Thursday, February 12, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Two Hospitals Begin Limited Admissions

St. John's, Mary Immaculate Set to Close Within Weeks

By Conor Greene

Two local hospitals will no longer accept patients starting Saturday as they prepare to close in the coming weeks.

Caritas Health Care, the parent company of St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, filed last week for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and submitted a closure plan to the state Department of Health. That decision means, barring a last minute state bailout, the two hospitals will likely close by February 28.

The process of shutting down its operations began soon after the board voted to file for bankruptcy. Beginning this week, Mary Immaculate was no longer accepting psychiatric patients, while St. John’s was no longer accepting pediatric patients. Starting midnight Friday, both hospitals will no longer accept any patients, including at their emergency rooms.

According to a source who received the FDNY operational order sent to EMS units, two ambulances will be stationed at each hospital ER beginning Friday night. Patients who arrive for treatment unaware of the closings will instead be taken to nearby hospitals.

The board’s decision came after several weeks of emergency meetings between local officials and hospital executives, who worked to secure a last minute deal to keep the struggling facilities open. The two hospitals are losing a total of about $5 million each month and have received $50 million in state grants and loans in the past two years – including $6 million in January.

“Our round-the-clock efforts with elected officials and with the New York State Department of Health over the past week have proven futile,” said Caritas CEO John Kastanis in a memo sent to employees. “No adequate source of funding has been identified and no long-term plan for the continued operation of the hospitals has been forthcoming.

“Since there has been no official or unofficial news from Albany this week regarding a possible solution to our crisis, the Board was, much to its dismay, left with no recourse,” continued Kastanis. “Time has essentially run out.”

Closing the hospitals would cost 2,500 healthcare professionals their jobs and force Queens residents to go elsewhere for medical treatment. Combined, the hospitals have about 450 beds and serve 200,000 individuals annually, including 100,000 patients in the two emergency rooms.

Several rallies were held in front of both hospitals and at City Hall in the past few weeks, and employees headed to Albany on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to convince the state to bail out St. John’s and Mary Immaculate. “Tomorrow is really to have the politicians see face to face the people who are going to be affected, to see the people who are providing for the registered voters and the community that we provide health care to” said registered nurse Carlos Quiles outside St. John’s on Tuesday.

Residents, employees and patients said that it is unacceptable for the state to refuse to take action to save the hospitals. “I can’t understand how they can close a hospital in such a heavily populated neighborhood such as this,” said Dave Herbert, whose father was rushed to St. John’s on Monday night. “I don’t know the politics behind this, but somebody needs to do something right away… If this place wasn’t open, where would we go? Elmhurst is already packed… It’s insane.”

Ken Akins, who brings his mother to St. John’s every week for wound care, thinks the impact on the patients is being ignored. “My mother is frightened. She doesn’t know if the hospital closes where she is going to go,” said Akins. “She has bonded very well with the people who give quality care here. It’s always the elderly, the disenfranchised that gets hit the hardest.”

Akins, who said he worked at Mary Immaculate for 30 years, blamed the hospital’s financial struggles on mismanagement. “It would be a shame before God if Governor Paterson allows them to close… It has nothing to do with the quality of care and support the staff gives their patients. If we lose, we’re losing something that can’t be replaced.”

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall called news of Caritas’ decision “distressing” in a statement. “We worked very hard to try and prevent the closures of both these hospitals. I have been in touch with Governor Paterson’s office on almost a daily basis to try and find a solution.”

Marshall, who first informed the public of the hospitals’ dire financial status at her State of the Borough address last month, said she is demanding to see the closure plan Caritas filed with the state. “I want to see how capacity will be built at other hospitals. I want to see that every resident of Queens continues to get the healthcare that they are entitled to receive,” she said.

In addition to the 400 beds that will be lost by the closures, Mary Immaculate features a 115-bed nursing home, a cancer center and is a level-one trauma center. St. John’s is a certified stroke and heart failure center and has the only hyperbaric oxygen therapy unit in Queens. These losses come just months after another local facility, Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, closed, eliminating another 250 beds.

