Thursday, October 1, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Woman Fatally Struck on Woodhaven Boulevard

Hit While Crossing Mid-Block in Rego Park

By Conor Greene

A 32-year-old woman was struck by a car and killed while trying to cross Woodhaven Boulevard on Tuesday morning in Rego Park.

The woman, who has not been identified by police, was attempting to cross the busy stretch of road between 62nd Drive and 63rd Avenue – about a half mile south of the Long Island Expressway – at about 6:30 a.m., according to police. She was crossing mid-block and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Several hours later, the woman remained in the left lane of the boulevard’s northbound side, covered with a white sheet. She had landed about eight feet in front of the 2000 Mercedes Benz, and one of her shoes, which had been knocked off by the impact, sat beneath the car’s crumpled front end. Police say the driver remained at the scene and is not expected to be charged. Traffic backed up as the boulevard’s northbound lanes remained closed hours after the accident.

The accident comes as the city is studying ways to make the boulevard safer for drivers and pedestrians. Several residents at the scene said that drivers speed up as they near the expressway and rush to beat traffic lights.

Eyesore at Major Intersection Might Become Community Greenspace

By Conor Greene

The intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road – where Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood meet – is currently dominated by a rundown newsstand on land owned by the LIRR, and local officials are hoping to turn the property into a greenspace.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) was joined at the site last Thursday by State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Ozone Park), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and community leaders to call on the LIRR to turn the land over to the community until it’s needed for a long-delayed bridge replacement project.

“While we continue to wait for the MTA to finally develop this area, we should be granted the opportunity to beautify this property in the meantime,” said Crowley. “The thousands of Queens residents who pass daily through this intersection have had to look at the dilapidated condition of this property for over a decade. This long-time eyesore hurts the surrounding businesses and stifles the area’s economic growth.”

Under Crowley’s plan, the LIRR would simply give the community approval to knock down the building, clear the site and plant a community greenspace. She estimated the project would cost about $10,000 and could be covered by donations and community volunteers. “This is a reasonably achievable prolocalposal that will benefit the area drastically,” she said.

On Tuesday, LIRR President Helena Williams said agency officials are willing to meet with community representatives to hear their suggestions. “I want to thank Councilmember Crowley and other members of the community for bringing this situation at Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road to my attention," said Williams. “While our plans to redevelop the site remain on hold, the LIRR welcomes suggestions for its interim use. We certainly support beautification options and would like to meet with community representatives to hear their suggestions."

The proposal was also supported by Addabbo, who said, “This property means very little to them but a lot to our community.” He said upgrades to the area would benefit the community both in terms of aesthetics and economically, as it will become more inviting to shoppers. “This is a blight. It’s unfair to the residents to face this everyday.

Local Democratic District Leader Tom Bornemann said the current situation has existed for about a decade, during which time several former Republican council members failed to address it. “This was brought to the councilman [at the time] eight years ago and nothing has been done until now,” he said.

Also on hand to support the project was Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano – who noted the $30 million bridge replacement project was supposed to begin in 2004 – and Ted Renz of the Ridgewood Local Development Corp – who recalled that the intersection was formerly home to a train station. “This should be another transportation hub in the future,” said Renz. Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) also supports the initiative but was unable to attend the press conference.

A city Department of Transportation spokesman was unable to say when the bridge replacement project will take place. However, the department will continue to work with the MTA and LIRR to determine the project’s scope and timing for maintaining the bridge while meeting the needs of the community, the railway and its customers, according to the spokesman.

Crowley said the focus is now on cleaning up the former newsstand property, but noted that a former service station across the street is also owned by the LIRR. “We’ll do this one first and that property will be our second request,” she said.

“They need to take care of the local community, and all it would take is the flick of a pen,” added Miller.

Woman Raped in Forest Park

Dragged Into Woods Near Park Lane South

By Patricia Adams

In the third sexual attack in Forest Park since the start of summer, a 29-year-old female was raped early last Thursday morning. The victim, a student teacher at a Cambria Heights school, was on her way home sometime after 2 a.m. Authorities say she was returning from a late night appointment with her hairdresser.

After getting off the J train at the Woodhaven Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue station, the woman proceeded toward her home on nearby Park Lane South. It is unclear if she made a stop at Dunkin Donuts, as initial reports stated.

Approaching the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Park Lane South, an unidentified black male she described as approximately 6’4”, with a goatee and braided hair accosted the young teacher. In her statements to police the victim stated that her assailant came up from behind, wielding a knife and pressed it to her neck.

