Thursday, March 26, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South


Residents to Fight Natural Gas Storage Island Plan

In Wake of Tragedy, a Push to Prevent Unattended Car Idling

Outrage Over Engine 271 Closing

New Push for Dog Run in Juniper Valley Park

Hearing Held on Ridgewood Theater Landmarking

New Executive Officer for 106th Precinct

Contractor Admits to Underpaying Employees on City Projects

Eleven Charged in Sports Gambling Ring

Residents to Fight Natural Gas Storage Island Plan


Company Wants to Build Off-Shore Island

By Conor Greene

Environmentalists are gearing up to fight a company’s proposal to build a man-made island off the Rockaway coast that would be used to store liquid natural gas delivered by huge tankers. Concerns include environmental and security issues - and some question whether the need for natural gas imports even exists.

The Atlantic Sea Island Group has applied for federal permits needed to build the Safe Harbor Island thirteen miles off the coast. The island would be at least 60 acres at the water surface and more than 110 acres at the ocean floor, containing about 700,000 truckloads of fill – ten times the volume of the Empire State Building. Tankers from nations such as Russia and Iran would deliver the liquid natural gas, which would then be converted to natural gas and transported to consumers through an existing pipeline.

At a joint meeting Tuesday night hosted by the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers and the Rockaway Park Homeowners/Residents Association, a New Jersey-based group called Clean Ocean Action educated residents about the proposal, and the need for residents in both states to fight it. “This is not a company that appreciates how important the ocean environment is to those who live here,” said Cynthia Zipf of Clean Ocean Action.

The project has also caught the attention of environmental groups in the Rockaways. “This particular project slipped past the radar screen,” said Dan Mundy, Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers. “It’s been a long road to get the ocean back – it’s amazing how much improvement there’s been in the past 20 years.” He added that it was “not by accident” that many residents are now aware of this “stealth project.”

Aside from the environmental implications, some residents and officials are concerned about the potential for a large-scale accident or terrorist attack. “It will create the perfect terrorist target,” said Mundy, Jr. during the meeting, which attracted a large crowd in PS 225 in Rockaway Park. “The bottom line is, at the end of the day nobody here benefits from this. It’s the first step in basically an industrialization of the ocean.”

Zipf echoed the sentiment that we “don’t want to turn our oceans into an industrial park” as she presented a PowerPoint presentation on the proposal. She said the key to fighting it is to “galvanize” residents in both New Jersey and along the South Shore of New York. “We have got to be loud and clear,” she said.

After hearing about these proposals for liquid natural gas docking stations, Clean Ocean Action investigated this type of energy to see if there might be a benefit to U.S residents. “What we came to was the conclusion that LNG is not in any of your interests.” Instead, it will only benefit “big corporations that stand to make millions.”

According to Clean Ocean Action, 97% of the nation’s current need for natural gas comes from sources within North American, with 86% produced within the United States. In addition, two LGN facilities that opened in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana and Texas are only operating at 10% capacity because the demand for imported LNG doesn’t exist, said Zipf. “We should be fighting back against becoming addicted to another foreign country” for our energy needs, she added. “We don’t want to go down that road again.”

Congressman Anthony Weiner told the crowd that there is “a lot more we don’t know about this proposal than we know” and said the Coast Guard will hold a public hearing on the proposal before any approvals are granted. “Until we know some of those answers, none of us are in a position to sign off on it,” he said. In order for it to be approved, it must be safe in terms of both security and environment, and must make sense economically. “I have not seen scrap paper one from a non-biased source answering those questions.”

In a statement, Weiner previously vowed to use his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee “to ensure that New York City residents are not ignored in this process… If we are going to make an informed decision we need to hear from the federal agencies and Atlantic Sea Island Group.”

Company officials were not present at the meeting, and have not responded to several requests seeking comment on the proposal. Howard Bovens, chairman of Atlantic Sea Island Group, told the Daily News that the company would spend at least $700 million in contractor wages for the project, which he claims will result in cheaper energy costs. “We don’t pose a threat to people. We think we bring a lot more benefits to the South Shore than problems,” he said.