Over the past month, a group of local officials led by Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) have held meetings in hopes of finding a way to keep the hospitals open. At one point, officials at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Health System were exploring a plan to acquire the two hospitals and replace them with a state-of-the-art facility in central Queens. However, that would have required funding from the state.

In the end, Caritas determined that the negotiations, which reportedly also involved another health system, proved “futile.” Caritas, which also runs Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, purchased St. John’s and Mary Immaculate for $41.5 million in 2006 from St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers, which had filed for bankruptcy protection the prior year.

Man Killed During Ridgewood Dispute


By Conor Greene

Police are searching a suspect wanted for fatally beating a 62-year-old man who was found dead inside his Ridgewood apartment on Tuesday afternoon.

Officers responded to a report of a loud dispute in the first-floor apartment at 20-31 Greene Avenue in Ridgewood at 2:15 p.m. and found homeowner Roasrio Prestigiacomo lying in a pool of blood in the hallway.

Prestigiacomo, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was described as a good neighbor by a local store owner. A witness reported seeing a white male, about 30 years old with a blue sweatshirt, blue jeans and construction boot fleeing from the house, which is near Grandview Avenue.

As the investigation continued on Wednesday, police were unable to confirm reports that the suspect had rented an apartment from Prestigiacomo, as has been reported. While early reports also indicated the victim was stabbed, a shovel was found lying next to him and is believed to be the murder weapon.

Officers responding to the scene were forced to enter the house through a front window because the doors were locked, according to police. A search of the neighborhood was conducted involving aviation and canine units, but the suspect was not located.

Sam Shaheim, who owns a deli on the corner of Greene and Grandview avenues, said he saw Prestigiacomo around the neighborhood from time to time. “Very nice person. And very quiet. He never made any trouble
or anything in this area,” he said.

Family Remembers a "Great Son"


By Patricia Adams

An honor guard of NYPD and auxiliary police in addition to more than thirty clergy members, including Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Robert’s uncle Monsignor Sean Ogle, celebrated the funeral mass of 16-year-old Robert Ogle at the Resurrection Ascension Church on Thursday morning.

During the eulogy of his nephew, Monsignor Ogle shared a story which possibly best personified his nephew. “Robert maintained a close relationship with school chums from all his years. Recently he was asked to be on a dodge ball team from a friend at another school. Not only did he accept,” explained the Monsignor, “but Robert had shirts made for the entire team. They were lettered with ‘The Average Joe’s,’ from the popular Dodge Ball movie.”

But on his return from the game when Robert asked how the team did he told his family that everyone thought they were going to be great because of the shirts. “But,” Robert explained, “We were eliminated in the first round. I guess the shirts should have read the “Below Average Joe’s.”

Brendan Ogle described the loss of his son as “someplace where very few people go.” The father of 16-year-old Robert Ogle, killed by a drunk driver last weekend in Middle Village, said his experience is best likened to “something from another dimension. It is a place that I have discovered a lot of friends — people who pray with me and those who just listen when I need to talk.”

Inflection was virtually absent in his voice as he spoke of the boy he had raised with his wife Mei for the last 16 years. “Robert had a way with people. In his short life he [Robert] made many friends. At the schools he attended - Resurrection Ascension, PS 49, Louis Armstrong Middle School, and Brooklyn Technical High School -Robert built relationships with others his father called “buddies.” He maintained them throughout the years of his life.

One of those relationships, with Timmy Fung, a school chum from elementary school at PS 49 was what took him to Fung’s house on 80th street the night of the accident. Robert had gone over to the Fung house to celebrate.

But the celebration was to end in disaster; Robert never returned home and the Ogle family life was shattered. Brendan says one of the last things he asked his son was “Is your phone charged?” With a smile Robert had answered him, “Dad, you worry too much.”

