Thursday, July 31, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Christ the King Coach Accused of Sexual Abuse

Push for Bike Lanes on Queens Boulevard

City Forces Rogue Developer to Reduce Building Size

Local Contractor Charged with Grand Larceny

Driver Walks Away From Horrific Accident

Not Guilty Verdict in Witness Tampering Trial

State Warns of Significant Threat at Maspeth Site

Unlicensed Physician Charged with Fraud

Life in the Bike Lane: Make Queens Blvd Safer

West Nile Virus Detected in Queens

Christ the King Coach Accused of Sex Abuse

Bob Oliva Accused by Former Family Friend

by Conor Greene

The head basketball coach at city powerhouse Christ the King high school has been accused of sexually abusing a family friend who he took under his wing decades ago.

Bob Oliva, a longtime coach of the parochial school’s varsity boys basketball team and a member of its Hall of Fame, was accused of repeatedly molesting Jimmy Carlino starting when the boy was 13-years-old.

The allegations were first made in a letter sent to Oliva in April from a law firm in Florida, where Carlino lives. At that point, Oliva informed the Middle Village school’s board of trustees and administration of the allegations. On May 1, attorney David Ristoff sent Oliva a letter notifying him that Carlino will drop the matter in exchange for a payment of $750,000 and Oliva’s resignation from the school by the end of the 2008 school year.

“I have been retained by James Carlino regarding a matter of personal nature involving your prior contact to him,” wrote Ristoff in the letter, which was obtained by The Forum. “While it is best left to discretion not to elaborate on those personal issues at this juncture, it is the wishes of Mr. Carlino to resolve any and all matters with you on a personal and confidential basis.”

The letter instructs Oliva to forward “this demand” to his attorney. “If you our your counsel wish to accept this demand then you may forward a certified check in the amount of $750,000... and proof of your resignation,” wrote Ristoff. In exchange for the payment, Carlino would “execute a release and confidentiality agreement as to both the underlying factual basis of the dispute as well as an agreement to maintain the confidentially of the settlement amount.”

The letter notes that, “As you can imagine, Mr. Carlino has suffered significant psychological damage that has effected [sic] every aspect of his life and career.”

Thomas Ognibene, a member of the school’s board of trustees, said he doubts the claims given Oliva’s track record overseeing thousands of children over several decades coaching. “It’s a lot of nonsense, but unfortunately he has to be subjected to this,” said Ognibene. “He used to be like a godfather to the kid, he met him when he was eight and basically took care of this kid for a number of years. The kid had gambling and drug problems, and Bob stood with him.”

Late last year, Oliva decided to drop Carlino from his will, which Ognibene speculates led to the accusations. “He [Oliva] said, ‘I can’t help you anymore and I’m taking you out of my will,’ which I understand was a pretty substantial amount,” said Ognibene. “As soon as that happened, the kid had an epiphany and said Bob Oliva molested me when I was a kid.”

After Oliva received the letter, his response to Carlino was, “You are out of your mind, I never touched you, it’s a disgrace, do what you have to do,” said Ognibene. “This is simply a matter of extortion. I told him, this is a bridge you have to cross.”

Oliva met Carlino, who attended Archbishop Molloy High School, when the coach owned a bar in Ozone Park called the Short Porch. Carlino’s father was a bartender there, and Oliva sometimes paid the boy to clean the bar, according to the Daily News. He also coached Carlino in the Catholic Youth Organization athletic league.

Ognibene said that Oliva’s track record leads him to believe the accusations are false and Carlino is trying to shake down the coach. “For 29 years, I’ve known Bob Oliva, who has had access in locker rooms, on trips, in hotels, to thousands of kids over the years, and I never once hard a hit or rumor of this,” said Ognibene. “A person who had opportunity to deal with children on a close personal basis never had one complaint, and that tells me more than anything that comes out of a person’s mouth.”

Push For Bike Lanes on Queens Boulevard

Rally at the Site of Fatal Accident to Highlight Need

By Conor Greene

Relatives of Asif Rahman, who was killed while biking along Queen Boulevard in February, gathered with officials and residents on Sunday at the scene of the fatal accident to highlight the need for bike lanes on the seven mile stretch of road.

The family gathered near 55th Avenue, where a white ghost bike commemorates the 22-year-old Jamaica Estate man’s death, with Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and members of Transportation Alternatives to demand that bike lanes and more crosswalks for pedestrians be installed along the notorious “Boulevard of Death.”

“Asif loved to ride his bike since he was a little boy,” said his mother Lizi Rahman. “I always worried about his safety. We all know that Queens Boulevard is a dangerous road. If it had a bike lane, Asif might still be with us today.”

Roughly 100 pedestrians and bicyclists are struck by vehicles on Queens Boulevard each year, according to Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for bicycling, walking and public transit as better options than driving. “There has never been a better time for the city, elected officials and the community to come together and fix this dangerous street once and for all,” said Paul Steely White, the group’s executive director.

Gennaro distributed a letter sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushing for installation of a bike lane “that is practical and safe for bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.” The letter, also signed by Councilmembers John Liu and Eric Gioia, notes that Asif “died instantly upon being struck by a truck as he biked... on his way home from work.” His life was cut short by a “reckless driver” in a type of that has become “all too common [since] bike ridership increased 77 percent” since 2000.

“We as a City owe cyclists like Asif, who contribute to a healthier environment by not driving automobiles, a better infrastructure of protection as they try to traverse the length of the borough,” wrote the councilmembers. “Cyclists who attempt to ride down Queens Boulevard continue to do so at a great risk for themselves and those around them. The lack of dedicated bike lanes on Queens Boulevard leaves cyclists without a safe path to travel, and leaves motorists and pedestrians without the adequate separation they need to avoid collisions.”

While accidents involving pedestrians and bikers are a common occurrence along the boulevard, fatalities have decreased since the city Department of Transportation removed two lanes of traffic in both directions along the service roads. Those lanes were turned into metered parking spaces, and the speed limit was lowered to 30 miles per hour. The department has also changed the timing of some traffic signals to give pedestrians more time to cross and installed fences to prevent jaywalking.

There have been five pedestrians killed on Queens Boulevard in the past three years, and Rahman was the first biker killed there since 1996. In December, a woman was killed after she was hit by a cement truck while crossing near Woodhaven Boulevard.

The DOT has announced a plan to install 200 miles of bike lane around the city, but Queens Boulevard was not included something Lizi Rahman hopes to change. For details on the effort to have bike lanes installed along Queens Boulevard, contact Transportation Alternatives at (646) 873-6021 or

City Forces Rogue Developer to Reduce Building Size

By Conor Greene

Maspeth residents and a local civic group are claming victory against a notorious developer who has been ordered by the city to remove the top floor of a house under construction on Mazeau Street.

The city Department of Building in May partially lifted a stop-work order issued last year to developer Tommy Huang so that the fourth floor of a house he’s building at 57-39 Mazeau Street could be removed. In addition, rear and side extensions have also been removed because the plans filed with the city didn’t conform to what was actually built.

The DOB’s decision comes after the Juniper Park Civic Association and Councilman Tony Avella held several rallies on Mazeau Street since DOB revoked the developer’s permit in December 2006. The group sought to have the building either knocked down, or brought into compliance with zoning laws.

“This is a big victory for Maspeth because it shows unscrupulous developers that the community is watching and they won’t be able to get away with this type of action,” said Robert Holden, president of the JPCA.

Said Avella: “It’s about time that DOB listened to the community and forced notorious developers like Tommy Huang to conform to the building and zoning codes. It still is a shame that the community has to be the ones to force the DOB to enforce its own regulations.”

The stop work order was issued in November after the DOB received a complaint that the project being built was beyond what the permits allowed. An audit by the city on July 6 revealed 14 violations, including that it didn’t comply with R4-1 zoning standards and that Huang misused the Community Facilities Provision of the zoning code, which can allow for educational, health care, religious and other institutions to be built in residential zones.

