Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Health Care Debate Begins Quietly on Local Level

Weiner Visits Senior Centers to Tout his Plan

By Conor Greene

The debate over President Obama’s health care plan is gearing up on the national level, highlighted by town hall meetings across the country. At the same time, the discussion on the local level has been much quieter - with the exception of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who pushed his version of the plan during two recent stops at neighborhood senior centers.

Weiner (D-Forest Hills) dropped by the Austin Street Self-Help Center last Thursday for what marked the first public forum in the city on health care reform. That event, which was not widely publicized ahead of time, and a similar one on Monday in Howard Beach, did not attract emotional protests witnessed at public meetings elsewhere in the country.

At the Howard Beach Senior Center, Weiner pushed his “single-payer system” plan, under which all hospitals, doctors and other health care provides would bill a single entity for their services, eliminating administrative waste that currently exists. During a recent speech on the floor of Congress, Weiner argued that his amendment “would be less expensive… and would ultimately cover more people in a way they understand.”

Before a pre-lunch crowd of nearly 100 local seniors, Weiner argued that with 47 million Americans currently uninsured, the current system is already paying those costs in a less effective way. “We do in the form of high taxes,” he said. “Something has to give.” A plan is needed that will help “contain costs” but still “makes sure people can choose to go to their own doctors,” added Weiner.

In contrast to President Obama’s plan, which Weiner said makes some “very minor changes” to Medicare, the congressman’s single-payer amendment will come to the floor for a vote following the summer recess, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I think the President is making a mistake… I think we’re missing a big opportunity,” said Weiner, adding that the “insurance industry hates” his single-payer version.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said that “it’s a disgrace” that so many Americans don’t have health coverage. “Some of them are right here in this community” including many young adults who are having trouble finding work, he added. He credited Rep. Weiner for holding public discussions on national health care, despite the prospect of attracting protestors. “It’s wonderful we’re having this dialogue,” said Ulrich.

While a single officer from the 106th Precinct stood guard outside the senior center, there was no sign of any protests. Inside, Weiner faced some tough questions from the audience, including about long-term care, dental, assisted living and how the plan would apply to illegal immigrants. Of course, two of the main questions were about how the plan would be funded, and how long it would take to implement.

“The problem is, right now there are winners, and the winners are the insurance companies,” argued Weiner. He told one resident that we already are paying to cover the uninsured through the form of higher taxes. “But you are paying inefficiently” through emergency room visits and a lack of preventative care. “We’re going to wind up at the end of the day in my view paying less,” said Weiner. “Right now we’re paying for it – it’s not new things we’re paying for.”

One resident asked whether she would see the bill passed during her lifetime. Weiner responded that “two of the most powerful forces in Washington” – inertia and the insurance industry – “don’t want this to happen.”

After the discussion, which ended with the singing of “God Bless America,” Weiner said a large part of the effort is explaining the proposal to residents to clarify some of the myths, including that seniors wouldn’t be eligible to stay on their current plans. “It’s completely unfounded and one of the yarns that is being spun by the opponents of the plan to scare people… Most Americans want to hear the nuts and blots of the plan. I’m trying to sell them because I have a different plan than President Obama that I think is better.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said he is hosting a series of smaller gatherings with constituents throughout this southeast Queens district and will hold a teleconference to make sure all residents can take part in the discussion. A small meeting was held this past Monday at his office, and more will be announced in the near future, said his spokeswoman Candace Sandy.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) is not planning any meetings specifically about health care reform, but has been discussing the issue during general sessions with constituents, according to his communications director Angela Barranco. “I think he’s having all sorts of meetings where he will be talking health care,” she said, noting that there are a host of other issues constituents want to discuss, including the economy. “We didn’t specifically exclude it, we just didn’t chose to highlight it only,” added Barranco.

Paterson Calls for Special Election Before Quickly Reversing Course

Blames Confusion on Staff Mistake

By Conor Greene

The uncertainty looming over the 38th Assembly district continued after Gov. David Paterson announced that a special election would be held in September to replace disgraced ex-Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, before changing course just hours later and issuing a statement that no decision has been made yet.

The latest embarrassment for Gov. Paterson came last Friday, when his office announced that a special election will be held on September 15 to fill the vacancy created when Seminerio resigned before pleading guilty to fraud charges. “This special election will ensure that the residents in part of Queens County will have the representation they need in the New York State Legislature,” said Paterson in the release.

