Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West


Remembering Mickey Hornung: Aug. 27, 1953 - Nov. 24, 2009

The staff at the Forum is deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of Mickey Hornung.

Mickey’s column was to run this week, however in its place we would like to share with you two selections from family members. We invite you to also read the editorial (p.8) in his memory. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to Mickey’s wife and children, Camille, Bettina, Michael and to the entire Hornung family. Mickey will be greatly missed by all of Howard Beach.


The Eulogy of Mickey Hornung

Delivered on Saturday, November 28 Our Lady of Grace Church by Mickey’s sister, Maureen Hornung

My brother Mickey was the sweetest gentlest little boy I ever met. He was kind, quiet and unassuming as a child—yet he was no coward. He never gave my parents or teachers an ounce of trouble. He was a wonderful brother, but had the unfortunate distinction of having my older brother Johnny as his big brother when Johnny was refining the art of teasing.

Although much of Johnny’s good natured teasing was directed toward Mickey, who was na├»ve and gullible as a child, Mickey adored Johnny and was always following him around, which made him an easy target. When things occasionally got too much, Mickey came to me to tell on Johnny. In those days, kids didn’t run to their parents unless there was a calamity but attempted to work out disagreements on their own. Like the Little Rascals and Charlie Brown, parents were always busy doing grownup things. He and my brother Johnny grew up to be close friends, confidents and inseparable for good and sometimes the not so good. Their escapades were legendary in Howard Beach.

My fondest memory of Mickey occurred one Sunday morning when he was about 7 years old. His beloved salamanders, Sally and Mander (they actually turned out to be Sal and Mander), appeared to be lifeless. He ran to tell my parents who were preparing for mass. They told him that they would have a funeral when they returned from church.

Ever organized, Mickey took it upon himself to hold the funeral and bury his salamanders in the back yard. When my parents returned he ran up to tell them that he had taken care of the situation. My mother replied, “What if they weren’t dead?” He said it was OK because he buried them with their heads sticking out of the ground in case they were still alive.

At age 24, Mickey took on the adult responsibility of organizing the funeral of our father and later in his life, the arrangements for our brother Johnny, both of whom died at an early age.

When I spoke to my sister Annemarie who was in Florida, she was so happy that she came up for Camille’s 50th costume party last month so she could remember him as he was that night. I said “Yes” but reminded her that he was dressed as a “Whoopee Cushion” at the time.

Over the past three days, I have heard comments about him ranging from loyal, sweet, gentle, good friend, trustworthy to goonbaka, and if he said ‘ZSA, ZSA one more time, I was going to beat him!” Let’s face it, Camille was a saint and he adored her. She was good to him and took care of him and my family is forever grateful.

Mickey was a loving husband to Camille and unconditionally supportive and loving father to Bettina and Michael. He was a good family man, like his father before him, a generous, loving brother to his siblings and a respectful son.

Some of you may remember Mickey for his good deeds to this community, some as a childhood friend, others as a devoted family member. I will remember him as my little brother who thought I could fix everything and everybody.

As you know Mickey’s life was an open book and sometimes… you were literally a character in it. Yet he was never mean or vindictive. Mickey dealt with his personal tragedies with dignity and forgave his trespassers with grace.

“Blessed are the pure in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If there is a heaven and he wanted to go there, I am certain that there is a spot for him.

When he gets to the pearly gates, I know he will be ushered in without hesitation…Unless of course, my brother Johnny is there convincing him to take one last adventure with him.

Thank you for celebrating my brother’s life with us. He will be sorely missed but forever loved.

My Cousin Mickey

By Maria Hornung

As I sit here writing this it is the evening that I learned of my Cousin Mickey’s death. I know that his passing has affected most of you in some way, and I couldn’t let it pass by without a farewell column in his honor.

Those of us that know Mickey know he took the writing of each article very seriously. Although each article had some flaws, a misspelling or a run-on sentence, they were all from the heart. (I am not a professional writer so you may find the same things in this article also.) What made them special was that they took us back to a time of childhood innocence. A time before fears of losing jobs, raising families, and paying bills were even thought about. A time of worrying about the health and well-being of our parents, children, families, friends, and ourselves were even a concern. To lose yourself for those few minutes in each column was a relief.