Early morning passersby looked to police at the crime scene for answers. “I use the tennis courts here a few mornings a week,” Janice Wasser said. “I will think twice and three times about ever venturing down here on my own now.” Residents continued to express their surprise and alarm as they stared at the yellow police tape and a Crime Scene Investigation vehicle parked alongside the street.

“This is really giving me the creeps,” Michelle said. The mother of two walks her toddlers in a stroller past the scene of the rape every day. “It’s scary to think you can’t walk along the street. You think about it but when you see it right there…you have to remember it. It really scares you.”

Police canvassed the area to determine if anyone witnessed any part of the attack which has been described by sources as brutal.

Television reports on the day of the rape stated that the attacker had apologized to his victim and told her he did not have A.I.D.S. The woman was taken to Queens Hospital Center, one of two Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Centers of Excellence, where sexual assault victims receive sensitive care within one hour of their arrival.

Earlier this year two women were attacked on the same day, in different locations in Forest Park. Back in June, a young attacker raped one woman less than two hours after having tried to rip off the clothes of another woman who was at the park exercising. The rape victim in those attacks was out for a stroll at 7:45 p.m. that evening.

Police are still vigorously investigating all information in regard to this case. The suspect is still at large.

Now an Incumbent, Crowley Seeks Full City Council Term

Nov Contests Marks Third Election Since Gallagher Resigned

By Conor Greene

For the third time in less than a year and a half, and the fourth time in her short political career, Elizabeth Crowley is kicking off a campaign for election to the 30th District City Council seat. There is one major difference this time around, however – she is running as an incumbent, allowing her to run on her record over the past nine months in office.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) is no stranger to campaigns as a result of the political turmoil that has gripped the district since former Councilman Dennis Gallagher resigned after pleading guilty to sexual assault last March. Since that time, Crowley lost to Republican Anthony Como during a four-way special election last summer, before winning last November’s rematch.

In an interview with the The Forum this week, Crowley said she never had doubts about running again this November, when she will face former Republican City Councilman Tom Ognibene, who represented the district from 1991 until term limits forced him from office in 2001. “I like the job and there is still so much to do,” said Crowley. “In the first nine months we started a lot, have quite a number of accomplishments, but still have more to do.”

Crowley, who first entered the political fray when she lost to Gallagher in 2001, hails from a well-known political family. Her cousin, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), is head of the county Democratic Party, and both her parents served on the City Council at one point as the result of political appointments. While Ognibene expects to benefit from his close relationship to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Crowley touted her ties to organized labor and said a number of key endorsements will be unveiled in the coming weeks. “I don’t think any organized labor union will endorse my opponent,” she said.

While Crowley says the last nine months passed in the blink of an eye, she counted among her accomplishments pushing to have the downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale through the City Council, although critics say that effort started four years ago when volunteers went door to door surveying each block. “My number one promise was the rezoning, and it sat on people’s desks for over four years before it got the attention it needed and became law. That I can take credit for,” she said.

In addition, Crowley bragged that after years of Republican leadership in the district, which also includes parts of Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, she was able to “bring back more discretionary and capital dollars that this community has ever had from a councilmember.” She is now looking forward to seeing projects such as the rebuilding of St. Saviour’s Church and renovations to local libraries come to fruition.

Another huge victory for Crowley was the successful push by her and other officials to prevent 16 fire companies from being eliminated, including Engine 271, which serves a portion of the district in the Ridgewood area. “I was quite relieved when we were able to keep all 16 fire companies open, and I don’t think that would have happened if we didn’t make as much noise as we did,” she said. “I was particularly happy to see that.”

Crowley is also looking forward to seeing her first piece of legislation brought up for a hearing next month, although the new law was the result of tragic circumstances. The Robert Ogle Law would increase the penalties for leaving an unattended car idling and is named after the Middle Village teenager who was fatally struck along with a friend by an alleged drunken driver earlier this year. The driver had stolen the unattended vehicle from a nearby deli just minutes before causing the tragedy on 80th Street. “It sometimes takes years and years [to push new laws] but we’ve been nudging the legislative department on this,” said Crowley.

So far, Crowley has stayed relatively quiet on the campaign front, instead focusing on her council duties. “I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to work on citywide issues such as healthcare and education and be able to get good results, while never forgetting about what’s going on here in my backyard,” she said, adding that time constraints are by far the job’s biggest challenge. “It’s making sure that you are everywhere. You are one person, so you are limited by your schedule, and [despite] working around the clock, there are still so many more people you want to meet with,” she said.