However, just four hours later, the governor’s press secretary Marissa Shorenstein issued a statement informing the media that the prior press release has “been recalled” and that “no final decision has been made at this time with respect to a special election.” Several weeks ago, the governor’s office had informed the city Board of Elections that Paterson intended to call for a special election.

The unusual move to rescind the special election announcement led to speculation that it had first been called at the request of county Democrat party chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley, before Gov. Paterson reversed course due to pressure from state Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who are backing Albert Baldeo in the crowded field.

On Wednesday, Shorenstein refused to comment on reports the governor’s reversal came as a result of political pressure and instead chalked the error up to a mistake. “The announcement of a special election was made in error. The governor did not sign off on such an announcement. There is currently no special election,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Forum.

If a special election was held, the candidates would be hand-picked by county party leaders. If a primary is held, candidates who qualified through the petitioning process would appear on the ballot. At the center of the dispute are reports that while Baldeo has the support of certain party members, he wouldn’t get the nod if a special election was held. There are also questions regarding whether Baldeo meets the one-year residency restriction to be eligible to run for the seat, an issue the Ozone Park lawyer refuted.

“The governor eventually made the right call, but it was done in a sort of convoluted way,” said Baldeo. “The voters should decide who our next assembly member is after all we have gone through, and no one else. As much as it created confusion, I think… that the right decision was eventually made.” He said he has the paperwork needed to prove that he has lived in the district for well over a year.

Baldeo said that he was not aware of any politicians lobbying the governor on his behalf against a special election. “I would imagine there would be a lot of folks who have seen my work and are very supportive of my candidacy because I’ve been working very hard in my district,” he said, adding that he helped the party by abandoning his bid last year for the party’s endorsement for the state senate seat eventually won by fellow Democrat Joseph Addabbo. “I’ve done a lot for the Democratic Party,” added Baldeo.

Another would-be Democratic candidate, Mike Miller of Glendale, said he isn’t concerned about what form the election takes and is instead focusing on running a “vigorous campaign” that already boasts endorsements from City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Democratic District Leader Frank Kotnik and the Queens Conservative Party.

“I’m honored and proud to be even considered to run for office, and no matter what kind of election it is, I will be ready,” said Miller, who serves on Community Board 5. “I’m spending my time campaigning instead of lobbying for the type of campaign it will be. That’s out of my hands, so why waste my time trying to change it?”

Other residents who have announced their intentions to run for the vacant seat include Democrats Nick Comaianni of Community Board 9 and Farouk Samaroo, who recently returned home from a military deployment in Afghanistan, and Republican Donna Marie Caltabiano, director of the Forest Park Senior Center.

Parkway Hospital Claims Failure to Bribe Seminerio Led to Closure

By Conor Greene

New Parkway Hospital is claiming in a lawsuit that it was ordered to shut down by the state after its chief executive officer Robert Aquino refused to pay bribes demanded by former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Queens Supreme Court, names the state as a defendant and seeks to have its operating license renewed after it was revoked last November based on the findings of the Berger Commission. Despite that group’s recommendation that the state wait two years before closing the Forest Hills facility, it was shut last year – something the lawsuit blames on Seminerio’s inappropriate lobbying activities.

The state Health Department has previously said that the closing of Parkway was because it received the lowest score on criteria used by the commission to rank struggling hospitals. Seminerio recently resigned after 30 years in office and pleaded guilty to fraud charges accusing him of taking illegal consulting fees from Jamaica Hospital. The lawsuit argues that Seminerio’s guilty plea dissolves his right against self incrimination and seeks to have him deposed regarding his alleged extortion attempt of Parkway.

In court documents, Aquino states that Seminerio told him that he would make Aquino’s life “miserable” if he didn’t agree to pay him consulting fees that reportedly would have been between $10,000 and $15,000 per month. “It is self-evident that Seminerio’s criminal conduct had a direct impact on the decision to close Parkway Hospital,” he argues. “As an operating hospital, Parkway’s license could not be revoked absent of due process. Having a license revoked for the refusal to pay a bribe to a public official surely constitutes the denial of due process.”