What was our biggest concern back then? For the boys, it was getting the newest pack of baseball cards, making sure your baseball mitt was oiled and formed perfectly. To being at the schoolyard on time for whatever was going on. For the girls, the right Barbie dolls, what were we going to wear so the ‘cute’ guy will notice, or what the new type of shoe to get was. Our biggest worry was to make sure we were home for dinner by the last chime of the church bells, and home at night by the time the street lights went on. We were gone for hours without contact with our parents. No cell phones or any connection to those who would worry about us. Lost innocence.

How great that Mickey could bring us back to better days. I was fortunate that I was present for some of the things he wrote about. (The squeaky step at the top of flight of the stairs was scary to this young girl) One of the articles that I remember the most and still brings a smile to my face was the nickname article. Who had names back then? How many people approached me in my youth to ask if my parents actually named my brother John Mugger? Who would do that to a child? That did not stop us, however. My uncle Harry, Mickey’s dad, gave each and everyone a nickname, whether you wanted one or not.

A couple of months ago I sat and asked Mickey a question that was on my mind since childhood. He was a great singer and I had always heard stories of him trying out for a roll in the original Broadway version of Jesus Christ Superstar and coming in third for the roll of Judas Iscariot. When approached he assured me the story was true but he didn’t go through with it because he was about seventeen or eighteen at the time and he would have to wear tights for part of his costume and he didn’t want his friends and his girlfriend at the time making fun of him. In response I told him he could have been an actor today and could have had money and everything. As I rambled on he response to me was a simple “Yeah but would I have been happy?”

The bible states that Jesus says “Bring unto me the little children”. That is how I will always remember my cousin. He had the ability in every article to bring unto ourselves the little child. Although I say goodbye to him I know for sure his presence will always be felt “About Town”.

Bus Overturns After Collision with Car


Residents Say Intersection Needs Safety Measures

By Conor Greene

Nine students from a Middle Village preschool were taken to a local hospital after the bus they were riding in was struck by a car and flipped onto its side on Tuesday afternoon.

The bus, carrying nine students from the Positive Beginnings school and two adults, was headed eastbound on 69th Road at about 1:10 p.m. when it collided with a car traveling northbound on 75th Street, according to reports and witnesses. The impact caused the bus to spin around before flipping onto its left side, striking parked vehicles in the process.

The children had exited the bus by the time emergency workers arrived at the scene. They were treated for minor injuries and taken to Jamaica Hospital for observation. A woman who answered the phone at the school on Wednesday said none of the children suffered serious injuries and all were discharged from the hospital later that day. They were on the way home from school when the accident occurred, said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

The bus was operated by a private company and is assigned to the school through the city Office of Pupil Transportation, according to the school. While a police report on the accident was not immediately available, several witnesses said the car might have ran a stop sign before colliding with the school bus.

“We’re very grateful because the children not hurt and were all strapped into seats and wearing safety belts,” the school staffer added. “It certainly looked frightening and we’re very grateful everyone is fine.”


Local residents and officials say the area near where the accident occurred is dangerous due to speeding drivers. Several approached Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) with their concerns over the past year, which prompted her to write at least four letters to Department of Transportation Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy requesting that safety measures be implemented.

In June, McCarthy responded with a letter informing Crowley that an analysis that considered factors such as vehicle and pedestrian volume, accident history, vehicle speeds, visibility and sign spacing was completed by her office. Based upon that study, McCarthy determined that all-way stop signs were not needed at 69th Road and 76th Street, but agreed to install a “stop ahead” sign along that stretch.

Following Tuesday’s accident, Crowley wrote yet another letter pushing for a stop sign at 69th Road and 75th Street. She notes there was a fatal motorcycle accident there in 2008, and a child recently had his foot run over by a turning car while he was standing on the sidewalk. “We can no longer wait; given today’s accident… we must take immediate action and at minimum install a “stop” sign, or speed hump,” wrote Crowley.

