Thursday, May 7, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Questions Over Toxins on Proposed School Site

Civic Vows Legal Action Against City DOE

By Conor Greene

A month after the City Council approved a 1,100 seat high school in Maspeth, a local civic group continues to oppose the plan on the grounds that the proposed site is contaminated and not appropriate for the project.

The Juniper Park Civic Association is questioning the validity of City Council’s 38-10 vote on April 1, which gave the Department of Education the go-ahead to acquire the former Restaurant Depot site at 74th Street and 57th Avenue and move forward with the school. The $80 million project is intended to help provide desperately needed seats in the city’s most overcrowded district.

Specifically, the civic group is livid that the Environmental Impact Statement completed for the city wasn’t distributed to Community Board 5 or local community leaders. In addition, the report reviewed by City Council members before voting only contained a summary of the toxins found on the site and lacked information about specific levels.

“We’re saying that the City Council vote on April 2 was invalid because the council members didn’t see a [full report showing the exact] toxin levels,” said JPCA President Robert Holden. He noted that, despite also being a CB 5 member, he didn’t even receive the “sugar-coated” version of the report issued by the SCA until after the council vote. “We’re contending that we need an independent scientist to look at these figures.”

The JPCA opposed the project from the start because there already are two schools within three blocks of the site and due to congestion in the area. The proposal was also opposed by Community Board 5 (which eventually voted in favor of a resolution approving the school provided certain stipulations were met), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and the civic group Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together.

Holden said the civic group has sent a formal letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn requesting that an independent group, such as a local university, be allowed to review the report and issue an opinion. “If Quinn doesn’t do anything, we are exploring legal actions to file an… injunction saying the vote was invalid. How could they vote if they didn’t get full information on buying a toxic site? I would rather believe scientists than hired hands from the SCA.”

The SCA maintains the materials found at the site, which includes semi-volatile compounds and heavy metals such as mercury, are typical of most properties around the city. The vapor barrier system, which creates an air-tight seal between the building and ground, is a “precautionary system to ensure that these contaminants can never enter the school building,” according to DOE spokesman William Havemann. The fumes would be removed from the site through pipes leading to the building’s roof.

However, at its meeting last Thursday, a scientist working on behalf of the JPCA questioned the SCA’s method and said the site should be classified a brownfield and fully remediated with clean soil. “It’s really a no-brainer. These things are bad and if they migrate to the surface they will get your kids sick,” Dr. James Cervino told the audience. “I’m not up here grandstanding, I’m telling you that a plastic sheet and Home Depot fan isn’t going to protect your children.”

Dr. Cervino, of Pace University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, later accused the SCA of making its decisions for the site based on money. “I think it’s egregious. It’s absolutely unthinkable that they would want to do something like this,” he said. “It’s all about money and not paying to remove the soil. It costs a lot of money to take the bad stuff out and bring clean fill in.”

He also ripped the process used by the SCA to reach this decision. “The number one problem I see with all these people who give approvals, with the powers that be, is that they’re just engineers,” said Cervino. “You need someone with training in environmental engineering and a degree in molecular biology [in order to have the] understanding of the sensitivity of human cells when exposed [to toxins]… If you have an understanding of how sensitive human cells are to the concentration of chemicals they want to leave there, any cancer specialist will tell you they are nuts.”

When asked if he would send his children to a school built on that property, Cervino responded, “Never in a million years.”

In a statement, the DOE stood by its process. “The Department of Education observes rigorous and very conservative standards in determining whether a site is suitable for school construction,” said Havemann. “Like all urban soil, the soil in Maspeth does contain some mild contaminants.”

Havemann accused the civic group – which has opposed a school at this site for a number of reasons – of using the issue of contaminated soil to create fear. “Some community members who strongly oppose the Maspeth High School are purposefully exaggerating the soil’s toxicity in order to stoke public fears and derail the project,” he wrote. “Parents in Maspeth and District 24 should know that the Maspeth High School will be completely safe for students and staff.” In response to claims that the site should be fully remediated, Havemann wrote: “Contrary to their assertions, soil remediation is not required at the Maspeth site, and would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Crowley, who voted against the school but was criticized for not drumming up enough support from her colleagues to quash the plan, said the contamination issue wasn’t raised during hearings because cleaning up a former manufacturing site is “a given” within an urban setting. In a statement, she said the SCA must “purify the soil before they think about building a school on this property.”

