Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Seminerio Resigns, Enters Guilty Plea

By Patricia Adams

Rumors swirled around the chamber of the New York State Assembly on Monday according to members who say they were anticipating the resignation of colleague Anthony Seminerio.

Seminerio delivered a brief resignation letter addressed to Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, which marked the close of the Assembly session for the summer. “Please accept this as my letter of resignation from my assembly seat, 38th District, effective June 23, 2009. It has been my honor and a distinct privilege to have served in the legislature for the last thirty years.” The letter was signed “Sincerely, Anthony Seminerio”.

Colleagues in the state Assembly said they were not surprised by the resignation given the surrounding circumstances, but were none the less saddened. “I have known the Seminerio family for many years,” said Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer who has served in the legislature with Seminerio for the last 20 years. “Tony and his wife, Catherine, have 3 outstanding children, and many grandchildren. They are all active members of the community who work tirelessly on behalf of others. My prayers are with the Seminerio Family during these difficult times.

According to published reports in the Albany Times Union, Seminerio’s attorney Pery Krinsky spoke on behalf of his client. “Mr. Seminerio regrets the pain he has caused to his family, his colleagues and to his former constituents whom he served for more than three decades."

On Wednesday Krinsky entered a guilty plea for the disgraced pol that faces between five months and 15 years in prison, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars in fines, when he is sentenced on October 20th.

The indictment, which followed an investigation by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Manhattan, charges that Seminerio received “a stream of corrupt payments,” from 1999 to 2008. The now 74-year-old state lawmaker is alleged to have sold his influence in Albany and collected about $1 million from clients.

Seminerio’s troubles began back in September when the indictment was first handed down. Charged with brokering favors to entities with business before the state, Seminerio was presumed to be the operator of a sham consulting company.

But in March of this year, an additional charge of extortion was added by the feds because, they say, Seminerio threatened to squash legislation for a nonprofit executive if he refused to utilize the “consulting” services and hire him. The threatened Queens nonprofit group was heavily dependant on state financing and paid Seminerio a $700-per-month fee for approximately two years.

Also listed in the indictment, is a payment of more than $300,000 from an unidentified New York City hospital and $25,000 from an undercover agent who approached the lawmaker with a request for access to his colleagues in connection with legislation concerning the privatization of the state’s probation system.

Seminerio had allegedly been charging the agent a $5,000 per month fee and complained when he did not receive timely payments for months gone by.

Seminerio was elected to the NYS Assembly a total of 16 times. Prior to the Assembly, he spent 15 years as a corrections officer and has amassed about 47 years of state pension credits.

Filling the Vacancy: Who Will Replace Seminerio?

By Patricia Adams

The vacancy created by the resignation of Tony Seminerio from his seat in the 38th Assembly District has left obvious concerns about who will fill the seat and answer the concerns of constituents in the district largely comprised of Richmond Hill and Glendale.

According to New York State law a vacancy in a state position filled through the election process which occurs before September 20th would normally be filled in the general election which follows the vacancy. Morgan Hook, a spokesperson for Governor Paterson, said that there has been no decision yet as to whether the governor will issue a proclamation ordering a special election as of yet.

“We are still checking with local government and the Board of Elections in an evaluation of the situation,” said Hook. “If the governor decides that the seat will be filled in a special election, once a proclamation is ordered, it [the special election] would have to be held no sooner that 30 days and no more than 40 days following the issuance of the proclamation.”

Donna Marie Catalbiano, executive director of the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center founded by Tony Seminerio is among those who will seek to replace him. “For thirty years Tony Seminerio did great things for the community. He was the founder of the Forest Park Senior Citizens Center and he continued to fund it for many years. He always did good things for the community and despite these allegations he will be missed as a friend to the community.

Catalbiano has recorded many civic and community credits in addition to her work over the last 14 years at the senior center. In 1985 she organized a group of parents to expand PS 64 and get a gymnasium and auditorium built at the school. The structures were officially added in 1990-1991. Catalbiano also found a way to open the senior center for one additional day a week at the same level of funding it was taking to open 3 days a week. “I think the community needs a person like me,” said Catalbiano. “Over the years I have many accomplishments.”

