    In all, the couple was carrying $10,478 in cash between them, which were proceeds from several casino jackpot winnings in the previous few days, they said. The couple carried documentation to show these were legitimate, taxable winnings, they said.

    Concerned that police were counting his cash in the patrol car, where he could not see what was happening, Patlias told his wife to call 911. A trooper told her she would be arrested for making a false report if she made that call.

    She was also removed from the vehicle and the couple say they were forced to stand along the side of the highway for nearly two hours as officers searched the vehicle and their possessions.

    "I was 34 weeks pregnant and standing on the side of the road for almost two hours and my husband is in handcuffs and not even arrested," she said, still in disbelief over their experience.

    The officers explained they had issues with drug and cigarette smuggling in the area, but they found no contraband during the search, Smith said.

    Police seized $171 from a man. It'll cost him $175 to get it back

    Then, the issue turned to the subject of gift cards. The couple had 27 gift cards they had received from other casinos they had recently visited. As frequent casino guests, they rack up comps, the couple explained.

    The search also turned up scores of casino rewards cards. The cards were in the couple's names and, since they were traveling in a vehicle owned by Patlias' father, officers found old cards in his parents' and siblings' names, Patlias said.

    All of these cards, 78 total, were described as "gift cards" in a property disposition report the police gave the couple.

    The officers suggested the cards may be the products of a gift card scam or -- in the case of the ones with other names on them -- may indicate an identify theft scheme, the couple said.

    Patlias said he had documentation with him to support the legitimacy of the cards and his casino winnings, but that didn't seem to impress the troopers, he said.

    They were eventually told they weren't in trouble, that police were investigating gift card fraud in the area, but that police would keep the cash, cards and Patlias' cellphone for the time being. Police would be in touch by phone regarding their possessions.

    After giving Patlias the warning for failure to maintain lane, they sent the couple on their way.

    They drove off with only $2 in cash.

    "They violated my Fourth Amendment rights. They took me and my pregnant wife out of the car on a dangerous highway and left us with $2 to get home," Patlias declared.

    'It's not West Virginian'

    Back in New Jersey, they waited to hear from police. Smith gave birth to a boy in July.

    They kept up the pressure on West Virginia authorities because they feared, after reading horror stories from others, that they might lose their possessions forever through civil forfeiture.

    Their plight got the attention of Charles Town Councilman Michael Tolbert.

    Tolbert found out about the situation through an email the couple sent to local officials and actually drove to New Jersey to speak with them.

    Cops found pot in his Mercedes, now they own his car

    "It was probably one of the strongest, most powerful letters I had ever gotten," he said. "I had this need to go up there and apologize. This was a traumatic thing. This isn't what we West Virginians do."

    Tolbert met the couple and their family in Egg Harbor City and got the whole story. While the incident happened just outside of his city, he was angry about the circumstances of the traffic stop and urged them to keep writing letters and demanding a response.

    "This should not have happened," he said. "Their possessions were taken from them along the side of the road. That's not right. It's not West Virginian."

    What's shocking to Tolbert is that everything that happened was apparently legal.

    "People need to know that these things are going on in their name," he said, "... this is not the way we want to represent ourselves."

    The couple reached out to the state police, the Jefferson County prosecutor and local media for help. Days after contacting a reporter with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, they were contacted by police and told they could come get their belongings.

    A prosecuting attorney can file a forfeiture petition to begin the civil court process of seizing confiscated property in West Virginia, but there was no reason to do so in this case, explained Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey.

    "After that traffic stop, my office was contacted about it," Harvey said this week. "We declined to file a petition for forfeiture based on the facts as they were presented to us."

    West Virginia's law only allows agencies to file forfeiture petitions in cases involving proceeds from drug crimes or the smuggling of tobacco products.

    While Harvey stressed that there was no indication the couple was involved in illicit activity and that nothing illegal was found, he imagined the officers probably saw a few red flags between the large amount of cash and the gift cards.

    "Just generally speaking, this is an area that's been hard hit with heroin," he said. "We have a lot of out-of-state people that come in and deal. Gift cards are a currency that's used in the drug world."

    'Nervous when I see police'

    While they have their possessions back, they remain upset about the experience and say they have no plans to return to West Virginia.

    "I will never set foot in that state again," Smith said. "I'm nervous when I see police now. What kind of country do we live in anymore?"

    Tolbert hopes they will reconsider his state in the future.

    He offered to meet the couple should they ever return.

    "It's an incredibly nice state," he said. "West Virginia has a lot of very decent people and you have to be decent to be West Virginian."

    Matt Gray may be reached at mgray@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us: nj.com/tips.


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