Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

West Hamilton Beach Installs Officers

By Patricia Adams

Officers were sworn in last Thursday evening at the West Hamilton Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Corps' 83rd Annual Installation at Russo’s on the Bay. One of the evenings honorees was community resident Tina Palmiotto, who lost her 16-year-old son John in a car crash in November 2005.

Tina created a scholarship fund in her son’s memory at the Robert F. Wagner Junior Secondary School in Long Island City, where John was a student. Over the last three years the fund has awarded more than $15,000 to students who are deemed “most improved” from grades 9-12. Now, because of the suc- cess of the program, it will become available in other schools as well. “John would have been so happy to see this,” said Tina. “These kids are so thankful for the chance the scholarship gives them.

Councilman Eric Ulrich was sworn in as an honorary fire marshal at the event and was presented with a plaque and a West Hamilton Fire Department jacket.

No one would argue that one of the evening’s highlights came with the installation of Joseph M. Vasquezaldana as Chief of the Department. The sixyear member was sworn in by a former department chief, twenty-seven year member Joseph Vasquezaldana—his father. The very emotional moment represented the first time in department history that a father and son have both served as chief.

Speakers at the event relayed the immediate need to raise money for a new ambulance. Following the most recent ice storm on Tuesday night, February 2, the corps responded to a two-vehicle accident on the Belt Parkway. Upon arrival, two members of the corps got out of the ambulance to assist when they noticed a car bearing down on the ambulance.

Both members were struck by the front of the ambulance when the out-of-control vehicle slammed into the back of the unit.

The department has two ambulances, one from 1995 that is regularly used for night calls, and the newer one, which is a 2008. Unfortunately, the older unit was in the repair shop and the newer ambulance was left with serious damage. According to department officials, it will cost $125,000 for a new ambulance.

Rising to the occasion, long-time benefactor of the department, attorney D. Marjorie Centrone, punctuated her speech with the presentation of a personal check for $5,000 to start off the new ambulance fund.

Centrone not only wrote a personal check for $5,000, she vowed to help the department raise the rest of the funds. Within minutes after the announcement that the fund had officially begun, Pastor Baum of St. Barnabas Church in Howard Beach approached Marge and passed along a handwritten note promising yet another $5,000 from the church.

Please check for future updates in The Forum as to how you can help with the ambulance fund.

Kiwanis Honor Slain Son

Howard Beach Kiwanis members present Nick Beneduce with a check in memory of his son Jonathan Joseph Beneduce, who was killed in New Jersey in February 2010. At his father’s request, the check was made out to Jonathan’s favorite charity, Birthright Israel.

Nick has also received checks from other friends and family in memory of Jonathan and is asking anyone who would like to help keep his son’s memory alive to make a check out to Birthright Israel and mail to Nick Beneduce, P.O. Box 140082, Howard Beach, NY 11414.

Nick will be presenting checks on the one year anniversary of his son's death.

911 Dispatch System Under Fire

Every second counts for the FDNY when responding to fires such as the 2009 Woodhaven blaze that destroyed several homes.
By David J. Harvey

New York’s 911 system is under City Council scrutiny amid allegations from fire fighter unions that the city’s claims of lower response times are exaggerated while the Unified Call Taking system (UCT)—the city’s new cen- tralized emergency dispatch—has been blamed for sending firefighters to the wrong address during hundreds of cases.

During hearings in December 2009, City Council members investigated whether miscommunication was risking New Yorkers’ lives. More recently, a joint-committee hearing held on February 1 by three council members focused on dangerous mistakes and inaccurate response times.

According to Congresswoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, 911 dispatchers—who are police officers—have sent fire units to the wrong address at least 590 separate times since the launch of UCT. Two of the most notorious incidents left six dead: a father and two children at St. Marks Place in Brooklyn, and three more in Woodside.

“We cannot forget the back to back mistakes under the UCT where fire units were dispatched to the wrong addresses, sent in the wrong direction,” Crowley said at the hearing last week.

In the Woodside incident, in November 2009, dispatcher error was blamed on firefighters slow response. Responders were sent to 62nd Street rather than 65th Street. It wasn’t clear whether the residents of the illegally subdivided home could have been saved by the additional time, but at least one anonymous firefighter at the scene told the New York Times he thought at least one person would have been saved.

The mistake was used heavily in arguments that NYPD dispatchers were not as prepared to handle fire calls, and that FDNY should have a place in the UCT dispatch system. After a battle to get trained fire dispatchers back into fray, the city revamped UCT procedure—trained fire dispatchers joined fire-related reports via conference call as of November 24, 2009. Since then, the number of reported mistakes has decreased.

