Tag Archive | "police"

School and Village at Odds Over Who is Responsible for Traffic Safety at Pierson

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Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening.

Concerned community members watched Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols present possible solutions Tuesday evening. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Some 20 concerned parents and traffic calming proponents joined village officials and Police Chief Tom Fabiano in a traffic safety workshop hosted by the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday night.

The school board asked village officials and community members to join it in a discussion “to collaboratively address traffic safety and congestion in and around the school parking lots and campus,” according to a release sent by district clerk Mary Adamczyk.

But once the meeting began, school officials said the discussion would focus solely on how to best alleviate the safety concerns surrounding pick-up and drop-off at Pierson Middle/High School, which parents and board members alike said was dangerous.

Officials from the school and the village, as well as several community members who attended, proposed many ideas, both as quick fixes and long-term solutions, but not one measure was implemented or even agreed on by the end of the two-hour meeting.

Calling the situation “a bit of a mess,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said the problem occurs between about 7:12 and 7:28 a.m. and again at the end of the day, from roughly 2:25 to 2:40 p.m.

Mr. Nichols proposed a few ways he thinks the village could aid the school district in addressing the problem. The first would be to make Division Street a one-way northbound street for 15 or 20 minutes in the morning and again for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon to reduce the flow of traffic. The second would be for the village to provide “some sort of crossing guard” to help direct traffic during those times.

“My understanding is that’s problematic for budget reasons,” Mr. Nichols said. “So, I don’t want to put anybody on the spot with regard to that. I do think that when you go to most schools, there is a crossing guard at the facility.”

There is a village-appointed crossing guard at the Sag Harbor Elementary School during pick-up and drop-off times.

“When we work with the village and we work with the community,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent, “there’s a synergy and there are more powerful possibilities. We very much want to hear from the village. Have you heard of some of these issues?”

“Since our last meeting we had a few weeks ago,” replied Chief Tom Fabiano, “I believe we discussed the possibility of making Division Street one-way. I thought I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn’t see that as an option.”

The village has an unofficial ban on creating any more one-way streets, Trustee Ed Deyermond said, adding that recent attempts, such as on Elizabeth Street and Clinton Street, are “not working.”

“What you’re asking for is for the village to cede liability to the school for that street,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

The crossing guard option seemed more feasible.

School board member Sandi Kruel said as a school district, the fact there is not a school crossing guard on the property when kids are in school “to me is unacceptable.”

“If we can figure out in our budget to rearrange, then I think that’s the least you guys could do to look at your budget,” she said to Chief Fabiano.

Chief Fabiano said he has been discussing the possibility with elementary school crossing guard Kathy Carlozzi of having her aiding Pierson occasionally. Ms.  Carlozzi also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“You can’t just put one person out there,” Chief Fabiano said, “you can’t put Kathy out there. You need a couple people out there to monitor this.”

The chief said he has asked “time and time again” for the school district to have extra personnel to monitor drop-off and pick-up, “but does it happen? No.”

School security guard John Ali is currently the only person officially manning drop-off and pick-up, although Mr. Nichols said he steps in during  warmer weather and Chief Fabiano said he helps out when he can.

“Would a crossing guard help there? Possibly. I would have to discuss it with the board next September,” Chief Fabiano said.

Mr. Deyermond said crossing guards “in this particular fiscal budget year are problematic. I don’t see us adding any crossing guards.”

The village officials in attendance agreed that while there are things the village could do, the school should also enact measures to alleviate the congestion.

“I’ve been saying this for the past 14 years that I’ve been chief. Why can’t we have a drop-off for cars on one side and the buses on the other side?” Chief Fabiano asked, referring to the parking lots at Jermain Avenue and Division Street.

“We also brought up the idea of the buses and here’s where the parents have to step in,” he added. “We’re looking at buses and they’re 75 percent empty, according to your numbers. To me, that’s a big issue. We’re spending a lot of money on buses and no one’s riding them. everyone’s dropping kids off at school.”

“This is a generic problem in a lot of schools,” Trustee Robby Stein said of the congestion, adding, “You have to get more kids on the school buses.”

On Wednesday, school business administrator John O’Keefe said, “Bus utilization varies depending on the time of year, weather, etc., but typically runs 30 to 45 percent for the five primary routes.”

Mr. Deyermond said if the entrances at the Montauk Avenue parking lot behind the school and the Jermain Avenue parking lot on its northern side were open longer for students to use and the school publicized that those entrances should be used, some of the traffic could be redirected from Division Street. Several members of the audience nodded in agreement.

