Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Wind-Fueled Fire Destorys Woodhaven Homes

City Considers Eminent Domain for Proposed School Site

Local Victims Left in Wake of LI Ponzi Scheme

Civic Gets Detailed Look at Downzoning

State Gives Money to Hospitals; Refuses to Bail Out St. John's and Mary Immaculate

Crimes Issues Discussed at JPCA Meeting

Suspicious Package, Bank Robbery and Perp Search in 104th Pct

Budget Woes Top CB 5 Meeting

Afghan Diplomat Accused of Beating Wife "Like a Dog"

Trying Just Ain't Enought for Atlas Park

DA and NYPD to Host Guy Buyback Program

Nursing Home Worker Convicted of Sex Attack

School Considers Eminent Domain for Proposed School Site

Meeting Slated on Possible Taking of Maspeth Property

By Conor Greene

The city might use eminent domain to seize the former Restaurant Depot property in Maspeth to make room for an 1,100-seat high school, despite not yet having City Council approval for the project.

A meeting on the School Construction Authority’s plan to acquire the property at 74th Street and 57th Avenue using eminent domain is scheduled for Thursday, February 26at 4 p.m. in PS 58 on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. The action comes after Community Board 5’s executive committee voted against the project, and before the City Council has even weighed in on it.

News of the upcoming meeting, which was only advertised through a public notice published in the New York Post and City Record instead of in local papers, left Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden furious.

“Nobody knows about it, and that’s how they like it and it’s at 4 p.m. on a Thursday” said Holden, who has opposed the school due to its proposed location. “This is government at its worst. They didn’t even notify the community board. It’s disgusting, the way this administration does as it pleases.”

The city did not notify CB 5 about the upcoming meeting, according to District Manager Gary Giordano. “What constitutes public notice? Unless you buy those publications, you’re not going to see that,” he said. “If you want to be responsible as far as having a hearing when people can attend, you normally do it in the evening.”

SCA attorney Gregory Shaw said on Wednesday that the hearing is scheduled during business hours because “most people are not interested” about whether eminent domain should be used. “The meetings we have at night are about the project. The eminent domain portion is really about taking the property,” he said. “This is a public hearing to discuss if we are going to use eminent domain, and if the City Council approves it, we then make a decision.”

According to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), the scheduled meeting does not necessarily mean the city is planning to use eminent domain to seize the property. Instead, it is a way for the city to protect itself against property owners who raise the price once it becomes known the city is considering buying the land.

“That eminent domain meeting is part of the city’s projects whenever they want to buy a building,” she said. “They’re saying the owner has no right to inflate the cost because he knows the city is interested. It is to protect fair market value and project our city dollars. They’re letting the owner know that they’re going to get a fair market estimate of the cost and are not going to pay some number out of the sky that the owner says its worth.”

Shaw said that eminent domain is being considered in this case because “the seller appears to be unresponsive to our request.” He said the SCA is not aware of anywhere the property is being advertised for sale. “We’ve gotten indications the owner is willing to sell it.”

However, according to an online listing, the property is being offered for sale by Segal Realty of Manhattan for $15 million. Calls to Josh Segal were not immediately returned.

Giordano said opposition to the school has come for two main reasons: fears the already-congested area will become overrun with thousands of school children, as two other schools already exist within two blocks of the proposed site, and the city’s refusal to promise that it will be locally zoned to ensure that neighborhood children can enroll there.

“They say they don’t zone schools locally for the most part,” he said. “That neighborhood will get all that extra traffic and little of the benefits in terms of teenagers from the local community being able to go there. Those are the main reasons it is not sitting well so to speak.”

Crowley is meeting with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein this week to discuss issues the community has raised with the project. She said she has received a lot of input and letters both for and against the project. “The chancellor needs to realize, and the mayor as well, that if we’re going to burden our community with a high school we need a guarantee that students attending it will be from the community. If that’s not an [option], then the school doesn’t have a chance in my opinion.”

For Holden, the whole process has been business as usual for the Department of Education and SCA. He said an SCA official told him that most new schools are themed schools, which are not zoned locally. “I asked why she didn’t bring this up during the two public hearings before the community board, and she said that nobody asked,” said Holden. “This is consistent with how the DOE operates, keeping things secret.”

Local Victims Left in Wake of Ponzi Scam

Agape World, Inc. Had Office on Grand Avenue

By Conor Greene

Almost one month after the arrest of alleged Long Island con artist Nicholas Cosmo on federal mail fraud charges, local residents who invested in Agape World, Inc. are left wondering where their money went and if they will ever recover any of it.

While Cosmo’s business – which federal authorities say was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that cheated 1,500 people out of about $370 million – was based on Long Island, it also had an office on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. That’s where many Queens residents went to invest their money in hopes of cashing on large returns.

Cosmo was arrested on January 26 following a FBI investigation, which culminated in raids of Agape’s Hauppauge, Jackson Heights and Maspeth offices. The company had promised investors the chance to cash in returns from bridge loans Agape provided to other individuals and companies. Instead, authorities say that just $10 million of $370 million provided by investors was ever loaned out. The rest is believed to have been squandered by Cosmo, who is being held in federal custody.

As the case slowly moves forward, hundreds of local investors have begun banding together in an effort to recover any of the lost money. “We have two objectives – to get information so that we feel connected to the process, and secondly to give each other hope,” said Dom DiColandrea of West Babylon, who has helped mobilize a group of victims and posts updates on a victim’s blog,

“We’re hoping that while Agape may have nothing left, we’re hoping that some of the other parties responsible are going to be held accountable by the law,” continued DiColandrea. “If not under yesterday’s law, we’re hoping that today, lawmakers will look at this as a chance to set precedent for future victims.”