The proposal is just one of three being considered for the waters between New Jersey and New York. Exxon previously attempted to get approval to build a floating island in the Long Island Sound, which has never been attempted before, but the governor of Connecticut rejected it. The same plan was also rejected in California. In addition, a company called Excalibur is considering seeking approval for another island off the coast of Asbury Park, New Jersey. In addition, the Atlantic Sea Island Group has never completed this type of project in the past, something that further concerns residents.

Currently, state governors have the ability to veto these types of projects, which is why the proposals for California and the Long Island Sound didn’t materialize. Zipf said that New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has supported LNG in his Energy Master Plan, but Gov. David Paterson has yet to take a position, and still has the ability to nix the Safe Harbor Island proposal.

For Zipf, the key to fighting this is for residents and officials opposed to all three proposals to band together. “They said we could never end ocean dumping [but] the power of the people won that day,” she said. “We absolutely can do it – it’s just a matter of gearing up for this battle.”

In Wake of Tragedy, a Push to Prevent Unattended Car Idling


Crowley Introduces City Council Legislation
HIT AND RUN SUSPECT ATTEMPTED SUICIDE

By Conor Greene

Nearly two months after a man driving a stolen car killed two pedestrians, the defendant has yet to appear in court after attempting suicide, and a local council member has introduced legislation she hopes will help prevent such tragedies in the future.

Kenneth Guyear, 27, is facing up to 25 years in prison for running down 16-year-old Robert Ogle (left) and 20-year-old Alex Paul on 80th Street in Middle Village in the early morning hours of February 1. However, Guyear’s last two scheduled appearances in Queens Criminal Court were postponed because he tried to kill himself while in custody, according to his former attorney.

Guyear was admitted to the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital after the suicide attempt following his arrest, said attorney Ruth Addadoo-Johnson of the Legal Aid Society. Since he was just recently released from the hospital and returned to Rikers Island, court appearances scheduled for March 12 and March 19 were adjourned.

Guyear, of Middle Village, is now scheduled to appear in court on April 6. His current attorney, Scott Bookstein, refused on Tuesday to comment on the proceedings against his client. When asked to confirm that Guyear had tried to kill himself, Bookstein responded, “What does no comment mean?”

The tragic events began when Ogle and Paul were walking to Ogle’s house after attending a house party at a nearby friend’s house in Middle Village. Meanwhile Guyear, who later admitted to being drunk, stole a car that was left running outside a Woodhaven Boulevard deli. Just minutes later, Ogle and Paul were lying dead in the middle of 80th Street, only blocks from their destination.

Currently, the fine for leaving your car running while its unattended is just five dollars, according to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). In hopes of discouraging others from leaving their vehicles open to theft, she has introduced legislation to raise the penalty to $250. Crowley was joined by Robert Ogle’s parents, Brendan and Mei, and Council Members John Liu and David Weprin on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to announce the legislation.

“A few weeks ago, a seemingly avoidable tragedy struck my district,” said Crowley. “Sadly, the deaths of the two young men… may have been avoided if a man had not left his car running while shopping in a store.”

Liu, who chairs the Transportation Committee, noted that another similar tragedy occurred weeks before Ogle and Paul’s death when an unoccupied van was left in reverse, causing it to jump the curb of a Chinatown sidewalk. The van rammed into a group of preschool students, killing two and injuring at least 11 other people.

“Unattended idling vehicles pose a substantial danger to the public,” said Liu. “The danger has been brought to light by recent tragedies where vehicles have gone into motion without anyone in the driver’s seat… We must simply shut the engine off.”

Ogle was a junior at Brooklyn Technical High School, where he played football and aspired to be a journalist. Paul lived in Cypress Hill, Brooklyn and had met Robert that night at a mutual friend’s party.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, attended Tuesday’s press conference and it “good legislation” that could save lives. If an unattended vehicle is stolen and then used during a crime, Holden thinks there should be both criminal and motor vehicle penalties incurred. “There has to be some kind of responsibility because you obviously are making it easier for criminals,” he said.