“I would like to see what the school is going to do and what Larry [Salvesen, district architect] can do with the possibility of shifting all this congestion from one spot,” Chief Fabiano said. “To say, hey we designed the school and we don’t have place for drop-off…I don’t think it’s too fair to the village to say, ‘You just make it a one-way.’ That’s not the answer.”

“It is our responsibility, yes, but it’s also the responsibility of the school to start doing something,” he said.

“With a little bit of luck, we can get that crossing guard out there relatively soon, I think,” said Dr. Bonuso. “And when I say soon, I don’t mean next week or necessarily next month.”

The school board agreed to discuss the issue further to see whether there were immediate steps that could be taken. It will discuss the plans for the new parking lots at Pierson at its next regular meeting on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson library.

Dix Hills Man Indicted on Fraud Charges; Feds Allege Scheme to Buy Shinnecock Cigarettes

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By Tessa Raebeck

A Dix Hills man was arraigned in federal court Tuesday following charges that he solicited over $5 million from friends and neighbors in what federal officials are referring to as a Ponzi scheme that took place over eight years.

Robert Rocco, 48, was charged with 14 federal counts of wire and mail fraud, after allegedly promising investors returns of as much as 18 percent annually on fabricated investments, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Prosecutors said victims believed their investments – ranging from $25,000 to $1.2 million – were being used by Rocco to fund loans to a tobacco shop on the Shinnecock Native American Reservation to finance wholesale cigarette purchases, among other ventures.

Since 2006, Rocco purported to provide said financing through his corporation, Limestone Capital Services (Limestone) in Melville, in which over two dozen individuals invested, according to prosecutors.

As president of the Dix Hills Soccer Club, Rocco allegedly used his position to solicit donations and investments from members, donors and volunteers of the club. The indictment states he controlled the club’s bank accounts and did not permit others to access the records.

In early 2010, Rocco allegedly took some $66,915 from the Dix Hills Soccer Club and deposited the checks into a Limestone bank account, subsequently distributing the funds to his investors as their purported returns.

According to the indictment, Rocco then told one victim, who is a volunteer and member of the soccer club, that the club had no funds left, prompting the victim to make two donations of $20,000 and $25,000, respectively.

In the summer of 2010, Rocco allegedly solicited donations from the victim and his family for a new company, Advent Merchant Services, LLC, (AMS) which he said was a credit card processing company. The indictment states the money Rocco received from the victim for AMS was not invested, but instead used to pay purported returns to Limestone investors.

Prosecutors said Rocco again solicited the victim for donations to a third company, Advent Equity Partners, LLC, (AEP) and provided him with fraudulent notarized sale contracts and bank statements. In addition to the $45,000 in donations meant for the Dix Hills Soccer Club, the victim and his family paid Rocco over $1.3 million for supposed investments in AMS and AEP, said the indictment. Rocco allegedly used the victim’s own funds to pay the family’s returns.

According to the indictment, Rocco recruited a second victim – who also invested his money as well as his family’s money – to help him solicit investments from a wider network of friends, family and colleagues. Prosecutors said Rocco promised investors annual rates of return of 15 to 18 percent and raised over $5 million in investments in Limestone alone between 2006 and 2013.

Using funds received from later investors, Rocco allegedly paid initial investors about 10 checks of a few hundred dollars per year between 2009 and 2013, with lesser returns than promised.

Around February 2009, Rocco told Limestone investors that some $5 million in uninsured cigarette inventory financed by the company was stolen from the Shinnecock Reservation by “a rival Indian tribe,” according to the indictment. No police report was filed.

In the late summer of 2013, after allegedly missing payments to investors, Rocco reportedly confessed to the second victim – who had helped him solicit investments – that everything he had told him about Limestone was a lie.

Rocco is charged with five counts of wire fraud and nine counts of mail fraud, all federal. He reportedly pled not guilty to all charges.

If convicted, Rocco faces substantial jail time – as much as 30 years per charge – and must forfeit all funds and property obtained directly or indirectly as a result of his alleged offenses, including his home in Dix Hills.

East Hampton Man Charged in Federal Child Pornography Case

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By Tessa Raebeck

Michael S. Bonnet of East Hampton was arrested last Wednesday afternoon on charges that he transported child pornography, according to federal officials.