In her letter to the DOT, Crowley attached a petition from residents, a 2008 letter written by former state Senator Serf Maltese (R-Middle Village) and photographs showing the aftermath of accidents at the intersection, including one incident where a car drove into the bedroom of a nearby home.

Barbara Sheehan Speaks: Part II

By Patricia Adams

Last week The Forum brought you the first part of an interview with Barbara Sheehan, accused of shooting her husband, retired NYPD Sgt. Raymond Sheehan in February of 2008.

Now Sheehan is facing a murder trial and because of one judge’s ruling, will have to do so without the benefit of expert testimony to demonstrate the extent of the physical and mental abuse she suffered from for almost twenty years.

This week, Barbara Sheehan recalls her life as an abused woman and explains what happened on the day she shot her husband.


I SHOT MY HUSBAND

“I shot him because he was going to kill me. Finally he was going to end it all and shoot me. So I shot him.” Barbara Sheehan says that on the morning she killed Ray Sheehan he had been in the bathroom shaving, one of his handguns resting on the sink next to him. They had been arguing since the night before.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

“We went up to see my son at school. I brought him chicken cutlets and returned some laundry.” But as soon as they got in the car to leave Sacred Heart College, Ray Sheehan turned, without notice, and delivered a blow to her face that immediately sent blood gushing from her nose and pain shooting through her head. “I thought right away that it [my nose] was broken. There was so much blood and it hurt so much.” And Barbara says, “It didn’t stop there. He tried to throw me out of the car on the Merritt Parkway.”

Barbara Sheehan continued. “I was afraid to get out of the car. It was a wooded area and I was bleeding so much. No one was around.” All she wanted was to get home and go to the hospital. After arguing on the side of the road Ray Sheehan gunned the car back on to the parkway and headed toward home.

But the rest of the ride was filled with more verbal abuse, slaps, punches, pinches and anything else Ray Sheehan could manage from behind the wheel of the moving car. This episode had been brought on because Barbara had told her husband that she would not accompany him on a trip to Florida scheduled for the next morning.

“I was afraid to go away with him - to be alone with him in another state. My sister-in-law warned me not to go — she said he was going to kill me.” The sister-in-law she spoke of was married to Sheehan’s twin brother. The couple knew of Ray’s abuse and had gotten Barbara information on a domestic violence hotline and some support groups where she could go for help.

When they arrived home, Barbara was covered in blood--the cartilage from her nose displaced and moved completely over to one side. “I looked in the mirror and saw my whole nose on the side of my face. I just wanted to go to the hospital.”

But Ray Sheehan refused to take her. “I got my coat and left the house. I was going to walk to the hospital.” And on her way down the street Barbara used her cell phone to call her sister-in-law. “She told me to get out of here as quickly as possible, that Ray would probably be enraged because I had left.” As she hurried away, she heard the sound of a speeding car coming toward her — she turned and saw Ray Sheehan in their car. “I have to go,” she screamed into the phone, “he’s coming for me.”

Screeching to a halt, he pulled up and demanded she get into the car. They drove to St. John’s Hospital on Queens Boulevard. “He told me to get out and that he was going to wait right there. He wasn’t going in with me and warned me to keep my mouth shut.”

Inside the hospital Barbara Sheehan waited for treatment, but within a few minutes of her arrival, the cell phone began to ring. “He was calling to say that if he saw any police pull up he would know that I had called them. If that happened he said, hewould leave and go kill my family. ‘You know I have the guns with me—if you open your mouth, I’ll go out in a blaze of glory and your family will be dead.’”

Over and over her phone rang or beeped with text messages. Numerous calls and texts with more threats about keeping silent or paying the consequences. Finally when she grew too afraid to continue waiting for treatment, Barbara Sheehan left the hospital and returned to the car.

THE SHOOTING

The next morning the arguing continued, her husband infuriated over her refusal to go to Florida. “He was in the bathroom with one of his guns on the sink next to him. He was so angry because of Florida. And I knew. I just knew he was going to kill me.” It was then she says that he picked up the gun to threaten her. Barbara Sheehan ran into the bedroom where she grabbed another of Ray’s handguns.