One victim, Ana Nunes, said she lost about $1 million total that she invested with her boyfriend and a friend. Like other victims who spoke with The Forum, she initially was introduced to Agape by somebody she trusted, in this case a colleague. “He said everything was working fine, there was a contract, his broker was a family member, so he was sure it was something good,” said Nunes.

She began by investing a small amount in May 2007 to test the waters before providing additional money several months later. Her confidence in the investment was bolstered in May 2008, when Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Agape World as one of its top 100 fastest-growing businesses. “I was very careful, and then I saw [the article]. Then I started investing a lot of money, and brought on my boyfriend and friend,” she said.

Like many investors, Nunes, 32, became concerned when news broke in September of the $50 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly carried out by Bernard Madoff. “I said I better take some money out and called, but there was never an answer. I called the FBI and said there is something wrong, and one week later he was arrested,” she said. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack. We couldn’t sleep and I never felt so much anger in my life.”

According to Nunes, who works in finance, the totalinvestment had grown to about $1 million by the time the scheme came crashing down. We lost everything… I don’t think he cared.”

Paul McGirr of Flushing said he invested more than $70,000 through Agape’s Maspeth office, starting in March 2007. “I had guys at work that said they were getting 14 percent returns on their money,” he recalled. “I said nobody pays that.”

A week later, a broker discussed the plan with him and said the only risk was losing one percent on the principal investment. After researching the company and calling a few of its investors, McGirr invested $70,000. Soon, his account was up to $79,835, and like most, McGirr listened to his broker’s advice to roll the money over.

In December, when he began noticing that some of the company’s loans were defaulting, he visited the Maspeth office and asked for some of his money. He was told that a check would be issued later that month. When that date came and went, he was told the check would be issued on January 20. “I waited until the 21st and started calling, but I couldn’t get through,” said McGirr. “That night one the news I heard, Long Island businessman arrested…”

Like many victims, McGirr had a “gut feeling that it was going south” over the past couple of months. “I wasn’t sure to what degree and still had some glimmer of hope the check would come on January 20. When January 21 came and the check wasn’t in the mail and I couldn’t get through on the phone, I knew we got scammed.”

A third victim, who lives in Laurelton and asked that her name not be used, invested $10,000 – the minimum amount – with her husband. She was referred to one of Agape’s brokers through her accountant, which led her to believe it was legit. “He showed us checks with these returns, and it looked good, a check for seven thousand, five thousand. Who wouldn’t want that if your account was showing you it?” she recalled.

Starting in July 2007, the couple watched as their investment grew to nearly $20,000as they kept rolling the dividends over. The return fell from 12% to 10% in August 2008, as people began trying to get their money back.

“We did get concerned and went out and talked to [broker] Anthony Massaro, but he assured us everything was okay,” she said. “When the Madoff thing hit the fan, my husband thought we might be in a Ponzi scheme.”

About three weeks after their final office visit, she heard on the radio that Cosmo had been arrested. “I could kill him,” the victim said. “I’m sorry about the people who invested so much more. I was trying to get my husband to pull out money elsewhere to put in there. We would have been wiped out clean, our daughter’s college fund, everything.”

In the same way each victim was brought into the scam in a similar manner, many have similar advice for others. “If it looks too good to be true, it’s rotten,” said the Laurelton victim. “Because it was my accountant who told me, I figured it had to be good. Whether it’s the accountant of the Pope, run away – don’t walk.”

Said McGirr: “If you’re making more than eight or nine percent, there is no such thing. Thoroughly check it out, and only go with a big house broker. This individual crap, forget about it, you got no backing, no leg to stand on when it goes south.”

Civic Gets Detailed Look at Downzoning

Effort Intended to Retain Area’s Character

By Conor Greene

Years after volunteers went door-to-door to survey the neighborhood’s existing character their efforts are starting to pay off, as a new zoning plan might be approved by the end of the summer.

A detailed look at the plan to downzone portions of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale highlighted Juniper Park Civic Association’s meeting last Thursday in Our Lady of Hope. The rezoning, which has been underway for three years, is intended to preserve the neighborhoods’ character and prevent out-of-context development.

The plan could be certified by the Department of City Planning (DCP) as soon as April, meaning it would go to the City Council for final approval in late summer or early fall – which can’t come soon enough for residents who have watched as developers destroyed countless blocks with huge projects allowed under the existing zoning.

“Hopefully we will have our neighborhood back from these developers who build big homes,” said JPCA President Robert Holden, who has taken the city to task over the past few years as the downzoning effort languished in the DCP. “We’ve been waiting for three long years.”

City Planning representative Tom Smith walked the roomful of residents and officials through the plan, which covers more than 300 blocks within the three neighborhoods. He explained that the majority of the current R-4 zoning “really allows for a full variety” of housing styles, including one, two and three family units and apartment buildings as tall as four stories.

“The problem is it doesn’t necessarily match up with the existing character,” said Smith. In addition, the R-4 zoning is susceptible to “infill” projects, which allows development of greater density on land surrounded by previously developed parcels. “We went lot by lot, block by block… to really match [the new zoning] to what the building character is.”

The result in the majority of the study area is zoning that allows for one-and-two-family homes as tall as three-stories, according to Smith. The densest type of development would be in R5D districts along Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard allowing three-and four-story buildings with first-floor retail space.

However, about 40 blocks that were included in the study area will not be rezoned under the current plan, said Smith. He said the “vast majority are row homes” in areas that “don’t fit into contextual zones.” Smith described these areas as “stable with very little development.” Since they are already built out, “it wouldn’t make any sense to add to these buildings or to take them down,” said Smith.

Still, Paul Graziano, a certified urban planner who assisted the JPCA with the downzoning effort, said he is concerned that such large swaths of the neighborhood are remaining R-4, which leaves them vulnerable to infill development.