On Tuesday, her chief of staff, Lydon Sleeper, said Crowley is requesting that the state Department of Environmental Conservation step in and review the city’s findings. “We want someone who is not a city organization or contracted by the city, which is why I think it’s important that the DEC come in and does it,” said Sleeper. “We want their view as to whether or not there should be remediation.”

However, despite the new questions over the site’s contamination, Sleeper doubts this will be enough to prevent the project from moving forward. “I don’t think this is enough to stop it. At the end of the day they are building a school on a [remediated] brownfield in the Bronx,” he said. “It may have delayed it for another month… but at the end of the day even the scientist is saying this is not a deal breaker… We want to get someone else looking at this who is accountable to the people and not accountable to the SCA. If they say there’s some cleanup needed, we’ll hold the SCA to that.”

At the JPCA meeting, State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said he is considering pursing legislation that would require that stricter standards be followed for school construction at contaminated sites. “When you’re talking about health risks, the problem I have is that you are dealing with just one standard [for all projects],” he said.

And, despite the city’s assertions that the site is safe, Holden and many civic members remain unconvinced. “Of course we’re going to fight this. We’re not going to just take this” he told the audience in Our Lady of Hope last Thursday. “Information was withheld and toxic levels were withheld. These kids are going to be sitting there seven hours a day, nine months a year and we should give them a clean environment… All over the city, kids are getting sick. We don’t trust the city because they aren’t really looking out for us, or they wouldn’t have chosen this site to begin with.”

The "Power of Purple" Touches Howard Beach

By Patricia Adams

The First Annual Howard Beach Relay for Life officially got underway on Friday, when the town was “painted purple” in honor of those whose lives have been touched by cancer. The “Power of Purple” is a registered trademark at the American Cancer Society (ACS), and purple is the color that marks all ACS Relay for Life events; it is a symbol of hope. And for the community of Howard Beach, the color purple took on a whole new meaning on Friday.

Beginning the night before, event co-sponsors, Phyllis Inserillo and Melissa Fochetta stood in the rain with a crew of volunteers to hang purple bows from every tree along the Crossbay center median. The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation did a planting of purple flowers and hung bows at the Welcome to Howard Beach triangle. They also had purple lights strung on the center median trees. Frank Russo saw to it that Russo’s on the Bay was bathed in purple light. Children from three local schools wore purple and held mini relays throughout the day. Purple bagels replaced the usual fare at Sapienza’s, purple flags flew over Ragtime and there were purple ribbons, magnets, balloons and cupcakes all made to raise money toward the community’s lofty $100,000 dollar Relay goal.

But on Friday night, as Paint the Town Purple events for the day wound down, a crowd of Relay supporters gathered in the parking lot of St. Helen’s to mark the close of the day with a candle relay. The ceremony marked the end of a day that was filled not only with the color purple, but with an eagerness to participate and a new understanding of the power of hope.

Cancer survivor and ACS Relay honoree Mario Faulisi and his family were among those gathered at the candle ceremony. “I hope the people of Howard Beach realize how much their support means. The spirit they are showing is in many ways even more important than the money that keeps coming in,” said Faulisi. “If anyone doubts just how important public support against cancer is, they should ask me. I’m living proof.”

John Link, manager of Special Events for the ACS was on hand for all of the day’s events. “When this community is asked to do something, they really do it in a big way,” said Link. Howard Beach has really shown their HOPE today!” And as the crowd who had gathered looked up at Link’s urging they saw that the color purple had invaded the sky, casting lavender shadows and proving beyond the shadow of doubt—where there is purple, there is hope.

At the end of the day, the three local schools, MS 210, PS 146 and St. Helen’s, had raised over $6,700 and the Relayers of Howard Beach moved closer to their goal with more than $55,000 having already been raised. Paint the Town Purple will continue through the 1st Annual Howard Beach Relay for Life on June 13.

