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Covid-19 In The Courts News

Supreme Court Approves Post-Pandemic Plan


On June 10, 2020, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and the Supreme Court have approved a plan for the gradual resumption of certain in-person court events, as recommended by the New Jersey Courts Post-Pandemic Planning committees.

The plan outlines the precautions being implemented before court buildings are opened for any in-person proceedings in any court.

While criminal jury trials will remain suspended, the following criminal matters may, consistent with Supreme Court guidance, be handled in person:

  • Completion of suspended jury trials with the consent of all attorneys and parties and approval of the Chief Justice
  • Sentencings
  • Guilty pleas
  • Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) hearings where there is no consent to proceed remotely
  • Violation of monitoring
  • Violation of probation for defendants in custody
  • The precautions also include requirements for the public and judiciary employees to wear masks in non-private areas and to maintain social distancing.

Members of the public should not come to court unless they have been notified that a matter has been scheduled.

To view the Court’s Post-Pandemic Plan, click the image below:

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In The Courts News

Chesilhurst Man Pleads Guilty to Unlawfully Possessing Fraudulent Law Enforcement Credentials & Firearm

Camden, N.J. A Camden County, New Jersey, man previously convicted of multiple felony offenses including robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault admitted on June 5, 2020 to possessing fraudulent law enforcement credentials and unlawfully possessing a handgun, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Warren E. Shelton, 54, of Chesilhurst, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez to an indictment charging him with one count of unlawful possession of imitation badges, identification cards, and other insignia prescribed for use by officers of a department or agency of the United States and one count of possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

In 2018, Shelton designed, ordered, and acquired counterfeit Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service (FPS) credentials, business identification cards, and a badge falsely representing that he was employed as a special agent with FPS and authorized to carry a weapon and enforce federal laws. During a court-authorized search of Shelton’s home in May 2019, investigators located and seized these counterfeit items and also located and seized a Colt .45 caliber handgun and ammunition along with two blank guns that resembled real firearms. As a previously convicted felon, Shelton is prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Shelton faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the firearm offense. He also faces up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for possession of the counterfeit FPS credentials, business cards, and badge. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 7, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), under the direction of Assistant Special Agent in Charge Julio Santana; special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Services (FPS), under the direction of Supervisory Special Agent Anthony Fuscellaro; special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina; special agents of the U.S. Secret Service, Philadelphia Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James Henry; and special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Newark Field Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Charlie J. Patterson with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked officers of the New Jersey State Police, under the direction of Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan, the Camden County Police Department, under the direction of Chief Joseph Wysocki, and the Chesilhurst Police Department, under the direction of Chief Wendell Smith for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gabriel J. Vidoni and Daniel A. Friedman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.

To view the indictment, click here.

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In The Courts Recent News

Judiciary Launches Virtual Grand Jury Pilot Program


Virtual grand jury proceedings will convene within the next two weeks in Bergen and Mercer counties, under a Supreme Court order signed on May 14, 2020 by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

The pilot program, which is expected to begin “as soon as practicable,” will be used to determine whether the Judiciary expands remote grand juries to additional counties and state grand jury proceedings. Cases will be presented to a grand jury only if the defendant gives consent to proceed in a remote format.

The technology will be similar to the formats the Judiciary currently uses for virtual hearings but will employ additional security measures.

“In the past two months, much of the work of the courts has continued through virtual operations,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “That same technology will now be used to continue grand jury proceedings remotely, in a manner that protects the public while safeguarding the rights and privacy of defendants, witnesses, victims, and jurors.”

The pilot program stems from a recommendation of a working group formed by the state Supreme Court that includes representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Jersey State Bar Association, and the private defense bar, in addition to judges and court staff.

“Our state is facing an unprecedented crisis, and we need to examine solutions that we might not consider in ordinary times,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “I’d like to thank Chief Justice Rabner and Acting Administrator Grant for their boldness and their creativity as we work together to safeguard our criminal justice system during this difficult time.”

There are 1,400 defendants currently detained in county jails awaiting indictment along with additional defendants on pretrial release.

To date, the Judiciary has conducted more than 23,000 virtual proceedings involving more than 189,000 participants. Based on current guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health, the COVID-19 virus is expected to continue to disrupt normal court operations in the months ahead.