Aquino also argues that the 251-bed hospital should be considered for reopening since two other local hospitals closed after the Berger Commission made its recommendations. He also questions whether the city is ready to handle a possible new outbreak of Swine Flu this fall, which has hit the Southern Hemisphere hard during the first few weeks of its flu season.

The federal indictment against Seminerio also accused him of attempting to force another hospital, now know to be Parkway, to pay him monthly consulting fees. When Aquino refused his demands, Seminerio lobbied on behalf of Jamaica Hospital.

“There is little doubt that such ‘advocacy’ resulted in the closure of the ‘non-client hospital,’ which as everyone now knows is the New Parkway Hospital. Indeed, the Department of Health essentially overrode the initial recommendation of the so-called Berger Commissioner that a wait-and-see approach be taken with respect to Parkway and directed its closure,” wrote Aquino in a letter to Gov. David Paterson and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Failure is NOT an Option: A Woman's Journey to Save Her Son

By Patricia Adams

Tracy Catapano-Fox is one of those people who almost need another business card to accommodate her full job title: Principal Law Clerk to the Administrative Judge, Civil Term of the Supreme Court State of New York - to be exact. And what does it all mean? Simply, Catapano-Fox works with Justice Jeremy Weinstein, running the Queens Supreme courthouse.

If you ask her what the job entails, Fox effortlessly rattles off a list of responsibilities that could exhaust a mere listener. Her job is to assist Justice Weinstein in the day-today operation of the courthouse which includes overseeing more than 500 judicial and non-judicial employees. She schedules the cases, organizes the calendar, is the research program administrator for the foreclosure program and handles matrimonial and commercial remediation. Yet another task is overseeing the film schedule at the courthouse, a very popular location for shooting movies and television. Oh and on Wednesdays during her lunch hour, the former aerobics instructor teaches a yoga class that’s open to employees at the courthouse.

At 35 years old, the wife and mother of two boys became the youngest ever President of the Queens Women’s Bar Association in June.

The lifelong Howard Beach resident has loved the law for her whole life. “I always wanted to be a dancer or a judge.” Although she treasures the years spent at Joe Stamford’s Dance Studio in Howard Beach, it was St. John’s University and Boston College Law that led her on a career path which started in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

After time spent as a prosecutor she worked for a law firm before taking a position as the Principal Law Clerk to another Howard Beach native, Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate. “Tracy is one of the best attorneys I have ever known,” said Judge Agate. “It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with her and when she gets to the bench she will be a fantastic judge herself.”

To be a judge is the one thing that Catapano-Fox really looks forward to, as is obvious in the passion she exudes when speaking about the law she so loves. But as obvious as is her professional passion, there is something far more emotional for Tracy Catapano-Fox, the sons she shares with husband Charlie, eight-year-old Benjamin and five-year-old Ethan.

“Ethan’s my miracle and Benjamin is my blessing,” reveals Tracy who goes on to explain the designations for her two sons. “If Benjamin wasn’t such a great kid, I would never have had the time to do as much as I did to save Ethan.” Benjamin is further described by his mother as “the happiest kid in the world,” “the best kid on the planet,” and just a “good soul.”

The miracle associated with Ethan however, did not come as easily as Benjamin’s great personality. “When Ethan was 18 months it was bad,” Catapano-Fox began, “I had Ben and I kind of knew what a typical child would be like.” But things were not like they had been with Ben. Tracy told her husband before Ethan’s 18-month checkup what she thought. “Charlie,” she said, “we’re going to have a problem.”

The painful realization of what lay ahead was revealed when Tracy responded to her husband’s query. “What do you mean we’re going to have a problem?” he asked. Tracy answered her husband, “He doesn’t look at us. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t acknowledge any one in our house. He doesn’t spend any time with us.”

The agony of the situation grew as the couple relived the details of the first 18 months of Ethan’s life. He hadn’t slept more than two consecutive hours in his life. When finally he did sleep it was only because he collapsed from the exhaustion of running around and around and jumping on and off everything in his path. Ethan refused to eat anything but bread, French fries and milk.

“He used to eat so many things,” Tracy recalled, “fruit, vegetables, cookies. Then it just switched off.” His family never heard Ethan speak. The only sounds he ever made were the cries that came from his night terrors. He would scream for three or four hours, and then pass out. Ethan would wake up and start screaming again. “He hated the sound of running water and electrical things,” Tracy explained, “I would hold him and he would bite me 50-60 times a day.”

