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.
Tsarnaev’s older brother Tamerlan, 26, died in an ensuing firefight with police late Thursday night in Watertown.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s apprehension comes four days after three people were killed and nearly 200 injured when dual bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. An intense investigation ensued, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation taking the lead, and the news that whoever had committed the attack had used pressure cookers packed with shrapnel delivered in backpacks.
The FBI released photos and video of suspects in the bombing Thursday and had asked for the public’s help in identifying them. VIEW THE PHOTOS AND VIDEO HERE.
Police said the crucial tip came from a Watertown man who had peered into the boat, seen blood and a body inside, and notified authorities. A police helicopter equipped with an infrared device then verified the discovery and directed tactical teams to the boat. Tsarnaev had lost of a lot of blood, said police, and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment following his arrest.
President Barack Obama had visited Boston on Wednesday.
“We’ve closed an important chapter in this tragedy,” he said from the White House shortly after 10 p.m. Friday. “There are still many unanswered questions.”
Obama also acknowledged those who lost their lives in a tremendous fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas April 17.
“They have not been forgotten,” he said. “Our thoughts, our prayers, are with the people of West, Texas.”
News of Tsarnaev’s arrest Friday evening sent waves of resounding applause and cheers throughout Watertown.
“We’re so grateful to bring justice and closure to this case,” said Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben at a 9:30 p.m. press conference where he was flanked by several other local, state and federal officials. “We’re exhausted folks, but we have a victory here tonight.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the throngs of reporters and media outlets that had converged on the neighborhood. “I’m so happy.”
“It’s a night where I think we’re all going to rest easy,” said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
“Justice is being served for the the victims of these terrible crimes,” declared FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers.
“Police, DA Investigating Fatal Shooting of Campus Police Officer In Cambridge” they tweeted just after midnight, followed by: “Our thoughts & prayers are with the officer’s family & our brothers, sisters at the #MIT Police”
“An MIT campus police officer responding to a report of a disturbance in the area of Vasser and Main streets was reportedly shot,” Cambridge Police then posted on its website. “According to authorities, the officer was found evidencing multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to the hospital and pronounced deceased. There are no other victims. No arrests have been made. The investigation remains ongoing.”
News of the death followed a series of alerts posted on the school’s emergency information website, emergency.mit.edu, Thursday night reporting shots fired on the MIT campus.
“Although the situation is considered active and extremely dangerous, an investigation is underway,” reads a 10:48 p.m. posting.
An 11:20 p.m. update reads: “Responding agencies continue to investigate active shooter incident…please stay indoors.”
“Injuries have been reported,” reads an 11:41 p.m. “shooting incident” update. “The situation is still very active and we ask everyone to stay inside.”
A 12:28 a.m. alert reads: “Responding agencies are actively investigating the situation, which remains very fluid at this time. Police continue to sweep the campus. Stay indoors and remain inside until further notice.”
“The shooter remains at large,” declares a 12:37 a.m. alert on MIT’s emergency information site. “Please REMAIN INDOORS until further notice.”
MIT’s homepage simply read: “ALERT: Continue to remain indoors”
The shooting comes just three days after three people were killed and nearly 200 injured when dual bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. The FBI released photos and video of suspects in the bombing Thursday and have asked for the public’s help in identifying them. VIEW THE PHOTOS AND VIDEO HERE.
The Boston Marathon was transformed into pandemonium Monday following deadly explosions near the competition’s finish line, according to law enforcement agencies, media reports and social networking sites jammed with updates from the scene as it unfolded.
The Boston Police Department confirmed two dead and 23 injured. The first two blasts about 50 yards apart occurred nearly simultaneously shortly before 3 p.m. and the third explosion occurred at the John F. Kennedy Library shortly before 4 p.m. Teams of emergency first responders ran into the fray while those injured lay on the ground amid smoke and debris as police told the public to stay away from the scene.
“Were not being definitive on this right now, but you can reach your own conclusions based upon what happened,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, who stopped short of calling the incidents an act of terrorism.
The cause of the explosions remains under investigation. Police communications confirmed two undetonated explosive devices discovered at the scene. Davis said it is unclear if the finish-line explosions were linked to the library explosion, but investigators are treating the cases as if they are related.
“There were two bombs that exploded near the finish line in today’s Boston Marathon,” The Boston Marathon posted on Twitter. “We are working with law enforcement to understand what exactly has happened.”
Witnesses, including some Long Islanders, described the chaos at the scene.