The City Council is also investigating why the UCT system has failed to handle heavy traffic, since it was originally proposed because of the overloaded 911 system on September 11, 2001. During the heavy storms last September and December, the UCT system crashed.

But this isn’t a new development either. The system crashed during a heat wave this past summer and part of the system had also crashed inexplicably for several hours on November 17 and 18, 2009, preventing the NYPD dispatchers from communicating with firefighters.

“The City Council has listened to testimony from New Yorkers in every borough who waited too long for 911 to answer their call,” Crowley said. “My primary concern ... is that we are investing billions of taxpayer dollars on a new system that does not seem to be working and is supposed to replace a system that was never broken.”

Timely Response

Under the UCT system, emergency response times are at an all time low, but union leaders say the numbers are misleading.

Pre-UCT, a 911 dispatcher would immediately transfer the caller once the nature of the emergency was determined. In the case of fire, a trained fire dispatcher would take over and the response clock would start.

UCT dispatchers now handle all the information taking—meant to reduce redundan- cies in the old system as well as response times—then send an alert to the appropriate fire station. Reported response times under UCT are lower than the previous system.

An FDNY spokesperson said the procedure for recording response time has not changed, but Uniformed Firefighter Association President Stephen J. Cassidy said the lack of change is the problem.

Cassidy said in a statement posted last year on the UFA website that the time the original dispatcher—the period not included in the official response time—rose from an average of five seconds in the old system to an aver- age of one minute and 15 seconds with UCT.

“Response times under the UCT have gone up, not down, as the city contends,” he said. “The City's deliberately false statistics are part of an attempt to justify closing firehouses.”

Cassidy also said that fire dispatchers averaged 45 seconds—included in the response time—to glean the same information from a caller. He said the UCT dispatchers, which are police officers, do not have the proper training in dealing with fire emergencies.

The response times were also a heavy focus of the Council hearings.

“This 911-system upgrade has proven to be flawed, unreliable and dangerous—and New Yorkers are paying the price,” Crowley said. “The one thing the UCT system has succeeded in doing is spinning emergency response times to justify budget cuts to the FDNY.”

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s 2011 budget once again proposes cutting up to 60 fire stations throughout the city, but an additional $286 million toward emergency communications was requested in January.

Spending Spree Ended

The broader Emergency Communications Transformation Program (ECTP)—which includes the UCT system—is budgeted as a $1.8 billion project and has been under development for nearly a decade. So far, the Mayor’s administration has spent roughly $650 million. Originally, the plan was to create two redundant sites for ECTP and UCT—the existing one in Brooklyn, and a second in the Bronx—at a cost of $360 million.

On January 3, City Comptroller John C. Liu denied a request from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) for an additional $286 million more to open the Bronx site. Along with denying the request for funding, Liu notified the DoITT on January 12 that he was opening a full audit into the ECTP.

“This contract would open the door to excessive spending,” said a City Comptroller spokesperson Mike Loughran.

In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Liu pressed for the Mayor to give attention to ECTP as his office reviews what went wrong with CityTime, which was the center of a massive fraud investigation last year.

“Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith is now undertaking a comprehensive review of the City's major technology projects, beginning with CityTime, to see why certain things were missed and to make sure that additional measures or safety nets are installed to prevent waste and fraud,” Liu wrote. “The ECTP project should rank high in priority for his review to head off even more severe problems.”

Learning from the Mistakes of the 2010 Blizzard

By David J. Harvey

Weather forecasts predict clear skies, snow has been largely removed from streets and trash collection has resumed, but the cleanup is far from over across the city.

Snow took a heavy toll on the city’s finances. The December storm alone cost the city more than $38 million.

On Monday, February 7, alternate side parking enforcement resumed, and the city issued 9,910 tickets—twice the daily average—expected to collect at least $500,000 in fines.

Additionally, the City Council is planning to introduce a package of snow related legislation. The new bills will include regulations that require the city to authorize a snow emergency when forecasters predict a blizzard, to open the emergency operations center before the first snowfall and to designate a “cleanup” official for each borough.

The City Council legislation would also require the city to publish a list that ranks streets as primary, secondary or tertiary, the designations that determine plowing priority.

But recouping expenses and legislating weather responses aren’t the only post-snow priorities.

Another of the bills would require increased use of 311 during storms. The Sanitation Department, which faced the brunt of complaints during the unprecedented snowfall, is looking to do more than return to business as normal.