Immediately after being sworn into office, Crowley was confronted with a major issue that divided her constituents – the city’s plan to build a 1,100-seat high school on the former Restaurant Depot site in Maspeth. While she voted against the project, she was unable to garner enough support from her colleagues to block the plan. However, she says that convincing the city to provide priority zoning for the local community was still a major accomplishment.

“The [city] spent two years working on that project, and the mayor wanted it in his capital budget, and months into my administration I went up against a whole administration that wanted to put a school open to every student in the City of New York in Maspeth,” said Crowley. “I won and was able to get priority zoning like no other councilmember was able to get. I stuck to my guns.”

Crowley placed a lot of the blame for that situation on Gallagher, who served as Ognibene’s chief of staff before winning the council seat in 2001. “I know that for two years before I was there, a lot of things happened… So when my opponent says all these good things about his chief of staff… that’s part of the reason the community suffered a lot in those two years,” she said.

Other than that jab at Gallagher, Crowley declined to criticize Ognibene. “I wish him well and look forward to the next couple weeks of campaigning. I hope he remains a gentleman and we can have a peaceful dialogue about what’s important,” she said.

Over the next five weeks, Crowley expects to continue to share her message and vision for the district with voters, while at the same time the Republican Party works to regain a seat it once held. “I feel great,” she said. “I have more support than ever before. If the election was today, I think I win by a landslide.”

North Channel Bridge Gets a Clean Sweep

By Patricia Adams

The annual International Coastal Cleanup is the largest volunteer day of its kind. Last year 400,000 volunteers in 100 countries and 42 US states collected more than 6.8 million pounds of trash. With each year, organizers hope to see increases in both the number of volunteers and the amounts of trash collected.

The international event is held each year on a Saturday in late September and this year a cleanup of the North Channel Bridge, separating Howard Beach and Broad Channel, was the local event in our area. The American ittoral Society was one of the organizations working with the National Parks Service and the organizers of the Coastal Cleanup, to make sure the areas surrounding the bridge were successfully cleaned.

Just as important as removing the trash, volunteers are encouraged to look for the source of the debris, and help think of solutions to help people change the behaviors that create the trash in the first place. Avoiding the pollution is infinitely preferable to cleaning it up!

Volunteers turned out in full force with the tally reaching 127 people all of whom collected 275 bags of trash. Councilman Eric Ulrich was on hand to observe the efforts of the beach cleaners. “I am so impressed, not only with the amazing job that was done here today, but more so by the spirit of the volunteers who made this happen,” said Ulrich.

The Jamaica Bay area is historically a problem tract and the area around the North Channel Bridge has been the seat of much controversy and frustration within the local community because of the continued dumping of garbage and religious rituals that leave the beaches littered with silk fabric, coconuts and other fruits.

Community residents and volunteers were impressed to see the efforts of the more than 50 volunteers who came down to the cleanup from the United Federation of Hindu Mandirs. Leaders in the Hindu community have expressed their desires to help educate people about carrying on religious practices without having negative environmental impact and were instrumental in the success of the beach clean-up.

If you would like to learn more about the International Coastal Clean-Up, you can visit the Ocean Conservancy website at

Ridgewood, Ozone Park Home to Some of City's Worst Subway Stations

By Conor Greene

Ridgewood now has a new claim to fame: the neighborhood is home to the subway station deemed most in need of repairs by the city MTA. In addition, a number of stations along several lines in south Queens received poor scores in a recent MTA survey assessing conditions of stations citywide.

The survey found that the Seneca Avenue stop on the M Line ranked highest in terms of problems such as rust, peeling paint and crumbling concrete. Each of the city’s 468 stations were graded one a scale of one to five (with five being the worst) on the condition of its interior and street stairs; platform walls, floors, ceilings and edges; platform columns and other support spans along with other categories.

Using those results, each station was ranked based on the percentage of components rated 3.5 or higher. The Seneca Ave. station received a score of 86%, and several other stations along the line didn’t fare much better. The Central Avenue stop was graded at 76%, slightly worse than the Forest Avenue stop, which received 73%. The Fresh Pond Road station was graded at 64%, while the Knickerbocker Avenue stop – which is in Brooklyn - fared better at 45%.

While other stations around the city might seem grimier or more in need of attention, the survey – conducted for MTA NYC Transit by an independent firm – looked at areas such as the structural integrity of stairs, walls and platforms. The 50 stations with the highest percentage of problem categories were placed on a list of priorities for the agency’s Station Renewal Program. Half the stations, which have yet to be identified, will receive an average of $10 million in repairs and upgrades over the next five years.

