Thursday, August 5, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Arrest Made in Fatal Stabbing at Woodhaven Subway Station

A memorial set up at the 85th Street train station where the stabbing took place is marked with flowers, candles, and messages from loved ones.

By Patricia Adams

Five days after the fatal stabbing death of 27-year-old Woodhaven resident Dario Paiva, another Queens man, Benjamin Moreira, 19, of Elmhurst is in custody charged with his murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

The deadly attack occurred on Friday night when the victim’s mother asked Dario Paiva to go to the aid of his younger brother Khristian. Norma Paiva had been on the phone with her younger son who had called her after returning some films to a neighborhood video store. During the conversation it became apparent that Khristian was in trouble. He told his mother someone had hit him. "I was like, 'Oh my God, Dario. They're hitting Khristian,” said the 60- year-old mother. “So he run, he run like he never did."

When he came upon his brother at Jamaica Avenue near 85th Street, the attackers had headed for the elevated train at 85th Street and Forest Parkway. Paiva followed them up the stairs. Police officials say there could have been as many as four men and two women.

The band of thugs allegedly turned to Paiva and flashed yellow and black beads—a sign they were members of the Latin Kings gang—before they rushed him with knives. Benjamin Moreira is believed to be the attacker who delivered the fatal stab wound to his neck.

"My brother was trying to keep them away from me, and when we got to the top of the stairs, they stabbed him," a tearful Khristian Paiva told reporters. “I tried my best to save him. I did everything I could.” Dario Paiva was taken to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The victim was working in construction and had plans to transfer from a community college to attend Queens College—the same school as his brother. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer according to a friend who stopped at the flower memorial erected at the foot of the train station entrance. “I know him for almost six years. He was all about his family. He was a good brother, a good son—a good man.”

Friends of the family say it will be very hard for Dante and Norma Paiva to overcome this tragic loss, especially since another sibling was killed in a car accident in recent years.

A funeral mass will be held at the church of Holy Child Jesus in Ozone Park at 9:45 a.m. on Friday.

Cracking Down on Commuter Vans: Law Aims to Better Regulate Growing Industry

By Eric Yun

Many residents searching for transportation options in areas underserved by the MTA have found commuter vans ready to fill the void. Most of the vans, however, are run illegally.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) introduced legislation at last Thursday’s City Council meeting in an at- tempt to curb the illegal vans. The bill requires the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to train the NYPD on the laws about commuter vans and how to properly identify illegal vans. It will also create a “digest of laws” so police understand the licenses, signage, and other materials a licensed and legal commuter van must have.

With MTA service being cut throughout the city, commuter vans are becoming an important part of transportation services.

Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a pilot program that would allow commuter vans to operate on some of the bus routes that were discontinued by the MTA.

But in an overly entrepreneurial spirit, illegal van operators have overtaken the routes of licensed vans. There are approximately 300 legal vans that operate throughout the city. It is unknown how many hundreds operate illegally.

Crowley was joined by Council Members Karen Koslowitz and Dan Halloran at a press conference last Thursday to announce the news to the community. The event was held in Maspeth, which is one neighborhood that has been hit particularly hard by this issue.

“This is first and foremost a public safety issue,” said Crowley. “Illegal and unlicensed commuter vans are operating off the radar of the TLC and the NYPD; they’re not being inspected for safety and they’re not being held accountable. If illegal commuter vans want to continue to operate in this city, they have to abide by the law or else face the consequences. This new bill will strengthen the laws against illegal commuter vans and enforce licensed, regulated, accountable and safer van services.”

“Requiring the Taxi and Limousine Com- mission to train the NYPD to identify the difference between legal and illegal commuter vans is a common sense safety measure that I strongly support,” said Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), “Commuter vans provide a needed service and we in the council need to make sure that they are safe, legal, and reliable.”

There appears to be bipartisan support for Crowley’s legislation. Halloran (R-Whitestone) was at the press conference pledging his support. “We encourage competition but the competition has to be on a level playing field,” Halloran said.

