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This Hour: Latest New Jersey news, sports, business and entertainment

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Unions update lawsuits over New Jersey pensions

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A group of public workers unions have revised their lawsuits aimed at trying to compel New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to put pay more into pension funds.

The unions are encouraged by a ruling in June that found the state does have a contractual obligation for full funding for pensions. But the judge also said the state's financial crunch was a valid reason not to make the previously planned payment in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The unions are hoping a judge will say the same reasoning does not hold up for the new fiscal year. The updated complaints filed Tuesday focus on funding for fiscal 2015.

Christie says he wants to change the pension system because costs to taxpayers are rising too fast.


Govt fails to vet chemical plants for terror risk

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional investigators say the government has failed to inspect virtually all of the chemical facilities that it considers to be at high risk for a terror attack and has underestimated the threat to densely populated cities.

A year-long investigation by Republican staff on the Senate Homeland Security Committee paints a picture of inspection delay, government errors in risk assessment and industry loopholes in a $595 million terror prevention program. A copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press.

The report said the Department of Homeland Security failed to conduct security inspections on 3,972 chemical facilities, or 99 percent of those deemed higher risk.

Roughly half of the higher-risk facilities are in 10 states: California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey.


Republicans: Protect Atlantic City casinos

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Some Republican state lawmakers are pushing to continue barring casinos anywhere in New Jersey except Atlantic City for two more years.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said he supported continuing the protections until 2016. His pronouncement comes as a venture capital firm has been telling officials about a proposal for a huge casino in Jersey City.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, has said he's open to the idea of a ballot measure in November 2015 to allow casinos in northern Jersey. Even if that happened, casinos would not be able to open there immediately.

Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie previously agreed to protect Atlantic City's monopoly into 2016. Bramnick says that should be honored.


Vending firm ex-official sentenced in Pepsi scheme

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A former official of a New Jersey-based vending company has been sentenced to prison time for his role in a scheme that defrauded the Pepsi Bottling Group of $2.9 million over a 10-year period.

Cedar Grove resident Joseph Belasco was ordered Tuesday to serve six months in prison and six months of home confinement. He also will pay $1 million in restitution and must serve two years of supervised release once he's freed from prison.

The 65-year-old Belasco pleaded guilty last November to a complaint charging him with providing a false 2008 Internal Revenue Service 1099 tax form to the wife of a PepsiCo executive for consulting services she never performed.

Pepsi Bottling Group is owned by Purchase, New York-based PepsiCo Inc.


Man convicted of murder in fatal sauce pan beating

(Information in the following story is from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), )

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey man who said he was high on drugs and hearing voices when he fatally beat an elderly man with a sauce pan has been convicted of murder.

The Record reports that a Bergen County jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Tuesday before convicting 22-year-old Edwin Estrada, of Cliffside Park. He also was found guilty of weapons offenses, burglary, robbery and credit-card theft charges.

Prosecutors say Estrada attacked and robbed 88-year-old Vincent Leuzzi in the victim's Fairview home in July 2010.

Estrada claimed he was not legally responsible for the murder because he was high on PCP and marijuana and was urged on by the voice of the devil.

Leuzzi died of blunt force trauma caused by at least nine blows.


2 men admit conspiring with organized crime

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Two New Jersey men, including one who ran an illegal sports betting website, have admitted to conspiring with the Genovese organized crime family.

Federal prosecutors say 77-year-old Joseph Graziano and 44-year-old Dominick J. Barone, both of Springfield, each pleaded guilty Tuesday to a racketeering conspiracy count.

Prosecutors say Graziano was the principal owner of a Costa Rica-based illegal online sports betting website called Both men admitted to conspiring with crime family members in the site's operation.

Prosecutors say Graziano and Barone helped members of and associates of organized crime to take their traditional illegal betting activities online.

Several defendants have already pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing.


Cops: Man stole grandma's car, sold it for heroin

WYCKOFF, N.J. (AP) - Authorities say a northern New Jersey man stole his grandmother's car from a church parking lot last month and sold it for cash and heroin.

Wyckoff police say 22-year-old township resident Arthur Garlick is charged with auto theft.

Garlick, who lives with his grandmother, allegedly obtained an extra pair of keys for her 1999 Lincoln town car and took it on June 3, while she was serving as a poll worker for the primary elections.

Authorities say he sold the vehicle in Paterson for $200 in cash and $150 worth of heroin. Police recovered the car in that city a week later and charged the man driving it with possession of stolen property.

A telephone number for Garlick could not be located Tuesday.


Police officer admits sharing confidential data

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) - A northern New Jersey police officer has admitted sharing confidential information from a police database with someone who then passed it on to a third person who was the target of an investigation.

Ryan Eastridge pleaded guilty Tuesday to a disorderly person's offense of obstructing the administration of law enforcement. He also will forfeit his job with the Mount Olive force and will never seek public employment in law enforcement again as part of his plea deal with Morris County prosecutors.

Eastridge had served on the Mount Olive force for seven years.

Prosecutors say the incident occurred in May. They say Eastridge didn't intend" for the information to get to the target, who soon fled New Jersey but was later caught in another state.


Couple get federal prison terms for mortgage fraud

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A northern New Jersey couple convicted of fraudulently obtaining $3.4 million in mortgages is now headed to prison.

Federal prosecutors say 44-year-old Linda Yarleque of Westwood received a two-year sentence Tuesday, while her 47-year-old husband, Fabio Moreno Vargas, got an 18-month term. They also must pay $716,353 in restitution and will forfeit $262,198.

The couple was convicted last November on charges of bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Prosecutors say the couple obtained 10 fraudulent loans over three years. They falsified their employment and income, didn't disclose their debts and other properties they owned and lied about where they lived.

The couple got $3.4 million in mortgages and personally pocketed about $269,000 through "cash out" refinancings. They used the money for vacations, cars and to buy more properties.


Man admits role in New Jersey tax refund scheme

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in New Jersey say a New York City man has admitted his role in a stolen identity and tax refund fraud scheme.

Raymundo Hernandez pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Newark to a complaint charging him with conspiracy to steal government funds.

The 35-year-old Bronx resident faces up to 5 years in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 6.

Prosecutors say Hernandez was the ringleader of a conspiracy to steal more than $2.6 million in fraudulent income tax refund checks issued by the United States.

New Jersey's U.S. attorney says the ring followed a common tactic in stolen identity refund fraud schemes, in which the stolen identities of Puerto Rican citizens are used to create and file false federal tax forms in order to get refund checks.


Christie planning August swing through the south

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will swing through the south as part of another jam-packed month of travel boosting Republican candidates.

Christie is planning visits to more than half a dozen states in August, including Mississippi and Alabama. He has been traveling the country in his role as chair of the Republican Governors Association.

On August 12, Christie will return to Maine to campaign for incumbent Gov. Paul LePage.

The next day he'll head to Birmingham, Alabama to boost Gov. Robert Bentley, then to Biloxi, Mississippi for Gov. Phil Bryant.

He will be in Kansas and Oklahoma the next week for events with the governors there. He then goes to Arkansas on Aug. 27 for events in Fayetteville and Little Rock for the RGA and Republican gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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