Thursday, March 4, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Church Break-in Shocks Parish Community

Chalice Stolen, Offering Box Looted

By Patricia Adams

The discovery of a break-in at St. Helen’s Church sometime between last Thursday afternoon and Friday morning has sent shock waves through the parish community and left one priest missing a valued treasure he’d hoped would be with him forever.

Father Rob Keighron says that despite the fact that a priest should always be filled with hope, he has serious doubt that the person who stole his one-of-a-kind chalice from a locked cabinet in the church’s sacristy will ever return the vessel. “It’s so disheartening and sad,” said Fr. Keighron, “and I just don’t have confidence that it will be returned to me.”

The chalice, a custom crafted art work, was made for Keighron by the Adrian Hamers Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of church items for over 120 years. The chalice was a gift to the priest from his parents and siblings on the day of his ordination to the priesthood nearly four years ago.

“The chalice is a symbol of my religious life,” Keighron said. “In addition it came from my parents, my family-- and was given to me on the most special day of my life. It was something I knew I would have with me always to keep them close to me. Now it’s gone”

The chalice was created with representations depicting the symbolism of his vocation and has a large black onyx orb at the junction between the stem and the cup. “I chose the symbols on the chalice to signify the path of my calling as a priest and my religious life. Everything in the design represents my vocation and my love for the church.”

Detectives from the 106 are vigorously investigating the crime, pouring over surveillance videos from cameras around the
church and the school across the street. Inside sources say Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has instructed those handling the case that it is to be treated with the absolute highest priority.

Dozens of churchgoers lined up to offer their sympathy and support for the young parish priest after mass on Sunday. “I really am sickened by this,” said Justice August Agate, a lifetime St. Helen’s parishioner. “I am only hoping for everyone’s sake that whoever did this will realize the gravity of their crime and return this blessed chalice to Fr. Rob.” Others just shook their heads as they tried to comfort the man who at most times is comforting them.

On Friday morning, shortly after 6 am, Monsignor Alfred LoPinto went to open the church and found the premises had been vandalized. He called police and Fr. Rob at once to inform him that his chalice was missing.

Police believe the thief entered the church through the front door at some time during the snow storm on Thursday, toward the later part of the afternoon, possibly toward the evening. The door was broken into and in- side the church the offering box to the poor was ripped out of its slot on the wall. The door to the sacristy was forced open and the cabinets used to store valuables werebroken open.

“At first I didn’t really process it,” said Fr. Keighron. “I never leave the chalice in the sacristy. I only use it on Sundays and I keep it locked up in the rectory.” This was the first time, according to Fr. Keighron, that it was ever left in the sacristy.

One point that police and parishioners hope will get out to the thief is that the real value of the chalice is not in the precious metals used in its construction. “The real value is in the fact that this is a usable work of art and in the craftsmanship,” said Fr. Keighron. But the fact that the chalice has an estimated appraised value of more than $10,000 makes hopes a little dimmer that it will be returned.

According to Howard Beach jeweler Denis Croce who owns Marlowe Jewelers, the thief has in their possession something of great value to its owner but of little worth in the open market. “I am sure that whoever stole this chalice will come to realize very quickly that it’s not an item that you can just unload at a pawn shop or have melted down.” Croce explained that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to sell the item and that even if an unscrupulous dealer were located, the amount of money they would offer is nowhere near the estimated value of the chalice.

Now as Fr. Rob and his parishioners sit and wait in the hope that his chalice will be returned, plans are being made through insurance to replace the vessel. “The insurance company will pay for me to have a replacement, identical to that of the chalice that was stolen.” But he says it’s hardly the same.

“I will get something that looks exactly alike but it will not be the chalice I used to celebrate on the most important day of my life. It will not have come from my family and it will not be the chalice that I have used at every Sunday mass I have celebrated since becoming a priest. So no, it will not be the same. It will never be the same.”

The police are asking anyone with information to please call Crimestoppers at 1-800- 577-TIPS.

Precinct Battles Burglary Spike

By Conor Greene

Residential burglaries are up throughout the precinct, including a huge spike over the past month - in part due to an apparent pattern in Maspeth.

The 104th Precinct has seen a 40 percent rise in home break-ins during the past 28-day period and an increase from 71 to 77 for the year to date, Captain Ray DeWitt reported at Monday’s COMET civic meeting.

There was good news in other major crimes last month, including decreases in robberies, assaults, grand larceny and auto thefts, according to DeWitt. However, burglaries con- tinue to be a problem through the precinct’s confines, and a pattern has been established by the NYPD in northern Maspeth.

“It’s throughout the precinct, all over and not confined to one neighborhood,” said Officer Tommy Bell of the precinct’s Community Affairs Unit. “But there is a pattern in the Maspeth area. They’re all so close to 73rd Street. We believe one person may be responsible for all those.”

There was one burglary between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on February 23 near 53rd Avenue and 73rd Street, when a number of items were taken, including jewelry and bags. The same afternoon, there was an unsuccessful attempt on the same block when a homeowner found a Hispanic man trying to pry his way into her home through a rear window.

There was also an assault during attempted burglary at 57th Road and 71st Street on the afternoon of February 20. The resident was home at the time and was punched in the face by the would-be thief. Civic member Mike Harte noted that it took police over an hour to respond to that incident, even though it was a crime in progress and the perp fled.

Officer Bell said the call was dispatched to the precinct as a past incident, meaning it wasn’t prioritized correctly. “The [investigation] process started when the officers got there, but obviously they should have gotten there sooner,” he said.