“When you get areas that are rezoning, but have areas that are not rezoned, a lot of the development pressure goes there, even if it is not happening now,” he said in response to Smith’s assertion that the areas left untouched have not been targeted by developers in recent years.

Holden blamed infill development on many of the cases where developers replace a one-family home with a three-family building. “That’s what destroys our neighborhood – no parking, congestion,” he said. “The developers are controlling what’s going on here. We’re going to take this, but we’re going to fight [against] infill.”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) vowed to push the project forward and noted that the environmental review process, which takes about six weeks, is underway. “It really affects our quality of life day to day,” said Crowley. “It protects a lot of blocks.”

According to DCP, zoning for the area has remained unchanged since 1961 and this effort comes at the request of the community after portions of Middle Village and Glendale were rezoned in 2006. “The Department of City Planning’s blueprint for the area is intended to respect and reinforce the existing build character,” said a spokeswoman in a statement. “Last week’s meeting was an opportunity for the Department to share our draft proposal and build a consensus.”

State Provides Funding to Area Hospitals; Refuses to Bail Out St. John's and Mary Immaculate

By Conor Greene

After refusing to bailout bankrupt St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals, the state Department of Health announced on Wednesday that it is providing money to other area facilities to help deal with a spike in patients.

St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica stopped admitting patients on Saturday, including to their emergency rooms, as they prepare to close completely in the coming weeks. The move comes a week after parent company Caritas Health Care filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and submitted a closure plan to the state.

Last Friday, residents, community leaders and hospital staff gathered outside St. John’s in a last-ditch effort to convince Governor David Paterson to step in and save the hospitals.

However, their demands fell on deaf ears, and the hospitals began restricting admissions at midnight – leading to concerns that other area facilities will become overburdened by the increased demand for their services.

On Wednesday, state Health Commissioner Richard Daines announced $18 million in grants being provided to local hospitals “to ensure that residents of Queens continue to have access to essential health care services.” The money will also provide job placement services to the nearly 3,000 health care workers who lost their jobs when St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed.

“These grants will help other health care facilities in the area expand their capacity to absorb the patients previously handled by these two Caritas hospitals and assist workers in finding new employment,” said Daines in a statement.

The grants include $14.5 million to expand capacity at eight facilities serving the Queens community and the extension of a state Department of Health contract with 1199 SIEU for the Displaced Workers Program. That will make up to $3 million available for job counseling, placement and retraining for displaced workers.

According to the press release, the state DOH has given “contingent approval for the closure plan” submitted by Caritas. “Despite over $55 million in state loans to Caritas, the hospital system was unable to develop a viable plan for continued operation,” the release notes.

In addition to the $3 million contract extension to 1199 SIEU for job counseling, placement and retraining, the following grants have been awarded:

•Health and Hospitals Corporation of New York City will receive
$3.6 million to expand patient capacity and emergency room services at its Elmhurst and Queens Hospital Centers;

•Medisys will receive $4.5 million for its Jamaica and Flushing sites;

•North Shore LIJ will receive $3.5 million for its Forest Hills and Franklin facilities;

•Wyckoff Medical Center near Ridgewood will receive $2.7 million;

•The Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center will receive $650,000 to maintain primary and preventative services at the St. Dominic’s Health Care Center.

The decision to provide the grant money comes as City Comptroller William Thompson, Councilman Tony Avella, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and other elected officials have called upon the state to provide Caritas with the funding needed to keep the two hospitals open.

“The closing of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Hospitals would not only have a detrimental affect on the 2,500 hospital employees by Caritas Health Care, but also on the entire Borough of Queens, which relies heavily on their medical services,” said Avella. “The best solution at this point would be for HHC [Health and Hospitals Corp] to take over the administration of these two hospitals. It would improve management operations and, I believe, make it easier for the State and City to allocate funding to keep the hospitals open.”

Combined, the hospitals have about 450 beds and serve nearly 200,000 patients each year. Mary Immaculate is a level-one trauma center and houses a cancer institute and 115-bed nursing home. St. John’s is a certified stroke and heart failure center and has the borough’s only hyperbaric oxygen therapy unit.

“People will die if the Health Department closes these hospitals,” said Therese Wittner, a registered nurse and representative for the state Nurses Association at Mary Immaculate. “It is also unthinkable that 115 elderly people will be put out of the Fitzpatrick nursing home where they have lived for up to 15 years and developed close family times… The surrounding hospitals are overflowing and will not be able to handle the volume of patients. We are already seeing the consequences.”

According to the DOH, the closure date for St. John’s and Mary Immaculate is February 28.

Wind-Fueled Fire Destroys Woodhaven Homes

Two Firefighters, Two Civilians Injured in Five-Alarm Blaze

By Conor Greene

A raging fire engulfed a dozen homes along 96th Street in Woodhaven last week, forcing firefighters to battle heavy smoke and winds for several hours before bringing the blaze under control.

The five-alarm fire, which was reported at 12:30 p.m. last Thursday near 91st Avenue, destroyed 11 houses and damaged a twelfth before it was brought under at 3:30 p.m. It had already spread to several homes by the time units first reached the scene, and 235 firefighters and EMS were eventually called to the scene. Two firefighters and two civilians were treated for minor injuries.

Battalion Chief Sal Cassano said that heavy winds hampered firefighter’s efforts to knock down the fire, which spread between the homes through a shared cockloft in the attic. “Once the fire gets from the top floor into the cockloft, there is no subdivision inside to stop it,” he told reporters at the scene. “It takes off very quickly, and on a windy day like today it takes off even faster… We had heavy smoke initially when we arrived.”

One of the victims, who identified himself as a retired police officer named Mike, tried to console his wife as the couple stood watching their house burn. He said he was able to save the dog but was unable to find the family’s cats inside the smoke-filled house.