And the worry escalated somewhere around 11:30 PM when Robert had not yet returned home and his parents were unable to reach him by cell phone. “I just had a sense that something was wrong,” said Ogle, who decided to call the police when he could not contact his son. “The police came by around 12 midnight, but there was nothing they could do. We just had to wait.”

Hours later, sometime after 6 am, the Ogles wait was over. “The doorbell rang and three detectives came. “They were all wearing suits and ties,” said Brendan Ogle. “I knew what had happened. It was like when you see Marines go to someone’s home to tell them their son or daughter was killed in action.” When the Ogle’s answered the door the detectives told them there had been an accident — Robert had been hit by a car. “How is he?” Brendan Ogle asked. One of the detectives answered the father’s question, “Your son passed, he is gone.”

Days after the loss, those words continue to sting Brendan Ogle in an indescribable manner. He speaks of Robert not in the past but in terms of the type of boy his son was. The exceptional ability he had to interact with people of all ages, his love of sports, his academic prowess and his desire to be a journalist.

“He was a great son and a best friend to his brother, 15-year-old Sean.” Brendan Ogle spoke freely about the fact that his own son had been drinking on the night of the accident. “According to two of the boys at the party, Robert had been drinking some brandy at the party. He was not used to drinking. I would know it if he were — but he wasn’t.”

But according to witnesses at the party, Robert had consumed too much of the brandy brought to the party by one of the other boys and had become violently ill. By the time he was really sick and nearly passed out, one of the other boys, Alex Paul, who also lost his life on that night, decided to take Robert home. According to witnesses, Robert Ogle was so sick that he was unable to walk on his own and Paul carried him home.

Ogle remembered a recent wedding that the family had gone to in Manhattan. “Robert had noticed they were making these drinks at an open bar called a Blue Lagoon. They were made with vodka and some kind of blue dye,” explained Brendan. “I guess they added some type of dry ice and there was smoke coming out of them. He asked me “Dad can we try one of those, so I got it for him, knowing what would happen.” After taking a sip, Robert made a face of displeasure. Brendan Ogle had smiled to himself because the taste obviously did not bring pleasure to his son. “Remember Robert this stuff can kill you.”

And although some of the Ogle family life now wears a mask of normalcy, with Mei Ogle having returned to her position as a teacher at Brooklyn Tech High School where Robert attended and Sean Ogle returning to his classes, Brendan says the family goes in and out. “I am off from work this week and my wife and son will be off next week due to the public school holiday. I have to take off again next week because they don’t want to be alone.

Brendan Ogle moved back and forth during his conversation with The Forum, trying to make some sense out of what had happened but there seemed to be no corner of solace for the grieving father. “I loved having my son around. We had gone out and bought a 47-inch flat screen TV so that he could have his friends over to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday,” he said. “We even went out recently and ordered some new furniture for the basement so he could have his friends over. This way they’d be comfortable and we could take care of them while they were having a good time.” Now the TV and the furniture have been returned and cancelled in order to pay for funeral expenses.

The aftermath of losing a beloved son involves so many components that unless living inside the experience, they are hardly understandable. But for the Ogle’s now there is much emotion that needs to be resolved.

“We have hired an attorney to take civil action in this matter.” From the conversation with Brendan Ogle, it is surely not about money. “It’s about responsibility, rather the total lack of it,” said Brendan Ogle, “and negligence.” He spoke in quiet terms about the driver who left his car idling in front of a deli, leaving an opportunity for Kenneth Guyear to climb behind the wheel of what was to become a murder weapon. Then there is the Fung family who allowed teenagers to have the unsupervised run of their basement, bringing liquor into the house where the father slept upstairs and the mother was on vacation.

Calls to the Fung house seeking comment were not returned. Ogle’s voice drifts off into almost a whisper, “they didn’t even call me or come to my son’s wake.” Their son Timmy, whose party it was, came to the Ogle house the next day and returned Robert’s jacket and offered what Brendan calls “a semblance of an apology.”