“I came out of the bedroom with the gun. I wanted to get downstairs and get out of the house.” But Raymond Sheehan saw his wife heading for the stairs. Gun in hand, he turned and aimed it at her. “I knew he was going to shoot me and I just started firing.”

Media reports have consistently made inaccurate claims that she emptied 11 shots into the back of her husband, however, the autopsy report clearly proves that Raymond Sheehan was not shot in the back--the entry wounds were from the side of his body, consistent with Barbara’s story that he turned toward her aiming his gun.

After a documented history of almost twenty years of being beaten, Barbara Sheehan shot her husband. Ray Sheehan dropped to the floor; he was dead. Barbara Sheehan was downstairs on the phone. She called her sister, Robin, who arrived at the house minutes later. She found Barbara on the floor huddled in a fetal position. Robin called 911.

LOOKING TOWARD TRIAL

According to Barbara Sheehan’s attorneys, psychiatrists, psychologists and national experts on domestic violence all agree that those with little to no personal exposure to domestic violence are likely not capable of comprehending the harm which these abusers repeatedly levy on their victims.

Those unfamiliar with domestic abuse are most often unaware that this abuse devastates its victims with induced trauma on the emotional, psychological and physical levels. Typically, it is through the testimony and shared experience of expert witnesses that jurors can gain insight to the typical lives of abusers and their abused.

When Barbara Sheehan stands trial for her husband’s murder, she will have to do so without the benefit of such witnesses due to a ruling handed down in early November by Justice Arthur Cooperman. The ruling prohibits the inclusion of expert psychological and psychiatric testimony.

Now attorney Michael Dowd will search for a mechanism to overturn Cooperman’s decision — or find a way to bring a defense as strong as that which has been disallowed by the judge. “We’re in trouble here... what I don’t want is this terrific lady to go to prison,” said Dowd, “and be forced to stay there while we fight for an appeal. There is no reason for that. All we want is the right to present the evidence. We’re only asking for a fair trial by jury.”

LOOKING BACK

“When I think of life before, I just stop and try to think of life now. It’s so much better. I am safe. I may go to prison. But my kids and my family they are safe.” Then Barbara Sheehan comments on the irony. “Ray always told me that I could never escape him. He used to say that the ADA’s and the judges and the police ‘they all stick together Barbara.’ Now I see he was right—it’s as though he were reaching out from the grave.”

Photos: More than 400 rounds of ammunition recovered by police from Raymond Sheehan’s nightstand following his death. Following Raymond Sheehan’s death, investigators found evidence of his perverse sexual encounters with transvestites and crossdressers. Among things recovered were costumes (as shown above) and records of meetings with she-male sex partners discovered on the hard drive of his computer.

Jennifer Sheehan: A Daughter's View

Jennifer Sheehan remembers her home life well. Starting from the age of 4, the 23-year-old nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering says her earliest memories of the violence in her home were the sounds of screaming and things breaking downstairs beneath her bedroom.

“I didn’t get up from my bed… I remember going to sleep scared.” Jennifer continued recounting a series of harrowing childhood experiences during an interview with The Forum. One by one she dredged up the memories of the household where a mother’s love was the only barrier between two children and their raging, abusive father.

“He would never say anything to us.” Jennifer recalled coming home from school; her father sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper. “He never even looked up.” There were no happy times in the Sheehan house when Raymond Sheehan was there. “You would never know what would set him off. If something wasn’t where he wanted it, that was more than enough for my mother to get beat.”

Even mealtime was a trauma, especially when Raymond Sheehan didn’t like the menu. “My brother and I love my mother’s sauce. I remember one night when we were eating. She put the dish down in front of him—it was right off the stove. He picked up the dish and poured the whole thing over her head.”

And there were other times, many of them when Jennifer says she and her brother, Ray, saw their mother getting beaten. One of the worst she can remember was after her mother had accidentally scraped the side view mirror on the car when pulling into the driveway.

