Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Seminerio Resigns, Enters Guilty Plea

By Patricia Adams

Rumors swirled around the chamber of the New York State Assembly on Monday according to members who say they were anticipating the resignation of colleague Anthony Seminerio.

Seminerio delivered a brief resignation letter addressed to Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, which marked the close of the Assembly session for the summer. “Please accept this as my letter of resignation from my assembly seat, 38th District, effective June 23, 2009. It has been my honor and a distinct privilege to have served in the legislature for the last thirty years.” The letter was signed “Sincerely, Anthony Seminerio”.

Colleagues in the state Assembly said they were not surprised by the resignation given the surrounding circumstances, but were none the less saddened. “I have known the Seminerio family for many years,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer who has served in the legislature with Seminerio for the last 20 years. “Tony and his wife, Catherine, have 3 outstanding children, and many grandchildren. They are all active members of the community who work tirelessly on behalf of others. My prayers are with the Seminerio Family during these difficult times.

According to published reports in the Albany Times Union, Seminerio’s attorney Pery Krinsky spoke on behalf of his client. “Mr. Seminerio regrets the pain he has caused to his family, his colleagues and to his former constituents whom he served for more than three decades."

On Wednesday Krinsky entered a guilty plea for the disgraced pol that faces between five months and 15 years in prison, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars in fines, when he is sentenced on October 20th.

The indictment, which followed an investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Manhattan, charges that Seminerio received “a stream of corrupt payments,” from 1999 to 2008. The now 74-year-old state lawmaker is alleged to have sold his influence in Albany and collected about $1 million from clients.

Seminerio’s troubles began back in September when the indictment was first handed down. Charged with brokering favors to entities with business before the state, Seminerio was presumed to be the operator of a sham consulting company.

But in March of this year, an additional charge of extortion was added by the feds because, they say, Seminerio threatened to squash legislation for a nonprofit executive if he refused to utilize the “consulting” services and hire him. The threatened Queens nonprofit group was heavily dependant on state financing and paid Seminerio a $700-per-month fee for approximately two years.

Also listed in the indictment, is a payment of more than $300,000 from an unidentified New York City hospital and $25,000 from an undercover agent who approached the lawmaker with a request for access to his colleagues in connection with legislation concerning the privatization of the state’s probation system.

Seminerio had allegedly been charging the agent a $5,000 per month fee and complained when he did not receive timely payments for months gone by.

Seminerio was elected to the NYS Assembly a total of 16 times. Prior to the Assembly, he spent 15 years as a corrections officer and has amassed about 47 years of state pension credits.

Filling the Vacancy: Who Will Replace Seminerio?

By Patricia Adams

The vacancy created by the resignation of Tony Seminerio from his seat in the 38th Assembly District has left obvious concerns about who will fill the seat and answer the concerns of constituents in the district largely comprised of Richmond Hill and Glendale.

According to New York State law a vacancy in a state position filled through the election process which occurs before September 20th would normally be filled in the general election which follows the vacancy. Morgan Hook, a spokesperson for Governor Paterson, said that there has been no decision yet as to whether the governor will issue a proclamation ordering a special election as of yet.

“We are still checking with local government and the Board of Elections in an evaluation of the situation,” said Hook. “If the governor decides that the seat will be filled in a special election, once a proclamation is ordered, it [the special election] would have to be held no sooner that 30 days and no more than 40 days following the issuance of the proclamation.”

Donna Marie Catalbiano, executive director of the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center founded by Tony Seminerio is among those who will seek to replace him. “For thirty years Tony Seminerio did great things for the community. He was the founder of the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center and he continued to fund it for many years. He always did good things for the community and despite these allegations he will be missed as a friend to the community.

Catalbiano has recorded many civic and community credits in addition to her work over the last 14 years at the senior center. In 1985 she organized a group of parents to expand PS 64 and get a gymnasium and auditorium built at the school. The structures were officially added in 1990-1991. Catalbiano also found a way to open the senior center for one additional day a week at the same level of funding it was taking to open 3 days a week. “I think the community needs a person like me,” said Catalbiano. “Over the years I have many accomplishments.”

In preparation to make her run for the seat Catalbiano formed a committee several months ago. “We have not done any fundraising and actually kept the news pretty quiet out of respect for Tony Seminerio. Now, we’ll begin the campaign for the seat.” And Catalbiano says that she will seek the seat with the backing of the Queens County Republicans.

As for the seniors she may have to leave behind, Catalbiano says she will never abandon them. Joe Palladino, the president of the senior center says he has known her for over fourteen years. “I am the one who hired Donna,” Palladino says. “I’m like gum under her shoe and she’ll never get rid of me or any of us here. But,” he says, “When Donna goes to Albany, she’ll be even more of a help to us here and for many other seniors. She’s a hard worker and a fighter. The best thing about her—she’s honest and she doesn’t take any bull. We all need that.”

Other potential challengers for the seat include Nick Comaianni and Albert Baldeo. Comaianni is the president of District 24’s Community Education Council and a life-long resident of the 38th District. He has served as a member of Community Board 9 and Chairman of the Community Board’s Education Committee. Albert Baldeo is an attorney who has run against former senator Serf Maltese and who most recently bowed out of the Democratic primary race against now Senator Joe Addabbo.

Quality of Life Problems Highlight Civic Meeting in West Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Quality of life issues, including music blaring from cars, increased truck traffic and problems at a local bar were on the minds of Maspeth West End Block Association members as the fledgling group tries to tackle issues in that section of the neighborhood.

The meeting last Thursday at Trinity-St. Andrews Church on 60th Street attracted several dozen residents, many of whom aired complaints about problems they say detracts from the quality of life in the neighborhood. The 104th Precinct did not have a representative at the meeting, so the group wants to schedule a sit down next month with police officials to address the ongoing problems.

Problems at the Moonlight Bar

A source of pain for many residents in the vicinity of Flushing Avenue and 60th Place is the Moonlight Bar. Establishments operating under various names have been in business there for about three years, but the problem has gotten much worse in the past few months with loud music played into the early morning hours. “It’s an intoxicated, very horrible clientele,” said resident Diane Boudreau, who has lived in her home two doors down from the bar for 11 years with “no [prior] problems.”

“They are very nasty, very rude and they destroy property,” said Boudreau of the Moonlight customers, adding that many appear underage, and several have threatened residents who complain about their behavior. “A lot of people are frustrated [but are] afraid of retaliation,” said another nearby resident, Eugenia Ihrig.

Problems at Moonlight were also raised at a June COP 104 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. A resident told the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Keith Green, that he had called 311 numerous times with similar complaints. Deputy Inspector Green said that the precinct has received prior complaints about the establishment, and agreed it has recently become a problem again. Residents also contacted Community Board 5 officials about the bar, who responded with a letter to the establishment’s owner.

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell told the Forum that issues at that location are being addressed. “The Moonlight Bar has been the subject of enforcement pretty much each week,” he said, adding that the owners have been issued numerous summonses a host of city agencies. “We have heard the calls from the community and as long as the complaints prove to be valid we can and will take the necessary enforcement action,” said Bell.

Jeff Gottleib, representing state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), said it is often difficult to fight against the renewal of a bar’s license because many former agency commissioners wait represent bar owners in the hearings. As a result, the best chance of progress comes at the local level, he advised the residents.

“No one should lose a night’s sleep, especially if they have to go to work the next day,” said Gottleib. “I don’t see any great hope in the SLA coming down here and handling this. It has to be handled on a local level with the police.”

Traffic Woes

Other complaints centered on disruptions caused by honking horns and loud music from cars cutting through the neighborhood to Flushing and Metropolitan avenues. “It’s just constant,” one woman griped, adding that drivers routinely disregard a stop sign at 60th Street and 62nd Avenue that was installed several months ago through the efforts of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office.

The vehicle noise issue was exacerbated when the city Department of Transportation recently combined two traffic triangles at the intersection of Grand and Flushing avenues into a single green space, according to another resident. Traffic patterns at 64th Street were altered to accommodate the change, which the resident said “made it much worse” because cars are now backed up waiting to get onto the avenues.

“I think I’ve heard every boom box sound inside my house,” said Douglas Gorowski. Another woman complained that there is very little police presence in the neighborhood. “I don’t see the police,” she said.

Residents also said there has been an increase in truck traffic cutting through residential streets. Often, the large vehicles damage parked cars or are unable to navigate tight turns. In addition, commercial vehicles from nearby warehouses often park on residential streets overnight. “If the police were on the street they would see it,” griped one frustrated resident. “It’s a joke.”

The group’s president, Kathy Hamilton, said there also has been an increase in graffiti in the neighborhood. “It seems to be getting particularly worse and keeps happening,” she said, noting that as soon as the building owner cleans it up, the vandals strike again. Gorowski, whose property has been struck several times, said the fact that he knows who is doing it makes it more frustrating. “Somebody better catch them – you don’t want me to catch them,” he said.