“The kids are safe, we’re ok. We worked hard for all this, but we will be fine,” he said, kissing his grief-stricken wife. “It hasn’t set in yet. I’m just still in awe… I smelled smoke inside the house and someone rang the bell and said the house next door is on fire. I grabbed the dog and ran out,” he said.

Fatima Coloa was also able to flee from a nearby house before it became engulfed in flames. “My brother actually called me while I was sleeping,” the teenager said. “There was smoke inside the house. As soon as I ran out, that’s when one of the windows busted out with the fire.”

While FDNY investigators were still working to determine the cause of the fire, neighbors said it may have been started by a person smoking a cigarette. Eleven homes were left uninhabitable, and the city ordered the buildings vacant, leaving residents with just the clothes on their backs and the few items they were able to grab on their way out.

A huge crowd gathered near the intersection of 96th Street and 91st Avenue, about two blocks east of Woodhaven Boulevard, and watched as exhausted firefighters doused the homes in water, which was blown by the wind as it came out of the hoses. Neighbors gave a blanket and coat to one girl who had fled her burning home in just her pajamas, and the Red Cross helped displaced residents find shelter.

Photos by Conor Greene
Click Here to See Additional Photos From the Scene

Crime Issues Discussed at JPCA Meeting

104th Precinct Commanding Officer Answers Questions

By Conor Greene

Residents were brought up to date on local crime statistics and incidents by members of the 104th Precinct at last Thursday’s Juniper Park Civic Association meeting in Middle Village.

Deputy Inspector Keith Green, commanding officer at the Ridgewood-based stationhouse, informed residents that major crime decreased by about three percent overall last year. In fact, there were declines in all of the seven major categories except grand larceny, which increased by about 16 percent.

“That covers a lot of different types of theft” and has been on the rise “throughout the city,” according to Green, who noted that much of the increase is due to a rash of thefts of high-end electronics from children who use them while walking down the street. “You need to educate them not to display expensive items,” he said.

Some of those incidents escalate from simple thefts to robberies or assaults involving violence, said Green, who added that many of the victims are as young as nine or ten years old. “They feel the need to hold [the electronics] right in their hands” in full view while in public, he said.

Through the first six weeks of this year crime is down 23 percent overall, said Green. The first homicide of the year occurred last week in Ridgewood, when a landlord was found dead inside his first-floor home on Greene Street. That incident is still being investigated by the 104th Precinct detectives and the Queens Homicide unit and a $2,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s conviction is currently being offered.

Deputy Inspector Green, who was joined at the meeting by Lieutenant Jerry Lester and Officer Tommy Bell, was asked about individuals from an energy company going door-to-door to solicit homeowners. Green said the individuals tend to come through the area every couple of months.

While their practices can be “aggressive,” they are “legitimate businesses” in many cases, Green told the crowd. However, he warned them to be aware of unscrupulous people posing as energy workers to gain entry into a home. “They target the elderly and talk their way into the home,” said Green, at which point one person occupies the tenant while another sneaks into the bedroom to steal cash and jewelry. “Don’t let them in if you didn’t call, and if you’re not sure about them, call 911 and we will come and figure it out,” he urged residents.

A resident who said he is new to the area asked about measures the precinct is taking to reduce the amount of drivers speeding along residential streets, especially in light of the recent death of 16-year-old Robert Ogle on 80th Street in Middle Village, who was hit along with a friend by an allegedly drunk driver on his way home from a party.

The resident asked if the precinct conducts DWI checkpoints, as are done on Long Island. “Blatantly, they don’t care about the law,” he said. “I watch them drive 90 miles per hour through a light in front of a park and school and kids.”

Green noted that a person was arrested in that incident and has been charged with vehicular manslaughter. He said the precinct has been making an effort over the past year to increase the number of drunk-driving arrests, which has resulted in a huge increase already this year. In addition, two additional officers have been trained to operate the radar gun. “We do it where there is a need,” said Green. “It is labor intensive and we have limited resources.” His officers focus on areas surrounding Juniper Valley Park and along Woodhaven Boulevard.

In connection with the February 1 incident that claimed the lives of Ogle and 20-year-old Alex Paul of Cypress Hills, a resident asked if the driver who left his car running outside a deli before it was stolen by the alleged hit-and-run driver would faces charges. Green said that while he discourages motorists from leaving their car unattended while running, doing so for more than three minutes only results in a summons and is not a criminal act.

A woman asked the officers what is done to inform residents when a registered sex offender moves into their neighborhood. Green noted that this question was likely prompted by rumors several months ago about a violent sex offender moving into an apartment on 81st Street across from Dry Harbor School. He informed the woman that there are no restrictions as to where sex offenders can move, including near schools, parks, daycare centers or playgrounds.

Green said NYPD does monitor registered sex offenders, but does not alert the public when one moves into a neighborhood. “It’s pretty much a checking in type of thing,” he said. “Believe me, people in the neighborhood knew about it before we did.” He noted that several websites allow the public to see if offenders are living nearby.

Later in the evening, State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said he has been informed by attorneys that it is unconstitutional to restrict where individuals can live. He is now proposing a system by which residents can sign up to be notified by e-mail or text message whenever a registered sex offender moves into the area.

A resident asked Deputy Inspector Green about recent incidents of thefts of wheels from vehicles parked overnight in front of people’s homes. The resident said he had heard of at least three more of these incidents in the past few weeks. “Is there any particular way for the 104th Precinct to target these people?” he asked. Green said that the incidents have gone back about a year and mostly involve “high end” vehicles.

Some arrests were made late last year in connection with a rash of thefts, and the trend had appeared to have slowed down. “The problem had abated but it’s coming back,” he said, adding that the individuals arrested were part of an organized team. “We’ve reduced it, but it is still going on.”