“I could hear them very loud from where I was,” Richard Brodsky of Atlantic Beach, whose wife, Jodi, finished two minutes ahead of the explosions, said in a Facebook post. “All I know is we were thrilled to get out of the city as ambulances and police cars were competing for the right of way. Nobody knew at the time what really happened, but almost immediately fire trucks were coming down the street and I understand they stopped the race, at least near the finish… What a horrible tragedy.”
Another runner who was in Manhattan during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks drew comparisons between the two attacks.
“I’m having a lot of trouble making phone calls,” Rob Zanella, a West Islip man was running the race with his nephew. “It’s a lot like the phone issues on 9/11.”
Friends of runners waited anxiously for news as communications froze. Until the explosions, they were able to track their progress via Twitter feeds on their running shoes. One woman was known to have crossed the finish line at 2:42 p.m., roughly eight minutes before the bombs went off. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful, as were attempts to reach her friend who was reportedly near the finish line watching her race. So their anxiety added to the uncertainty of spectators near and far.
Anthony Abbruscato, a 22-year-old from North Babylon, who was communicating from the scene with the Press via Facebook since cell phone lines were jammed, described it as “chaos.”
“We were just a block away from the finish line when we heard two loud explosions separated by a few seconds,” he said. “At first, no one knew what was happening, but shortly after we saw people running away in fear.
The third explosion took place while Abbruscato was talking with the Press.
“This is f—king crazy!” he said.
Abbruscato’s classmate, Max Brown, also relayed the scene to the Press through Facebook:
“I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “I’m just praying for those who were injured, and that all my friends are okay. Cell service is down in the city so we can’t even call one another. Luckily we can text each other.”
The New York Police Department told Reuters that it would be beefing up security around the city in response to the blasts.
The Boston Marathon is the longest-running in the nation, 26.2 miles in length and 27,000 participants.
The New York Post is reporting the police have a suspect in custody, but Boston police have denied that report.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed New York State agencies, including the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, State Police, the MTA and the Port Authority, “to be on a heightened state of alert.”
Shellfishing Company Pays $2,100 Per Year For 6-Acre, Prime Town-Owned Waterfront Property and Dock Space For Fleet
Public’s Clam And Oyster Seed Incubators Intentionally Destroyed By Town, Allege Baymen
Hydraulic And Suction Dredging Of Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge Continues, Despite Environmental Concerns
Bill Painter and Bill Fetzer can do little but shake their heads and inspect the wreckage.
Three raft-like clam seed incubators, called Floating Upweller Systems—FLUPSYs, for short—drift lifeless in the waters off the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park boat ramps in Oyster Bay. It’s here Painter, Fetzer and about 70 other baymen who still scratch a living by raking hard clams and oysters off the bottom of Oyster Bay Harbor grow the public’s annual crop of four million mollusks to maturity before distributing them throughout the breathtaking, though sometimes unforgiving, waters.
Each barge holds up to 12 blue 50-gallon barrels the baymen fashioned with screens and interlaced with a network of tubes and pipe work encompassing a motorized water filtration system, spending thousands of dollars and countless hours in the process.
Instead of teeming with life, however—millions of dollars worth of clams, says James Schultz, president of the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association, of which Painter and Fetzer are members—the FLUPSYs lie impotent and barren, devoid of a single shell. Their motors remain silent, disconnected wires strewn in tangled heaps upon the dock. Two large blue barrels with homemade tubing protruding from their sides sit atop the mess, unattached, with a thin skin of algae. The cordoned, empty basins are thick with muddied swill, uncirculated and stagnant.
“This is our livelihood,” says a disheartened and angry Painter, a father of two who’s been working these waters for nearly three decades.
Fetzer, known as “Duckman” among clam-diggers [many of the baymen have nicknames], who’s been working Oyster Bay Harbor for more than 30 years, grabs one of the barrels and lifts it up.
“Now that the FLUPSYs are not working, we can’t better ourselves, we have no product to grow,” he laments. “We might lose years.
“This is all the product that we would be harvesting from three years from now,” he continues. “We’re upset about it and the residents should be upset about it because we’re also putting it out for the taxpayers so that father and son, mother and daughter can go get clams and have a nice dinner for themselves.”
“We just lost a whole growing season,” says Schultz. “That adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that’s [not] going back into the bay for the general public to harvest.”