“We really need police presence in the area. How much can an individual take?” said Hamilton. “People are just doing what they want.”

Pushing for a Supermarket

Hamilton also brought up one of the group’s biggest issues: the need for a supermarket in the area of West Maspeth. Since the closing of C-Town on Fresh Pond Road several years ago, many residents, especially seniors and those without vehicles are forced to rely on smaller bodegas which often charge much higher prices.

The residents focused their attention on two possible locations: a former auto dealership site at Forest and Metropolitan avenues that might be the future home of a Walgreen’s pharmacy, and the former Rite Aid property at Metropolitan Avenue and Tonsar Street, which previously was a Key Food supermarket. Several in attendance expressed concern that the owner of the Tonsar Street site would seek a zoning change allowing condos to be constructed there.

A representative for Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said that it is difficult to push for a certain type of development on a specific site, since it involves private property owners and businesses.

Met Oval Complaints

Finally, several residents raised continuing issues they are having with the Metropolitan Oval soccer field on 60th Street, which is privately owned and operated. Complaints included illegally parked cars, pickup games at all hours of the night and a huge pile of trash that has been left on the property for months.

Hamilton said the owner declined an invitation to address these issues at a previous meeting. “If I have to get a dumpster to throw out the garbage, why doesn’t this guy have to?” she lamented.

Gottleib told the residents that the city has laws intended to prevent this type of problem. “We’re dealing with a public nuisance. There are laws in New York City against public nuisances,” he said. He told the civic group that it needs to set up a meeting with officials from CB 5, the 104th Precinct and local elected officials, including Councilwoman Crowley, who did not have a representative at the meeting.

After hearing residents bring up all the various issues, Hamilton determined that a July meeting is needed to address these problems, which all involve police matters. “It’s all about the same thing – the police don’t patrol here,” she said. “Something’s got to be done.”

The group will meet again on July 16 at 7 p.m. in Trinity-St. Andrews Church in hopes of discussing these issues with officials from the 104th Precinct.

Parents Push for Overdue School Expansion

By Conor Greene

A group of parents are pushing for improvements at PS/IS 87 in Middle Village they say were promised years ago but never happened due to budget cuts after 9/11. Citing issues including a cramped cafeteria and lack of bathrooms, the group vowed to make noise until the school gets the attention from city officials they say it needs.

A half-dozen residents spoke at Tuesday’s Community Education Council 24 meeting in Maspeth in support for the addition. They argued that the school was changed from K-5to pre-K through 8th grades as a result of the planned expansion, and as a result the current building can’t handle the more than seven hundred students who attend PS/IS 87.

“We’ve been quiet these past five years and watched as all these other schools got expansions,” said Lucy Accardo, who has three children in PS/IS 87. “We just want to be kept in the limelight and will keep bringing up the issue at every meeting unit it happens.”

The parents stressed that their demands are modest. They want a new gymnasium since the current cafeteria only seats 140 students – forcing lunch to be served in stages beginning at 10:15 a.m. In addition, the cafeteria serves as a gym, even though its ceilings are just eight feet high. In addition, each floor has bathrooms containing just a single stall that must be shared by hundreds of students, according to the parents.

“It’s just not adequate for all those students,” said another parent, Margaret Kane. “We’re still where we started in 2000. It’s beyond us why we’re being overlooked.” She added that the bathroom situation is not healthy. “It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s all necessities.”

Deputy Executive Director of Business Sandy Brawer of the Department of Education said he will bring the residents’ concerns back to department officials. However, he noted earlier in the evening that District 24 has received the most capital dollars and had the most additional seats added through construction of any district citywide. He also noted that all expansion projects were done in consultation with the CEC and community, at which point the issue of PS/IS 87 being overlooked could have been raised.

Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, said he agrees with the requests being made by the parents. “I feel it’s a shame” that the expansion never occurred, he said. “We’ve pushed it with the School Construction Authority and with Facilities, and it’s always the same thing.”

Laura Wittmer told the council that her son graduated from eighth grade this year. “I’m very sad to see that nothing too much was done for him,” adding that she is “angry” over the lack of upgrades at the 80th Street building. Her son, who is over six-feet tall, was forced to take gym classes in a room with eight-foot ceilings. “I just feel it’s unfair,” she said.

Finally, parent Jeanne Forster pointed out that the DOE’s Website still lists the school as being a K-5 facility. “That I think is one of our first concerns – the school needs to be reflected accurately on the Website,” she said. “It is very hard to change perceptions [so] right off the bat we are swimming upstream here… We’re talking about a pretty small extension.”

In a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the parents note that Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed PS/IS 87 “a model for special education” after it became the first school in District 24 to convert to Pre-K to 8th grade facility. “How do you expect our school to compete with the other schools all several blocks away from us when they have extensions and we do not?” the parents questioned.

According to the letter, extensions were completed at PS 113, PS 128, PS 49 and MS 119 since funding for PS/IS 87 was cut. “Please do not mistake the fact that we have been quiet for the past five years as naivety or ignorance of what is going on around us,” the letter states. “We are well aware of the great injustice being doled out to our children. We would appreciate that this situation be rectified as soon as possible.”

Despite the parents' vows to keep pushing until the addition moves forward, the DOE said in a statement that no upgrades are planned for PS 87 in the coming years. The department "never committed to building an addition for PS 87," according to spokesman William Havemann. As a result of lobbying by former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, a science lab was constructed at the school, but that is the extend of upgrades planned for the facility.

"Given very limited resources... it is our responsibility to build a new school facility only when one is needed to meet enrollment demands," said Havemann. "While we're opening more than 3,000 school seats in District 24 over the next two years, we predict no need for an addition for PS 87."

City to Discuss Ridgewood Reservoir's Future

By Conor Greene

The future of Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park will be discussed on Tuesday, when the city Parks Department releases the results of input residents provided at three prior listening sessions.

Highland Park, which includes the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, is one of eight large parks across the city that is being redesigned as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. The property, which is on the Brooklyn-Queens border, supplied drinking water to city residents until the 1960s. Since, a natural habitat that is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including endangered species, has flourished. There is now debate as to whether the land should be developed for active recreation or preserved in its natural state.

Initially, $48.8 million was earmarked for Highland Park, but it was recently announced that the allocation has been reduced to $19.8 million due to the economic crisis. About $7.5 million already allocated to replace lighting and fencing around the reservoir’s three basins is not affected by the cuts. A contract was awarded to Manhattan-based landscape architect Mark K. Morrison Associates for that initial phase, which began several months ago. That portion of the project is expected to take a year- and-a-half to complete.

The landscape architect firm is now charged with creating three plans for the reservoir: one that preserves the site’s natural features, one that involves building athletic fields in the three basins and a compromise plan under which only the largest of the three basins is filled in for development of sports fields. It is not clear how the funding reduction will affect those plans, as Parks has said it is waiting until the budget is finalized until the plans are revised. In a statement, a spokesman said that the funding cut will be spread out over six years. “If the reduction in funding is not restored or supplemented by another funding source, a new phasing strategy will be implemented,” the spokesman said.

Over the past year, the Parks Department has held three listening sessions to gain public feedback on the future of the 50-acre property. During those meetings, many Queens residents pushed to have the reservoir preserved and argued that a portion of the funding should instead be used to fix up the existing ballfields in Highland Park, which are in poor condition. In April, Community Board 5 approved a resolution requesting that between $10 million and $15 million of the funding be used to accomplish that.

In a statement, Parks announced it is holding Tuesday’s session “to discuss community ideas and concerns for the Ridgewood Reservoir redevelopment. The meeting will summarize what we have learned at previous meetings from community input and discussion, and to relay the results of the paper surveys that have been distributed over the past weeks.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Park’s Oak Ridge office at Forest Park. Attendees can enter at Park Lane South and Forest Parkway or at Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Park Drive. For details call 311 and ask for the Forest Park Administrator’s Office.

A View of Albany: A Senator Speaks Out

The following is an opinion piece by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach)

Two weeks ago, as the Majority of State Senators worked on preparing an end-of-session legislative agenda, the Republican State Senators were also busy at work -- plotting a coup in an attempt to overthrow and takeover the State Senate. What was really unacceptable was that the Republicans used the outside influence of billionaire Tom Golisano to create the interruption of our State Senate.

While the Democratic Conference of State Senators have offered a short term operating agreement in order to finish our legislative session, the Republican Conference have refused to acknowledge that the current 31-31 split in our chamber requires compromise, and are intent on trying to seize power they are not entitled to, even if it means holding the residents of New York State hostage.

Our conference remains poised to pass critical and time sensitive legislation that simply can’t be put aside. Instead, the Republicans refuse to come to a sensible, fair and bi-partisan operating sharing agreement to finish the people’s business.

