Thursday, February 5, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Two Killed in DWI Hit and Run

Cops: Suspect Stole Car Before MV Wreck

By Conor Greene

A 16-year-old Middle Village boy was laid to rest today in St. John’s Cemetery after he and a friend were run down by a man who cops say sped down 80th Street in a stolen car while drunk and high on pills.

Robert Ogle, 16, of 62nd Avenue and Alex Paul, 20, of Cypress Hills, died after being hit early Sunday morning by a 2001 Kia Spectrum driven by 27-year-old Kenneth Guyear of Middle Village, according to police. Guyear had stolen the vehicle just minutes before the accident after its owner left it idling outside a deli on Woodhaven Boulevard.

Ogle, a student at Brooklyn Technical High School who aspired to become a journalist, died at the scene of the crime on 80th Street near 62nd Avenue – just blocks from his home, where the pair was headed after attending a nearby house party. Paul, described as an acquaintance of Ogle, was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he later died.

Guyear, who police say admitted to drinking “five or six vodka drinks” and taking two Xanax pills earlier that evening, was charged with firstdegree vehicular manslaughter, first-degree assault, third-degree grand larceny and other charges. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Ogle’s parents, Brendan and Mei, had become concerned when their son hadn’t returned from attending a house party on 80th Street and called police at about 12:30 a.m. At about 6 a.m., three detectives from the 104th Precinct showed up on their front door step with Robert’s school identification card to deliver the tragic news.

“You can’t even imagine this,” a distraught Brendan Ogle told reporters. “This is the worst thing we have ever dealt with.”

According to prosecutors, the events began at about 1:30 a.m., when three men left the Kia running outside a deli at Woodhaven Boulevard and Alderton Street. Guyear, who told police he is homeless, allegedly jumped into the vehicle and sped through the quiet residential streets of Middle Village towards 80th Street and 62nd Avenue where Ogle and Paul were walking.

Police say the victims likely didn’t see the vehicle before it struck them. After apparently trying to dislodge one of the bodies from the car, Guyear sped from the scene. Officers responding to the report of a stolen car stopped him near Dry Harbor Road and Woodhaven Boulevard, just blocks from where he stole the Kia. He was taken to the 112th Precinct stationhouse, where police say he later admitted to running the men down.

“I came from a party. I was drinking and got into a fight with my father and I stole the car,” said Guyear, according to statements released by the District Attorney’s office. “I drove and saw people. I slowed down and didn’t see them again… I have a drinking problem and a pill problem… I do three bags of cocaine per day and I smoke pot.”

Later in the interview, Guyear admitted to drinking “five or six vodka drinks” and taking two Xanax pills while at a party earlier that evening. “I stole the car that was parked on the street. I drove the car and saw the pedestrians but I didn’t think I hit anybody. I kept driving and then stopped the car and looked for blood on the car. I kept driving and the police stopped me.”

However, witnesses told the Daily News that Guyear put the car into reverse and drove forward several times in an apparent effort to dislodge one of the bodies. “Oh my God, there’s a body under the car,” the witness told the paper she recalled thinking. Witnesses also said that Guyear was laughing when cops arrested him about one block from the deli.

During his arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on Monday night, Guyear was ordered held without bail until his next court hearing on February 17. In addition, bail was set at $15,000 for an outstanding Brooklyn DWI felony case in which a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

According to police sources, Guyear has a long history of arrests and has been sent to Rikers Island eight times. He was arrested in October for stealing a motorcycle while drunk on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and was also arrested in 2006 for grand larceny auto, for which he served four months in Rikers Island. That year he was also charged with robbery and assault after participating in a robbery during which the victim’s ribs were broken.

“He shouldn’t have been out. It’s a shame,” lamented one police source. “Hopefully he will do a long time.” Those sentiments were echoed by Brendan Ogle. “Someone like that should be behind bars,” Ogle told the Daily News. “I hope there’s enough public outcry to put this guy and guys like him behind bars.”

