Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Week's Forum South and West

Girlfriend Charged in Fatal MV Fire

Beach Trashed During Religious Ceremony

Rego Park Teen Charged in Stabbing

Parks, Roads and City Planning at CB 5

City and State Open Traffic Management Center

Specialized Animal Hospital to Open

A Blessing in Disguise: One Woman's Quest to Beat the Odds

Nine Charged in Mortgage Fraud Scheme

Girlfriend Charged in Fatal Middle Village Father's Day Fire


By Conor Greene

An enraged woman who poured carpet cleaner on her boyfriend before lighting him on fire has been charged in connection with the fatal Father’s Day fire in Middle Village that killed four people.

Agnes Bermudez, 48, of Newburgh has been arrested on charges including second-degree murder, arson, assault and reckless endangerment for starting the June 15 fire in an apartment building at the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and 69th Street. She has been hospitalized since the fire and was arraigned last Friday from her hospital bed at Jacobi Medical Center.

Police say the fire began in the early morning after Bermudez confronted her boyfriend, William Salazar, 31, in his second floor apartment at 66-76 69th Street after he returned home from a night out. She allegeldy doused him in carpet cleaner and set him ablaze, igniting herself in the process.

The fast-moving fire spread to the top floor of the three-story building, where Flor Sandoval, 48, lived with her husband, Heriberto Garcia-Vera, 68, and their twenty-year-old son, Felipe Garcia. All three died as a result of the fire, as well as Salazar, who passed away four days later.

Three other residents suffered various injuries in attempting to escape the fire, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. One victim suffered second-degree burns to nearly ten percent of his body, as well as a fractured ankle after jumping from a third-floor window. A second victim suffered back and leg injuries and the third suffered a fractured wrist.

Although critically injured in the fire and engulfed in flames, Salazar and Bermudez were able to get outside the burning building. They ran inside Z-Star Deli, located on the building’s ground floor, where owner Mohammed Al-Matari doused the flames using jugs of water from his store.

“The two people from the apartment upstairs came into the store. They were on fire – their hair and their clothes,” said Al-Matari shortly after the fire. “We got them outside of the store and started to pour cold water on them. It was the only thing I could think to do.”

Bermudez, who faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges, was ordered held without bail and is due back in court on January 7. Salazar’s father, Rene Salazar, told the Daily News that Bermudez “loved my son too much… She lost control.”

“The defendant is accused of turning a quiet summer morning into a terrifying ordeal for the residents of a Queens apartment building when, with a total disregard for human life, she is alleged to have intentionally started a fire in the occupied building by pouring a flammable liquid on her boyfriend,” said Brown.

“In the wake of the fast moving fire, four people lost their lives, four others – including the defendant – were injured, and others were left homeless and emotionally traumatized by the experience.”

Sandoval, a native of Columbia, was known in the movie industry as a makeup artist who worked on the Oscar-nominated film “Maria Full of Grace.”

Beach Trashed During Religous Ceremony

Congressman Pushes for Enforcement at Jamaica Bay

By Conor Greene

When a local congressman arrived at a beach at the foot of the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge, he expected to take part in a cleanup of the typical debris found along the waterfront. Instead, he was surprised to find the area littered with garbage left behind from religious ceremonies performed there on a regular basis.

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens) organized the cleanup on the beach, which is along the Jamaica Bay and is part of Gateway National Park, last Friday. When he arrived, he found that the problem extends far beyond discourteous fishermen or beachgoers. Instead, the beach was littered with red and yellow flags, dozens of coconuts and other remnants from religious ceremonies performed by Hindus and other groups.

After hearing from local residents that such ceremonies take place on a regular basis, especially during certain times of year, and being told of headless goats being left beneath the bridge, Congressman Weiner decided that a combination of education and enforcement is needed to curtail this activity.

“There has to be some sense that this is a national park. We want people to enjoy it, but there has to be a balance,” he said, adding that individuals who leave trash behind are “abusing their rights as visitors to the park.” He called upon park police to begin “regular enforcement,” including issuing tickets to offending visitors. “The people are not the issue,” he added, wondering aloud, “Is it legal to cut the head off a goat in a national park?”

