Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Former Woodhaven Man Charged with Killing and Dismembering Wife

Woodhaven Woman Went Missing in 2007

By Patricia Adams

The investigation of a Woodhaven mother who went missing more than two years ago has culminated with the arrest of her husband on charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

U.S. Marshals arrested Edwin Fuentes, 42, outside a realtor’s office on Pitkin Avenue in Ozone Park late Wednesday afternoon for the murder of his wife Reina De Los Santos, who went missing in June of 2007. Frustrated Queens detectives put in more than thirty months and conducted a grueling investigation leading up to the arrest. According to one department insider, the case represents an intense effort by Queens Homicide to bring strong evidence to the DA.

Fuentes has long been a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, but police were continually stymied by the fact that no trace of the missing woman was found until 2008 when teens in Forest Park found a suitcase containing bones later identified as those of De Los Santos.

According to charges filed by DA Brown’s office, Fuentes allegedly dismembered his wife’s body and put some of her body parts in a suitcase. Brown said, “The defendant is accused of killing his wife and disposing of her body, leaving her two children without a mother. He was able to evade justice for more than two years but the diligence of police and prosecutors in pursuing this case means that he will now be held accountable for this crime.”

According to the criminal complaint, at some time between June 19, 2007 and June 22, 2007, Fuentes killed his wife inside their apartment on 88th Road in Woodhaven, later dismembering her. He then called police and reported his wife was missing.

When police arrived at the house to take the report one of the officers noticed that Fuentes had fresh scratches on his arms and what appeared to be a bite mark on his left hand. The defendant was also described as shaking, nervous and even stuttering during the interview with police, at which time he told them that the scratches were a result from playing with his children. He told police he had last seen his wife on June 20.

At the time of her disappearance, Fuentes launched a campaign to blanket the neighborhood with posters of his missing wife, even soliciting donations to cover the costs of printing. He was quoted during an interview with The Forum saying there was no reason he could imagine for his wife’s disappearance. “She is a very loving and supportive mother, everyone knows that. I don’t understand where she could be.” Asked if he had a message he would most like to get to his wife Fuentes said, “We love you and we miss you. Just come home safe.”

On March 4, 2008, four teenagers walking in Forest Park found a suitcase containing what appeared to be partial human remains. The suitcase was removed to the Queens County Morgue where the remains were identified as a human skull and various other body parts. The remains were later identified through dental records as those of Reina De Los Santos Reyes and following an autopsy her death was ruled a homicide.

Shortly after the remains were identified, Fuentes was picked up by police in connec- tion with what was termed an unrelated matter. The suspect had allegedly struck De Los Santos’ 17-year-old son Ariel, who was in his custody following the disappearance. The boy was from the victim’s first marriage and suffers from Tourette syndrome and additional dissociative disorders.

A caretaker, assigned to Ariel from the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS), told police that she found the boy, on at least two occasions since December, with bruises on his mouth and face from being struck in the head. The couple also shared a biological daughter, Thais who is now with her father's family. Ariel is presently in the custody of his mother's family. Fuentes is prohibited by law from having any contact with either of the children.

Although there was insufficient evidence against him at the time, police investigators have now pieced together the deadly puzzle leading up to De Los Santos’ murder that is studded with domestic violence and death threats. In April of 2007 there is testimony from a witness who heard Fuentes threatening to kill his wife and another witness who reportedly observed the defendant choking the victim in May of 2007 and threatening to kill her if she ever left him.

In addition, Fuentes is also alleged to have told police that he was once a butcher. When asked by the police if he thought he was going to get away with the murder the defendant allegedly replied: “I sure as hell am going to try.”

If convicted he faces 25 years to life in prison.

Officials Have Differing Views on Aqueduct Redevelopment

Addabbo, Pheffer, Braton Call For End to Delays

By Conor Greene

Local officials and community leaders have mixed feelings on whether the Aqueduct redevelopment project should immediately move forward after the governor’s pick has been criticized as politically motivated.

