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Cleary's Faced With Mounting Legal Costs and Criminal Fines Surrender; Accept Plea Deal

Images copy"Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel."

~Mark Twain



William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews Editor


As some of you may already know, my son and I were charged with trespassing on the Cold Springs School property and accused of stealing a small child's bench last October. The bench in question was actually broken and discarded in a trash pile next to a dumpster. If I had managed to fix it successfully, I would have given it to one of my great-grandchildren.  On October 10, a video of the two of us behind the Cold Springs school placing the bench in my car appeared on the City Police Department's Facebook page. The caption that was published with the video implied that the two of us were thieves. It read, "The GCPD is investigating a robbery from Cold Springs School; if you recognize the individuals or vehicle, etc."


It was clear that the image in the video was me. The police could have easily contacted me about the bench, but instead, they decided to defame my reputation. Even though the matter has been settled, that video remains on the Police's Facebook page.

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When I was alerted about the video, I notified the police that I had mistakenly taken the broken bench because I thought it was trash. I apologized for my error and returned the bench to the school.


After both of us received citations in the mail, it became clear that someone or a group of people in a position of influence in our city saw my mistake as an opportunity to get revenge on me for publishing articles and editorials over the years that they took offense to. I have no idea who is behind this travesty of justice. As a 79-year-old man, I'm aware that my time on this earth is limited. Nevertheless, I hope that those who wronged us will find peace in their hearts and that we can all move forward.


Many people have targeted me for revenge during my 50-plus years as a reporter. If I were to name them all, the list would be quite extensive. In 2013, I lost my job as a weekly columnist for the new owner of the paper. This happened because officers of the local business association and council members threatened to withdraw their advertisements if the owner didn't fire me. I believe the reason for their demand was that I was investigating a committee appointed by the mayor and council. That committee was paying more money for properties in the Monmouth Street Business area than what the owners were asking for them. At the time, one of the people who owned a store on the 500 block of Monmouth Street told us that. The money they were using to purchase those properties belonged to the residents of Gloucester City.


I was fired via an email.


We first appeared in Gloucester City municipal court for these alleged crimes in November 2023 and entered a plea of not guilty. Following that appearance, we appeared in court several more times between November 2023 and March 2024. It became obvious that those in charge of the courtroom had a tactic of delaying our actual trial for as long as possible. They had no intention of allowing me to explain our side of the story.


In January, the city prosecutor contacted our attorney, Justin Moore, and offered a plea deal. If we plead guilty to the city’s noise ordinance, the charges of trespassing on the school property and the made-up theft charge would be dropped. But we would both have to pay a fine of $500 and court costs.


Although I wanted to continue to fight “City Hall,”  the writing was on the wall; there was no way I had a snowball chance in hell of winning the case. My health is deteriorating due to various illnesses, one of which is incurable.  Plus, I had to consider our legal fees and the fines we would face if we lost the case. It became clear that it was time to surrender. I decided we would accept the plea agreement that was offered.

IMG_4889In This photo taken behind the Cold Springs School on December 31, 2023, discarded chairs and carpets sit atop the dumpster. There were other items, but I couldn't get close enough to the dumpster to see what else was being thrown away. I was concerned that I might receive another citation for trespassing. The photo was taken from nearby Cedar Grove Cemetery. For some time, I had been taking photos of what the school district was throwing in the trash. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with some of those items that were previously been discarded. (CNBNews photo credit)



If I had been given a chance to present my side of the story, I would have explained that one of the reasons I walked around the Cold Springs School and Gloucester High School was to gather information for a possible article. To my surprise, I noticed that the school district was throwing away perfectly good office chairs, desks, file cabinets, children’s desks and chairs, games, chalkboards, and more. These items were either piled up in the back of the school or thrown into dumpsters. As someone who cares deeply about minimizing waste, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. Although I understood that the district must have had its reasons, I couldn’t see why they wouldn't make these items available to the public. In my opinion, the district could have put these objects up for auction or advertised them as free, especially considering the availability of children's desks and chairs and office equipment. I believe it was a missed opportunity for the district to connect with the community and make a positive impact.