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET), said the legislation is a “good start” to curb the problem. She noted illegal vans were picking up passengers even as Crowley was holding the press conference. The civic group has long called for better enforcement of commuter vans, which are also a major problem in Elmhurst.

Daraio questioned the need for commuter vans at all in her neighborhood. “We don’t need them here,” she said. One of the biggest concerns for COMET members is reducing traffic in their already congested neighborhoods. “On Grand Avenue alone, there are 500 trucks,” Daraio said. “Getting rid of illegal vans will help alleviate some of the traffic problems.”

Two Guilty in Plot to Destroy JFK Airport

By Eric Yun

The two men accused of plotting to destroy John F. Kennedy International Airport were convicted on numerous charges Monday in a Brooklyn Federal Court. They now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.

Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir planned a crippling attack on the airport that they boasted “even the Twin Towers can’t touch,” according to court documents. The target of the attack was the Buckeye Pipeline, an underground system that transports fuel and other petroleum products to JFK Airport.

Defreitas is a Guyanese immigrant and a former cargo worker at JFK Airport. Kadir is a Guyanese national who was once a member of the Guyanese parliament. They were arrested in June 2007 while they were still formulating their plot.

Abdul Nur, a third defendant, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and faces up to 15 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors claimed that, with the help of a FBI informant, they caught Defreitas plotting to destroy JFK Airport and attempting to recruit members of militant Muslim groups.

Defreitas was caught conducting video surveillance on the airport and boasting about the destruction his attack would cause.

Lawyers for the defendants argued that without the informant, there would have been no case. Defreitas was characterized as all talk but no action. It was only through the help of the informant, they argued, that Defreitas started moving forward with the plan. The informant purchased and taught Defreitas how to use a camera to conduct surveillance on the airport.

“I think [Defreitas] is a guy who likes to talk to make himself seem important,” said Mildred Whalen, Defreitas’s lawer, according to a report from the New York Daily News.

On the other hand, Kadir might have had the resources and connections necessary to pull off the attack. Federal prosecutors accused Kadir of being an Iranian spy.

Kadir’s lawyer, Kafahni Nkrumah, claimed his client was faced with an impossible task of fighting “the atmosphere of fear in the country” about Muslims and terrorism, according to a report in the New York Times.

Both men plan to appeal.

State Lottery Approves Genting's Aqueduct Proposal

Project Now Awaiting OK from Governor and Senate

By Eric Yun

After ten years, it appears that Aqueduct racetrack will finally receive a vendor to operate 4,500 video lottery terminals (VLTs). New York Lottery strongly recommended approval of lone remaining bidder Genting New York to Governor David Paterson on Tuesday.

Genting New York is a subsidiary of Genting Malyasia Berhad, which owns and operates some of Asia’s largest casinos and resorts. They just finished building a $4.4 billion Universal Studios resort and casino in Singapore.

“It is with genuine enthusiasm that the Committee unanimously recommends Genting New York as the winning vendor,” wrote Lottery Director Gordon Medenica to Governor Paterson. “Our strong recommendation, based on the merits of the proposal, was vastly reinforced by Genting’s financial offer of $380 million as an upfront licensing fee.”

In a statement, Genting New York said, “We hope the lottery’s recommendation will be endorsed by the Legislature so we can immediately get to work creating jobs, preventing layoffs and delivering more than $15 billion in economic benefits to New York over the next 30 years.”

New York Lottery was able to move forward with their recommendation when State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer dismissed the lawsuit from Aqueduct Entertainment Company (AEC) last Thursday.

AEC (formerly Aqueduct Entertainment Group) sued the state’s lottery division in June to reclaim the “racino” project at Aqueduct racetrack. The company was awarded the bid in January, but the state disqualified them after questions about the group and the bidding procedure. A temporary restraining order was placed, which prevented the state to award the bid to another company.