A registered sex offender, Bonnet, 28, is being held without bail in federal court in Central Islip, after being arraigned around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30 said Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Bode. He is being charged with one complaint of transporting child pornography for interstate commerce, or distribution, according to Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Under the alias “Bob Jones,” the defendant knowingly sent numerous images depicting child pornography to an undercover FBI agent in February 2013, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court on Tuesday. Public defender Randi Chavis, who is representing Bonnet in the case, declined to comment.

Bonnet, of Cosdrew Lane in East Hampton, is currently on probation with the Suffolk County Office of Probation after being convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl in 2008, states the complaint. While Bode did not have the exact location of the 2008 incident, he said it did occur in New York State.

According to the complaint, the defendant responded to an advertisement seeking to “trade” images of child pornography which was posted by an undercover FBI officer on a “Human Sexuality forum” website. Using an email address that includes the first initial of his first name and his full last name, Bonnet responded to the undercover advertisement on February 24, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that Bonnet, using the name “Bob Jones,” and the undercover agent exchanged several emails that day. In one email, according to the complaint, Bonnet wrote to the undercover agent, “Just hoping your [sic] not a cop or anything don’t need trouble.” On February 24, “Bob Jones” sent the undercover agent a pornographic image of a prepubescent female, the complaint states.

The advertisement posted by the undercover FBI agent said, “send to receive,” according to the complaint. In response to the pornographic image allegedly sent by Bonnet, the undercover agent sent a corrupted video to “Bob Jones” with a title alluding that the file contained child pornography, states the complaint. Using an online program that is available to the general public, the FBI identified the IP address, a unique number that identifies a computer or device using the Internet, being used by “Bob Jones” when the file was opened by the recipient, said the complaint.

The complaint states the agent then determined that the IP address was associated with a cellular phone. During the conversation between “Bob Jones” and the undercover agent, the defendant allegedly said he used a cellular phone so the IP address could not be linked to a particular device, the complaint states. “Bob Jones” sent the undercover agent two more pornographic images of underage females, states the complaint.

According to the complaint, the undercover agent located additional postings under the name “great times” by a user using the same email address on a different forum, each time with the location of East Hampton, New York. Using the letters in the defendant’s alleged email address, the undercover agent then searched for subjects with the last name “Bonnet” and the first initial “M” in East Hampton, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that the search provided the undercover agent with one name, Michael S. Bonnet of Cosdrew Lane, East Hampton. An additional search revealed that the defendant was a registered sex offender located at the same address, according to the complaint.

On or about October 24, the defendant was interviewed at his probation office after being advised of and waiving his Miranda rights, the complaint states. According to the complaint, the defendant stated that he had sent the images of child pornography to the undercover agent in February 2013, that he traded and received child pornography with others via the same website and that he had approximately 100 pornographic images of children on his cellphone.

According to the complaint, after searching the content of Bonnet’s cellphone, authorities found “numerous images of apparent child pornography depicting victims ages five to 11 years old.”

Because of his prior conviction, Bonnet faces a minimum of 15 years in convicted.

Village Cops Embrace Youth Court

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This past January, four Sag Harbor youths were arrested and charged with making graffiti in the village.

But instead of attending Family Court and going through a routine probationary process, they went to Youth Court, where their cases will be heard not only by a jury of their peers, but by a bench of legal council and even a judge who’s still a teen.

Sag Harbor Village Detective Jeff Proctor said he wasn’t aware Youth Court was an option until an attorney for one of the youths involved in the graffiti incident recommended it.

“This is actually good for us,” he said.  “For many years, there have been crimes committed by 13-, 14- and 15-years olds that aren’t severe enough for Family Court [because they are only violations], but they shouldn’t go unnoticed.  This gives kids some type of consequence for their actions.”

According to Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, this is the first time that a case that’s originated in the village has gone to Youth Court.

He said the police department has tried to make use of the youth court in the past, but the partnership has not always panned out. For one thing, all misdemeanors are first sent to Family Court before they are considered for Youth Court.  And as for violations, for which the department itself can send a child to Youth Court, parental consent is required.

“That’s the part I’ve ben trying to work with the police department on,” said Karen Hurst of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau who runs the Youth Court. She said arrests are quite tricky when it comes to children under the age of 16. In fact, minors cannot technically be charged with violations.

“But, if we get the parents’ consent, then [the kids] can come through the Youth Court,” she continued. “For example, if they have marijuana”—possession of marijuana is a violation—“an officer can say: We have this program available. That way, the kids are still being held accountable.”