What makes the FLUPSY system’s destruction that much more tragic is that it wasn’t caused by an act of Mother Nature, allege the baymen, but rather the Town of Oyster Bay itself—“payback,” they claim, for the baymen association’s June 2011 filing of an ongoing $750 million lawsuit against the municipality and Frank M. Flower & Sons, the last of the big, old commercial shellfishing operations still permitted to hydraulically dredge in Oyster Bay Harbor. The complaint alleges a host of misdeeds by the town and oyster company, ranging from claims Flower has been harvesting naturally occurring clams and oysters illegally (natural-growth shellfish belong to the state, and therefore, the public) from underwater beds leased from the town and those lawfully protected for the public, to environmental concerns regarding the company’s use of hydraulic dredge ships.
In January, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Bucaria ruled the suit could continue on several of its most damning claims. Flower and the town have appealed.
Flower & Sons’ attorney Gary Ettelman, a founding partner of Garden City-based Ettelman & Hochheiser, P.C., who categorically denied and dismissed all the baymen’s claims when first interviewed by the Press last year, describes the current status of the suit as “kind of dead in the water.
“There’s really no teeth left of any of their claims,” Ettelman contends. “Even though the judge did allow a few of the claims to proceed, from a practical standpoint, there’s no life left in that lawsuit.”
The baymen’s attorney, Huntington-based Darrin Berger, sees it differently.
“If the case was dead, then why did they appeal the judge’s ruling?” he asks. “The main part that is most viable is the court is still considering whether the leases that were granted to Flower by the Town of Oyster Bay can stand if there are natural-growth shellfish on those leasehold interests. The court is recognizing longstanding law and statutory law that any natural growth clams that are not the product of aquaculture from Flower’s efforts belong to the public.”
“It’s very much alive,” Berger says of the suit.
Things have gotten even uglier on the high seas since the Press first covered Oyster Bay’s “Clam Wars” in an April 5, 2012 cover story documenting several of the practices contested in the baymen’s complaint, such as Flower employees’ staking and repairing flags delineating the boundaries of leased shellfish beds it rents from public grounds without the expertise of a licensed land surveyor.
Besides the latest controversy surrounding the demolition of the FLUPSYs, the baymen have been sounding off about the “sweetheart lease” of roughly six acres of prime, town-owned waterfront property where Flower docks its fleet, along with the company’s sanctioned use of hydraulic dredges to harvest their tremendous hauls—which, the baymen and local environmentalists allege, is damaging what is in actuality a National Wildlife Refuge.
On the latter issue, the baymen are now considering adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy, since town officials support the use of Flower’s mechanical blades and suctions along the estuary’s sensitive seabed, says Schultz.
“If dredging’s so good,” he explains, “maybe the baymen association wants to buy a dredge boat and start dredging un-leased property that’s uncertified and start moving shellfish around and cultivating areas to get them better. We want to buy a dredge boat if they’re that good.”
A detailed list of questions for Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto was answered through a spokesman shortly before press time. The emailed statements verified the details of Flower’s dock lease, and, regarding the baymen’s lawsuit, expresssed the town’s belief “that the court, in its recent partial ruling, misinterpreted the regulations regarding land lease as set forth in the Town Code” and “continues to optimistically await a decision on the motion to dismiss.”
As part of a 1992 settlement to resolve another lawsuit filed by the baymen the previous year—on which Venditto was the town attorney—Flower, which owns a hatchery and grows and plants millions of clam and oyster seeds throughout the harbor annually, agreed to provide one million clam seeds to a bay management program for the public. Those seeds, along with an additional million the baymen obtain through the town from part of their $400-per-year license fee and two million more they purchase from outside vendors, comprise the FLUPSYs’ annual stock.
Painter tells the Press Flower refused to adhere to its part of the bargain to provide the seeds last summer; the baymen learned of some of the incubators’ dismemberment during shenanigans surrounding the town’s construction of a new dock that spring. Ultimately, it was too late to sow the annual crop, he says; they were consequently forced to cancel their 2 million outside seed order.
“Last fall they took all five FLUPSYs out of the water. They ended up cutting two of them up saying they were too bad to repair so they decided to discard them,” he says. “Finally, when they got the electric down here and they got the FLUPSYs in the water, there was another problem. One department from the Town of Oyster Bay took all the blue barrels, cut them up, threw them away.
“We had over two million clams and we had a half a million oysters on order from an outside company,” continues Painter. “It squashed our whole deal.”
The baymen believe it was no coincidence.
Schultz claims he was personally threatened by a town official, whom he declines to publicly name, “the day the oyster company was served” and a representative from Flower, who he also declines to name publicly, thereafter. He contends the chronology reveals the town and oyster company’s too-cozy relationship and views the FLUPSYs’ demise as the consummation of those threats.