The decision to pick Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) to rebuild the Ozone Park racetrack into a racino featuring 4,500 video lottery terminals has come under fire over the past few weeks. Critics say AEG was chosen in part because of connections between Gov. David Paterson and several of the consortium’s key partners. There are also complaints that AEG was allowed to unfairly revise its bid to beat out the other competi- tors.

According to reports, the U.S attorney’s office has issued a subpoena to the state for all documents related to the bidding process, and federal investigators have been discussing the process with losing bidders.

This week, the Daily News reported that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is waiting until the Inspector General completes his investigation before signing off on the deal. “I think everything should wait until that information is available,” the Manhattan Democrat told the paper. “I think what’s important is we know we’re signing on to something that’s appropriate, and if not, we’re not going to.”

The decision to choose the politically-connected AEG over other bidders with more experience in the casino industry has been widely criticized since it was announced. In an effort to quell the skepticism, Gov. Pater- son last week released certain documents related to the bidding process. However, a recent Siena poll revealed that only three percent of respondents view the deal with AEG as “fair and appropriate”.

However, local officials say, despite legitimate questions over the process, the time has come to move forward on the project, eight years after the state approved video lottery termi- nals at Aqueduct. In a joint statement, Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton argue that, “two governors later, VLTs are still not up and running at Aqueduct, a community is in a frus- trated limbo, and our cash-strapped state is still not realizing much-needed income.”

In the statement, Addabbo, Pheffer and Braton argue that the same selection process was used this year as last, when Delaware North was initially chosen but backed out after it was unable to provide the state with the promised upfront payment. “There was controversy then, as there is now, about the use of that previous process,” the officials wrote. “That selection was met in the local community with much skepticism... Yet no call for a special investigation or media attack was evident then.”

Now, according to the officials, “the media- driven firestorm now calling for details, criteria used and investigations, is to some, unfortunate and very late.”

Addabbo agreed that the selection process created a year ago is “flawed” due to its lack of transparency and objective criteria. “But what is not fair game is to scrap the entire project at this point... The potential jobs this racino project offers are needed now, not later,” he said in the statement. “The state has to deal with its budget now, not later.” He added that many area residents have been calling for this project to move forward for years.

Pheffer said it is “imperative” that the state moves quickly to finalize the contract with AEG and called the project “an economic engine that is vital to the future of the local economy.” She criticized the attacks on AEG at this point, as there has “been ample time for all the calls for documents from all bid- ders to be released and calls for scrutiny of all investors in each of the bids over the past year.”

While also agreeing that the process employed in Albany is “not the best way to make this kind of decision,” Braton also called for the project to move forward without delay. “Our criteria in looking at the information provided to us by all the bidders could be summed up by five questions,” she said. “Can they build it? Can they run it? Will this proposal mesh well with our community? Will the company be open to working with us to minimize any negative impacts? And will the state realize a big pot of money that will help ease the burden on New York taxpayers? The AEG selection meets our criteria and we can work with them.”

Deception Burglaries and Frustration Over 311 System Plague 104th Precinct

By Conor Greene

This month’s COP 104 meeting in Maspeth Town Hall focused on two issues impacting residents throughout the precinct: deception burglaries targeting seniors and frustration over lack of follow up by officers on complaints registered to the city’s 311 system.

Recent Crime Stats

Major crime is up just more than seven percent through the first six weeks of 2010 compared with the same time period last year. There have been no homicides and one rape, 27 robberies – up one from last year – and 58 burglaries – down one from last year. Auto theft is down one from this time last year, with 36 so far in 2010.

However, there have been sharp increases in felony assaults, with 24 compared with 18 last year, and grand larceny, with 56 this year, up from 47 in 2009, according to Deputy Inspector Keith Green, commanding officer of the 104th Precinct.

In all, there have been 202 total major crimes, up from 188 at this point last year. The good news, said Green, is that arrests are also on the rise, up 15 percent this year for all crimes and nearly 13 percent for major crimes. Over the past two years, arrests are up 24 percent, according to Green.

“So far, we’ve kept the burglaries at the same level as last year, which is very big for us,” said Green. “It has traditionally been a big problem in the 104 and the rest of Queens.”