The family took Ethan to be evaluated. “I didn’t know about autism,” Tracy admits. “The only association I had was headbanging and spinning.” But, she says, she knew that this was a likely diagnosis for Ethan. “When we first went for evaluation, they wouldn’t tell us anything.” She questioned whether it was autism but could not get a definitive answer. Frustrated and with no answers, Tracy decided to take Ethan to an evaluation center for autism in Manhattan. The answers she got didn’t make her happy but they were answers.

At 18-months old Ethan was diagnosed with autism. And from that minute Ethan’s mother started the journey to help her son. The family’s quest to save Ethan began in Rhinebeck, New York with autism specialist Dr. Kenneth Bock.

The ensuing fight against the mysterious disease began shortly after meeting with Dr. Bock who told the Fox’s he thought he could help Ethan.

A little more than three years later, after instituting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, utilizing hyperbaric and chelation therapy, Ethan has been re-evaluated. He is no longer silent. His diet is rich in variety. He talks. He smiles. He laughs. He sleeps. In September he will begin kindergarten at MS 207. Ethan is definably recovered; he shows no signs of autism.

Ethan’s parents are smiling too; as is the rest of his family. And in November, his mother will take some more steps for her son. Tracy Catapano-Fox can be seen nightly running through the streets of Howard Beach as she trains for the New York City marathon in which she will run for Ethan, her miracle, on behalf of Autism Speaks.

For Tracy Catapano-Fox the road back has been marked with a success hardly measurable by any normal standards. A predictable quality about Tracy Catapano-Fox after having spent an hour with her is of course to credit what she terms “an unbelievable support system. That system she says starts with her mother, Linda Catapano.

“For everything good that anyone sees in me, my mother is responsible. She is the greatest person on the planet.” And for Linda Catapano’s daughter, the woman who has managed to run a family and a career without missing a beat, well she is probably best described by a rectangular red button that rests on the base of her computer monitor; it reads simply, “Failure Is Not an Option.”

Parents, Crowley Push for PS 87 Upgrades

DOE Officials Visit School in Response to Complaints

By Conor Greene

Pleas to have the bathrooms and cafeteria at PS 87 upgraded have fallen on deaf ears over the past few years because the school isn’t as overcrowded as others in the area, but residents are hopeful progress is being made now that Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has joined their fight for better conditions at the Middle Village school.

The problem started nearly a decade ago when the school was converted into a pre K-8 facility, according to residents. Along with the conversion came promises of an expansion, for which money was earmarked and plans were drawn. While the school did switch over from a K-5 building, the addition never moved forward.

As a result, the school now has about 600 students enrolled, but the cafeteria can only hold 100 people and doubles as a gymnasium, even though its ceilings are just eight feet high. Even worse, say parents, is that there are just two toilets per floor – meaning each is expected to serve more than a hundred students.

“Originally when we were asked to go to [pre] K-8 we were promised an extension, but that never happened,” said parent Bernadette Beninati, who has two daughters enrolled at PS 87. “What happened, we don’t know, but we didn’t get anything. It’s not luxuries we’re looking for, it’s necessities for our kids… During the swine flu outbreak children were lined up to get into the bathroom, it’s just crazy.”

A group of parents has pleaded the case for upgrades at recent Community Education Council meetings over the past few months, but in June the DOE said that no upgrades are planned for PS 87 in the coming years. While a science lab was constructed there several years ago, the department otherwise “never committed to building an addition” at the site, according to Will Havemann of the DOE.

Since then, Crowley (D-Middle Village) has joined the fight on the parents’ behalf and toured PS 87 last Friday with DOE officials. “I am pleased that the Department of Education came out to PS 87 to see for themselves the school’s dire need for additional facilities,” she said. “The years between pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, especially at junior high school age, are some of the most impressionable on a student’s physical, emotional and academic development. How can we encourage kids to exercise and use athletics as a positive outlet without a space for physical education.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Havemann said that there are no plans to build an addition at PS 87 since the school “is not overcrowded and there is no school-age growth projected for the school’s neighborhood… Especially given the city’s difficult economic circumstances, it is essential that we prioritize school construction for the neighborhoods that need it most.”