While the resident assumed these individuals were using a large truck or van to carry out the heists, Green said it was actually a Honda Accord that was used by the team caught last year. They likely used several vehicles, with one group loosening the lug nuts before another group arrived with crates to support the now wheel-less vehicle. “They are using non-descript vehicles and they are organized,” he said.

The final question was in regards to the attack of a Parks Department worker inside Juniper Valley Park several months ago. Green said that nobody has been arrested in connection with that attack, which occurred early in the morning as the worker was going into a bathroom. Officers recovered a knife from a nearby trash can, but it didn’t contain any fingerprints.

Suspicious Package, Bank Robbery and Perp Search in 104th Precinct

By Conor Greene

Suspicious Package Proves to be Empty Threat

A suspicious package found in front of the Chase Bank on Grand Avenue last Friday turned out to be an empty abandoned bag after the bomb squad investigated.

Officers responded to the bank, located at the corner of Hamilton and Grand avenues in Maspeth, at 4:28 a.m. last Friday after receiving a call of a suspicious package. Officers found a black attaché bag sitting on the sidewalk in front of the bank. They established a safe zone as a supervisor and the NYPD bomb squad and Emergency Services Unit headed to the scene.

An evacuation plan was put into place in case the situation was deemed dangerous. However, an investigation by the bomb squad determined that it was just an empty bag.

Valley National Bank Heist Nets $11K

A suspect made off with about $11,000 after holding up the Valley National Bank on Grand Avenue in Maspeth last Saturday morning.

A man, described by witnesses as a black male wearing a dark jacket and red hat, entered the bank at 64-01 Grand Avenue at about 11:40 a.m. He displayed a gun and demanded that tellers hand over money. He then fled the scene on foot, according to police.

A level-one mobilization was called and a crime scene established as officers from the 104th Precinct conducted a grid search of the surrounding area. Despite assistance from an NYPD aviation unit, the suspect remains at large.

The incident is still being investigated by the NYPD Major Case Joint Robbery Task Force and the 104th Precinct detective squad.

Suspect Flees During Vehicle Stop

A suspect escaped from police as he was being detained during a motor vehicle stop in Glendale, leading to a huge search that ended in his arrest.

Officers from the 104th Precinct stopped a black Acura at 8:36 p.m. Sunday night at the corner of 68th Street and Cooper Avenue because of its tinted windows. During the stop, the officers became suspicious and asked the three occupants to get out of the vehicle.

As the officers were patting down one of the men, the suspect informed him that he was on parole. The officer noticed a large bulge in the man’s waistband and began to handcuff him, at which point the suspect pulled away, threw a bag of cocaine to the side and fled from the scene. The officer immediately took the other two individuals into custody and called for backup.

A level-one mobilization was called and a grid search was conducted, but officers were unable to locate the suspect. Later that evening, however, the investigation led police to 70-11 65th Place, where the man was located. He was identified as 32-year-old Noel Hernandez.

The other two individuals who remained at the scene were identified by police as Nicholas Condos, 20, of Glendale and Violetta Marashaj, 17, of Hopewell Junction.

Budget Woes Top CB 5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

A discussion on the requests being submitted to the city for the 2010 budget highlighted last week’s Community Board meeting.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano informed board members and residents in attendance last Wednesday in Christ the King High School that the city’s current budget situation is “very difficult at best” as a result of the nationwide economic crisis. With about $1.5 billion less coming in through projected tax revenues, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed “significant budget cuts” in many important areas, said Giordano.

According to Giordano, proposed cuts include about $94 million from Department of Environmental Protection; $455 million from the Education Department; $1 million from Department of Buildings; $17 million from Housing; $23 million from Parks; $33 million from the Department of Aging; $136 million from Administration of Children’s Services and $9 million from City Planning.

The FDNY budget is due to increase by $5 million while the NYPD’s increases by $87 million, under the mayor’s preliminary budget. The Sanitation Department would receive a $22 million increase in its budget under the current play.

However, according to Giordano, the police and fire increases are likely due to wage increases, as the NYPD’s head count will reduce from 31,349 this year to 28,656, and the FDNY ranks would decline from 11,349 members this year to 10,929. As a result of the city’s budget woes, some items requested by the board have been put on hold.

“Lots of items we requested are difficult to pinpoint the extent to which they are going to get funded,” said Giordano. “Personally, I am more worried about police protection and fire protection than some of the capital items.”

However, Giordano did express confidence that the Cooper Avenue underpass project will move forward. “We lobbied hard for that in a lot of different directions,” he said, adding that he is expecting to receive at least half of the $20 million requested.

Other projects requested include measures to prevent flooding throughout the area, which Giordano said has begun starting in the northern portion near Calamus Avenue, and the construction of new catch basins, especially ones with brick that has worn away. A project to improve Grover Cleveland Park is being funded through the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative and should begin this year. Finally, Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) was able to secure funding for the second phase of the Ridgewood library project.

Beyond that, “other projects are difficult” to secure funding for, said Giordano. For example, reconstruction of south Middle Village streets has been pushed back to 2013, he said. Since that entire project is close to $20 million, “I don’t see that happening,” he said, suggesting that the board may have to divide the project into smaller sections to get it moving forward.

Editorial: Voters' Choice Tossed - No Place for TKO at Polticial Ringside

In the 32nd City Council district which covers parts of Richmond Hill, Ozone and South Ozone Parks, Woodhaven, Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and parts of the Rockaway peninsula, a special election for the city council seat will take place next Tuesday, February 24.

Although for our readers in the West, the election is not directly connected to their district, we wanted to share this editorial with them because what has happened in the 32nd could easily occur in any district, leaving constituents vulnerable and at the hands of those seeking elected office for all the wrong reasons.

