Timothy Bolger

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.

Long Island Upsets Usher In State Senate Firsts

State Sen.-elect Kevin Thomas, at podium, speaks at a news conference after Election Day. L to R are James Gaughran, Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) and Anna Kaplan. (Long Island Press photo)

When Democrats surfed a blue wave to wash Republicans from New York State Senate control for the first time a decade — and about a century before that — the sea change brought some unprecedented developments.

New York State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) will be the first woman to lead a state legislative conference when she takes the gavel from Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who will lead the chamber’s GOP minority come January. Also, among four stunning upsets on Long Island, Nassau County voters elected New York’s first Indian-American state senator and first Iranian-American state lawmaker while Suffolk County voters elected their first female state senator.

“This is years in the making,” says Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, crediting increased voter turnout to “the political environment, the anger, the upset over Donald Trump and what’s going on in Washington.”

The state Senate power change came as Democrats also flipped the U.S. House of Representatives by the biggest midterm election margin in 44 years, although LI’s five congressional representatives were all re-elected.

Twenty-nine-year-incumbent state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) was unseated by Democratic challenger Kevin Thomas, an Indian-American attorney, in the Sixth Senate District. Democratic Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, a Jewish refugee from Iran, ousted freshman state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) in the Seventh Senate District. And in a rematch of a razor-thin 2016 race, Democratic Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman James Gaughran unseated 23-year incumbent state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) in the Fifth Senate District, which straddles the county line.

To the east, Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) beat state Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) in the race to replace retired state Sen. Tom Croci (R-Bohemia) in the Third Senate District.

All nine LI state Senate seats were solidly Republican not long ago. They were dubbed The Long Island Nine. Now, the GOP holds just three of those seats. Jacobs dubbed the new Democratic group “The Long Island Six.”

It’s the first time in recent memory that more than two Democrats were among the nine state Senators representing the Island. The Republican-led state Senate has long been the lone check on Democratic power in state government. For the past nine years, senators from LI have led the Senate. Disgraced ex-state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), recently re-sentenced for a repeat federal corruption conviction he’s appealing for a second time, preceded Flanagan as senate leader.

Flanagan had warned that if the Democrats were successful in taking over, they would raise taxes, worsening the already high cost of living in New York State. Democrats insist they learned their lesson from their passage of the unpopular MTA Payroll Tax that ended their short tenure in control 10 years ago.

“Last thing we want a year or two years from now is for voters to have buyers’ remorse,” Jacobs says.

Despite the warning, Flanagan was complimentary of Stewart-Cousins as she prepared to take his job, calling her a “class and and truly an extraordinary person.”

“It is my sincere hope that she and I can work together to ease the burden on hardworking taxpayers, partner with job seekers and job creators to grow our economy, ensure every region of the state gets it fair share and adopt bold reforms,” Flanagan said in a statement.

Hot-button issues likely to be debated in next year’s legislative session include proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, create single-payer health care, and codify abortion rights — especially given Democratic fears that Trump’s recent appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court could help conservatives overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Change is coming to New York,” says Gaughran.

As for the state Assembly, which remains solidly in a Democratic majority, the blue wave also swept away that chamber’s third-most powerful leader when Democrat Taylor Raynor, a community activist, unseated Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), a 30-year incumbent.

The rest of LI’s 22-member Assembly delegation remained effectively unchanged despite two upsets. Republicans retained two seats being vacated by GOP lawmakers. And while Democrat Judy Griffin unseated eight-year state Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook, Republican Mike LiPetri unseated state Assemb. Christine Pellegrino (D-West Islip), leaving the local party breakdown unchanged.

The state legislature reconvenes for the 2019 session on Jan. 9.

30 People Nabbed in Massive Dumping Scheme, DA Says

Thirty people and nine corporations have been charged in a 130-count indictment alleging what Suffolk County authorities described as the largest dumping conspiracy bust in New York State history.

The accused illegally dumped solid waste at 24 locations across Long Island since February, according to investigators who conducted stakeouts and used wiretaps to make their case. The central figure was identified as Anthony “Rock” Grazio, 53, of Smithtown, the “dirt broker” who allegedly arranged locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of solid waste.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: we will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Suffolk County police were part of the months-long joint investigation dubbed “Operation Pay Dirt.” 

Grazio posted advertisements on Craigslist for “clean fill” for landscaping projects and solicited homeowners over the phone and in person for locations to use for dumping, prosecutors said.

