Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Week's Forum South and West

Police Arrest Suspect in Livery Cab Shooting

The suspect in the shooting of a livery cab driver in South Ozone Park was arrested Tuesday in Buffalo and charged with second-degree attempted murder of a 53- year-old livery cab driver in December.

Shawn Peace, 22, of 161-18 118th Avenue in Jamaica, al- legedly shot Trevor Bell multiple times on the night of December 3 after Peace hailed Bell’s livery cab at 117- 02 Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica.

Bell drove Peace to 117-60 122nd Street in South Ozone Park where a struggle ensued between the two men in the front seat of the cab. Peace allegedly shot Bell in his neck and limbs before fleeing.

“This shooting of a hardworking livery cab driver who is married and the father of six children will be vigorously prosecuted,” said Queen District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement. “The victim in this case is the sole breadwinner for his family and was trying to earn some extra cash for the holidays when he was shot during the course of an alleged robbery.”

Police responded to a 911 call on the corner of 122nd Street and Sutter Avenue and found Bell slumped over in the driver’s seat of the cab with four gunshot wounds — one to the right hand, one to the neck, one to the left leg and one to the right leg.

Bell was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he remains hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his neck.

“It has been more than six weeks since the incident and the victim remains hospitalized,” Brown said. “Once again we are sadly reminded of the dangers faced by taxi and liv- ery drivers in the course of their work and the senseless gun violence that surrounds us.”

Peace was arrested by members of the New York City Police Department’s Queens Violent Felony Squad and local Buffalo police at an apartment at 507 Niagara Street in Buffalo. Published reports said the NYPD traced his cell phone to his location in Buffalo.

Bell’s son, Trevor Bell Jr., 25, was interviewed in the New York Times saying his dad will be happy knowing Peace is behind bars.

“He’s going to be happier about going home,” Trevor Bell Jr. said. “I want to thank the person who gave him up. Thank God they found him.”

Peace will be arraigned in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and second-degree possession of a weapon and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

According to the New York Times, Peace was charged on Wednesday with six counts of first-degree robbery from last year where he targeted fast food restaurants throughout Queens.

On July 15, Peace allegedly robbed a McDonald’s on Union Turnpike in Floral Park, on August 8 he allegedly robbed a Wendy’s on Northern Boulevard in Bayside, on August 19 he allegedly held up a Popeye’s in Rosedale where he shot a manager in the right hand before escaping.

Three months later, police say Peace committed a crime similar to the attack on Bell. On November 18 he entered the Omega Car Service office on 232nd Street in Cambria Heights requesting a ride. Once he arrived at his destination he pulled out a gun and took cash and a cellphone from the driver and stole the car.

The next day, on November 19, Peace robbed a Burger King in Woodhaven and two days later on November 21 he held up another McDonald’s, this one in Brookville near John F. Kennedy International Airport, police said.

Sex Offender at School Sparks Outrage, Prompts Legislative Solutions

By Eric Yun

A volunteer instructor at St. Mel’s in Flushing was let go after he allegedly made inappropriate contact with students through Facebook. The parents’ shock intensified when the man, Joseph Denice, was revealed as a registered sex offender.

According to the District Attorney’s office, Denice, 24, was arrested on December 2, 2009. In the original criminal complaint, Denice was charged with entering a boy’s home and tricking the 12-year-old to submit to a “body scan.”

Denice told the victim that the scans were mandatory, and if he refused, the scans would occur at family court where the examiners would likely be incompetent. The boy agreed to the scans, and Denice inappropriately groped the boy. He pleaded guilty on June 1, 2010 and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. He is registered as a level one sex offender.

According to Senator Tony Avella’s office, Denice worked with St. Mel’s before his arrest, and upon his release, he resumed his duties at the school. NY1 reported that on December 31, a parent contacted school officials about alleged messages through Facebook. He was released from the school on Monday, January 3.

The District Attorney’s office said they were alerted to Denice’s situation and will investigate the charges.

The Brooklyn Dioceses said Denice worked at three schools: St. Mel’s, St. Luke’s in Whitestone and St. Kevin’s in Flushing. They will alert parents whose children may have had contact with Denice within the next two weeks.