In preparation to make her run for the seat Catalbiano formed a committee several months ago. “We have not done any fundraising and actually kept the news pretty quiet out of respect for Tony Seminerio. Now, we’ll begin the campaign for the seat.” And Catalbiano says that she will seek the seat with the backing of the Queens County Republicans.

As for the seniors she may have to leave behind, Catalbiano says she will never abandon them. Joe Palladino, the president of the senior center says he has known her for over fourteen years. “I am the one who hired Donna,” Palladino says. “I’m like gum under her shoe and she’ll never get rid of me or any of us here. But,” he says, “When Donna goes to Albany, she’ll be even more of a help to us here and for many other seniors. She’s a hard worker and a fighter. The best thing about her—she’s honest and she doesn’t take any bull. We all need that.”

Other potential challengers for the seat include Nick Comaianni and Albert Baldeo. Comaianni is the president of District 24’s Community Education Council and a life-long resident of the 38th District. He has served as a member of Community Board 9 and Chairman of the Community Board’s Education Committee. Albert Baldeo is an attorney who has run against former senator Serf Maltese and who most recently bowed out of the Democratic primary race against now Senator Joe Addabbo.

Quality of Life Problems Highlight Civic Meeting in West Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Quality of life issues, including music blaring from cars, increased truck traffic and problems at a local bar were on the minds of Maspeth West End Block Association members as the fledgling group tries to tackle issues in that section of the neighborhood.

The meeting last Thursday at Trinity-St. Andrews Church on 60th Street attracted several dozen residents, many of whom aired complaints about problems they say detracts from the quality of life in the neighborhood. The 104th Precinct did not have a representative at the meeting, so the group wants to schedule a sit down next month with police officials to address the ongoing problems.

Problems at the Moonlight Bar

A source of pain for many residents in the vicinity of Flushing Avenue and 60th Place is the Moonlight Bar. Establishments operating under various names have been in business there for about three years, but the problem has gotten much worse in the past few months with loud music played into the early morning hours. “It’s an intoxicated, very horrible clientele,” said resident Diane Boudreau, who has lived in her home two doors down from the bar for 11 years with “no [prior] problems.”

“They are very nasty, very rude and they destroy property,” said Boudreau of the Moonlight customers, adding that many appear underage, and several have threatened residents who complain about their behavior. “A lot of people are frustrated [but are] afraid of retaliation,” said another nearby resident, Eugenia Ihrig.

Problems at Moonlight were also raised at a June COP 104 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall. A resident told the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Keith Green, that he had called 311 numerous times with similar complaints. Deputy Inspector Green said that the precinct has received prior complaints about the establishment, and agreed it has recently become a problem again. Residents also contacted Community Board 5 officials about the bar, who responded with a letter to the establishment’s owner.

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell told the Forum that issues at that location are being addressed. “The Moonlight Bar has been the subject of enforcement pretty much each week,” he said, adding that the owners have been issued numerous summonses a host of city agencies. “We have heard the calls from the community and as long as the complaints prove to be valid we can and will take the necessary enforcement action,” said Bell.

Jeff Gottleib, representing state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), said it is often difficult to fight against the renewal of a bar’s license because many former agency commissioners wait represent bar owners in the hearings. As a result, the best chance of progress comes at the local level, he advised the residents.

“No one should lose a night’s sleep, especially if they have to go to work the next day,” said Gottleib. “I don’t see any great hope in the SLA coming down here and handling this. It has to be handled on a local level with the police.”

Traffic Woes

Other complaints centered on disruptions caused by honking horns and loud music from cars cutting through the neighborhood to Flushing and Metropolitan avenues. “It’s just constant,” one woman griped, adding that drivers routinely disregard a stop sign at 60th Street and 62nd Avenue that was installed several months ago through the efforts of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office.

The vehicle noise issue was exacerbated when the city Department of Transportation recently combined two traffic triangles at the intersection of Grand and Flushing avenues into a single green space, according to another resident. Traffic patterns at 64th Street were altered to accommodate the change, which the resident said “made it much worse” because cars are now backed up waiting to get onto the avenues.

“I think I’ve heard every boom box sound inside my house,” said Douglas Gorowski. Another woman complained that there is very little police presence in the neighborhood. “I don’t see the police,” she said.

Residents also said there has been an increase in truck traffic cutting through residential streets. Often, the large vehicles damage parked cars or are unable to navigate tight turns. In addition, commercial vehicles from nearby warehouses often park on residential streets overnight. “If the police were on the street they would see it,” griped one frustrated resident. “It’s a joke.”