Police Warn of Deception Crimes

Police are warning residents, especially the elderly, to be aware of individuals posing as utility workers to gain entry into homes. There have been two recent so-called deception burglaries within the 104th Precinct in the past two weeks, according to Green.

The recent incidents have occurred in Glendale and Ridgewood, and are believed to possibility be part of a larger pattern happening throughout the borough and city, said Green. The thieves generally approach the elderly, especially those living alone, and say they need to enter the house to check on pipes or electrical work.

“They convince you they need to access the house to check on something. They are very convincing,” said Green. Once inside, one perpetrator will distract the homeowner while the other slips away and looks for items to steal. In one case, the victim was approached outside her home and allowed them inside before realizing they weren’t legitimate. While she was able to get them out quickly, they managed to steal a check off her table.

There were no injuries reported in either recent incident, according to Green, who said the perps generally don’t get physical and look for jewelry, cash and other small valuables they can quickly grab. “There are professionals who travel around and do this,” the commanding officer said. “Don’t ever let anyone in your house you didn’t call. There is just no reason to,” he said, adding that residents who are approached should call 911.

The suspects in the most recent incident, which took place at a two-family house on Stanhope Street, were described as two white men ages 35 to 45. In the Glendale incident two weeks ago, the victim didn’t get a good look at the suspects. However, a mailman saw the incident and blocked the street with his mail truck. The suspects were forced to back down the one-way street in a silver truck and fled the scene, according to Green.

Tough Times in Upper Glendale

Civic leader Kathy Masi reported that it has been a “rough time in upper Glendale” with a recent rash of incidents in the vicinity of Doran Avenue. In recent weeks, there was an incident with a man flashing a pellet gun after an incident at a nearby bar, along with several attempted and suc- cessful home burglaries.

“We’re convinced that it’s coming right from the block,” she said of possible perpetrators. “We’ve had quite a bit in upper Glendale, and I don’t know what we can do. It hasn’t been a good two months here.”

The burglary incidents have had a “terrible effect on seniors,” added Masi, adding that one woman fell down her stairs and was badly injured while checking to make sure her basement door was locked. “It’s really frightening,” said Masi. “You’re not even seeing what’s going on that doesn’t factor into the [precinct’s crime] numbers.”

No Response to 311 Complaints

A family from Admiral Avenue in Middle Village aired frustrations over a lack of response to complaints they have logged with the city’s 311 phone number.

The family has been dealing with loud music ever since new tenants moved into the home adjacent to theirs. This has led the family to file numerous complaints with 311, only to watch as the complaint is classified online as being resolved, even though the music continues and no officers ever showed up to investigate, according to the family.

“We’ve called 311 and nothing ever happens,” one member said, adding that they are sure no officers responded because they sit outside their house for several hours waiting. “It says the police department responded and took action, but the music doesn’t go off.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said he has regularly heard similar complaints from other residents. “We’re hearing this over and over again. Something is wrong with 311 when it comes to dealing with the precinct,” he said. “This is not isolated – it’s happening all over. We’ve heard this for several years now. This is a legitimate complaint. We’ve got to find out what’s going on with 311.”

Green said he would look into these incidents and check which officers were assigned to respond to the specific calls to see what went wrong.

State Unveils Designs for New Kosciuszko Bridge

By Conor Greene

The state has unveiled four potential design options for the new Kosciuszko Bridge, which will replace the crumbling structure that currently carries vehicles on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over the Newtown Creek.

At a public session last Thursday in Christ the King High School, state Department of Transportation officials presented residents with four renderings for the new bridge, which is expected to cost at least $1 billion. While the four designs are all similar in terms of cost and how they function, they ranged from a simple box girder option to a more elaborate cable-stayed version.

The existing Kosciusko Bridge opened in 1939 and was ranked last by the General Contractors Association of American among bridges throughout the city. Named for a Polish Revolutionary War general, it carries 160,000 vehicles per day. The new bridge is expected to have a 75-year service life and will include nine total lanes of traffic between Greenpoint and Maspeth. Construction is expected to begin in 2014 and take about five years, according to the state.