MTA Bailout Plan Likely

Huge Cuts, Fare Hikes Would Be Avoided

By Conor Greene

The doomsday budget scenario faced by the MTA has likely been averted thanks to a last-minute bailout package reached on Tuesday night by Gov. David Paterson and legislators in Albany. Officials say it will help avoid huge service cuts and fare hikes that had been threatened in recent months.

As of Wednesday morning the plan still needed approval from the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-30 majority. Under the bailout, announced by the governor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), the cost of one-way subway and bus fare will likely increase from $2 to $2.50.

The MTA had proposed a doomsday budget that would have featured fare hikes of as much as 30% as a result of massive deficits the agency is facing. Under that scenario, the cost of a monthly unlimited MetroCard was to increase from $81 to $103. However, commuters are now facing fare and toll hikes of about 10%, and a monthly MetroCard will cost about $89.

In addition, the agreement includes a 50-cent taxi surcharge and a payroll tax. However, it will not require tolls on East and Harlem river bridges, though fares and toll will rise again by 7.5% in 2011 and 2013. The bailout provides enough funding to cover two years of the MTA’s five year capital plan, which starts next year and funds basic maintenance including upgrades to tracks and signals.

"Today's agreement will allow commuters to avoid the painful service reductions approved by the MTA Board earlier this year, and dramatically reduces the proposed fare and toll increases," said Gov. Paterson at a news conference. "This legislation will also allow the MTA's critical infrastructure rebuilding program to continue unimpeded at least through the end of 2011."

In a statement, MTA officials said the agreement allows the system to continuing operating without huge service cuts. “This resolution ensures that we can avoid the actions most painful to our customers and most detrimental to our ability to operate the transit system. We will begin working immediately to revise our budget and implement the reduced fare increase.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said on Wednesday morning that the bailout plan is a “necessity” that must be acted on. “We have to do this. We cannot rely on the MTA to raise fares by 24%. There are positives and negative, but all in all it will avoid service cuts in the area and provide stability in the MTA,” he said.

As part of the agreement, the MTA is subject to additional oversight, including forensic audits – something Addabbo has long being calling for and said was a crucial aspect of the plan. “It requires the MTA to undergo financial scrutiny and audits, and creates a more transparent and accountable MTA to the people of the district,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to be back here a year from now doing this again.”

In addition to huge fare hikes, the original doomsday budget floated by the MTA would have required the elimination of more than two dozen bus lines and several subway lines, longer wait times and overnight station closings. News that these drastic measures will likely be avoided was music to the ears of commuters who rely on routes such as the Q56 and Q74 bus lines and the elected officials who represent them.

“This is excellent news for all the constituents in my district, old and young, that rely on the Q74 bus to take them where they need to go,” said Assemblyman Rory Lancman. “The new agreement is very important for Queens, saving it from cuts to vital transit links like the Q74 and avoiding unfair and regressive bridge tolls.”

The bailout agreement doesn’t have support from any Republicans, but as of Wednesday morning Democrats were confident that they have enough party support to approve it. As of press time, the Senate was still “working out the final details” in preparation of a vote, according to Addabbo.

Schools Reopen in Wake of Swine Flu Outbreak

By Conor Greene

The two Queens schools closed by the swine flu outbreak reopened this week as life returns to normal for students and residents across the borough.

While more than 1,000 city residents reported symptoms associated with swine flu since the outbreak occurred, there have been 73 confirmed cases across the city, according to health officials. In addition, an intensive investigation of the newly identified virus, also known as H1N1 shows that cases in the city continue to be mild.

“We have looked daily at every hospital and every intensive care unit in the city within the past 10 days and we have yet to find a single patient with severe illness from H1N1,” said city Health Department Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden.

Frieden noted that the health department’s case count doesn’t reflect the actual number of citywide infections since those with mild symptoms don’t need to be tested for the virus. For example a survey completed by students and staff at St. Francis Prep High School – the epicenter of the outbreak in Queens – identified more than 1,000 likely cases, while there were just 69 confirmed cases there.

“The good news is that it is no more serious than a seasonal flu,” said Frieden on Monday at a news conference at St. Francis, where he was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith to welcome back the Fresh Meadow school’s 2,700 students. A total of 204 students had called out sick on Monday, but the majority stayed home just to be on the safe side, according to Headmaster Brother Leonard Conway. He said the students “have a lot of work to do” to make up for lost time.