Residents on hand for the cleanup, who say the activity has been going on for several years, suggested placing signs in the parking lot informing visitors of the rules. Edgardo Castillo, a park ranger with the National Parks Service, said there are plans to install gates across the parking lot enterance to prevent late night visitors at the beach area.

“We need a combination of education and enforcement,” said Weiner. “At the end of the day, enforcement needs to be done.” He admitted that prior to his visit, he “didn’t fully grasp that there are chronic offenders” who are leaving behind a “shrine of garbage… in the name of religion.”

For local residents, efforts to punish those who leave trash the on beach could not come soon enough, said Barbara Toborg, a Broad Channel resident and member of the American Littoral Society. She told Congressman Weiner that park police “are not interested” in issuing summonses to beachgoers, something the lawmaker now hopes to correct.

Patti Reilly, acting superintendent for the Jamaica Bay section of the Gateway National Recreation Area, told the Daily News that crews have a difficult time keeping up with the amount of garbage left behind.

“We’ve been working with the communities, trying to have them better understand and educate them about the impact of leaving articles from their religious ceremonies,” she told the paper. “From time to time, we have seen animal carcasses and have removed them quickly… None of that is permitted,” she said.

While the religious followers believe they are making offerings to the sea, Congressman Weiner had a different view. “They are essentially throwing garbage into the water,” he said, holding up a handful of debris.

Rego Park Teen Charged in Stabbing

A Rego Park teenager was arrested for stabbing and punching a man during a street robbery along the south side of Queens Boulevard at 66th Avenue, but his accomplices remain at large.

Alexander Dediashvili, 16, of 99th Street was arrested shortly after stabbing and robbing 27-year-old Khaimov Ribikhay in front of 100-11 Queens Boulevard on November 8, according to Officer Christopher Kingsley of the 112th Precinct. Along with several other suspects who fled the scene, he approached the victim with a knife and began punching and kicking him in the face and body, said police.

During the attack, Dediashvili told the victim that he would stab, shoot and kill him, according to a criminal complaint. As his cohorts ripped the victim’s chain off his neck and grabbed his wallet, Dediashvili stabbed his hand and knocked several of his teeth out.

The victim was taken to Jamaica Hospital for treatment for his injuries, which also included welts and bruises all over his body.

Dediashvili was arraigned two days later before Queens Criminal Court Judge Charles LoPresto. Bail was set at $7,500 and his next court date is January 15. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison on two counts each of second-degree and assault. Detectives from the 112th Precinct are continuing the search for his cohorts.

Parks, Roads and City Planning Discussed at Board 5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s Community Board 5 meeting last Wednesday in Christ the King High School was dominated by discussions about projects in area parks, but also included updates on a major road project in Maspeth, the stalled rezoning effort, and greetings from two recently-elected public officials.

Parks Projects

Steven Fiedler, chair of the board’s parks committee, presented finalized plans from the city Parks Department for upgrades at the south playground in Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village and Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood. Both projects are “fully funded and ready to go,” he said.

The $750,000 projects at Juniper Valley will revamp the eastern portion of the playground along Juniper Boulevard South at 74th Street. It will feature separate areas for toddlers and for children ages two to five years old.

The board voted to approve the design with two minor modifications: an area featuring ornamental grass will be eliminated to create more play space, and a sandbox will not be installed due to board member’s concerns.

At Grover Cleveland, a $1.3 million renovation will include the conversion of an existing asphalt court to a synthetic turf field. Eventually, the park will feature a softball field, two soccer fields and two volleyball courts. Construction is expected to take about six months to finish, and the design is expected to be completed this fall.

One change the board requested is that the gates be made wider so that an emergency vehicle can access the sports fields in case of an injury. The board also has the option of having the park locked at night, said Fiedler.

Several other parks issues were raised that evening. Fiedler announced that the city is preparing to move forward with phase two of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks project. Parks Department representatives are slated to present those plans to the community board in December, he said.