“Safety is a top priority... and these four designs offer a glimpse of a signature bridge that, in a few years, will provide safe and reliable travel for generations to come,” said acting state DOT Commissioner Stan Gee in a statement. “All four conceptual designs will improve mobility and long-term safety for all who live and work in Queens and Brooklyn.”

At Thursday’s session, DOT project manager Robert Adams stressed that construction is planned so as to have as little impact as possible, with six lanes of travel open for drivers throughout the project. “The department has been committed since the very beginning to maintain all six lanes throughout construction with no detours,” said Adams.

To accomplish this, the new bridge will be built next to the existing structure, and all six lanes of traffic will be shifted onto what will eventually be the eastbound structure. The existing bridge will be demolished, and a new structure for westbound traffic will then be built in its place.

The current bridge carries three lanes of traffic in each direction. The final product will include five lanes into Queens and four into Brooklyn, along with a pathway for bicyclists and pedestrians that promises to provide a “terrific view of the Manhattan skyline,” according to Adams. The new bridge will also feature standard-width lanes, shoulders for disabled vehicles and better sight lines for drivers, according to Adams. “This will have significant improvements on the merging problems that exist today,” he said.

The state is continuing to negotiate with property owners within the 1.1 mile construction zone to acquire easements and land needed for the project. That is expected to be completed by 2013. The state is also working with the city Parks Department on a new greenspace that is planned for beneath the approach to the bridge on the Queens side, but Parks was unable to provide details about that.

The project will be paid for with 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent from the state. While state officials are hesitant to put an exact price on the project, the DOT’s five-year capital plan includes $400 million for it. “We have money to build this worked into our five-year program,” said Adams.

The new design is expected to be chosen later this year, after the DOT finishes gathering public input and comments.

City Restores Volunteer Ambulances to 911 System

By Conor Greene

City fire officials have agreed to once again allow community-based volunteer ambulance corps to log onto the 911 system, in a reversal of a much-criticized decision made late last year.

Last month, it was reported that FDNY and EMS had decided to no longer allow local ambulance corps to log onto the 911 system, a move that was seen by many elected officials and volunteers as a step towards phasing them out of the emergency response system. In response, FDNY/EMS officials said the change was “clerical” and noted that volunteers were never dispatched to emergencies through the 911 system.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who chairs City Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, was joined by members of volunteer ambulance corps at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Following the rally, Crowley led a hearing on the recent FDNY/EMS decision to remove the vollies from the 911 system.

During that hearing, EMS Chief John Peruggia agreed to restore the policy that allowed the groups to log onto the 911 system, according to Crowley, who called the decision a “victory for all New Yorkers.” However, she cautioned that “while this is a step in the direction, there is still progress to be made to reach a solution that will most effectively utilize these volunteer groups in partnership with the EMS... I hope today’s hearing demonstrates a willingness and a commitment from the EMS to work with our community volunteer ambulances and the City Council to utilize these free and important resources.”

There are about three dozen volunteer ambulance groups throughout the city, mostly in the outer boroughs, that respond to nearly 15,000 emergencies annually. The policy reversed last October was a 2001 EMS Command Order that allowed vollies to log onto the system in an effort to maximize all available resources.

While the FDNY stressed that the change would have no impact for patients, officials from local groups said the decision limited their roles and made it harder for them to send and receive critical information from EMS. Historically, vollies would log onto the 911 system to obtain updates on local emergencies, and to let the 911 system know the groups were available to respond.

“Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, volunteer resources stand ready, wiling and able to help and assist the city of New York, yet they’re not being utilized,” Ryan Gunning, head of the Glendale Volunteer Ambulance Corp and the state Volunteer Ambulance Regional Association, said at the rally.

After the EMS announced the vollies would be restored to the 911 system, Gunningposted a message online commending Crowley for pushing the matter during the hearing. “On behalf of the volunteers in NYC, we commend your efforts and look forward to continuing to work with you and your committee on this issue,” Gunning posted on Crowley’s Facebook page.