In addition, the MTA’s 2010-14 capital plan includes funding for 14 major station renovations. The long term goal is to eliminate all components rated 3.5 or worse within 15 years, at which point the agency would “maintain a state of good repair at all NYCT stations.”

Other local stations that made the list of the 50 stops receiving the poorest scores include The J/Z line’s 121st Street and 104th Street stops and the A Train’s 80th Street, 88th Street, Rockaway Boulevard, 104th Street, 111th Street and Lefferts Boulevard stations. Several stops in western Queens along the N/W and 7 lines also made the list.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who rides the A Train to City Hall on a regular basis, said "it's no suprise that some of the subway stations in this part of Queens have ranked among the worst in the city. The people who ride these trains everyday, myself included, have known this for years."

He said he has been "aggressively pushing the MTA to invest capital money to improve the structural integerty and phyisical appearance of some of these stations... Certainly when a station is in disrepair and covered with graffiti and garbage, people are going to get a false impression that the community is one the decline," he said. "These are very visible sights of a community, and for some people the only exposure to the area they have."

Newtown Creek Considered for Superfund Status

Would Initiate Federal Cleanup of Toxic Waterway

By Conor Greene

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering the heavily polluted Newtown Creek for Superfund status, which would allow federal authorities to move forward with a long-awaited cleanup of the waterway, which runs between Brooklyn and Queens.

The EPA announced last week that officials have nominated the 3.8-mile stretch of creek, which separates Greenpoint and Maspeth and is considered the most polluted waterway in the city, for its National Priorities List. Doing so would allow the EPA to build on the extensive sampling of the creek that has already been completed.

“Newtown Creek is one of the most grossly contaminated waterways in the country,” said Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. “By listing the creek, EPA can focus on doing the extensive sampling needed to figure out the best way to address the contamination and see the work through.”

Designating the Newtown Creek as a Superfund site would allow the EPA to use taxpayer money to fund a cleanup, and to charge individuals responsible for causing the pollution as well as current property owners. The site’s contamination includes a 30-million gallon oil spill discovered by a Coast Guard helicopter in 1978 that has been found across 55 acres, including beneath area homes and businesses.

The spill, which is three times larger than the Exxon Valdez incident, has been lamed on the area’s industrial past, which at one time saw more than 50 industrial facilities along the banks, and on a 1950 industrial explosion. Currently, ExxonMobil and several other companies are working with the federal government on programs to remediate portions of the spill.

News that the creek is being considered for Superfund status was welcomed by two of the area’s representatives in Congress, Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), who have fought for years to direct federal resources to clean the area up. In a press release, Weiner noted that the area surrounding the Newtown Creek is home to more than 446,000 residents and a number of schools, parks and hospitals.

“I am pleased to see that while the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities and put the health and safety of Newtown Creek’s residents at further risk, the EPA has decided to take action and hold these companies responsible for their negligence,” said Weiner. “Newtown Creek is the single most polluted waterway in New York City, a legacy left by more than a century of heavy industrial activity.”

In the mid-1800s, the area adjacent to the creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in the city, with dozens of oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills and lumber and coal yards. In the early 1990s, the state determined that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.

Since then, the EPA has worked to collect data from the entire length of the creek that has been used to determine the actual extent of the pollution. Various sediment and surface water samples taken along the creek have revealed the presence of pesticides, metals, PCBs and volatile organic compounds, which are potentially harmful contaminations that can easily evaporate into the air.

Now that the site has been nominated to the National Priorities List, a 60-day public comment period has begun. If the area is designated a Superfund site, a four-step process will be initiated to clean up the area. The site would first undergo immediate stabilization to stop any immediate threats to the community, before the EPA performs a comprehensive investigation of the site and analyzes clean up options. The EPA would then develop a plan to clean up the site, which would be carried out by the agency or by responsible parties the federal government could force to do the work.

“The contamination in and around Newtown Creek is of catastrophic proportions and Greenpoint residents have suffered the consequences for too long,” said Velazquez. “Inclusion in the EPA’s National Priorities List may help determine the best approach for cleaning up the creek. As the process continues, I look forward to examining the data as well as working with federal, state and city officials to identify a comprehensive plan to reclaim the pride of Brooklyn’s waterfront and protect New Yorkers.”

Complaints Over Precinct's Response Time Voiced at COP 104 Meeting

Update on JVP Tree Destruction, Burglary Pattern

By Conor Greene

At this month’s COP 104 meeting, held during last Thursday’s Juniper Valley Park Association meeting, residents received an update on area crime, including vandalism in Juniper Valley Park. Several took the opportunity to complain that the precinct isn’t responsive to their calls for help, with officers often taking hours to arrive on scene.