At the beginning of the meeting, resident Joseph Pisano requested that the board look into the possibility of creating an area for dogs in Juniper Valley Park. He noted that the park currently includes almost every type of sports field. “There is everything for everybody except a dog park for dog owners,” he said. The board agreed to look into the request.

Maurice Avenue Construction

The community construction liaison for a major project along Maurice Avenue and 54th Avenue updated residents on the effort, which includes reconstruction of the roadway and sidewalks and installation of new water mains and catch basins.

Construction community liaison Marie Antoinette Nader told residents to call her at (718) 416-3537 if there are any questions or concerns during construction. Work will take place along 54th Avenue between Maurice Avenue and 58th Street from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and along Maurice Avenue from 54th Avenue to 56th Avenue from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Residents should be aware that water in the area may be shut off during construction, with written notice provided ahead of time. Also, anybody whose property is damaged during construction should file a claim with the city Comptroller’s office within 90 days.

Anybody who wants to receive e-mail updates during the course of construction should send a message to The field office is located at 55-60 60th Street in Maspeth.

City Planning Update

Tom Smith, the area’s new representative from the Department of City Planning, provided a brief update on several projects. He reminded the board that a yard text amendment was adopted in April, which makes it illegal to completely pave over a front yard. “That has been a major concern in this district,” he said. “This finally makes that illegal”

Smith also told the board that the department is working on requirements for bike parking. It will mainly apply to residential buildings with more than ten units or commercial buildings larger than 7,500-square-feet, he said.

However, Smith initially did not bring up the issue that is on the minds of many board members and residents – the stalled effort to downzone 350 blocks of Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth. When asked by a reporter at the start of the meeting about that project’s status, he refused to provide any details. When later asked by board member Cathy Masi of Glendale, he assured her that “It’s coming.”

That was not enough for Masi, who told him that not having the new zoning is “killing” the neighborhood. “This has been going on for years… Do we have a timeline yet?” Smith responded that it “hopefully” is on track to be certified by the department in the spring, which triggers the city’s land use process.

Elected Officials Stop By

Senator Elect Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who defeated Republican incumbent Senator Serf Maltese in this month’s elections, thanked those who supported him, and vowed to win the trust of those who didn’t vote for him. He told the board he served on his local community board for ten years before being elected to the City Council, which he served on for seven years.

“I know the work that needs to be done at this level,” he said. “Having information flowing from the elected officials to the residents is of utmost importance at this time.”

Addabbo touched briefly on the mayor’s plan to centralize services at senior centers and the delivery of meals. “We’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of our seniors,” he vowed. He promised to fight for “fresh meals daily” and against the closing of any local senior centers. “He’s going to have to be convinced it is the wrong way to go,” he said of Mayor Bloomberg.

Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), who defeated Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) to represent the 30th District on City Council, said she is “honored to serve” the community.

She said that she is already “available to start the dialogue” and said she is still looking for office space. “I know it’s not going to be at its current location in Middle Village,” she said to some applause, referring to the office space currently used by Como and previously occupied by disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher.

City and State Open New Traffic Monitoring Center

Will Allow DOT, NYPD to Coordinate Response

By Conor Greene

A new state-of-the-art traffic management center – a joint venture between the state and city transportation departments – has opened in Long Island City and will allow officials to immediately react to accidents and other incidents on roads throughout the five boroughs.

The facility brings together under one roof the various agencies responsible for monitoring roadway conditions and responding to incidents, including the state and city Departments of Transportation and the NYPD. Using cameras and speed detection equipment placed on city highways and streets, officials from the different agencies can all observe the same camera feeds around-the-clock, allowing them to share information on incidents and coordinate the appropriate response.

The new center includes three large video walls and 24 smaller monitors that can cycle through feeds from nearly 500 closed-circuit television cameras monitoring traffic flow on major city roadways. It was unveiled last Thursday during a ceremony attended by city and state transportation, police and highway officials.

“Effective communication is critical to efficient traffic management, and the JTMC is a giant step forward in improved communication that will immediately help reduce congestion and smooth traffic flow for the traveling public,” said state DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn.