One of the first people to take notice of the building violations at the property was Manny Caruana, a JPCA and Community Board 5 member who lives nearby. “It took a long time to get results, and we only got this far because neither we nor Tony Avella nor DOT caved in or stopped watching what was going on there,” he said. “The fact that Huang has been forced to comply and not just pay a fine restores a little bit of my faith in DOB.”

The property currently has a partial stop work order, which only allows Huang to bring the house into compliance with zoning regulations. “The partial will remain in effect,” said Charlie Ratzer, a DOB spokesman. “It’s a partial allowing them to remove the fourth floor, but he is not supposed to be working on anything additional.”

Because the plans originally filed with the city were for a four-story structure, Huang must now submit new plans “to bring it into compliance,” said Ratzer. “He is bringing it back to three [floors] and then starts over again with new paperwork.” The DOB was unable to explain how Huang was able to receive a permit for a project that is not allowed in that zone.

The DOB said in a statement that Huang has been fined repeatedly for projects around the city. “More than a dozen stop work orders have been issued to this developer’s projects in the past year, and he has been repeatedly fined for cutting corners,” the department said in a statement. “If the developer wants to move forward with any project, it must be in compliance with all regulations.”

This isn’t the first time that a Huang development has come under fire. The Flushing-based developer was sentenced in 1999 to five years probation and fined $5,000 for environmental crimes at the landmarked RKO Keith Theater. In that case, he allowed hundreds of gallons of oil to spill into the basement of the 1928 theater, and then lied to a city investigator.

Corey Bearak, president of the Queens Civic Congress, credited the JPCA with “fighting for the community and never letting up” and DOB Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri for taking action on this matter. “This simple message should resonate throughout the industry,” he said. “No excuses. Either comply with the law and the code or any illegal structure you build will need to be cut down to its rightful and legal size.”

Local community leaders and residents are now vowing to keep a close watch on the project as Huang attempts to have the stop work order lifted. “This is like a cancer in the community,” said Tony Nunziato, chairman of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force. “I am glad that the Department of Buildings has kept on top of this situation and has forced the developer’s hand.”

Avella, who represents neighborhoods in northeast Queens, has become one of City Council’s most vocal critics of out of character development. He said that the city’s action against Huang is “obviously a good step forward,” but questioned why the permit was issued in the first place, calling the DOB the city’s “most incompetent agency.”

“Through the efforts of the Juniper Park Civic Association and the community, the DOB finally realized their mistake,” he said. “This is a perfect example of Huang creating another problem in another neighborhood. No matter how many sites he has become a problem on, and how many neighboring sites he has damaged, the city will give him another permit.”

J.B Contracting Hit with Grand Larceny


By Patricia Adams

The owner of J.B. Contracting, located at 104-11 101st in Ozone Park, Alfredo Joseph Battaglia, was arrested last week and charged with three felony counts, involving the theft of a roll-away disposable waste container belonging to a rival construction company.

Battaglia is known throughout the neighborhood by a large fleet of flashy trucks, his equipment branded with the tag-line “Da Dropout”, a self-proclaimed badge of honor Battaglia has painted on his trucks to demonstrate business success despite his failure to complete formal education.

The builder, whose general contracting signs are a popular sight throughout Howard Beach, surrendered to police one full day after other members of his staff were removed from his business office nearly 24-hours before.

On Wednesday afternoon, police from the 106 descended upon the offices on 101st street, where Battaglia himself was not present. Two other men, Daniel Rinaldo and Alejandro Cabrerra were arrested there and held at the precinct for many hours before being transferred to Central Booking the next morning when Battaglia himself was arrested.

Charges against the three men are all felony counts, the top charge of which is a D Felony, arrest charge, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the 3rd degree, along with D felony Grand Larceny in the 3rd degree and Criminal Mischief in the 2nd degree. Following the execution of a warrant obtained by police, a search was conducted at the 101st street business location where police say evidence was obtained that directly linked the suspects to the stolen property.

According to police sources, evidence recovered should be more than enough to see that the case against Battaglia and his workers could find its way to a grand jury for examination.

But it seems that Battaglia’s alleged illicit business practices have not only fallen under scrutiny by the police. One man, dubbing himself as a potential customer of J.B. Contracting says he was seriously considering using the company to begin major renovations. He spoke to The Forum under conditions of anonymity. “This is a pretty small town type place, if you know what I mean,” the man stated “and word spreads fast.”

Among the many potential customers who are caught up in the renovation boom in Howard Beach, he went on to say, “You see this guy’s signs all over the place so you figure he’s good. Now you have to figure it might be tough [for him] to finish a job from behind bars. I for one just can’t take that chance.”

Battaglia’s divergent problems stemming from this incident could lead in yet another direction; that of the Business Integrity Commission (BIC). The BIC is both a law enforcement and regulatory agency charged with the oversight of the private carting industry. Eric Dorsch, General Counsel for the BIC, told The Forum that Battaglia does in fact hold a Class 2 exemption registration which would allow him to use roll away waste containers to remove only construction debris from job sites, whether they be his jobs or others for which he was hired just to remove construction debris.

Where that registration stops short according to BIC regulations, is that it does not give the carter the right to remove putrescible waste, garbage subject to rotting, or recyclable materials within their containers. Dorsch went on to say, “Our standard at the BIC is to maintain relationships with registrants of good character that operate with honest and integrity.”

When asked if an arrest or conviction for stealing a waste container from a rival company would have any affect on the status of present or future registration for waste removal, Dorsch said that any arrest and conviction would certainly play a role in the status of the Class 2 exemption registration.

Police officials are now awaiting a response from the DA’s office as to how the case will proceed. There are allegations that other aspects of the business will be targeted for further investigation.

Driver Walks Away from Horrific Accident

Van Smashes into Utility Pole on Borden Avenue

By Conor Greene

The driver of a van transporting refrigeration equipment walked away from a serious accident on Borden Avenue in Maspeth last week with just bumps and bruises and a cut on his lower lip, according to witnesses.

A van owned by Blake Refrigeration of the Bronx was being driven east on Borden Avenue by Jonathan Delvalle when it collided with a 1997 Toyota driven by Matthew Tumminello, 30, of East Meadow last Wednesday afternoon, according to police.

Delvalle, 26, of Ridgewood, was turning right onto Maurice Avenue when the van was sideswiped by the Toyota, which was changing lanes, said police. The refrigeration van slammed into a utility pole, crushing the front passenger side of the vehicle, according to witnesses. Neither driver was issued a summons, and the Toyota was driven from the scene, said police.

Since the van was carrying refrigeration materials and equipment including bottles of nitrogen, the FDNY responded to the scene and removed the items from the vehicle. The Department of Transportation has since replaced the broken light pole.

Roland Delgado, a service manager at Blake Refrigeration, said this week that Delvalle suffered some bumps and bruises in the accident, but is doing good. “Miraculously, he got out in one piece with just some bruises,” said Delgado. “It was a horrible accident, but he’s back on his feet, doing good.”

Delgado said that the materials being transported was not hazardous and didn’t pose a threat. “It was Freon, nitrogen tanks, normal stuff used in air conditioning,” he said. “There was no threat whatsoever.” He said Delvalle was on his way home at the time of the accident.

Caption: Firefighters respond to the intersection of Borden and Maurice avenues after a van carrying refrigeration materials and equipment (inset) slammed into a utility pole. The van sustained heavy front-end damage, but the driver escaped with minor injuries. Photos by Robert Holden

Not Guilty Verdict in Witness Tampering Trial

Woman Charged With Threatening Slain Dentist’s Brother

By Conor Greene

The woman accused of threatening the brother of murdered dentist Daniel Malakov has been cleared of witness tampering.

Following nearly two full days of deliberations, a jury on Friday found Natella Natanova not guilty on charges of third degree witness intimidation and tampering. The jurors reached their decision just after 5 p.m. Friday, about two hours after they had warned the judge that they were having difficulty reaching a verdict.