In partnership with the new law, Council Member Crowley is working with Council Member John Liu to implement an awareness campaign to prevent people from leaving their cars running while unattended. “Leaving your car running and unattended seems like a minor, careless mistake, but all New Yorkers must understand that it is irresponsible, dangerous and potentially deadly,” said Crowley.

The Queens District Attorney’s Office didn’t respond to several messages regarding the status of the case against Guyear.

Outrage Over Engine 271 Closing

By Conor Greene

Local officials, residents and the Uniformed Firefighters Association are ripping the city’s decision to close Engine Company 271 permanently on July 1 as a result of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget cuts.

The city announced last year that the company, which is located near the Ridgewood-Brooklyn border and helps serve parts of Queens, would be closed during overnight hours beginning January 17. It was then announced that Company 271 and three others slated for overnight closings would be eliminated entirely as part of FDNY budget cuts.

That news didn’t sit well with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who rallied against the closings on the steps of City Hall last Friday before attending the City Council hearings on budget cuts affecting public safety.

“The Fire Department is an essential service for the safety of the people of New York,” she said. “Even when the city is in a budget crisis, safety is the last thing we should sacrifice to fix a budget… As a city we are one of the highest profile terrorist targets in the world, and we have no room to compromise our emergency services.”

At the budget hearing, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) criticized FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta for not standing up to Mayor Bloomberg in opposition of the budget cuts. Avella, a mayoral candidate, told Scoppetta he should resign from his position rather than accept the closing of numerous firehouses around the city.

“It’s pretty disgraceful from my perspective that the fire commissioner, who is responsible to ensure fire safety throughout the entire city and protect his own firefighters, doesn’t stand up to what the mayor wants to do in terms of closing firehouses,” Avella later told The Forum. “He should say to the mayor that he can’t do those cuts, and if he’s forced to, that he will resign. But he laughs when I say that.”

In Avella’s view, not all city agencies are equal, meaning some, such as the fire department, should not be forced to make drastic cuts. While he blamed Scoppetta for not fighting the cuts, he said the blame ultimately falls with the mayor. “It has a direct impact on people’s lives and could cost lives, and you have a fire commissioner who is a total bureaucrat. Obviously the mayor is to blame to begin with for not realizing that the fire department shouldn’t be cut.”

In response to Avella’s criticism, Scoppetta questioned why Avella himself didn’t resign after he voted for a budget that included firehouse closings. “When you run into difficult times, when you are dealing with adversity, the response should not be, ‘I’m going to run away from this.’ The response should be “Let’s do the best we can, let’s see if we can make these cuts if we have to. And there is no question we have to given the deficit and the need to balance the budget,” said Scoppetta, according to a report in the Daily News.

During the hearing, Scoppetta said that the department’s budget is earmarked for counterterrorism initiatives, training services and new equipment to enhance emergency medical response. Crowley questioned his priorities, in light of the fact that firehouses are closing under the current budget.

“How can you talk about using the budget to enhance the emergency medical response through training and counterterrorism initiatives when the reality is you are closing firehouses and cutting out firefighters?” asked Crowley. “Doesn’t closing firehouses reduce the response time and put people at greater risk? There seems to be a case of mistaken priorities.”

According to the Uniformed Firefighters Association, just the nighttime closing of Engine Company 271 has resulted in the loss of several homes. In the early morning of March 18, with the company shut for the night, a three-alarm fire destroyed three homes and several neighborhood stores located near the Ridgewood Senior Citizen Center. The properties sustained severe damage, displacing several families and storeowners. If it hadn’t been closed, Engine 271 at 392 Himrod Street – about three blocks from the fire – would have been the first on scene.