“There were two threats made,” says Schultz, matter-of-factly. “‘Your seed program and bay management will suffer,’” he says they warned him. “Two different days, two different people, two different parties.
“The destruction of our FLUPSYs was the follow-through of the original threat of our bay management and our seed program, suffering from the baymen applying a lawsuit on the town and the oyster company,” he contends. “That’s the fulfillment of their threat when they destroyed all the barrels for the FLUPSYs.
“They said they were accidentally thrown away, in the garbage truck, and that’s 30 barrels,” continues Schultz. “That’s fact, we’re not speculating.
“The town told us that,” he adds. “It was sabotage, without a doubt.”
Ettelman calls the claims “absolutely ludicrous.”
“Due to general wear and tear through years of use, as well as general effects from the weather, two of [the] Town’s five FLUPSYs were damaged upon attempt to repair, leaving three still intact and active in the water,” states the town.
Regardless of what happened, ultimately, explains Painter, it’s the pubic who will suffer, not just the baymen.
“If you had a little bit of termites in your house, you’re telling me you’re going to take down your whole house?” he asks. “We built those FLUPSYs, we could have just changed some wood in them… That’s smacking the public’s hand, because this program is done for the public benefit.”
Whether the public is actually benefitting from a lucrative lease agreement between the oyster company and the town is another question the baymen have been asking, especially given Oyster Bay’s recent financial troubles.
The town is $878 million in debt. Last month it was subject to a ratings downgrade by Standard & Poor’s, citing a “negative outlook” and “financial deterioration due to operating deficits in each of the past seven fiscal years.”
Yet instead of getting even at least the minimum fair market value for the valuable dock space land—and banking millions of dollars in the process, charge the baymen—the town is renting all that property to Flower, which online business directory Manta listed last year as netting between $20 million and $50 million annually, for a song, while also subleasing.
On any given day, Flower’s fleet of hydraulic dredge ships and suction boats can be seen plying through the waters of Oyster Bay Harbor, usually trailed by a thick cloud of winged scavengers feeding on the carnage of sea life left in its wake or atop its deck. Unlike 20- to 24-foot clam skiffs used by diggers such as Schultz and other baymen, these floating factories are near-impossible to miss.
When Flower’s six main vessels—which range from roughly 40 to 100 feet in size, say the baymen—aren’t slicing through the shell beds with cutting blades, emulsifying the sediment with highly pressurized jets of water, or utilizing massive vacuums to siphon and gobble up the bottom of the bay, they’re docked on a roughly 6.6-acre swath of prime, town-owned waterfront property, known as Oystermen’s Dock.
Dock and slip space is hard to come by along the harbor—and expensive. Other marinas and shipyards adjacent to Oystermen’s Dock, such as Oyster Bay Marine Center (OBMC) and the 97-slip town-run boat basin in Theodore Roosevelt park, have waiting lists. Even mooring a boat—which is cheaper than renting a slip to dock and store a boat, whether during the summer or through the winter seasons—can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Multiply that exponentially if you’re looking to anchor more than one boat.
OBMC, for example, charges $1,710 for a 600-lb. mooring, which typically can hold a 51- to 53-foot-long vessel and $4,825 for a 2000-lb. vessel.
Renting dock space is an entirely different ballpark.
OBMC’s smallest slip, should you be able to secure one—which can accommodate a boat up to 26 feet in length—runs between $5,650 to $5,800. Slips for vessels up to 58 feet long cost between $12,800 and $13,100. That’s just for the summer season, which typically runs from April to mid-November. A 40-foot boat with a 17-foot-beam would tally $4,624 for winter season storage, for example.
At the town’s Theodore Roosevelt marina, summer rates run $97.50 per foot during the summer and $30 per foot for winter storage.
Yet, stress the baymen, Flower pays just $2,100 per year for use of the entire six acres, through 2015, according to its lease agreement obtained by Painter, just one of a bevy of Freedom of Information Law requests filed in 2011 that was just recently fulfilled. [Originally the town had told him “there are no such records.”] The rent increases by $200 every five years.
Venditto voted in favor of the arrangement as town councilman in 1983, along with the rest of the town board, state the documents.
“I want that deal!” booms Fetzer, a father of three who lost his son Matthew about five years ago, standing on a nearby dock. “There are delis in town that are not even 300 square-foot costing three grand a month, so three grand a month versus $2,100 a year—that’s a pretty sweet deal.”