“If they had just called me when Robert became so ill from drinking, if they had just called 911, but they didn’t. No, I am going to pursue action for the level of negligence for the driver who left his car idling and for the family who allowed unsupervised drinking by minors in their home.”

As for Kenneth Guyear, Brendan Ogle says, “He was laughing when they picked him up according to witnesses. He repeatedly accelerated to get Alexander Paul out from under his wheels,” said Ogle. “He would have killed someone else on 80th street that night. It was like he mowed them down like bowling pins.”

Brendan Ogle continued on Kenneth Guyear, “He is not a human being. He is infested with evil with no compassion for people. Looking at his picture you can see the emptiness in his eyes, there is no remorse because it is clear to see he is not a human being. He is an entity. A twisted entity.”

Ballot Challenges in 32nd District Stun Voters, Candidates

Two Knocked Off Ballot; Chapey’s Tactics Called "Witch Hunt"

By Patricia Adams

The supposed front runner for Joe Addabbo's council seat, Frank Gulluscio, was thrown off of the ballot by his opponent, Geraldine Chapey on Monday because of a legal technicality about the nature in which his validating petition was served.

The candidate quickly cried foul stating that, "the idea that this is a system meant to uphold democracy is preposterous when the signatures of thousands of voters can be rendered meaningless by a legal technicality. We must demand that we have a system where the will of the people cannot be overturned by lawyers."

"Geraldine Chapey has been on what can only be described as a witch hunt, dragging her opponents into court, causing us hours of wasted time and thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees. She obviously feels that the only way she can win is to eliminate the competition using her lawyer, rather than in a fair election by the will of the people. I cannot imagine that the voters of the 32nd Council District would want to be represented by someone like that."

Also among the candidates not to survive the challenge was former NYPD Officer Glenn DiResto.

The hearing was originally scheduled today because Chapey's team was claiming Gulluscio did not have enough signatures to make it on the ballot. Gulluscio had vehemently denied this claim and came into court prepared with hundreds of signatures that he felt had been knocked off erroneously. However, before they had the chance to make their case, the judge threw out the entire case because of what she felt was an error in the service of the validating petition.

Gulluscio commented that, "Although I am disappointed by the tactics employed by my opponent, I look forward to pursuing all options to allow me to continue to serve the people of the 32nd Council District."

James Wu, a spokesperson for the Chapey campaign explained the matter this way, “Frank Gulluscio did not attain the ballot because he had insufficient signatures.”

Some confusion seems to have existed regarding what challenges were filed and what was ruled upon. While a challenge to the legality of Gulluscio’s use of a star on his petition was filed, that issue ultimately was never considered or ruled on. The objection to the use of the five-point star was that it’s a recognized symbol of the Democratic party, which is not allowed in the non-partisan special election petition process.

As the Elections Commissioners resumed with their regular meeting on Monday morning, before the Executive Session, there was a second call in which they decided that Gulluscio simply did not make the signature requirement. And so it was, with a swift and final decision that the candidacy of Frank Guluuscio was ended on a technicality, that which the candidate continues to maintain was in no way a fair representation afforded to the voters of the 32 Council District in the upcoming special election.

With the field now narrowed to four candidates, one of the remaining contenders, Mike Ricatto had this to say, "I am extremely disappointed that some candidates have been thrown off the ballot for the upcoming 32nd Council District Special election. The democratic process is about giving voters a choice and the opportunity to vote for candidates who share their values, ideals and vision for better government. I am against eliminating candidates from the ballot for legal technicalities. Geraldine Chapey and her legal team along with Eric Ulrich and his handlers Tom Ognibene and the Haggerty's have successfully tied up candidates in court preventing them from reaching voters. I am glad this unfortunate episode is over and I can continue my efforts to speak to voters throughout the district about the important issues that concern them."