The scene was nearly repeated this past Tuesday morning, when a fire broke out at 376Palmetto Street in Bushwick. Because there was additional manpower available, Engine Company 271 happened to be open and staffed that evening, according to Tom Butler of the UFA. Residents were blocked from the building’s fire escapes because of heavy smoke and flames, so the first firefighters on scene were forced to rip child-proof window guards before rescuing the trapped family.

“This fire could have easily resulted in numerous fatalities,” said Steve Cassidy, president of the UFA. “Today’s fire was the second significant one in Engine 271’s coverage area in less than a week. It is unsafe for the bean counters at City Hall to be playing God with people’s lives and safety.”

The blaze left residents shaken and grateful for the quick response from Engine 271. “You could feel the heat when it started,” said Chetkiela Jenkins. “You could hear the windows breaking and everything.”

“I commend the firemen,” said Elaine Hamilton. “We just kept saying to ourselves, we didn’t know how they kept going in there. And they were on the roof and I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.”

According to the UFA, the city has identified four firehouses to close and will identify another dozen it will shut in the next few months. Community Board 5 members voted against the nighttime closing in December, and District Manager Gary Giordano said on Tuesday that he is concerned about the pending closing, in part due to the company’s proximity to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. He also questioned the city’s assertion that the response time to emergencies would only increase by 20 seconds following the closing.

“I have a hard time believing the difference is only going to be 20 seconds, at least without endangering lives on the streets,” he said. “But these are very difficult budget times, and when you are talking about [closing] fire companies, you are desperate to close the gap. Usually, that would seem to be one of the last things you want to cut.”

New Push for Dog Run in Juniper Valley Park


The current off-leash site at Juniper, where a group would like a dog run. The JPCA has suggested a site elsewhere in the park due to the damage already caused to grass and trees in this area.(Photo by Christina Wilkinson)

By Conor Greene

The push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park has gained new momentum, with a group of animal lovers now lobbying the local community board for support.

Dogs are currently allowed to run off-leash in city parks from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., provided the park is open during those hours. That means that residents must bring their dogs to Juniper Valley Park from between when it opens at 6 a.m. until the off-leash time ends at 9 a.m., making it difficult for many people who work.

Joe Pisano, who lives three blocks from the park, has pushed the effort at the monthly Community Board 5 meetings since November. “More and more people in the neighborhood have dogs now and having three hours in the morning as the only legal off-leash just isn’t enough time for everybody… We’re just looking for the opportunity to enjoy our dogs in the park,” he said. “There’s something in that park for everyone except people with dogs.”

The battle over dogs in the Middle Village park goes back a number of years, to when the city Parks Department had an unofficial off-leash policy allowing dogs to run free from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. In 2006, the Juniper Valley Civic Association filed a lawsuit against the department on the grounds that the policy violated the city health code. The civic association was ultimately unsuccessful, but the lawsuit led to the formalizing of the Parks Department’s off-leash policy.

Now, members of the group Juniper Valley Park Dog Association including Pisano and Terri Sullivan are leading the effort to have a formal dog run area established in Juniper Valley Park. They would like it to be located in the same area currently used during the off-leash hours and are asking the Parks Department to simply erect a fence to enclose it.

“Now there are a lot of younger people who have a renewed energy and really want a dog park,” said Sullivan, who was involved in the prior battle with the JPCA over the issue. “I think it will happen, I just don’t know when.” She called it a natural progression from the off-leash law, which would be repealed in Juniper Valley Park if the dog run is created. “I do believe that it is a natural progression, but I know that the Juniper Civic doesn’t like changing Middle Village.”

However, JPCA President Robert Holden said that the association isn’t necessarily against the dog run, provided that it is done properly. He said that the area where the dogs currently go during the off-leash hours isn’t appropriate due to the proximity of about 30 large mature trees, which he said can be damaged by dog urine. Instead, he would like an area behind the bleachers near the roller hockey rink.

“I did some research and found that it is not a question of if the trees will be damaged – they will be,” he said. “The Juniper Civic is calling on Parks to save those trees, have the dogs immediately removed and the area they’re in now doesn’t become a run. They have done irreparable harm, and arborists have said there definitely shouldn’t be trees in a dog run. It is becoming a dirt area which kicks up. It is a health hazard at this point.”