During interviews with detectives, Guyear appeared defiant and without remorse. “I’ve been to Rikers a thousand times. I’m homeless. I live on the street,” he said, before telling one of the officers, “My attorney is going to have your job… You guys don’t know what you’re doing. You have nothing on me. You’re just locking me up for DWI? I’m gonna have your job. For a black cop you just follow what the white guy tells you.”

His page contains repeated references to drugs and violence and contains images of Muppets holding guns. By Wednesday morning, that page’s privacy setting had been changed to restrict public access to it.

The Ogle family is well known in the neighborhood, and Robert was a top student at Brooklyn Tech, where his mother teaches foreign languages. He played football there until breaking his leg during his freshman year, and previously played with the Pop Warner Queens Falcons team. He had a part-time job at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The family is a long-time member of the Juniper Park Civic Association, and Brendan Ogle, who works for the city’s Department of Information Technology, is an auxiliary police officer with the 104th Precinct. He has volunteered his services as an embroiderer to the civic association and with the Juniper Juniors group.

“This devastating case of two innocent young men being struck down by an allegedly drunken driver once again underscores the impact of a person’s decision to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Two families are now heartbroken.”

Senator Joseph P. Addabbo: "I'm Ready"

Pledges Tireless Service at Ceremonial Swearing In

By Patricia Adams

The official swearing in of Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. as state Senator took place in Albany on January 1. But the pomp and circumstance at the state capital could hardly replace the show of support and pride paid the new senator at a second ceremony held on Saturday morning.

The standing room only crowd comprised of family, friends and constituents filled the auditorium of PS 60 in Woodhaven, during the ceremonial swearing in for the new senator. Addabbo supporters were joined by a host of elected officials including Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Anthony Weiner, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, former City Council colleagues John Liu, Liz Crowley, Eric Gioia, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and City Controller Bill Thompson.

One by one standing at the podium governmental colleagues showered praise on Addabbo. His commitment, fortitude, determination and integrity were all included their descriptive narratives. But then it came time to hear from the man himself Senator Joseph P. Addabbo. “Ladies and gentleman, thank you so much. The reason that we do ceremonial swearing in is to give me the opportunity to say thank you. Thank you, because you are the reason I am standing here today.”

Addabbo went on to thank the individuals who played pivotal roles in his campaign, his career and his life. He went as far back as his political science teacher from Archbishop Molloy, to the staff of PS 60 who painted the auditorium themselves for the special occasion, the choir of MS 210, his staff and the more than one-thousand volunteers who turned out on Election Day.

To his family Joe Addabbo gave the credit of not ever having been able to do it without them. But there were special thanks for one particular person. “I cannot do it alone. I definitely need someone behind me to support me 24/7,” said Addabbo. “And if you think I have a hard job, how about a working mother with a 2-year-old and a four-year-old. A husband in Albany—my wife is a phenomenal person and I want to thank Dawn for all she does and continues to do.”

Addabbo went on to thank all the elected officials who had spoken before him, joking that he would “pay them for their kind words later.” On a more serious note, the senator went on to thank one elected official who was not in the room, his father, the late Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Sr.

“He taught me a lot about how to be a successful public servant and one thing he taught me was how to listen and act on what people are telling you; to look at a people’s problems not through our eyes but through their eyes. You can only see the magnitude and seriousness of the problem when you look at it from the person that comes to you.”

Sen. Addabbo went on to offer a pledge to his constituency---to listen to all the residents in his district and to act on their concerns and suggestions. “I promise to represent you to the best of my ability. That includes all the people, seniors, children, parents, the working people of my district, all of you.”

He also pledged to work tirelessly, every day and maintained that his policy of a 24/7 hotline will remain in effect because he believes that’s what the people are entitled to. And the new senator unveiled his plan and promises for the future. “I understand the job that I do. It has a long and strong impact on the people I represent. I understand the gravity of it all. So I’ll tell you this--- I’m ready.

Ready to make those hard decisions. Ready to stand up for education and to make sure we spend money properly for the programs in our schools and deal with mayoral control. That’s why we do our ceremony in a school today because education is so important.” Addabbo went on to cover more crucial issues.