The group’s president, Kathy Hamilton, said there also has been an increase in graffiti in the neighborhood. “It seems to be getting particularly worse and keeps happening,” she said, noting that as soon as the building owner cleans it up, the vandals strike again. Gorowski, whose property has been struck several times, said the fact that he knows who is doing it makes it more frustrating. “Somebody better catch them – you don’t want me to catch them,” he said.

“We really need police presence in the area. How much can an individual take?” said Hamilton. “People are just doing what they want.”

Pushing for a Supermarket

Hamilton also brought up one of the group’s biggest issues: the need for a supermarket in the area of West Maspeth. Since the closing of C-Town on Fresh Pond Road several years ago, many residents, especially seniors and those without vehicles are forced to rely on smaller bodegas which often charge much higher prices.

The residents focused their attention on two possible locations: a former auto dealership site at Forest and Metropolitan avenues that might be the future home of a Walgreen’s pharmacy, and the former Rite Aid property at Metropolitan Avenue and Tonsar Street, which previously was a Key Food supermarket. Several in attendance expressed concern that the owner of the Tonsar Street site would seek a zoning change allowing condos to be constructed there.

A representative for Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said that it is difficult to push for a certain type of development on a specific site, since it involves private property owners and businesses.

Met Oval Complaints

Finally, several residents raised continuing issues they are having with the Metropolitan Oval soccer field on 60th Street, which is privately owned and operated. Complaints included illegally parked cars, pickup games at all hours of the night and a huge pile of trash that has been left on the property for months.

Hamilton said the owner declined an invitation to address these issues at a previous meeting. “If I have to get a dumpster to throw out the garbage, why doesn’t this guy have to?” she lamented.

Gottleib told the residents that the city has laws intended to prevent this type of problem. “We’re dealing with a public nuisance. There are laws in New York City against public nuisances,” he said. He told the civic group that it needs to set up a meeting with officials from CB 5, the 104th Precinct and local elected officials, including Councilwoman Crowley, who did not have a representative at the meeting.

After hearing residents bring up all the various issues, Hamilton determined that a July meeting is needed to address these problems, which all involve police matters. “It’s all about the same thing – the police don’t patrol here,” she said. “Something’s got to be done.”

The group will meet again on July 16 at 7 p.m. in Trinity-St. Andrews Church in hopes of discussing these issues with officials from the 104th Precinct.

Parents Push for Overdue School Expansion

By Conor Greene

A group of parents are pushing for improvements at PS/IS 87 in Middle Village they say were promised years ago but never happened due to budget cuts after 9/11. Citing issues including a cramped cafeteria and lack of bathrooms, the group vowed to make noise until the school gets the attention from city officials they say it needs.

A half-dozen residents spoke at Tuesday’s Community Education Council 24 meeting in Maspeth in support for the addition. They argued that the school was changed from K-5to pre-K through 8th grades as a result of the planned expansion, and as a result the current building can’t handle the more than seven hundred students who attend PS/IS 87.

“We’ve been quiet these past five years and watched as all these other schools got expansions,” said Lucy Accardo, who has three children in PS/IS 87. “We just want to be kept in the limelight and will keep bringing up the issue at every meeting unit it happens.”

The parents stressed that their demands are modest. They want a new gymnasium since the current cafeteria only seats 140 students – forcing lunch to be served in stages beginning at 10:15 a.m. In addition, the cafeteria serves as a gym, even though its ceilings are just eight feet high. In addition, each floor has bathrooms containing just a single stall that must be shared by hundreds of students, according to the parents.

“It’s just not adequate for all those students,” said another parent, Margaret Kane. “We’re still where we started in 2000. It’s beyond us why we’re being overlooked.” She added that the bathroom situation is not healthy. “It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s all necessities.”

Deputy Executive Director of Business Sandy Brawer of the Department of Education said he will bring the residents’ concerns back to department officials. However, he noted earlier in the evening that District 24 has received the most capital dollars and had the most additional seats added through construction of any district citywide. He also noted that all expansion projects were done in consultation with the CEC and community, at which point the issue of PS/IS 87 being overlooked could have been raised.

Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, said he agrees with the requests being made by the parents. “I feel it’s a shame” that the expansion never occurred, he said. “We’ve pushed it with the School Construction Authority and with Facilities, and it’s always the same thing.”

Laura Wittmer told the council that her son graduated from eighth grade this year. “I’m very sad to see that nothing too much was done for him,” adding that she is “angry” over the lack of upgrades at the 80th Street building. Her son, who is over six-feet tall, was forced to take gym classes in a room with eight-foot ceilings. “I just feel it’s unfair,” she said.

Finally, parent Jeanne Forster pointed out that the DOE’s Website still lists the school as being a K-5 facility. “That I think is one of our first concerns – the school needs to be reflected accurately on the Website,” she said. “It is very hard to change perceptions [so] right off the bat we are swimming upstream here… We’re talking about a pretty small extension.”

In a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the parents note that Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed PS/IS 87 “a model for special education” after it became the first school in District 24 to convert to Pre-K to 8th grade facility. “How do you expect our school to compete with the other schools all several blocks away from us when they have extensions and we do not?” the parents questioned.

According to the letter, extensions were completed at PS 113, PS 128, PS 49 and MS 119 since funding for PS/IS 87 was cut. “Please do not mistake the fact that we have been quiet for the past five years as naivety or ignorance of what is going on around us,” the letter states. “We are well aware of the great injustice being doled out to our children. We would appreciate that this situation be rectified as soon as possible.”

Despite the parents' vows to keep pushing until the addition moves forward, the DOE said in a statement that no upgrades are planned for PS 87 in the coming years. The department "never committed to building an addition for PS 87," according to spokesman William Havemann. As a result of lobbying by former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, a science lab was constructed at the school, but that is the extend of upgrades planned for the facility.

"Given very limited resources... it is our responsibility to build a new school facility only when one is needed to meet enrollment demands," said Havemann. "While we're opening more than 3,000 school seats in District 24 over the next two years, we predict no need for an addition for PS 87."

City to Discuss Ridgewood Reservoir's Future

By Conor Greene

The future of Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park will be discussed on Tuesday, when the city Parks Department releases the results of input residents provided at three prior listening sessions.

Highland Park, which includes the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, is one of eight large parks across the city that is being redesigned as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. The property, which is on the Brooklyn-Queens border, supplied drinking water to city residents until the 1960s. Since, a natural habitat that is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including endangered species, has flourished. There is now debate as to whether the land should be developed for active recreation or preserved in its natural state.

Initially, $48.8 million was earmarked for Highland Park, but it was recently announced that the allocation has been reduced to $19.8 million due to the economic crisis. About $7.5 million already allocated to replace lighting and fencing around the reservoir’s three basins is not affected by the cuts. A contract was awarded to Manhattan-based landscape architect Mark K. Morrison Associates for that initial phase, which began several months ago. That portion of the project is expected to take a year- and-a-half to complete.

The landscape architect firm is now charged with creating three plans for the reservoir: one that preserves the site’s natural features, one that involves building athletic fields in the three basins and a compromise plan under which only the largest of the three basins is filled in for development of sports fields. It is not clear how the funding reduction will affect those plans, as Parks has said it is waiting until the budget is finalized until the plans are revised. In a statement, a spokesman said that the funding cut will be spread out over six years. “If the reduction in funding is not restored or supplemented by another funding source, a new phasing strategy will be implemented,” the spokesman said.

Over the past year, the Parks Department has held three listening sessions to gain public feedback on the future of the 50-acre property. During those meetings, many Queens residents pushed to have the reservoir preserved and argued that a portion of the funding should instead be used to fix up the existing ballfields in Highland Park, which are in poor condition. In April, Community Board 5 approved a resolution requesting that between $10 million and $15 million of the funding be used to accomplish that.

In a statement, Parks announced it is holding Tuesday’s session “to discuss community ideas and concerns for the Ridgewood Reservoir redevelopment. The meeting will summarize what we have learned at previous meetings from community input and discussion, and to relay the results of the paper surveys that have been distributed over the past weeks.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Park’s Oak Ridge office at Forest Park. Attendees can enter at Park Lane South and Forest Parkway or at Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Park Drive. For details call 311 and ask for the Forest Park Administrator’s Office.