According to the Division of Customer Service and Government Relations office, Sanitation is working to improve two-way communication through 311.

Director of Customer Relations Henry Ehrhardt said, “There is no middle man, 311 puts it right in our system and it goes right to the Sanitation garage to be taken care of.”

The city is also eager for residents to receive training on how to use the system. In a conversation with Ed Wendell, of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, about his effort to organize Block Captains throughout his neighborhood, Ehrhardt discussed feedback from the department to residents. The Block Captains were organized to pass information—such as lists of unplowed streets—up the chain of command to City Council representatives and their community board, both of which recommend residents call 311.

“When you give information to several different places it can be hard to track, and you’re duplicating efforts, sometimes it’s hard to get back to the source,” said Ehrhardt.

He added that he and Wendell had discussed using the Block Captain network to help train residents on how to report and find information more efficiently.

“We have been regularly posting information on our website on the status of snow removal and trash collection, there’s more information available,” he said. “The ultimate answer is to let the folks know the most effective way and how they can track the individual service requests that they make.”

Walmart Debate Rages On

By Eric Yun

Opposing rallies were held outside City Hall last Thursday as the City Council held hearings over the possibility of a New York City Walmart. A project the size of a typical Walmart store would require City Council approval, but Walmart is reportedly looking at smaller lots—notably the Gateway II plaza in East New York—which would not require zoning approvals.

Walmart representatives did not attend the meeting, leaving stones thrown by politicians unmatched.

“Walmart’s absence and refusal to attend only leads me to further skepticism about them as a company,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio echoed Quinn’s complaints and added, “Walmart’s record is clear: they have eliminated more jobs than they created by driving small businesses out of town and they are contributing to the decline of the middle class by instituting poverty level wages for familes. What’s good for Walmart isn’t good for New York City.”

Critics of Walmart claim the chain hurts small businesses. In 2009, the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola Uni- versity of Chicago studied the effects of a Walmart opening in Chicago. The researchers found the store cost the neighborhood 300 jobs and no economic benefits were found.

“These estimates support the contention that large-city Walmarts absorb retail sales from other city stores without significantly expanding the market,” the report stated.

Walmart sent a letter to the Council about their absence: “Since we have not announced a store for New York City, I respectfully suggest the committee first conduct a thoughtful examination of the existing impact of large grocers and retailers on small businesses in New York City before embarking on a hypothetical exercise.”

Walmart executives contend that the Council is holding them to a different standard from other big box retailers such as Target and Costco.

The company has started an extensive public relations campaign stating their case. A poll conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC showed that 71% of New Yorkers support a Walmart within the city. The company has also ramped up television and radio ads, and it launched a website,, to publicize the benefits of a store in the city.

Included on the site are endorsements from many political figures, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“You should let the marketplace decide,” Bloomberg said. “[Anytime anyone] has tried to manage the marketplace, it has not turned out very well. I think the Soviet Union is as good an example as you’d ever need of that.”

Another endorsement from Eduardo Giraldo, vice president of the Queens Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, states “You’ve got Duane Reade, Costco, Target, CVS, T.J. Maxx, Staples. ... If Walmart wants to move in, let it compete. This is America. It’s a free enterprise.”

Locally, Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) has said Walmart deserves to be in the city.
“Walmart wants to come here and provide union construction jobs and permanent positions that offer pay wages equal to or higher than many of their competitors, and allow people to save substantially on their grocery bills,” Ulrich said. “Why should my constituents—many of whom are on fixed incomes—pay more for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? It’s not the job of politicians or special interest groups, especially in today’s economy, to block economic development.”

Still, some believe economic development seems unlikely if a Walmart opened its doors in the city.

“Small businesses in my neighborhood would be in a lot of trouble if Walmart moved in,” said Nelson Eusabio, owner of Compare Supermarkets, which operates several stores in Queens including one on Liberty Avenue. “Walmart would lead to more shuttered stores and fewer job opportunities. That’s a price New Yorkers can’t afford.”

Council Extends Smoking Ban to Public Parks, Plazas and Beaches

By Eric Yun
In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the Smoke Free Air Act, which prohibited smoking in nearly all public indoor areas in the city. Last week, the City Council amended the legislation to include the city’s parks, beaches and other public places to the no-smoking list.

The bill passed the Council by a 36-12 vote and is expected to be signed into law by Bloomberg meaning it will go into law in 90 days. The bill’s supporters said this will pre-vent litter in parks and beaches and prevent exposure to secondhand smoke.