“The roads of New York City are the circulatory system for the movement of people, goods and service in and around the metropolitan area. When incidents occur, delays can be extensive, affecting large portions of the whole system.”

Jeffery Kolb, New York division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, called the facility a “life-saving investment in road safety” that is “crucial to easing congestion, keeping motorists safe and to the longterm health of the American roadway.”

The center takes advantage of Intelligent Transportation Systems technology, which was first implemented in 1998. At that time, it was limited to cameras and other detectors on roads in order to monitor traffic and convey incident information to a central facility.

While information flow and response times improved greatly as a result, each agency was still housed in separate offices. Traffic monitoring was performed by the city and state DOT, which then provided the NYPD with a verbal description of those agencies. Physical separation limited the coordination of response.

“The demands being made on our transportation network require that we use technology to better manage the capacity that we do have,” said city DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “Equipped with the latest technology, this new, state-of-the-art JTMC can improve the ways we monitor traffic conditions throughout the city.”

Other ways the center will help manage traffic flow include acting as a source for public notification of incidents in the metro area as a nexus of information on roadwork in the city. Staff can activate the nearly 100 electronic variable message signs along roadways and provide radio announcements to notify travelers of delays.

The public can register at to receive e-mail alerts from the state Emergency Management Officers. In addition, the city and state DOT will provide weekly updates on lane closures, which will be posted for the public on Websites including and

During large-scale events that affect traffic around the city, such as the New York City Marathon and the opening session of the United Nations, the various agencies can work together to map out logistics and develop public information plans.

The state and city are so proud of their new center that it will be showcased during the upcoming Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress, said Sadik-Khan. Construction of the $16 million facility was primarily funded the federal government, and the city DOT is responsible for its daily operations.

Specialized Animal Hospital to Open in Forest Hills

Manhattan’s NYC Veterinary Specialists has announced it is expanding into Queens with the completion of a new 24-hour hospital facility on 71st Road in Forest Hills.

Like its Manhattan counterpart, NYCVS Queens will offer an extensive range of specialized and advanced treatments, by referral, and 24 hour emergency service as needed. It is expected to open its doors by the end of the month.

“This brand new, state of the art, emergency and specialty hospital is opening to provide the greater Queens area veterinary community an increased local presence to support their most critical needs,” said NYCVS founder and medical director Dr. Neil Shaw. “The hospital will remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and cases will be seen by referral from a family’s primary veterinarian.”

Located at 107-24 71st Road, NYCVS Queens will house a uniquely-skilled team of veterinary specialists whose areas of expertise include emergency and critical care, ophthalmology, neurology, internal medicine, oncology, orthopedic and soft tissue surgery, dermatology, neurosurgery, cardiology and behavior medicine.

The clinic’s veterinary specialists act as an extension of area general veterinarians and their practices, explained Dr. Shaw. “The patients we see are referred to us, either for after-hour emergency care when their family veterinarian’s office is closed or for specialized care,” explains Dr. Shaw. “So almost everything we do, including where we locate our offices and which service we provide, are the result of the suggestions of our colleagues.”

He added, “Expanding into Queens will allow us to continue providing the same high level of care we currently provide, but now, more conveniently to an ever larger portion of New York’s veterinary community.”

Dr. Shaw is also the co-founder of Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, which was founded in 1996 and is the largest private veterinary practice in the southeast.

NYC Veteran Specialists opened in fall of 2006 and was founded with the concept of providing a superior level of patient and client care through close cooperation with the family practitioner. It serves as an extension of the general practice, along with offering its specialized services.

For details about the clinic, check

A Blessing in Disguise


By Patricia Adams

Champions are defined in many ways and fall into many categories. Many of them are famous--Michael Phelps is an Olympic champion, Mohammed Ali a boxing champion, Secretariat a thoroughbred racing champion. The word champion can also be assigned to Bono and other celebrities who champion causes to fight disease and world hunger.

But the word champion does not always have to be equated with celebrity. You don’t have to be famous to be a champion; for what defines a true champion is not by how well they are known; instead it is the content of their heart, the tenacity of their spirit and their willingness to fight against all odds.