The news has spurred lawmakers into action. Avella (D-Bayside) has contacted St. Mel’s, the Brooklyn Dioceses and the Department of Education (DOE) about the incident. He wants to organize a public meeting to discuss what occurred and ways to prevent future incidents. Avella also asked Facebook to delete Denice’s account under New York State’s Electronic Security and Targeting Online Predators (e-STOP) act.

“Protecting our youth from dangerous predators should be paramount,” Avella said in a statement. “Our schools should be a haven where they can learn and grow under the trusted tutelage of their educators.”

Denice might never have worked at St. Mel’s if Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) had his way. In February 2010, he introduced a bill (A10010/S6998) that could have stopped Denice’s hire. The bill requires employers to ensure prospective employees who have “direct and unsupervised contact with children” are not registered sex offenders. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) sponsored the bill in the State Senate.

“This is a matter of common sense,” said Miller. “The situation in Flushing highlights the need to pass a comprehensive overhaul of how we deal with sex offenders. My bills in the Assembly seeking to prevent sex offenders from working with our children are my highest priority. I will do everything I can to get immediate action on these bills so we can begin protecting our children. My sympathy goes out to the child, his family, and the families of this school.”

The sex offender bill passed the Senate 61-0 in June, but the legislative session closed before a floor vote in the Assembly. Miller said party leaders have told him the bill is a priority for the current legislative session and feels confident it will pass when it is brought to the floor.

“The whole goal is to protect our children. I don’t see any obstacles and hurdles,” Miller said, noting the support he has received from both Democrats and Republicans.

There are 1,194 registered sex offenders in Queens, and Miller’s legislation would help strengthen New York’s regulations of convicted sex offenders. Under current law, anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense after January 1996 must register with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Sex offenders convicted in other states must also register if they move to New York. How long someone remains on the registry depends on the person’s classification and designation.

There are three classifications for sex offenders. Level 1 offenders pose a low risk for repeat offenses, level 2 offenders pose a moderate risk for repeat offenses and level 3 offenders pose a high risk for repeat offenses and a threat to public safety exists.

Designations are given to sex offenders based on the type of crime committed. Those convicted of violent sexual offenses are designated sexually violent offenders. Sexually violent offenders diagnosed with mental abnormalities or personality disorders that make it likely they will repeat sexual offenses are designated sexual predators. Predicate sex offenders are those convicted of a sex offense after having been previously convicted of a sex crime.

Anyone who receives a designation as a sexual predator, sexually violent offender or predicate sex offender must register as a sex offender for life. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are also registered for life. Level 1 offenders with no designation must register for 20 years.

The sex offender registry is available on the DCJS’s website. Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are listed, but by law, level 1 offenders are not publicly available. Miller sponsors another bill (A11008/S7992) that would allow local law enforcement access to level 1 offenders.

Giving police access to level 1 offenders allows them the opportunity to pick up and spot deviant behaviors from registered sex offenders, Miller said. Currently, police have no way to determine if a person is a level 1 offender and must investigate each suspect on a case by case basis.

Concerned residents have several ways to stay informed about sex offenders in their neighborhood. All level 2 and 3 sex offenders are searchable on DCJS’s website ( Users can search by name, address or zip code.

Also, DCJS has partnered with NY-ALERTS to establish a “sex offender relocation alert.” New Yorkers can sign up for NY-ALERTS at and select up to three zip codes or counties. NY-ALERTS will notify users whenever a registered sex offender moves in or out of those communities.

Construction Casualty Adds to Infamous Developer's Shoddy Record

By David J. Harvey and Eric Yun

A building collapsed Monday at a construction site in Elmhurst left one worker dead and three others injured.

Department of Building officials said a wall at 84-16 Queens Boulevard, approximately 18 feet high, was being reinforced with concrete when it collapsed, trapping four workers. FDNY and EMS responded to the scene.

The four injured workers were rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where one man went into cardiac arrest and died, FDNY officials said. The other three men were reported to be in stable condition.