“I’m ready to expand healthcare so that we can cover more people and make it more affordable. I’m ready to protect public safety throughout our community. Ready to protect the character of our communities and safeguard against destructive measures such as overdevelopment.”

And as he closed his remarks to the crowd, Addabbo offered a picture of the future. “We cannot let hard times stop us. We cannot be crippled we must move forward together and shape a positive future. We are New Yorkers. We face every challenge before us and we go forward. We must look at government differently; end party politics and work together to make things better for the people. That is the focus. When you come to me you will find an open hand, an open door and an open mind. I ask not only for your cooperation but for your patience. I am proud and deeply grateful to be your state senator.”

Ridgewood Assault Being Prosecuted as Hate Crime

By Conor Greene

Five Ridgewood residents have been charged with a felony gang assault for their role in the assault of a 17-year-old boy. Because the suspects yelled slurs at the victim during the attack, the attack is being classified as a hate crime by the Queens District Attorney’s office.

Erbi Kau, 20, Geri Duka, 16, Marsel Bode, 19, Eros Canaj, 17 and Emilian Gjikola,20, have been charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime, criminal possession of a weapon and menacing for allegedly attacking a teen on January 24 because they thought he was homosexual. Several other individuals involved were not apprehended.

According to the criminal complaint submitted by Officer Anthony Burzotta of the 104th Precinct, the perpetrators “intentionally selected” the victim due to their perception of his sexual orientation. As a result, the charges will carry a stiffer penalty due to the hate crime designation if the suspects are convicted. The victim told the officer that two individuals, who are still at large, approached him near the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Linden Street at about 3 p.m.

One of them called him a homosexual before punching him in the face. Eight other young men then approached him - including the five who were later arrested - and continued taunting and punching him. They fled from the scene when a witness yelled at them to leave the victim alone.

As he continued walking towards his home, the victim was again accosted by the large group of teens and young men. They all began calling him names and punching him until he fell to his knees. The suspects continued kicking and punching him while he was on the ground, causing a bloody nose, laceration to his cheek and substantial pain, according to the criminal complaint.

While on the ground, one of the suspects that remains at large swung a hammer at him, striking him in the back of the head. The victim was able to get the hammer away from his attacker and throw it to the side. The suspects again fled the scene when a witness yelled at them, and responding officers later recovered the hammer from the scene.

Except for Kau, who was held on $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash, the defendants were ordered held on $2,500 bond or $1,500 cash after their first appearance in Queens Criminal Court on January 25 and were due back in court this Thursday, February 5.

Restaurants to Post Letter Grades Under Health Inspection Rules

Customers will soon be able to tell what grade any of the city’s 25,000 restaurants received in their most recent health inspection simply by glancing at a sign posted in the window or doorway.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Klein announced last weekend that the city is updating its restaurant inspection system in an effort to improve sanitary conditions and give consumers more information. About 1,000 people become sick each day from eating in city in restaurants, which serve about 800 million meals each year.

Under the new guidelines, the city Health Department will increase the number of inspections for less sanitary restaurants and will requiring all establishments to post letter grades in its window or vestibule. The latter measure has been championed by Senator Klein (D-Bronx), who has made restaurant safety one of his top priorities. Currently, the inspection scores are only available online or at the health department.

“Today’s announcement is a great step forward towards improving the overall public health of all New York City residents,” said Klein. “As someone who has spent years advocating for a more consumer friendly system, I am thrilled that New York City diners will finally have easy access to the latest inspection results of their favorite restaurants. Having a letter grade posted for all diners to see will provide a real incentive for restaurants with a ‘C’ hanging in the doorway to clean up their act.”

The new system will be phased in over the next two years to give restaurant owners time to comply with the requirements. In addition to using letter grades A, B and C to rate restaurants that pass inspection, the city will also increase the amount of times failing establishments are inspected.

“This approach will concentrate city resources on the restaurants that pose the greatest risk to public health and place no additional burden on establishments that maintain sanitary conditions,” the city said in a statement.