A View of Albany: A Senator Speaks Out

The following is an opinion piece by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach)

Two weeks ago, as the Majority of State Senators worked on preparing an end-of-session legislative agenda, the Republican State Senators were also busy at work -- plotting a coup in an attempt to overthrow and takeover the State Senate. What was really unacceptable was that the Republicans used the outside influence of billionaire Tom Golisano to create the interruption of our State Senate.

While the Democratic Conference of State Senators have offered a short term operating agreement in order to finish our legislative session, the Republican Conference have refused to acknowledge that the current 31-31 split in our chamber requires compromise, and are intent on trying to seize power they are not entitled to, even if it means holding the residents of New York State hostage.

Our conference remains poised to pass critical and time sensitive legislation that simply can’t be put aside. Instead, the Republicans refuse to come to a sensible, fair and bi-partisan operating sharing agreement to finish the people’s business.

We need an agreement now, and the people of New York agree in resounding numbers. The most recent polls indicate that 79 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of either Democratic or bi-partisan control of the Senate.

As elected officials, we must listen to the voices of the 19 million people we were elected to represent. It is time to put partisan politics aside, and get back to work. What the Democrats have offered is a rational solution to return to governing, that is modeled after how eight other states, as well as the U.S. Senate, have effectively handled this situation.

As the court has suggested, we have proposed a real, fair and immediate bi-partisan action to end the gridlock Republicans brought to Albany. The Republicans, led by renegade Democratic Senator Pedro Espada, responded with a plan that rejects bipartisanship and gives troubled Senator Espada autonomous control of the Senate.

Just as the courts have asked us to do, we have continued our attempts, both publicly and privately, to end this stalemate by offering revised proposals to Pedro Espada and Republican Senator Dean Skelos. Yet, they continue to refuse any agreement short of complete power over a chamber that they were not elected to run.

Recently, the Republicans have taken to holding mock “sessions,” in which they claim to be doing work.

A quorum – or 32 Senators – is clearly stated in the New York Constitution as the minimum number of Senators required to conduct legislative business. Without 32 Senators present, these sessions are a mockery and an embarrassment to our democracy, and we will continue to refuse to participate in staged political theatrics.

What we will do, is work with the Republicans to come to a fair solution, because we know it is in the best interest of the people of New York. Even as the Democratic Senators answered the request of Governor David Paterson by attending his called for and constitutionally questionable Extraordinary Session agenda, what must be acknowledged is that a short term plan is needed to resolve the current issues facing the senate stalemate and a long term plan to restore stability and credibility to the State Senate. It can and must be done, but it takes two sides to agree on this plan for the sake of our people.

The consequence of inaction in this situation is far too great to sit idly by. As we work to restore our economy, we must pass dozens of bills to extend the ability of local governments to levy sales taxes that help to fund schools, roads and local law enforcement services. We need to extend the Power for Jobs program that provides low-cost electricity to businesses and non-profit groups across the state. We need to pass legislation to allow over $1.75 billion in federal stimulus and education funds to flow to local school districts across the state.

There is also highly time sensitive legislation that needs to be brought to a vote in order to protect New York City schools, strengthen ethics reform and address the need for property tax relief.

The Senate Elections Committee, of which I am the Chairperson, is also poised and ready to bring to the floor for a vote legislation which would fundamentally restructure campaign finance in New York, allow military voters additional time to cast an absentee ballot, make poll-sites more accessible, and bring greater ease and transparency to the entire elections process.

All this good work has been put on hold, and all this work means nothing if the Republicans continue in their protest of even the most reasonable compromises. I ask any reasonable Republican Senator, interested in the good of the people over the good of the party, to join us in getting this work done.

We have offered a real bi-partisan sharing plan for the operation of the Senate Session, the legislative process, and the Floor Leadership. Now it is time for the Republican’s to show they are more concerned with the people of their state than a power grab.

Our people have a right to be concerned about the ability of state government to function effectively in this crisis, but I can ensure my constituents that those in the Democratic Conference will not rest or retire until a resolution has been achieved.

While I continue to prepare legislation for when work does resume, my office staff and I continue to address the local issues that concern my people, therefore please do not hesitate to call upon me if you should have any questions regarding your state government or community. I look forward to working for you in the district and in Albany.

Arrest in Murder of Forest Hills Man

Suspect in 65th Ave Crime Nabbed in Massachusetts

A Bronx man was taken into custody in Massachusetts and charged in the murder of a Forest Hills man found dead in his apartment last week.