Natanova was charged in March after Gavril Malakov told police that she had approached him at the intersection of 108th Street and 65th Avenue in Forest Hills and said to him, “You should know if you talk, you will be the next to go.” She was facing up to four years in prison if convicted on the charges.

Natanova’s sister, Mazoltuv Borukhova, is accused of hiring a distant relative to gun down her ex-husband, Daniel Malakov, at a local playground last October. That trial is expected to begin this fall.

“We’re pleased with the verdict and think it was the right thing for the jury,” said attorney Melvyn Roth, who represented Natanova. “Obviously they thought that he wasn’t credible, and didn’t believe him.”

Roth noted that Gavril Malakov was granted custody of five-year-old Michelle after the girl’s father was murdered and her mother was charged in the crime. During the deliberations, jurors revisited Malakov’s testimony stating that he had informed investigators from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services about Natanova’s arrest.

“The whole thing was fabricated,” said Roth. “He had a motive not to tell the truth because there was an investigation by ACS to determine who would get custody of the young child. Ultimately, Mr. Malakov, the supposed victim here, got custody, and we told the jury that his motive to make up the fabrication was so that my client didn’t get custody.

The office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown did not respond to a message seeking comment on the verdict. Roth speculated that the charges were only brought against Natanova in the first place because of the high profile murder charges pending against her sister. “I think it was the reason the DA brought the charges in the first place, but I think [the jury] judged this case independently.”

According to Roth, Natanova claimed throughout that the incident had never occurred and that she was just walking to her building. “My client says that she never saw him on the street,” the attorney said.

In the murder case expected to begin this fall, prosecutors are charging that Borukhova paid a relative $19,500 to have her ex-husband Daniel Malakov shot in the chest. The popular orthodontist had just arrived at Annadale Playground on that Sunday morning to drop Michelle off for a custody visit with her mother when he was murdered.

State Warns of Significant Threat at Maspeth Superfund Site

Contamination Poses Risk to People and Environment

By Conor Greene

An industrial property at 57th Avenue and Grand Avenue in West Maspeth is contaminated by chemicals and could pose a “significant threat to the public and environment,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation warned nearby property owners in a letter.

The two-acre property, now home to Corrugated Box, Inc. and Feldman Lumber, was subjected to “hazardous waste disposal” during the years it was used by the W.L.K Corporation. It was enrolled in the state Superfund program last year, and an initial study conducted this March “detected a significant concentration of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in soil samples” collected on the site, according to the DEC.

According to DEC spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas, the concentrations of chemicals found, which included Tetrachloroethylene, “suggest a potential continuing source of contamination in this area.” In addition, groundwater samples containing “high levels” of chlorinated volatile organic compounds were collected from wells monitoring groundwater and from samples “down-gradient from this part of the site,” said Garcia-Costas.

As a result of the findings, the DEC sent a letter earlier this month to nearby property owners alerting them of the potential danger. “Based on the presence of contamination onsite... this site poses a significant threat,” the July 14 letter warned. It notes that the site has been classified a Code 2, due to the threat level.

The code classification “means that the contamination uncovered represents a significant threat to the public health or environment, which requires action to address or mitigate this threat be taken by DEC at some point,” explained Garcia-Costas. “A Code 1 designation, on the other hand, means that a site represents an imminent threat to public health or the environment and requires immediate action.”

The next step in the process is for the DEC to conduct “a further investigation and feasibility study... to fully define the nature and extent of the contamination and identify the most appropriate remedial action,” according to Garcia-Costas. Part of the effort is a community outreach plan “to insure that the public is aware and engaged in the cleanup,” said Garcia-Costas. “At each stage in the process, the community is made aware [of what is occurring] and fact sheets are sent out.”

He noted that community-based organizations such as community boards are eligible for a “technical assistance grant,” which provides money to help the public “understand the process and be able to participate in the remedial process in the most informed manner possible,” he said.

The DEC was unable to say how long the lengthy cleanup process will take. The letter urges individuals to share the information with other tenants renting or leasing property near the site. However, the DEC said that human contact with “subsurface contamination is unlikely” since the majority of the property is paved over or built on. The DEC also noted that the groundwater contamination does not pose a danger to the public’s drinking water supply.

While 57th Avenue is now a gravel-filled dead-end road leading from Grand Avenue to the lumber yard, local residents recall that is was formerly a main road through the area, and home to a ballpark in the nineteenth century that stood on the site that is currently houses the box company.

An old house across the street from the businesses belonged to James Maurice, founder of St. Saviour’s church, which until recently was located several blocks away, according to Christina Wilkinson. She noted that the lumberyard’s presence is the only thing preventing as-of-right housing from being built at the St. Saviour’s property on Rust Street.

Unlicensed Physician Charged with Fraud

Wrote Fraud Prescriptions for 12,000 Pills

by Conor Greene

A Ridgewood physician whose license to practice medicine was revoked nearly six years ago has been accused of selling prescriptions for highly addictive medications.

Chaggrit Sawangkao, 69, of 1819 Putnam Avenue was held ordered on $15,000 bail during his first appearance in Queens Criminal Court last week. He is being charged with a 23-count complaint that includes charges of criminal possession of a prescription and unauthorized practice of medicine. He is due back in court on August 14 and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

According to the charges, Sawangkao used an old prescription pad twice in May and June to write a total of ten prescriptions for the generic form of the medication Vicodin-ES, which he then sold for $250 to undercover investigators working with the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

An investigation into Sawangkao’s alleged activities later revealed that the disgraced doctor had written about 80 prescriptions which were filled at least ten pharmacies in New York State and Pennsylvania, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The fraudulent prescriptions allowed individuals to receive an estimated 12,000 narcotic pills, said Brown.

“Despite having had his medical license revoked in January 2003 for defrauding patients, insurance companies and the government, the defendant has been charged with flagrantly disregarding the law by continuing to practice medicine and allowing individuals to obtain powerful drugs for cash – without consideration for the health of the buyer or the medical
necessity of the drugs,” said Brown.

Sawangkao has been charged with ten counts of second-degree criminal possession of a prescription, one count of second-degree criminal diversion of prescription medicine, one count of unauthorized practice of a profession, ten counts of first-degree falsifying business records and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

The criminal charges are just the latest problem for Sawangkao, whose license to practice medicine was revoked by the state Department of Health because he cheated a 93-year-old patient out of several thousands dollars and made false statements to the Office of Medical Conduct.

According to the state’s 2003 decision, Sawangkao had an elderly patient give him a blank check, which he used to visit restaurants and go on vacations, and later a state investigator that was a board certified surgeon affiliated with Wyckoff Medical Center. The committee determined that Sawangkao is “a predator and a liar” who “saw a chance to trick an elderly ailing widow into giving him lots of money.”

“In his appearance before the committee, the respondent continue to lie about the facts even though contradictory evidence was well-documented by bank checks and original medical records,” the state’s decision notes. “Dr. Sawangkao never admitted error or claimed repentance. There was no evidence of contrition or insight that his behavior might be wrong.

“Fraud and cheating should never be tolerated or protected. We have no way of knowing if [Sawangkao] has cheated other patients in the past or whether he’ll do it again in the future. Revocation is the only possible way to sufficiently protect the public interest.” As a result of the finding, Sawangkao was forced to surrender his license to practice medicine and pay a civil penalty of $30,000.

Life in the Bike Lane

By Steve Tiszenkel

The best shape I've ever been in was back when I had a gym membership and three sessions every week with an ass-kicking personal trainer. I wouldn't have thought the sessions were worth $80 a pop, but my mother disagreed.

The second-best shape I've ever been in was that heady summer in the salad days of the early '90s, when I was too old for camp but too young for work. There only being so many Diff'rent Strokes reruns to watch, I actually headed out the front door, got a bicycle and pedaled. And pedaled. And pedaled some more.