Schultz, who pays $1,500 a year just for the mooring of his skiff, wants an investigation. Painter estimates the oyster company’s true, fair market rent, were they not getting special treatment, should be around $100,000 annually—without taxes, for just the dockage.
“It’s crazy!” blasts Schultz. “They shouldn’t have leases like that when they’re in such a financial hole.”
“I don’t get it,” says Painter. “It’s tax-exempt property.
“I’m jealous,” he laughs. “Everybody would really want what Flower’s got.”
“The taxpayers of the Town of Oyster Bay are being done a disservice, in terms of the amount of revenue that’s being garnered by the town for prime waterfront land,” slams Berger. “I would be abhorred if I was a taxpayer and I knew the terms of that lease.”
“It’s too good of a deal,” adds Painter. “Taxpayers should be outraged. Outraged. Especially in this economy.”
The Obama Administration defended the government’s detention authority before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday against the contention by a group of journalists, scholars and activists that its vagueness allows for the limitless unconstitutional imprisonment of American citizens.
The hearing was the latest in a battle sparked by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, who filed a January 2012 lawsuit in Southern District U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), signed into law Dec. 31, 2011, which “provides for indefinite detention of United States citizens and permanent residents taken into custody in the United States on suspicion of providing substantial and/or direct support for persons or entities engaged in hostilities against the United States,” according to the complaint.
Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, journalist Alexa O’Brien, RevolutionTruth Executive Director Tangerine Bolen, along with Icelandic Parliament member/activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir and activist Kai Wargalla, are co-plaintiffs, represented by attorneys Carl Mayer and Bruce Afron. Supporters dub the seven plaintiffs, including Hedges, “The Magnificent Seven.”
“The Act does not define the terms ‘substantially supported,’ ‘directly supported’ or ‘associated forces,’” it charges, and “is sufficiently broad or overbroad as to cause Plaintiff and similarly situated persons to be in foreseeable jeopardy of being brought within its textual provisions.”
The first round of the lawsuit went the way of the plaintiffs, with District Judge Katherine B. Forrest agreeing, deeming a subsection of the provision, known as 1021, unconstitutional, and issuing a permanent injunction on its implementation of indefinite detention in September 2012. The Obama Administration appealed It the following day; the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a stay on the injunction pending the outcome of the government’s appeal.
Hundreds gathered at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse Wednesday, many holding signs, to protest the provision, labeling it an unprecedented attack on civil liberties and violation of First Amendment rights. They filled two larger overflow rooms after the smaller chamber where the proceedings were held ran out of seats, though the audio in one of them was severely lacking and many strained to decipher what sounded like underwater garbling.
Lawyers for U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham joined attorneys for the government in presenting oral arguments, during which the three appellate judges pressed both sides of the issue on several details of their positions—pushing the government on its lack of a guarantee that journalists and other citizens wouldn’t be detained under the provision, a concise definition of “independent” journalism, and the plaintiffs on the potential lack of specific language that states they would be.
“This case is one of the most important cases in decades,” Ellsberg told supporters outside the courthouse following the appellate judges’ reserving of their decision, continuing that the provision “overturn[s] 200 years of domestic law to allow the military onto our streets” and hold those suspected “indefinitely.”
“This law seeks to make it lawful to detain U.S. citizens,” said Mayer, who joined Afron, the plaintiffs, Government Accountability Project National Security and Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack, former National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore later that evening at a two-hour long panel discussion organized by grassroots activism publicity and promotion agency The Sparrow Project.
Topics ranged from the lack of transparency in the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified materials to Wikileaks and Obama’s use of drones to Occupy Wall Street and major corporations’ stranglehold on elected officials and the legislative process.
Each panelist weighed in on the importance of defeating 1021. O’Brien, founder of the U.S. Day of Rage, talked about an alleged plot to link her group to Islamist fundamentalist movements, a plan exposed on Wikileaks and by confidential sources who apprised O’Brien of this effort. Drake told attendees of the Obama Administration’s attempts to convict him under the Espionage Act and its proclivity to target whistleblowers.
The audience had opportunities to ask all the panelists questions, and Moore—who said he’d contributed to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s bail—presented them with one, too, stressing the need for the public to be informed, rally and take action:
“What’s going to be the tipping point?” he asked.
Hedges, a former New York Times reporter and foreign correspondent for more than 20 years who’s covered a host of groups deemed terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department, said a major problem was that the “corporate coup” has seized the people’s avenues of communication, adding that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is a critical piece of the answer.