“It was absolutely terrible,” witness Jim Demetrio said to CBS. “The workers were trapped and other workers were trying to get them out.”

The New York Daily News reported that the victim was 27-year-old Humberto Sanchez, a father of three.

“He was a good man,” said brother Cornelius Sanchez to the Daily News. “He was a hard-working man.”

The Department of Buildings said it is still investigating the accident, and a stop work order has been issued, with additional violations expected.

However, the property owner is no stranger to DOB fines.

The department’s records show the family of notorious developer Tommy Huang owns the property. Tommy Huang and his son Henry have been cited numerous times throughout the years for improper development.

After he built his first five-family home in Flushing in 1979, Huang began a whirlwind rise to lead development in the area. In 1986, he spent $3.4 million on the RKO Keith’s Theater, announced plans for a shopping mall, hotel and movie house, then spent the next four years on a slow demolition. In 1990, the city revoked his permits when the theater’s landmark staircase was razed. Then a fire started in the locked building—an arson that was never solved.

Former State Senator Leonard P. Stavisky, who passed away in 1999, was an Assembly- man when he first locked his sight on Huang. Stavisky recalled a story about Huang to the New York Times in 1997. It was 1982, and Huang had showed up at his house with an architect to dispute Stavisky’s opposition to one of Huang’s construction projects.

According to the Times article, a Molotov cocktail burned down a restaurant and several other shops at Huang’s proposed site that same year. After the fire, Huang raised his offer and the bank sold him the property. Stavisky demanded response to an ''arson for profit'' ring, but no one was ever charged.

Huang was later charged for allowing 10,000 gallons of heating oil to leak into the building. He pled guilty in 1997, was fined $500,000, sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to clean the spill.

The State Attorney General sued Huang in 1999 for irregularities at a Flushing housing complex and Huang was forbidden to sell condos and co-ops in New York.

In 2002, he sold the RKO for $12.1 million at a nearly 400 percent profit, and his building projects continued.

Eleven houses Huang built at 34th Ave. and Union St. in Flushing were approved by the DOB as three-family homes the same year he sold the RKO, but Huang built them so close together, the Fire Department was unable to gain access. The Board of Standards and Appeals pulled the certificates of occupancy in 2005, and eight buyers sued.

Huang has since faced charges that structural problems at an abandoned project on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst twice caused the evacuation of the adjacent Ladder Co. 136 firehouse in 2005 and 2006, and that his project manager at the site, Thomas Cottone, ignored a stop-work order and was in possession of a forged instrument for altering a building permit.

On Mazeau Street, Huang demolished a garage without a permit—he simply applied after the fact and his demolition application was approved. The DOB also issued permits to subdivide the lot, for a construction fence and for a new three-story building. Completely disregarding the zoning code, Huang nearly completed construction of a four-story building.

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined concerned residents in December 2006 to protest Huang’s development on Mazeau Street, calling on the DOB to stop issuing permits to Huang. Avella cited numerous violations and Huang’s 1997 felony conviction.

In 2008, a stop work order on the Mazeau Street site was temporarily lifted so Huang could remove the building’s fourth floor.

After the latest incident, Avella is renewing his fight against the Huangs. “Mr. Huang’s unsafe construction practices date back almost twenty years,” Avella said, “and his projects continue to receive numerous violations ... which often have resulted in destruction of adjoining properties and danger to public safety. Yesterday, a young father of three paid the ultimate price for his dangerous practices.”

Another Dead Pit Bull Found in Ozone Park

By Jason Barczy

Concerns are rising among Ozone Park resident that a dog fighting ring is operating in the neighborhood. Three dead pit bulls have been found dumped in a garbage bag on the streets in the past six months.

Around 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 9 the third deceased dog was found near Acacia Cemetery by the intersection of 84th Street and 107th Avenue. The dog was wrapped in a trash bag and mostly frozen. Another was dumped at Pitkin Avenue and 84th Street a few weeks ago.

The woman who found the dog, who only wants to be identified as Tina R., said this was the third time since August a dead dog has been found within a five-block radius of that area of Ozone Park.

