Christopher Twarowski

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Christopher Twarowski is editor in chief of the Long Island Press and its chief of investigations. He holds an M.S. in Journalism with a specialization in investigative journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was an inaugural member of the school’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. He also holds an M.A. from the school with a concentration in business and economics. Twarowski has written for the financial and metro desks of The Washington Post and has earned more than 100 local, state and national journalism awards and accolades.

Ben Bradlee, Legendary Washington Post Editor, Dead

Ben Bradlee published the Pentagon Papers and the Wodward-Bernstein articles that ultimately forced Nixon's resignation. (Photo by Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin, Wikimedia Commons)

Benjamin C. Bradlee, the legendary editor of The Washington Post who led its newsroom for 26 years, oversaw the reporting of the Watergate scandal and inspired countless journalists, died Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

He was 93.

Bradlee, forever cemented in the annals of American journalism as the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners-in-your-pursuit-of-the-truth editor guiding the paper during its reportage and exposing of the Watergate political scandal—which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon—and Pentagon Papers, is known as one of the most celebrated and revered of the craft, not just for his transformation of the metropolitan daily into one of the most reputable, and formidable newspapers in the world, but for his larger-than-life character, dedication to the finest virtues of the craft and undeniable magnetism that infected and inspired generations of writers, reporters and editors to strive for his emulation.

“From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily,” writes The Post. “He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.”

Bradlee would lead The Post to 17 Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure, open bureaus across the country, station correspondents around the globe, and found sections of the paper copied by many others, notes The Post.

In 2013 President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States.

Journalists and news outlets flooded social media sites with memories and tributes to Bradlee following The Post‘s announcement of his passing.

“Ben Bradlee was the best American newspaper editor of his time and had the greatest impact on his newspaper of any modern editor,” former Washington Post Publisher Don Graham told the newspaper Tuesday.

Just as legendary as Bradlee’s journalistic accomplishments (and his take-no-BS attitude) was the size and openness of his heart–for years taking the time to meet, and share tales and tips, with everyone from aspiring journalism students to veteran muckrakers; even starry-eyed, lowly, bloodthirsty interns.

They carry him with them. His relentless passion, and fury, burn on within their words.

Rest in peace.

Teachout & Wu Sue Cuomo, Hochul & NYSDC, Alleging Election Law Misdeeds

New York State Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Zephyr Teachout and running mate Tim Wu filed a lawsuit Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, alleging Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his running mate Kathy Hochul and the New York State Democratic Committee violated state Election Law. (Photo courtesy of Teachout/Wu for New York State)

New York State Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and running mate for lieutenant governor Tim Wu announced the filing of a lawsuit in state Supreme Court Friday, charging, among other allegations, that the New York State Democratic Committee has been illegally funding the re-election campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his running mate Kathy Hochul.

The lawsuit [READ IT HERE] seeks not only to prohibit additional contributions to Cuomo and Hochul’s campaigns, but an order compelling the two to reimburse the state committee for monies already spent in support of their campaigns prior to the September 9 primary election.

Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, and Wu, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, accuse the NYSDC of violating state Election Law when, “under the direction of, and in coordination with” Cuomo, their petition reads, “it printed and mailed election literature supporting Cuomo and Hochul to hundreds of thousands of Democratic Party members across the state.

“As in-kind contributions to the Cuomo/Hochul campaign ordered by Cuomo himself, these actions are subject to limited First Amendment protections, and the statutes making such expenditures unlawful are justified by the State’s compelling interest in protecting a democratic primary process,” it continues, adding that it’s anticipated in the lead-up to the Sept. 9 primary, “the NYSDC will spend its money to do further advertising for the Cuomo and Hochul campaigns.”

“Based on the facts alleged, facts which cannot credibly be disputed, the coordinated actions of Andrew Cuomo and the NYSDC represent a prima facie violation of Section 2-126 of New York Election Law,” state the court documents.

Teachout and Wu argue the injury caused to their campaigns, as well as fellow Democrats, is “irreparable,” since those mailings helped influence voters and the primary election is just several days away.

Additionally, Team Teachout alleges that by directing the NYSDC to spend “hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of dollars” on their campaigns and accepting the aforementioned contributions from the NYSDC, Cuomo and Hochul have and continue to violate contribution and receipt limitations on candidates as dictated by state Election Law.

Teachout and Wu have been touring the state in recent weeks blasting what they called Cuomo’s right-leaning policies and his controversial disbandment of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, which a July 23 New York Times expose alleged his administration meddled with the commission’s probes when investigations came too close to Cuomo or his associates.

They’ve been gaining substantial endorsements recently—among these, the Sierra Club, state chapter of the National Organization for Women and The Nation (The New York Times and New York Observer recently endorsed Wu)—and vow that, if elected, they will once and for all rid Albany of the corruption Cuomo had promised to clean up, but didn’t, and “Old Boys’ Club” dominating Albany.

“We need more women in state politics,” Teachout told the Press during a recent campaign stop at the Southampton Farmers’ Market Sunday, August 24. “Luckily we have women who are representing us federally, but not in Albany. And it’s affecting priorities. I believe it’s affecting education policy. And across the board. You know it’s a broken system when there are no women because it’s not that people don’t support female leaders, it’s that it’s a closed club.”

“Cuomo doesn’t have a lot of women in his decision-making circles,” she added.

Cuomo tried twice, unsuccessfully, to knock Teachout off the ballot, claiming residential requirement violations, and has refused repeated requests from the underdog for a public debate, a concept Cuomo recently slammed as “[not] always a service to democracy.”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with democracy,” Cuomo stated, according to the New York Observer. “I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy—so anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates that I’ve been in.”

Cuomo’s bizarre description triggered a barrage of criticism, not just from Teachout, Wu and Cuomo’s Republican opponent Rob Astorino, but The New York Times.

“It’s hard to see how he how could make such a ludicrous argument,” the paper wrote in a September 5 editorial, pointing out that Cuomo opened a 2002 Democratic primary debate with the declaration: “This is what a campaign should be all about—a good, honest discussion on the issues.”

Teachout and Wu hope to obtain a restraining order and/or preliminary injunction to prohibit the NYSDC from further financially supporting Team Cuomo, permanently enjoin NYSDC from expending monies to support primary candidates, attain an order and judgment compelling Cuomo and Hochul to repay the committee for these expenditures, and award attorneys’ fees and costs.

Cuomo’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Obama Honors Slain Journalist James Foley; Vows Continued Military Action Against ISIS

James Foley, Syria, 2012. The American journalist was beheaded by Islamic militants ISIS in a video posted on YouTube Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo by Manu Brabo, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org and "Find James Foley" Facebook page)

President Obama issued a solemn address to the nation Wednesday in the wake of the beheading of American journalist James Foley, praising his life and work and vowing continued military action in Iraq to protect US interests and “extract this cancer” of the Islamic State, the militant group who murdered him.

“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the whole world,” said Obama. “We are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim in all that he did.

“Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast with his killers,” he continued. “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims—both Sunni and Shia—by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.”

“ISIL speaks for no religion,” said Obama. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt… People like this ultimately fail.”

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he added, calling upon other nations to join the fight against the group. “There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.

“One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”

Obama’s statements were the first official confirmation of authenticity of a video posted on YouTube Tuesday depicting Foley’s beheading.

The 40-year-old had been missing since Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, 2012, when the car he was traveling in toward the Turkish border in northern Syria was stopped by four armed men. He had been reporting from the Middle East for the five years prior, and leading up to his disappearance had spent several weeks reporting inside Syria.

Until Tuesday there had been no direct contact with Foley, nor communication with his kidnappers or ransom demand, wrote Phil Balboni, president and CEO of online news outlet GlobalPost, where Foley was a contributor, in a note to staff on the year anniversary of his taking.

Besides the Syrian civil war, the freelance photojournalist from New Hampshire had reported on conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was once held captive for 44 days.

He appeared dressed in orange, on his knees with his hands bound behind his back in the gruesome five-minute video segment titled “A Message To America.” His murderer stood by his side wearing ISIS’ signature all-black cloaks and mask, a holstered gun slung across his shoulder and grasping a large blade.

Following forced anti-American remarks from Foley, his killer made threats against the United States, naming Obama, and then beheaded Foley before grabbing the neck of what the video purported to be Steven Soltoff, a TIME magazine contributor who disappeared in the region earlier this month. Soltoff is also kneeling in the sand, his hands bound. The masked man then warns Obama that his fate rests in Obama’s decision about continuing US airstrikes against the group.

ISIS, short for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and most recently, the Islamic State—proclaimed the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, across parts of western Iraq and northern Syria in June. Its leader, or caliph, is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a militant once in US custody but released.

James Foley, Tripoli (Libya) airport, August 2011. (Photo by Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org and "Find James Foley" Facebook page)
James Foley, Tripoli (Libya) airport, August 2011. (Photo by Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org and “Find James Foley” Facebook page)
American warplanes have been targeting the group and bombing its positions in the region since it began slaughtering religious minorities in the region in the beginning of August. The group has swept into towns and villages demanding its residents convert to Islam, pay a fine, or be killed, according to local religious leaders, Iraqi government officials, humanitarian workers and members of those groups being persecuted—which includes Muslims, Christians and the followers of an ancient religious order called the Yazidis.

Hundreds of thousands have been forced to abandon their homes in the region and tens of thousands had sought refuge on a nearby mountain range, which led to a humanitarian crisis due to extreme heat, the shortage of water and food and medicine and lack of shelter. The United States, Britain and several other countries have been dropping food and water for the past two weeks and arming Kurdish fighters to help repel ISIS.

The Kurds have also successfully escorted tens of thousands to relative safety in makeshift refugee camps. Obama recently ruled out a US-led evacuation of Yazidis still stuck on the mountain, citing an assessment by about 20 US special forces deployed there that those displaced no longer faced an imminent threat. That decision and assessment has been widely criticized, as tens of thousands of Yazidis reportedly still remain in dire straits trapped on the south side of the mountain range.

There have been reports of Christian children being beheaded and mass executions with people being buried alive. ISIS has also reportedly abducted more than 1,000 Yazidi women, according to media reports from the conflict, who are feared to have become sex slaves and made to wed ISIS fighters.

An outpouring of support for Foley and his family and resounding condemnation against his barbaric mutilation continued to flood social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter Wednesday, with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe issuing the following statement:

“The barbaric murder of journalist James Foley, kidnapped in Syria and held almost two years, sickens all decent people. Foley went to Syria to show the plight of the Syrian people, to bear witness to their fight, and in so doing to fight for press freedom. Our hearts go out to his family, who had dedicated themselves to finding and freeing Jim.”

Foley’s mom Diane honored her son in a post on the Facebook page “Find James Foley.”

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

“We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us,” she added. “He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

Two journalists with Long Island ties have also been victims of the Syrian conflict: Matthew Schrier, a Syosset native and photojournalist, escaped from ISIS rivals Nusa Front last summer after the group kidnapped him and Marie Colvin, an East Norwich native, was killed in 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war for The Sunday Times in London.

James Foley addresses students at Medill in 2011:

James Foley, Missing US Journalist, Reportedly Beheaded By ISIS

American journalist James Foley, Aleppo, Syria – 07/12. Foley was purportedly beheaded by Islamic militants ISIS in a video posted on YouTube Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo Nicole Tung, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org and "Find James Foley" Facebook page)

James Foley, an American journalist abducted in northern Syria nearly two years ago, was purportedly beheaded by the Islamic militants ISIS Tuesday, according to graphic photos and video posted across social media outlets depicting the gruesome slaying.

The video shows a man it identifies as Foley kneeling in sand with his hands bound behind his back and a masked militant dressed completely in black who’s wielding a gun and knife standing alongside him. After Foley recites forced anti-American remarks, the militant, who speaks in English with a British accent, threatens the United States and President Obama, according to multiple news outlets, and then beheads Foley.

The militant states in the five-minute “A Message To America” clip that the murder is in retaliation for recent U.S. air strikes against the group, according to news outlets, and warns that another missing journalist it identifies as Steven Soltoff, a TIME contributor who’s been missing since the middle of last year—who also appears on his knees with his hands bound and wearing orange—will meet the same fate unless the strikes stop.

American warplanes have been targeting the group since it began slaughtering religious minorities including Christians and the followers of an ancient religious sect called the Yazidis, forcing hundreds of thousands to abandon their homes in western Iraq and seek refuge on a nearby mountain range. They’ve also abducted more than 1,000 Yazidi women, according to media reports from the conflict, who are feared to have become sex slaves and made to wed ISIS fighters.

ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State, proclaimed the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, across parts of western Iraq and northern Syria in June. Its leader, or caliph, is the militant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Foley, now 40, had been traveling toward the Turkish border on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012, following several weeks of reporting inside northern Syria, wrote Phil Balboni, president and CEO of GlobalPost—an online news outlet dedicated to international affairs reporting Foley contributed to—in a note to staff last year on the anniversary of his disappearance. Its contents were republished on the Facebook page “Find James Foley” with his permission.

“The car in which Jim was riding was stopped by four armed men about 10 kilometers from the border near the small town of Taftanaz in an area which even then was the scene of very active conflict between rebel and government forces,” he wrote. “From that day to this we have had no direct contact with Jim and no communication with his kidnappers, nor has any ransom demand been received.”

Foley is the oldest of five children, according to FreeJamesFoley.org, a site created and maintained by his family that has served as an appeal for his unharmed release under the headline “Find James Foley.”

“He has reported independently and objectively from the Middle East for the past five years,” states the site. “Prior to his work as a journalist, Jim helped empower disadvantaged individuals as a teacher and mentor assisting them in improving their lives.”

Foley traveled extensively in the Middle East and North Africa and reported on conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, where he was once held captive for 44 days, reports NBC News, which has a partnership with GlobalPost.

The online news outlet’s Balboni issued the following statement Tuesday night in GlobalPost’s own story about the video:

“On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.”

An outpouring of support for Foley and his family and resounding condemnation for his barbaric killing has flooded social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in its wake.

The latest message from administrators of the “Find James Foley” Facebook page reads a solemn:

“We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers.”

Two journalists with Long Island ties have also been victims of the Syrian conflict: Matthew Schrier, a Syosset native and photojournalist, escaped from ISIS rivals Nusa Front last summer after the group kidnapped him and Marie Colvin, an East Norwich native, was killed in 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war for The Sunday Times in London.

Cops Probe Violent Death of Farmingville Woman

A 36-year-old Farmingville woman discovered dead in her home Sunday was the victim of violence, Suffolk County police said.

Sixth Precinct officers responded to 108 Berkshire Drive in Farmingville following a 911 call Sunday, July 27, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. and found Monica Lino, who lives in the home, dead inside.

Her body was originally discovered by her nephew, police said.

Further investigation revealed “she was a victim of violence,” police said.

The Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

Police say the investigation is continuing and ask anyone with information about this incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Islip Town Hall & Quogue School Bomb Threats Share Similarities

Islip Town Hall Bomb Threat
The Long Island Press received the above bomb threat directed against Islip Town Hall via the mail on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The author's handwriting and other signature characteristics of the note share near-identical details with a prior bomb threat the Press received against Quogue School last year. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

The Long Island Press received a bomb threat Tuesday from an anonymous mailer naming Islip Town Hall as their target.

The foreboding message, scrawled in black ink on the inside of an empty white envelope with no return sender, stated in shaky handwriting: “Bomb At Islip Town Hall – Today!!!”

It is postmarked May 12 and was mailed from Mid-Island.

Suffolk County police were notified and officers from the Nassau County Police Department confiscated the ominous note, which bears striking resemblances to a threat made against Quogue Union Free School District that the Press received a little more than a year ago.

That warning, postmarked March 25 and March 26, 2013, also mailed from Mid-Island and written in black ink on the inside of an empty envelope with no return sender, declared: “I Left my bomb At Quogue School on Edgewood Rd.”

A fanged smiley face was scribbled alongside the message.

Quogue Village police, Nassau County police and the Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated that incident. Quogue School, which instructs 120 students from Pre-Kindergarten through Sixth Grade, was searched with the assistance of two New York State Police explosive-detecting K-9s. The school was closed for spring recess at the time and no bomb was found.

Both threats share the same style of squiggly penmanship, with individual letters and words exhibiting exactly the same nuances, suggesting they were written by the same author.

The above bomb threat against Quogue School was mailed to the Long Island Press in March 2013. A similar threat against Islip Town Hall exhibiting similar handwriting and other characteristics was received by the Press May 13, 2014. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)
The above bomb threat against Quogue School was mailed to the Long Island Press in March 2013. A similar threat against Islip Town Hall exhibiting similar handwriting and other characteristics was received by the Press May 13, 2014. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

Suffolk police tell the Press Islip Town Hall was searched, no bomb discovered, and that Nassau police are also investigating. A Nassau detective informed the employee who originally opened the latest letter that the case has been referred to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Islip Town Hall is no stranger to bomb scares. Four such threats were dialed in from a pay phone in Central Islip between November 2011 and June 2012—one including additional threats against the Suffolk County Department of Social Services in Hauppauge. Another threat was also made against Long Island MacArthur Airport, which is run by the town.

A 41-year-old Central Islip man pleaded guilty in October 2012 to making those four false reports against Islip Town Hall—on Nov. 17, 2011 and Jan. 11, May 23 and June 12—and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation, according to court records.

Farmingdale Crash: 5th Teen Dies From Injuries, Victims’ Names Released [Update]

A fifth teenager has died from injuries sustained during a tragic head-on crash Saturday in Farmingdale, police said Monday.

Seventeen-year-old Cody Talanian, of Farmingdale, was pronounced dead at 10 p.m. Sunday at Nassau University Medical Center, according to Nassau County police homicide detectives.

Talanian is the latest casualty of the horrific collision that claimed the lives of four other teenagers on Saturday, May 10 at 12:04 a.m., when, detectives said, their 2001 Nissan traveling westbound on Conklin Street crossed into the eastbound lanes and was struck by a GMC Suburban.

The impact of the collision resulted in two male passengers being ejected, police said, with three passengers and the driver killed upon impact and another victim pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The 53-year-old driver of the Suburban and his female passenger have been listed in serious condition.

The names of the deceased are as follows—all were current or former students of Farmingdale High School:

• Tristan K. Reichle, 17, of Farmingdale
• Jesse J, Romero, 18, of South Farmingdale
• Carly Lonborg, 14, of South Farmingdale
• Noah Francis, 15, of Farmingdale
• Cody Talanian, 17, of Farmingdale

Friends and family members have created makeshift memorials near the crash site in remembrance of the victims. Multitudes from the community packed a Mother’s Day prayer vigil for the teenagers at St. Kilian Roman Catholic Church Sunday.

Police said the investigation into what led the teens to veer into the oncoming lane is still ongoing.

Schellhammer Abruptly Out As Attorney General’s Conviction Review Bureau Chief

Eric Schneiderman
Thomas Schellhammer (not pictured), chief of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's (above) Conviction Review Bureau, has abruptly left his position amid backlash from the Nassau County and Queens D.A.'s offices following his recommendation to release on parole Queens father of two, convicted sex offender Ronald Bower. Schellhammer stated it "highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted." (Photo: NYS Attorney General's Office)

• Led “Landmark” Bureau Created to Address Wrongful Convictions
• Sudden Departure Comes Amid Criticism From Nassau & Queens D.A.s Over His Recommendation to Free Queens Father of Two, Convicted Sex Offender Ronald Bower
• Stated it “Highly Unlikely” Bower Committed Sex Crimes
• Team of Independent Investigators Continue To Seek Bower’s Exoneration

Thomas Schellhammer, the chief of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Conviction Review Bureau, has abruptly left that position, the Long Island Press has learned.

Whether the highly regarded assistant attorney general and former homicide prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney’s Office resigned or was ousted is not immediately clear.

“He’s actually no longer with the attorney general’s office,” a woman answering the phone at Schneiderman’s Albany office confirmed Wednesday, before referring further inquiries to “his old number” where “maybe somebody in the office there will pick up and can help you.”

They didn’t, follow-up calls have been met with the same response, and attempts to reach Schellhammer outside the office have been unsuccessful. The attorney general’s press office Thursday did not immediately respond to questions regarding Schellhammer’s unceremonious exit, either.

What is known, however, is that Schellhammer’s sudden departure comes amid sharp criticism from Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown’s offices regarding his support to free 52-year-old Queens father of two, Ronald Bower.

Bower, a former security guard at Douglaston Mall, has spent nearly 23 years in prison for heinous sex crimes an ever-growing number of law enforcement officials believe he did not commit. Supporters who seek the reversal of Bower’s convictions and his complete exoneration include current or former members of the NYS Inspector General’s Office of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state Division of Criminal Justice Services, and even members of the very sex crimes unit that originally arrested and charged him. This independent team of investigators has concluded—and produced a mountain of evidentiary documents to prove—that Bower is innocent, believing the real perpetrator is likely a former New York City police officer.

Schellhammer wrote a letter to the Parole Board at Clinton Correctional Facility in late December, urging Bower’s “earliest” release in the best interest of society, and stating it “highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted.” Bower’s is the only case to date that his office has asked the Parole Board to consider granting parole to an inmate.

That set off fireworks, not only among Parole Board commissioners—who slammed the AG’s Office and the district attorneys’ offices of both counties for failing to seek full exoneration and leaving them with the uncomfortable responsibility of releasing what the judicial system deems a violent sexual predator—but among prosecutors as well, with both district attorneys’ offices then blasting the AG’s office and Schellhammer, in particular, claiming ignorance of any probe into Bower and alleging that they were completely blindsided. Schneiderman’s office “vigorously disputes” that charge, according to an article in the New York Law Journal last month.

All three agencies—the attorney general’s office and the Nassau and Queens DA’s offices—have asked the Parole Board to “re-examine” its decision on Bower’s release. The Nassau DA’s office is also conducting a “comprehensive review” of his case, according to correspondence between it and the attorney general’s office cited by the Journal.

Rice, a Democrat, lost a close primary race for attorney general to Schneiderman in 2010. She announced in January that she is running to replace nine-term incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who is retiring at the end of this year, and has raised nearly $1.5 million since then for her bid, according to nonprofit OpenSecrets.org.

Schneiderman, a former state senator, heralded the creation of the Conviction Review Bureau as a “first-of-its-kind statewide,” “sweeping” and “landmark initiative to address wrongful convictions in New York” in his office’s official April 11, 2012 press release, touting its mandate “to help New York’s criminal justice system maximize its ability to convict the real perpetrators of crimes, while preventing innocent people from being penalized for crimes they did not commit.”

“There is only one person who wins when the wrong person is convicted of a crime: the real perpetrator, who remains free to commit more crimes,” he expounded at the time. “For victims, their families, and any of us who could suffer the nightmare of being wrongly accused, it is imperative that we do everything possible to maximize accuracy, justice, and reliability in our justice system.

“As a result, my office will be working with District Attorneys across the state to address compelling claims of innocence, and I will conduct a top-to-bottom review of my office’s investigatory and prosecutorial procedures, and adapt them as needed to ensure reliability,” he continued.

Double Vision: (L) Former NYPD Officer Michael Perez and Ronald Bower. Police allowed Perez to change out of the hooded sweatshirt he was arrested in and into a suit and tie for his mug shot, while demanding Bower put one on for his. (Long Island Press)
Double Vision: (L) Former NYPD Officer Michael Perez and Ronald Bower. Police allowed Perez to change out of the hooded sweatshirt he was arrested in and into a suit and tie for his mug shot, while demanding Bower put one on for his. (Long Island Press)

Bower was then-30-years-old when he was picked up May 10, 1991 mid-shift at the mall, made to change out of his security uniform into a hooded sweatshirt that matched the description two teenagers described an assailant who allegedly sexually attacked them at gunpoint on a rooftop in Corona as wearing, according to court documents. His arrest came on the heels of a tip from his estranged father-in-law, a retired NYPD detective who knew one of the detectives in the Queens sex crimes unit, and who told a sergeant there that a mysterious sketch bearing a near-perfect likeness to Bower that appeared in the local newspapers alongside a description of the purported attack, resembled his son-in-law, according to court documents, affidavits and investigators. The girls ultimately recanted, telling investigators they’d made the incident up, state court filings.

Yet instead of freeing Bower, who had no prior criminal record and owned neither a car nor a gun, he was paraded through up to 28 or more lineups for a series of sex crimes along the Nassau-Queens border in 1990 and 1991. Internally, investigators dubbed the attacks—which often included forced oral sex, sodomy and rape at gunpoint, usually involving a silver .38 revolver and sometimes up to two victims at a time—the work of the “Silver Gun Rapist,” and labelled them “Pattern #1/91.”

Bower was eventually convicted for two of those attacks, primarily on eyewitness testimony, and has maintained his innocence ever since. Despite his incarceration, the pattern attacks continued for three months after he was already in custody, according to state court documents and investigators, ending with the arrest of another man—a New York City police officer named Michael Perez—who unbeknownst to Bower or his attorneys at the time, was arrested and charged in two other such similarly patterned alleged sexual attacks. Unlike Bower’s wardrobe switch, police allowed Perez to change out of the clothes he was arrested in and instead wear a suit and tie for his mug shot. Investigators later discovered Perez was off-duty during each of the pattern attacks, had access to a car, owned nearly a dozen guns—including a silver and a black .38 revolver (one of which was discovered in his possession when police arrested him for a similar sex attack in August 1991, one of two such cases he was eventually acquitted of)—and bore a striking resemblance to Bower, according to court documents, investigators and two New York Times articles at the time.

Schellhammer, explaining his reasoning for recommending Bower’s release in his Dec. 30, 2013 letter, cited an extensive, ongoing investigation into the father of two’s case that included speaking with investigators and witnesses associated with the crimes he was convicted in an attempt to reconstruct those events.

“This position is based upon several factors,” his letter states. “a) His physical resemblance to another person who committed identical crimes at about the same time as these in question, some of which occurred after Bower was in custody; b) the possible mis-identification of Bower as the perpetrator of these crimes by the victims; c) the lack of a propensity or any other prior indicator that Bower was inclined to commit offenses of a sexual nature; and d) the probability that Bower had an alibi for the nights in question.”