“We know New York City’s restaurants are the best in the world and we want them to also be the cleanest,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This new system will encourage the less sanitary restaurants to clean up – and won’t punish the good guys. As sanitation improves, so will business. The more residents and tourists that can trust the food they buy in New York City restaurants, the more likely they are to patronize them.”

This year, Senator Klein plans to again introduce legislation that will require all local health departments across the state to implement a letter grading system, which is also used in Los Angeles. “Whether New Yorkers are dining out for a routine meal or to celebrate a special occasion, their only reservations should be to book a table,” he said. Since 2000, the senator has released regular reports called “Enough to Make you Sick,” which examines the sanitary conditions at city restaurants and supermarkets.

According to the city, extra scrutiny of city restaurants is warranted, as food-related illness “is a source of growing public concern” among residents. Complaints about foodborne illness have increased in recent years, and rodent infestations are a common problem in restaurants.

The Health Department reports signs of rodents in a quarter of restaurants inspected and estimates that more than 11,000 New Yorkers are treated in emergency rooms annually for restaurant-related food illnesses – at a cost of $130 million annually.

“By requiring restaurants to publicly post grades, the new food safety initiatives will help consumers make more informed choices about where to eat, while increasing restaurant operators’ motivation to stay clean,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city health commissioner. “New York City will have safer restaurants and fewer cases of food poisoning.”

Research from other cities has found that requiring restaurants to publicly post inspection grades leads to increased business at establishments with higher grades, forces restaurants to improve their sanitary standards and results in fewer cases of food-borne illnesses.

The new model will also bring the city closer to the federal Food and Drug Administration recommended schedule of at least three full inspections every year for full service restaurants. Currently, most city restaurants are inspected just once a year.

Physician Admits to Role in Insurance Scam

Second Doctor Charged from Jamaica Clinic

A Middle Village physician has pleaded guilty to falsely charging insurance companies for costly medical tests never actually provided to motor vehicle accident victims.

Alexander Israeli, 57, of 61-59 Dry Harbor Road admitted on Monday to his role in the scheme, which took place at L&B Medical at 153-25 Hillside Avenue in Jamaica. He pled guilty to fourth-degree insurance fraud and is expected to receive a three-year conditional discharge when he is sentenced on February 25.

According to the charges, Israeli submitted seven insurance claims for costly nerve conduction studies and needle electromyopgraphs between January and December 2000 even though the procedures were never performed. The claims were submitted under the state’s no-fault law, which allows a person injured in a motor vehicle accident to receive up to $50,000 coverage for medical expenses incurred as a result. Most health providers are reimbursed directly by the insurance carriers for services provided.

As a result of the fraudulent claims submitted by Israeli, insurance companies paid out more than $21,000 to his employer, L&B Medical. Since he pleaded guilty to a felony, the New York State Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct will commence action to revoke his license to practice medicine here. Among the insurance companies victimized by the scheme were GMAC, Kemper Auto and Home Insurance, Allstate and Geico.

“No-fault fraud and abuse is a billion dollar a year business in New York fueled by unethical health care professionals,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message to those who are attempting to use the system for their own personal gain that law enforcement’s fight against insurance fraud is ongoing and those who cheat will be sought out and brought to justice.”

According to Brown, these types of cases are costing the average New York driver $300to $400 a year in higher insurance premiums “and are a major reason why New York’s automobile insurance coverage costs an average of nearly $2,000 per driver, the second highest in the nation.”

Israeli was the second physician charged, as a colleague, Dr. Yakov Raufov, was charged in May 2007 with grand larceny insurance fraud and falsifying business records. Dr. Raufov, 43, of Long Island, is scheduled to stand trial in March and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. Israeli’s plea agreement came on the day his trial was scheduled to begin.

Man Convicted of '06 Home Invasion Rape

Linked to Richmond Hill Crime with DNA

A Far Rockaway man has been convicted of a 2006 rape in Richmond Hill after blood found at the scene was linked to his DNA, which was on file from a prior conviction. The man posed as a police officer while raping the woman at knifepoint.