“That struck terror in the heart of the corporate state,” he said.
Hedges said he believed the “tipping point,” as he has witnessed in other countries, is “usually something utterly benign,” and stressed the importance of succeeding against 1021.
“What we’re talking about today is the capacity of the U.S. government to make you disappear,” he said.
An ex-Nassau County police detective testified that the ex-commander who’s a defendant in an alleged cover-up case thanked him after the investigator returned stolen property without arresting the suspect who’s a police donor’s son.
Retired Seventh Squad Det. Bruce Coffey and two current Nassau police officials—his ex-partner, Det. Barry Franklin, and his old boss, Deputy Inspector Lorna Atmore—took the stand last week in the trial of William Flanagan, the former second deputy police commissioner.
“We’re getting calls from pretty high up about this case,” Coffey said one of his bosses, retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe—Flanagan’s co-defendant, who’s case has been severed—told him. But, Coffey testified, the brass wanted the charges dropped: “They weren’t looking for an arrest.”
Flanagan has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and misconduct charges along with Sharpe and former Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter, who’s also slated to be tried separately. Coffey, who’s cooperating as a witness to avoid prosecution, testified Hunter leaned on Sharpe to have Coffey get the charges dropped.
The allegedly quashed case was that of Zachary Parker, a former student at Bellmore’s John F. Kennedy High School, who admitted last year to burglarizing his alma mater in 2009 and is serving prison time for the $11,000 in thefts. His father, Gary, was a friend of Hunter and Flanagan as well as a director of a Nassau police nonprofit. The Press exposed the alleged cover-up in March 2011.
“You didn’t order an arrest…because the school was ambivalent, is that correct?” Bruce Barket, Flanagan’s attorney, asked Atmore, Coffey’s then-supervisor. She agreed, adding that it was “not unusual” for schools to take an initial wait-and-see approach on arresting students.
Atmore testified that the day the report came in she learned Parker was a well-connected suspect who she believed would “very likely” be arrested and reported the case to the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) because he worked in the department’s Emergency Ambulance Bureau.
“I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to get involved,” she testified of her desire to avoid a case involving a suspect who’s dad is friends with some of her bosses. “I’m thinking this is a good thing, my detectives aren’t going to be responsible for dealing with this mess.”
Her relief was short-lived. Atmore said the same day she called IAU, Hunter called her back and “said that the Seventh Squad was keeping the case.” She said “It was odd and it was weird and I was trying to figure out what his relation was,” because as a patrol commander, Hunter wasn’t generally involved in detectives’ investigations.
Atmore obeyed the order, but transferred the case to Coffey after pulling it from his partner, Franklin, who originally was assigned the case. She was promoted out of the squad days later, leaving Sharpe in charge as commanding officer.
“How many other cases you were assigned were taken away from you and assigned to another detective?” Assistant District Attorney Cristiana McSloy asked Franklin, who replied, “none.”
Franklin said he didn’t properly log in as evidence the two stolen laptops and projector because it was another detective’s case and that it also hadn’t been logged in by the Fifth Precinct, where Zachary Parker’s friend originally turned some of the stolen proerty in.
Coffey said he was “conflicted” about asking the school’s principal, Lorraine Poppe, to drop the charges when they met shortly after the theft. So he went through the motions of interviewing, but not taking sworn statements from witnesses—and never asked for videotape of Parker fleeing the scene the night of the burglary.
“She was very adamant about wanting him to be arrested,” Coffey testified. “It wasn’t the time to do it. I had to show her some respect.”
Also revealed at trial was that another detective had tried to get Poppe to sign a form indicating she wanted to drop the charges a month after the theft, but she refused. Coffey eventually had Poppe sign a form accepting the property Sept. 1, 2009, but she again refused to sign the form dropping the charges, he testified.
Later that fall at a retirement party, “I was sitting down at a table, [Deputy] Commissioner Flanagan came up, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you,’” Coffey testified.
“I thought it was obviously for the John F. Kennedy case,” he said, “for handling the return of the property.”
When it was Coffey’s turn to retire in October 2010, he said he wrote a memo to close out the Parker theft case indicating that Poppe did not want the suspect arrested—a fact he testified he knew to be untrue.
The detectives’ testimony came after Gary Parker testified for four days last week. Barket asked Parker’s feeling Thursday about how his son blew his chance at probation in the burglary and unrelated drug and traffic cases, landing himself in prison instead of college.
“In hindsight, wouldn’t it be fair to say your son should have been arrested in May 2009?” Barket asked. “Yes,” Parker said after a pause.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who Parker testified attended one of many police dinners he paid for, sat with Flanagan’s supporters Friday. “Bill’s an old friend,” King told the Press outside the courtroom. “I worked closely with him on homeland security issues.”
There’s a stretch of Cantiague Rock Road in Hicksville, just north of Hicksville High School, its middle school and Lee Avenue Elementary, where pedestrians aren’t permitted to stand on the sidewalk.
There are no signs stating this, no barricades cordoning the area off, no flashing lights demarcating a construction zone or telling passersby it’s private property. But if you stop there for even a few moments to take a gander at the fenced-off property—three decrepit-looking buildings and their equally decrepit-looking parking lots—any day of the week, during any time of day, 24/7, someone will unquestionably instruct you to keep moving, to shuffle along, scram.
If your intention is to snap a few photos, as mine was at about 3 p.m. on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, you’ll get more than advice; undoubtedly you’ll receive an angry visit by one of several charged-up, plain-clothed men shouting for you to buzz off—they might even chase you away.
There’s really not much to look at, though. Sandwiched between a distribution warehouse on its south, a driving range and children’s playgrounds of Nassau County’s Cantiague Park on the east, and the county’s Department of Public Works headquarters on the north, the three parcels at 140, 100 and 70 Cantiague Rock Road are silent and devoid of life.
The latter’s facade is a beat-up, worn-down brown, with cloudy windows, drawn blinds and the faded outline of its former tenant, Air Techniques, tattooed on its side. At 100 next door stands a naked flagpole, a vast loading dock area long since abandoned and weeds towering several feet high. Several massive metal frames arch above an alley between it and the 140 building, which has part of its exterior wall peeling off and is covered in shredded plastic.
It’s here where an outhouse-shaped guard booth is manned around the clock.
“Off the property,” said an agitated, bespectacled, middle-aged man sporting a moustache when a camera crew and I recently visited to ask a few questions. A mock “Terrorist Hunting Permit” was fastened to his window. “This is private property. Get off the property,” he commanded, refusing to explain who he worked for before slamming the door.
There’s a secret in Hicksville. It’s a secret that only a handful of residents of this suburban hamlet know all too well while way too many others haven’t a clue. A secret that has already cost one of the biggest communications companies in the world millions and may end up costing them much, much more. It’s a secret that no matter how tight a lid the security guards stationed there or the site’s owners, Verizon, try to keep on it, the truth is literally leaking out—bleeding into the soil, contaminating the air and poisoning Long Island’s precious groundwater supply.
It’s a revelation that Ronkonkoma resident Gerard Depascale, a father of three and recent grandfather, and his former coworker Liam Neville, of Bayside, Queens fought relentlessly to find out, a reality they live with every single moment of their lives, one the global communications giant is doing everything in its power to control. It’s an ongoing tragedy that a federal judge recently made even more tragic for the plaintiffs; a reality that will undoubtedly affect more families in the future.
This vacant 10.5-acre stretch of land, just north of those schools, separated by a chain-link fence from the public park and situated directly across the street from Nassau BOCES Career Preparatory High School, is a radioactive toxic waste site where nuclear elements and fuel rods were fabricated and processed during the nation’s early atomic energy program in the 1950s and 1960s.
Uranium was burned here. It was released into the surrounding neighborhood from an open “smelting oven,” according to one former worker—or within a “burning building,” according to another. It was also buried here, along with nickel and much more. Unknown amounts of chlorocarbons—Tetrachloroethene, or Perchloroethylene, known as PCE and PERC, respectively—and byproduct chlorinated hydrocarbon Trichloroethylene, or TCE (classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), were dumped into unlined sumps and leeching pools, and currently reside in the soil, the groundwater and have volatilized into the air.
People who unknowingly worked atop the site, such as Depascale and Neville, have contracted rare—make that extraordinarily rare and obscure—cancers.
Neville has a rare kidney cancer called membranous nephropathy. Following years of dialysis, he was lucky enough to find a donor and receive a transplant, though now he’s currently facing some complications.
Depascale has an even rarer cancer, called extra-skeletal myxoid chondrosarcoma. It’s Stage Four and it’s in his bone marrow.
Besides the unquantifiable pain and anguish suffered by the two and their loved ones are insurmountable medical bills and an inability to work, not to mention their shortened lifespan.