The third candidate who remains on the ballot is Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, Geraldine Chapey’s co-leader on the Rockaway Peninsula. There is much speculation as to why Simon’s petition volume did not fall prey to Chapey’s challenge axe, but nonetheless, Simon is very disturbed over the fact that any candidates were removed from the ballot during the process of the special election.

“I have been co-leaders with Geraldine for the last 15 years. Never once during that time did she produce more than 100 signatures for the district leader race. I find it shocking that she was able to gather these many signatures but I firmly believe that there should have been no challenges in the special election, especially due to the time constraints of the process. The bottom line, according to Simon is that he was disappointed and shocked to see that people were knocked off the ballot.

Simon also raised serious questions about why there has been no record of filings at the Campaign Finance Board. “It’s obvious that Geraldine has spent money on posters, literature, mailing and staff and that nothing has been reported. I would be most interested to see an audit conducted to see if these expenditures are in tact.”

The fourth and remaining candidate, Republican District Leader Eric Ulrich was quick to express that his feelings about the process is that it is “antiquated and that our state officials really need to re-examine the rules so that citizens have the right to get on the ballot and run in an election.”

Ulrich maintains that one of the first steps toward ensuring better government in the city and state is to make ballot requirements less stringent. “It is truly unfortunate that Geraldine felt it was up to her to select her opposition instead of affording that opportunity to the voters in the 32nd to whom it truly belongs. She felt it was her choice and not theirs.”

Avella Questions New Building Regulations

Construction Plans Will be Available Online

By Conor Greene

The city Department of Buildings has announced reforms intended to increase public scrutiny of construction projects, but one local official argues the new rules will actually diminish the ability of citizens to contest illegal projects.

The new guidelines, announced recently by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri, are intended to “give New Yorkers a stronger voice in the development of neighborhoods, create greater transparency and clarify the process for the public and for developers.”

As part of the new process, New York will become the first city in the nation to require that developers place diagrams of new buildings or major alterations online so the public can view the size and scale of a proposed project.

In addition, a new 30-day formal public challenge period will be implemented “to give the public a greater voice in the development process and provide clarity for developers about when and how a project can move forward,” according to a release issued by the city.

However, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who is challenging Mayor Bloomberg this fall, immediately issued a statement voicing concerns with the new regulations. He argues it will limit the public’s ability to fight illegal projects due to the 30-day statute of limitations created by the review window.

“While I believe that the posting of online diagrams for proposed development on DOB’s website is definitely a step in the right direction and leads to greater transparency, I completely disagree with the new development challenge process,” said Avella. “Despite being touted… as empowering the public with greater oversight over new developments, it is actually diminishing the ability of residents to contest new construction by creating a defacto statute of limitations through the implementation of the 30-day comment period.”

Avella, a fierce critic of the DOB who has made fighting overdevelopment a focal point of his time on City Council, is worried that the procedure “will in effect actually benefit unscrupulous developers who will simply wait out the clock to avoid community challenges.”

When announcing the reforms, Mayor Bloomberg insisted they would “inject a much-needed dose of transparency and accountability into a critical area of construction and development – zoning compliance… The reforms center on the public’s right to challenge any approved development if they think it violates local zoning regulations.”

Under the regulations, diagrams for any new building or major enlargement approved by the DOB would be uploaded to the agency’s website. Residents would then have 30 calendar days to review and challenge the development approval. Once that window closes, the DOB Borough Commissioner will address any challenges to the project that have been lodged. If a challenge is determined to have merit, “appropriate enforcement action will be taken, including issuing Stop Work Orders, revoking of permits and requiring redesigns of the proposed construction.”

If the Borough Commissioner determines that a challenge is invalid, the public will be given an additional 15 calendar days to appeal to the First Deputy Commissioner. Once that decision is rendered, the public can appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals(BSA).

The provision granting the BSA final determination also concerns Avella. “It is extremely inappropriate for the final appeal in the public review process to have to be brought before the Board of Standards and Appeals, which throughout its existence has essentially been a rubber stamp for developers,” he said. “BSA repeatedly ignores the public’s opinion and there is no reason to believe that they will act differently in this process.”