We need an agreement now, and the people of New York agree in resounding numbers. The most recent polls indicate that 79 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of either Democratic or bi-partisan control of the Senate.

As elected officials, we must listen to the voices of the 19 million people we were elected to represent. It is time to put partisan politics aside, and get back to work. What the Democrats have offered is a rational solution to return to governing, that is modeled after how eight other states, as well as the U.S. Senate, have effectively handled this situation.

As the court has suggested, we have proposed a real, fair and immediate bi-partisan action to end the gridlock Republicans brought to Albany. The Republicans, led by renegade Democratic Senator Pedro Espada, responded with a plan that rejects bipartisanship and gives troubled Senator Espada autonomous control of the Senate.

Just as the courts have asked us to do, we have continued our attempts, both publicly and privately, to end this stalemate by offering revised proposals to Pedro Espada and Republican Senator Dean Skelos. Yet, they continue to refuse any agreement short of complete power over a chamber that they were not elected to run.

Recently, the Republicans have taken to holding mock “sessions,” in which they claim to be doing work.

A quorum – or 32 Senators – is clearly stated in the New York Constitution as the minimum number of Senators required to conduct legislative business. Without 32 Senators present, these sessions are a mockery and an embarrassment to our democracy, and we will continue to refuse to participate in staged political theatrics.

What we will do, is work with the Republicans to come to a fair solution, because we know it is in the best interest of the people of New York. Even as the Democratic Senators answered the request of Governor David Paterson by attending his called for and constitutionally questionable Extraordinary Session agenda, what must be acknowledged is that a short term plan is needed to resolve the current issues facing the senate stalemate and a long term plan to restore stability and credibility to the State Senate. It can and must be done, but it takes two sides to agree on this plan for the sake of our people.

The consequence of inaction in this situation is far too great to sit idly by. As we work to restore our economy, we must pass dozens of bills to extend the ability of local governments to levy sales taxes that help to fund schools, roads and local law enforcement services. We need to extend the Power for Jobs program that provides low-cost electricity to businesses and non-profit groups across the state. We need to pass legislation to allow over $1.75 billion in federal stimulus and education funds to flow to local school districts across the state.

There is also highly time sensitive legislation that needs to be brought to a vote in order to protect New York City schools, strengthen ethics reform and address the need for property tax relief.

The Senate Elections Committee, of which I am the Chairperson, is also poised and ready to bring to the floor for a vote legislation which would fundamentally restructure campaign finance in New York, allow military voters additional time to cast an absentee ballot, make poll-sites more accessible, and bring greater ease and transparency to the entire elections process.

All this good work has been put on hold, and all this work means nothing if the Republicans continue in their protest of even the most reasonable compromises. I ask any reasonable Republican Senator, interested in the good of the people over the good of the party, to join us in getting this work done.

We have offered a real bi-partisan sharing plan for the operation of the Senate Session, the legislative process, and the Floor Leadership. Now it is time for the Republican’s to show they are more concerned with the people of their state than a power grab.

Our people have a right to be concerned about the ability of state government to function effectively in this crisis, but I can ensure my constituents that those in the Democratic Conference will not rest or retire until a resolution has been achieved.

While I continue to prepare legislation for when work does resume, my office staff and I continue to address the local issues that concern my people, therefore please do not hesitate to call upon me if you should have any questions regarding your state government or community. I look forward to working for you in the district and in Albany.

Arrest in Murder of Forest Hills Man

Suspect in 65th Ave Crime Nabbed in Massachusetts

A Bronx man was taken into custody in Massachusetts and charged in the murder of a Forest Hills man found dead in his apartment last week.

The nude body of 38-year-old Michael Pecora was found late last Wednesday inside his apartment on 65th Avenue. The gruesome discovery was made by the building super, who climbed onto the fire escape to gain access to the apartment after Pecora’s family and co-workers became concerned about his well-being after he didn’t show up for work.

After seeing Pecora’s lifeless body through a window, the super immediately called police, according to reports. Officers entered the apartment and found Pecora with multiple stab wounds. There were no signs of forced entry at the blood-soaked crime scene.

Last Thursday, police arrested Alexys Fermaintt, 30, of East Tremont after investigators tracked him to his mother’s house in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He was arraigned last Friday in Queens Criminal Court and ordered held without bail. He is due back in court on July 2 to face charges of second-degree murder.

Police linked Fermaintt to the crime after learning that a cab driver had picked him up Wednesday night outside Pecora’s apartment and drove him to the Bronx. While en route, Fermaintt told the driver he didn’t have any money and offered him a watch and cell phone instead. The cab driver later told police that he remembered the passenger carrying an item resembling a computer when he exited the cab.

Investigators then used information from the cell phone to track down a relative of Fermaintt, who was later taken into custody without incident. Pecora’s computer was found in another Holyoke apartment that police believe is Fermaintt’s primary home. Police are investigating the theory the men met online and that Fermaintt stole the computer in an effort to cover his tracks.

Pecora was a graduate of the University of Tampa and worked for MasterCard. His neighbors described him as a good man and expressed shock that such a brutal crime occurred in the quiet neighborhood. “I feel sick because [he was] such a nice young fellow,” one resident told reporters. “Very, very nice guy. I feel sorry for him,” said another.

Update: On Thursday, the Queens District Attorney's Office release information regarding statements Fermaintt allegedly made to investigators in Massachusetts following his arrest.

According to a Notice of Statement filed with the court at Fermaintt's arraignment, he told a detective that he met Pecora online and the pair had a disagreement over the amount of money that Pecora was going to give Fermaintt to sleep with him and spend the day together. Fermaintt then admitted in the videotaped statement to stabbing Pecora and taking his cellphone, computer and watch.

Fermaintt later told another detective that Pecora had grabbed a knife and tried to stab him, at which time Fermaintt grabbed the knife and stabbed the victim four times.

Civic Group Seeks to Gain Footing in Maspeth

By Conor Greene

When Kathy Hamilton moved from Maspeth to Middle Village two years ago, she noticed that quality of life issues such as illegal garbage dumping and problems with traffic were going unaddressed. She also noticed there was no local civic association in the area, something she changed with the founding of the Maspeth West End Block Association, which has been meeting each month since September.

Ten months into her role as a neighborhood civic leader, Hamilton reports mixed results. The group was successful in lobbying the city to install a stop sign in the neighborhood, but has been less successful in other areas, such as a push to bring a supermarket to the area, or in having officials from the 104th Precinct respond to their grievances.

“When I first moved here, I noticed there was a lot of illegal garbage dumping, a lot of traffic, people fighting outside, smoking pot on the corner, and so my neighbor (Melinda Garcia) and I decided to develop this block association,” said Hamilton, who holds a master’s degree in social work. “Now I’m a homeowner, so I guess I look at it differently. Over there [in other neighborhoods] there is more influence with the politicians, but over here there is not really any influence.”

The group is focused on the western portion of Maspeth and holds its meeting in Trinity-St. Andrews Church on 60th Street. The area it represents and seeks to improve roughly stretches from the Long Island Expressway south to Metropolitan Avenue and east to Fresh Pond Road.

While the group’s June meeting attracted several dozen residents, including many new faces, Hamilton and others expressed frustration that nobody from the precinct was there to address problems they are hoping to address (see related story). Hamilton said that while an officer from the precinct attended a meeting last year, she has since been told that her group should attend one of the other meetings 104th Precinct officials attend each month elsewhere in the area.

“If they make their way to every other meeting, they should come here once in a while,” said Hamilton. “They don’t have to attend every meeting, but [next] month in particular we are going to try to contact the elected officials to see if they can get someone from the precinct over here.”

In response, Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell told the Forum that a precinct representative has attended prior MWEBA meetings. “What [Hamilton] was told was that we have a lot of civic meetings to attend every month and we try to attend as many as possible,” said Officer Bell. “But, she should also make an effort to attend either the 104th Precinct Community Council meeting or the COP 104 meeting which was set up to bring all the civic groups together to address many of the groups’ individual complaints.”

Overall, Hamilton says the feedback she has received from neighbors has been positive. However, one group member said she was met with some skepticism and apathy when she walked around the neighborhood spreading word about the association. “They say they joined all the civics in the past and nothing ever got done,” the resident recounted at last week’s meeting.

Hamilton noted that the group’s success in getting a stop sign installed sounds very minor to residents who aren’t aware of the red tape involved in such a request. “That does seem kind of minor, but obviously we’re doing something,” she said. “I just ask [skeptics], do you have any suggestions? Otherwise we’re not going to get anything done.”

At this month’s meeting, Jeff Gottleib, representing state Senator Joseph Addabbo, told Hamilton her group is not getting the attention it needs because its members are too quiet. Hamilton’s response: “Not anymore.”