In many past elections, this newspaper has endorsed candidates for various elections. This time our endorsement is somewhat unconventional. It goes to a candidate who is not in the race. His name is Frank Gulluscio and the reason Frank will not win this special election in because he was removed from the ballot due to a ruling by a judge in reference to the manner in which subpoenas for his petitions were served.

The purpose of gathering signatures for nominating petitions is for candidates to demonstrate that they have enough support from their potential constituents. We agree that there should be challenges to such volumes where flaws and defects exist concerning those who actually witnessed the signatures or in meeting requisite numbers of signatures, providing, of course, they were collected with no fraud involved.

But Geraldine Chapey has succeeded in making a mockery of the petition process, hiring a top-dollar election lawyer to get her opponents off the ballot not on the merit or quality of their signatures but technicalities that do not reflect the desire of the voters. To us that would strongly suggest that the voice of the people can be overruled by an error in paperwork or procedure. This we find inexcusable and void of ethic.

Last week we commented on the Wave’s debate in Rockaway where questions regarding Chapey’s city and state taxpayer funded Trinity Services were left unanswered in the minds of many. Chapey’s contemptuous attitude when a similar question arose from an audience member re-introduced the subject at this Thursday’s debate. It infuriated the crowd. At one point Chapey directed a comment to the audience. “If you don’t want to listen then please go outside.”

Chapey’s Trinity Services has been the recipient of well over a million dollars to provide youth and senior services. It is not an unfair question to ask who is employed by the program and how much of the money is spent on staffing. It’s not unreasonable to ask any other question regarding the disbursement of those public funds by a not-for-profit agency subject to public disclosure rules.

Another question that did not get asked but in our view requires an answer has been floating around regarding Trinity. People all across this country have been questioning and expressing dissatisfaction with the role lobbyists have been playing. Many believe, that a lot of our tax dollars have been wasted because lobbyists have influenced far too much in government to “feed” their clients from the public coffers.

A roam around another of our favorite sources of public information, the city’s lobbyist and client database, reveals some factoids. Between April 1, 2005 and December 31, 2008 Trinity Services, Inc. was the client of some well-known lobbyists to the tune of more than $60,000. Whose pockets did that money come out of as it moved into the pockets of the lobbyists is a fair question. Is that what the proceeds of the annual Trinity Luncheon were spent on? Is that what the “donations” to ride the van were spent on? Who knows? But, there are voters who want to know.

As if all this were not enough, the whole “pay to play” issue took another twist this week as the Daily News reported on an odd contribution to Chapey’s campaign coffers from the Bishop of Brooklyn. Bishops don’t usually mix themselves up publicly in “big” political races, much less the most local of local races. It doesn’t take much to agree that the “smell test” has turned in a pretty big failure in this case. Seems Candidate Chapey’s mother, the other Geraldine is a member of the State Education Department’s Board of Regents. The regents have a big say so when it comes to approving charter schools.

Now we’re not opposed to charter schools, but if a scheme is afoot to create them as political “rewards” rather than as a viable public education option for our children then something smells - please excuse the pun - to high heaven. Glenn DiResto got it right when he said in the News article, "It creates a suspicion of impropriety. This is politics as usual.”

Chapey was successful in narrowing the field of candidates. Her success was the voters’ loss. As candidates, both Frank Gulluscio and Eric Ulrich stood head and shoulders above Simon, Chapey, and Ricatto in all respects. Democracy lost in this round. Frank’s out, Eric’s in. The choice for the time being is clear as a bell. In November, we can all tune in for the race that should have been now.

The Forumnewsgroup/photo by JULIE COURT

Great Debate - Some Ill Equipped, Some Ill Mannered, but Prepardness Wins Crowd Over

Politics Unusual
By Patricia Adams

The last of the locally sponsored candidate debates took place last Thursday evening in meeting room at St. Barnabus Church. The Queens Chronicle and The Forum served up the first 45 minutes of questions and then opened the floor for a 20-minute round of pre-screened audience questions. There were pointed questions regarding a number of issues asked, some were answered, others skirted, while some left the candidates downright stumped.

There was no applause meter necessary to distinguish that Eric Ulrich drew the most active and verbal support of the standing-room only crowd. Of course everyone realizes that historically, candidates pack the audience with supporters and planted hecklers, but Mr. Ulrich was not only the recipient of cheers of those who accompanied him. The supporters of his opponents liked what he had to say as well. Ulrich came out way on top of this debate and deservedly so. For his command of the issues, combined with the best speaking style and the fact that he was so well prepared, we put him at the head of the class for this event.

Lew Simon was Lew Simon. Opinions of his candidacy were expressed here weeks ago and we believe that his long-standing track record of documented untruthfulness eliminates him from consideration because of the obvious deficits in character associated with not telling the truth. And really why elect Lew to the city council? According to him he’s already doing the job for you, so why not just get two councilmen for the price of one. It is only fair to give credit where it is due however, and we must say that Lew has a somewhat effective dynamic when speaking and does have a strong command of many of the issues-- albeit seen in his own light.

Glenn DiResto is apparently a nice guy. A retired NYPD Lieutenant, DiResto makes no bones about the fact that he is not a politician or a polished speaker. He simply wants to come in and do what’s best for the district. Touting his years in law enforcement as a strong training ground for understanding what the district needs, DiResto cites the same experience as his foundation for understanding the structure and mechanisms of city government. We like DiResto and have a feeling we will be seeing more of him in the future. For now though, he is not ready, but certainly has had a great opportunity to experience some of the highs of politics and bear witness to some of the all time lows we’ve ever seen in a local race.