104th Precinct Crime Update

Civic President Robert Holden noted that “it’s been a rough summer [in terms of crime], especially in Juniper Valley Park and with some burglaries and robberies in the neighborhood.” Recently, somebody cut down a dozen newly-planted trees in the park using a saw; a $3,500 reward has been offered for information leading to a conviction.

Captain Ray DeWitt, who joined the precinct five months ago after serving with the 110th Precinct, reported that major crime is down seven percent so far this year compared with the same time last year. That number represents a decrease of more than 100 incidents, while at the same time arrests are up 11 percent. “We’re seeing a significant increase in bad guys going to a jail,” he said.

JVP Vandalism Investigation

Regarding the park vandalism, Captain DeWitt said the precinct “has some leads” and is “actively investigating” the recent incident. “We hope to come to a positive end with this,” he added. The reward for information leading to a conviction is being offered by the civic group, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), former Councilman Thomas Ognibene and Dan Austin, president of All Faiths Cemetery.

Holden, who thinks the vandalism was caused by individuals who had been kicked out of the park after it had closed on a recent night, is calling for strict enforcement of the 9 p.m. curfew to “keep some control of the park and stop some of the vandalism from happening,” which tends to occur at night.

Sgt. Lily Austin of the Parks Enforcement Patrol suggested the community volunteers form a citizens patrol group that can help keep an eye out for illegal activity in the park. “We don’t need you to intercede, but when people see that people are taking their community back” it helps prevent future crimes. “We need you to get involved and be the eyes and ears… Pay attention to things that don’t look right,” she stressed.

Holden said that with 1,650 families, the JPCA should have no problem getting volunteers. “We’ve gotten a lot of attention [on the incident] but as soon as that dies down it’s going to happen again. We want to catch these guys,” he said.

Residents: Precinct is Unresponsive

Several residents complained to the captain that they had a hard time following up on prior incidents or that it takes a very long time for officers to respond to calls.

One said that he had filed a complaint against his neighbor, but was told when he called for the case number that the officer handling that case was on vacation. When he called back, he was told the paperwork had been lost. Another said that it took more than three hours for officers to respond to a car accident his wife was involved in on Caldwell Avenue. It happened at 1 p.m. on a recent Saturday, but by 4 p.m. both parties agreed to leave the scene because officers had yet to arrive. He was later told the officers arrived twenty minutes later, with the delay blamed on the fact that the precinct only had two cars on patrol at the time. The resident called the response “absurd.”

Captain DeWitt apologized for the situations and promised to follow up with the residents in private. Still, JPCA member Bob Doocey was critical of the precinct’s track record for responding to calls. “The response time of the 104th Precinct is abysmal, and cops don’t get out of their cars and take a report” when they do arrive, he charged.

Another resident asked about the precinct’s police for responding when residential and commercial burglary alarms are set off. She said hers was recently triggered, yet her neighbor told her that officers didn’t response in a timely fashion. Captain DeWitt explained that these calls aren’t prioritized as high as specific reports of crimes in progress, but agreed that her situation “seems to be an issue.”

Finally, a resident questioned the precinct’s response to 311 complaints. He said he registered a number of complaints about commercial vehicles parked overnight on city streets. However, in several instances, the precinct reported that the problem had been rectified just 15 minutes after it was logged – barely enough time to even reach the scene.

Burglary Pattern

A civic member warned the audience that there have been a number of residential burglaries in the area surrounding Our Lady of Hope, located at Eliot Avenue and 71st Street. In one case, the widow of a deceased police officer was targeted, with “a lot of stuff” taken, the resident reported. He said that in several cases, the perps gained entry by pushing in air conditioner units. “Somebody’s working the area,” he warned.

Holden added that there seems to be a team working the area near Juniper Valley Park, with one person ringing the doorbell while another enters through the rear of the house. He said the incidents have spilled over to the area north of Eliot Avenue in Maspeth.

Local Hospitals Receive $34 Million in State Grants

Aimed at Improving Technology and Funding Expansions

The borough’s health care system – which took a serious hit over the past year with the closing of three hospitals – has received about $34 million in state grants to improve technology and fund long-term care improvements.

Governor David Paterson revealed that $434 million has been approved under the state’s Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law for health care facilities around the state. He made the announcement last Friday alongside state Department of Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines at New York Hospital of Queens in Flushing, which is receiving $4 million towards an $8.3 million expansion and renovation of its emergency department.