The nude body of 38-year-old Michael Pecora was found late last Wednesday inside his apartment on 65th Avenue. The gruesome discovery was made by the building super, who climbed onto the fire escape to gain access to the apartment after Pecora’s family and co-workers became concerned about his well-being after he didn’t show up for work.

After seeing Pecora’s lifeless body through a window, the super immediately called police, according to reports. Officers entered the apartment and found Pecora with multiple stab wounds. There were no signs of forced entry at the blood-soaked crime scene.

Last Thursday, police arrested Alexys Fermaintt, 30, of East Tremont after investigators tracked him to his mother’s house in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He was arraigned last Friday in Queens Criminal Court and ordered held without bail. He is due back in court on July 2 to face charges of second-degree murder.

Police linked Fermaintt to the crime after learning that a cab driver had picked him up Wednesday night outside Pecora’s apartment and drove him to the Bronx. While en route, Fermaintt told the driver he didn’t have any money and offered him a watch and cell phone instead. The cab driver later told police that he remembered the passenger carrying an item resembling a computer when he exited the cab.

Investigators then used information from the cell phone to track down a relative of Fermaintt, who was later taken into custody without incident. Pecora’s computer was found in another Holyoke apartment that police believe is Fermaintt’s primary home. Police are investigating the theory the men met online and that Fermaintt stole the computer in an effort to cover his tracks.

Pecora was a graduate of the University of Tampa and worked for MasterCard. His neighbors described him as a good man and expressed shock that such a brutal crime occurred in the quiet neighborhood. “I feel sick because [he was] such a nice young fellow,” one resident told reporters. “Very, very nice guy. I feel sorry for him,” said another.

Update: On Thursday, the Queens District Attorney's Office release information regarding statements Fermaintt allegedly made to investigators in Massachusetts following his arrest.

According to a Notice of Statement filed with the court at Fermaintt's arraignment, he told a detective that he met Pecora online and the pair had a disagreement over the amount of money that Pecora was going to give Fermaintt to sleep with him and spend the day together. Fermaintt then admitted in the videotaped statement to stabbing Pecora and taking his cellphone, computer and watch.

Fermaintt later told another detective that Pecora had grabbed a knife and tried to stab him, at which time Fermaintt grabbed the knife and stabbed the victim four times.

Civic Group Seeks to Gain Footing in Maspeth

By Conor Greene

When Kathy Hamilton moved from Maspeth to Middle Village two years ago, she noticed that quality of life issues such as illegal garbage dumping and problems with traffic were going unaddressed. She also noticed there was no local civic association in the area, something she changed with the founding of the Maspeth West End Block Association, which has been meeting each month since September.

Ten months into her role as a neighborhood civic leader, Hamilton reports mixed results. The group was successful in lobbying the city to install a stop sign in the neighborhood, but has been less successful in other areas, such as a push to bring a supermarket to the area, or in having officials from the 104th Precinct respond to their grievances.

“When I first moved here, I noticed there was a lot of illegal garbage dumping, a lot of traffic, people fighting outside, smoking pot on the corner, and so my neighbor (Melinda Garcia) and I decided to develop this block association,” said Hamilton, who holds a master’s degree in social work. “Now I’m a homeowner, so I guess I look at it differently. Over there [in other neighborhoods] there is more influence with the politicians, but over here there is not really any influence.”

The group is focused on the western portion of Maspeth and holds its meeting in Trinity-St. Andrews Church on 60th Street. The area it represents and seeks to improve roughly stretches from the Long Island Expressway south to Metropolitan Avenue and east to Fresh Pond Road.

While the group’s June meeting attracted several dozen residents, including many new faces, Hamilton and others expressed frustration that nobody from the precinct was there to address problems they are hoping to address (see related story). Hamilton said that while an officer from the precinct attended a meeting last year, she has since been told that her group should attend one of the other meetings 104th Precinct officials attend each month elsewhere in the area.

“If they make their way to every other meeting, they should come here once in a while,” said Hamilton. “They don’t have to attend every meeting, but [next] month in particular we are going to try to contact the elected officials to see if they can get someone from the precinct over here.”