Still, Havemann said that “In the coming months, we’ll work with the PS 87 community and Councilmember Crowley to determine how we can best address their concerns without the construction of a costly and unnecessary addition.”

Crowley vowed to continue advocating on behalf of upgrades at PS 87. “I believe the DOE’s visit to the school [last week] demonstrates a step in the right direction. I will continue to work with the DOE to ensure that the needs of the PS 87 community are addressed.”

For the PS 87 parents, the needs are simple: enough bathrooms to accommodate the building’s enrollment, a proper gym that allows students to exercise and enough cafeteria space to avoid starting lunch sessions at 10:10 a.m. “I’m glad they came in and saw what we’re talking about, and now I’m hopeful they will agree with us and see what we’re talking about in terms of necessities,” said Beninati. “The curriculum is great, the teachers are great, the principal is great, it’s just the necessities that are [lacking].”

Civic: Future School Site is Now Dumping Ground

By Conor Greene

A local civic association is ripping the city for allowing the former Restaurant Depot property to turn into a weed-and-trash-covered eyesore that has become a dumping ground since the property was purchased several months ago for a high school.

The Juniper Park Civic Association, which fought against the city’s plan to build an 1,100-seat high school at the corner of 74th Street and 57th Avenue, released photos this week showing that the property has been overtaken by weeds, litter, debris and larger items including household furniture and building materials.

“New York City would summons property owners who kept their property in such condition. We’ll see if the Sanitation Department issues a summons to the School Construction Authority,” said JPCA President Robert Holden. The civic association filed a 311 complaint with both the Sanitation Department and the Buildings Department due to the “horrendous condition” of the site.

The problem has left local residents frustrated with the lack of accountability from the SCA, especially among those in the neighborhood who oppose the high school plan. “This is government at its worst. The School Construction Authority is an agency out of control and not answerable to the people,” said Manny Caruana, who lives several blocks from the property.

In response, a Department of Education spokesman said the debris that has accumulated at the site “was dumped illegally by passers-by” and was not placed there by the SCA “This week is the first full week we’ve had a contractor at the site, and, though we didn’t create this mess, we cleaned it up on Monday,” said William Havemann. “Now that we have a permanent presence at the site, we will ensure it remains clean and litter-free.”

The city initially suggested that if necessary, it would use its powers of eminent domain to acquire the 54,000-square-foot former Restaurant Depot property. In May, it agreed to pay $16,250,000 to owner Lucky Star Elmhurst, LLC, according to documents filed with the state. The property had been listed online for $15 million, and the DOE refused to explain the difference between the list price and the higher final sale price.

Despite opposition from local residents, civic groups, Community Board 5 and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), the City Council voted 38 to 10 in April to approve the DOE’s plan for the 1,100-seat, $80 million facility. Last month, former City Councilman Thomas Ognibene filed a lawsuit on behalf of the JPCA and Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together claiming that the SCA withheld information about high levels of toxic substances on the property.

“It is a disgrace that the city is allowing this already toxic site to become a monstrous eyesore for the community,” said Ognibene. He recently said in an interview with the Forum that Crowley, who voted against the school but wasn’t able to convince enough of her colleagues to do the same, “got drowned out at City Hall.”

The city Department of Buildings doesn’t have any records of complaints filed at the Restaurant Depot property, according to a spokeswoman. The Sanitation Department received 311 complaints regarding that address, and a “failure to store receptacle” summons was issued. While no illegal dumping conditions were found at the site, DSNY will continue to monitor the site, said a spokesman.

City Tackles Traffic 'Nightmare' at Middle Village Intersection

By Conor Greene

The city Department of Transportation has taken several minor steps to help alleviate traffic nightmares local drivers experience daily in the area of Dry Harbor Road and 80th Street in Middle Village after receiving complaints about the area.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) wrote several letters to the city DOT over the past few months after several constituents informed her of unsafe conditions at Furmanville Avenue and 80th Street and at 80th Street near Cooper Avenue.

In response, the DOT conducted an investigation of “the complex intersection of Dry Harbor Road, 80th Street and Furmanville Avenue” and has changed the timing of traffic lights to help improve traffic flow, according to a department spokesman. The light for traffic headed north on 80th Street will remain green for 11 seconds longer in the morning and six seconds longer in the afternoon, and the green light for westbound Furmanville Avenue traffic has been increased by six seconds in the afternoon.