Locally, the BSA recently came under fire after granting a cellular company permission to install a radio tower on top of a two-story home in a residential area of Maspeth.

“This is just the latest example of the Bloomberg administration’s failed attempts to reform this agency,” said Avella. “In order to have true reform, DOB needs to be held accountable for their actions and must also allow greater community involvement, both of which will not be accomplished by this development challenge process that actually substantially limits the ability of New Yorkers to submit complaints or question the actions of DOB.”

Willets Point Group: Use City Money Elsewhere

A group of Willets Point business and land owners is arguing that $400 million the city has set aside to redevelop the gritty industrial area near Shea Stadium could be put towards better use, given the current economic crisis.

During his most recent budget announcement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city must take severe measures, including drastically cutting vital services, in order to balance the city’s finances. According to the group Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, the $400 million set
aside by the city to acquire private property should be put towards better use to soften the blow of impending budget cuts.

A partial list of proposed cuts includes $48.9 million from police, $20.1 million from libraries, $17 million from the fire department, $5.3 million from senior centers, $91.2 million from education, $3.3 million from ambulance services, $5.6 million from parks and $3.4 million from jails, according to the group’s first press release, issued last Thursday.

“The taxpayer money set aside for property acquisition at Willets Point could easily be redirected towards these agencies to prevent these cuts,” said Jerry Antonacci, president of the coalition of business and land owners. “There would also be enough left over to install a sanitary sewer system to fix the roads at the Iron Triangle and allow the property owners to stay, expand their businesses and let the area redevelop naturally.”

Last November, the City Council approved a plan that would remove existing businesses from Willets Point and allow a private developer to build a convention center, hotels, retail and housing on the 64-acre site near the new stadium being built for the Mets. The city has said that, if necessary, it will use eminent domain to take possession of the private properties and then turn the land over to a yet-to-be-chosen developer.

Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse represents more than two dozen property owners who are fighting the city’s plan to acquire their property. Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, had reportedly struck a deal last year to sell his 23,000-square-foot property to the city. Under the agreement, the waste transfer company started by his father in 1959 would have moved from 34th Avenue in Willets point to a property in Maspeth. However, the deal was never formerly announced by the city and eventually fell apart last September.

“Why is there $400 million set aside to force business and property owners off their land while jobs for police, fire and teachers are being eliminated?” asked Jake Bono, owner of Bono Sawdust Supply Co. and a group spokesman. “Why in an economic downturn is the city spending money not only to destroy businesses and jobs, but to destroy the American dream of owning property? Government-abetted private land grabs were not what our founding fathers envisioned when they wrote the Constitution.”

Will the "Real" Gil Grissom Please Stand Up?

Note, in case you have trouble seeing the names, that's Fogarty on the left and McNeill is on the right, with William Petersen, AKA Gil Grissom, in the center. Let us know in the comments field below who looks most like Petersen: Fogarty or McNeill.

By Mickey Hornung

The great Gil Grissom run off is afoot! Our contestants both hail from around the Howard Beach area and on many occasions me and other have said that either man look like Gil Grissom of CSI. Has he ever been here alone? We CSI watchers know that Gil Grissom hooks up with Sara at the end of his run in the Dominican Republic – aaahh! But has he been secretly undercover in the guise of one man of the other? I would banter with both men by saying, “You know who you look like?” and their response would be, “I know, Gil Grissom of CSI” but to take it a step further I would then say, “No you look like" the other person’s name. Like our contestant number one, Randy McNeill, owner of Bluesky Landscaping and Deacon of St. Barnabas Church and our second contestant, Patrick Fogarty, whose families are much engrained in Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach. Now Gil and Sara went home after their reunion. Has it been to our quaint little Old Howard Beach? I know I have done many a double takes on both men.

Now, it’s up to you to decide which man most resembles Gil Grissom. You can vote right here by entering your choice in the comments field below.