The Parks Department “is working with the community to meet the needs of all our park patrons – both human and canine,” said a spokeswoman, who noted that while no formal proposal has been submitted for a dog area at Juniper Valley, there have been informal requests made. There are about 100 dog runs throughout the five boroughs, she said.

Community Board 5’s Parks Committee will hold a meeting on April 20 at the location in Juniper Valley currently used for off-leash hours “to try to figure out if there is something that’s better than the current situation,” said its district manager, Gary Giordano. He said the main problem might be finding a suitable location.

“One concern I have is that the current area is between two ballfields, so kids would be in the same vicinity.” While other locations might be more suitable, they likely would be closer to homes than the area currently used. “Even thought it is a big park, is there a perfect location? Probably not.”

In Holden’s opinion, the current location is clearly not appropriate. “You just don’t put a fence around a grassy area because it will quickly become a dirt area. I would hope the Parks Department would be a little more vigilant in protecting our natural resources and trees in general,” he said. “It is one of the nicest spots in the park for strolling, and you can’t avoid it.”

However, Pisano said the area Holden is suggesting near the hockey rink wouldn’t work because it is located in a crowded area near the walking track. Despite the obstacles that must be cleared, he vowed to continue the fight. “We just want to keep the pressure on. We’re not going to go away,” he said. “We’re building up the dog association, and there are more and more people now who are for it. I don’t want to demand anything, but I just don’t understand why it is so difficult.”

Hearing Held on Ridgewood Theater Landmarking


City’s Longest Running Movie House Abruptly Closed Last Year

By Conor Greene

The historic Ridgewood Theater came one step closer to gaining official city landmark status on Tuesday, when a hearing on the proposal was held in Manhattan.

The theater, located at 55-27 Myrtle Avenue, was considered the longest continuously running neighborhood theater in the city, and possibly throughout the nation. However, it abruptly shut its doors in March 2008, ending a run that began on December 23, 1916 when the Thomas Lamb-designed building opened as a vaudeville house. The following year, the 2,150-seat theater was converted into a movie theater.

The abrupt closure and placement of a sign advertising retail space across the building’s marquee caused local historians including Michael Perlman to worry that the historic structure would eventually be lost forever. Perlman founded the group Friends of the Ridgewood Theater and submitted an application to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to have the building’s exterior granted landmark status.

On Tuesday, the commission held a hearing on the application, with about 20 individuals and groups testifying in favor of the landmark status, according to Perlman. Among those backing the proposal were Thomas Lamb, a great-grandson of the building’s architect who submitted testimony that was read at the hearing, and Mario Saggese, one of the theater’s current co-owners, who testified in person.

Perlman informed the Landmarks Preservation Commission that the building was modeled after Times Square’s long-demolished Mark Strand Theater, which was the first movie palace in the world. “The three-story Indiana limestone and terra cotta fa├žade is highly ornate, incorporating unique geometric patterns, medallions, a frieze, pilasters and proudly boasts the name Ridgewood Theater,” he said. “Theaters are the ultimate public institutions which bridge generations, as they foster community growth and pride, harbor countless memories and often exhibit the work of our country’s most skillful architects.”

The owners indicated they are planning to re-open the space in the near future with a mix of retail stores and movie screens, said Perlman. “He said they are interested in preserving as many of the individual attributes as possible and adaptively reusing the space while keeping the history in mind. It really floored me to hear that they are not going to just jackhammer away.” On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that the space will reopen in July with a three-screen cinema and stores.

Thomas A. Lamb said in his written testimony that his greatgrandfather “truly believed that theaters should be… a palace of the common man,” adding that the building provides a sense of the area’s history to future generations. “Untold thousands have watched movies on her screen, and many a first date took place there,” he wrote. “It would be a great loss to the surrounding community for this theater to be torn down or converted to other uses.”