I was a cyclin' fool that year. We'd just moved to the little waterfront town of Atlantic Beach—wedged between Long Beach, the infamous Five Towns and the Rockaways— and that three-block-wide island ate buckets of my dust. I rode all the way down the Long Beach boardwalk and back again, over the bridge to Oceanside, over the other bridge to Lawrence, through the bad part of town without stopping and under the low-hanging trees stopping every other square of pavement.

One day, leaning against the railing at the boardwalk looking out at the surf, I touched my right calf and was surprised to notice it didn't go anywhere. There was no squish, no pillowy softness, no give whatsoever. Seemingly out of nowhere, I could crush walnuts with my calves.

But I went back to school and there was no time for cycling, and then I got a summer internship in an office where the biggest challenge was making people think I owned more than two suits, and there was even less time. I'd get out on the bike occasionally, but it happened less and less, and lo and behold, it's 2008 and I haven't been on an uncomfortable banana seat for maybe 10 years.

The weather's great out there, and I've thought about picking up a bargain bike courtesy of Craigslist and trying to work those calves up to full strength again. But I can't. You see, I'm terrified. Because I don't live in the suburbs anymore. There's no riding on the sidewalk here in Forest Hills.

Here, it's go Queens Boulevard or go home. Asif Rahman decided to go Queens Boulevard. But while riding his bike back from work in February, a truck hit him, killing him instantly. The 22-year-old Rahman wasn't an inexperienced cyclist. Truth is, he rode his bike everywhere, sometimes traveling as far as from Jamaica to Lower Manhattan. His mother worried about him, as mothers do, but he reassured her that there were bike lanes everywhere. Unfortunately, the Boulevard of Death isn't everywhere.

Was Rahman reckless? Foolish? Naïve? Actually, he was doing exactly what activist groups everywhere tell us we should be doing. In an age when environmentalism increasingly is king, the message is that people-powered bikes will cure all that ails us, and that we have a responsibility to get out there and ride.

Asif Rahman was out there doing his duty. Whether he was motivated at least partially by altruism or whether he just liked the feel of the wind against his head, he was doing the right thing. And like many people who do the right thing, he paid a steep price for it.

Last weekend, inspired by Rahman and joined by his family, concerned residents and Councilman James Gennaro rallied for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard at the site of the fatal accident in Elmhurst. With a number of local political bigwigs signed onto the initiative, the movement earned coverage in several local newspapers. Suddenly people are thinking seriously about making our neighborhoods more bike-friendly.

Bicycling is environmentally friendly, healthy and fun. Our streets should be teeming with cyclists. If you've got a few miles to travel, there shouldn't be any reason you wouldn't use a bike. I'm ready and willing to pick up a used hunk of metal online and do my part to make Queens greener and myself healthier. But until I can be sure it's safe, my hand will be firmly on the brake.

I suspect I'm not alone.

The writer is the host of the Website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and the surrounding neighborhoods.

West Nile Virus Detected in Queens

The city Department of Health is urging residents, especially senior citizens, to take precautions after West Nile virus was detected in neighborhoods across Queens, including Middle Village, Kew Gardens and Woodhaven.

The recent finding marks the first time the virus has been detected in mosquitoes within the city this year. No human cases of the virus have been reported yet, but two people died out of 12 human cases reported last year. Since 2004, just 34 cases of West Nile virus have been reported around the city, but 14 of those were in Queens.

Along with those three neighborhoods, West Nile has also been detected in South Flushing, Cambria Heights, Whitestone, Brookville, Laureton, Rosedale and Far Rockaway, according to the city DOH.

The health department advises residents to eliminate any standing water that collects on their property since mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing or slow moving water. Also, weeds, tall grass and bushes provide an outdoor resting place for mosquitoes, so residents are urged to keep their lawns maintained.

To prevent standing water from accumulating, the city asks that residents remove all discarded tires from their property, dispose of old tin cans and ceramic pots, keep unused swimming pools covered when not in use and making sure roof gutters drain property and are unclogged.

For details about West Nile virus, check

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Man Exposes Himself to Girl at J Train Station

Four Arrested After Car Chase

MTA Extends Q45 Bus to Atlas Park

Woman Uses Internet to Track Down Lost Dog

Crime is Rising, But More Officers at 104th Pct

Crime Report: Three Caught Breaking into Ridgewood Apartment

Detective Pleads Guilty in Child Prostitution Case

Lawmakers Want Federal Cleanup of Newtown Creek

Three Queens Locations Among Closing Starbucks

Man Exposes Himself to 14-Year-Old Girl at J Train Station


By Patricia Adams

Police in the 102 are still looking for a man they say exposed himself and sexually accosted a 14-year-old girl on Monday at the Woodhaven Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue station.

Officers from the precinct continued to canvass the area throughout the day distributing flyers with the face of a man wanted in connection with several other sexual assaults in Queens. The victim of the latest attempted assault says that when the man exposed himself and started to follow her she ran away and called police. The man was allegedly carrying a razor. Police are continuing to question the victim who, according to reports has said that the attacker strongly resembles a suspect connected to sex-crime patterns in the 105 and 113 precincts.

Many residents who watched as police went through Woodhaven on Monday afternoon were uneasy and said they were on edge about the attack and the other attacks they had heard about. “If this is the same guy,” said Marguerite Lopez, “then we have a big problem. You hear about some ‘sicko’ doing this stuff to young girls in another neighborhood and you say ‘what a shame’, but when it’s on your own street then you start to think what you’re gonna’ do about it.”

Others in the community were also alarmed as they say things like this don’t usually cross your mind until something happens. But the residents were also comforted by the strong presence of police personnel on the street who continued to search for a link between Monday’s incident and a string of attacks in Queens.

There is an ongoing search for a pair of serial rapists believed to be behind at least 10 attacks in Queens since November of 2007. Before this, the most recent assault happened on July 10th around 2 a.m. behind P.S. 37 in Springfield Gardens, where an 18-year-old woman told police she was waiting for the Q85 bus when she was grabbed by a man with a knife and dragged to a desolate area. Police sources say that the same man raped another woman two days earlier while she waited for the same bus several stops away in Laurelton.

Police have released a sketch of the suspect. The man, described as being in his early 20s, about 5 feet 8 inches tall with a medium build. Investigators say in both attacks, the suspect was wearing a T-shirt with a black tribal pattern containing roses and skulls. Now that there is a possibility that the same man has made an appearance in yet another Queens precinct, the search has widened. Merchants along Jamaica Ave. were cooperative with police, hanging the wanted posters in their stores.

The sketch is one resembling a suspect sought for an attempted sodomy/assault that was supplied by a witness. The man is described as a male black, light-skinned, about 5’10”, slim build between 22 and 28 years old with short black hair. Anyone with information is asked to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1.866.313.TIPS.

The Forum Newsgroup/photo by ROBERT STRIDIRON

Four Arrested After Car Chase

Suspected in Series of Violent Street Robberies Across Queens

By Conor Greene

Four men suspected in a series of street robberies are in custody after leading officers on a car chase from Maspeth to Forest Hills late last night. The men are now being held in connection with five robberies committed last night, and are suspected in several other including a recent carjacking.

The 104th Precinct’s Grand Larceny Auto Team was on the lookout for a black Toyota that was robbed gunpoint from a woman on Bleecker Street in Ridgewood early Saturday morning. Officers Michael Sagarese and Nigel Peart noticed the vehicle in Maspeth last night, and attempted to pull it over at Maurice and Borden avenues. As the officers approached the vehicle, the driver took off eastbound on the service road along the Long Island Expressway. The officers radioed for backup and followed the vehicle to the Grand Central Parkway.

At 75th Avenue in Forest Hills, the four men bailed out of the vehicle and tried to run but were quickly taken into custody. As of Wednesday morning, officers at the 104th Precinct were still conducting lineups and going over statements made by victims. The men are believed to be responsible for strong-arm street robberies that occurred last night in the 104th, 110th, 108th and 114th precincts, and police are withholding their names until the investigation is complete.