She heard crying and screaming coming from the living room downstairs. “I came out of my room to look. My father’s gun was lying next to him on the table. He was on the couch, on top of my mother. He just kept punching her. All over her body. Harder and harder. She just cried and cried, begging him to stop. Asking him over and over again, ‘Why are you doing this?” But Raymond Sheehan never answered. He would finish with his beating, get up and go out.

Of the beatings and the bruises, Jennifer says there are far too many to recall. “Her eyes were black and blue. There were marks on her arm. And then I would see my mom in her pajamas, where other people did not. And there were bruises all over her.”

And the reflections of other violence in the house; when on occasion her father would use his hands on her. “I remember one time, I was about eight. He grabbed me and picked me up. He threw me across the room. My mom got in between to help me. Then he beat her.”

Now Jennifer says she doesn’t get as upset as she used to when talking about the life she and her mother and brother spent with Ray Sheehan. She says life is much better. “The most anxiety comes from worrying about my mom’s trial. We are still not free to move on until we have that behind us. But at least we are all safe.” And she says that she hopes her mom will have the chance to work helping other victims of domestic violence.

When asked about the personal relationship with her father the pain in her eyes is obvious. “There was no relationship. Never. Not with me and not with my brother. We didn’t go to his funeral and the only reason I went to his wake was because I had to see for myself that he was really dead. I had to see that now we were really safe.”

Of her mother Jennifer Sheehan says very simply, “No matter what was going on with my mom, she never let anything get in the way of her love for us. She protected us from him. She is the best mother we could have.”

Jennifer Sheehan says she still suffers from anxiety attacks whenever she thinks about the trial. “I have to believe that when the judge and the jury hear what we have to say, they’ll know the truth.”

Residents Replant Trees in Juniper Valley Park Following Vandalism


Community members joined city officials this past weekend to plant trees in Juniper Valley Park to replace ones that were destroyed by vandals in September.

Middle Village residents, members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, the Juniper Juniors, a local Cub Scout troop and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski gathered at the park on Saturday to replace 14 trees that were cut down in September. The trees were among 300 recently planted as part of the mayor’s PlaNYC effort.

During overnight hours in September, an unknown vandal entered the park and cut the trees down. Unlike previous acts of vandalism, in which limbs were ripped off the trees, the perpetrator of the recent destruction clearly used a power saw to cut the trees down. The JPCA and several elected officials offered a reward, but the suspect wasn’t caught. A total of 20 trees have been victimized during several separate incidents this year.

In response, the volunteers planted nine Snow Goose Cherry trees, two Kwanzan Cherry trees and three Bosnian Pines. Ed Dart of Dart’s Tree Farm in Long Island donated 20 elm trees in response to the vandalism. However, the park is in an area affected by Asian long-horned beetles, and since elms are particularly susceptible to infestation, they will be planted in other parts of Queens and the Bronx.

“The park has been made whole again, and we’re putting this behind us and moving forward,” Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, told NY1. “This is our big moment – we’re not going to give in to vandalism and we’re going to take back our park, and we certainly did.” Holden said the civic association is seeking grant money to have cameras installed in the park, which would be linked directly to the 104th Precinct stationhouse.

Following September’s vandalism, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe released a statement reminding residents that arborcide is a criminal offense punishable by fines and jail time. “The loss of 12 newly planted trees… is a blow to the quality of life and environmental health of Juniper Valley Park,” said Benepe. “Trees are a valuable asset, providing shade and oxygen, cleaning the air and creating homes for our wildlife.”

City Unveils Zoning Limits for Metro Ave HS


Frustration Over DOE Process for Opening New Buildings

By Conor Greene

With overcrowding within borough schools a chronic problem, many parents are thrilled that the long-awaited Metropolitan Avenue high school complex will finally open this September. However, many are shocked at the city’s decision to only open the school up to one grade at a time, meaning it won’t be filled to capacity for four more years.

The city Department of Education unveiled its proposed zoning map for the new 1,000 seat high school set to open on Metropolitan Avenue near Woodhaven Boulevard in time for the start of the next school year. Aside from expected disappointment and complaints from parents whose block wasn’t included in the zoning, many in attendance at PS 113 on Monday were surprised that the school will initially only be occupied by freshmen.