“New York health care centers are known for their expertise in patient care, and I am proud to announce these grants to institutions that are creating more effective and more efficient ways of caring for those in need,” said Gov. Paterson. “We want to bring the right care to the right venue at the right cost… This is our idea of health care reform in New York as Congress members, our two U.S. senators and our president fight for health care reform on the national level.”

Said Daines: “We congratulate all of the projects and look forward to working with them to achieve these very important clinical goals. We look forward to moving the state’s health information infrastructure from infancy to childhood, establishing an operational statewide health information exchange to put clinical information in the hands of practitioners when and where they need it.”

In all, the New York City region was awarded $140 million, with about $34 million of that going to facilities in Queens. The borough hospitals receiving aid are: Flushing Hospital and Medical Center ($4 million towards a new $10 million ambulatory care center), Forest Hills Hospital ($4 million towards a $33 million project to relocate its primary care clinic to a larger location and expand the emergency department), Jamaica Hospital Center Diagnostic and Treatment Center ($1 million for expansion of St. Albans and Hollis sites), Mount Sinai Hospital in Long Island City ($4 million towards $21 million emergency department expansion), Elmhurst Hospital Center ($4 million towards a $14.5 million women’s health center in northwest Queens), Queens Hospital Center ($4 million towards a $6.2 million project) and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center ($500,000 towards a $9.5 million effort to provide community-based health care services.

“Thanks to these grants, our health care facilities will get much needed technology upgrades that will save them money, more of our hospitals will be able to join forces to improve patient care and our long-term health care system will be able to provide better service to the growing population of aging New Yorkers and New Yorkers with disabilities,” said Gov. Paterson.

The funding was approved by the legislature during the recent budgetary process, despite the state’s fiscal problems.

Party in Ridgewood Factory Shutdown; Several Arrests Made

Acting on a resident’s tip, the 104th Precinct arrested five individuals and ordered a Ridgewood building shut after a party was illegally held there last weekend.

The investigation began when a resident received a postcard featuring a scantily-clad woman advertising a “Black Out Bash” last Saturday at 1618 Weirfield Street. Aware that the building is zoned for factory uses, and that the owner was cited last year for illegally converting the site to a parking garage, she alerted the 104th Precinct’s Community Affairs Unit.

That the information was forwarded to Lt. James Lombardi of the Special Operations Unit, who responded to the event along with the Anti-Crime Team. The officers immediately shut the party down, which resulted in some of the attendees becoming irate, according to the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit. As a result, several individuals were issued summonses and five were arrested – four for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and one for possession of heroin.

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell called this “a great job of the community alerting us to a situation which obviously could have been dangerous.”

Among those arrested were: Angel Guzman, 38, of Ridgewood; Christopher Rivera, 22, of New Jersey; a 16-year-old Ridgewood female; Jeffery China, 38, of Brooklyn (charged with drug possession) and Elvis Mosqueq, 18, of Ridgewood, who was also charged with obstruction of governmental administration.

The building was ordered vacated, and FDNY was expected to respond earlier this week to issue an official order to vacate the premises.

Maspeth Residents Want More Police Presence

Quality of Life Issues Continue to Frustrate

By Conor Greene

Quality of life issues were again on the minds of residents during this month’s Maspeth West End Block Association meeting, with gripes ranging from a lack of police presence that has led to teenagers congregating in the area to traffic issues outside a local school.

The meeting, held September 17, was dominated by complaints that residents blame on the lack of police patrols through the neighborhood by officers from the 104th Precinct. Civic President Kathy Hamilton was unable to get precinct officials to attend the meeting, but said some progress was made during a recent meeting with Deputy Inspector Keith Green, the precinct’s commanding officer. “It’s just not enough,” she said of the minimal patrols that resulted. “I guess we need to make some more noise.”

One neighbor complained of “gangs” of teenagers that come to the area to drink beer and smoke pot on the street corners. She described them as “very nasty” and said her property was vandalized after she asked them to move along from in front of her house. One told her they live in Ridgewood, and residents are worried that the area will attract more teens from out of the neighborhood because there is little police presence in the area.

Hamilton and Jennifer Manley of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit stressed that residents should call 911 immediately if they see a crime in progress. Manley added that steps can be taken against a nearby deli residents say is selling beer to underage individuals.

Other complaints included issues stemming from dismissal from PS 153 on 60th Lane, which residents said becomes impassable due to double parked cars. “You can’t go to the stores between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. if you want to be able to park near your house,” the residents said. “It’s non-stop horn blowing… The parking is absurd.”