Representatives from Aqueduct Entertainment Company had unsuccessfully claimed the state changed rules midway through the process, and disqualified their company in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. The judge saw things differently. Justice Kramer said the January selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Company was not legally binding because the company was still in the vetting process at the time.

With the Lottery’s recommendation, it is now up to Governor Paterson and the State Assembly and Senate to approve the bid.

There is strong support from local elected officials to move forward and approve Genting New York. Genting officials impressed many when they unveiled their plans to the community at a public hearing last month.

“I am very pleased that NY Lottery has unanimously selected a winning vendor for Aqueduct,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “This has been a long and drawn out process for the community, but I am happy that it is finally going to reach the finish line.”

Local State Assembly Members and Senators are urging their fellow members to move quickly to approve Genting’s proposal.
“I have already spoken with Speaker Silver and now strongly urge Governor Paterson and Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sampson to move quickly to approve Genting’s proposal,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park). “Be assured, I will demand that community concerns and input continue to be included in all future planning. We must work diligently to bring the jobs, employment opportunities and economic stimulus that Aqueduct will provide to our local community and economy,” she added.

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) is excited about the possibility of additional jobs for his constituents. “Selecting a bidder for Aqueduct is an important step towards alleviating our high unemployment rate and our shortfall in state revenue,” Miller said. “I feel that Genting will prove to be a good choice because they are responsive to community concerns. They will make efforts to hire locally, and will cover their own security.”

If Genting is approved, it would provide more than 1,300 jobs to the community through the long-awaited revitalization of the Ozone Park racetrack. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is happy not only about the installation of VLTs, but the fact New York Racing Association will be able to continue horse races at the track.
“I look forward to working with Genting and the community as we move forward with building Queens’ newest tourist at- traction that will provide 1,300 construction and post-construction jobs, financial benefits to the state, and long-term benefits to my constituents,” Addabbo said. “I will also continue to stress those issues that need to be addressed by Genting, particu- larly traffic patterns and public safety.”

For many in the community, New York Lottery’s recommendation of Genting was met with optimism. But after the problems in previous rounds of bidding, including the disqualification of Aqueduct Entertainment Company and the previous failure of Delaware North to generate the promised upfront funds, the enthusiasm is tempered.

“Only when the ink is dry, I’ll believe it,” said Betty Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10. She looks forward to future interactions with Genting, and disseminating information to the community as she receives it. “It’s time to get this done,” she said.

Local Man Arrested for Graffiti Spree

L-R: Responsible for the investigation and the arrest are Sgt. Brian Goldberg, PO Frank Calafiore, Capt. Craig Adelman, PO Joseph Osolin and PO Frank Reina. Not pictured is PO Michael Baio.

By Patricia Adams

Kevin Harold’s car remains at the 106 Pct.
impound lot after it was positively confirmed
 to have been used in several of the incidents.
A tireless effort by the 106th Precinct to capture the graffiti vandal plaguing business owners and residents in Howard Beach for months came to an end with the arrest of a local man early last Friday morning.

Kevin Harold, a 28-year-old NYC Sanitation worker, was arrested at his Lindenwood home and charged with 14 separate counts including Making Graffiti and Criminal Mischief with Intent to Damage Property.

An aggressive investigation into Harold’s graffiti spree through Howard Beach and nearby communities has been ongoing since June, when the tagging started.

Captain Craig Adelman, Executive Officer of the 106, is in charge of traffic and graffiti within the confines of the precinct and has spearheaded efforts in the investigation. Following the arrest, the Capt. Adelman praised the efforts of his officers and the community throughout the investigation.

“This was a great job by everyone involved. Our cops really put every effort into this investigation, but we would not have able to bring this case to an end without the help of the community,” said Capt. Adelman.

Police Officer Frank Reina, who has long been responsible for investigating the area’s graffiti, viewed more than 50 surveillance videos in connection with the crime. He was joined on this case by the precinct’s Nighttime Conditions Unit, which is responsible for community policing and quality of life issues.