Under the new legislation, smoking would be prohibited at parks, beaches, pools, recreation centers and all buildings and facilities operated by the Parks Department. It also extends to the city Department of Transportation’s pedestrian plazas.

Sidewalks immediately ad- joining parks, squares and public places, pedestrian routes that are adjacent to vehicular traffic and parking lots are exempted from the ban. “Recent studies, and studies over the years, have shown that secondhand smoke can have a harmful impact,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Public smoking is not just a risk people take on themselves, it is a risk that impacts everyone around them. This new law will make sure that smoking is prohibited in public parks and beaches, areas where our youngest New Yorkers gather.”

Critics, however, said the bill was too intrusive and impinged on civil liberties. “While I understand the health concerns that prompted the introduction of this bill, it is nothing more than another example of gov- ernment intruding into the private lives of New Yorkers,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Whether we like it or not smokers pay taxes and they have rights too. We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re infringing on the rights and freedoms of everyday residents who are not breaking the law.”

The Parks Department is responsible for enforcement and can issue fines of $50.

Babysitter Convicted for Drowning Death of Baby

On June 15, 2009, neighbors were shocked as rescue workers carried a lifeless baby boy out of Krystal Khan’s Ozone Park home, which doubled as a daycare center. On Tuesday, Khan, 30, was convicted of reckless assault of a child by a child daycare provider and endangering the welfare of a child.

Before the incident most neighbors felt she did a good job taking care of children.

“This is all very upsetting. I checked this place out for my own child about two years ago,” neighbor Billy Caires told The Forum in June 2009. Caires said the house seemed to be clean and in order.

According to trial testimony, on the morning of June 15, 2009, Khan took Nyquil before being entrusted with the care of 11-month-old James Farrior—even though she knew Nyquil causes drowsiness. It was further alleged that Khan kept a bucket with around six inches of water unattended in the kitchen.

Khan then fell asleep, leaving Farrior and her own three and four-year-old sons alone. Later in the morning, her four-year-old child woke her up, and Khan discovered the baby drowned in the bucket of water.

“As a caregiver with sole responsibility for the life and safety of a young child, the defendant had an obligation to provide a safe environment, to be vigilant and to stay with that child at all times,” said Brown. “The defendant must now live the rest of her life knowing that by failing to act responsibly her actions resulted in the death of a child and robbed that child’s parents of seeing their baby grow up.”

Khan faces up to four years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for March 28.

Ridgewood Home to Some of City's Worst Buildings

By Eric Yun

Landlords can make a tenant’s life miserable. Violations that are ignored, such as mold and vermin can transform a nice apartment into a potentially dangerous living situation. The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is using a 2008 program to put pressure on landlords and owners to fix their buildings.

The Alternate Enforcement Program (AEP) was signed into law in 2007, and since 2008, the HPD targets the city’s 200 worst multifamily buildings. This year, the program was amended to include more buildings with more than 20 units.

The HPD released their list of the 200 worst buildings of 2011 last Thursday. Seven properties in Queens were included—four are in Ridgewood:

  • 18-21 Cornelia Street
  • 555 Fairview Avenue
  • 17-36 Greene Avenue
  • 10-48 Wyckoff Avenue

“We call these the ‘worst’ buildings for a reason,” said HPD Commissioner Rafael Cestero. “For the families who call these ‘Terrible 200’ buildings home, the conditions pose a real threat to health and safety—not only to the tenants, but to the neighborhood as a whole.”

At 18-21 Cornelia Street, a three-story building with six units, there are 127 open violations. These include the proper termination of bed bugs and roaches on the third floor, obstruction of fire escapes, missing or broken carbon monoxide detectors and lead paint violations.

The building at 555 Fairview Avenue, a two-story building with four units, has 79 open violations. A sample of these violations include a water leak on the ceiling of a first floor bathroom, lead paint, no hot water for the first floor and a foul odor emanating from the cellar.

There are five violations open at 17-36 Greene Avenue, a two-story building with four units, mostly from lead-based paint concerns.

And at 10-48 Wyckoff Avenue, a three-story building with three units, there are 35 open violations. There is an uncapped radiator on the first floor and a disconnected radiator on the second floor. It has also been cited for a defective wood floor and missing smoke detectors.

Buildings with more than 20 units are eligible to be entered in the AEP if they have three or more open hazardous or immediately hazardous violations per unit and owed the city $5,000 or more from the HPD’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP). The ERP allows the city to correct hazardous conditions in build- ings and charge the owners for the work.