Previously, Fabiano said juveniles arrested in Sag Harbor, ended up being sent to probation through Family Court Intake in Riverhead.  But, the department is making more of a concerted effort to utilize the teen court system.

“I hear a lot of good things about your court, because kids are judging other kids,” Fabiano said. “And they’re learning how the judicial system works.”

The Youth Court combines a range of participants stretching from Westhampton

“Youth Court is not mock trial,” Hurst explained. “The kids are looking at actual court cases.”

The way it works is there are kids who are involved in learning how the court system functions, and then there are youths who have committed a crime—either a violation or a minor misdemeanor (like making graffiti)—whose cases can be brought to Youth Court.

The kids who are participating in the Youth Court educational program take a 12-week training course with attorney Kevin Gilvary, through which they learn about the judicial system by reviewing actual court cases, and ultimately participating in Youth Court trials. Three students each will play the roles of prosecution and defense attorneys, and one student will even act as the judge presiding over the court proceedings.

To prepare for trial, Hust said the kids study different cases, practice their own depositions and even learn how to present opening and closing arguments. They even study different ways of administering consequences for certain actions.

“They have a lot of freedom with it,” she explained. Previous “sentences” have involved volunteer work, writing and art projects that benefit the community.

“They take it very, very seriously because they know it’s one of their peers sitting there,” Hurst commented.  “These are real cases, we’re working with real kids’ lives,” she continued. “I stress that to the kids all the time: If you were the one sitting in the respondents’ chair, how would you want your attorney to be acting?”

Patrolling the Expressway

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By Karl Grossman

When you see a Suffolk County deputy sheriff’s vehicle doing traffic duty on the Long Island Expressway or Sunrise Highway, a lot is involved.

The story begins with County Executive Steve Levy asking last year for New York State to provide its troopers to patrol the LIE and Sunrise or reimburse the county the $12 million it spends each year doing it. He pointed out that state troopers patrol two of the other major state highways in Suffolk—Southern and Northern State Parkways—and, also, that the state reimburses some upstate counties for patrolling state roads.

But the state, facing serious financial problems, balked.

Then Mr. Levy decided to pull members of the Highway Patrol of the Suffolk County Police Department from LIE and Sunrise duty—because of their high salaries—and to transfer the task to the lesser-paid deputy sheriffs. 

By doing this, Mr. Levy challenged the powerful union that represents the Highway Patrol officers and struck a raw fiscal nerve that he and some others in Suffolk government have been concerned about for years: the arbitration process that has caused Suffolk Police Department officers to be among the highest paid in the nation.

It’s been a see-saw between the pay of neighboring Nassau Police Department officers and those of the Suffolk County department—with the unions representing each department’s officers pointing to the other department and seeking and getting more.

The police officers of New York City, says Mr. Levy, “under fire every day and not making enough money” should be the baseline. Instead, the pay of Nassau and Suffolk cops “leapfrog against each other” and the police pay “pendulum has swung so far on Long Island.” Of course, the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and other Suffolk police unions argue that being a police officer is an arduous job and that serious injury and death are constantly faced here, too, and Suffolk cops deserve what they get.

For a Suffolk Police Department officer now, the starting pay is $58,000 and, according to Mr. Levy, after five years “the base is almost $100,000 not including benefits or overtime.” The average salary and benefits of a Suffolk cop is $160,000 annually. Meanwhile, deputy sheriffs, he says, cost “$42,000 less per officer.”

Another wrinkle: Highway Patrol officers are paid through the western Suffolk police district. Although it’s called the Suffolk County Police Department, its uniformed members only cover western Suffolk.

These uniformed officers—including those on the Highway Patrol—do not cover the East End nor a number of western Suffolk villages where a majority of citizens voted, along with those on the East End, not to disband their local police forces and join in the county police department when it was formed in 1960.

Police district taxes are very high. In Brookhaven Town for this year, for example, the average homeowner is paying $900 in police district taxes. But deputy sheriffs are paid through the countywide general fund. So by having deputy sheriffs patrol the LIE and Sunrise, this cost has been broadened from just western Suffolk property owners to all county property owners.

An obvious question: what were all those deputy sheriffs who now patrol the LIE and Sunrise heretofore doing? Mr. Levy responds that “the sheriff had just gotten a new class through” and thus additional deputies were available for the highway work. Moreover, he says, “the sheriff has much more flexibility” than the Suffolk Police commissioner who, because of “contractual” limits, can’t switch the assignments of many officers. “The sheriff has the luxury of switching his officers more easily.”