Police believe the crime binge began when the men stole a car in Ridgewood at 2:55 a.m. on Saturday. During that incident, they allegedly approached the 35-year-old woman and a 21-year-old man and demanded the keys. When the woman refused, the perps hit the man in the face and stuck the woman over the head with a beer bottle before fleeing with the car.

Ten minutes later, a man walking along Metropolitan Avenue near 61st Street was approached by three men who got out of a black vehicle. They flashed a hand gun and threw the victim to the ground before choking him, police said. When they realized he wasn’t carrying any money or valuables, they drove from the scene eastbound on Metropolitan Avenue at about 3:05 a.m.

The suspects are now being investigated in connection with a series of street robberies across the areas patrolled by Queens North, said a police source. “This is a great collar,” the source said. “It will take a couple of days before everything is said and done. They are suspected in numerous robberies across Queens.”

MTA Extends Q45 to Atlas Park

Move Comes Despite Overwhelming Opposition from Community

By Conor Greene

Despite overwhelming opposition from many neighborhood residents, the MTA has decided to extend service on the Q45 bus route to the Shops at Atlas Park mall.

MTA Bus Company has decided to reroute the bus south on 80th Street from its final stop at Eliot Avenue to a new terminus in front of the shopping center at Cooper Avenue, beginning on August 31. It will use existing Q29 stops south of Furmanville Avenue and will turnaround using the mall’s internal roads before heading back north.

Controversial Proposal
The proposal generated much controversy since it was unveiled last year, both from residents who don’t want more bus traffic and those who say the mall is getting special treatment because it is owned by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger’s family.

“This route will enhance the mobility of Glendale residents by providing a direct connection to... the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue station,” said MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan. “We hope it will reduce traffic by allowing residents of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst car-free access to a major retail center.”

Last month, Community Board 5 overwhelmingly rejected the proposal after many residents spoke against it during a public hearing. However, the board acts only in an advisory role, and the MTA made it clear at that point they would continue to pursue the route extension. The decision was announced in a July 11 letter from Joseph Smith, MTA Bus President, to Gary Giordano, the board’s district manager.

“We understand that there remains opposition to the proposed extension,” wrote Smith, adding that MTA decided that the mall provides “a logical southern terminus” for the route. “Bus transit has the flexibility to adjust to changing travel patterns and land uses, and the relatively new Shops at Atlas Park has presented an opportunity to increase the functionality of the Q45 by serving this large shopping center,” he wrote.

Both MTA Bus and MTA Transit have recently adjusted several routes to serve large retail shopping centers in Brooklyn, including Gateway Center Mall and the newly-opened Red Hook Ikea, the agency argued in its letter and a statement announcing the route change. “As with numerous other route changes that the MTA Bus Company has undertaken since it was formed in 2004 that have improved service and significantly boosted ridership, we expect that the ridership on this improve route will be robust,” said spokesman Aaron Donovan. “If it proves to be less than anticipated, we can always revisit this decision.”

The bottom line for the MTA is increasing the usefulness of the overall route, despite the concerns of residents living near the shopping center in Glendale, according to Smith. “We believe that this extension would provide better transportation options to everyone along the Q45 route, and would not make this revision if we thought that it did not provide benefits to the public or results in an inconvenience to our customers,” he wrote.

MTA: Family Didn’t Influence
The MTA also stressed that its chairman didn’t play a role in the process since it directly benefits the mall, which is owned and operated by his son, Damon Hemmerdinger. “Dale Hemmerdinger played no role in the initiative to study bus service to Glendale or to extend the Q45 bus route,” wrote Donovan. “If the route extension had come before the board, he would have recused himself from voting on the matter. In addition, he has had no conversations with anyone involved in planning this route extension.”

Discussions to extend bus service to Glendale and Atlas Park “began many months before Dale Hemmerdinger came to the MTA in October 2007,” noted Donovan. The MTA board did not have to vote on the matter since it only involves changing an existing route, he added.

Atlas Park also claimed throughout the process that the change wasn’t the result of the family’s connections. Damon Hemmerdinger declined to comment through the mall’s public relations firm on the MTA’s decision, but has said previously that the new route will benefit the community as a whole.

“Southern Middle Village and Upper Glendale are underserved by public transportation and a direct connection... to an express subway station isin the overall best interest of all our property values,” wrote Atlas Park spokeswoman Robin Dolch last month. “Discussions about improved bus service are not new and have been underway for at least seven years.”

When announcing the route change, the MTA downplayed the negative effects the additional bus service will have on neighborhood surrounding Atlas Park. “We understand the concerns about increased traffic on the streets in the community,” wrote Smith in his letter to the community board, before noting that “the Q45 is not a frequent, high volume route.”

The route has two buses per hour running in each direction on weekday middays, nights and on weekends. There are three to four buses each hour during weekday afternoons, and up to eight buses per hour during weekday rush hours. New bus stops needed between Eliot and Furmanville avenues “will be widely spaced to reduce the loss of on-street parking,” wrote Smith.

Decision Comes After Several Proposals
Under the final extended route decided on, the bus will follow 80th Street from Eliot Avenue to Cooper Avenue. Buses heading south will turn east at the corner of 80th Street and Cooper Avenue, making its final stop at 81st Street outside the mall. Buses would then enter the mall property at 82nd Street and use its internal roads to turnaround and exit onto Cooper Avenue before
heading north towards Jackson Heights.

This route was settled on after several other proposals, including one extending the route south on residential streets to Myrtle Avenue and 80th Street, were opposed by the community. “We appreciate the community’s input because it... helped us find a better alternative than the route on Myrtle Avenue that we had originally identified,” wrote Donovan. “We feel comfortable that this extension will make the route more useful to more Queens residents and will provide a more attractive alternative than the one we had originally proposed.”

Residents and Officials React
At the community board’s June 11 public hearing, residents made it clear that they don’t want the route extended through their neighborhood and accused the MTA favoring the needs of the Hemmerdinger family. After finding out that the rerouting had been finalized, residents reacted similarly this week.

At the community board’s June 11 public hearing, residents made it clear that they don’t want the route extended through their neighborhood and accused the MTA favoring the needs of the Hemmerdinger family. After finding out that the rerouting had been finalized, residents reacted similarly this week.

Dolores Capace of Glendale said that attending a recent City Council hearing on bus routes made it “crystal clear that there are no rules or policies that the MTA must follow with respect to this bus modifications.” She noted that the majority of residents, community board members, civic leaders and local officials publicly opposed the route change. “The MTA decided to ignore the community and extend this bus route anyway,” she said. “This just adds another layer of community mistrust.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and a community board member called the public hearing “a sham,” adding that “this is another example of government disregarding the will of the people and doing as they please.”

Earlier this month, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi wrote to MTA Bus Company to express his “concern” regarding the proposed route change. “The expansion, which the vast majority of local residents oppose, raises serious concerns regarding traffic congestion through a perpetually gridlocked section of 80th Street from Furmanville Avenue to Cooper Avenue,” he wrote. “The proposed expansion... will be harmful to the quality of life of my constituents and I am unequivocally opposed to its implementation.”

Woman Uses Internet to Track Down Missing Dog


by Conor Greene

A Bronx family whose dog went missing missing in early June had nearly lost hope–until a pet lover and dog rescuer from Middle Village located the pooch in a shelter 200 miles away.

Bugzy, a mixed Rottweiler, was separated from her owner, Theresa Mollica, in the Bronx on June 8. Witnesses reported seeing a woman drive away with him in a red van with Pennsylvania license plates, according to Phyllis Taiano, a local dog rescuer who eventually helped locate Bugzy using the Internet.

After the dog went missing, the Mollicas flooded the web with postings explaining how important a part of their family 14 year-old Bugzy is, especially to Theresa’s terminally ill husband. For weeks Taiano searched websites listing lost dogs taken to shelters and had no luck until last week. The break came when she searched under German Shepherds instead of Rottweilers.