The results will determine who most looks like and could be the missing Gil Grissom now that he has left the show. The winner will receive a nice free pizza complementary of our friends at Neighborhood Pizza in Colman Square. Join in the action by casting your vote!

And for all you civic-minded people, come on out to the Howard Beach Civic Association’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the basement of St. Barnabas Church. Come down and speak up about Howard Beach’s concerns. And, don’t forget about the debate on February 12 at 7:30 pm, also at St. Barnabas. Hear your candidates speak about the upcoming special election to fill the City Council seat vacated by Joseph Addabbo, now a State Senator. If you can’t make that, get out and vote in the election for out good friend of Howard Beach, Frank Gulluscio.

See ya around the beach!

Former Queens Woman Sentenced to 20 Years for Fla. Child Abuse

Previously Sentenced to 11 Years In New York

By Conor Greene

A former Queens woman – already sentenced to nearly 11 years for defrauding New York city and state through an adoption scheme – has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Florida for abusing her children there.

Judith Leekin, 63, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., pleaded no contest last Wednesday to four counts of aggravated child abuse and four counts of aggravated abuse of disabled adults. She was later sentenced to 20 years in prison in accordance with a plea agreement, and under Florida law must serve at least 85 percent before becoming eligible for parole.

Using four aliases, Leekin adopted 11 children while living in Queens between 1988 and 1996. Most of the children had mental or physical disabilities, meaning Leekin received state subsidies to help pay for their care. She moved to Florida with the children in 1998, where she was accused of forcing them to live in squalid conditions and survive on a diet of Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

A detective from the Port St. Lucie Police Department testified that numerous zip-ties and handcuffs were found at the house and had been used to restrain the children. In addition, the children were forced to sleep in a small storage room, were regularly beaten and denied medical care and schooling.

Leekin apologized several times during the hearing, and according to her attorneys, still loves the children. She entered into the plea agreement to spare the children the ordeal of testifying against her.

However, despite the plea agreement, there are still questions regarding the fate of at least one of the children Leekin adopted. She received money to care for Shane “Moo” Graham for about seven years after he was no longer under her supervision.

According to police, Leekin allegedly was seen taking the boy – who suffers from Down Syndrome, autism and sickle cell anemia and cannot walk or talk – from her apartment in 2000 and then returning without him. Several of the other adopted children told police they thought the boy was dead; police are now seeking the public’s help in finding him.

Last year, Leekin was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for defrauding New York state and city out of $1.68 million through the adoption scheme.

The abuse allegedly began in Queens, with Leekin forbidding the children from going outside or attending school. Several were restrained in bed to prevent them from getting up. After moving to Florida, the children “lived in a similar manner,” according to authorities.

The Florida judge determined that about half of Leekin’s 20-year sentence will run concurrently with the term she received here last year. She won’t be eligible for parole until she is at least 80 years old.

Ridgewood Man Sentenced for '06 Murder


By Conor Greene

A Ridgewood man has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the murder and attempted murder of two men outside a Woodside strip-club more than two years ago.

Victor Gavalo, 26, of 1816 Stephens Street was sentenced last Friday by Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman. He was convicted last month of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon following a week-long jury trial.

Gavalo was convicted of exiting a minivan he was sitting in on October 1, 2006 outside Club Phenomenon at 62-43 30th Avenue, which is located adjacent to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in an industrial section of Woodside. Gavalo walked in front of a Honda and began shooting into the front windshield and passenger side window.

Ernesto Salgado, 22, of Sunnyside was killed after being struck at least once in the chest, while driver Tony Morales, 24, of Woodhaven was critically wounded. Gavalo then fled from the scene in the minivan. The incident occurred after the victims had left the Fantasia nightclub, which is located in the same building as Club Phenomenon.

“The defendant, having been convicted of the cold blooded shooting of two young men as they sat defenseless inside a parked car, has forfeited his right to live in society,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown following the sentencing. “The lengthy prison term imposed today is right and just.”