The material that was illegally dumped came from recycling and transfer stations located in New York City and Long Island. It was then transported and dumped at the sites by trucking companies.

“This scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “They did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents.”

DEC tests of the dump sites found that six of the locations contained acutely hazardous substances and 17 of the locations contained hazardous substances including metals such as cobalt, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc and mercury, as well as pesticides aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor.  

Nineteen of the 24 locations are residential, four are commercial, and one is a school. The solid waste dumped at the school was immediately removed.

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

“This case sends a message that we will not tolerate the dumping of prohibited materials into our communities,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said.

The top count of the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, a felony, which carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Brentwood Woman Admits Sending Money to ISIS

vinas

A Brentwood woman has admitted sending more than $150,000 to ISIS, the international terrorist organization based in Syria and Iraq, federal prosecutors said.

Zoobia Shahnaz pleaded guilty Monday to providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization at Central Islip federal court. She was originally charged with fraud.

“Shahnaz…admitted to engaging in a complex scheme using cryptocurrencies designed to put thousands of dollars into the coffers of ISIS, a foreign terrorist organization dedicated to murder and destruction,” said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. 

Prosecutors said the 28-year-old US citizen fraudulently applied for more than a dozen credit cards that she used to purchase Bitcoin, then transferred the funds to shell entities in Pakistan, China and Turkey. The ultimate destination for the money was the Islamic State, according to investigators. 

Law enforcement questioned her in July 2017 when she tried to board a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Islamabad, Pakistan with a multi-day layover in Istanbul, Turkey, which authorities said is a common point of entry for individuals travelling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria.

Shahnaz faces up to 20 years in prison when she is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.

She is the eighth person with Long Island ties implicated in a terror plot since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Bryant Neal Vinas of Patchogue, an al-Qaeda recruit-turned-informant, was released from jail last year.

Westbury native Samir Khan, the one-time editor of al-Qaeda’s magazine, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen six years ago. Mohammad Younis of Centereach pleaded guilty in 2011 to unwittingly providing $7,000 to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square Bomber. And Elvis Redzepagic, of Commack, was arrested in March for trying to join ISIS.

In addition, fellow Brentwood residents Marcos Alonso Zea and Justin Kaliebe were sentenced two years ago to 25 years and 13 years in prison, respectively, for trying to join al-Qaeda. And Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, who grew up in Westbury, pledged allegiance to ISIS during the Orlando massacre.

Deputy Hempstead Village Police Chief Charged With Bribery

Deputy Chief Richard Holland and Hempstead Trustee Perry Pettus

Deputy Hempstead Village Police Chief Richard Holland was arrested after a grand jury indicted him for allegedly bribing a village trustee for a promotion, Nassau County prosecutors said.

Richard Holland pleaded not guilty Thursday to third-degree bribery, a felony, at Nassau County court. Village Trustee Perry Pettus, who was previously arrested on other corruption charges, was re-arrested and pleaded not guilty to felony bribe receiving and official misconduct, a misdemeanor. 

“This ongoing investigation has uncovered shocking corruption at the highest levels of Hempstead Village government and law enforcement,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “The criminal allegations against Trustee Perry Pettus and Deputy Chief of Department Richard Holland raise serious concerns about these officials’ leadership within these institutions that serve the public and I ask anyone, especially Hempstead officers and employees, to come forward with any information that may assist this investigation.”

After three Hempstead village police chiefs retired, prosecutors said Holland, 47, met Pettus, 62, on May 14 in the parking lot behind Spices Negril Restaurant in South Hempstead, where the deputy gave the trustee cash wrapped in newspaper in exchange for the promotion.

Following the June 5 village board meeting vote, Holland was appointed as acting deputy chief of police, and was sworn-in as deputy chief on June 7, prosecutors said.

Both men were released without bail and are due back in court Dec. 4. They face up to seven years in prison, if convicted.

Pettus, a former deputy mayor of the village and owner of Hempstead Hub Towing was previously charged in three separate grand jury indictments related to bribery and extortion schemes of local business owners.

Singas Declines To Prosecute Ex-NY AG Schneiderman

New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman
Ex-New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas is declining to prosecutor former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for allegations of domestic abuse that led to his resignation in May, her office announced Thursday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had appointed Singas the special prosecutor tasked with investigating domestic and sexual abuse allegations against Schneiderman. Suffolk Count District Attorney Timothy Sini’s office is investigating one of the alleged incidents that occurred in the Hamptons, although the status of that probe was not immediately clear.