“It’s not the kids and it’s not the school – it’s the people who are in charge of them” whoare to blame, added resident Ann Murphy. She called the situation a “disaster waiting to happen” that has been a problem for about a decade.

Manley said the problem of parents double parking near schools is a “chronic issue across the borough and said there is a Department of Transportation program aimed at reminding parents not to do so. “It is a traffic enforcement issue,” she said, suggesting the issue be raised at a community board meeting. “Asking nicely doesn’t seem to be working, so maybe some tickets would be helpful,” she added.

Another topic of concern for residents was a violent mugging that took place on 62nd Avenue near 60th Street several Fridays ago. A resident heard a girl scream and came out to find her bleeding from her head. According to neighbors, a group of Hispanic men approached the couple and asked if they had any money. When they said they didn’t, the men started beating them before jumping into a black car. “It was a gang that just came down our block and mugged those kids,” said one resident. “There was blood all over.”

Other topics of discussion included ongoing parking and other problems in the area of the Met Oval soccer complex and drug-related activity in Moonlight Bar. In addition, residents expressed concern over the future of a property on 56th Street that is currently home to a lumber company. The company seems to be in the process of vacating the property, and a concrete wall was recently built. As a result, “everyone is speculating about what is happening back there,” one resident said, adding that the concern is that residential units will be constructed there. “Nobody knows what is happening, but something is happening,” the resident added.

Editor’s Note: The meeting also included a detailed discussion on the effort to attract a supermarket west Maspeth, as reported in last week’s Forum West. That story can be read online at

A Garden Grows in Ridgewood

By Richard Bocklet
Contributing Writer

Flower gardens add attractiveness, warmth and beauty to the properties on which they grow—the also have an affect on individual blocks and entire neighborhoods. Even without a lawn, concrete space can be delightfully decorated with the addition of planters, rich soil and a plentiful variety of flowers and shrubs to suit every taste and mood.

On a block of classical brownstone residences dating back to l903, Eufemia Patron has set quite the example for gardening enthusiasts and observers alike at her home on 68th Road in Ridgewood. With the enthusiastic approval of her landlord Luis Tello, three summers ago, she started the garden with petunias, balsam, zinnia and yellow lilies, among others.

She remembers her house in Mindinao, the Philippines, and the big garden with twelve birds thriving in the tropical climate there. “I thought it would be impossible to have a beautiful garden in New York City,” she mused, “but with an on-going investment between $200 and $300, my garden blossomed. I use the same soil season after season - from April through November – and give care, attention and ten-minute daily watering.”

And Patron definitely gets a positive reaction from people passing the house and stopping by to admire her garden. “Every day people stop, look at my garden and smile and that makes me so happy.”

Passersby are not the only ones pleased with Patrons green thumb. Landlord Tello is pleased to have such a creative tenant. “I drive her to Home Depot to get the flowers, plants and other supplies for the front and back gardens,” he declared. “She maintains everything in such good condition. I encourage her to keep gardening,”

A year ago, she introduced a pair of affectionate, playful cockatiels to her apartment. On nice days she incorporates their cage into the garden. And her love of gardening is shared with friends all over the world. On birthdays and special occasions she sends e-mail greetings decorated with pictures of her ever-expanding horticultural display.

Offering a word of advice to her neighbors, the local gardener from far away says, “I recommend a garden to everyone,” she said beaming. “Growing flowers will make you happy.”

Man Charged in Immigration and Real Estate Fraud

Posed as ICE Agent; Stole $1 Million from Nearly a Dozen Victims

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, joined by Port Authority Police Superintendent Michael A. Fedorko, held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that a Queens resident posing as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) federal government agent has been charged with defrauding nearly a dozen members of Queens County’s West Indian community out of more than $1 million. The defendant allegedly promised to assist them in obtaining “federally seized” properties at cheap prices or to help them get legal status in this country.

The defendant has been identified as Shane Ramsundar, 49, of 101-35A 120th Street in Richmond Hill, He is presently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens, and is charged in two criminal complaints involving eleven alleged victims with the crimes of second-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud and first-degree criminal impersonation of a public servant. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

“Our immigrant community can be especially vulnerable to deception and fraud,” said District Attorney Brown, “when someone promises to help them navigate the process of obtaining the necessary documents to work and remain in the United States or get ahead by dealing in real estate.”

The DA explained that immigrants are often in a situation where they are earning very little money, having to work at more than one job. People put their faith and their finances in the hands of Ramsundar. According to DA Brown he “turned their American Dream into the American nightmare by ripping them off. They now face an uncertain future.”