The group generally meets on the third Thursday of each month at 60-11 60th Street beginning at 7 p.m. For details, contact Hamilton at (347) 499-8223 or

Ex-Teacher Headed to Prison for Violating Probation

Accused of Soliciting Sex from Minors

A former Forest Hills middle school math teacher is facing up to six years in prison for violating the terms of probation he was sentenced to last year after being charged with sending sexually explicit computer messages to eight current or former students.

Bradley Dieffenbacher, 32, of Long Island, pleaded guilty last week to violating his probation by tutoring a 15-year-old boy between December 2008 and March 2009. Queens Supreme Court Justice Douglas Wong sentenced him to between two and six years in prison for the probation violation.

Last June, Dieffenbacher – who taught math at MS 190Q at the time – was sentenced to six months in jail and four and a half years probation after pleading guilty to attempted use of a child in a sexual performance. He admitted that between April 2007 and February 2008, he sent sexually explicit instant messages over the Internet to eight adolescent boys who had been or were presently students of his. He was also ordered to register as sex offender and surrender his state teaching license.

Despite being ordered by his probation officer to not have contact with any minors, Dieffenbacher responded to an online advertisement for a math tutor in Nassau County. His supervisor eventually because suspicious of his activities and conducted a check of his computer usage, which showed he was using instant messaging to solicit sex from minors. As a result he was sentenced in Queens County for violating probation from the June conviction, and Nassau County authorities are investigating the new allegations.

“This case should serve as a clear and unmistakable warning that law enforcement is prepared to apprehend and prosecute those who attempt to engage in illicit activity involving children,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Furthermore, defendants must be made to understand that those who would violate the terms of their probation will be prosecuted and sent to prison.”

Forest Hills: Now Boarding

By Steve Tiszenkel

One of the very best parts of living in Central Queens is leaving. Oh, don’t look so offended — regular readers of this column know very well that I love it here. It’s just that excellent access to a wide variety of transportation options makes our area a better place than most to vacate, whether by bus, car, subway or commuter train. And the best way to leave is by air.

Forest Hills and Kew Gardens have long been inviting to the aviation inclined purely by an accident of geography: We’re more or less halfway between LaGuardia and JFK. For those of us who take an occasional flight, this nearly makes up for our near-total inability to take advantage of anything flying in or out of Newark. (I’ve repeatedly sworn off that other airport after one too many taxi rides approaching $100, though cheap fares keep luring me back in.) It’s no wonder that this week flight attendant Heather Poole, who lives here, recommended Forest Hills to readers of the travel blog Gadling as a great destination for travelers forced to deal with a moderate layover in New York.

I’m still not sure how this happened, but the last time I flew into LaGuardia, about 25 minutes elapsed between the time the plane’s wheels hit the runway and the moment my cab pulled up to the front of my building. And that time includes the few minutes the driver took to miss a couple of turns despite my repeated instructions. This will likely remain one of the most awe-inspiring travel experiences of my life for years to come.

But I don’t fly very often. I’d do it every week if I could — Lisbon, here I come! — but I still have a job and tickets are still expensive, even if airlines finally have been able to lower prices by charging absurd amounts to check baggage. The real beneficiaries of our comfortable place nestled in the middle of the Borough of Airports are the pilots, flight attendants and airport personnel who have long made the area home and inspired one of the better nicknames for a New York neighborhood, Crew Gardens.

Don’t know many of them personally? Well, they’re not around much. But they’re an unmistakable presence, rushing down Queens Boulevard at a professional gait with their little rolling bags and kicking back at some of the divier bars around. And often they fly under the radar—Forest Hills and Kew Gardens crash pads are the stuff of legend. At a rotating series of addresses in a situation of questionable legality, flight attendants go to the mattresses between quick flights to Dover and Dubuque. In my own building, the story has it, a doctor on the ground floor used to rent his office to a group of them to use during off hours. You don’t know they’re there—you’re not supposed to — but there they are. What, would you rather walk by a crack den on your way to Key Food?

With all this history and convenience, the Forest Hills-Kew Gardens border was the perfect location for a headquarters for JetBlue, easily the neighborhood’s marquee corporation—though one that seems to be, as I complained in this space not long ago, in a big hurry to leave town. But maybe we don’t need them. If just a few readers take Poole’s online advice to do “what flight attendants do” and pay us a quick visit, more will surely follow, and business might pick up around here. It shouldn’t matter whether you work for an airline or are just passing through—Forest Hills is the only way to fly.

The writer is the host of the Website Log on to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

Rep Weiner Announces Security Funds for Jewish Groups

Just weeks after planned attacks on two Bronx synagogues were thwarted, several Queens lawmakers announced that five high-risk non-profit religious groups in the borough will receive federal Homeland Security funds.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) was joined by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) on Tuesday to announce the grants. Five local Jewish institutions – the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism of Kew Gardens Hills, the Jewish Institute of Queens in Rego Park, Far Rockaway’s Beis Medrash Heichal Dovid, the Hillcrest Jewish Center and Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care in New Hyde Park – will receive a total of $307,050.

Citywide, 61 institutions around the city will receive a total of $4.1 million from the Department of Homeland Security. The city will receive approximately three times more than the amount give to any other locality nationwide. In total, New York State will receive $4.6 million.

In May, federal authorities working with the NYPD arrested four men who were allegedly planning to bomb the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx. The men were also planning to attack military planes at an upstate Air National Guard Base, according to authorities.

The grants are being made available through the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program and will provide significant funding for security measures at the very institutions being singled out as potential targets – including hospitals, synagogues and universities. Since the program began in 2005, more than 200 New York City nonprofits received nearly $17 million in funding.

Institutions that qualified for the current grant program were eligible to receive up to $75,000 that can be used to train security personnel and install security measures should as cameras, barriers and controlled entry systems.

“As the planned attacks in the Bronx highlight, nonprofit and religious institutions are at risk and need protection,” said Rep. Weiner. “Worshippers, museum goers and hospital visitors expect and deserve a safe environment, and these grants will go a long way towards ensuring their safety.”

“Congressman Weiner’s commitment to protecting our community is an example the state should emulate,” said Assemblyman Lancman. The millions of New Yorkers who benefit from our non-profits deserve the state’s maximum efforts at keeping them safe.”

Brooklyn Man Convicted of Killing Pawnshop Owner

Faces 25 to Life for '06 Murder in Richmond Hill

A Brooklyn man has been convicted in the murder of a Richmond Hill pawnshop during a 2006 robbery attempt, authorities announced.

Demetrious Greene, 32, of Watkins Street was convicted last Friday of second-degree murder, first-degree attempted robbery and second and third degree criminal possession of a weapon following a jury trial. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison when sentenced on July 29.

According to trial testimony, Greene entered Rich-Atlantic Gold and Silver Exchange at 118-20 Atlantic Avenue and told the owner, 40-year-old Richard Schoenfeld that he wanted to pawn a pair of earrings. When Schoenfeld slid open a glass partition separating the men, Greene shot him twice, fatally wounding him, before fleeing from the store.

Greene was arrested less than two months after the robbery following an investigation by the 102nd Precinct.

“The defendant has been convicted of entering the victim’s pawnshop and fatally shooting him during the course of committing an attempted armed robbery,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This case is another clear example of the lethal consequences of senseless gun violence.”

Schoenfeld, of Merrick, Long Island, was known to drive luxury cars including a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Mercedes SUV. Neighbors described him as a hard working, nice guy who generally carried a large sum of money on him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Mayor and City Council Reach Budget Agreement

Local CMs Vote Against Sales Tax Increase

By Conor Greene

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council have reached a handshake agreement on a $59.4 billion city budget that avoids cuts to libraries and firehouses, but includes a sales tax increase and repeals the sales tax exemption for clothing over $110.

The spending plan, which covers fiscal year 2010, includes more than $3 billion in spending cuts. It also features a half a percentage point increase in sales tax, expected to generate an additional $518 million. While clothing less than $110 remains exempted from the sales tax repeal, reinstatement of the tax on items above $110 is expected to generate $119 million. The city is facing a $5 billion reduction in tax revenues due to the economic meltdown.

City Council is expected to vote on the budget this week. However, the negotiations essentially came to an end Monday, when the Council voted 38 to 10 on resolutions implementing the sales tax increase and other measures. While the mayor and council reached the agreement weeks before the July 1 deadline, the proposed tax increases must also be approved by the State Legislature.

“By saving billions during the good times, and cutting expenses when the first storm clouds gathered, we were as prepared as possible for the serious impacts of the national economic downturn,” said Bloomberg. “Just like any family that is tightening their belt during these tough times, we are reducing city spending while still protecting the core services that so many New Yorkers rely on – and that keep our city so strong.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said the agreement will “balance the budget during one of the most tumultuous economic times in recent memory.” At a press conference announcing the deal, she added, “Even in a recession, government’s job is to protect and support New Yorkers.”