In response, Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell told the Forum that a precinct representative has attended prior MWEBA meetings. “What [Hamilton] was told was that we have a lot of civic meetings to attend every month and we try to attend as many as possible,” said Officer Bell. “But, she should also make an effort to attend either the 104th Precinct Community Council meeting or the COP 104 meeting which was set up to bring all the civic groups together to address many of the groups’ individual complaints.”

Overall, Hamilton says the feedback she has received from neighbors has been positive. However, one group member said she was met with some skepticism and apathy when she walked around the neighborhood spreading word about the association. “They say they joined all the civics in the past and nothing ever got done,” the resident recounted at last week’s meeting.

Hamilton noted that the group’s success in getting a stop sign installed sounds very minor to residents who aren’t aware of the red tape involved in such a request. “That does seem kind of minor, but obviously we’re doing something,” she said. “I just ask [skeptics], do you have any suggestions? Otherwise we’re not going to get anything done.”

At this month’s meeting, Jeff Gottleib, representing state Senator Joseph Addabbo, told Hamilton her group is not getting the attention it needs because its members are too quiet. Hamilton’s response: “Not anymore.”

The group generally meets on the third Thursday of each month at 60-11 60th Street beginning at 7 p.m. For details, contact Hamilton at (347) 499-8223 or

Ex-Teacher Headed to Prison for Violating Probation

Accused of Soliciting Sex from Minors

A former Forest Hills middle school math teacher is facing up to six years in prison for violating the terms of probation he was sentenced to last year after being charged with sending sexually explicit computer messages to eight current or former students.

Bradley Dieffenbacher, 32, of Long Island, pleaded guilty last week to violating his probation by tutoring a 15-year-old boy between December 2008 and March 2009. Queens Supreme Court Justice Douglas Wong sentenced him to between two and six years in prison for the probation violation.

Last June, Dieffenbacher – who taught math at MS 190Q at the time – was sentenced to six months in jail and four and a half years probation after pleading guilty to attempted use of a child in a sexual performance. He admitted that between April 2007 and February 2008, he sent sexually explicit instant messages over the Internet to eight adolescent boys who had been or were presently students of his. He was also ordered to register as sex offender and surrender his state teaching license.

Despite being ordered by his probation officer to not have contact with any minors, Dieffenbacher responded to an online advertisement for a math tutor in Nassau County. His supervisor eventually because suspicious of his activities and conducted a check of his computer usage, which showed he was using instant messaging to solicit sex from minors. As a result he was sentenced in Queens County for violating probation from the June conviction, and Nassau County authorities are investigating the new allegations.

“This case should serve as a clear and unmistakable warning that law enforcement is prepared to apprehend and prosecute those who attempt to engage in illicit activity involving children,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Furthermore, defendants must be made to understand that those who would violate the terms of their probation will be prosecuted and sent to prison.”

Forest Hills: Now Boarding

By Steve Tiszenkel

One of the very best parts of living in Central Queens is leaving. Oh, don’t look so offended — regular readers of this column know very well that I love it here. It’s just that excellent access to a wide variety of transportation options makes our area a better place than most to vacate, whether by bus, car, subway or commuter train. And the best way to leave is by air.

Forest Hills and Kew Gardens have long been inviting to the aviation inclined purely by an accident of geography: We’re more or less halfway between LaGuardia and JFK. For those of us who take an occasional flight, this nearly makes up for our near-total inability to take advantage of anything flying in or out of Newark. (I’ve repeatedly sworn off that other airport after one too many taxi rides approaching $100, though cheap fares keep luring me back in.) It’s no wonder that this week flight attendant Heather Poole, who lives here, recommended Forest Hills to readers of the travel blog Gadling as a great destination for travelers forced to deal with a moderate layover in New York.

I’m still not sure how this happened, but the last time I flew into LaGuardia, about 25 minutes elapsed between the time the plane’s wheels hit the runway and the moment my cab pulled up to the front of my building. And that time includes the few minutes the driver took to miss a couple of turns despite my repeated instructions. This will likely remain one of the most awe-inspiring travel experiences of my life for years to come.

But I don’t fly very often. I’d do it every week if I could — Lisbon, here I come! — but I still have a job and tickets are still expensive, even if airlines finally have been able to lower prices by charging absurd amounts to check baggage. The real beneficiaries of our comfortable place nestled in the middle of the Borough of Airports are the pilots, flight attendants and airport personnel who have long made the area home and inspired one of the better nicknames for a New York neighborhood, Crew Gardens.