The complex, which as been in the works for nearly two decades, includes the 1,000-seat high school, for which priority is being given to District 24 and District 28 students who live within the proposed zoning boundaries. It also contains a 6-12 school which has been set aside for students in District 28 and wasn’t part of Monday’s zoning discussion.

Gaby Fighetti, senior director of enrollment at the city DOE, said the main goal is to “set up this high school to be a success.” The goal was to create a zone that will eventually include about 250 students from each grade level, with half the seats set aside for District 24 students and half for District 28 students.

For the first year only, students living in an area previously zoned for another local high school such as Forest Hills or Hillcrest, but now included in the Metropolitan Avenue zone, will be allowed to choose which facility they attend. In future years, they will only be zoned for the new school.

Priority will first be given to students living in the zoned area, and then to the rest of Queens before admission is opened up to residents citywide. The proposed zone was created using mapping software that contains addresses of enrolled students, explained Fighetti. “It’s all about density. You go out as far as you can go until you have too many families zoned,” she said.

During Monday’s meeting, some residents requested changes to the proposed zoning, such as extending it further north so students don’t have to cross Queens Boulevard. Another asked if Cord Meyer residents currently zoned for Hillcrest would be allowed to utilize seats at Forest Hills High School that will open up as students enroll in the new Metropolitan Avenue complex.

Fighetti said that since FHHS is already overcrowded, the department will not be redrawing zoning lines for that facility. “No matter where you draw the zoning lines, there is a family across the street that isn’t included,” she said, adding that while the DOE is willing to listen to arguments regarding the zoning, the rationale behind a change can’t simply be that a particular block or household isn’t included.

However, a major point of contention was the DOE’s decision to open the new school up to one grade level at a time, meaning it won’t be filled to capacity for four years – even though nearby high schools are filled beyond capacity. In explaining the decision, Fighetti repeated the mantra of “setting the school up to succeed.”

A DOE spokesman later told The Forum that the department is “phasing in the school one grade at a time rather than opening all grades at once because research, as well as our experience, shows that new schools do better when they phase in gradually. While we understand that high school overcrowding is a serious concern in Queens, our first responsibility is ensuring that we’re setting up our schools for success. The Metropolitan Avenue complex will help alleviate overcrowding in nearby high schools starting when it opens in 9th grade next year, and as it adds new grades in subsequent years.”

Still, many didn’t buy that rationale at Monday’s meeting. “We can’t have schools operating on five sessions,” said Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the borough president’s appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy. “We’re building state of the art buildings and we’re not even utilizing them… I think this is a mistake. Go back to the drawing board and utilize more of this school now,” he said to loud applause.

Another resident suggested that the school be opened up to freshmen, sophomores and juniors initially, since most students wouldn’t want to transfer to a new school for their senior year anyway. Fighetti later denied a resident’s theory that the decision is drive by budget constraints. “It is not an economic decision, it’s an instructional one,” she reiterated.

While the proposed zoning map is close to a final product, the DOE will continue to accept community feedback over the next two weeks, according to a spokesman. Residents can e-mail suggestions and comments to portfolio@schools.nyc.gov before the proposal is submitted to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for approval.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) told the audience that the zoning map presented that night was different from a proposal officials reviewed several weeks ago, which didn’t include Forest Hills Gardens. He also questioned the decision regarding the facility’s opening. “The bottom line was to reduce overcrowding [so] is there a rationale to open just one grade?” he questioned.

Dermot Smyth, the area’s United Federation of Teachers representative, suggested that parents fill Klein’s e-mail inbox to voice their unhappiness with the decision to only open the school to freshmen next year. “Let him know you don’t want it to open up with three-quarters of the seats empty,” he said. “Be a little loud and he will pay attention.”

Board Seeks Demolition of Glendale Building

CB 5 Claims Multi-Family Home Violates Zoning

By Conor Greene

The local community board wants the city to force the owner of an occupied three-family home to dismantle the structure because it violates a host of zoning laws, wasn’t built in accordance with submitted plans and doesn’t have a certificate of occupancy.