The board is expected to vote on the proposal within the next three months, said Perlman, who is hopeful it will be approved. “It was definitely a very passionate hearing, and I’m confident they will vote in favor of [landmark] designation,” he said. “Official landmark status would contribute to an up and coming neighborhood, and a diverse borough,” he testified. “It would be the crown to a landmark in the eyes of the majority, and would ensure a rare survivor’s longevity for future generations.”

Photos courtesy of Michael Perlman

New Executive Officer for 106th Precinct


Will Focus on Reducing Traffic Accidents

By Patricia Adams

Capt. Jimmy Kimmel worked in the borough for the last year and a half, but before that he was stationed in the 101st Pct. where according to the Executive Officer there were less accidents in one month than in a day in the 106.

“One of the responsibilities I have as the Executive Officer is the traffic program within the command. I got here about the middle of January and traditionally the 106 - specifically Cross Bay Boulevard, has been a nightmare because of traffic accidents.”

Kimmel says that as part of the program to stave off the traffic accidents, electronic traffic information signs warning about accident-prone locations were installed. Two signs were placed in the confines of the 106, one at Crossbay Boulevard and 107th Avenue right before the troublesome spot at the Woodhaven/Liberty/Rockaway Blvd. Intersection. The other sign is placed at Crossbay Boulevard and the Conduit, also known as a dangerous intersection.

Feedback from the neighborhood has been positive thus far and preliminary accident figures have come in at a lower rate. “We’ve had a 48% in accident reductions this week, but at this point it is impossible to tell if the reduction is a direct result of the signs,” said Kimmel.

“I am hoping that if we can get the message out with regard to simple traffic safety tips that in the long run, are important factors in saving lives.”

Sitting down with the new Executive Officer Jimmy Kimmel was Police Officer Kenneth Zorn, 106 Community Affairs officer. Zorn was quick to point out that not only was the use of the electronic signage a key, the precinct was really looking into how to improve the traffic flow on Crossbay Boulevard which of course is contributing to the accidents. Everyone blames the light 149th Avenue, but the bottom line is pure volume,” confirmed Zorn. There really is nowhere else to go, especially to get to Brooklyn. Unless you know Cohancy Street you’re not going to get through without sitting in a mess.”

In addition, other measures are being taken by the 106 to implement as much traffic safety as possible. “People don’t like to get ticketed, but we are engaging in an initiative to target drivers for specific traffic infractions,” Kimmel said. Cell phone, seat belt and speeding violations are all on the hit parade of summons priority lists because statistics prove they are at the root of most vehicular accidents. According to Kimmel, a review of percentages shows that cell phone involvement is a contributing factor in almost 95% of accidents.

“The worst times for accidents in the 106 is between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and then from 4 p.m to 6 p.m.” said Kimmel. “We’re trying to put sector cars along the road in the hopes that the presence of marked cars will deter the incidence of traffic infractions.”

Capt. Kimmel maintains that he considers his responsibility for the traffic problems to be extremely high on the priority list of precinct problems. He reads and reviews every single traffic and accident report as a basis for establishing and understanding effective means to target the problems.

While the late night show host he shares his name with is busy cracking jokes through the late night hours, Jimmy Kimmel at the 106 is busy all day cracking down on motorists who don’t take their driving seriously enough.

Contractor Admits to Underpaying Employees

Failed to Pay Prevailing Wages on City Projects

A Brooklyn electrical contractor has admitted to cheating ten employees out of more than $1 million in wages on six public works projects funded by the city.

Arie Bar, 57, of Long Island, owner of AAR/Co Electrical, Inc. of Brooklyn agreed last Friday to provide back pay to the 10 former employees who were not paid prevailing wages, which are established by the City Comptroller to reflect the predominant rate of wages and benefits for workers in each of the construction trades.

The corporation pleaded guilty in Queens Supreme Court of six counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny, 63 counts of first-degree falsifying business records, 63 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, 228 counts of making a punishable false statement and 29 counts of failure to pay prevailing wages. In addition, Bar personally admitted to one count of failure to pay prevailing wages.