Antonio Ortiz, 42, of 8502 Rockaway Boulevard was convicted last Friday of predatory sexual assault, first-degree rape, criminal sexual act, burglary and attempted rape following a three-week jury trial in Queens Criminal Court. He faces three consecutive sentences of 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on March 5.

“This case underscores yet again the crucial importance of DNA evidence,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “A drop of blood found at the crime scene was key to identifying the defendant and bringing him to justice. The maximum penalty is warranted for this defendant who is a violent predicate felon with prior convictions for both burglary and sexual assault.”

According to trial testimony, a 37-year-old woman was spending the night at a friend’s Richmond Hill home on August 24, 2006 when she awoke at about 3:30 a.m. and saw Ortiz – who had entered through a first-floor kitchen window. Ortiz, who was holding a knife, identified himself as police officer. When she tried to flee, Ortiz pushed her back on the bed and forcibly raped her. He then robbed her and the homeowner of jewelry, money and other items before fleeing.

A drop of blood recovered from the kitchen window ledge where Ortiz entered the apartment was matched to his DNA, which was on file with the national DNA databank following his conviction in a Brooklyn burglary. According to Brown, this also marks the first conviction in Queens County under the newly enacted predatory sexual assault statute, which enhances penalties for offenders who commit violent sex crimes while armed with a dangerous weapon.

The investigation was conducted by Detective Jon Hafner of the NYPD’s Queens Special Victims Squad with assistance from the 102nd Precinct.

DA Touts "Historic Decline" of Crime in Queens

Warns Officials of Impact Budget Cuts Would Have

At his recent legislative breakfast, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown boasted of the historic decline in serious crime in the borough, but warned that budget cuts could jeopardize this progress.

Brown held the annual breakfast for Queens elected officials last Friday in his Kew Gardens offices. Among those attending were city, state and federal officials, including Borough President Helen Marshall and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

He began by announcing that crime in the county “continued its historic decline in 2008,” while at the same time Queens continues to lead the city in terms of prosecutions of many major categories. The trend includes a 3.7 percent decline in serious crime, led by a 10.9 percent drop in burglary. Overall, crime has been reduced by 34 percent since 2001 and 76 percent since 1993.

“Clearly, these figures – showing that the levels have remained near or below their historic lows – offer clear and compelling evidence that our law enforcement initiatives continue to have a profound impact in making Queens County one of the safest counties not just in the city but in the nation,” he said.

Brown attributed the dramatic reduction in serious crimes to several factors, including that criminal prosecutions – which include non-violent and quality-of-life offenses – in Queens County have now exceeded the 70,000 mark for the third straight year. In addition, Queens handles only 21 percent of the city’s violent felony prosecutions, but is responsible for nearly one third of the city’s violent felony convictions. The county’s felony conviction rate remains best in the city at 91 percent, while its dismissal rate of felony complaints and indictments was the lowest.

Looking forward, reducing gun violence continued to be among Brown’s priorities. To further this goal, he announced that he will hold a gun buyback program in the Rockaways on February 21. Individuals will be allowed to turn in guns no questions asked in exchange for $200. The program comes as homicides in Queens are on the rise, with 95 last year, 23 more than in 2007.

“In 2008, we took full advantage of recent state legislation that increased the penalty for possession of a loaded firearm – particularly with respect to repeat offenders,” he said. “Our success in this area is reflected in the fact that Queens County has the city’s highest conviction rate and second highest incarceration rate for gun possession.”

Brown also took time to tout several other “cutting-edge intervention and prevention programs” he has established. Among the programs are a felony gun court, a specialized gun trafficking investigative initiative, an Elder Abuse Project, which provides social service assistance to elderly crime victims, and an Elder Fraud Unit, which prosecutes crimes involving financial exploitation of the elderly, felony and misdemeanor drug courts, a fugitive enforcement program targeting bail jumpers, a school anti-violence program and specialized DNA-based prosecutions for sex crimes, burglaries and other offenses.