“I’m checking all the local shelters, and as you go down the page they get further away,” she said. “I get to the second page, and read about a dog that came to a shelter with out of state tags named Bugzy,” she said. When she saw that they shelter doesn’t assign names to incoming dogs, Taiano knew she had found the Mollica’s dog in Rhode Island, 200 miles from home.

She called her friend, Cathy Schnurr, who knows the Mollicas and confirmed that it was definitely Bugsy. Taiano called the shelter, located in Pawtuckett, and spoke with manager John Holmes. They found out that the shelter had picked Buzgy up on June 9 after receiving a call from a woman about a stray dog in her development. It was later reported that a woman matching the description of the woman seen driving away with Bugzy in the Bronx was seen in the immediate vicinity in Pawtuckett

The discovery ended a nearly two-month stay in the Pawtuckett shelter and setup a reunion captured on local television news cameras. “I was kind of losing hope, but now I’m so happy,” a jubilated Theresa Mollica told ABC-6 television in Pawtuckett. “I would never even have thought of [looking in] Rhode Island, or how to go about finding him.”

Holmes told the station that the “dog was sick at the time,” but was taken care of and added to the website. “His photo was then picked up by someone in New York.” The successful search aided with the website, where Holmes posted the photo and description of Bugzy that Taiano found.

“We have an amazing [online] network, with more than 100 people in it from New Jersey, Delaware, Florida, the west, south,” said Taiano. “When dog goes missing, we all network among each other.”

Taiano isn’t sure if the woman stole Bugzy of took him with the intention of keeping him, but said she shouldn’t have just abandoned him. “We have the feeling that she dumped him because he has a stomach issue and takes medicine every day,” she said. “She probably didn’t have the money to take care of him, and instead of bringing him back, she just let him go.”

Helping to reunite the lost dog with its family is "awesome, a good feeling,” she said. “If you love animals, you understand how it bad it feels to lose one. Then, to be reunited when you never thought it would happen. Most people hold on to [lost dogs] and aren’t always trustworthy.”

“This is one of the best days of my life,” said Mollica.

Photos: The Mollica family after being reunited with Bugzy in Rhode Island. Bottom: Phyllis Taiano and John Mollica greet Bugzy.

Please Help Penelope!

Crippled by a broken leg that was set incorrectly, 12-week-old Penelope was recently abandoned by her owner. She is now under the care of volunteers at Bobbie & the Strays in Glendale, who are trying to raise $3,500 for surgery needed to fix her limb.

A woman was playing with her English Bulldog in a local park recently when she was approached by Penelope’s owner, who asked if the dogs could play. She then asked the woman if she would watch Penelope for a minute, and never returned for the mutt.

Bobbie & the Strays, based in the Shops at Atlas Park mall, have already collected hundreds of dollars from shoppers, according to Phyllis Taiano. It appears that her leg was broken and then reset incorrectly, leaving her only able to use three legs. As a result, she has to hold up the bad leg while she runs and gets tired quickly.

A specialist is needed to operate on Penelope’s leg, which needs a plate and screws in order to gain full range of motion. The rescue group can’t afford to pay for the operation, but they are hoping shoppers and the public take pity and donate a few dollars. Penelope will then be available for adoption, hopefully giving her a normal life after being abandoned.

Donations can be made in person at the shopping center or by mailing to:

The Shops at Atlas Park - Bobbi & the Strays
71-03 80th Street, Glendale, NY 11385
Memo: Pennies for Penelope Fund
For details, call Phyllis Taiano at (646) 361-0163

Crime's on the Rise, But Help is on the Way

Major Crime up 7%, but 14 Extra Officers Have Arrived

By Conor Greene

The area covered by the 104th Precinct has suffered the largest increase in crime so far this year within Queens North, but according to Deputy Inspector Keith Green, help is on the way in the form of additional manpower.

Through the first 28 weeks this year, major crime has increased nearly eight percent, the precinct’s commanding officer reported at last week’s COP 104 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. Of those categories, robberies and grand larcenies are “up substantially,” said Green, while assault and burglaries are down slightly.

There were 157 robberies so far this year, compared with 126 at the same time last year, and 267 grand larcenies, up from 216 last year, said Green. Rapes have held even at eight so far, while felony assaults – the only category to rise last year – decreased from 80 to 74. Burglaries have also decreased a little, down to 213 compared with 223 last year. On the flip side, arrests for major crimes are up 15% this year, including a 119% increase in burglary arrest and a 20% increase in robbery arrests, said Green. Overall, arrests are up 12.5% for all crimes, he said.

The increase in crime marks the largest seen this year of any of eight precincts that comprise Patrol Borough Queens North, according to Green. However, he told residents at last Wednesday’s meeting that he had “a little bit of good news,” as 14 additional officers have been assigned to the 104th Precinct. They arrived at the Ridgewood stationhouse last week, and have at least six months on the job so far working with tactical units in Queens and Brooklyn.

“It is a big boost for us and is going to enable us to do a lot of things,” said Green, who said the extra manpower will help focus on non-emergency issues like quality of life complaints. “It is the result of the problems we’re having with crime,” he added. “You don’t see officers transferred from Brooklyn North often.”

The precinct has tried to focus more attention on quality of life issues, according to Green. Criminal court summonses, which mainly deal with those types of nuisance issues, are up 68% this year, with 3,922 issued so far. “We do that to decrease all types of crime, not just quality of life issue,” said Green.

The precinct has issued 25% more moving summonses so far this year, and twice as many speeding tickets, in part due to help from the highway patrol division. “We didn’t do a lot of traffic enforcement last year, so we stepped it up this year,” Deputy Inspector Green told residents. Traffic accidents are down nine percent this year, but there is still an average of 300 per month. “We still have way too many accidents in this precinct,” he Green.

Despite the precinct’s demonstrated attention to quality of life and traffic enforcement concerns, these issues remain those raised most frequently by residents. Lorraine Sciulli said that speeding drivers along streets surrounding Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, including Juniper Boulevard North and South, continue to be an issue. Deputy Inspector Green said that the precinct will continue to monitor that area.

Manny Caruana of Maspeth complained about school buses around PS 58, which he said are parked on neighborhood streets overnight and on weekend. “They use it for personal parking all weekend,” he told the deputy inspector. “They’re taking parking away from residents.” He said that he is worried that the problem will get worse if a new school is built at 57th Avenue and 74th Street, which he said is “almost certain.” Green said that the precinct has spoken with the local PTA and has done enforcement in the area, but promised to send additional forces to patrol near PS 58. “There are forty-something schools [within the precinct] and we try to hit them all,” he said.

“When we’re out there [issuing tickets], they get the message.” As with many neighborhoods in Queens, the proliferation of graffiti vandalism is also a concern for the precinct, said Green. The precinct was number-one citywide last year in term of graffiti arrests, and boasts a “great graffiti removal program,” he said. “It is a priority for us – it’s not that we ignore it, it’s pervasive. I see it everywhere.”

Green urged residents to call 911 when they see somebody defacing property, since it’s a crime in progress. He said people arrested for graffiti within the precinct’s confines are all ages and from around the city. “It’s not just fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-year old kids,” he said. “They consider themselves artists, but they’re vandals.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and chairman of Community Board 5’s Public Safety Committee asked Green about the chances of having an impact zone established, especially in Ridgewood. “There is so much more crime there, it really warrants an impact zone,” he said.

Green said the precinct’s request earlier this year to have an impact zone created was denied because there isn’t enough violent crime in the area to warrant it. However, he hopes that the additional officers assigned to the precinct will help reduce street crime, especially overnight. He said that the majority of robberies occur during the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, which is when most of the new officers will be on duty.

The next COP 104 meeting will be Wednesday, September 17 at a location to be announced, since the group doesn’t meet in August, announced its president, Barry Nisenson.