Sgt. Brian Goldberg, who heads up the Conditions Unit, says his guys were on it morning, noon and night. “We had some good leads and cooperation from the community and we had the dedication of the officers on the case.”

Leads had started to accumulate as anger built in the community with tags cropping up in prominent locations in Howard Beach, including Ragtime Gourmet and Blockbuster in addition to the side walls along avenues and underpasses. But the level of community outrage and frustration reached its peak when Harold allegedly left his mark along a wall of the former Bernard Fineson Center on 156th Avenue, tagging the word “retard”.

“That [Fineson Center tag] took this thing to a whole new level,” said Police Officer Frank Calafiore of the Conditions Unit. “The community was really outraged and so were we.” Fellow officers Joseph Osolin and Michael Baio worked with PO Calafiore, Sgt. Goldberg and PO Reina to bring the situation to a close.

Officer Reina explained how the team nailed Harold. “We had a general physical I.D. from some videos but we didn’t know who he was.” Reina said that the Conditions Unit received information from a man they questioned near the hospital site. The man gave police a license plate number of the individual he said was responsible for the tag.

In addition to Harold’s admitting to the crimes, the most damaging piece of video evidence came from the surveillance equipment at My Mothers Italian Ices on Rockaway Boulevard and Centreville Street. Those cameras showed Harold tagging the underside of the serving counter with a marker as he was ordering an Italian ice.

Community Affairs Officer Kenny Zorn says that there are other factors that should be taken into consideration with this arrest. “People tend to think of graffiti as more of a nuisance but few realize the broader implications of crime like this.” Zorn noted that the exhaustive amount of police resources that went into this investigation diverted attention away from other serious concerns within the precinct. “In his own way, this guy put a lot of people in jeopardy by tying up police personnel and diminishing other services. It’s just another big reason to continue to eradicate graffiti.”

Harold was released on his own recognizance following his initial appearance in a Queens County Court, has no prior arrests and will appear before a judge on September 23.

Maspeth Boy Killed by Gas Truck

The remains of 12-year-old Frederick Endres’ bicycle near the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue after it was struck by a tanker truck.

12-year-old struck at Eliot Ave and Fresh Pond Road

By Patricia Adams

Frederick Endres would have celebrated his 13th birthday on Thursday. Instead, his family will spend the day grieving with friends and loved ones after the boy was struck and killed on Monday afternoon.

Police at the 104th Precinct said the 12-year-old was trying to cross the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Eliot Avenue on his bicycle when he was hit by a large tanker truck about 1:30 p.m.

The 18-wheel truck was making a wide right turn from Eliot Avenue onto Fresh Pond Road and ran over the boy with its rear wheels.

Witnesses at the busy Maspeth intersection were horrified by the events and say the driver did not see the boy crossing.

An employee at the Citgo gas station at the intersection ran to help. “He wasn’t moving,” a visibly shaken Ron Digi told reporters at the scene. “He wasn’t speaking. He looked gone the moment I got over there.”

According to Digi and other witnesses, the driver pulled over and got out of the truck to see what had happened and proceeded to make several phone calls. Police say the accident investigation is still ongoing. The driver was issued three summonses at the scene—one for driving off a truck route and two for equipment violations.

Frederick Endres was immediately rushed to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead on arrival.

He had been biking to meet his best friend, Joseph Larosa, in front of nearby Pet Palace on Fresh Pond Road when he was hit. The boys, known throughout the neighborhood as Freddy and Joey, were inseparable. They knew each other since kindergarten and their moms also share a close friendship. Having met at the store nearly every day to ride together around the neighborhood and Juniper Valley Park, Joey Larosa is heartbroken over the loss of his best friend. “We did everything together. We hung out almost every day.”

Freddy’s mother, Frances Endres told reporters her son had just started to be allowed away from their home on his own. The devastated mother said, “He was my baby. My soul is gone without him. My heart is broken.”

A memorial of flowers, candles and birthday balloons now marks the scene of the tragic accident, just a short distance from his home. People arriving at the makeshift memorial stopped to read the messages left there by friends and loved ones. “Freddy was different,” said one woman gathered, “He made you laugh all the time. He was a great kid.”