According to Crowley, the vollies are more important than ever since the economy has forced the city to make “crippling cuts” to its emergency services. In the past few years, three Queens hospitals have closed, and ambulance tours have been cut, according to the councilwoman. “This is why we must [reach] a solution that utilizes our volunteer ambulances services so they can continue saving New Yorker’s lives,” she said. “In light of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s push for nationwide community service, these groups exemplify the highest level of volunteerism.”

DNA Cold Hit Links Woodhaven Man to Rapes

By Conor Greene

A Woodhaven father has been charged with two rapes over the past decade after police matched a DNA sample he provided following a recent grand larceny conviction to samples collected from his victims.

Mauricio Rosales, 32, of 88-17 Jamaica Avenue, has been charged in connection with both the 2000 rape of an 11-year-old girl inside the bedroom of her family’s Woodhaven home and the 2003 attack of a 19-year-old Kew Gardens woman in her driveway.

The charges were filed last week after investigators matched a DNA sample taken from Rosales following a petit larceny conviction last November for stealing $3,000 from a former employer. In 2004, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown indicted “John Doe” for the rapes based on the DNA samples from the victims to prevent the statute of limitations from running out before an arrest was made.

According to the charges, Rosales broke in a Woodhaven home at about 6 a.m. on Oct. 20, 2000, entered the 11-year-old victim’s bedroom and raped her while her family was asleep upstairs. He told her that he would kill her if she told anyone about the attack and stole several items before fleeing the scene.

In the second incident, Rosales approached a 19-year-old woman while she was sitting in front of her Kew Gardens home at 11 p.m. on July 17, 2003. He pulled her at knifepoint into her driveway where he allegedly raped and robbed her before fleeing, said police.

Authorities are now looking into whether Rosales is responsible for several other unsolved rapes, according to reports. He was arraigned last Thursday on an indictment charging him with two counts of rape and one count each of burglary, robbery, sexual abuse and attempted robbery. If convicted, he faces up to 50 years in prison.

The married father of five had been working as a food deliveryman in Brooklyn before his arrest. He was located at a Brooklyn food dis- tribution center by detectives from the Special Victim’s Squad after the State Police laboratory matched the DNA samples, the New York Times reported. Following his arrest, Rosales denied the rapes but admitted to being inside the 11-year-old’s bedroom and to encountering the 19-year-old victim.

“This case underscores the crucial importance of DNA evidence, which is irrefutable proof of innocence or guilt,” said District Attorney Brown, adding that “it is time for the legislature to once again expand the DNA law to authorize collection of samples from all convicted defendants – not just the approximately 50 percent of convicted defendants who now are required to submit DNA samples.”

Richmond Hill Man Arrested in NJ Double Homicide

Victims are from Howard Beach and Ozone Park

By Patricia Adams

A Queens bar owner was arrested on Saturday and charged with two counts of Murder, and Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose after a homicide investigation conducted by New Jersey law enforcement officials.

Nicholas D. Kiriakakis, 25, of Richmond Hill, was charged in the shooting deaths of two other men from Queens. Jonathan Beneduce of Howard Beach and Michael Mirasola from Ozone Park were shot and killed in their vehicle on Wednesday while parked on a residential street in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Police officials say Kiriakakis met with both victims in Queens and that the three men then drove to Teaneck in separate vehicles. The alleged killer drove his own vehicle, with the two friends driving a 2007 Ford Explorer.

Police are investigating the reasons that the three men travelled to the location. Multiple searches conducted at the Kiriakakis’ residence, his place of business at Pearl, a restaurant/bar on Bell Blvd, and his vehicle resulted in theseizure of two simulated handguns, a stun gun, and illegally obtained prescription drugs.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said the three men headed to New Jersey around 7:30 pm and that there is no evidence to show that anyone else was involved in the double murders. The prosecutor also said that law enforcement is investigating the possibility that the incident was tied to a drug transaction. Molinelli told reporters however, that no drugs were found on either or the victims or in their SUV.