Three Caught Breaking Into Ridgewood Apartment

Crime Report Includes Incidents in Maspeth and Middle Village

By Conor Greene

Police arrested three suspects who were caught exiting a Ridgewood home carrying stolen items worth hundreds of dollars. The 104th Precinct’s Anti Crime Team responding to a 911 call arrived at a three-family house on Cornelia Street at 2:40 p.m. last Wednesday just as two men were exiting through a rear second-floor window, according to police.

Sgt. Robert Krohley and Officers Anthony Burzotta and Danielle Clifford immediately took Prabhjit Singh, 22 and Anthony Manon, 20 into custody. The suspects were carrying several canvass bags containing thousands of dollars in items stolen from the two residences within the house, said police.

Also arrested was Amanda Cruz, 20, who was outside the house acting as a lookout when police arrived. No one was inside the homes at the time of the burglaries, which took place on Cornelia Street between Woodward and Onderdonk avenues.

Among the items taken from the second-and third-floor residences was a 32-inch flat screen television worth about $750, a PSP video game system valued at $400, an X-Box worth $500, along with about $1,000 in video games, a $150 gold watch, a $300 silver chain, a GPS system worth $300, according to police.

The three suspects were charged with burglary and possession of stolen property. Cruz and Singh were ordered held on $10,000 bail during their initial court appearance on July 18 and ordered back in Queens Criminal Court on August 1, according to records. Manon was ordered held on $75,000 bail and is due back in court on August 18. All are from the area, according to police.

Ex-Girlfriend Charged in Burglary

A 38-year-old woman has been charged with breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment and damaging his property, according to police.

Dawn Rivera was arrested last Friday at her 58th Road home after allegedly breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s home on 54th Street. She was seen entering the home and is accused with damaging several items before fleeing in a taxi cab, according to the 104th Precinct.

Following an investigation, police tracked Rivera to her home on 58th Road. When officers arrived, Rivera tried to escape by climbing out the back window, but was taken into custody in her rear yard. Several items taken from the victim’s house were found in her home, said police.

Rivera was charged with burglary and criminal possession of stolen property. She posted $1,000 cash bail at her first appearance in Queens Criminal Court and is due back on August 6.

Five Nabbed in Middle Village Burglary

Five individuals pretending to wait for a bus on 80th Street were charged in connection with a home break-in Tuesday evening, according to police.

Police received a report of a home burglary on 60th Avenue near the corner of 83rd Street at 6:25 p.m. Officer Geemaayi Simmons responded and eventually located five men waiting at a bus stop on 80th Street. None of the men had any money or MetroCards on them, and the witness who reported the burglary was able to identify the men, said police.

It was later determined that one of the men broke into the house by forcing open a locked back door. He then stole a laptop, which he placed inside a Louis Vitton handbag also taken from the home, said police. The stolen items were later recovered from a garbage can on 83rd Street.

Charged in the burglary were John Yanez, Joan Castro, Jonathan Rojas, Christian Perez, and Kenneth Rojas. All are between 17 and 19 years old, according to police.

Lawmakers Push for Federal Cleanup of Newtown Creek

Weiner and Velazquez Want Feds to Designate the City’s Most Polluted Waterway a Superfund Site

By Conor Greene

Two local lawmakers want the federal government to declare the Newtown Creek a Superfund site, which would provide millions of dollars to help cleanup the city’s most heavily polluted waterway.

The 3.5-mile creek, which runs east from the East River between Queens and Brooklyn, was polluted by as much as 30 million gallons of oil over the course of 150 years of industrial activity, which included the explosion of an oil refinery in 1950. The spill was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978, and is thought to cover properties on as much as 70 acres in Brooklyn.

Under a remediation plan begin carried out by ExxonMobil due to a court order, about 9.4 million gallons of oil have been removed from the area so far. However, officials estimate it will take until 2026 to finish the remediation effort currently ongoing at the site.

Now, Democratic lawmakers Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, who each represent parts of Queens in congress, want the area designated as a federal Superfund site. That could make the creek eligible for federal funding to cover up to 90% of the cost – possibility as much as $15 million towards the effort, according to the representatives.

“While the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities, the health and safety of Newtown Creek residents hang in the balance,” said Congressman Weiner. “Testing these four sites will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill’s health risks and give this national environmental disaster national attention.”

At a joint press conference last week, Weiner and Velazquez called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to conduct preliminary testing at the creek. They argue that if those tests find high levels of toxic chemicals, the entire Newtown Creek could become eligible for inclusion on the national Superfund site list.

Even though the oil spill encompasses an area one-and-a- half times larger than the site of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Newtown Creek has never been tested by the EPA for consideration for inclusion in the Superfund program. At the press conference, Weiner and Velazquez released a letter to the EPA identifying four sites along the creek for federal review, including two former hazardous waste facilities, a former copper smelting plant and a former coal gasification complex.

“It’s time for the EPA to acknowledge that the people who live here already know: the contamination of Newtown Creek is nothing short of a human tragedy,” said Congresswoman Velazquez. “The EPA should use its strongest tools possible to begin remediation. The time to act is now.”

Last September, an EPA report commissioned by Weiner and Velazquez suggested that that size of the spill was likely close to 30 million gallons, not 17 million gallons as thought at the time. It also indicated that the spill could be causing toxic vapors to leak into nearby homes and business. At the current rate that ExxonMobil is cleaning up the site, it could take 25 years to clean just 70% of the contamination, the report found.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued ExxonMobil and several other companies last year, charging them with creating an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” as a result of the slow cleanup process.

“This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation, larger than the Exxon Valdez [spill off Alaskan coast] and slower in cleanup,” said Cuomo last year. “The toxic footprint of ExxonMobil is found all over this area. It is ExxonMobil’s oil that remains under the homes and businesses. And it is ExxonMobil that has dragged its feet and done as little as possible to address the dangers it has created.”

That lawsuit is still pending, but Weiner and Velazquez hope that the federal government will now step in and help the creek shed its title as the city’s most polluted waterway. The call for action comes after the House of Representatives passed legislation to have the oil spill fully mapped, so the extent of the creek’s contamination can be determined. If the law is passed in the Senate, the EPA will move forward with the more comprehensive study of the creek since the spill was discovered.

The politicians specifically want the federal government to review the four sites highlighted in their letter: a 44-acre property off 56th Road in Maspeth used by Phelps Dodge; a 37-acre site in Long Island City used by Quanta Resources for waste oil reprocessing; a hazardous waste and oil processing facility at 360 Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn used by BCF Oil until 1994 and three Brooklyn sites owned by National Grid, which is formerly known as KeySpan.

The Superfund program was created in 1980 and gives the government the authority to force responsible parties to clean contaminated sites. According to Weiner, funding for the program has dropped from $3.8 billion in 1997 to just $178 million last year. He blames the decline in funding on expired taxes on the oil and chemical industries along with an expired corporate environmental income tax.

If the federal government designates the area as a Superfund site, a four-point process would begin. First, a one-year cleanup would immediately stabilize the area to stop any immediate threats to the community. The EPA would then perform a “comprehensive investigation of the site and analyze cleanup options,” a process that takes “months to years” according to Weiner. It would take about two more years to develop a plan for the site, after which the agency would commence with the cleanup, or force a responsible party to do so. On average, the cleanup process takes 8 to 11 years.

Photo by: Steve Garza

Three Queens Locations Among Closing Starbucks

Two Glendale Stores, Including Atlas Park Location, Will Close

by Conor Greene

Among the 600 stores ordered closed nationwide by Starbucks are 11 in New York City, three of which are in Queens,including the Atlas Park mall location.

The Seattle-based coffee giant announced the stores closures earlier this month as part of “its multi-faceted plan to transform the company.” It described the locations as “underperforming” and expects them to be closed at various times through out the rest of this year and the first half of 2009.

Aside from six stores in Midtown Manhattan, three Queens locations – two in Glendale, at 8000 Cooper Avenue (Atlas Park) and 8989 Union Turnpike (Stop and Shop plaza) and one in Douglaston – are among the stores closing. In addition, the company is shutting one store in both Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The closing of the Atlas Park location comes as a hit to the high-end shopping center at Cooper Avenue and 80th Street. Damon Hemmerdinger, who owns the mall, declined through its public relations firm to comment Starbuck’s decision. However, the store’s business was likely hurt by the fact that the shopping center charges for parking, cutting down on the amount of pedestrian traffic at the store.