Community Board 5 “decided to be quite proactive” in regards to the situation at 78-46 79th Place in Glendale, according to Walter Sanchez, chair of the board’s Land Use Committee. A garage serving the multi-family unit next door was replaced with a three-family building, which the board claims doesn’t conform to either the R5 zoning in effect prior to the March 2006 area rezoning or the current R4-1 regulations.

Sanchez reported at the November board meeting that District Manager Gary Giordano wrote a letter to the Buildings Department about the concerns, which include lack of parking, work without a permit and violations of front and side yard regulations. The board is “really concerned about the safety of the people inside” in light of recent fatal fires, said Sanchez, especially since it involved self-certified plans. “We want to put it on the record,” Sanchez said of the letter, which was copied to area elected officials.

“After additional review, our [committee] remains concerned and quite sure that the three family home constructed at the property in question complies neither” with the current or previous zoning, wrote Giordano. “To our knowledge, self-certified plans were filed... for the conversion of an existing two-family house to a five-family dwelling. In actuality, what has been done is to demolish the garage serving 78-44 79Place and build a three-story dwelling where the garage was.”

As a result, neither property now has off-street parking, which is required. Further, the garage was torn down without a permit, which the owner only obtained after receiving a violation, according to Giordano. A stop work order “related to this questionable construction” was issued in November 2008, and the property still doesn’t have a valid certificate of occupancy, wrote Giordano, adding that it is “very questionable” whether the property meets yard setback requirements.

The advisory board voted 38 to 0 in October in favor of having the building dismantled. Last week, a DOB spokeswoman said a stop-work order had been issued at the fully-completed building and that the application was being reviewed. When asked what course of action, including demolition, was possible, she said an inspector would visit the property and determine an appropriate course of action.

No updates regarding recent inspections have been posted on the DOB online records, and the department did not respond to a followup inquiry this week. On Wednesday, Giordano said he is still awaiting a response to his letter.

Queens DOB Official Charged with Corruption

An investigation into corruption within the city Buildings Department has extended to Queens with the arrest of the borough’s former Chief Plan Examiner, who resigned last month.

The city Department of Investigation announced the arrest of James Cheng on charges of accepting cash payments from a Flushing architect in exchange for reviewing buildings plans before they were submitted to the Buildings Department.

Cheng, 55, of Woodmere, was a former Chief Plan Examiner with the DOB until he resigned in November. On Monday, the DOI announced that Cheng has been charged with receiving reward for official misconduct, a felony, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor for allegedly accepting cash payments from Sung Ho Shin, a state registered architect.

Shin, 49, of Syosset, has been charged with giving unlawful gratuities, a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, the felony charge is punishable by up to four years in prison and the misdemeanor charges by up to a year’s incarceration.

“As charged, these defendants betrayed their professional responsibilities and brazenly disregarded the rules,” said Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the DOI. “everyone should know that offering and accepting money in exchange for a city employee giving preferential service is a crime that will end in arrest and prosecution.”

Cheng, who is also a state certified architect, began working at DOB in June 1997 as a Plan Examiner. He resigned in February 2001 to take a similar job with the city School Construction Authority until March 2003, when he returned to DOB as Chief Plan Examiner in the department’s Kew Gardens borough office.

In that post, Cheng was paid an annual salary of $99,149 until he resigned in November. His duties included meeting with the public, including architects and engineers, reviewing project records and building plans for compliance with city building code and assigning them to be reviewed by plan examiners.

According to the criminal complaints, Cheng reviewed zoning analysis for building plans that had not yet been submitted to DOB in exchange for cash payments from Shin over a two-week period in 2008. The investigation revealed that Cheng knew and told Shin that he was not allowed to engage in that type of activity.

The DOB released the following statement from Commissioner Robert LiMandri: "These allegations, if true, are clearly unacceptable and are not condoned in any way. Mr. Cheng resigned from the Department last month, and we are currently reviewing his jobs as a precaution.