Don’t know many of them personally? Well, they’re not around much. But they’re an unmistakable presence, rushing down Queens Boulevard at a professional gait with their little rolling bags and kicking back at some of the divier bars around. And often they fly under the radar—Forest Hills and Kew Gardens crash pads are the stuff of legend. At a rotating series of addresses in a situation of questionable legality, flight attendants go to the mattresses between quick flights to Dover and Dubuque. In my own building, the story has it, a doctor on the ground floor used to rent his office to a group of them to use during off hours. You don’t know they’re there—you’re not supposed to — but there they are. What, would you rather walk by a crack den on your way to Key Food?

With all this history and convenience, the Forest Hills-Kew Gardens border was the perfect location for a headquarters for JetBlue, easily the neighborhood’s marquee corporation—though one that seems to be, as I complained in this space not long ago, in a big hurry to leave town. But maybe we don’t need them. If just a few readers take Poole’s online advice to do “what flight attendants do” and pay us a quick visit, more will surely follow, and business might pick up around here. It shouldn’t matter whether you work for an airline or are just passing through—Forest Hills is the only way to fly.

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

Rep Weiner Announces Security Funds for Jewish Groups

Just weeks after planned attacks on two Bronx synagogues were thwarted, several Queens lawmakers announced that five high-risk non-profit religious groups in the borough will receive federal Homeland Security funds.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) was joined by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) on Tuesday to announce the grants. Five local Jewish institutions – the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism of Kew Gardens Hills, the Jewish Institute of Queens in Rego Park, Far Rockaway’s Beis Medrash Heichal Dovid, the Hillcrest Jewish Center and Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care in New Hyde Park – will receive a total of $307,050.

Citywide, 61 institutions around the city will receive a total of $4.1 million from the Department of Homeland Security. The city will receive approximately three times more than the amount give to any other locality nationwide. In total, New York State will receive $4.6 million.

In May, federal authorities working with the NYPD arrested four men who were allegedly planning to bomb the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx. The men were also planning to attack military planes at an upstate Air National Guard Base, according to authorities.

The grants are being made available through the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program and will provide significant funding for security measures at the very institutions being singled out as potential targets – including hospitals, synagogues and universities. Since the program began in 2005, more than 200 New York City nonprofits received nearly $17 million in funding.

Institutions that qualified for the current grant program were eligible to receive up to $75,000 that can be used to train security personnel and install security measures should as cameras, barriers and controlled entry systems.

“As the planned attacks in the Bronx highlight, nonprofit and religious institutions are at risk and need protection,” said Rep. Weiner. “Worshippers, museum goers and hospital visitors expect and deserve a safe environment, and these grants will go a long way towards ensuring their safety.”

“Congressman Weiner’s commitment to protecting our community is an example the state should emulate,” said Assemblyman Lancman. The millions of New Yorkers who benefit from our non-profits deserve the state’s maximum efforts at keeping them safe.”

Brooklyn Man Convicted of Killing Pawnshop Owner

Faces 25 to Life for '06 Murder in Richmond Hill

A Brooklyn man has been convicted in the murder of a Richmond Hill pawnshop during a 2006 robbery attempt, authorities announced.

Demetrious Greene, 32, of Watkins Street was convicted last Friday of second-degree murder, first-degree attempted robbery and second and third degree criminal possession of a weapon following a jury trial. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison when sentenced on July 29.

According to trial testimony, Greene entered Rich-Atlantic Gold and Silver Exchange at 118-20 Atlantic Avenue and told the owner, 40-year-old Richard Schoenfeld that he wanted to pawn a pair of earrings. When Schoenfeld slid open a glass partition separating the men, Greene shot him twice, fatally wounding him, before fleeing from the store.

Greene was arrested less than two months after the robbery following an investigation by the 102nd Precinct.

“The defendant has been convicted of entering the victim’s pawnshop and fatally shooting him during the course of committing an attempted armed robbery,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This case is another clear example of the lethal consequences of senseless gun violence.”

Schoenfeld, of Merrick, Long Island, was known to drive luxury cars including a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Mercedes SUV. Neighbors described him as a hard working, nice guy who generally carried a large sum of money on him.