The distraught father of one of the victims, Nick Beneduce, told The Forum that he was unable to comment on the case because of a request from police not to comment during the ongoing investigation.

Bail for Kiriakakis was set at $3 million. He was also charged by the NYPD with Criminal Possession of a Weapon, Possession of Prescription Ledger Drugs without a Prescription, and with being a Fugitive from Justice for the Bergen County charges. He is currently being held in the Queens Detention Center awaiting extradition to New Jersey.

Armed Robbery at Local Synagogue

By Patricia Adams

The Rockwood Park Jewish Center was the scene of an armed robbery early Friday morning. Two gunmen took more than $7000 in cash from a card game in the basement of the synagogue.

According to police, the 106th Precinct responded to a call reporting a man with a gun at the center located on 84th Street in Howard Beach at about 3:35 a.m. Officers arriving at the scene were met by seven complainants who stated they were robbed at gunpoint by two black men, wearing masks, and brandishing black firearms.

One witness at the scene, identified only as Tony M., told police he was exiting through the rear door at the center after playing cards and was accosted by two perpetrators who came from behind him. Holding a gun to the man’s head, the bandits forced another patron to open the door, allowing them inside.

The men ordered all the card players onto the floor and proceeded to take approximately $7,000 in cash from the victims according to police. During the robbery, there was an alleged altercation between one of the gunmen and a victim who got one of the suspect’s knife and stabbed him with it before the two masked men fled the scene. The perpetrators drove away in an unknown direction in a black SUV with tinted windows--the license plate was not reported.

After fleeing, the men drove to Elmhurst Hospital where the injured suspect sought medical attention for his stab wounds. Hospital personnel recognized the seriousness of the situation and alerted police. An arrest was subsequently made.

President of the RPJC Bernard Fisch was contacted for comment about the incident and referred The Forum to the police. “I don’t know anything. I have nothing to say,” Fisch said before abruptly hanging up the phone.

Police are still investigating the crime and sources say the investigation may extend outside the precinct if the Public Morals division decides to investigate why there was a card game at the premises to begin with.

City Reverses Course and Removes Eliot Ave Meters

By Conor Greene

Members of the 75th Street Block Association were successful in their push to have the city remove seven parking meters recently installed along Eliot Avenue.

Without warning, the city Department of Transportation installed the meters on the north side of Eliot Avenue between Lutheran Avenue and 74th Street in Middle Village last November. The decision made the spots virtually useless to 75th Street residents, who used to park there when their dead-end block was full.

After residents appealed to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Community Board 5, DOT crews removed the meters late last week, according to block association members Frank Toomey, Mike White and Dmytro Fedkowskyj.

“We’re reasonable people, and when you drive by and see empty meters all the time, you wonder why they’re there,” said White, adding that he is not surprised the DOT agreed to remove them, considering they weren’t generating much revenue. “Nobody was parking there,” he added. “That’s seven additional spots, and it doesn’t sound like a lot, but seven spots is seven spots.”

The residents have now turned their attention to four meters on the south side of the avenue they say are also unnecessary. There are three additional meters near Phillies Pizza that White said make sense to have, but the four closer to Lutheran Avenue that aren’t in front of businesses should be removed in his view.

One result of the new meters, according to residents, was spillover of drivers searching for spots in front of homes on nearby residential blocks such as 74th Street. “Our densely populated neighborhood got back some free parking spots that mean a great deal to the neighborhood,” said Fedkowskyj, who thanked Crowley, Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano and the block association for their efforts. “More importantly, this action sends a message to city officials that we’re watching what you do within our community,” added Fedkowskyj.

“It was unreasonable to have parking meters in an area that is mostly residential,” said Crowley. “That is why I asked the [DOT] to review this area and they understood our po- sition and acted accordingly.”

A DOT spokeswoman said the meters were installed after a survey was conducted at the request of a local business. She confirmed that the meters on the south side of the avenue will remain, while, those on the north side were removed to restore general parking. The DOT refused to reveal to either Crowley or The Forum which business had submitted the request for meters.