The DOT will continue to monitor the area to determine if additional changes are warranted, according to spokesman Montgomery Dean.

In her letter to DOT Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, Crowley noted that an 84th Street resident “is concerned for the safety of the neighborhood” especially due to two schools in close proximity to the intersection. “Drivers are unable to make a left turn westbound onto 80th Street from Furmanville before the light turns red due to the large amount of cross traffic.”

In response to complaints from John Hegener of 67th Road, Crowley wrote that “something must be done to alleviate the excessive traffic conditions on 80th Street,” where “vehicles are at a stand still for blocks.” She suggested looking into solutions including adjusting the light sequence or altering the traffic pattern.

In an interview, Hegener, who has lived on the block for 54 years, said the problem isn’t as bad during the summer, “but once school starts again, 80th Street becomes a nightmare.” He also said the problem became much worse after the Shops at Atlas Park’s former owners, the Hemmerdinger family, convinced the MTA to reroute two bus lines past the Glendale shopping mall.

“It’s happened mainly since the mall [opened] and since the buses,” said Hegener. “It’s just discouraging because it all has to do with the mall, and there is nobody going to it now. Once they put in stores that people actually start going to, it’s going to be a real nightmare… It gets so bad on the side streets that feed Metropolitan Avenue that you have to sit there for three or four lights.”

Hegener said the one thing he doesn’t want to see the city do is eliminate on-street parking spaces so that traffic patterns could be altered. “The city will probably alleviate the problem by taking away parking, which will lead to more problems for the residents.”

In a press release, Crowley thanked the DOT for investigating the issue, which she said must be resolved to get drivers moving again on local streets.

“I am glad the [DOT] began looking into ways to alleviate traffic issues for drivers on 80th Street,” said Crowley after the department studied the area. “The people who rely on 80th Street on a daily basis are all too aware that during rush hour 80th Street is like a parking lot because cars aren’t moving. It is imperative that we fix this situation for the motorists, the students of PS/IS 87 and the residents of 80th Street.”

Senators Help Reunite Family for Funeral

Following the tragic death of Queens resident Roopnarine Gopaul, 42, and his five-year-old son Christopher Gopaul, earlier this month in a jet ski accident, state Senator Joe Addabbo along with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand helped expedite the visa process allowing close relatives abroad to arrive in New York in time for the funeral. Two sisters of Roopnarine Gopaul reunited with their Queens family hours before the somber ceremony.

State Senator Addabbo said, “In addressing this unfortunate family issue, I was grateful to successfully work with Sen. Gillibrand’s office to assist our constituents through their difficult time.”

“During these difficult moments, it's important for families to gather with their loved ones,” Senator Gillibrand said. “I am relieved that Lilouttie and Bhagmattie Gopaul are able to join their family and friends here at home as they grieve from the loss of their brother and nephew. Our deepest condolences go out to the Gopaul family. They are in our prayers.”

Lilouttie Gopaul, one of the two sisters traveling from Guyana to New York, said, “The entire family thanks Senator Gillibrand and State Senator Addabbo. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve visited my family and it means so much that I will be present for the funeral of my brother and nephew. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for making the impossible possible.”

Shortly after the accident, Mr. Gopaul’s sisters unsuccessfully tried to secure an interview with the U.S. Embassy in Guyana to return for the funeral but were met with bureaucratic red tape that would prevent them from arriving on time. Without an expedited interview, the sisters would have missed the ceremony. But thanks to Sandra Singh of Richmond Hill, another of Mr. Gopaul’s sisters who reached out for Senator Joe Addabbo, the family was able to attend.

Mr. Gopaul, who immigrated to the United States two decades ago, worked as a truckdriver and was an active member of his community.

Transit Cop Sentenced for Public Lewdness

Keeps Pension Despite Incident in Kew Gardens Subway

A former NYPD captain will keep his pension despite pleading guilty to public lewdness after he was charged with exposing himself to a man inside a subway station last year.

Transit Bureau Captain Jeffery Klimas pleaded guilty last October to public lewdness and disorderly conduct after a 20-year-old man accused him of exposing himself inside a bathroom in the Union Turnpike subway station while on-duty in May 2008.