“This is what they do after a dog is done fighting or has lost a fight or was unwilling to fight,” said Tina R. “I was just driv- ing home and there [the dog] was and I was so sick after that.”

She said the most recent dog did not appear to be a victim of a fight. There was no evidence of bite or scratch marks, but she did notice the dog appeared to be unhealthy and under- weight.
Phyllis Taiano, founder of Four Paws Sake, Inc, went to the scene where the dog was found to help out and try to inden- tify the dog using a microchip scanner.

After an unsuccessful attempt to identify the animal, Taiano said she called 911 and 311 and was rebuffed by both agencies. After one final call to an emergency clinic, Taiano took the dog to the Sanitation Department.

“This situation was an awakening for me to see what exactly one is up against here in NYC,” Ta- iano said. “Had (the dog) been mutilated, mauled, had missing limbs, a crushed head or multiple bite wounds I would have driven him to the ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] for investigation reasons.”

Taiano estimates the dog was between 3 to 5-years-old and could see patches of hair missing which she says might be from mange or alopecia, two skin diseases common in household pets that cause hair loss.

“I don’t know how in the world someone can toss their pet on the side of the road in a garbage bag,” Taiano said. “The bag was not even tied. What if a child had seen the dog in a street? People are getting away with this because they can and the system is failing.”

Taiano is offering a $500 reward for any information on dogs being dumped in the street and can be contacted at Concerned residents can also contact the ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement department at or (212) 876-7700, ext. 4450.

DA: Pimp Kidnapped, Raped Teen

A South Ozone Park man was recently indicted on charges of imprisoning, prostituting and raping a 15-year-old runaway.

According to the indictment, Michael Summerville, 32, befriended the then 14-year-old girl in January 2010. The two allegedly lived together in Brooklyn where they engaged in sexual activities. Eventually, Summerville began pimping the girl out, prosecutors said.

The girl ran away in October 2010, but she returned to the Brooklyn home to retrieve a cell phone and computer Summerville had taken, prosecutors said. Summerville then allegedly took the girl back to his South Ozone Park home where he continued to have sex with his victim. The girl is alleged to have begun prostituting daily and was forced to give all her earnings to Summerville.

Prosecutors also charged that Summerville gave the girl to another pimp in late October. The new pimp also had sex with her and forced her to engage in prostitution throughout Queens, prosecutors said.

The victim escaped and went to the police, which prompted the investigation.

Using information provided by the victim, undercover officers went to Summerville’s home on December 1. The officers were allegedly met by four females who offered to have sex for money. The police said they paid one girl $360 in pre-recorded buy money and was brought to a back room where they observed Summerville. Prosecutors said the $360 buy money was recovered from Summerville’s pants pockets.

“The defendant’s alleged behavior is despicable and he must be prosecuted for his actions to the fullest extent of the law,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Summerville was charged with kidnapping, sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, rape, criminal sexual acts and menacing and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years if convicted.

The state legislature strengthened penalties against human trafficking in June 2007. The law created the sex trafficking felony for those who profit from prostitution by engaging in sex trafficking. Convicted felons are required to register as sex offenders and provide social service assistance to the victims.

Council Blasts Mayor on Blizzard Response

By Jason Barczy

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration reversed course, admitting to and apologizing for a systematic failure of the city’s response to the blizzard two weeks ago.

The City Council held an oversight hearing on the city’s response on Monday, the first of seven, in which Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith called the city’s response unacceptable and said the city failed in declaring a snow emergency.

“We didn’t do the job you expected,” Goldsmith said. “We didn’t do the job that residents of New York City expected. There were a lot of mistakes made. We acknowledge those and we’re here to learn from those.”

Goldsmith, along with Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Joseph Bruno, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano gave testimony and answered questions from City Council members during the four-hour long hearing.

Goldsmith said neither he nor Bloomberg were consulted by the commissioners about calling a snow emergency that would have gotten cars off main roads and cleared snow routes for plows and emergency vehicles.

“There was a clear lack of communication between different city agencies and a clear lack of response to the state of emergency that we had on our hands,” said City Council member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Even though it was a holiday weekend and maybe the commissioners and deputy mayors may have been in a ‘holi-daze’, our city doesn’t sleep, it always moves and keeps moving.”