On Monday night in Howard Beach more than 500 guests turned out to honor a champion of the truest measure. Not marked by any stellar achievements that will go down in the history books, this champion is loved, respected and revered for the courage, strength and determination she has displayed over the past several years in a struggle against an all too familiar enemy — cancer.

Mary Napolitano is so many things. She is a wife to John, a mother to Dawn-Marie, Dana and Christopher, a sister to Nancy, a member of a family which she now knows stretches far beyond those related just by blood, and a friend of many and to many.

But she is also a beacon of hope for all those who would ever think about giving up the fight. And at Russo’s on the Bay on Monday evening there was an outpouring of support and love demonstrating just how much everyone recognizes what a champion Mary truly is.

The beautiful words spoken at the event by Mary’s sister and also by her daughter Dawn-Marie told of her unbelievable endurance against cancer, but it also told of a woman with enough love and compassion for others to fill a room far bigger than the one they spoke before on Monday night.

On each table was a letter addressed to family and friends, it was signed by Mary Napolitano and every truly wise journalist knows that sometimes there is no way to better express how extraordinary an individual is than to let them say it themselves.

So here is, in its entirety a letter from Mary Napolitano:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am at a loss for the “perfect” way to put my gratitude into words. So, I will just speak from the heart. I never understood it when cancer patients would claim that their diagnosis was actually a “blessing.” Of course, I did not feel this way at the beginning or even for the first year while I went through my surgeries, chemo and radiation. It wasn’t until I finally started to feel better that I could see what was going on around me.

Cancer brings out the best in the people around you. Needless to say, my entire family, and especially my husband John, were my strength. But, it was all the other people in my life that showed me in so many different ways that they were there for me, from thoughtful cards and gift baskets to picking up my kids at school, to cooking for us. I have the best circle of friends that I could ever ask for. And, now my friends and family have taken it a step further by throwing this party for me, and in doing so, it has opened up the door for so many more of you to show how generous you are.

As I write this letter to you, I still have not been made privy of all the details of this event. I don’t know how many people will be there or how many people will be attending, but what I do know is that anyone who is reading this letter right now cares for me and wants to help me and it is almost too much for me to handle. So, now I too can say that my cancer has been a “blessing” in that I can now see how blessed I really am in having a family and friends like you.

During this time of financial stress, I know a lot of people are cutting back. That is another reason why I am so grateful for all of you who came to this event. I also realize how difficult it is to get out on a school/work night. I truly hope that you enjoyed yourself, had a nice meal, danced a little bit and maybe had a chance to socialize with people that you haven’t seen in a while.

I will never forget this night and every single one of you who came to show me you support. I will keep all of you in my prayers as I hope you will keep me and my family in yours. With all my love and gratitude, Mary

We also received a letter from a dear friend of Mary’s, written to the editor, but because of the eloquence and heartfelt tones of the letter, we thought it more appropriate to print it here, as it is one whose words also help to best explain the essence of Mary Napolitano.

Dear Editor,

As proud Howard Beach residents for the past 45 years, my wife and I have seen our neighborhood bashed by the press for several years now. Outsiders hear the name Howard Beach and it conjures up horrific images of “bad people” doing horrible things. The press preys over our neighborhood like vultures waiting to report on any incident that sheds a negative light on our community.

I believe that the true spirit of our fine community is not reflected by past events, but rather by a very recent one. This past Monday evening, November 17th my family and I attended a fundraising event at Russo’s on the Bay for a young, beautiful woman, Mary Napolitano.

The event was filled to capacity by over 500 people – all Howard Beach residents – all gathered together with love and compassion to help raise funds for the medications that this young woman so desperately needs. The room was consumed with love and prayers and as I looked around the room, I could not help but feel proud of how my community rallied together to help Mary and her family. Mary’s spirit shines like a beacon of light and instead of seeing her weakness; we see her and her family as a source of strength and inspiration.