Among those voting against the sales tax increases on Monday were Queens Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). In interviews and statements, three of the dissenting members said that raising the sales tax unfairly impacts middle and working class residents.

“It’s absurd,” said Ulrich, who called it a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul… The last thing we should be doing is hitting people when they’re struggling,” he said. “It’s an aggressive tax on hard working middle and working class people and it’s wrong.”

Crowley said the sales tax increase is “an additional burden on an overtaxed population.” Instead of balancing the budget by raising taxes, “we must come up with alternative sources… rather than punishing our workers and our middle-class residents.”

In a statement, Katz said the increase “will disproportionately burden middle-class New Yorkers who are struggling under the weight of high unemployment, decreasing home values and diminished savings in a time of economic uncertainty.”

Both Ulrich and Crowley called on the State Legislature to reinstate the commuter tax, which was abolished in 1999. “Bringing back the commuter tax would have been a more appropriate relief for our already overtaxed city residents,” said Crowley. However, according to Ulrich, Mayor Bloomberg and Quinn made it clear that revisiting the commuter tax “is not an option.”

In his executive budget released earlier this year, the mayor had threatened to close 16 firehouses, layoff hundreds of ACS workers, cut back on the number of days library branches are open and reduce the city work force by as much as 13,000. He also pushed for a five-cent tax on plastic bags and to eliminate the tax exemption on clothing under $110. However, Quinn argued that those taxes would disproportionably impact low income residents. Still, about 2,000 jobs will be eliminated under the plan.

Crowley, who attended several rallies in support of keeping the firehouses and libraries open, said she is pleased that “our fire protection will not be compromised and that we have won this fight… During this brutal economic time, it has been up to the people and their elected representatives to fight for what matters… We organized, we rallied and we made [it] loud and clear that we would not support a plan that would jeopardize our community’s safety,” she said in a statement.

However, while many officials and residents are breathing a sigh of relief that critical services avoided the chopping block, there is a chance the budget could be amended if the economy continues to falter. At a press conference inside City Hall on Monday, Mayor Bloomberg advised, “If our economy continues to stall, this may not be the last word on this year’s budget.”

This year’s budget negotiations between the mayor and council were largely absent of the public fighting and dissent seen in recent years. The main battles were over the plastic bag fee, which the Council fought against, and the sales tax increase, which drew criticism from some representatives, especially within the outer-boroughs. “It was done responsibly, and it was done without acrimony,” Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference.

However, the drama may be just beginning, since the new tax proposals and increases require approval by the State Legislature. “Balancing this budget required everyone to be a part of the solution, and now the only remaining piece of the puzzle is getting cooperation from the state,” said Bloomberg. “It is imperative that our leaders in Albany come to an agreement to pass a bill that will allow this budget to go into effect.”

Holding on for Hope

Howard Beach Residents Walk in Support of Cancer Research

By Patricia Adams

“Cancer is a dangerous enemy. No matter how strong you are, you can’t fight it on your own. Every person fighting cancer has to remember no matter how great the obstacle is you just keep going.”

And that’s exactly what Howard Beach Relay honoree and cancer survivor, Mario Faulisi did to win his battle with cancer. Back in April of 2008, Faulisi read an article about Testicular Cancer Awareness in The Forum. He knew from the words on the page that he had a problem—a big one. But even the warning was not quite enough to prepare him for what lay ahead — the diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma that was reproducing in a tumor at the rate of 90%. To further complicate the issue, the malignancy had settled in a testicle that would require immediate surgery and removal.

The prognosis following surgery was dire. An extensive regimen of the chemotherapy drug R-CHOP, one of the most taxing platforms used to treat aggressive disease. Additionally, there was a series of intrathecal injections, which go directly into the spine in an attempt to keep the disease from spreading to the brain. At the end of the chemo there would be a course of radiation.

“Of course I was frightened,” said Faulisi. “If you really think about it, you have no choice. If you want to live, you have to fight and hope you win.” His battle was staged at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital where medical oncologist/hematologist Dr. John Gerecitano and his team guided Mario and his family though the grueling ordeal. “There is so much you have to deal with at a time when you are so sick,” Faulisi said. “The hardest thing is watching everyone around you. You know how much they love you and you know how much they want you to get better. Sometimes it makes you sad, but in the end, it’s what gets you through.”

And during his speech at the event, Faulisi returned again to the subject that has always been at the forefront of his fight back--family and friends. The ones he says that stood by while he lost his hair, waited for test results, went with him for treatments, prayed constantly, cooked his favorite foods and most importantly who never gave up hope—in him or in God.

“The help and the support of all my friends is something I could never put a value on. Cherish your caregivers, they are your lifeline,” Faulisi continued. “Love your friends and family and let them love you. The way my mother, my sister, my brothers and my whole family were always there is what has brought me to this place.”

Through his tears he continued, “This has not been easy for a lot of people. And for some it was much harder than it was on me. I want my children to know that my love for them is what really keeps me alive. To my wife, I can only say that without you always there to hold me up I would not be standing. Grace you are the best.”

Now just over a year later, Faulisi has completed his treatments and has been declared cancer free. He was recognized as an honoree by the American Cancer Society for his fight and triumph over cancer while maintaining all of his commitments to the community as the President of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation.

“This is a person that you meet for the first time and know he’s special,” said event chair Phyllis Inserillo. “He is what Relay is all about. He’s what we’re here to celebrate — life.”

From the publisher...

In my years as publisher of this newspaper, I have been privy to many joys and many sorrows throughout our community. I have however, never been prouder of this community then I was on Saturday at our 1st Annual Relay. It was a day when so much more than money was raised. It was a day when we stood together and made a difference that translates to the difference between life and death.

I would like to dedicate this issue to my colleague and dear friend, Mario Faulisi. Because of his tenacity, courage, strength and heart, I know the example he has set will save many other lives.

To my friend I would like to say that you are an inspiration to me every day of my life. Your wisdom and the life example that you set is a gift of your friendship that I cherish. I celebrate your life every day. – PA

Click to See More Photos from the Event

Child Hunger, Upstate Drilling and Maspeth Burglaries Discussed at CB 5

By Conor Greene

At its monthly meeting last week, Community Board 5 members discussed a wide range of issues, including child hunger, a push to drill for natural gas upstate, and a pattern of burglaries in Maspeth.

Child Hunger Awareness

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), who is running for city public advocate this fall, took a few minutes to discuss an issue he said residents won’t see on television or read about in the daily newspaper – “hunger, especially child hunger, in New York City.”

When Gioia was first elected eight years ago, hunger “was not an issue I thought I would be working on a lot.” That changed when he heard a story of a young boy whose teacher rewarded him with gold stars for outstanding work. After receiving several gold stars, he told his teachers, “What I really want is an orange.”

Gioia said that simple story opened his eyes to a widespread problem he says is disguised by the childhood obesity epidemic. “It was hard to believe that an orange is a treat in this city,” he said of the student. “It is a real issue in New York City, right in our neighborhoods.” He pointed out that the obesity issue is really just “a different side of the same coin” since poor families often turn to fast food that is high in fat for cheap meals.

Several years ago, Gioia lived on food stamps for a week to draw attention to how little support that program offered. His allotment - $28.36 at the time – only lasted five days, forcing him to turn to a food pantry for the rest of his meals. He then successfully lobbied legislators in Washington, D.C to raise the amount allotted per week.

However, despite those gains, only 1.1 million of the 2 million city residents who qualify for food stamps take advantage of the program. That means 400,000 city children who are eligible are not enrolled, according to Gioia, who says there are two main reasons the program is under-utilized: bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of awareness among working parents who don’t realize they qualify.

To reduce the red tape, Gioia worked to have the application shortened from 24 pages to two pages. “That’s a big deal,” he argued, as 200,000 more people have signed up since that change was implemented. To increase awareness, Gioia is visiting every community board in the city and a host of other groups to spread awareness. The program is not just for the unemployed, as those who make less than $24,000 a year and have children generally can take advantage of food stamps. “I promise you that it applies to people you know,” whether in church, civic groups or in the neighborhood, said Gioia.

He asked every person in the crowd to mention the issue and requirements to at least one other person. “This is a moral issue – kids in our city are not getting enough to eat,” he said. In addition, the program is federally funded, meaning that the city is currently not taking full advantage of the money. One billion more dollars would pour into the city economy if every eligible resident signed up, according to Gioia.

Concerns Over Upstate Natural Gas Drilling

At several points during the meeting, the issue of drilling for natural gas upstate was discussed, as there is concern about the impact the process could have on the city’s drinking water supply.