Many of the burglaries have taken place during daytime hours when the homeowner is at work, cautioned police. Other recent Maspeth incidents include:

February 23, a perp broke into a house near 67th Street and 51st Road after breaking a rear window.

Tools and copper were stolen from a construction site near 69th Place and 52nd Street during the daytime on February 19.

There has also been a recent string of break- ins in West Maspeth between Maurice and Grand Avenues:

A house near 59th Avenue and 57th Road was entered through a rear window between February 19 and 23rd, with unknown items taken.

No items were reported stolen after a perp entered a residence near 56th Drive and 61st Street between 5 p.m. and 8:30 a.m.
on February 20-21.

And on February 20 at about 7:20 p.m., a tenant heard glass breaking from an adjacent vacant apartment near 58th Street and 57th Place in West Maspeth. The tenant heard glass breaking and saw two men jump from a front window.

While the precinct’s northern area has been hit especially hard lately, police say other areas of Ridgewood, Middle Village and Glendale haven’t been spared. The 104’s burglary stats took a huge hit last week, with nine on Monday and Tuesday alone, said Captain DeWitt. Of those, five were in Maspeth. There have been 19 burglaries overall in the past two weeks.

Areas hit in other neighborhoods include a break-in along the 500 block of Seneca Avenue, where a front door was pried open; a daytime burglary on 84th Place near 64th Road; and a burglary on Harman Street near Woodward Avenue while the resident was out for the evening.

South Ozone Park Man Flees from FBI

Sought in $7 Million Mortgage Fraud

By Patricia Adams

The FBI is hunting for a South Ozone Park man they believe is the mastermind of a $7 million mortgage fraud scheme. Ishwandat (Danny) Raghunath, a 46-year-old Guyanese national, fled before agents were able to arrest him at his home last week.

On February 22, agents converged on Raghunath’s residence off Conduit Boulevard in South Ozone Park, but authorities said the suspect had already gone on the lam. He allegedly recruited straw buyers, people who consent to have their names and personal details used by others to obtain mortgages with no intent of ever occupying the homes. These individuals are sometimes offered several thousand dollars for the favor and asked to sign forged documents.

“Buyers” with good credit ratings were allegedly selected to purchase homes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The indictment goes on to say that the buyers were offered $5,000 for the use of their names along with a promise of investment opportunities without having to make any payments.

After submitting falsified mortgage applications to banks and inflating sale prices of the properties involved, Raghunath took the money from the loans and put it in bank accounts under his control. Mortgage payments were made on the properties for a few months and then cut off, forcing lenders to institute foreclosure action against the buyers.

Co-conspirators Phyllis Seemongal, 49, of Queens, and 40-year-old Halal Ahmed of the Bronx were arraigned and charged with bank and wire fraud.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the FBI at (212) 384-5000.

PAINTING HER TOWN: Renowned Artist Madeline Lovallo Shows Locally

By Patricia Adams

The work of Howard Beach resident and renowned artist Madeline Lovallo is currently being shown at the Ozone Park district office of Council Member Eric A. Ulrich. Inspired by local scenery, Lovallo’s work includes a selection of oils on canvas ranging from the Carousel at Forest Park, shoreline images of Jamaica Bay and views from the sidewalks of Jamaica Avenue. The artist has completed works capturing Woodhaven Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach and Broad Channel.

For the last thirty years, Lovallo has been delighting art enthusiasts with her work in oil on canvas and watercolors. Her formal training began in 1973 when she attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School, as well as The Forest Park School of Art and The Drawing Room in Manhattan.

In 1983, Lovallo relocated with her family to Paris for her husband’s job. Upon her arrival in Europe she was taken by the classical beauty of France, especially captivated with the charm of the winding streets. She wanted to become a part of the Parisian art world and began studies at the American Academy of Paris and Lancaster’s Studio. When she returned home several years later, Lovallo became a member at The Art Students League in Manhattan and the Alliance of Queens Artists.

She has continued with her work and has taken her love of painting to the level of instruction. Lovallo has offered workshops for children with the cooperation of the New York Public Library system and continues to teach drawing to students at her Howard Beach home.

Madeline Lovallo has been showing her work in single shows and group exhibitions since 1985 in the United States and in France. She has been commissioned by numerous museums, galleries and individuals for works in the mediums of oil, watercolor and pastels. Lovallo has been the recipient of many awards and honors, having been recognized for her achievements with various proclamations and citations. In 2005 she was presented with a Certificate of Recognition by Mayor Bloomberg.

Locally, the artist’s works have been purchased by the New York City Parks Department and collectors throughout the city and the tri-state area. Councilman Ulrich says the unusual offer to use his district of- fice as a venue for Lovallo’s one-woman show came so that his constituents would be able to enjoy her work. “Madeline is a truly distinctive and talented artist—an absolute jewel of Queens.”

Madeline Lovallo is very clear when describing the inspiration for her ability to capture the beauty of her local surround- ings. “I am very blessed to live in a beautiful area surrounded by inspiration from the waterways, parks and neighborhoods of south Queens.” And whether she is depicting shoreline scenes from Hamilton Beach or Broad Channel or portraying familiar retail establishments of yesteryear, Lovallo’s passion and sentiment about her surrounding communities is evident.

Ms. Lovallo is affiliated with the Salmagundi Club in Manhattan and her work can be seen online at Council Member Ulrich’s district office is located at 93-06 101st Avenue in Ozone Park and is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.