Several mistakes were admitted at the hearing: Half the city’s snowplows had no radios to call for help when they became stuck; the city never activated the Parks Department, which had workers and gear available to clear snow; no official reached out to owners of private tow trucks and other equipment to strengthen the city’s own fleet until after the storm was out of control; New Yorkers volunteering for temporary snow clearing jobs were discouraged because the city couldn’t pay them for six to 12 weeks; and officials waited too long to address scores of ambulances stuck in the snow.

City Council member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) asked Goldsmith how it was possible he was able to keep his job when Emergency Management Services Chief John Perrugia was demoted—the only one to be demoted, in fact.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn drilled into Bruno for not opening OEM headquarters until 4 p.m. on Dec. 26, an hour before the storm was set to hit the city.

Bruno responded that opening the offices earlier wouldn’t have made a significant difference but said, “The city’s response to the blizzard did not live up to the standards we set for ourselves and the standards the public expects and deserve.”

Queens saw between 16 and 20 inches of snowfall between December 26 and 27 and most streets weren’t plowed until Thursday, December 30. South Brooklyn and Staten Island were hit hardest, with some areas reporting up to 27 inches of snowfall.

Sanitation Department records show that by 4 a.m. Monday, December 27, all of Manhattan’s primary streets and 92 percent of its secondary streets were plowed. The same records show in western Queens all primary streets were plowed by 4 a.m. Tuesday, December 28, but just 47 percent of secondary streets were plowed.

“Our cleanup response was unacceptable,” Doherty said. “We recognize we did not perform up to the standard that met the publics (standards), which caused many hardships. We know the reputation as the best snow fighters has been called into question and we must work to prove we deserve this distinction.”

Allegations of a sanitation slowdown protesting lay-offs and budget cuts were not addressed. Quinn and Sanitation Committee Chairwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) did not permit the discussion because a criminal investigation is pending. However, that did not stop Crowley from bringing up the budget concerns.

“Did budgetary concerns impact the way the city responded to this storm?” she asked Goldsmith. Crowley said residents thought sanitation workers were left home because the city did not want to pay double time during the holiday weekend.

Goldsmith said budgetary concerns were not a factor in the city’s blizzard cleanup, and in prepared testimony presented a 15-point plan to the City Council for improving the city’s response that included changes to how the city declares a snow emergency.

The plan included having all sanitation trucks outfitted with GPS devices with buttons for instant communication and ambulances equipped with sled-gurneys so patients can be transported over snowy grounds.

A hearing in Queens is scheduled for 12 p.m. Friday, January 21 at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Red Light for New Parking Rates

By David Harvey

Queens residents were spared increased parking fees after the Mayor and City Council reached an agreement dropping raised meter rates from the Mayor’s proposed mid-year budget.

Parking meter rates throughout the five boroughs and above 86th Street in Manhattan would have risen from 75 cents to $1 per hour. The Department of Transportation (DOT) was scheduled to begin retiming meters in Queens last week. While those rate increases were stalled by the agreement, rates in lower Manhattan will still change to $3, from $2.50 per hour.

According to DOT spokesman Montgomery Dean, some meters were retimed in Manhattan but are in the area where higher rates will remain. He said he was unsure if any meters were retimed in Queens.

Opposition to new meter rates increased in mid-December, when Council Members Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) and James Vacca (D-Bronx) rallied against increased parking rates with business owners and residents on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. After the rally, Reyna and Vacca worked with Council colleagues and Speaker Christine Quinn, finally convincing the mayor to remove the rate hikes from the budget last week.

“The parking meter hike was a Band-Aid approach to the budget that would have emptied the pockets of consumers and merchants while the economy is still recovering,” Reyna said.

The rate increase, which the DOT estimated would add $2.4 million to city revenue, was cut from the budget as part of a package of revisions. While the city still faces a $585 million squeeze—including cuts to homeless services and library funding—nearly $35 million was restored, keeping fire stations open, some child services operating and the current parking rates intact.