The 55 Highway Patrol officers replaced by deputies have been sent to regular patrol duties in the Suffolk Police district.

Meanwhile, a man in the middle of all this is Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer who is under assault by Suffolk police unions for facilitating the switch Mr. Levy ordered. Mr. Dormer, who worked his way up the ranks in the Suffolk Police Department, starting as a patrolman in 1963, has been ousted from his status as a retired union member—threatening his union-arranged life insurance and dental and vision benefits.

So when you see one of those black-and-white sheriff’s cars on the LIE or Sunrise, consider this—and then get your eyes back on the road because the deputies give tickets, too.

Police Investigate Death of Elderly Woman

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Suffolk County Homicide Detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of an elderly Terry Drive, Sag Harbor woman who was found dead in her house on Friday afternoon, December 5. Reports indicate she could have been dead in the house for several months, but police say there is no evidence of criminal activity.

The woman, Carmen Evans, 92, was a familiar site in Sag Harbor, pushing a wire cart up Route 114 into the village and back, occasionally offering an obscene salute to passing motorists.

It is unclear how long she had been deceased before her body was found, but neighbors say they hadn’t seen the woman out of her house in months.

“I thought she’d live forever, she got so much exercise walking into town,” said Terry Sullivan, a neighbor in the Azurest community.

“I saw her frequently, but hadn’t seen her in about two years,” said Sullivan, who noted Evans would occasionally make odd signs at him and his wife when they passed walking. “It was like voodoo.”

“I hadn’t seen her since last summer,” said Terry Drive neighbor Mercedes Broderick. It wasn’t long after that others in the neighborhood noticed Ms. Evans’ absence, she said.

After neighbors had expressed concern, Sag Harbor Village Police forced their way in to the house about 3:15 in the afternoon Friday, said Suffolk County Homicide Lt. Det. Jack Fitzpatrick.

On Saturday, yellow police tape remained winding through the woods adjacent to the house, and on the front door was posted a notice from the Village of Sag Harbor warning that the premises were not suitable for human habitation. Lt. Fitzpatrick described the house as being “poorly maintained.”

In addition to her lifeless body, which was found in the bathroom “in an advanced state of decomposition”, the police also discovered the remains of a small fire, which had extinguished itself.

The fire did not appear to be set, and could have been electrical, said Fitzpatrick, but said he would not know until a report from the county’s arson squad was complete.

Likewise, the cause of death could not be determined until a report from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

Ms. Evans had lived in the neighborhood for about seven years, according to neighbors.

“There was some speculation that her daughter had taken her to live with her,” said Broderick. “Apparently not.”

The investigation is ongoing.

 Above, the house on Terry Drive where police discovered the body of Carmen Evans.

Town Explores $4.2 Million Deficit

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By Melissa Lynch

Last week, the Southampton Town Board faced a frustrated group of town police officers, concerned over a proposal that would cut officers who had served for 20 years or longer. While the proposal was tabled, this week Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst explained independent auditors have been hired to examine a $4.5 million police department deficit.

Southampton Town hired FTI Consulting to complete a forensic audit in July.

“FTI Consulting is starting to look into the root of the problem by going back several years,” Throne-Holst said. The firm will look at the department’s finance history as far back as 2002.

“Their emphasis is on the police department in order to help us address this going forward,” Town Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes said.

Blowes was once a part of the town’s audit committee, but resigned because he was concerned about financial deficits in the town.

But now, the goal of FTI will be to look at how the police department deficit occurred, and how to prevent it from happening again.

Blowes believes the department was under-budgeted and, looking at previous audits, he believes surplus funds have been used to pay off these debts, and increased retirement costs were not anticipated.

 “There was no reserve set aside for people that retire, and when the retirement payouts are not budgeted they have to borrowed from the general fund,” Blowes explained.

The town hopes to have a report in the next 30 to 60 days and by the 60-day mark hopes to have a preventative plan to discuss. 

FTI consulting, a global business advisory firm from Baltimore was paid $150,000. The move came after the unexpected announcement of a $7.2 million deficit the town is carrying from the police, highway and waste management departments, according to 2007 financial statements. According to the auditing group, Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Company from Happauge, money was taken from the town’s general fund to help cover the cost of operating these departments.

 

Town Cops Protest Proposed Cuts

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