Shellhammer’s departure amid such contention about Bower’s release raises obvious questions regarding the impetus behind his exodus (one being whether or not he is simply a victim of blood-lust politics, damn the possibility of freeing a wrongly convicted man), and casts doubts upon Schneiderman’s sincerity toward the bureau’s stated mission—actually righting such horrific wrongs and seeking out, as the attorney general so eloquently stated back in 2012, “the real perpetrator(s), who remain free to commit more crimes.”

Few would dispute that Schellhammer’s recommendation for parole couldn’t be interpreted as at least a little embarrassing for prosecutors—and, should Bower one day be exonerated, costly to the state—though when it comes to what’s at stake, a man’s life, not to mention the shattered lives of victims throughout Nassau and Queens whose attacks still remain unsolved, it shouldn’t be, but rather, a call to arms to thoroughly get to the bottom of these brutally horrific atrocities.

That’s a plea Bower’s longtime attorney, Nassau Legal Aid Society Appeals Bureau Chief Jeremy Goldberg, has recently taken to the public in the hopes of not only exonerating his client, but obtaining justice for so many victims.

In a recent, painfully emotional jailhouse interview at Clinton Correctional Facility—dubbed “New York’s Siberia” for its isolation and arctic temperatures among the Adirondacks just south of the Canadian border—Bower repeated what he’s been saying for nearly 23 years:

“I’m innocent!” he cried, his face distorted and drenched in tears. “I never done nothing to nobody!”

Schellhammer, charged with re-investigating potential wrongful conviction cases and compelling claims of innocence, was simply the latest law enforcement official to believe him.

UPDATE: Four hours after the publishing of this story, Schneiderman’s office issued an official press release announcing the appointment of Gail Heatherly, former head of the Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, to lead the Conviction Review Bureau, and reiterating his professed commitment to freeing the wrongfully convicted and holding true perpetrators accountable:

“Those who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit deserve to have an advocate who will fight for justice, both for the wrongly accused and for the victims of the original crime,” says Attorney General Schneiderman. “The only person who benefits when the wrong person is convicted of a crime is the real criminal, who remains free to commit more crimes.”

The press release provides zero insight into Schellhammer’s departure, and Schneiderman’s office has still not answered a request for an explanation from the Press.

UPDATE II: Attorney General Schneiderman’s Press Secretary Matt Mittenthal tells the Press his office has “no comment.”

Ronald Bower’s Attorney’s Plea To Queens and Nassau Sex Crimes Victims

Long Island Sex Crimes - Ronald Bower

Ronald Bower, a 52-year-old father of two from Queens, has spent nearly 23 years in prison for heinous sex crimes an ever-growing number of law enforcement officials believe he did not commit.

This list includes current or former members of the New York State (NYS) Inspector General’s Office of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), and members of the very sex crimes unit that originally arrested and charged him.

Most recently, NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Office joined these ranks—Thomas Schellhammer, chief of its Conviction Review Bureau—telling the Parole Board at Clinton Correctional Facility it “highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted” and urging his “earliest” release in the best interest of society.

Bower was arrested by Queens sex crimes detectives on May 10, 1991 during his shift at the Douglaston Mall, where he worked as a security guard. The then-30-year-old, who had no prior criminal record, was made to change out of his security guard uniform and into a hooded sweatshirt, similar to the one sex crimes victims of a series of attacks along the western Nassau-Queens border in the vicinity of Union Turnpike throughout a roughly two-year span ending in August 1991 reported their assailant as wearing.

The attacker, dubbed the “Silver Gun Rapist” by investigators, would accost his victims, sometimes two at a time, while they walked or entered their vehicles, always threatening them with a gun—oftentimes either a silver or black .38 revolver.

Victims described him as about 30 years old, around 5’6” to 5’8”, 150 pounds, brown or black hair, brown eyes, sporting a moustache, wearing a dark leather or vinyl bomber-style jacket, acid-wash jeans or chinos and gloves. The perpetrator was likely left handed and required access to an automobile to commit the crimes, according to investigators and court documents. He would drive or lure his victims to secluded areas and force them to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint—sometimes, he’d also rape them.

Police labelled these crimes internally as “Pattern #1/91.”

Bower, who weighed approximately 210 pounds at the time of his arrest, is right-handed, and did not possess a gun nor own a car. He passed a polygraph test about the incidents in which he was charged administered by one of the world’s leading experts in the field, Richard O. Arther, and has insisted his innocence ever since. And despite his arrest, the pattern attacks continued.