When speaking about Mike Ricatto we can’t really say more than Mike says himself. He’s a businessman. While we have great respect for the success of people who make the most out of a good business model, in the times we are facing currently, the savvy of business is not what will bring home the bacon to this district. A true understanding of the issues, priorities and functions of city government is the only formula for any semblance of holding on for the upswing; for according to the proposed budget, there is no bacon to bring home. His obvious unfamiliarity of the area, centered both on geography and major issues, and his political inexperience will not send Mike Ricatto to the City Council this time around.

The remaining candidate, Geraldine Chapey, brought with her something the other candidates seemed to have left at the door — an attitude. A bad one. Chapey spent most of her opening statements reveling in a tale about a “kindergarten epiphany” when her mother, also named Geraldine Chapey, essentially explained to the teacher that while other children were quick to give up tasks, her Geraldine always took them on and finished them. Her answers to the questions were indirect, lacked substance and often spoke about connections to other governmental representatives with whom she had good working relationships. The position of city councilmember is just that. The district is not seeking an ambassador.

Chapey largely emphasized her academic achievements but if this were a classroom, we can’t see her even approaching a passing grade for this event. Her answers drew boos from the crowd and in a collective opinion, an angry audience delivered a message to Chapey—they were disgusted with her antics. Her apparent unwillingness to answer a direct question did not bode well. Transparency, when it comes to the spending of public money is something voters all across this country are clamoring for. The public has a right to know. Elected officials and wannabe elected officials are subject to open questioning from those they seek to represent. Voters have the right to seek information and it is the obligation of a candidate to answer direct questions directly without dissembling.

But it wasn’t until the last round - when candidates got to pose questions to each other — that were taken from interesting and informative, to shall we say — a new level. When Eric Ulrich brought what he called to the room “the eight-hundred pound gorilla,” he touched on the subject that has everyone up in arms over the legitimacy of this race. Ulrich asked a pointed question of Chapey — “Geraldine why don’t you want Frank Gulluscio in this race?” Her first response was to ask Eric why he challenged the petitions of another candidate. Once again Ulrich rose to the top expressing that Frank Gulluscio belongs in the race because of all his work and experience in the district and making perfectly clear that his challenge to Mike Ricatto was because in his eyes, Ricatto was a ‘Johnny-come-lately to the district’ carpetbagger.

It was at this point when Chapey revealed herself to be, not a viable candidate for city council, but one who considers this election comparable to a game. “When you go into the pool hall,” Chapey said, “the rules are posted on the wall.”

Well guess what Dr. Chapey, you are trying to head for City Hall, not a pool hall where random balls are sunk into felt pockets using cue sticks. You don’t need a cue, you need a clue. This is no game.

Your answers and your attitude were not one bit reflective of the academic, Christian and proud Irish heritage you claim is the fabric of your existence. In an all important special election in the 32nd, you’ve created an upheaval not at all deserved by the people of this district, especially in an already difficult set of circumstances.

Until next week…

Diplomat Accused of Beating Wife "Like a Dog"

A diplomat from Afghanistan has been charged with felony assault after police said he subjected his wife to an all-day beating inside their home last week.

Mohammed Fagirad, 30, of Flushing was charged last Friday with second-degree assault and fourth-degree grand larceny after allegedly beating his 22-year-old wife over a 15-hour period on February 11. Fagirad, who is assigned as a vice consul at the Afghanistan Consulate, faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on the charges.

Authorities say that Fagirad terrorized his wife inside their apartment at 144-34 26th Avenue beginning when he grabbed his wife by the neck and held her against a wall with one hand at about 8 a.m. last Wednesday morning. When he let her go, she fell to the floor where he held her arm and repeatedly slapped her about the face and head, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Fagirad then told his wife that she was a “dog” and that he was “going to treat her like a dog,” according to prosecutors. He allegedly struck her about the back with a belt at least three times as she lay on the floor. He then pushed her down a flight of stairs consisting of about thirteen steps before leaving the apartment. Once Fagirad left the residence, his wife went to the 109th Precinct stationhouse to file a report before returning home.

After Fagirad returned a short time later, he took his wife’s cell phone from her jacket pocket and used it to call police to file a counterclaim. He then picked up his wife, slammed her into the floor and sat on her chest for about three to four minutes while grabbing her around the neck.

According to a spokesman for the district attorney, Fagirad was charged with grand larceny as a result of physically taking possession of his wife’s cell phone from her. When police arrived at the apartment after he called to file a counterclaim, they realized that his wife had filed a complaint at the stationhouse earlier that day.

As result of the attacks, Fagirad’s wife suffered bruising to her neck and right eye and scratches and bruising to her left hand, according to authorities. She was taken to a local hospital where she was treated for injuries to her back, ribs and neck.

“The defendant is accused of repeatedly and savagely beating his wife over a prolonged period – at one point, even leaving their residence only to return and inflict more harm on her,” said Brown in a statement. “Such conduct has no place in a civilized society.”

The district attorney’s office said that Fagirad only receives immunity for acts that are part of his official duties – for example, he cannot be forced to testify on court about the actions of the people he works with.

Trying Just Isn't Enought

By Steve Tiszenkel

Here's a fun experiment you can try at home: Start a blog dedicated to following and commenting on events in your neighborhood and see how long it takes for you to start getting endless press releases from organizations that have only the most tenuous connection — or none at all — to the neighborhood in question.

I'm guessing it won't be long before your inbox looks a little like mine. One day it's mayoral candidate Bill Thompson sending yet another harsh criticism of the Bloomberg administration; the next it's the Queens Public Library announcing that members of the Tuskegee Airmen will be giving a talk in Jamaica; the day after that it's the Willets Point chop shops writing to let me know they won't stand for their land being confiscated to build bars for rich people adjacent to Citi Field. None of it has anything to do with my stated coverage area of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Briarwood. When Anthony Weiner starts sending me harsh criticisms of the Bloomberg administration, then we can talk.