Buck Moorhead of the group NY H2O informed residents about the “imminent drilling for natural gas” in portions of upstate New York. The procedure, known as hydrofracking, was pioneered by Halliburton and involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the earth in order to draw the gas to the surface. The practice is growing in popularity after the Bush Administration approved an exemption in 2005 allowing it. “It’s a very serious risk” to the state’s water supply, said Moorhead, adding that his group is seeking a ban on the process.

The board’s district manager, Gary Giordano, also expressed concern about hydrofracking during his report later in the meeting. “There’s a lot of big money involved here,” he said, adding that a second Environmental Impact Statement on the process is due later this month. He called this the “most frightening situation I know of on a large scale that affects New York City.”

Giordano urged board members, elected officials and the public to “not make it easy for the people seeking potentially big profits to destroy our water system.”

Board member Brian Dooley, who chairs the environmental services committee, said his group will present a resolution against the practice next month for the full board to consider. He compared the situation upstate, with landowners in rural areas seeking to cash in on quick profits, to a gold rush. “It’s going to be a monumental environmental disaster if it’s allowed to go on,” he said. “The problem is, there is big money involved.”

Poor Police Response to Maspeth Burglaries

Board member Eileen Maloney warned of an increase of residential burglaries “in our community, especially Maspeth.” Her home was broken into in the middle of the day three weeks ago by a man who kicked in the front door, she said.

Adding insult to injury, Maloney said it took more than three hours for officers from the 104th Precinct to respond to her son’s 911 call. Worse, detectives showed up at 1:30 a.m. to dust for fingerprints. “Needless to say, they never got the burglar,” said Maloney, adding that her attempts to get updates about the investigation have been unsuccessful.

”I was told they only had four cars on duty that day and they were all elsewhere,” she said. “This is a very, very serious condition we’re suffering through right now –there definitely is some sort of group out there. They’re professionals and know who to hit.”

Maloney said she is working with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office to establish a neighborhood block watch in Maspeth. Board Chairman Vincent Arcuri noted that the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol should be able to assist since it already patrols that area and is always looking for new recruits.

Editor’s Note: Check next week’s Forum West for a report on additional issues discussed at the June Community Board 5 meeting.

Photos: Councilman Eric Gioia discusses child hunger, before Buck Moorhead (left) informs the crowd about possible drilling for natural gas upstate. The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CONOR GREENE

Remembering the General Slocum Disaster

As they do every June, this past Saturday a group of community leaders remembered the General Slocum disaster of 1904, when the passenger steamship caught fire while carrying approximately 1,300 passengers up the East River. The tragedy happened when a fire started in a storage compartment near the front of the ship as it was passing E. 90th Street. Efforts by the crew to put the fire out were unsuccessful, and life boats were tied up and inaccessible to passengers. Making matters worse, many of the passengers were women and children who did not know how to swim. By the time the captain navigated the boat to North Brother Island near the Bronx shore, an estimated 1,021 passengers had died in the fire or drowned trying to escape the boat. Two of the 30 crew members died, and there were just 321 survivors.

This past Saturday, about 100 local residents attended the ceremony at All Faith’s Cemetery in Middle Village, where many of the unidentified victims were buried. Among those attending were members of the Marine Corps League of North Shore Queens and Coast Guard officials. Also participating in the ceremony was Dan Austin, president of All Faiths, Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and former State Senator Serf Maltese.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos courtesy of PAT MCCARTHY

Company Wants to Expand Garbage Facility

Plan Will Increase Truck Traffic in West Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Waste Management is seeking state approval to expand its Long Island City transfer station to handle twice as much garbage each day over its current levels. While the upgrade will allow the company to use trains instead of trucks for long-distance hauling, there is local concern since truck traffic will increase in Maspeth.

The company has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace its existing truck-based operation on Review Avenue into a new “rail-based solid waste transfer facility” that would receive residential waste from neighborhoods within Community Boards 1-6 in Queens.

Currently, the trash is brought to the facility and then loaded into tractor-trailers for longdistance hauling to landfills in states such as Virginia. Under the new plan, the trash will be loaded onto rail containers at the Review Avenue facility and trucked several miles over local streets to the rail yard at Maspeth Avenue and Rust Street.

The facility is currently permitted to receive up to 958 tons per day. Under the new arrangement the site will be able to handle up to 2,100 tons per day and will typically receive about 1,150 tons per day, according to the company.

While the project is not subject to the city’s land use review process, the company was required to hold several public information sessions in Sunnyside this past Monday and in Maspeth this past Wednesday. The proposal is part of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which aims to “shift the city’s waste exports from a truck-based system to a rail and barge transportation network, to reduce traffic and vehicle emissions, to ensure each borough is responsible for handling its own waste and to help the city manage its waste in a more sustainable, efficient and cost effective manner.”

However, while the Review Avenue facility is located alongside the Newtown Creek, barges will not be used there, according to the company. Instead, garbage trucks would enter the facility and dump the trash using one of the facility’s five bays. The trash would then be loaded into sealed containers, which are trucked to the rail yard in Maspeth. From there, it would be brought via train to the Fresh Pond Road rail yard in Glendale before it is shipped long-distance to the landfill.

The company boasts that one train containing 15 to 17 cars is the equivalent of between 51 and 58 diesel engine trucks, meaning the project will greatly reduce the amount of mileage driven and emissions produced. Still, there is local concern since the new transfer station will handle garbage from additional communities in Western Queens, since there will be an increase in the amount of trucks bring garbage to the facility, along with the new trips between Review Avenue and the rail yard.

According to a Waste Management spokeswoman, there are currently about 100 city sanitation trucks entering and leaving the facility each day, and about three tractor trailers exiting the facility for long distance hauls. Under the new plan, there will be about 125 DSNY trucks using the facility each day, and an average of four trucks an hour will make the trip to the Maspeth rail yard, replacing the need for long distance hauling.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said the plan definitely comes at a cost for Maspeth and Long Island City residents. “Unfortunately that’s the price that somebody paid for the greater good, so to speak,” he said. It is certainly going to bring more truck traffic, no doubt about that. “I think what we need to do is work with Waste Management as far as the portions that are somewhat controllable,” he said, referring to issues such as routes and timing.

He also recalled issues last summer with horrific odors emanating from trains hauling garbage in unsealed containers. The trains will go from Maspeth to the Fresh Pond Road yard until they are transported out of the city by CSX. The issue with the odors came when trains were forced to sit idly on tracks near residential areas due to scheduling issues between the disposal company and the railroads.

However, to alleviate these problems, Waste Management has designed a sealed container that company officials say works “pretty well” and is working to improve the timing to prevent trains from sitting in one spot for too long.

Maspeth civic leader Tony Nunziato questioned why the city didn’t demand that Waste Management construct the facility in a location with direct access to train tracks, which would eliminate the need to haul the containers through Maspeth by truck. “I’m all for it, but my main concern is they’re not doing it at one stop,” he said. “If you’re going to make that kind of money, get the facility.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, took exception with the public review process and questioned why the company ran the information sessions, instead of the city. “The more questions you ask, the more you find out this thing stinks to high heaven,” he said. “They’re sealed, but they still produce odors,” he noted of the shipping containers. He also pointed out that the company’s Bronx facility is adjacent to tracks.

“Why didn’t Waste Management buy a facility next to the rail?” questioned Holden. “The city should have demanded it – that’s a real solid waste, not a phony one like this. It’s going to cut down on trucks, but not in our neighborhood. It’s going to create more traffic here, and Maspeth doesn’t need it.”

Waste Management hopes to have the new facility constructed in time to begin accepting waste by February 2011.

Toddler Dies at Childcare Center; Babysitter Charged

By Patricia Adams

An 11-month-old boy died at a local day care facility after falling into a bucket of mop water. James Farrior was in the care of 28-year-old Kristal Khan, the operator of the All Day Every Day Childcare Center at 101-27 108th street in Richmond Hill.

Neighbors watched in shock and disbelief as a fireman ran from the house carrying the limp body of the boy shortly after 11 a.m. “My husband went down to see what the fire trucks were doing next door,” said Liz Rivero who lives in an upstairs apartment. “I went to the window and looked down. A fireman had the baby and he was running with him. I saw his arms and legs hanging. I just knew. He was lifeless.”

Rivero went on to say she had seen the baby’s mother when she would come to pick him up a few days a week in the afternoon. She said the operator of the childcare facility seemed to be a quiet person and that there had been no incidents involving the house before that she knew of.

James Farrior would have celebrated his first birthday on July 25 and was pronounced dead at Jamaica hospital around 11:30 a.m. An autopsy was scheduled to determine whether the boy drowned or broke his neck.

Kristal Khan’s profile was found on, a website community used for showcasing ones skills and talents. She describes herself there as a 27 year old, stay-at-home mother of two beautiful children who offered tutoring and childcare at her home. According to Kahn’s posted resume she was a “former qualified teacher from Trinidad where she taught in a primary school for eight years. She had also offered babysitting services for the last 12 years.