A handwritten card affixed to a bouquet of tulips left a tender message from a family who knew Freddy well: “May God bless you and your family. You are in our prayers. You were a beautiful young boy and you will be missed so much. Sabrina will miss you dearly. We all will baby. Rest in peace sweetheart. With all our love.”

Glenridge Center Shuts Doors Due to Funding Woes

By Eric Yun

It appears that the jubilation over last month’s successful effort to keep the Glen- ridge Senior Center open is short-lived. After Councilwoman Diana Reyna allocated funds to keep the center open, its operations were suspended on July 30 because it failed to receive an advance loan from the city Department for the Aging (DFTA).

The saga began when the DFTA was forced to end contracts with multiple senior centers throughout the city, including Glenridge, due to the city’s current economic woes. Five days before Glenridge, which serves about 100 local seniors, was set to close, it received an operational grant from Reyna (D-Ridgewood). Getting the money to the center, however, is a long bureaucratic process.

“There’s nothing that can be done to expedite the discretionary funding process,” said Bennett Baruch, Reyna’s chief of staff. He stressed, however, the Council- woman’s office has been in frequent communications with Glenridge Senior Center, and they are doing everything they can to help.

In order to keep the center operational while they waited for the grant money to arrive, they asked the DFTA for an advance on the funds they were set to receive. This request was denied.

Chris Miller of the DFTA explained the reasoning: “Glenridge is one of 46 senior centers that no longer have a contract with the city, and it is our policy not to give advanced loans to centers without contracts,” he said. The DFTA is still the dispersal agent for the Council money, but without a contract, it cannot advance the loan to Glenridge Senior Center.

Albert Juszczak, director of the Glenridge Senior Center, was sad the center had to suspend operations. However, there was little he could do without incurring additional financial costs the center could not afford. There is a possibility the center could receive a bridge loan to open its doors before the arrival of the grant money. If that doesn’t happen, the center must wait for Reyna’s funding to come through in order to reopen its doors.

For now, the seniors at the center are forced to live without the center’s comforts. Juszczak and his team made sure to help them with this transition. “The seniors were well aware we might have to shut down,” he said, “And they were advised where to go for additional services.”

The Peter Cardella Senior Citizen center is one of the local centers handling some of the displaced seniors from Glenridge Senior Center. Cardella already had a working relationship with Glenridge Senior Center transporting seniors.

“I’m on good terms with Albert [Juszczak],” said Cardella Senior Citizen center director Barbara Toscano. “It’s always a pleasure to take on seniors.”

First Jabs Thrown in State Senate Showdown

By Eric Yun

The first jabs have been thrown in the race between Republican challenger Anthony Como and incumbent State Senator Joseph Addabbo as the battle for the 15th Senate District seat begins.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) fined Como $500 and determined he must return $12,484 of unspent camaign funds. The infractions were from Como’s unsuccessful campaign against City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) in the 2008 general election.

The CFB released its aduit on July 22nd. According to the report, Como and campaign treasure Laura Schreiner must repay the board by August 25th or risk civil action.

The $500 penalty was the result of two infractions. Como’s campaign purchased a $100 advertisement from the Holy Child Jesus Teen Drama Club in September, and then spent more than $6,000 in impermissible post-election expenditures for office equipment and phone and Internet services.

Como’s campaign contends the spending, which occurred at the tail end of the campaign, was necessary because both companies only offered long-term contracts. However, the CFB determined that portions of these contracts were impermissible.

Como’s Campaign Attorney Grant Lally reiterated to The Forum that the contracts were only available a year at a time and downplayed the issue. “At the end of the day, it’s just $500 in fines,” he said, adding that Como was very cooperative furnishing reports, and the unspent funds and fines will be paid.

This didn’t stop New York Democrats from jumping at the opportunity to take shots at Como.