“Following an exhaustive review, evaluation of the facts, the law, and applicable statutes of limitations, I have concluded our investigation into the allegations of physical abuse allegedly committed by … Schneiderman without criminal charges,” Singas said in a statement. “I believe the women who shared their experiences with our investigation team, however legal impediments, including statutes of limitations, preclude criminal prosecution.”

Schneiderman announced his resignation three hours after a bombshell report in The New Yorker magazine detailing similar claims from four women recounting physical abuse by the AG. The story described two of Schneiderman’s ex-girlfriends claims that the AG — who held himself out as an advocate for women’s rights in the wake of the #MeToo movement — allegedly slapped, choked and emotionally abused them without consent.

A high-profile attorney who remained anonymous was quoted in the magazine as detailing a sexually aggressive encounter with Schneiderman that left her frightened following a party in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016.

After his resignation, State Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood was appointed Acting New York State Attorney General, making her the first woman to hold the title. Democrat Letitia James, who was elected to be the next Attorney General on Tuesday, will be the first African-American woman to hold the post when she takes office in January.

Singas said that she “personally interviewed each of the women who cooperated with our investigation along with their attorneys” as well as members of Schneiderman’s security detail, employees, and a potential witnesses. Although she declined to press charges against Schneiderman, she did recommend legislation to correct what she called “deficiencies in New York law.”

Some Upsets in NY Assembly Races on Long Island

Left to right: Taylor Raynor and Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead).

Three New York State Assembly members were unseated Tuesday, most notably the anticipated ousting of Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), a 30-year-incumbent.

Democrat Taylor Raynor, who beat Hooper in September’s Democratic primary, trounced Republican James Lamarre with 81 percent of the vote on Election Day, according to unofficial early returns tallied by the state Board of Elections. Democrat Judy Griffin unseated eight-year state Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook) with 51 to 46 percent of the vote. And Republican Mike LiPetri unseated state Assemb. Christine Pellegrino (D-West Islip) by a margin of 54 to 42 percent.

in addition, Republicans won two state Assembly seats vacated by GOP incumbents.

Republican Joseph DeFestano beat Democrat Clyde Parker 51 to 43 percent in the race to replace outgoing state Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), who lost his bid for state Senate on Tuesday.

And Republican Douglas Smith beat Democrat Timothy Hall 56 to 39 percent in the race to replace Smith’s former boss, state Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook), who became a District Court judge in April.

Long Island’s other 17 state Assembly members were re-elected. The Assembly remains in the Democratic majority.

Democrats Win NY Senate Majority After Long Island Upsets

constitutional convention
The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

Democrats unseated three Republican New York State Senators on Long Island and picked up a fourth LI State Senate seat previously held by a Republican, likely flipping the balance of power from GOP to Democratic control in the state’s upper legislative chamber, according to unofficial early returns from the state Board of Elections.

In a rematch of a razor-thin 2016 race, Democratic Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman James Gaughran unseated 23-year incumbent state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) 54 to 43 percent, results show. Democratic Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan ousted freshman state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) 53 to 44 percent, results show. And 29-year-incumbent Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) is two percentage points behind Democratic challenger Kevin Thomas, who declared victory.

In Suffolk, Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) beat State Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) 50 to 47 percent in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Tom Croci (R-Bohemia) in the 3rd Senate District. 

“This is an historic night in New York State,” Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs told supporters.

It is the first time in a decade that the Democrats may control the state Senate, where Republicans have long been the lone check on Democratic power in state government. The GOP’s current one-vote majority hinges on a lone Democratic senator that votes with the Republicans. Before that, a since-ousted faction called the Independent Democratic Conference voted with Republicans to give the GOP a majority.

It’s a stunning development considering  all nine LI state Senate seats were solidly Republican not long ago. Now, the GOP holds just three of those seats.

“Today, voters braved the rain and came out across the North Shore of Long Island and I’m honored that they chose me, a Jewish refugee from Iran, to be their next State Senator,” Kaplan said. “We now have an important responsibility to protect Long Island taxpayers, protect women’s reproductive health rights and do more to end the scourge of gun violence. I look forward to the opportunity to getting to work for all Long Islanders and New Yorkers.”

The other five members of Long Island’s State Senate delegation, including New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), were all re-elected.

“New York voters spoke loud and clear today as they shifted the power in the New York State Senate,” said Long Island Progressive Coalition Director Lisa Tyson. “For decades the NYS Republican Senate have blocked reforms that would improve people’s lives. We have new leadership in the Senate that must stand up and fight for progressive changes throughout the state.”