“Outer-borough motorists can breathe a big sigh of relief,” Vacca said. “For once the budget will not be balanced on their backs.”

Victory may be short lived. The Mayor is expected to reintroduce the rate hikes in his preliminary fiscal year 2012 budget. Before the budget is released, Vacca and Reyna plan to introduce legislation that will prevent the city from raising meter rates more than 25 percent over any five-year period.

According to Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens), who serves on the transportation board with Vacca, increased parking fees have the potential to hurt small businesses and residents.

“While small increases in taxes and fees don’t seem like a big deal to some people at City Hall, they add up quickly for residents,” Ulrich said. “These types of fiscal gimmicks are short-sighted and do little to address the city’s budget woes in the long run.”

Theodore Renz of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District said the business community is concerned that raised rates, as well as more parking tickets, would drive customers away from the commercial district.

“It’s a good idea to have some bylaw that if something is going to be increased, they hear from the people it’s going to impact,” he said.

Vacca and Reyna are drafting the legislation, and plan to introduce it as early as February.

No Tolerance for Graffiti Vandals

By Eric Yun

Two prolific vandals, responsible for much of the graffiti around neighborhoods in the 104th Precinct, were arrested last week. Matthew Young, 23, and Thomas Rank, 19, both from Glendale, have defaced their neighborhoods for years, police said.

The 104th Precinct has prioritized catching vandals, and in 2010, ranked second in the city with 174 graffiti-related arrests and charges. Only the 122nd Precinct of Staten Island had more with 215 arrests and charges.

Officers aren’t slowing down in the new year; there have already been 74 charges brought for graffiti in the 104th Precinct, which includes Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.

Lt. James Lombardi said the precinct officers have taken a strong initiative against the criminals that vandalized its neighborhoods. Of the 174 arrests in 2010, officers from the 104th made 162. The NYPD Anti-Graffiti Task force made the other arrests.

Lombardi explained how the precinct has taken charge of the graffiti problem. “We build cases, find the people responsible and charge them with every tag we’ve documented,” he said. This allows the police to send stronger cases to the District Attorney’s office, which leads to higher fines and possible prison time.

“We want to make sure they do some time,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi praised the work of officers Alison Potokin and Justin Dambinskas, who have worked diligently to find and arrest the vandals. They said the best way to help them do their job is to call 911 for graffiti acts in process and 311 to report graffiti sightings.

But catching the criminals is only one aspect of solving the graffiti problem. Cleaning up graffiti is also important. In the 104th Precinct, there were 800 police sponsored clean up events. The precinct works with local community groups to clean their neighborhoods. “Everyone joins together to help clean up,” Lombardi said.

This year the precinct is working with civic groups including Maspeth Town Hall and the Juniper Park Civic Association as well as local schools like I.S. 93 to clean the streets. The officers also urge residents and business owners to be proactive cleaning graffiti. Graffiti vandals won’t waste time retagging areas if they know it will be wiped clean, officers said.

Potokin said graffiti is not a harmless or victimless crime. Many of the vandals are associated with gang-like “crews” and fall into other criminal mischief. For example, Young had been previously arrested for public lewdness in Forest Park, and Rank was once arrested for domestic violence. The vandalism by Young and Rank have also cost the city thousands of dollars in damages including graffiti tagged on a police van by Young.

Officers will not slow down in 2011. Potokin said they will continue to build cases against vandals. The precinct is also working with the DA to push for harsher sentences against graffiti vandals. One way the community can keep vandals in prison is to write and call the DA and ask for strict punishments.

Matthew Young is currently being held on $10,000 bail, and Thomas Rank is being held on $9,000 bail.

Former Assemblyman Seminerio Dies in Prison

Former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, 75, passed away Thursday morning at a federal prison hospital in North Carolina.

Seminerio, who was convicted of fraud in February 2010, was serving a six-year sentence on corruption charges. He operated an illegal consulting firm where he received $1 million from individuals and companies doing business with the state.

Seminerio’s attorneys had asked for a home confinement sentence, and in August, he asked to be released from jail while his appeal was heard. Both requests were denied.

