MAYS LANDING, N.J. _ Appearing remotely via video from a North Jersey jail, a frowning Dr. James Kauffman made a first appearance on charges he arranged the murder of his wife April to keep her from exposing a vast drug ring run out of his endocrinology office with members of the Pagan Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.
The now white-haired disgraced Kauffman, 68, sat stoically in a "video court" room appearing over two screens to a courtroom filled with journalists and cameras. At one point, he stifled a small yawn. Mostly he sat with his eyes cast downward. Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury read him his rights, and his attorney, Louis Barbone, said he waived a reading of the charges.
He answered the judge with "yes" several times, asked for the sound to be turned up, but otherwise said nothing. He will have a detention hearing on Tuesday.
Barbone said Kauffman had been moved to the Hudson County jail for his own safety. Prosecutors allege that in the last three months, he has been the target of a second murder plot by his co-defendant in the slaying of his wife.
Kauffman is accused of masterminding a vast oxycontin distribution network run out of his Egg Harbor Township office, in a bizarre partnership with Ferdinand "Freddy" Augello, a guitar-playing past president of the Cape May County chapter of the Pagans.
The two men were well known before the death of April Kauffman in the local shore community: Kauffman for his busy practice; Augello for his guitar and graphics business, and for his popular band "Who Dat" which played at the Atlantic City Seafood Festival and local bars.
Augello and two accomplices in the drug enterprise, Tabitha Chapman and Paul Pagano, also made first appearances Thursday via remote from the Atlantic County Correctional Facility on racketeering charges. A fifth defendant, Joseph Mulholland, had his appearance postponed because he was in the hospital being examined by a cardiologist, said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy.
Augello is charged with murder in connection with April Kauffman, and with conspiracy to commit murder, in connection with an attempt to kill Kauffman inside the Atlantic County jail in the last three months, according to court documents and affidavits.
Chapman, who was described as romantically involved with Augello at some point, and Pagano, were two of the Pagan gang associates who allegedly made regular trips to see Kauffman at his medical practice and act as go-betweens for Augello and Kauffman. They are not charged in connection with the murder.
The three defendants were also ordered held after the brief hearing pending a detention hearing on Tuesday.
Augello and Pagano sat side by side. At one point before the hearing, Pagano made the shape of a gun with his fingers and held it up to Augello's head. Augello pushed him away playfully.
Kauffman has been in prison since June, after local and federal authorities executed a search warrant at his office, and he brandished a gun, saying, "I'm not going to jail for this."
At the time, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner said the raid was related to an ongoing investigation into health insurance fraud by public employees.
Tyner said Thursday that there did not appear to be any link to the Pagan drug network, but that Kauffman was involved with both.
"It just seems to suggest that Jim Kauffman was a busy man with his criminal activities," said Tyner. "He's sort of a one man crime spree."
Carole Weintraub, Kauffman's current wife who has attended prior court hearings, was not in attendance at Thursday's hearing.
Barbone, Kauffman's attorney, told reporters outside the courtroom that his client continues to maintain his innocence.
"We say what we've been saying for the last five years, which is he's not guilty," Barbone said. "The doctor has maintained his innocence over the past five years. He's assisted in attempting to give information. What they in there was a plot to kill Dr. Kauffman, and the conspiracy is all about the plot to kill my client from what I've read so far."