I have been working for 57 years to provide the residents of Gloucester City and the surrounding communities with the news about their communities. For decades, we have published information about the latest births, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, marriages, and those who were away serving our country. We reported on high school and college baseball, basketball, football games, and other sports and have written articles about those who have passed away. Additionally, I informed the public about how their school board, mayor, and council were spending their money. Like everyone else, I made mistakes along the way. I did my best to be fair.  I never had an axe to grind. My father, George F. Cleary Sr., started working for the Gloucester City News in 1948. In 1950, he and my mother, Mazie Cleary, purchased the newspaper. I began my career with the paper in 1968. In 1984, my wife Connie and I purchased the newspaper from my parents. After selling the newspaper in 2003, I continued working as a columnist for the newspaper until 2013.  I founded ClearysNoteBook in 2006. Add up the numbers, and you'll find the Clearys have provided the area with local news for 76 years. Instead of being treated like common criminals recently, you would think those responsible would have paid tribute to our family for their many contributions to the City. 


Like Don Quixote, I didn't hesitate to fight the unbeatable foe. I also didn't hesitate to point out that those in charge were failing their constituents by continually increasing property taxes and wasting their hard-earned money needlessly, like spending $1.3 million on an artificial grass football field at the high school and $1 million on a similar field at the elementary school.  When someone told me about the foul smell emanating from the Knights Asphalt Plant, I wrote about it. Similarly, when someone informed me that a parking lot in the city was being used for drug use, CNBNews wrote about that, too. Just last year, CNBNews investigated a coverup of a public works supervisor who stole money from taxpayers. We also investigate a rumor about a fireman setting the pants of another fireman on fire. That story was hidden from the public until we reported it.

People in this city and elsewhere were reluctant to complain to their governing body, their school board, or their police department for fear of retaliation, so they asked CNBNews for help. 

When we owned the newspaper, we provided prisoners in state prisons copies of the Gloucester City News. We gave free papers to the senior citizens at Gloucester Town. We paid 1,000's of dollars for the newspaper to be put on microfilm for posterity. We were responsible for publishing special newspaper editions that honored O'Donnell bartender Reds Quilan, the Dominican Sisters, Monsignor Lucitt, O'Donnell's Restaurant, and the original Chubby's Restaurant, to mention a few.  


As for what the powerful did to my son and me, it's pretty alarming to witness the sort of behavior that we would typically associate with Third World countries happening right here in Gloucester City. The fact that there are individuals in my own community who hold the power to prosecute innocent people without any fear of consequences criminally is quite concerning. It is deeply saddening to see that the justice system was used, in my opinion, as a tool to punish me.


One of the many remarks received by people who commented on the articles I wrote about this miscarriage of justice since October summed up the situation this way: “This action taken by those who file these charges against the Clearys reflects poorly on the Community of Gloucester City.”


CASE SOLVED: A "Dumpster Diver" is the Culprit...UPDATED




Below are remarks from our supporters: 


Bill,there is no shame in ending this . You fought a great fight and weather you think so or not you won. By fighting them you exposed how the nj corruption even on the local level is out of control. Yes they may have won this battle but over the years you have won the war. Health is important and added stress takes its toll so it is best to care for yourself so you can fight another day. Bill your a good man and made a big mark on our city, and. Journalism and you have proven that the American fighting spirit is alive and well and i thank you for that. This is why so many people have left gloucester and nj. You and i both know we will not be around in thirty years from now to see the country come back to center, but i would like to think somehow someway you and others have lit the fires of change for the future. Wishing you good health, may your issues be resolved, and thank you for all you've done to better our city.




I’m sorry to hear that you’re being railroaded to give in, but your rationale is sound. No sense in putting up with the nonsense any longer. Six months of this bull to possibly end with a guilty verdict of trespassing doesn’t seem worth it in the end. What’s infuriating is that the system has been used and abused to silence those who disagree instead of those who actually commit crimes. 