I remember exactly when all this started. It was back when Queens guru John Roleke encouraged me, at the time a novice neighborhood blogger, to get a free lunch by e-mailing the Forest Hills Community House and getting press credentials for its excellent annual Taste of Forest Hills event. I was skeptical that this would work, but lo and behold, the Taste was thrilled to have me. And apparently also thrilled to have me was The Shops at Atlas Park, the Glendale open-air mall and Taste sponsor, which proceeded to assume I was interested in everything going on at a shopping center not exactly in my coverage area, not just a Forest Hills food festival it was somehow involved in.

The Shops at Atlas Park wrote to let me know about gala store openings. It wrote to tell me about giant bears it hauled out on its central green to lure kids in for Christmas, and about musical performances by bands briefly popular 10 years ago. Every few days, like clockwork, there was The Shops at Atlas Park — or more specifically, its expensive Manhattan public relations firm that also lists the Yankees and the Guggenheim, among many others, as clients — informing me of some exciting new development at Queens' most innovative retail destination.

Yes, no doubt Atlas Park wanted me to publicize each of the events it had organized to bring in elusive new customers. But there was also an underlying theme to all its missives: We Are a Very Professional Operation. And it was more than just the by-the-book press releases that gave that impression — a simple visit to the place, with its animated fountain, immaculate buildings and high-end shops not found elsewhere in the borough, confirms it.

Or maybe I should say confirmed it. The future of Atlas Park is now very much in doubt. Last week two banks foreclosed on Atlas Park, and Atco Properties and Management, which developed the “lifestyle center,” is no longer in charge. According to The New York Times, the mall's stores recently got a letter stating that the banks would choose a new management company. But who that management company will be and what it will choose to do with the property is still a mystery. Will we still see the dedication Atco had to bringing a touch of class to a section of Queens just blocks from Archie Bunker's house? Will the quality of the retail drop significantly? Will it even continue as a mall? The possibilities are many, but improvement doesn't seem like one of them.

I've often suggested, in this space and elsewhere, that the only reason our area doesn't sport more consistently excellent retail, attractions and culture is simply a reluctance for forward-thinking people to try. But now the national economic crisis seems to have thrown the first major wrench into that theory.

True, Atlas Park had some obstacles to overcome. It was ill-accessible from public transportation, so much so that it was the subject of a controversy when the MTA—run by Atco chief and the father of Atlas Park mastermind Damon Hemmerdinger—rerouted a bus to serve the area. Maybe its traditionally blue-collar environs weren't ready for a shopping experience that looked like it dropped in from an upscale San Fernando Valley suburb. But you could never fault the place for trying.

So I suppose it's official: Trying just isn't enough anymore.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website, Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

DA and NYPD to Host Gun Buyback Program

$200 Offered in Exchange for Illegal Firearms

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly will join six local church pastors on Saturday for a gun buyback program, which aims to take illegal guns off the streets by offering a $200 cash return for each eligible weapon surrendered.

Guns must be dropped off at one of six locations in the Rockaways and South Queens between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. All transactions will be anonymous with no questions asked, and individuals will receive a $200 bank card in exchange for illegal handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Functional BB guns and air pistols can be exchanged for a $20 bank card. All guns must be functional, and no guns will be accepted from active or retired law enforcement officials. The bank cards can be used as a debit card or to withdraw money from an ATM.

There is no limit to the number of guns individuals can surrender, but payment will only be issued for up to three weapons. Plainclothes police officials, QDA Detective Investigators and members of the NYPD Queens District Attorney Squad will be at the churches to accept the firearms.

Participants are encouraged to use paper or plastic bags or shoe boxes to transport the guns to the church. If transported by vehicle, weapons must be kept in the trunk.

The program is centered on neighborhoods in the Rockaways and South Queens, where homicides increased from 43 to 71 last year.

“The ultimate goal of this law enforcement initiative is to get as many guns as possible off the streets of Queens County in order to reduce firearm violence and bring about safer neighborhoods for all residents,” said Brown. “The support of the community is critical to the success of this program and emblematic of the level of cooperation needed by law enforcement to ensure the safety of everyone.”

Participating mainland churches are: Praise Tabernacle, 108-11 Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica; Evangel Temple, 227-10 Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton; Majority Baptist Church, 115-21 Farmers Boulevard in Jamaica; and Presbyterian Baptist Church, 190-01 119th Avenue in Saint Albans.

Nusing Home Employee Convicted of Sex Attack

A Corona man has been convicted of sexually molesting a 64-year-old Alzheimer’s patient at a Flushing nursing home where he worked, authorities announced. He now faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced next month.

Juan Tavares-Nunez, 55, of 33-41 104th Street was convicted last Wednesday of first-degree criminal sexual act and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person after a one-week jury trial. Following the verdict, Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Kohm revoked the defendant’s $250,000 bail and ordered him remanded into custody until he is sentenced on March 5. He will also be required to register as a sex offender and submit his DNA to the nationwide database.

According to evidence established at trial, Tavares-Nunez, while working as a porter at Cliffside Nursing Home on Graham Court in Flushing, entered the room of a bedridden Alzheimer patient - who is completely dependent on others for daily activities - and sexually molested her on the afternoon of July 27, 2007. The crime came to light when the defendant’s supervisor observed the incident and reported it. Tavares-Nunez, who worked at Cliffside for about nine years, was immediately fired.

“The defendant stands convicted of committing a particularly heinous crime against one of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Brown. “A nursing facility should always be viewed as a patient’s home away from home. To force anyone to endure such a traumatic incident – especially one at such a fragile stage in their life – is beyond moral comprehension.”

The investigation was conducted by the NYPD’s Queens Special Victims Squad and was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Dianna L. Megias, of the DA’s Special Victims Bureau.

More Photos from Woodhaven Fire

Photos courtesy of Susan St. John