Depascale and Neville, both former employees of Magazine Distributors, Inc. (MDI), who worked at the 100 building and its warehouse from about 1990 till 2002, when the company suddenly moved (employees were told it was the end of their lease; court transcripts reveal General Telephone and Electronics Corp. (GTE), who merged with Verizon in 2000, “assumed” the lease from MDI after purchasing the 140 property in 1999 for contamination remediation efforts and the 70 location in 2004) are literally battling for survival.
They’re also fighting for justice.
Depascale, his wife Joanne and Neville filed a toxic tort lawsuit against Verizon and its predecessors claiming negligence and liability, among other charges, in Nassau County State Supreme Court in 2007. The case was moved to federal court at the request of the defendants, who argued defense under government contractor immunity law—which protects contractors who perform federal work from lawsuits such as theirs. The jury heard expert testimony from both sides, also learning that an untold number of records relating to the Hicksville site had simply disappeared from GTE/Verizon’s files. Near the end of the trial, the presiding judge in that case, U.S. District Judge Leonard D. Wexler, impaneled an additional two alternate jurors, and according to Neville, ordered that for them to win, the verdict would have to be unanimous.
It was, and on Nov. 12, 2009 after just eight days of testimony, the jury issued its verdict, awarding the trio $12 million on the grounds of causation, negligence and damages, finding they got past the federal contractor immunity.
That detail of this saga has been reported before—as well as the settlement of a 2002 complaint alleging that nearly 300 Hicksville residents who live near the site developed cancers and related injuries because of it.
Unreported is that more than five months after Depascale and Neville’s win, following an appeal by Verizon, Wexler, in the rare instance of a judge going against the will of a jury—ordered the case be retried, on limited grounds, effectively nullifying the award and ultimately, deeming the jury’s verdict a “miscarriage of justice.”
They lost that trial—Neville bleeding through his shirt in the courtroom, though restricted to tell the jury that he or Depascale were even ill. They appealed, Verizon filed a cross-appeal, and now the pair is set to present oral arguments for why Wexler’s order for retrial should be overridden and the jury’s award reinstated before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Jan. 15. Yet it’s not simply reparations for their medical debts that they’re fighting for now.
The fate of countless other former residents, former MDI employees and others who’ve worked at the site may literally hang in the balance, since Wexler ordered a stay on another pending class action “medical monitoring” suit that could include innumerable plaintiffs until Depascale and Neville’s appeal has been decided.
A Press investigation—part of an ongoing series into how its industrial and military past is affecting the Island’s current-day environment and residents and consisting of the analysis of hundreds of pages of state and federal records, including investigative reports concerning contamination to the soil, air and water at the site, remediation plans, maps, assessments, internal correspondence and thousands of pages of court filings and transcripts, among others—has discovered that GTE, Verizon and state regulators certainly knew or should have known about the site’s contamination years before Neville and Depascale and the hundreds of others who worked along Cantiague Rock Road ever stepped foot there.
It reveals a twisted and unconscionable game of pass-the-buck when it comes to informing these workers of even the potential for adverse health effects, a game that continues to this day. What’s absolutely indisputable is that many people living around that site and who’ve worked there have developed horrific cancers. And that some have already died from these.
Additionally, the records reveal that despite several state-supervised “voluntary” remediation efforts at the site—the largest conducted by GTE, which one report states included the excavation and removal of at least approximately 100,000 tons of contaminated soil and unearthed, partially filled tanks of radioactive and carcinogenic elements and chemicals—it remains contaminated and its true ramifications on the health and safety of not only Hicksville residents, but all Long Islanders (since we all share drinking water aquifers), may never be known.
Neville, a bachelor, self-professed pessimist, horse bettor and the more outspoken of the pair, staked he and Depascale’s odds in court at 60-40 in Verizon’s favor when I first sat down with them six months ago. Recently, those self-ascribed odds have gotten worse. He says 70-30 now, in Verizon’s favor.
“You ever feel like punching someone in the face and there’s no one there to punch, you’re that angry?” says Neville of how he felt when he learned what was beneath his workplace. “This is a 60 Minutes episode. This happens to somebody else. This doesn’t happen to me. This is insane.”
For Depascale, who has a family to provide for, things have been even worse. Adding even more insult to so much injury, his workman’s compensation claim—which he originally won, is back in court again following two appeals.
“Betrayed,” is how he feels. “They should have told us that that place was contaminated. If I knew about it, at least it would have been my choice to be there, not their choice.
“It’s been a nightmare since I got sick,” he says.
Requests for comment to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Joseph D. Gonzalez, and William H. Pratt, a lead attorney for the defendants in the litigation, went unanswered for this story.