Buildings of between three and 20 units must possess five or more hazardous violations per unit and ERP charges of $2,500 or more.

According to the HPD, the 200 buildings combined owe the city $2.9 million in ERP charges.
For a building to be removed from the list, owners must, within four months, fix their violations and pay the city for any repairs under the ERP. If the building is not in compliance within four months, the HPD can fix the buildings at its discretion.

 The four buildings are within Community Board 5, and District Manager Gary Giordano questioned if the city has enough power to force building owners to comply.

“Four months is a long time for necessary repairs, especially if it’s a plumbing, roof or electrical repair,” Giordano said.

Giordano said the vast majority of landlords want to keep their property in good standing,
but the board has received its fair share of problematic landlords. “In certain situations, the landlord seems to be milking the building for rent money. But some don’t have the financial wherewithal to fix the situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, tenants of the four Ridgewood buildings will have to wait and hope that their owners take the AEP designation seriously.

Ty Calderwood, who works for Harry Horrowitz, the property manager of 18-21 Cor- nelia Street, said the company is working to correct the issues. He noted that the property is in foreclosure and that they inherited many problems slowing the repair process.

“Ninety percent of repairs are done,” Calderwood said.

CTK Math Team Ranks #1

Christ the King Regional High School is ranked number one among religious high schools and 15 out of more than 200 competing public and private institutions in the New York State Mathematics League. Senior Christina Marino is one of 26 students with a perfect score. The team moderator Mr. Richard Hartman noted, “I show them original ways of looking at problems, so I try to make it fun.” Mr. Hartman also holds an annual contest to see who can recite Pi to 1,000 places.

(l-r) Christ the King Math Club Moderator Richard Hartman, far left, and Principal Peter Mannarino stands proudly with Math team members Makita Ellis, left, Pulkit Arora, Christina Marino, Juliana Daxland, Peter Ciavarella and Nikolina Dabovic.

Fund Allocates Millions for Green Projects: Shows Model for Future Initiatives

By Eric Yun

In the summer of 2006, blackouts in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside persisted for weeks and left more than 100,000 residents without power. As a result of the subsequent outrage, Con Edison reached an $8 million settlement with community groups to fund green initiatives.

North Star Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports grassroots campaigns, teamed up with the Western Queens Power for the People campaign, which formed as a result of the power outages, to distribute the funds.

Fifteen groups were selected to receive grant money, and the affected neighborhoods can expect to see more trees, environmental programs and green jobs.

Hugh Hogan, North Star Fund’s Executive Director, said it is important to fund these green initiatives, especially in Western Queens. “Currently, Western Queens has among the lowest amounts of green space of any neighborhood in New York City—only 2 percent compared to a citywide av- erage of 14 percent,” he said.

After several meetings with community groups, Hogan gained an understanding of the residents’ vision for greening their neighborhoods. As an added bonus, there was a significant amount of money to turn the vision into a reality.

“Sometimes you have a great vision, but the resources aren’t always there. It’s exciting to have the funds for the vision and create a greener place to live,” Hogan said.

Among the grant recipients is the City Parks Foundation, which will work with community groups to plant up to 850 trees in the area. The Sunnyside Gardens Community Association was also selected to plant trees outside of Sunnyside Gardens park.

But Hogan said the Greening Western Queens initiative was more than planting trees; Teaching young residents about the importance of living a more environmentally friendly life is just as important. The Recycle-A-Bicycle program will create a center to teach kids about bike repair and promote the importance of bike riding. Solar One will partner with the city’s Education Department to create a Green Design Lab in eight public schools. These labs will teach children about sustainable energy and provide them with the op- portunity to make their own schools more energy efficient.

These programs and community activism are a great model for similar projects in other neighborhoods, Hogan said. He hopes the work Western Queens Power for the People and the North Star Fund inspires other communities to action.

“We’re trying to create a model for how communities can transform themselves,” Hogan said. He added that the work with other departments like the City Parks Foundation could be replicated throughout the city.

Aviators Hockey Heats Up

As New York City was being buried by snow throughout January, the New York Aviators of the Federal Hockey League (FHL) buried 10 consecutive opponents with a barrage of goals, stellar goaltending and physical play. In fact, beginning with the A’s December 30 victory over Danbury, they are riding a 14-game winning streak and a 18-2 home record at the Aviator Sports & Event Center on Flatbush Ave., in Brooklyn.