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In The Courts Recent News

Supreme Court Order Opens Municipal Courts for Business in N.J.

Many New Jersey municipal courts began remote proceedings today, holding court sessions by video or phone under an order issued by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

In-person municipal court sessions had been suspended in mid-March so that the courts could conform with social distancing guidelines put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Only certain matters, such as those that involved public safety, were permitted to continue.

A follow-up order allowed municipal court cases to proceed with the consent of all parties starting April 24, with all municipal court sessions resuming on May 11 “to the extent possible, based on facilities, technology and other resources.”

The order applies to all case types. “Municipal courts are vital to our state’s justice system” Chief Justice Rabner said. “This is another step in expanding virtual proceedings to allow court business to continue, safely, wherever possible.”

Most public interaction with the New Jersey court system is through the state’s 515 municipal courts, which handle approximately six million cases a year.

Some municipal courts are working with their respective municipalities to make the transition to virtual court easier.

For example, in Jersey City, court users can download a form on the municipal website to register for court. Court administrators schedule the cases, and defendants receive an email with instructions on how to participate virtually.

Since the form was made public last week, 90 defendants registered to schedule their cases, Jersey City Chief Municipal Judge Carlo Abad said.

The court is scheduled to hear 15 of those cases this week, he said.
Judge Abad also developed a training video to teach other municipal court judges how to conduct remote proceedings through Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“The feedback has been great,” Judge Abad said. “It’s being well received by the other judges and the prosecutors.”

The Supreme Court order also makes it easier for the public to respond to fines and infractions online.

Starting Monday, May 11, defendants can now use NJMCdirect.com, the municipal court online payment system, to resolve not only motor vehicle violations but also disorderly persons offenses and other ordinance violations where the defendant has been placed on a time payment plan.

The Supreme Court also relaxed court rules to make it easier for defendants to enter a plea by mail.

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In The Courts Recent News

Turnersville Man Sentenced to 65 Month Prison Term for Using Fraudulent Invoices to Steal from Hospitals & Doctors’ Offices Across U.S.

A Gloucester County, New Jersey, man was sentenced on May 8, 2020 to 65 months in prison for mailing thousands of fraudulent invoices to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices throughout the United States, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Robert S. Armstrong, 49, of Turnersville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of mail fraud. Judge Hillman imposed the sentence today.

This is Armstrong’s second mail fraud scheme. On Nov. 19, 2015, Armstrong was sentenced to 57 months in prison for committing a similar mail fraud scheme in the name of his company, Scholastic Book Supply. In that case, Armstrong caused the mailing of thousands of fraudulent invoices to schools throughout the United States billing them for books that the schools did not order or receive. He was sentenced today to 41 months on the Pinnacle Medical Supply case, which was committed while he was on supervised release for the Scholastic Book Supply case. He pleaded guilty to three violations of his supervised release from prison in the Scholastic Book Supply case, and was sentenced to an additional 24 months in prison, for a total prison sentence imposed today of 65 months. 

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Operating under the name of Pinnacle Medical Supplies, Armstrong prepared and caused to be prepared fraudulent invoices billing hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices across the United States for medical supplies such as diabetic test strips, EpiPens® and sanitizing wipes that the medical providers never ordered or received. In addition to billing for medical supplies never ordered or received, the invoices included fraudulent shipping information and a fraudulent address.

Armstrong then contracted with a legitimate bulk mailing company to mail more than 10,000 invoices to medical providers across the United States. Each invoice included a payment envelope preaddressed to Pinnacle Medical Supply at mail boxes Armstrong had set up with commercial mail receiving agents in Florida and Texas.   

In response to the phony invoices, at least 943 medical providers sent $214,495 to Pinnacle Medical Supply. Armstrong deposited many of the checks from the victim medical providers into a bank account he opened in the name of Pinnacle Medical Supply.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Hillman sentenced Armstrong to an additional three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay full restitution.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited law enforcement officers of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Damon Wood in Philadelphia, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing. He also thanked the Washington Township Police Department in Gloucester County, the Woolwich Township Police Department and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). 

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Carrig of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden.