Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Christmas Comes Early

By Patricia Adams

Christmas came early this year for one South Ozone Park family, thanks to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation and state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). Like so many other small business owners facing today’s economic difficulties, Susan DiLuca and her husband Giuseppe were devastated when they recently had to close Frank’s Pizzeria, the family business they owned and operated for 25 years on Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue.

“We had a wonderful business. Our customers were like family after all this time,” said Susan DiLuca. But despite the fact they owned the building, the pizzeria was unable to cover the mounting bills. “Business started to drop because people were bringing their own lunch to work.”

In addition, she says there were many layoffs at the LIRR and things just continued to spiral downhill.

Beside the struggles at their business, the DiLuca family found themselves faced with yet another troublesome situation— the youngest of their four children, Emilia, just starting her freshman year at Adelphi, was going to have to leave college. The family tried everything to arrange for her tuition payments—parent loans for students, refinancing their home, applying for personal loans, even trying to get a job with the school for a discounted tuition—but nothing they tried proved successful. “We were at our wits end with no where to go. We put our other three children through college and we were heartbroken that Emilia would not have the same chance,” said Susan DiLuca.

But a phone call from the school to Senator Addabbo started the wheels in motion. After learning about the situation, the senator made a call to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation to inquire about the groups scholarship program, which offers opportunities to disadvantaged students of Italian descent.

The DiLuca’s were asked to submit a formal request to the Foundation board for review and within a few days they got the good news. “Our scholarship program has helped many students who have financial difficulty,” said Mario Faulisi, president of the organization. “It was a pleasure to secure this year’s tuition for Emilia. She is a good student from a hard working family who deserves this opportunity.”

“There is no way to express what we feel about the way the Senator and the Foundation have helped us. My daughter is so relieved and happy that we just can’t believe it,” said Susan DiLuca. “We will never be able to express our gratitude to the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation for the help that they gave us. They made a dream come true. God bless them.”

“I am always so grateful to be a part of anything that helps out families in need, especially when it involves students and education,” said Sen. Addabbo. “We are all thankful for the help and good work that the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation does. They have stepped up here and provided a much deserved opportunity for this bright student who has a great future ahead of her.”

For Emilia DiLuca, her dream of becoming a teacher is now very much alive. “This is one of the best Christmas presents I could ever get,” says the 18-year-old. “I will be forever thankful to the Foundation and to Sen. Addabbo for all their help. My education will not be interrupted because of money and I can pursue my teaching career.”

And on Monday, when Emilia DiLuca went online to check her balance, the funds had been transferred into her student tuition account. She was going to keep her place in school. The date may have only been December 13, but to Emilia DiLuca it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Taking Back The Neighborhood: Lindenwood Alliance Gets Up and Running

By Patricia Adams

Howard Beach saw the debut of its newest community organization at the first meeting of the Lindenwood Alliance on Monday evening. The meeting was held by the co-leaders of the organization, Christina Gold and Joann Ariola, who explained the origin of the group and how they intend to serve the community.

More than two dozen residents were joined by representatives from the offices of local elected officials including Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Shirley Huntley. Councilman Eric Ulrich was on hand to offer support and to praise the organizers for their innovative approach to forming the group, and encouraged those present to spread the word and join the Alliance.

Gold led the discussion by informing those present that the Alliance was conceptualized by her and Ariola after the two first met at a meeting of the 106th Precinct Community Council several months ago and had a subsequent discussion about the problems facing their community.

The women, both Lindenwood residents, decided that they would take action to beef up neighborhood security after a sudden spike in crimes involving vandalism and auto theft. Gold further explained that her interest was sparked after a group of teens threw a bottle into her backyard during a family party. “The bottle landed a couple of feet away from a 2-month-old baby that was sleeping in her carriage,” Gold said. “After that I knew something had to be done.”

The Alliance will not function as a typical civic organization and instead will focus on the integration of community, elected officials and local police. “Our objective is to get everyone involved,” said Ariola, a life-long Howard Beach resident and activist. “The problems we are having here in Lindenwood are much like those around the city. The difference here is that we intend to do something about them.” Ariola went on to say that the expected success of the Alliance will come from the dedication of the residents and the cooperation of elected officials and the police.

Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives from Phoenix Security, the company that has been retained by the community since 2002 and offers a neighborhood patrol service. Debbie Velez of Phoenix and Pam Goldstein of Neighborhood Crime Prevention detailed their respective operations and how they serve to protect Lindenwood residents. The company has two patrol cars, one marked and one unmarked, patrol’s the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are hoping the formation of the Alliance will help to encourage residents who live in the areas private homes to participate in their program by agreeing to pay a fee to join. Inquiries can be made by calling 718.641.0100.

The Alliance will continue to meet on the 2nd Monday of every month at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center at 7:30 p.m. All are encouraged to attend and questions can be directed to Christina Gold by phone at 718.844.4743 or e-mail at or Joann Ariola at 347.233.4382

Grocer's Bankruptcy Worries Shoppers

By David J. Harvey

Area Walbaums and Pathmark Stores stay open despite debt

Residents are not likely to find shuttered doors at their local Waldbaum’s supermarkets either in Howard Beach or at others in Queens, despite the company’s growing debt.

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), which owns Waldbaum’s, announced on December 12 that it had filed for bankruptcy. In a press release, A&P President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Martin said the voluntary filing under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code was a necessary part of the company’s restructuring.

“Our customers can shop our stores with confidence, and our employees can continue delivering great value and service to our customers every day," Martin said.

He also said all stores would remain fully stocked and operating during the company’s restructuring efforts.

A&P opened its first shop in 1859 on Manhattan and owned 16,000 stores at its peak in the 1930s. The company now operates 395 stores under several names across the Northeast. Nearly 60 of those stores are Waldbaum’s, concentrated on Long Island with additional markets in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The Waldbaum’s stores in Howard Beach—one on Cross Bay Boulevard and another on 153rd Avenue in Lindenwood—are among sparse options for buying groceries in the area. The stores’ closure could impact quality of life for neighbors.

“I don’t know what we would do if this store closed,” said Mary Bartolomo, who has lived in one of the area’s co-op buildings for 30 years. “Many of us are seniors who don’t have cars and we are able to walk to the store. I hope they get what they need to stay open otherwise we’ll be in bad shape.”

A spokesperson for Howard Plaza, the management company that holds the lease for the Waldbaum’s store in the Lindenwood Shopping Center, said that Waldbaum’s has “no intentions of closing for business or vacating the location despite the bankruptcy announcement.”

A&P will maintain its assets under Chapter 11, unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy wherein assets are liquidated.

According to A&P’s bankruptcy claim, the company has debts totaling over $3.2 billion and assets of roughly $2.5 billion. Waldbaum’s share of the debt is nearly $900 million.

JP Morgan and Chase has issued A&P an $800 million loan related to the bankruptcy filing that will allow A&P to continue paying employees’ wages and other operating costs.

“We could not complete our turnaround without availing ourselves of Chapter 11,” Martin said. “It will allow us to restructure our debt, reduce our structural costs, and address our legacy issues.”

Despite assurances that stores will not be closed, the company has sold off properties during earlier restructuring measures. In September this year, A&P sold seven stores in Connecticut to Big Y Foods, Inc.

"The seven stores were clearly outside of our core markets and this transaction
helps advance our comprehensive turn-around strategy,” Martin said in a statement issued after the sale.

A&P also sold six Pathmark retail stores in September to Winstanley Enterprises, LLC. The six stores sold to Winstanley were in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Currently, A&P has 73 “dark stores” — closed locations the company has had trouble subletting or selling, according to the Wall Street Journal. The rent for these stores is projected to cost $77 million in 2011.

According to A&P spokesman Eric C. Andrus, the company will continue to analyze its store portfolio while in Chapter 11, as it has since announcing restructuring in October.
Andrus would not provide information beyond what is in the bankruptcy filings.

“Under Chapter 11, we must review every aspect of our business and we cannot speculate on what other actions may be taken to complete our financial and operational restructuring,” Andrus said in an e-mail.

As OTB Parlors Close Gamblers and Workers Cry Foul

By Jason Barczy

A dark, gloomy cloud not only washed over New York City on Monday but also the faces of bettors, horse racing enthusiasts and employees as the last of the NYC Off-Track Betting (OTB) sites closed.

The bankrupt NYC OTB closed its doors on December 8 after state Senate Democrats failed to gather enough votes to pass through legislation that would have rescued the nearly 40-year-old operation.

Joe Fazz, a 53-year-old court officer from Rego Park said it was a very sad day. He gathered all his betting slips from the past year and cashed them in at the NYC OTB parlor at 107-40 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

“This was an irresponsible decision,” Fazz said. “Employees are out of jobs two weeks before Christmas. I understand the money changers don’t care about that but it’s something that’s not lost upon the people.”

The Forest Hills location was one of the last three betting parlors that remained open. There were 54 in the city–including 17 in Queens–that provided customers a chance to cash in any winnings and close accounts.

Fazz and others came in to cash out for the last time. The parlor in Forest Hills was all but empty Monday afternoon with a couple senior citizens lounging at the site.

“A lot of senior citizens come out to these places to sit and relax just to get out of the house,” Whitestone resident and NYC OTB employee Arthur Kaplan said. “Now, those
people aren’t going to the track. People like that have no way of getting to the track; they came here because it’s local and in that sense it’s a shame. These people are going to suffer.”

The shutdown puts nearly 1,000 employees like Kaplan out of work and, according to Kaplan, could have a bigger effect on surrounding businesses.

“There’s a residual effect too because customers here would go to restaurants so they’ll lose business too,” Kaplan said. “Stores will lose business from people that come into this place.
NYC OTB was $228 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy in 2009."

The Senate voted 29-21 on the rescue plan, falling three votes short of the 32 needed to
pass the measure and the closure could cost the state upwards of $500 million in revenue. The failed rescue bill included concessions from NYC OTB, its unions and creditors along with cuts in statutory payments to state racetracks, which have long been cited as a main reason OTB was losing money.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who sits on the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, voted in favor of the bill because he was concerned about the loss of jobs.

“It is truly unfortunate that there was not enough bipartisan support to save the approximately 1,000 jobs of the NYC OTB workers with a plan that would have cost the state nothing and actually would have resulted in cost savings and additional revenues,” Addabbo said in a statement released after the vote on December 7.

“As a result, we must now focus on dealing with the lost jobs, financial cost to the state upwards of $500 million, the negative impact on the thoroughbred and horse racing industry, and any detrimental effects this may have on Aqueduct’s racing future,” he said.

OTB’s were responsible for taking in 40 percent of New York’s racing handle, amounting to nearly $1 billion a year in bets on harness and thoroughbred horse racing.

OTB board Chairman Lawrence Schwartz said NYC OTB provided $700 million to the state and the racing industry from 2004 to 2009.

In an interview with WOR radio on December 8 Schwartz said, “NYC OTB is shut down and there is no plan to reopen it. You can’t switch it on and off. There have not been negotiations. The future is bleak if not finished.”

The New York Racing Association is working on a number of plans to make up for the shortfall of revenue it received from NYC OTB including opening up its own betting parlor at Belmont Park.

NYRA is offering free bus rides to the Aqueduct Racetrack from select NYC OTB locations across the city. The bus rides started on December 4 and will run until further notice. NYRA president and CEO Charlie Hayward also asked the state to consider allowing video streaming of its races online.

Local Shelter Expands Reach to Pets

By Jason Barczy

More and more pet owners in Queens are facing the difficult challenge of feeding and taking care of their furry loved ones during tough economic times.

Faced with average annual costs of more than $800 for owning a dog or a cat, according to Business Week. Owners are dropping off pets at overcrowded animal shelters and in some cases just abandoning them on the street.

However, one local food pantry in Richmond Hill is fighting to help pet owners alleviate some of the costs of owning a pet and prevent owners from abandoning their four-legged friends.

Elohim Community Development, at 87-47 111th Street in Richmond Hill, primarily provides food for hungry, low-income people. In response to an overwhelming need, it started offering food for dogs and cats a little over a year ago.

“When we started the program we had 12 or 13 seniors we were supplying and then the word got out,” said Anthony Miranda, executive director of ECD. “Soon it was phone call after phone call. There was a tremendous need.”

ECD, in its 11th year of existence, now feeds 75 to 90 cats and dogs on an average day as many of the pet owners who come to the pantry are senior citizens living on a fixed income.

Miranda said giving up pets due to economic constraints is a tragic occurrence and pet owners should look into any possible assistance first.

“When I was a kid all you had to do was call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and they would come pick your pet up,” Miranda said. “Now they don’t do that.”

ECD is open Thursday, Friday and Sunday and supplies food on an emergency basis through a 24/7 hotline. It is one of the largest multi-service food pantries in Queens.

The pantry relies solely on donations from companies, organizations and individuals to contribute much of the food it provides. More than 30 volunteers help out with its efforts.
But with many people and companies struggling in this economic climate, the pantry is seeing a decrease in monetary donations and volunteers, affecting its ability to provide food.

The Animal Relief Fund provides ECD with much of its pet food and delivers pet food to 61 pantries across New York City including 16 in Queens.

ARF is a non-profit corporation founded by New York attorney Susan Kaufman to help pet owners who are experiencing financial difficulties. It partners with the Food Bank For New York City and is supported by 20 pet stores and eight PETCO stores citywide.

“When the economic crisis hit New York I realized just how many people were unemployed and forced to make a choice between feeding themselves or their pets,” Kaufman
said. “I read about increased abandonment of pets and I made some phone calls and realized pet food wasn’t being distributed by anybody.”

In her second year of operation, Kaufman estimates she has distributed 300,000 to 350,000 pounds of pet food.

Anyone wanting to make a donation to ARF can send a check or money order to ARF Inc. at P.O. Box 1530 New York, NY 10028 or by email to

A donation of $25 can buy two cases of cat food and $50 will pay for three cases of dog food. A $75 contribution will provide 120 pounds of dry dog food and $100 can buy 120 pounds of dry cat food.

Donors can make financial contributions to the ECD through PayPal by going to To sponsor a canned food drive, they can call 917-418-7906 or e-mail

Mitchell Epstein contributed to this story

Blood Drive for Teen to be Held at CTKHS

A Middle Village teen is asking for the community’s help this holiday season to donate blood and give the gift of life at a blood drive held in her honor on Saturday, December 18, at Christ the King Regional High School.

Fourteen-year-old Carly Nieves was first diagnosed with leukemia in July 2003, at the age of seven. She was treated with two years of intensive chemotherapy at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

Unfortunately, after three years in remission, Carly suffered a relapse and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells that normally fight infections.

The new diagnosis placed Carly in a high-risk category, which required an additional three years of intensive, high-dose chemotherapy.

Cancer patients like Carly require frequent blood transfusions because aggressive treatment often destroys healthy blood cells along with diseased ones. Red blood cell transfusions to fight anemia and platelet transfusions to control bleeding are often needed.

“When you’re told there’s no blood for her, it’s just devastating,” said Lisa Horner, Carly’s mother. “It’s not like you can just come back tomorrow.”

Despite the emotional, physical and psychological affects of her cancer, Carly has persevered and kept an optimistic outlook on life. She successfully completed her academic studies with honors.

Carly wants to bring attention to the plight of children with cancer and the need for blood and bone marrow donors. She and her family will also donate cash proceeds collecting at the blood drive to Friends of Karen, a nonprofit organization that helps the families of critically-ill children cope with the financial and emotional stresses of life-threatening illnesses.

The blood drive is hosted by the New York Blood Center and will be held at Christ the King’s cafeteria between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The school is at 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village.

Ridgewood Theatre Sold to Associated Supermarkets: Preservationists Want Interior of Theatre Saved

There are many architectural treasures that
deserved to be saved such as this angelic
cameo and muse on the ceiling of the
theatre's lobby, said Michael Perlman
By Eric Yun

The historic Ridgewood Theatre is on its way to becoming an Associated Supermarket, but preservationists and community activists are hoping to devise a plan to protect the theatre’s historic interior.

Preservationists won a major victory in January when the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the outside façade as a landmark. Afterwards, there has been a strong lobbying effort by groups including Friends of Ridgewood Theatre to hold public hearings and designate the interior of the theatre.

The hearings never came to fruition, and the theatre, which has been closed since 2008, was sold to Associated Supermarkets franchisee Tony Guzman. According to published reports, the president of Associated Supermarkets Harry Laufer expects the store to open in approximately six months.

Now, preservationists want to work with Guzman to creatively adapt and preserve the architectural treasures inside.

“In many cases country wide historic theatres were creatively reused, and in many cases, working with the architectural remnants instead of demolishing them were more feasible and saved the owner money,” said Michael Perlman, chair of Friends of Ridgewood.

The three-story, 53,238-square-foot Ridgewood Theatre was opened in December 1916 during World War I and was one of the nation’s longest operating theatres. Designed by famed theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb, the interior of the building entails Greek mythology and features angelic muses and original detailing designed by Lamb on the balconies.

There were also several historic movies shown at the theatre. When it opened, the theatre played vaudeville shows, and the first all-talking movie, the 1928 film Lights of New York, was among the first theatres to show the movie.