All 5 Long Island Congressional Reps Re-elected

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by DAVID ILIFF)

The blue wave of voters that flipped the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican to Democratic control Tuesday did not cause any congressional upsets on Long Island this Election Day.

All five of LI’s congressional representatives won re-election, although some by closer calls than others, according to unofficial early returns tallied by the New York State Board of Elections.

In the Island’s East End swing district, two-term U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) beat Democratic businessman Perry Gershon, returns show. And U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) declared victor in his bid for his 14th term against Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, who made national headlines when the Federal Elections Commission unprecedentedly allowed her to use campaign funds to pay for child care while she’s on the trail.

Early returns show King beat Shirley 52 to 45 percent and Zeldin beating Gershon by the same percentage, with the majority of precincts reporting.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) beat Republican challenger Dan DeBono with 57 percent of the vote. And by an even great margin, U.S. Rep Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) declared victory over Ameer Benno, a Republican attorney challenging the two-term congresswoman.

Running unopposed for his eleventh term was U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), whose district includes part of southwestern Nassau County.

-With Eden Laikin

Cuomo Wins 3rd Term As NY Governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo beat Republican rival Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won his third term as New York’s top elected official Tuesday, fending off a challenge from Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

Letitia James, the Democratic nominee for New York State Attorney General, became the first African-American woman to hold the title of the state’s top law enforcement post. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was re-elected along with New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat from Long Island who declared victory over Republican Jonathan Trichter. And New York State Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was re-elected to a second term. 

The Associated Press projected the governor’s win one minute after the polls closed at 9 p.m. His re-election comes amid increasing speculation that Cuomo will mount a bid to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

“I am humbled by the support of New York,” Cuomo told cheering supporters during his victory speech in New York City. “I will work every day to vindicate the confidence that the people of New York have put in me.”

Also running were Howie Hawkins on the Green Party line, Libertarian Larry Sharpe and Stephanie A. Miner, who ran on the Serve America Movement party line.

The gubernatorial race was at the top of the ticket during the mid-term elections in which election officials reported above-average turnout, as voters heeded calls to consider this Election Day a referendum on Trump’s policies. Cuomo spent much of his victory speech attacking the president.

“Today’s election made clear, this state is not buying what Trump is selling,” Cuomo said, calling Trump a fraud. “We are not a nation of red states and blue states, we are a nation of red, white and blue states.”

This is a breaking news update. Check back as the story develops.

Pirate’s Booty: Long Island’s Looted Cheddar

Pirate's Booty is billed as the healthy snack food. (Photo by Mike Mozart)

Robert Ehrlich of Sea Cliff was a commodities trader studying consumer habits when he had a multimillion-dollar idea while reading product labels in the snack-food aisle of his local supermarket.

Marveling at how cheese was not listed as an ingredient in cheese puffs, Ehrlich set sail in 1987 to plunder his piece of the bloated American snack-food market armed with Pirate’s Booty all-natural white-cheddar cheese rice and corn puffs — a healthier alternative to traditional junk food.

“Most of the ingredients [in cheese puffs] you couldn’t even pronounce,” Ehrlich told Columbia University News Service.

Pirate’s Booty struck gold. A decade later, the puffs were being sold in stores nationwide, earning $50 million in annual sales. The parent company Ehrlich founded, Robert’s American Gourmet Food, later dubbed Pirate Brands, also made Smart Puffs and Original Tings.

The success was not without scandal. The Good Housekeeping Institute found that Pirate’s Booty was mislabeled as low fat, when it in fact had 8.5 grams of fat, not 2.5 grams as advertised at the time. The company blamed a manufacturing snafu, corrected the labels and reformulated Pirate’s Booty so it now has 5 grams of fat.

Despite the drama, corporate profiteers found their way to Long Island to dig up the cheese-dusted treasure. Ehrlich’s partner, Mike Repole, negotiated a deal to sell the Pirate’s Booty snack group to New Jersey-based B&G Foods — the baked beans, Cream of Wheat and bagel crisp maker — for $195 million in 2013. The next day, the new owners laid off all 55 employees of the Sea Cliff Pirate’s Booty plant.

Ehrlich, who made $70 million in the deal, has since launched a new healthy snack: SexyPop, a nutritious popcorn. Last month, news broke that B&G is selling Pirate Brands to The Hershey Company for $420 million, more than double the price B&G paid five years ago. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

No word if a chocolate-flavored Pirate’s Booty will follow.