Police said Kahn originally said she had left James and her own two children, 3 and 4years old, in the living room while she went to get a mop. When she came back, Kahn said James had fallen, head first, into a mop bucket that was almost full with water. But later Kahn admitted she had taken Nyquil at 6 a.m. and fell asleep on the couch.

According to a spokesperson from the State Office of Children and Family Services, Kahn didn't have a license to operate the childcare facility, however was not in violation of any laws. Departmental regulations state that an individual may operate a day care facility without a license if they do not have more than two children under their care for more than three or more hours daily. The state does not count the babysitter’s own children as part of the qualifying number for licensing.

“This is all very upsetting,” said neighbor Billy Caires. “I checked this place out for my own child about two years ago. The only reason we did not use it is because they were closing earlier than we needed. It was just about timing.” The man said he had gone into the facility and found everything to be clean and in order.

Kahn was arraigned on Tuesday and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted she could face up to one year in prison.

District Attorney Richard Brown said that Kahn took the Nyquil despite the fact that she was aware that one of the side effects of the medication was drowsiness. It is alleged that at one point Kahn woke up, did not see the baby in the living room but rolled over and went back to sleep. The DA’s office further alleges that when Kahn awoke a second time she saw the baby in the kitchen with his upper body submerged in the bucket she had filled the night before.

“When parents entrust their young children to a day care center, the operator has an obligation to provide a safe environment. By allegedly failing to carry out her responsibilities, a young child’s life has been tragically and senselessly cut short,” said DA Brown.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) is investigating the death of James Farrior but has made initial statements that the day care operation run by Kristal Kahn seems to fit the facility parameters set by the state regarding small childcare centers.

Girl, 2, Struck By Hit and Run Driver

By Patricia Adams

A 2-year-old girl was seriously injured Friday night when she wandered out of her house on 85th street and walked into traffic on Rockaway Boulevard around 9:30. A hit and run driver apparently struck toddler Jaylein Peralta while her relatives were eating dinner and were unaware that the girl had slipped out of the house.

But neighbors say it was not unusual for the child to be wandering around alone. Ravi Persaud said he had seen the child on several occasions walking around by herself. “I am surprised she was not hit before this. I almost hit her myself a few times.”

Another neighbor, Liz Laureano said she also had seen the child walking around alone. The last time was about a month ago. “She was just out here, by herself. She had no shoes on and was wearing just a nightshirt,” said Laureano. “You can’t leave your baby like that. This is what happens.”

But Peralta’s family maintains that this had never happened before and that she just slipped out without their notice. An aunt, who was in the house preparing tacos told reporters that the girl ran out into the street in a heartbeat.

Jaylein’s 20-year-old mother Jeanette works at a supermarket a couple of blocks away from where the incident happened. She was on her way home when she saw the police activity on the street. Relatives said that she had no idea it was her daughter when she happened upon the scene.

When she realized it was Jaylein she picked up the child whom witnesses say just kept saying “Momma, Momma,’ over and over. The child, whose face was covered with blood, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital in critical condition.

As of Saturday she was upgraded at the hospital and is expected to make a recovery. Police have not made an arrest and have no description of the car or its driver.

Still Going Strong After Twenty Years

Lifelong Queens resident Gary Giordano was honored for twenty years of service as Community Board 5 district manager with a proclamation presented by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley at last week’s monthly meeting.

Giordano, who was born in Maspeth and attended Our Lady of Hope and St. Francis Prep schools, served as a board member for eight years before accepting the district manager position in 1989. He previously served four years as executive director of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, was among the founding members of the former Ridgewood Civilian Observation Patrol and dedicated time to the Martin J. Knorr Caregivers Center. In addition to his duties with CB 5, Giordano currently serves as a board member of The Salvation Army, volunteers with the Ridgewood Citadel Corps and is treasurer of the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corps.

“Mr. Giordano, understanding the sophisticated nature of modern political structure, relies on his aptitude for listening, prefers discussion before decision and calm in the face of a challenge; and conducts the residents’ concerns… with reason and true consideration for the integrated whole of human needs and values,” states the proclamation. “Mr. Giordano faithfully executes the varied and numerous tasks of District Manager, giving evidence of his competency to manage, mediate and advocate, implementing the procedures and personally proving to be instrumental in raising the quality of life in Community Board 5…”

While he didn’t make any comments at the meeting, Giordano told the Forum that things have come a long way since he became district manager, and credited the people he has worked with for helping improve the community. “Portions of it have been a very rough road. When I started, crime was at its height, illegal dumping was a big, big problem, and so was graffiti,” he said. “I certainly had a lot of support from board members… so the board has been very good to me. But it has not been an easy road."

The biggest change over the past two decades, “is how crowded it’s gotten, and how much more competitive life has become,” said Giordano. “It seems to be a faster pace than ever, and I think we need to do our best so that it doesn’t become survival of the fittest so to speak.” Still, he has no regrets regarding the board’s influence on the community on his watch. “Our neighborhood is in great shape, in better shape than I can remember… and by no means is that all my doing.”

Crowley Calls on State Legislature to Address Malpractice Insurance

Says Women’s Health Care has Reached Crisis in New York City

Joined by dozens of outraged doctors from Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley demanded at a press conference on Wednesday that state leaders reduce malpractice insurance rates to prevent women’s health professionals from leaving the state.

During the rally on the steps of City Hall, Crowley (D-Middle Village) blasted Gov. David Paterson for allowing malpractice insurance rates to skyrocket, which she says has jeopardized healthcare for all female city residents. She will introduce legislation at the next City Council meeting “calling on the State Legislature to address this medical crisis immediately.”

“The current medical malpractice insurance system – which is regulated by our government – is driving doctors out of New York, and the first doctors to go are the ones who provide women’s healthcare,” said Crowley. “New York City is losing obstetricians at a faster rate than in any other area in the country… If we continue in this direction who will care for pregnant women? Who will deliver babies in New York?”

According to Crowley, 28 obstetricians who deliver tens of thousands of babies annually at eight hospitals in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan will no longer be able to perform their professional duties as of July 2. In addition, between 2002 and 2008several hundred city doctors changed their insurance coverage, meaning they are no longer covered to perform obstetrics. Many hospitals have also been forced to cease providing obstetric services due to malpractice insurance costs, with 14 city hospitals eliminating their regular obstetrical services between 1995 and 2003.

Dr. David Freidman, a gynecologist in Manhattan, called the issue “a time bomb that is threatening to destroy women’s healthcare” in the state. “Because of the oppressive malpractice insurance rates, I and many others in the state have had to stop delivering babies,” he said. “This trend is sure to continue unless some relief is on the way.”

Crowley argues that it is the state and federal government’s responsibility to intervene and reduce or freeze the malpractice rates so doctors can afford to remain in the city. Through an online petition, a letter to her colleagues and a City Council resolution, she is calling on Gov. Paterson to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates, institute a public malpractice insurance option that will keep our obstetricians and breast imaging doctors in New York City by offering them affordable rates.

The overall problem has been exasperated by the closing of three Queens hospitals in the past six months, said Crowley. In addition, over the past four years three Brooklyn hospitals that delivered thousands of babies a year – Interfaith Medical Center, St. Mary’s and Victory Memorial – have closed their maternity ward.

The top two highest risk areas for malpractice insurance fall under obstetrics, with examinations for breast cancer coming in third. This has caused a shortage of breast radiologists and mammography facilities, creating a backlog for mammograms.

Dr. Jay Tartell, a radiologist at Mt. Sinai in Queens, said his facility has been searching for a breast radiologist for more than a year. “In addition to discouraging radiologists form specializing in breast imaging, the high risk of lawsuits have caused the existing mammographers in our group to become increasingly reluctant to read mammograms<’ he said.

“In Queens, we are all well aware of how much of a challenge access to health care has become, especially when women have to wait up to six months for an appointment to get a mammogram,” said Crowley. “Access to health care for the residents of Queens and Brooklyn is already an alarming challenge. This is why we are out here today calling on the State Legislature to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates and to find an effective solution to this crisis to ensure that there is adequate access to doctors for the women of New York.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley joins area doctors at a rally calling on the State Legislature to reform the medical malpractice insurance industry to prevent doctors from leaving the city. The Forum Newsgroup/photos courtesy of WILLIAM ALATRISTE

Six Teens Charged in Flushing Robbery and Murder

By Conor Greene

Six teenagers have now been charged in connection with the robbery and murder of an Asian man who had fallen asleep in his SUV while parked on a Flushing street earlier this month.

Police say 49-year-old Woodhaven resident David Kao was killed by Chris Levy, 17, of Harlem, and Cory Azor, 16, of East Elmhurst after the suspects found him asleep inside his 2000 Lexus double parked in front of 42-10 Colden Street on June 8.