     With any luck the Gloucester City Republicans can get into office and clean up our town literally and metaphorically. Who knew that the swamp and pig farms that was once our town still exists in the halls of what should be blind and compassionate justice. 
     Hope everything works out for you in the end and that they know they have pulled the tiger’s tail. They thought you were a pain before but I do not think there is going to be a rock not turned over because of this. 


Bill, I agree 100% with your decision to take the plea deal. Everyone knows who and what you are and they know that you are not a person who would be guilty of these charges. This reflects badly on Gloucester City, not you. I hope this energizes you to continue to expose the corruption in the Gloucester City government and legal systems. The Fourth Estate is our protection against tyranny and people like you are the front line soldiers in this battle. Please keep up your noble efforts and continue to thrive in your profession. Thank you for the update, and please stay in touch.
Warmest regards,
Bill I am appalled by the way they are treating you. But you and I know you have always had a target on your back. We need you to continue giving us the facts. Matt and I truly appreciate your work. You and your son are in my prayers.God bless you.
Be at peace with your decision, Bill.   
So many agree that the ridiculous charges brought forth in an action against you should have resulted in an Immediate Dismissal by any and all of the culprits involved. The fact that you held in there, to accomplish an exposure of the “wrongs” that were being endured, has demonstrated the culpability of their misdeeds.

This world has gone mad. You returned the bench to the trash pile, called the police, and now they're charging you? I wouldn't be pleading guilty. It seems they're seeking to get this done quietly if you plead and avoid a mess for them. A sentence of 3 to 5 years and a stiff fine for what appears to be rubbish? I hope you took photos of the pile so it can be shown that it looked like it was anyone's to grab. Shame on Gloucester City Police and  Cold Spring Elementary School.

You said you were told to be prepared for the penalty if you plead guilty. What's the penalty if you go to trial and are found guilty? If it's the same, you're better off going to trial.

~Brian Bennett


Anyone who knows your reputation, knows you're a good man. I just can't believe this BS. Go to court. I'm with you Bill. You're a good man and an accet to Gloucester City. Bill, it worth engaging one of the TV stations press person, on their Consumer Reports staff or something like that? If nothing else, it will bring out the dual justice sysem that we apparently have in GC.


Frank DiSanto, Woodbury Hts.


I had the same thought. The audacity of whoever pressed charges (to waste the time of the court, as well as tax dollars) is outrageous! Not a penny or a minute should be spent on this matter. This elderly gentleman is having his health endangered with stress. The school is a public place, by its very name, paid for by the taxpayers. I grew up near a public school, & everyone in the neighborhood used the playground & yard after hours, & we never were challenged for “trespassing”. The man made an innocent mistake, & rectified it. I wonder if the school employee, who left school property unsecured , to be mistaken for trash, was held at all responsible. Every one of us should be terribly concerned with this story.(edited)

Dorothy Heade said...

Does this mean that GCPD is now reporting the statistics we've been asking for but have been told it is "too much work?" How much work went into publishing the video?

Where is the rehab center? I need it desperately. I admit. Not only am I a dumpster diver but so is my niece.

Raymond DeVoe Gloucester Heights


I absolutely agree.  It's shows the multi-teer justice system, even in GC.  Certain people used this as their "Oh yeah? I'll show him." revenge. The bigger problem that I have is that the general public is not hearing about this and even if they did, could really give two craps about it, since it doesn't directly impact them. The issue with that mindset is that eventually, it will, if left to continue to occur.  Then it becomes a problem for them.

Frank DiSanto Woodbury Heights


William, this story infuriated  & frightened me. (See my comment to Raymond DeVoe).

May I ask how you learned that the bench was not trash, and what was the timeline? I have never noticed any signage, in regard to trespassing, in a public schoolyard. It seems that the person responsible for pressing charges has extremely poor judgement, or something else up their sleeve, & does not belong on any payroll (I assume) paid by the taxpayers! I regret that you have to endure the stress, the cost, & the loss of your precious time on this obvious miscarriage of justice. It is shameful indeed! Good luck!

Rose Hodson

West Collingswood Heights

·since 1999

Retired from Wawa Hometown: Gloucester


Rose Hodson


West Collingswood Heights•1d