“The recent Campaign Finance Board decision fining Anthony Como $12,484 for violating campaign finance law is yet another example of this career politician’s utter disregard for the law and New York’s overburdened taxpayers,” said Eric Blankenbaker, spokesman for the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Como fired a shot at Addabbo’s campaign as well this week. He Filed a challenge against signatures Addabbo’s campaign collected to land him on the Working Families Party (WFP) ballot line.

The WFP is a progressive party that fights for middle and working class families. They support universal health care, affordable transportation, good jobs and fair taxes. Under a request from Como’s campaign, the Board of Elections’ clerks examined Addabbo’s signatures for the WFP line.

Addabbo received 30 signatures, but under a review from the clerks, seven signatures were invalidated. A total of 24 signatures are needed to be listed on the party line, which left Addabbo one signature short.

The clerks’ report was examined by a non-partisan group to ensure its accuracy before being sent to the Board of Elections commissioners for a vote. According to Como’s campaign, this process was conducted twice because of complaints from Democrat Commissioners, but ther clerks’ report was still eventually sent for a vote.

The Board of Elections Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of accepting the report, but a total of six votes were needed. Five Republicans voted in favor, and four Democrats voted against. As a result, Addabbo is allowed to remain on the WFP ballot line in November.

“I have been practicing Election Law for many years and never witnessed a refusal to accept the clerk’s report,” Lally said. “This decision is politically motivated and ignores Board of Elections protocol. I look foroward to having our argument heard in a court of law.”

Addabbo contends he had enough signatures, and this is just a common election game from Como to shift focus away from real issues. “I didn’t challenge any of his signatures,” Addabbo said. “I’m focusing on the quality of life issues that serve my communities.”

MTA Unveils 2011 Budget Plan

Changes Planned for Unlimited Cards

Straphangers who depend on the city’s subways and busses will soon pay extra for their daily rides, especially if they use the unlimited Metro Cards. The MTA, which is facing a deficit of more than $800 million, recently announced a plan that includes cost-cutting measures and fare hikes.

Public hearings are expected to be held in September on the plan, which is expected to be finalized in December.

Under the plan, the MTA honored its 2009 agreement with the state legislature and kept fare hikes at 7.5 percent. Base rides will remain $2.25, but the MTA proposed various increases on other types of MetroCards.

Unlimited Metro Cards received the brunt of the changes. The 30-day unlimited card would cost $99 dollars and be capped at 90 rides. Another option discussed was a $104 unlimited card with no cap restrictions. The 30-day unlimited card is currently $89. Similarly, the 7- day unlimited cards would have a 22-ride cap for $28 or an unlimited card for $29.

The MTA argued even with the increased price, riders would receive significant discounts. “A rider taking 90 rides in a month would pay $1.10 per ride under the $99 option, or $1.16 per ride under the $104 option,” the MTA said in a press release.

Other changes to unlimited cards include the elimination of the 14-day unlimited and the “one-day Fun Pass.” According to the MTA, the two cards account for just 2.9 percent of trips.

Other cost-cutting measures included charging customers a one-dollar “green fee” for buying new Metro Cards. The MTA spends $13 million each year printing new cards. The initiative would reduce litter if more people refilled existing cards, and the surcharge would not apply to cards sold at outside retailers.

The MTA also proposed sacrifices for their labor force. The company already eliminated more than 3,400 jobs to help close their 2010 deficit. Another 210 station agent jobs are eliminated in this year’s plan. Furthermore, the MTA proposed freezing wage increases unconnected to productivity. Subsequently, non-union employees, for the second straight year, will not receive a cost of living raise, according to the MTA.

“The foundation of this plan is the most aggressive and comprehensive overhaul in the history of the MTA,” MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder said. “These actions have allowed us to hold true to our commitment regarding fare increases while maintaining the quantity and quality of service that New Yorkers rely on every day. The State’s ongoing fiscal crisis is one of many risks to the plan, but with continued hard work and the participation of our labor unions I believe that this plan can be achieved.”