Not surprisingly in light of the national economic crisis, mortgage and real estate fraud has begun to be a significant program in Queens, said Brown. His Economic Crimes Bureau has been inundated with a growing number of such cases, many of which target the elderly. At the same time, other types of fraud and financial crimes have mushroomed in both number and scope, including identity theft and credit card fraud.

Last year, the Consumer Affairs Unit received nearly 1,200 reports from individuals and businesses who were victims of a variety of scams. “I am optimistic that by continuing the very successful strategies that we have employed in recent years we, together with our law enforcement colleagues, can make Queens County even safer in 2009,” said Brown.

He noted that more than 2,500 individuals visited the Family Justice Center in the first three months after it opened in July. “The families who have accessed the center receive case management, counseling, civic legal assistance and other services,” he said, noting that 38 percent of the clients were directed to his Domestic Violence Bureau for assistance in pursing a criminal prosecution.

Brown pointed out that his Domestic Violence Bureau has the highest conviction rate and the lowest dismissal rate of domestic violence cases in the city, and takes more pre-indictment felony pleas than the rest of the city combined. He also updated the officials on two pilot programs launched last year involving the use of electronic monitoring. Under Operation Exclusion Zone, certain individuals convicted of domestic violence are required to wear electronic ankle bracelets.

If an abuser crosses into a prohibited zone – such as near the victim’s house – an alert is transmitted to the monitoring company, which alerts the victim and calls 911so police can arrest the offender. A second program recently implemented uses a monitor to check whether an individual who has committed DWI or other alcohol-related crimes including domestic violence fueled by alcohol consumption – has an elevated alcohol level.

Brown used the meeting to remind the elected officials that the “repeated and substantial” city, state and federal budget cuts his office has suffered in recent years has continued due to the national fiscal crisis. “As a result of budget cuts since 9/11, we have been forced to substantially reduce costs just to maintain our core functions – things such as case intake, hearings, trials, appellate litigation and our highly specialized investigative initiatives,” he said. “And yet the reality is that arrests remain high.

Since 1993, arrests are up more than 70 percent. And new trends such as the increase of homicides and proliferation of gang activity and the increase of real estate and mortgage fraud cases require additional attention and resources.”

Brown concluded the meeting with a plea for help from the elected officials, who shape the budgets that fund his and other city prosecutor’s offices. “The bottom line is that we need you – more than ever before – to help us to get the resources necessary to continue to reduce the level of violence within the county and improve the quality of lives of our residents.”

Riders Give E Train a D-

The E Train has been given a D- grade by 4,511 customers who filled out Rider Report Cards in November for line, which runs from Lower Manhattan to Jamaica.

While the D- rating was unchanged from the line’s 2007 score, the 2008 customer satisfaction index of 81 percent was three points lower than the prior year. The top three priorities for improvement were adequate room on board during rush hour, minimal delays during trips and reasonable wait times for trains. However, because the line is at full capacity, those issues will not be resolved in the near future, according to the MTA.

“The E line, like the 2, 3, 4 & 5 lines, is at full capacity. Therefore, increased ridership on the line means increased crowding,” said NYC Trains President Howard H. Roberts, Jr. in a statement. “And therefore, we’re unable to make improvements with respect to our riders’ top three priorities. However, as more of the old subway cars are replaced by new R160 cars, our customers should experience more comfortable temperatures in cars.”

Until this week, all 11 lines for which a 2008 Rider Report Card has been issued received an overall grade of C or C-. So far, report cards have been issued for the A, B, D, J/Z, L, M and 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 train line.

The program is in its second year and gives riders a chance to voice their opinion on a host of issues regarding the lines, including security, cleanliness of cars and stations and ability to hear announcements.

Several areas scored at least 90 percent: availability of MetroCard vending machines, ease of use of subway turnstiles, signs in stations that help riders find their way, lack of graffiti in stations, lack of graffiti in cars and sense of security in stations. However, categories for adequate room on board at rush hour and comfortable temperatures in subway cars declined from a D to D- and from C- to D+, respectively.

For details on the Rider Report Card, including a complete breakdown of scores, check