• MARGATE – For the fourth year in a row, the tax rate for real property in Margate will remain unchanged. The Board of Commissioners introduced its 2015 municipal budget Feb. 19 with no increase in taxes.

    The $31.5 million budget calls for a tax rate of 60.1 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the same as last year. The average homeowner with a house assessed at $516,007 will pay $3,101.20 in municipal taxes this year.

    Salaries, pensions and debt service are up slightly, but overall spending is down $124,843, according to Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin.

  • Lt. Frank CulmoneLONGPORT – At its Feb. 25 regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to support Mayor Nicholas Russo’s recommendation of Lt. Frank Culmone as the next chief of police.

    Culmone will replace Police Chief Vincent Pacentrilli, who will retire April 1 after 29 years on the police force.

    Russo said Culmone has the two most important traits for a police officer – morals and ethics.

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday, Feb. 24 cancelled its bid solicitation to build sand dunes on the beaches of Margate and Longport.

    “Today, we notified the bidders that we are cancelling the solicitation,” said Steve Rochette, public affairs officer of the Army Corps Philadelphia District.

    The Army Corps had received two extensions to finalize the contract from two bidders vying for the job. The latest deadline to award the contract was Wednesday, Feb. 25.

  • MARGATE – A building boom in Margate should all but eliminate an increase in taxes this year, Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin reported at the Board of Commissioners work session on Feb. 5.

    It’s still under review, but a draft budget is complete and “I anticipate getting very close to a zero increase,” McLaughlin said.

    In her unaudited finance update, McLaughlin noted that the city increased ratables by more than $14 million, which brings the net taxable value of real estate in the city to $3,560,607,377.

  • VENTNOR – Ventnor Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Joe Iannuzzelli, backed by a dozen firefighters, attended the Board of Commissioners work session Wednesday, Feb. 11 at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex to ask whether a rumor he heard that the Ventnor and Atlantic City fire departments would merge is true.

    Mayor Michael Bagnell responded to his questions by saying that he is “just doing research” into the feasibility of merging the two departments.

  • Donna M. Peterson of Ventnor is the city’s new emergency management coordinator.VENTNOR – Since she was appointed Dec. 1 to lead the Office of Emergency Management, Donna M. Peterson has checked several items off her to-do list.She prioritized emergency responders as foremost for adequately protecting the city during the next big emergency event, improved technology and communication for first responding agencies and is working to finalize FEMA reimbursements from the last eight declared storms.

    “We’ve been very busy in a lot of different areas. I am trying to catch up on things, not just for myself, but for Ventnor City,” she said during an interview Friday, Feb. 6 at her office in City Hall.

  • MARGATE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has obtained a second extension of the deadline to award a contract to build sand dunes in Margate and Longport.

    According to Edward C. Voight, chief of Public and Legislative Affairs for the Philadelphia office of the Army Corps of Engineers, the bidders have agreed to extend their bid offerings for one month. The new deadline is Feb. 25.

    Additionally, The Downbeach Current has learned that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has not filed eminent domain proceedings in state court to obtain the easements needed to build sand dunes in Margate.

Ventnor man indicted on human trafficking charges ran male prostitution ring, police say

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New Jersey Office of Attorney General New Jersey Office of Attorney General

A Ventnor man was indicted Thursday, Oct. 31 on first-degree charges of human trafficking and aggravated sexual assault for allegedly operating a male prostitution ring from his North Newport Avenue apartment.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman Thursday that Marc A. Branch, 40, of Ventnor allegedly gave narcotics to young men, including at least one minor, and prostituted them to male clients.  The indictment also charges a client who allegedly sexually assaulted a minor and a third man who allegedly tried to conceal evidence.

Hoffman stated in a release that Branch allegedly lured vulnerable young males, ranging in age from their teens to their early 20s, to his Ventnor apartment on North Newport Avenue by offering them money, drugs, friendship and, in some cases, shelter.

He allegedly gave them cocaine, heroin and alcohol so that he could control them and prostitute them to male clients, who paid up to $200 per sex act.  Branch allegedly solicited clients for the prostitution ring by advertising on Craigslist with naked photos of the young males. He also allegedly used Twitter, Facebook and other websites.

Francis H. Forvour, 47, of Maple Shade, an alleged client, was charged with Branch in the count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. In 2011 or early 2012, Forvour allegedly performed oral sex on a male, under 16, who was unconscious. Branch allegedly offered the boy marijuana to smoke that was laced with another drug, which caused him to pass out. Forvour allegedly paid Branch for that sex act. 

Forvour also is charged with second degree sexual assault on a minor and third degree endangering the welfare of a child in relation to that incident. In addition, Forvour is charged with Branch with second degree conspiracy and engaging in prostitution with a person under 18, and he is charged with third aggravated criminal sexual contact for allegedly fondling another young man who was asleep.

“We charge that Branch plied troubled young men with drugs in order to ensnare them in a life of prostitution,” said Hoffman. “The level of his depravity is illustrated by the incident charged in the indictment in which he allegedly rendered an underage boy unconscious using narcotics so Forvour could sexually assault him, all to turn a quick profit.  This type of callous sexual exploitation of the very vulnerable fits a classic pattern of human trafficking.”

“Through new directives, training and alliances, we are focusing law enforcement throughout New Jersey on uncovering and prosecuting these heinous crimes,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.  “Working with partners like the FBI, our new Human Trafficking Unit will continue to coordinate operations involving all levels of law enforcement to rescue victims and bring human traffickers to justice.  We are maintaining a high level of vigilance in the run-up to the Super Bowl, because we know that this blockbuster event has the potential to attract these criminal elements.”

The third defendant, Shaun P. Hussey, 29, of Margate, is charged with third-degree conspiracy, along with Branch and Forvour, for allegedly conspiring with them to try to tamper with witnesses and conceal evidence after Branch was arrested and jailed in October 2012.  The indictment alleges that Forvour attempted to phone the minor he allegedly assaulted in an effort to convince him to give a statement exonerating Branch.

It is further alleged that Forvour called a relative of the other young man he fondled in an attempt to contact that victim. Hussey allegedly logged onto Branch’s social media sites and deleted photos and information he believed might incriminate Branch.  Hussey also is charged with hindering the apprehension or prosecution of another person, a third degree offense.

 Branch was arrested in this case on Oct. 19, 2012 and was initially jailed with bail set at $250,000.  He currently is serving a state prison sentence for possession of drugs.  Forvour was arrested on Dec. 21, 2012.  He is being held in the Burlington County Jail with bail set at $100,000.

According to Hoffman, a state grand jury indicted Branch on charges of first degree human trafficking, first degree aggravated sexual assault, second and third degree conspiracy, second degree promoting organized street crime, second degree engaging in prostitution with a person under 18, third degree promoting prostitution, third degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth degree maintaining a nuisance.  The indictment is the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit and the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City.

The first-degree charge of human trafficking carries a sentence of 20 years to life in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $200,000.  The first-degree charge of aggravated sexual assault carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed.  Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Atlantic County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.  The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. 

The Division of Criminal Justice maintains a 24-hour NJ Human Trafficking Hotline: 877-986-7534.  In addition, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in New Jersey works closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., which maintains a national, toll-free tipline for the public to report crimes against children: 1-800-THE-LOST, or 1-800-843-5678.  That tip line brings leads to the New Jersey ICAC on sexual crimes against children.


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