While Perlman would have loved to kept the theatre completely intact and show movies, he thinks there are several ways Guzman can preserve the theatre’s history and build a successful supermarket.

“Its history should not be abandoned,” said Perlman. “It should be built upon as a marketing incentive.”

It might sound easier to demolish the interior of the theatre to build the supermarket, but Perlman notes that there are several grants and low-interest loans that are available to Guzman if he decides to restore the building. Perlman also hopes the upper floors of the theatre can be used for community and performance arts groups. Allowing others to use the theatre has the potential for supplementary income from rent and community goodwill that would be better than any advertising campaign.

Perlman wants to secure a meeting with Guzman to discuss his ideas. He noted that if Guzman had any plans to change the exterior façade, he would have to meet with preservationists and get city approval. Therefore, it could be beneficial to develop a plan to restore the theatre from the project’s outset.

“I can’t imagine anyone taking a jackhammer and gutting the interior [of the theatre]. It would tear the heart out of many preservationists and residents borough wide,” Perlman said.

Conspiracy Plot Foiled

A wrongfully imprisoned Rockaway woman was cleared of armed robbery charges after an investigation lead to charges of perjury against her ex-boyfriend.

Seemona Sumasar, 35, called authorities last year and claimed her ex-boyfriend, Jerry Ramrattan, raped her. To escape the charge and discredit Sumasar, authorities said Ramrattan created an elaborate ploy to frame her for an armed robbery.

Ultimately, her ex-boyfriend’s alleged deceit cost Sumasar six months in a Nassau County jail.

According to the criminal complaint, Ramrattan solicited Rajive Mohanlal, under threats to his family members, to call police and claim Sumasar and another individual robbed him at gunpoint.
Mohanlal complied and called police in September last year, authorities said. He told police that Sumasar and another individual, later identified as Vishwanaut Bandhu, robbed him. He further told police that Sumasar “racked” a black gun during the robbery, causing a bullet to fall to the ground.

When police officers investigated the scene of the alleged crime, they recovered one live round.

Mohanlal also gave false testimony to a Queens County grand jury on October 20 and testified that Sumasar and Bandhu committed the alleged robbery, according to the criminal complaint.

On December 2, Mohanlal allegedly informed a detective that his grand jury testimony was false and Ramrattan had threatened his family. He was arraigned and charged the following day with first-degree perjury, fifth-degree conspir- acy, fourth-degree tampering with a witness and third-degree falsely reporting an incident. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Ramrattan, the alleged mastermind of the plot, was apprehended and charged this past Monday with the same charges.

Sumasar, a single mother, told WABC reporter Sarah Wallace that her time in jail caused her to lose the restaurant she owned in Richmond Hill.

“The defendant is accused of hatching an intricate and sinister plot to extract vengeance against the woman claiming that he had raped her by framing her and having her falsely charged with armed robbery....” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “The defendant’s brazen attempt to seek retribution was not without consequences. She has suffered serious fi- nancial hardships, as well as emotional distress.”

Man Convicted of Rape of Ex-Girlfriend

Luis German Yunga
An Elmhurst man accused of savagely raping and disfiguring an ex-girlfriend was convicted Friday in Queens Criminal Court.

Luis German Yunga, 43, invited the victim, whose name was witheld by police, to his house in May 2008 to discuss financial issues, according to trial testimony. When she arrived, Yunga asked to resume their relationship, and when rebuffed, took a knife and slashed her face. Yunga then forced her to remain at his apartment for several hours and said that if she contacted police he would kill her daughters, aged eight and four.

Three months later, Yunga went to the victim’s three-family residence. Although initially refused access inside the building, a neighbor unwittingly let him enter.

Yunga forced himself into the family’s apartment and stomped on his ex-girlfriend’s head and back until she lost consciousness. He then proceeded to rape his victim in the presence of her eight-year-old daughter.

When officers from the 110th Precinct responded to the daughter’s frantic 911 call, Yunga jumped out of the apartment’s window, but was quickly apprehended in front of the house.

The jury, after eight hours of deliberation, convicted Yunga of first-degree rape, first-degree burglary, first- and second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful imprisonment and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

“The defendant changed his ex-girlfriend’s life and that of her young children forever two years ago,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, “and while the physical scars of what occurred will be with her for the rest of her life, hopefully this conviction will provide her with some small measure of help in overcoming the trauma she and her daughters experienced during the assault on her.”

Sentencing has been scheduled for December 23, 2010.