“The important thing is for students and staff and for all New Yorkers across the city to continue to be calm and confident,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “I think weshould all go about our business.” He said the school staff’s response to the outbreak, which occurred after students returned from a trip to Mexico, “really is a good role model for all of us.” Using the school’s public address system, he welcomed the students back and thanked them for their patience.

In a letter sent home to parents, Conway stressed the need to “remain vigilant” and return to school only when healthy. He noted that while the virus only spread through person to person contact, the school has been completely sanitized.

Also reopening on Monday were St. Brigid’s in Bushwick, Good Shepherd in Marine Park and Bishop Kearney in Bensonhurst. In addition to the cases at St. Francis, there were also five confirmed cases at PS 177, which was set to reopen on Wednesday. On Long Island, the Deer Park Union Free School District is closed until May 10 as a result of three probable swine flu cases among students there.

Students returning to Prep were greeted by news reporters from outlets across the city and world. Some, like senior Kenny Mathieu, told the Daily News that he was glad to have the week off school, even thought it will be made up at the end of the school year. “It was like an extra spring break,” the 17-year-old said. Other, like Marie Baitto, said they were taking extra precautions just to be sure. “I have a little hand sanitizer with me. I’m not going to buy any of the food. I brought my own lunch,” she said.

In the aftermath of the outbreak, lawmakers are taking steps to help prevent residents from falling victim to individuals and companies that take advantage of the public’s fear. The U.S Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission are warning the public to be wary of Internet sites and other promotions for products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure swine flu virus. The only two antiviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment of this virus are Tamiflu and Relenza. Consumers are urged to contact their health care providers or legitimate medical supply services if they have questions or concerns about medical products or personal protective equipment.

In addition, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), whose district accounts for more than one third of all confirmed cases within the county, has called on airlines to waive change fees for passengers with flu symptoms. He argued that sickened passengers are simply following the rules by not flying and says the fee - which averages $117 for domestic flights and $175 for international travel and can be as much as $250 - should be lifted until the public health emergency is lifted.

“It’s bad enough to suffer through symptoms of this virus. But punishing those who follow the rules and choose not to travel adds insult to injury,” said Weiner. “Waiving these fees is a simple solution and will go a long way towards easing the burden of passengers who do the right thing.”

Hearing Monday on Long-Awaited Rezoning

By Conor Greene

Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on the city’s plan to rezone about 300 blocks of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale at a public hearing on Monday.

Community Board 5 will hold its hearing on the Department of City Planning proposal, which is intended to preserve the neighborhoods’ character and prevent out-of-context development, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Christ the King High School. The board will then likely vote on the rezoning at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

The effort began more than three years ago when community volunteers went door to door to survey the area’s existing housing stock. However, the rezoning was delayed several times until the department finally certified it late last month. Once it is reviewed by CB 5, it will go to Borough President Helen Marshall, the City Planning Commission and finally to the full City Council for a final vote.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) recently said she hopes to have the new zoning laws in place by the end of the summer. “Since day one in office, I have made rezoning a priority because it is necessary for limiting overdevelopment and to protect the character of our community. I look forward to attending the upcoming hearing and I will continue pushing the Department of City Planning and work… to ensure the rezoning plan is implemented as soon as possible,” she said.

The rezoning area is roughly bounded by the Long Island Expressway to the north, Woodhaven Boulevard to the east, Forest Park and the adjoining cemeteries to the south and Fresh Pond Road and 59th Street to the west.

The proposal’s goal, according to DCP, is to replace the existing, out-of-date zoning “with newer, lower density and contextual zoning districts to more closely reflect the existing built form of the neighborhoods” to ensure that future development “will be more consistent with its surroundings.”

The proposal includes two types of zoning changes: lower density zoning changes to better reflect the existing development and commercial overlay changes to “prevent commercial intrusion on residential blocks.”

On Wednesday, the board will hold its full meeting, also starting at 7:30 p.m. in Christ the King High School cafeteria. Aside from the likely vote on the rezoning, the meeting agenda includes a presentation for the respite center of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and a review of current alcoholic beverage license applications.