On Monday, he was sentenced to a conditional discharge after completing a court-ordered psychotherapy and resigning from the NYPD, according to a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

The victim told police that he was involved in a romantic relationship with Captain Klimas, 52, who is married and has been on the NYPD since 1983. Under the agreement with the district attorney’s office, he is allowed to keep his full pension but lost 11 vacation days he had accrued before his suspension from the force following his arrest.

Teen Charged with Arson at Kissena Park Golf Course

A 17-year-old Fresh Meadows resident has been charged with arson after allegedly setting a fire at the Kissena Park Golf Course that caused more than $400,000 in damages.

Christopher Casella, of 197-01 58th Avenue, has been charged with 39 counts of third-degree arson and one count of second-degree criminal mischief. He is accused of pouring gasoline and starting a fire that destroyed 38 golf carts and damaged the clubhouse pro shop. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and was awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court after his arrest on Monday morning.

According to the criminal complaint, Casella and two unknown accomplices were caught on video surveillance tapes at the golf course, located on Booth Memorial Avenue, around midnight on June 24. The three are seen climbing over a fence into a parking area where the 38 carts were parked. They then pour liquid over the carts before climbing back over the fence. At that point, a flame comes over the top of the fence onto the park carts and the entire area goes up in flames, according to authorities.

The golf course manager told investigators that a 50-gallon tank containing gasoline used to fuel the carts is kept within the parking area. The damage to the course and equipment is estimated to be in excess of $407,000.

“The defendant is charged with setting a fire that caused extensive damage to a recreational facility that serves the community,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The fire could easily have caused serious injuries to responding firefighters or any people who may have been on or around the golf course. This was no teenage prank. It is a serious crime that will be dealt with accordingly.”

The investigation took a strange turn when, about five hours after the two-alarm fire was extinguished, police found the body of an Asian man in his 20s hanging from a tree in the woods near the scene. Investigators believe the death was a suicide and is not related to the fire.

Man Admits to Defrauding Immigrants Over Documents

An Ozone Park man faces up to four years in prison after admitting to defrauding five members of the local Trinidad community by promising to obtain expedited green cards.

Nazim (Tony) Hosein, 38, of 106-43 95th Street, was initially arrested in January as he arrived at JFK Airport on a flight from his native Trinidad. Last week, he pleaded guilty to fourth-degree grand larceny and faces between 16 months and four years in prison when he is sentenced next Wednesday. He also must repay $91,800 to his five victims, who live in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.

“The victims in this case strove to become part of the American Dream. They worked hard and saved their money and gave it to this defendant in the hopes of gaining legal status in this country,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Instead, they were defrauded by this defendant who must be punished for taking advantage of these vulnerable victims.”

According to the criminal complaint, Hosein met with his victims at various locations around the borough between August 2007 and October 2008 and claimed to know someone who worked in the federal building in lower Manhattan. Hosein told the victims that his contact would help them obtain legitimate immigration documents including green cards, social security cards and work permits in exchange for a large sum of money, which he claimed also covered the cost of expenses such as bank statements, taxes, fingerprints and medical coverage.

The fees charged ranged from $5,000 to $20,000. In some cases Hosein provided his victims with forged documents, and in others he told them to meet him at 26 Federal Plaza on October 10, 2008 to receive their documents. That day, many of his victims waited more than five hours outside the federal building for him. However, Hosein had taken a flight from JFK Airport to Trinidad the day before, according to U.S Customs records.

In total, Hosein took $91,800 in exchange for promising U.S documentation for seven individuals from five families.

Parrot Found in Bellerose; Owner Sought

Feathered Friends Parrot Adoption Services, Inc. (FFPAS), located in Maspeth Queens is fostering a Congo African Grey Parrot that was found in the Bellerose, Queens area.

The parrot was found on 245th Street, north of Jericho Turnpike and east of the Cross Island Parkway, on Tueday, August 4 at approximately 6:00 pm.

The parrot is in excellent shape, and is being well taken care of at our facility. If an individual or family is looking for their lost parrot, they may contact us between the hours of 9:00 am and 10:00 pm, and must provide the bird’s band identification number as proof of identity. We may be reached by e-mail at, or by telephone at (917) 865-5042.

FFPAS is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, whose mission in part is to foster found or abandoned parrots. This parrot will remain being fostered for 30 days - until September 8th, 2009 - at which time, if the owner has not been found, will become available for adoption.