The politician represented the state’s 38th Assembly District for 30 years. He resigned in 2009 and was replaced by Mike Miller following a special election.

Following Seminerio’s death, Miller (D-Woodhaven) said Seminerio represented his district with “passion and dedication.”

“We should remember all of the good things that he has done for the community. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife and children,” Miller said.

Mixed News on 2010 Crime Stats in 104th Precinct

By Eric Yun

The crime rate increased in 104th Precinct in 2010, but police said they’ve made major strides in keeping neighborhoods safe.

The precinct’s Commanding Officer, Inspector Keith Green, and Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell held the year’s first COP 104 meeting to update Middle Village residents on crime statistics and prevention. The meeting was held at St. Margaret’s Church on Monday in conjunction with the Middle Village Property Owners.

Green reported preliminary statistics show there were 1,749 major crimes in 2010 compared to 1,725 in 2009, a 1.4 percent increase. Felony assaults (a 23 percent increase) and grand larceny autos (a 20.9 percent increase) were the biggest culprits for the rise in crime, and a concentrated effort to curtail robberies and burglaries by the 104th Precinct led to decreases in the area, Green said.

Green said preventing car thefts is a priority for the precinct, and they’ve worked hard with detectives and Queens North have helped reduced numbers. Thieves have caught up to newer model key designs and found ways to clone keys. With these methods, thieves can walk up to a car and start it like they own it, which makes it difficult to catch, he said.

Green warned residents that many robberies occur when valuables are left inside a car. The simplest solution is to take everything of value out of the car. Green recommended GPS users not use suction cups to secure their devices because the suction cup can leave a visible mark on the window that alerts thieves a GPS may be in the vehicle.

Another priority for the 104th Precinct was graffiti—they ranked second in the city in graffiti related arrests—and Green was happy to report they are already ranked first in the city in 2011.

Strong Showing for St. Saviour's Project

By Eric Yun

Hope still remains for additional funding for a public park at St. Saviour’s in Maspeth.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has agreed to fund at least one community project along the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The DEC selected the City Parks Foundation to hold public hearings and a vote to determine which projects the community favors.

Almost 700 people expressed their preferences in a vote on December 1 and 2. Among the 22 projects considered was a public park at St. Saviour’s on Rust Street and 58th Street.

Maspeth residents came out in force to vote for the park. Funding the park at the former church site came in fourth, behind improving the Dutch Kills Basin Acquisition in Brooklyn, wetlands rehabilitation that surround Newtown Creek and creating a Greenpoint Boathouse and Environmental Education Center.

The City Parks Foundation said the DEC has the final say as to which projects will get funding, and the department will not automatically pick the top vote getter. While the St. Saviour’s project was not number one, money could still be allocated to build a park.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Borough President Helen Marshall have been strong supporters of building a park at the site, and together have allocated $2 million for the project.

“The high turnout from Maspeth … proves how desperate this community is for more green space,” said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. “I am confident that the DEC will take into consideration the fact that our section of Newtown Creek is inaccessible for a number of reasons and will allocate a portion of the settlement money toward the St. Saviour’s project. But no matter what they decide, we remain motivated and will continue to work toward creation of a park at the site until it finally happens.”

City Slow to Plug Leak

By Eric Yun

Water continues to leak onto the street with a garbage pail situated over it, and business owners are frustrated that the water main break has been left unfixed for over a week.

The water main broke on Grand Avenue near Remsen Place on Thursday when work was being performed on a main on Perry Avenue.

Lou Bekios whose store Grand Florists is next to the leak said he was informed on Wednesday that the water would be shut off for construction work. The independent contractors were unable to shut off the water, and in the process, broke the water valve, Bekios said.

“By Monday morning I figured the work would be done,” he said. “I have tons of gallons falling on my curb. It’s a major inconvenience.”

Bekios has been calling 311 since Friday, but he has yet to get a solid response.

According to a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, water mains around Grand Avenue are being repaired as part of a capital project. They are aware of the leaking valve, and it is scheduled to be fixed by the end of the week or early next week.

“This is a disaster,” said community activist Tony Nunziato. “Queens is forgotten again.”