For more information or to register to speak in advance, call the board at (718) 366-1834. Details on the rezoning proposal can be found on DCP’s Webpage at

Police Probe Home Invasions

Well-Dressed Suspects Carry Firearms

By Patricia Adams

Two thieves grabbed a woman outside her Woodhaven home last Friday, while she was sweeping her front stoop. The pair dragged the woman inside the house where they tied up her and her husband and robbed the couple at gunpoint.

Police described the robbers as two Hispanic men, one dark skinned, the other light. Both were well dressed, wearing dark blue suits. The men forced 56-year-old Emma Villavicenzia back in her home, where they used plastic zip ties to bind her and her husband Angel, 63.

The couple’s son, Marlon, told reporters that the attackers threatened his parents with coming back if they told anyone about the robbery. The Villavicenzias were not hurt in the home invasion.

Elsewhere, reports from the 106 precinct about a similar invasion in Howard Beach on Monday afternoon said that a pair of well dressed black men posing as police authorities tried to make forcible entry to the house.

Officers responded to the house to find that the two men had knocked on the door of the residence, claiming that they were police. According to the woman who answered her front door, the men, one of whom spoke with a heavy accent, were wearing shields around their necks. Both men were displaying firearms. When the woman became suspicious she told them she was going to call 911 to verify their identities. The thieves got spooked and grabbed the phone before running away from the house. The suspects jumped into a silver SUV, possibly a Honda, and took off, turning onto 156th Ave. in a westbound direction.

According to police reports, there has been four of the same type of incidents within the confines of the 106 and 102 precincts in the last month. In the reports for all of the incidents, the perpetrators were described as being well dressed. Police are actively investigating the possibility that there are more than two men involved in the push-ins and also looking into whether or not the crimes are part of a pattern.

Police remind all residents to exercise extreme caution and to make sure that all police personnel are properly identified. Authorities ask everyone to remember that all NYPD personnel are required to carry ID cards whether they are in uniform or not.

The Forum Newsgroup/photo by ROBERT STRIDIRON

Atlas Park for the Average Guy

By Steve Tiszenkel

The Shops at Atlas Park, the alternately ballyhooed and troubled “lifestyle center” plunked down in the middle of a former industrial wasteland in Glendale, is in very deep trouble—this nobody disputes, least of all its owners, two French banks who took possession of the property when original owner ATCO Properties & Management defaulted on a massive loan. Certainly a major financial crisis is a bad time to be operating an upscale mall in a proudly blue-collar borough, but that’s beside the point. Successful businesspeople tough out a crisis—they know from experience that all things pass and, as the Great Depression-era saying goes, these are the times that make millionaires.

No, if Paul Millus, the court-appointed attorney who now runs Atlas Park, thought an upscale mall in the middle of Queens had a place in a utopian 2012 world where Barack Obama is coasting to a 30-point re-election on the strength of a Dow Jones average pushing 15,000 and a 3-percent unemployment rate, that upscale mall wouldn’t be going anywhere, tumbleweeds blowing down the aisles of Amish Market be damned. But Millus and the mall’s new management company have other ideas.

The Daily News reported last week that Millus intends to drop any pretenses Atlas Park has of being a tony destination for the upper crust of Elmhurst and Maspeth. No, Value Depot and Twin Donut, embarrassing fixtures on nearby Continental Avenue, aren’t going to be moving in just yet. But “middle-of-the-road” retailers Urban Outfitters and Aeropostale might be, Millus said, presumably pushing out the likes of White House | Black Market and Jos. A. Bank. The fate of Mr. Bemberlinx, the mall’s 20-foot-tall teddy bear, remains unclear. "Upscale is upscale. You have to have a community like Manhasset to keep that mall going,” the News quoted Millus as saying.

Ouch! Before the housing bubble burst, home prices in the neighborhoods surrounding Atlas Park were climbing into the stratosphere, and Forest Hills Gardens, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City, let alone Queens, is less than a mile and a half away. No, Forest Hills doesn’t have the cachet of Manhasset, much less Manhattan, and Glendale certainly doesn’t, but one would think there are enough locals interested in and able to afford the kind of stores Atlas Park offers to keep it afloat.