In addition to making restitution of $1,019,553, Bar and the corporation are not eligible to submit a bid on or be awarded any public work contract or subcontract with the state, any municipal corporation or public body for five years.

“The failure to pay prevailing wages is a prevalent problem all over New York and in Queens, in particular, due to our large immigrant population,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Many immigrant workers who come to the United States with skills, like electrical work, are forced to work for private contractors for far below prevailing wages.”

Brown said that in this case, Bar and his corporation are accused of paying the workers between $20 and $30 per hour less than the prevailing wages. In addition, they were not provided with any benefits. “The end result is that the workers are put in the difficult position of complaining and losing their jobs or staying silent and being taken advantage of,” added Brown. “This guilty plea and penalty should serve as a warning to those who would cheat employees out of fair wages that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

The investigation into AAR/Co began several years ago after the city Department of Design and Construction informed Thompson’s office that electricians working for AAR/Co on a city project at the Queens Botanical Garden were not being paid prevailing wages. The comptroller’s office expanded the probe to include all AAR/Co projects from April 2004 to August 2007 and found that Bar had falsely certified payrolls for the ten workers at various city work sites, including Queens Hospital Center, Fort Greene Park and the Wards Island water treatment plan. Bar falsely claimed that workers were being paid $73 an hour as required by state labor law, when they were actually being underpaid.

After learning that Bar threatened and fired workers who had filed labor law complaints, Thompson brought the case to Brown’s attention in 2007. “Contractors should think twice before cheating workers out of prevailing wages, or they could face serious consequences like Arie Bar and AAR/Co Electrical, Inc,” said Thompson.

Eleven Charged in Sports Gambling Ring

Eleven men, including residents of Rego Park and Middle Village, have been indicted in a $6 million sports betting ring run out of two Whitestone houses and a Bronx wire room, authorities announced.

Nine local residents, including money collector Robert Corby, 58, of Saunders Street in Rego Park and agent William Rankel, 54, of 79th Street in Middle Village, were arrested Wednesday in New York, while two other men were taken into custody in Texas. All were charged with enterprise corruption, first-degree promoting gambling and fifth-degree conspiracy and face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

According to a 19-count indictment filed in Queens County Supreme Court, the gambling ring brought in $6 million over a 10-month period by accepting wagers on various sports events including horse racing and professional and college football, basketball, hockey and baseball. The two top defendants, Dennis Cermak, 54, and Donald Abo, 50, are accused of running a large part of the business out of their Whitehouse homes and out of a wire room in the Bronx.

“Illegal sports betting reaps millions of dollars in cash profits that are easily diverted to more insidious criminal enterprises,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Oftentimes, these operations are run by individuals who have no qualms about using threats, intimidation and physical force to collect on debts owed to them.”

The investigation into the ring began in September 2007 when State Police and the Queens District Attorney’s Rackets and Organized Crime Bureau developed information about an illegal sports begging operation. The investigation included physical surveillance, intelligence information and court-authorized electronic eavesdropping.

The “unlawful gambling enterprise” made money by accepting bets ranging from as little as $30 to as much as $1,000 on single events. Investigators executed search warrants and recovered miscellaneous gambling records at Cermak’s house along with gambling records and a tape recorder next to a telephone at Abo’s house. In addition, gambling records, tape recorders and cassette tapes containing betting calls were recovered from the Bronx wire room, according to authorities.

“The indictments resulting from this collaborative investigation are evidence that we are serious about pursuing illegal gambling operations and will bring their ringleaders to justice,” said State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt.

Also charged in the ring were the following individuals, who were listed as “agents” by authorities: James Farnochi, 61, of Flushing, Michael Lauria, 65, of Flushing, Christopher Mallon, 43, of Mineola, Michael Parente, 53, of Lynbrook, Jeffrey Richards, 62, of Merrick and James Morales, 53, and Marc Levy, 48, both of Texas.