In my opinion, she has the essence of Mother Teresa dwelling in her heart and based on the huge turnout at her fundraiser, I am not alone. Mary gives of herself both heart and soul and she continues to spread the goodness and compassion that only she can offer. This past summer she voyaged to Lourdes, but not to pray for herself. That is not who Mary is. Instead, she volunteered to work as a missionary amongst the world’s most despaired. She prayed with them and for them and as she witnessed the desperation around her, her prayers and determination grew stronger.

She returned from Lourdes with a new and enriched sense of purpose and strength. Judging by the love that overwhelmed Russo’s on the Bay this past Monday evening, I believe that we are all truly blessed by knowing Mary and her family. We will all continue to remember her in our prayers. Not only shall we pray for her, but also to her; for she has shown us how to embrace life and the importance of cherishing each day as the blessing that it truly is.


Nicholas F. LoPrinzi
Howard Beach

Nine Charged in Mortgage Fraud Scheme


Nine people, including a high-level court employee, have been charged in a $1.4 million mortgage fraud scheme which used stolen identities to buy and sell properties - and cheat a 74-year-old widow out of the home she owned outright.

An investigation by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s Elder Fraud Unit uncovered a group of individuals who allegedly took out mortgages on houses located on 107th Avenue in Richmond Hill, Union Hall Street in Jamaica, and Schaeffer Street in Brooklyn. All nine are accused of conspiring to defraud the lending banks – J.P Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo – and falsifying mortgage records.

The probe began when 74-year-old Dorothy Thomas reported that her home had been sold two months earlier without her knowledge and that she was now facing foreclosure. She learned of the sale after receiving mail in the name of “Tolessi Enyonam” regarding both the recent purchase of the home and the pending foreclosure.

In that case, the defendants are accused of recruiting someone to pose at the closing as her deceased husband, Eugene Thomas, who died in 1986 and in whose name the house remained. The house was allegedly sold to a straw buyer with a $490,500 mortgage issued by Wells Fargo. In the other two cases it is alleged the homes were sold by legitimate owners, but were purchased by straw buyers using the stolen identity of a New Jersey woman and a resident alien who no longer lives in the country.

Those properties included a $533,850 mortgage on the Richmond Hill home and a $417,000 mortgage on the Brooklyn home. The defendants were expected to be arraigned earlier this week in Queens Criminal Court. They are variously charged with grand larceny, possession of stolen property, falsifying business records, conspiracy, scheme to defraud and money laundering.

“This complicated and devious scheme allegedly involved defendants who were so greedy that they bought and sold three properties – totaling more than $1.4 million in fraudulent transactions – over just eight days,” said Brown. “Their alleged actions left a Jamaica woman – whose house was owned free and clear – facing foreclosure and a New Jersey woman – whose identity was stolen – fighting off banks seeking payment of mortgages fraudulently taken out in her name.”

Among the defendants is John D’Emic, 59, of 72nd Street in Brooklyn, who was an attorney in private practice at the time of the alleged crime. In January, he was appointed Chief Deputy County Clerk in Kings County. He allegedly acted as an attorney for the “buyer” or “seller” on each transaction, received money from the closing, gave a portion back to another defendant and prepared false letters providing instructions for disbursement of the mortgage proceeds.

Also charged in the scheme was: Norma Barabash, 63, of Bellerose, a certified public accountant who allegedly was paid for issuing a letter in the name of a straw buyer regarding his tax returns; Shamim Choudhury, 35, of Jamaica, who allegedly recruited the straw buyer who posed as Dorothy Thomas’ late husband; Gulam Choudhury, 22, of Laurence, who is accused of being involved in the Richmond Hill sale; Daisy Guzman- Saavedra, 38, of Yorktown Heights, who allegedly served as a fake employment and residence reference for the straw buyers; Nazrul Islam, 23, of Jamaica, who provided false references for the loan applications; Alan Morris, 58, of New Hyde Park, who was disbarred as an attorney in 1992 and allegedly handled all of the closings; Boris Nektalov, 23, of Flushing, who prepared and submitted false loan applications through the Rego Park mortgage company he worked at; and Rajendar Persaud, 35, of Verbank, who is accused of providing stolen identification information and laundered proceeds.