What’s more, was Atlas Park really so upscale? It has a Chili’s and a Stein Mart, with its overflowing shelves of sort-of-tasteful, won’t-break-the-bank knickknacks. It has a gleaming multiplex — everybody likes movies, right? — and a Johnny Rockets. It has a New York Sports Club, the other locations of which in the immediate vicinity do well enough to have irritating wait times for elliptical trainers during peak hours. This is how the other half lives? I must have missed the Cartier outpost and the Marc Jacobs boutique. Nothing at Atlas Park is anything to be ashamed of, but I’d hesitate to describe it as anything more than “middle of the road.”

What does this sad state of affairs, in which developers are telling us we can’t keep Coldwater Creek and Florsheim in business, mean for our area? It’s as grim as it is mystifying—if Chico’s is too “upscale” for the neighborhood, no wonder nothing can stay in business on Austin Street.

But despite occasional discouraging developments like this one, I remain an optimist about our area. There are, all stereotypes aside, sophisticated people here with sophisticated tastes, and they deserve better. I certainly won’t complain when an Urban Outfitters opens in Atlas Park — I like flipping through coffee-table books about people’s humiliating, anonymously revealed secrets as much as the next guy. But an upscale mall can exist in Glendale, I just know it can. It just depends on your definition of upscale.

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

Brazen Car Theft Ring Dismantled

Luxury Vehicles Driven Off Dealer Lots

By Conor Greene

Members of a car theft ring that stole luxury vehicles off the parking lots of local dealerships – often exiting through holes cut in the chain link fences – were arrested after a nine-month joint probe between the NYPD and Queens District Attorney.

Eight individuals, including a middle school assistant principal from Brooklyn, were arrested as a result of a nine-month investigation dubbed “Operation Lockbox,” announced Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The individuals were indicted on charges involving the theft of 16 late model, high-end cars worth more than $400,000.

The majority of the vehicles, which included 2008 model BMWs, Mercedes Benzs and Lincolns, were stolen right off the parking lots of major auto dealerships. The vehicle’s identification numbers were changed or altered before they were resold.

According to the charges, Melvin Pinckney, 54, of Brooklyn, stole the vehicles from dealership parking lots in Queens and Long Island with the help of alleged ring members David Jimenez, 40, and Alexander Gill, 34, both of Brooklyn. The majority of the vehicles were taken from Recon Motors on 14th Avenue in Whitestone, which is a storage facility where numerous local dealerships store their excess inventory.

After driving the vehicles off the lot, often through large holes
cut in the dealership’s fence, the thieves drove the cars to various locations, such as a parking garage on Eldert Lane in Brooklyn and the vicinity of 78th Street and 153rd Avenue in Queens, where they were kept until they were sold.

Members of the ring including Eddie Olivera, 38, of the Bronx and Lisele Jackson, 54, who is a teacher and assistant principal at MS 61 in Brooklyn, allegedly purchased and traded stolen vehicles with Pinckney. In addition, Trevlyn LaTore, 35, of Hempstead is accused of operating a tagging operation out of a single-car garage at 149-19 133rd Avenue in Queens, where ring members brought cars to have their vehicle identification numbers altered or forged.

“A sweeping nine-month investigation that utilized both court-authorized wiretaps and traditional surveillance has dismantled a loosely knit auto theft ring that specializes in stealing luxury automobiles,” said Brown. “For such thieves, an automotive dealership represented the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They could leisurely window shop for the exact makes and models of the cars they wanted and then, under the cover of darkness, steal them.”

Among the victimized dealerships were several from Long Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey, as well as Hillside Honda in Jamaica, Queensboro Toyota in Woodside, Bayside Chrysler Jeep on Northern Boulevard and DiBlasi Ford in Corona.

“This successful operation is emblematic of why car thefts in New York City, including Queens, have plummeted in recent years,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Pinckney was ordered held on $100,000 bail on charges including third and fourth degree grand larceny. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Co-conspirators Jimenez, who was ordered held on $50,000 bail, and Gil, ordered held on $25,000 bail, both also face up to 15 years. Jackson was reassigned from his Department of Education position, which comes with a $96,405 salary, following his release.