However, customers used to frequenting the Atlas Park or Union Turnpike locations won’t have to go far for a replacement coffee store. There still is a Seattle’s Best café - which is also owned by Starbucks - inside Borders Books and Music in Atlas Park, and there is a second Starbucks location inside the Stop and Shop on Union Turnpike.

According to Starbucks, seventy percent of the stores scheduled to close were opened in 2006 or later. That means that nearly twenty percent of all stores opened in the past two years are closing. About 12,000 workers will be affected by the closings, slated to start this month and continue over the next year. Most will be moved to other locations, the company said.

Howard Schultz, company chairman and CEO, said that the company is committed to undergo a “series of critical and strategic initiatives to improve the current state of our U.S. business and build the business for the long term. When the restructuring was first announced in January, about 100 stores were expected to be closed.

“We recognize that it is necessary to make decisions that will strengthen the U.S. store portfolio and enable us to enter into fiscal 2009 focused on enhancing operating efficiency, improving customer satisfaction and ensuring long-term value for partners, customers shareholders,” Schultz said in a statement.

Detective Pleads Guilty in Child Prostitution Case

Accused of Pimping Out 13-Year-Old,
Pleads Guilty to Attempted Kidnapping

by Conor Greene

A NYPD detective accused of pimping out a 13-year-old runaway has pled guilty to attempted kidnapping, announced Queens
District Attorney Richard Brown.

Wayne Taylor, 35, who was a 14-year-member of the NYPD, and Zelika Brown, who helped run the sex ring and claimed to be his wife, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge last Thursday. They had been accused of buying a girl who had runaway from her Brooklyn home and then pimping her out at parties throughout the city, including at the Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson hotels near JFK Airport.

“These guilty pleas bring to resolution a nightmarish case in which a New York City Police detective – who is sworn to serve and protect the community – was instead accused of helping to prostitute a troubled young child who had run away from home,” said Brown. “The guilty pleas will save the victim from having to testify and recount the horrific situation that she endured.”

As part of the plea agreement, Taylor and Brown, 29, of Jamaica admitted to second-degree attempted kidnapping before Queens Criminal Court Judge Pauline Mullings. They both face three-and-a-half years in prison when sentenced on August 4, and Taylor resigned from the police force as part of the plea agreement, according to DA Brown.

Police believe the incident began when ran away and met a woman named “Drama” who offered to get her into the business of dancing for money at parties. The girl was then sold to Taylor and Brown, who forced her to charge $40 to men for oral sex and $80 for intercourse, according to the charges. She was told to say she was 19 years old if asked and was forced to perform sexual acts on about 20 men at parties over two weeks in January.

At one point, Taylor slammed the victim’s head into the ground because she did not earn enough money, according to the DA. Taylor told her there was an alarm on the Vaswani Avenue house she was kept in and that he would know if she tried to escape. He also threatened to make her walk the streets to earn extra money if she was unable to make enough to pay off the $500 they paid for her.

The couple was initially charged with kidnapping, promoting prostitution, assault and endangering the welfare of a child and faced up to 25 years in prison when they reached the plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.

The Howard Johnson at 153-95 Rockaway Boulevard, allegedly used by Taylor and Brown, was nearly shut down by authorities in March after police arrested six individuals there, including a pimp and several hotel clerks. Under cops posing as prostitutes and hookers witnessed illegal activity there after staking it out for several months, according to authorities.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South:

Melinda's Katz funding request in the comptroller's race is denied

Glendale residents are unhappy with late night construction at PS 113

Police report several street robberies in Maspeth and Glendale

Howard Beach Councilman Joseph Addabbo kicks off his State Senate bid against Serf Maltese

CB 5 discusses Woodhaven House, a VFW hall and car services

The FAA has announced safety changes after two near misses over JFK Airport

Wounded Warriors injured in combat are taught water sports in Rockaway

A teacher at an upstate school is charged with raping a student in Queens

A Ridgewood man is charged with posing as an attorney

Former Queens woman sentenced to nearly 11 years for adoption scam

Katz Fundraising Request is Denied by CFB

Real Estate Contributions Will be Restricted in December

By Conor Greene

During her time as chair of City Council’s influential Land Use Committee, Melinda Katz has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from members of the real estate industry. Since deciding to run for comptroller two years ago, she has raised more than two million dollars, outpacing her three opponents.

However, starting in December, the amount that members of the real estate industry can contribute to politicians will be severely curtailed due to a change in the city’s campaign finance laws. That means Katz’s ability to pull in money for a runoff election during the Democratic primary – which would take place if none of the candidates received at least 40% of the vote – would be reduced significantly.

To avoid the possibility of having to amass a war chest for a runoff without being able to fully leverage the real estate industry, Katz recently asked the city Campaign Finance Board to allow her to establish an account now that would be set aside in case of a runoff. That means that industry members who have already contributed $4,950, the maximum allowed by law, could give another $2,475 for a runoff effort. Under the new law taking effect in December, those contributions will be limited to just $200.

In a letter to CFB Chairman Joseph Parks, the Katz campaign predicted the battle for the comptroller’s position “will be a highly competitive race.” Currently, three other elected officials – Councilman David Weprin, Councilman David Yassky and Assemblyman Jim Brennan – have formally declared their candidacy, and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion has publicly stated his intention to seek that position.

In the June 30 letter to CFB, Katz’s treasurer Ronald Kaye, argues that a runoff “can be reasonably anticipated” due to the number of candidates currently running, the amount of money collectively raised so far, the lack of public polling in comptroller’s races until late in the primary process and the fact that incumbent William Thompson, Jr. can’t run again due to term limits.

“Councilwoman Katz believes that one of the most important aspects of the campaign finance program is that it encourages candidates to continue to focus on raising matchable contributions from New Yorkers early in the process, so that they can get that responsibility out of the way and concentrate on meeting with voters and debating the issues as the election draws near,” wrote Kaye.

“If there is a runoff election for Comptroller, which would surprise few political observers, the compressed time period after the primary would best be spent on debating and discussing the issues, not scrambling for last minute dollars."

Last Thursday, the CFB decided that “based on the information now available… a runoff election in the Democratic Party primary is not ‘reasonably anticipated’ at this time.” It notes that candidates “may submit another request” in the future if the race has “sufficiently evolved to enable them to demonstrate with concrete evidence that a runoff is ‘reasonably anticipated.’”

The decision, available on the CFB’s website, calls the prospect of a runoff “highly speculative” and argues that allowing a candidate to collect funds ahead of time would “actually undermine some core purposes of the Campaign Finance Program.”

It notes that the board has never decided that a runoff is reasonably anticipated more than a year before the election. The earliest it has done so was in February 2001 during the mayoral Democratic primary between Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer. The decision also points out that “no documentation of the history of runoff primaries for the Democratic comptroller primary, polling information or press reporting was presented to the board to support the request.”

According to the latest filings with the CFB, it’s clear that the comptroller’s race is attracting a lot of attention from donors. Katz leads the field with $2.1 million raised, followed by Weprin, with $1.8 million, Yassky, who has raised $1.3 million and Brennan, at $492,203. Carrion has raised $1.7 million, according to the CFB.

Katz’s comptroller campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment on the request or the CFB’s decision. However, at least one of her opponents is convinced that the new law limiting real estate contributions was the reason behind the request.

“Obviously, the request was premature, and we applaud the board for recognizing that,” said Yassky’s spokesman Doug Forand. “The context of this request is troubling and appears to be an effort to expand the ability for individuals to give money now who are going to be precluded from making those donations in the near future. There is plenty of time after these rules are put in place for someone to raise money should there be a runoff, so that argument doesn’t hold water as far as we’re concerned.”