"The Department has taken significant steps to increase integrity and transparency, including an online property database detailing inspection results, mandated integrity training for all employees and the use of GPS technology to track on-duty inspectors. Since 2002, tips from our staff have led to more than 70 arrests by the City’s Department of Investigation, exemplifying the honest work of so many employees who are dedicated to serving this City."

Maspeth Principal Warns Students After Robbery

By Conor Greene

The principal of a local school recently sent out a warning to parents after a student was mugged on Maspeth Avenue and threatened with a knife.

The e-mail, sent out on November 24 by Sister Rose Torma of St. Stanislaus Kostka, informed parents and students that a member of the school’s upper grades was mugged the prior day. While no weapon was brandished, the perpetrator told the student he had a weapon during the robbery.

“It is distressing to realize that not only do things like that happen, but they happen ‘so close to home,’” wrote Sister Rose. Teachers planned to discuss the incident with students, and the principal reminded parents to encourage children to travel home from school with friends and leave the school grounds immediately after dismissal “so that there are many people on the street at the same time, thus limiting the ‘alone time’ that students who walk home from school would have on the street.”

“It took the occurrence of an unfortunate incident to reinforce safety precautions that all of our students should be reminded of,” wrote Sister Rose. “We are grateful that our student who was as approached on the street was not seriously hurt and I count on you, as a parent, as well as our teachers, to reinforce that there is safety in numbers and that it is not wise to stay behind the group after dismissal time.”

After the e-mail was sent out, it was forwarded to other individuals in the community along with a message from a parent claiming that officers at the 104th Precinct refused to take a report from the victim on this incident.

In response, an officer from the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit told The Forum that the stationhouse was especially busy when the victim and his mother arrived to file a report. They were told they would have to wait and ended up leaving before an officer could assist them. Officers followed up with the victim this week so that a report could be filed, according to the Community Affairs Unit. The precinct confirmed that a robbery occurred, but was unable to immediately provide specific details about the crime.

Sex Offenders Kicked Off Social Networking Sites

Facebook, MySpace Disable Offenders’ Accounts

More than 3,500 registered sex offenders throughout the state have been kicked off online social networking sites Facebook and MySpace in the first database sweep conducted since a new state law went into effect, announced Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Under the new Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), which went into effect last year, registered sex offenders are forced to register their e-mail addresses with the state. Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace can now access that information to prevent sex offenders from maintaining accounts.

Under the first database sweep since the law went into effect, Facebook was able to identify and disable accounts linked to 2,782 sex offenders across the state, while MySpace recently disabled 1,796such accounts. Since some sex offenders had accounts with both sites, the number of individuals purged during the sweep stands at 3,533.

In all, there are more than 8,100 sex offenders who have registered e-mail addresses with the state. That means more than 43 percent of those sex offenders using e-mail have accounts registered with Facebook and MySpace, which are both popular with teenagers. Information about the accounts is now being shared with law enforcement authorities.

While Facebook and MySpace are taking part in the initiative to prevent sex offenders from soliciting new targets through social networking sites, others “remain slow at adopting available new protections against sexual predators online,” the attorney general noted in a press release. In response, Cuomo’s office has sent letters to other sites urging them to take action now to prevent offenders from maintaining accounts.

“We created e-STOP to help put an end to sexual predators using the Internet as a tool to prey on the innocent,” said Cuomo. “Facebook and MySpace are successfully using e-STOP to help make the Internet safer, and it’s time for all social networking to do their part to keep others from being senselessly victimized.”

Under e-STOP, the nation’s more comprehensive law to enhance protections from sexual predators on the Internet, many offenders are banned outright from using social networking sites while on probation or parole. Also, convicted sex offenders must register all of their e-mail addresses, screen names and other Internet identifiers with the state, which shares the information with social networking sites so they can purge offenders from their online worlds.

Sex offenders recently purged from Facebook and MySpace come from all regions throughout the state. Locally, 186 of the removed offenders live in Queens, 101 in Nassau County, 177 in Brooklyn, 143 in the Bronx and 118 in Manhattan.