Gavalo, who is unemployed, had faced as much as 50 years to life in prison. He was arrested and charged in the shootings about three months after the incident.

Salgado marked the third person to be fatally shot outside the club in a three-year period, and the eighth shooting victim there overall. In December 2006, the Club Phenomenon and Fantasia were shut down in accordance with the city’s nuisance abatement law following five-month investigation by the District Attorney’s office.

Over the course of a year, undercover officers made nearly three dozen arrests there for offenses including gun possession, drug sales and prostitution. That year, the club’s owners paid $15,000 in fines stemming from nearly two dozen citations for infractions such as noise complaints and disorderly conduct. “Far from being the ‘gentlemen’s club’ it presumes to be, the club has long been a hotbed for drugs, prostitution and gunplay and the subject of numerous complaints,” said Brown after the building was padlocked.

However, the club reopened for business last month, during the same week in which Gavalo was convicted for the shooting. A billboard on top of the building visible from the adjacent expressway advertises the reopening of Perfection Upscale Gentlemen’s Club.

Assistant District Attorney Karen Ross of the DA’s Homicide Trials Bureau prosecuted the state’s case against Gavalo. “I hope the victims’ families find some closure in knowing the person responsible for shooting their loved ones has now been held accountable for his actions and will probably spend the rest of his natural life in prison,” said Brown following last month’s guilty verdict.

Eight Charged with Illegal Dumping

Eight men, including a Woodhaven resident, were busted in January by the city for illegally dumping building debris and other items at locations throughout the city, announced Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty.

The DSNY Task Force, comprised of plainclothes police officers from the Sanitation Department, monitors known dumping locations and seizes vehicles used to violate the law. The January impoundments included three in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and three in the Bronx – including a location where a Woodhaven man was busted.

When the department catches an illegal dumper, its officers can make arrests and impound the vehicles used. The vehicle owner is subject to severe fines and is held responsible for any actions involving the vehicle – regardless of whether they are present or not. Fines currently start at $1,500 and range as high as $20,000 per violation. In addition, the dumper must pay the city a cleanup cost for the materials, generally about $150 per cubic yard.

In January, the following individuals were charged with illegally dumping materials:

Francisco Morales, of Brooklyn, was caught dumping about 20 cubic yards of rocks and dirt in front of 929 Dean Street on January 12 using a 2009 Peterbilt flatbed truck.

Youlan Zhang, of Brooklyn, was caught dumping about two cubic yards of black bags containing commercial waste opposite 125 51st Street in Brooklyn on January 27 using a 1997 Chevrolet van.

Michael Petersen, of the Bronx, was caught dumping about 16 cubic yards of dirt and rocks opposite 157 Columbia Street in Brooklyn on January 29 using a 2000 dump truck.

In Manhattan, James Cole was caught dumping about two cubic yards of milk crates at W. 155th Street and Bradhurst Avenue on January 14 using a 2001 Ford E-350.

Luca Gambardella, of Yonkers, and David Reynosa Milord, of Woodhaven, were caught on January 12 dumping about four cubic yards of dirt and rocks in front of 3640 Provest Avenue using a 1998 dump truck.

Ted Hurst, of the Bronx, was caught on January 22 dumping about one cubic yard of black bags in front of 3531 Bronxwood Avenue using a 1990 Toyota box truck.

On January 30, Michael Rallis of Staten Island was caught dumping about three cubic yards of construction debris in front of 4359 DeReimer Avenue in the Bronx using a 1999 Dodge Suburban.

One of DSNY’s resources for combating illegal dumping is the Illegal Dumper Tips Program, which allows residents to fight back without placing them at risk. For details, call 311 or check

”Illegal dumping is against the law,” said Commissioner Doherty. “If you do it, you will get caught. The Illegal Dumping Task Force is the city’s front line defense against illegal dumpers who shamefully use our streets and lots as their personal dumping grounds.”