Double Vision: (L) Former NYPD Officer Michael Perez and Ronald Bower. Police allowed Perez to change out of the hooded sweatshirt he was arrested in and into a suit and tie for his mug shot, while demanding Bower put one on for his. (Long Island Press)
Double Vision: (L) Former NYPD Officer Michael Perez and Ronald Bower. Police allowed Perez to change out of the hooded sweatshirt he was arrested in and into a suit and tie for his mug shot, while demanding Bower put one on for his. (Long Island Press)

Three months after Bower’s arrest, unbeknownst to him or his attorneys, another man—a New York City Police officer named Michael Perez—was arrested and charged in two such alleged sexual attacks (though allowed to change out of the clothes he was arrested in and instead wear a suit and tie for his mug shot). In one such incident, Perez was pulled over by police for driving the alleged victim’s car erratically and a loaded .38 was discovered under his seat, according to court documents, investigators and an Aug. 7, 1991 New York Times article titled “Police Say Officer Abducted and Raped Woman.” He was eventually acquitted in both cases—yet an investigation revealed he had been off-duty for many of the Pattern #1/91 attacks, is left-handed, and owned several handguns, according to court documents and investigators—including silver and black .38 revolvers.

Bower was recently granted parole, in part due to the NYS Attorney General’s Office’s recommendation. Because the Conviction Review Bureau fell short of moving to exonerate him, however, he will be released as a sexual offender—a Queens hearing to determine his risk level assessment is scheduled for the near future; a Nassau judge recently rendered him a Level 3 Sex Offender, the highest classification. Bower’s refusal to participate in mandatory sex offender classes, since he still maintains his innocence, was a contributing factor.

Bower’s longtime attorney, Nassau Legal Aid Society appeals bureau chief Jeremy Goldberg, tells the Press that for the father of two to achieve exoneration—something an independent team of law enforcement officials and investigators, his attorney and tortured family vow to never give up on—Bower will need “a miracle.”

Thus, he is making a plea to sex crime victims in the hopes that shedding new light on these brutally vicious attacks will unearth details that can be used to not only help exonerate Bower, but bring the true perpetrator to justice.

Because investigators with knowledge of the aforementioned attacks also tell the Press there were potentially a dozen or more women who were similarly sexually victimized in this vicinity during this time period—whose cases remain unsolved—information obtained from his plea may be just the miracle all these women have been praying for, too.

“You may be able to play a part in saving the rest of Ron Bower’s life,” he says. “Your help could prove crucial.”

Ronald Bower Plea

REVIEW – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, By Vivek J. Tiwary And Brian C. Robinson

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, a meticulously researched, masterfully written and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel by award-winning Broadway producer Vivek J. Tiwary and artist Andrew C. Robinson, was a labor of love. (Cover art by Andrew C. Robinson)
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, a meticulously researched, masterfully written and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel by award-winning Broadway producer Vivek J. Tiwary and artist Andrew C. Robinson, was a labor of love. (Cover art by Andrew C. Robinson)

Somewhere, along the mad and transcendental road of rock and roll, the tale of one of its greatest architects, masters and casualties has been lost. Somewhere, between the gyrating hips and rebel snarl of Elvis and the shallow, uninspired gushiness of emo, music history has forgotten one of its first antiheroes. Somewhere, somehow, the man responsible for turning popular culture, music and several generations, worldwide, upside-down—and influencing every band since—has been left for dead and buried, destined for obscurity but for a growing legion of fans-turned-archeologists.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by award-winning Broadway theater producer Vivek J. Tiwary (A Raisin in the Sun, American Idiot, The Addams Family) and artist Andrew C. Robinson, resurrects the seminal Beatles manager, breathing life, color, validity, and resounding beauty, into his short, intense, often-overlooked life and his contributions shaping and molding the four young lads from Liverpool. The Beatles’ immortality, as documented in this meticulously researched, masterfully written and gorgeously illustrated graphic novel, is Epstein’s legacy, as are the boundless torrents of love, hope and optimism shared through their songs.

It was Epstein who shed their leather jackets for matching tailored suits. It was Epstein who got them a record contract. Epstein who landed them in America and on The Ed Sullivan Show. Epstein who invented their synchronized bow, comforted and cared for them, transported them from The Cavern Club’s basement to the center of the world’s stage.

Through The Fifth Beatle, we hear his thoughts, see his struggles, feel his jubilation and his pain—Jewish and gay, yearning for acceptance and self-worth. Visionary, businessman, family man, son, friend, tortured soul, matador—we see Epstein’s genius, his passion, his struggles and his flaws.

This must-read work of art—a “labor of love” for Tiwary, which took 20 years to realize—is a worthy tribute, historical account, comic, biography, love letter and song to a man who shaped and molded music, and life itself.

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