Port Authority Police Superintendent Fedorko commented on the effectiveness of the investigation. “This is a classic case of good police work begetting good police work. Earlier this year, Detective Dewan Maharaj worked a great case involving an immigration scam. The hard work and integrity he brought to that investigation led victims in this case to come forward and seek his aid. The Port Authority Police Department responded with a careful and thorough investigation and I congratulate all of our PAPD officers on an excellent arrest.”

According to one of the complainants, Pete Baldeo, the owner of a tattoo parlor located at 127- 03 101st Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, met Ramsundar in May 2008 after employing his teenage daughter at the store, which is a neighborhood gathering place for West Indian nationals.

At the time, Ramsundar allegedly identified himself as an agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) who was on loan to the FBI and Homeland Security as an undercover agent. Ramsundar allegedly showed Baldeo a Homeland Security badge and a black automatic handgun which he wore on his hip. It is alleged that Ramsundar told Baldeo and others in Baldeo’s presence, that he could use his insider access to get people green cards, have them removed from deportation lists and even get them off “terrorist watch lists” in exchange for sums of money.

For example, it is alleged that Samih Zabib, who is in the United States legally under the country’s amnesty program, met with Ramsundar in February 2008. Zabib allegedly hadreceived notice that his work authorization was not being renewed and he was petrified at being deported after raising his family and operating a business here for 22 years.

Ramsundar allegedly told Zabib that he could get him, a friend and a relative permanent legal status in the form of resident alien cards, though it would cost $42,000 and a one-time money order “processing fee” for $1,010 made out to U.S. Immigration and Customs. It is alleged that the money order was never cashed but merely requested so that it would appear that Ramsundar was legitimately processing the applications.

Ramsundar allegedly told Zabib he should act fast because he was from Lebanon and was now on the top of the terrorist watch list to be deported. It is alleged that due to Ramsundar’s threats of imminent deportation, Zabib decided not to go to court but instead provide Ramsundar with his actual immigration documents, his identifying and immigration paperwork and a total of $43,010 in cash in order for him to stop their deportation and enhance their immigration statuses.

When Zabib questioned Ramsundar why he had not received any official communications from the U.S. government, Ramsundar allegedly provided him with a phony case number that he could use to log onto the Immigration website. Zabib and the two others have never received any change in status from the U.S. government.

The complaint further alleges that Ramsundar repeatedly claimed to be able to help other victims with various immigration problems, including fixing expired tourist and student visas and, in one instance, offering to help a man who feared deportation following a divorce from his wife who was an American citizen. He allegedly told all of his victims he could obtain permanent resident status for them in exchange for large sums of money. In total, Ramsundar allegedly received a total of $237,030 from eight victims.

In a second complaint, Ramsundar is alleged to have stolen a total of $855,000 from four individuals – including one he allegedly defrauded in the immigration scam – through two real estate deals. In his guise as an ICE agent, Ramsundar allegedly informed Baldeo and Zabib that he could gain access to federally seized real estate properties in Florida, which they could purchase for minimal fees and then sell for large profits. Further allegations state that he showed Baldeo photographs of several houses and even planned a trip so they could view the properties and attend the closings but cancelled the trip at the last minute. It is alleged that Baldeo and Zabib paid Ramsundar $445,000 and $210,000, respectively, in cash and checks and never received title or ownership documents for the promised real estate.

The complaint further alleges that, in March 2007, Kowlessar Mahadeo and Ramish Ramcharran met with Ramsundar, who claimed he worked for the FBI. Ramsundar allegedly drove them around Queens and showed them residential properties that purportedly had been seized by the federal government. Having agreed to purchase the Queens properties and one in Florida, it is alleged that Mahadeo and Ramcharran signed three actual contractual agreements entitled “co-purchasing agreements” and “confidential agreement,” which had been provided by the defendant and listed the amounts they had to pay Ramsundar. In total, Ramsundar allegedly received $92,000from Mahadeo purportedly for the properties and a government-seized Mercedes Benz, and $108,000 from Ramcharran for the properties. Neither man received any title to, or ownership or possession of the properties or car.

District Attorney Brown said that today’s case was initiated when its alleged victims read press reports last month about the sentencing of Port Authority janitorial worker Nazim (“Tony”) Hosein who had defrauded five members of the West Indian community by promising to expedite and produce legitimate green cards and other U.S. documents after collecting a total of nearly $100,000 from them. As a result of that unrelated case, the alleged victims in the instant case contacted the Port Authority Police with information about Ramsundar.