Here are a few of the highlights of the A’s undefeated (10-0) January: scored 44 goals and allowed 14 goals; registered 364 shots on goal; 10 game winning goals from seven dif- ferent players including three from Jesse Fel- ten; Matt Punutreri led club with 21 pts and 13 assists; Felten lead the team with with 9 goals for the month; five different A's tallied double-digits points; goalie Kevin Druce went 8-0 1.85 GAA, 1 SO, .938 SV%.

The performance was especially impressive as two of the A’s top players, defenseman David Inman and forward Mike Thompson, were called-up to Elmira and Wheeling of the ECHL during January.

The streak has moved the A’s have into third place, seven points ahead of Danbury, just five points behind 1000 Island and 10 points behind Akwesasne. The top four teams qualify for the FHL playoffs.

The Aviators have three games this week: Feb 11 at 7:05 pm vs Cape Cod at Aviator and then a pair of games on Feb 12 and Feb 13 at Danbury. Tickets are still available by visiting or by calling 718-758-7580.

Tax Preparer Convicted

As people rush to file their taxes, they should keep in mind that not all accountants and tax services are legitimate. Jean Tout-Puissant, 51, of Queens Village was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for his involvement in an identity fraud scheme.

According to District Attorney Richard Brown, Tout-Puissant, a tax preparer, used personal information from his client Louis Beaujuin to fraudulently open several business accounts in 2007. These accounts were used for Tout-Puissant’s bar, El Millenium Pub in Queens Village.
Tout-Puissant applied for credit cards under Beaujuin’s name and withdrew $200,000 in cash advances to make purchases at restaurants and shops, such as Victoria’s Secret, Brown said.
Beaujuin became suspicious when he received bills that did not correspond to any accounts he was aware of. Beaujuin was retired and living off small Social Security benefits at the time.

Brown warned residents that these crimes are easy to fall prey too, especially during this time of year.

“As we enter tax season, all consumers should be very careful as to whom they entrust their most intimate financial details—such as names, date of births and social security numbers,” Brown said. “Such information is worth more than money to an individual intent on committing fraud and could cause a consumer financial headache for years to come.”

Immigrants who implicitly trust members of their own communities are at an increased risk, Brown added. Beajuin and Tout-Puissant were both Haitian.

Tout-Puissant was convicted of multiple counts of grand larceny, first-degree identity theft and first-degree falsifying business records.

Undercover Sting Busts Credit, Gift Card Scheme

Criminals beware. It’s usually not a good idea to try fraudulent schemes in the same building as the Queens District Attorney’s office. Two Brooklyn men were charged with attempting to use stolen credit cards to purchase thousands of dollars worth of Duane Reade gift cards in Kew Gardens, which shares a building with the DA.

“The defendants could not have made it any easier for the investigators involved in the undercover operation to effectuate their arrest,” Brown said, noting how the arrests occurred right outside of his office.

According to District Attorney Richard Brown, two Duane Reade employees were contacted via Facebook to assist them in using stolen credit cards for gift card purchases. “Do U wanna make 300 a week while @ work,” the messages read. “I want [you] 2 ring me up as I buy gift cards on credit gwap [a street term for illegal credit cards].”

The employees alerted their manager who contacted the DA. At the direction of the State Police, the employee told the suspect—identified on Facebook as Carlos Escobar Bigante but later identified as Carl Dupiton, 21—that he knew a friend who could help him.

The friend, an undercover investigator, allegedly had multiple phone conversations with the man where he allegedly said they would spend as much as $3,000 a day on gift cards.

The undercover investigator allegedly set up a meeting on February 1, 2011, at the Kew Gardens store where a man matching Carlos Escobar Bigante’s Facebook picture arrived. Bigante allegedly left the store and a second suspect, Garry Rey, 22, allegedly approached the undercover investigator and stated he was part of the plot.

Rey proceeded to use more than 10 different credit cards to purchase Ebay and Paypal gift cards, but only the first transaction for $404 was accepted, Brown said.

Rey left the store where he was arrested along with Dupiton. Police allegedly recovered 18 gift cards with a value of $3,350, as well as the credit and debit cards he had purportedly used in the store.

Rey was ordered held without bail, and bail for Dupiton was set at $150,000. Both men face charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny, commercial bribing, petit larceny and scheme to defraud. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico praised the Duane Reade employees who helped them with their undercover operation. “The early reporting by Duane Reade Pharmacy’s employees of the scheme ... was key to this arrest operation,” D’Amico said. “This shows the importance of the public’s role in assisting law enforcement in efforts to prevent this and other types of fraud.”