Levy and Azor were arraigned last Wednesday in Queens Criminal Court on charges of second-degree murder, first-and-second-degree robbery and fourth-degree possession of stolen property. They were ordered held without bail and face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

In addition, police have charged four other teenagers in connection with the incident, according to the Queens District Attorney’s office. Keron Wilthshire, 17, of Corona, Jay-Quel Merkerson, 16, of Flushing and a 15-year-old have been charged with criminal possession of stolen property (the SUV). Bryce Newton, 16, of Flushing was charged with third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle for riding in a vehicle he knew was stolen.

According to the charges, Levy and Azor entered the SUV after spotting Kao sleeping inside. They placed Kao in a chokehold, pulling him over the driver’s seat into the back of the vehicle, where they fatally choked and punched him. They then drove the SUV to a nearby location where they dumped the body. “I continued to hold him in the headlock and punch him in the face and then he stopped moving,” Levy allegedly told detectives.

The break in the case came last Monday, when police received a report of an argument near an SUV parked in an alley behind 145-10 20th Avenue in Whitestone, about two miles from the murder scene. Levy, Wilthshire and Newton were inside the Lexus when police responded, and, after questioning, the three other defendants were arrested, according to a spokesman for District Attorney Richard Brown.

In a separate criminal complaint, Levy, Azor and Wilthshire are charged with robbing 42-year-old Jin Tong Yuan as he entered the elevator at 140-50 Ash Avenue in Flushing on May 27. According to statements allegedly made to police, Azor and his co-defendants spotted Yuan and agreed to rob him. Wilthshire grabbed Yuan from behind and placed him in a chokehold while Levy held a silver pistol to the victim’s head while demanding money, according to police. The three defendants then allegedly took the victim’s cell phone and cash from his wallet before fleeing.

“While all three defendants are accused of preying on Asian men to rob, two of the defendants are charged with a senseless and brutal crime that, by their own alleged actions, shows a complete disregard for human life,” said Brown.

Even thought the district attorney accused the men of specifically targeting Asian men, they have not been charged under the hate crimes statute. “I think Levy and Azor have been charged with the ultimate hate crime – murder,” said spokesman Kevin Ryan, adding that charging them with a hate crime would not add anymore time to what they are currently facing. “However those are crimes that can be considered when the case is presented to a grand jury,” he added.

Kao was a marketing employee at the World Journal, which bills itself as the largest Chinese language newspaper in North America. According to reports, he dined with a colleague on Kissena Boulevard on Friday evening before parking, for unknown reasons, in front of the Colden Avenue building where his ex-wife lives. His 21-year-old daughter is a college student in Taiwan.

Azor’s stepfather is Officer Frantz Jean-Bart of the NYPD’s automotive unit.

Bakery Owner Admits to Molesting Young Customer

Jewish Group Forces Perv From Ownership Position

By Conor Greene

After pleaded guilty to molesting a 10-year-old boy who visited his Kew Gardens Hills bakery, a Brooklyn man has been forced out from his ownership position by a local Jewish group.

Issac Ebstein, 50, of 415 Bedford Avenue, admitted in Queens Supreme Court last week to inappropriately touching the 10-year-old, who used to go to Queens Kosher Pita for cookies, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to one year of probation and weekly sex offender counseling.

Last Friday, Ebstein pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted sexual abuse and attempted endangering the welfare of a child. According to authorities, Ebstein admitted to driving around Queens, during which time he touched the victim’s genitals and forced the boy to touch his. The abuse took place on three occasions over a two-month period in 2002 and came to light when the boy told his parents.

“The defendant has pleaded guilty to having taken advantage of the innocence of his young victim. As a result, the child has been severely traumatized and emotionally scarred for life,” said Brown. “Fortunately, the defendant's guilty plea will save the youngster from having to testify and recount the situation he endured.”

Under the plea with prosecutors, Ebstein will not have to register as a sex offender. While published reports stated that Ebstein would be returning to work at Queens Kosher Pita over the weekend, the Vaad Harabonim of Queens – which provides kosher certification for the business - has forced Ebstein from his ownership position at the Main Street bakery.

In a statement, the Vaad announced that officials hand-delivered a letter to Queens Pita demanding that “by the close of business on June 12, Ebstein shall neither work, nor be present in the store in any capacity whatsoever.” In addition, the letter ordered Queens Pita “to remove Ebstein as an owner, shareholder, officer, director and/or partner, and provide written evidence.”

The Vaad was contacted by the victim’s family and had two senior members in court to witness the guilty plea. According to the group, the Kosher Supervision Agreement it has with Queens Pita “provides that the Vaad has the discretion to terminate the contract upon the conviction of any crime of moral turpitude committed by a store owner or director.”

The decision to order Ebstein’s withdrawal as an owner and employee was made jointly by the Vaad and local Kew Gardens Hills congregational rabbis in a special meeting, and in consultation with legal counsel, according to its press release. It notes that Queens Pita owner and proprietor Norman Kohn had complied with Vaad’s directive.

“As part of the turpitude clause in our agreement with the store, the Vaad reserves the right to revoke the certification in cases such as these. Ebstein has resigned from any relationship with the store,” wrote Rabbi Chaim Schwartz in an email.

An employee who answered the phone at Queens Pita on Tuesday said that Ebstein is no longer an owner or employee there. A message left for Kohn was not immediately returned.

Subcontractors Accused of Stealing MTA Forklifts

DA: Trio Sold Stolen Equipment to Scrap Yard

By Conor Greene

Three employees of a company contracted to do work for the MTA have been accused of stealing eight forklifts and 17 tons of batteries from the Maspeth facility they were assigned to and reselling the items for a fraction of their market value.

The three Crown Equipment employees – Bruce Lesniewski, 30, of Brooklyn, Darrin Pfaff, 42, of Ronkonkoma and Kimberly Edwards, 57, of Bay Shore each face up to seven years if convicted on the charges. They were due to be arraigned Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court on the charges, following a joint investigation by the Queens District Attorney’s office and MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger.

According to authorities, Crown Equipment has a preventative maintenance contract with New York City Transit, under which it assigns technicians to the agency’s Maspeth warehouse to provide onsite repairs and maintenance and to provide estimates for shop repairs. In order to facilitate repairs, Crown Equipment utilizes a flatbed truck, along with various vans, to transport equipment from the warehouse to other authorized locations for repairs, maintenance and replacement parts.

The investigation began in September 2008 when NYCT personnel began an annual inventory of equipment at the Maspeth warehouse and discovered that eight forklifts and seventeen steel case batteries(each weighting between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds) used to operate their forklift equipment were missing. The subsequent investigation involved interviews, a review of the business records of the MTA and the scrap dealer who purchased the stolen items and an analysis of cell phone records and GPS signals assigned to Crown Equipment phones and trucks.

The criminal charges allege that the three defendants stole the eight forklifts and seventeen batteries from the MTA Transit warehouse between March and September 2008. They then took the equipment to Dependable Scrap Yard, a licensed junk dealer located on Flushing Avenue in Maspeth, which paid them a total of $7,812 for the materials.

When selling the metal to the scrap dealer, both Lesniewski and Pfaff signed invoices stating that they were the rightful owners of the equipment and had the authority to sell it and showed photo identification in order for the invoices to be completed and the money paid for them. Finally, it is alleged that GPS records for the flatbed truck driven by Edwards showed that he drove from the MTA warehouse to Dependable Scrap Yard on at least three occasions between August and September 2008, and that he and Pfaff had a series of phone conversations on those dates.

According to the Inspector General’s office, the stolen forklifts were still in working order and cost at least $20,000 to replace. A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office said the charges can be amended when a more exact value of the stolen items is determined.

“The defendants are accused of trying to make a fast buck by stealing tens of thousands of dollars worth of MTA equipment and selling it for a fraction of its value to a scrap dealer,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “By these arrests we have sent a clear message that in these challenging economic times, the MTA and the riding public can ill afford such waste and thievery and have underscored the fact that those who steal will be held accountable for their actions.”

Lesniewski, who is currently employed by Crown Equipment, is charged with third degree grand larceny for the theft of two forklifts and ten batteries between March 1and September 19, 2008, for which he allegedly was paid $3,097 by the scrap dealer.

Pfaff and Edwards, who were formerly employed by Crown Equipment, are charged with third-degree grand larceny and fifth-degree conspiracy for the theft of six forklifts, for which they allegedly were paid $3,160 by the scrap dealer. In addition, Pfaff is also charged with fourth-degree grand larceny for the theft of seven batteries between June 1 and September 30, for which he was allegedly paid $1,555.

“This case provides another example of how the MTA Inspector General’s Office works with our investigative and prosecutorial partners to move swiftly against those who steal MTA property,” said Kluger.