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.

Islip Councilwoman Apologizes for Facebook Controversy

Quit Social Media

Islip Town Councilwoman Trish Bergin-Weichbrodt apologized Saturday for a social media post she made about several foreign nations that prompted critics to plan a protest outside Islip Town Hall next week.

In a since-deleted Facebook post, the Republican former News12 Long Island anchor made a thinly veiled reference to President Donald Trump’s widely reported terming of Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries”

“I’m looking a warm getaways for kids February break,” she wrote Friday. “I’m wondering about El Salvador, Haiti or Somalia #recommendations ?”

The post, a screen grab of which was saved and has been shared on social media, generated an immediate backlash. On Saturday, it was gone and replaced with an apology.

“I have leaned that my Facebook post offended some of you,” she wrote. “Please accept my sincere apology.”

The same day, critics started organizing “rally to protest Councilwoman Bergin’s hateful & divisive statement” scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday outside town hall.

Her supporters said in response that she shouldn’t have apologized.

Hawaiians on Long Island During Missile Scare

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during the system's first operational test at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii on Oct. 5, 2011. The test was conducted by the Ballistic Missile Defense System Operational Test Agency with the support of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. During the test the THAAD system engaged and simultaneously intercepted two ballistic missile targets.

While Hawaiians were misled to believe they faced certain death following an erroneous missile alert over the weekend, one family from the Pacific archipelago were reportedly on Long Island at the time.

Justin and his mother, Jacky, were in Plainview visiting family for a wedding when Justin got a call back home from his wife, who said that she received an alert on her cell phone that there was a ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii, WNYW-TV reported.

“Total panic and helplessness,” is what Jacky told Fox 5 NY she felt when she thought she’d never see her grandchildren again before learning that the missile alert was an error.

The alert triggered panic in the streets of paradise as Hawaiian residents sought shelter and sent desperate messages to loved ones for about a half hour Saturday before another alert went out indicating that the threat warning was a mistake.

“Seek immediate shelter,” the erroneous message warned. “This is not a drill.”

But, as it turned out, it was a drill. And the unnamed government official who mistakenly sent the emergency alert was temporarily reassigned pending the results of an investigation.

The mishap comes amid heightened tensions between the US and North Korea, whose dictator has been ratcheting up rhetoric threatening America with nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile strikes.

Tunnel to Conn. Debated at Long Island Association Event

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of East Northport. Photo credit: Thomas Christian DeJosia

A recently revived idea to build a tunnel from North Shore to Connecticut was among the top issues up for discussion at the Long Island Association’s State of The Region event Friday.

New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) told the nearly 1,000 people in attendance at the event in Woodbury that he opposes a proposed Long Island Sound crossing. But LIA President Kevin Law said he favors it.

“I’d rather see our money go toward a bridge rather than a wall,” Law said, referring to President Donald Trump’s proposal to extend the wall on the US-Mexico border.

A state-sponsored feasibility study recently came out in favor of the estimated $55-billion Sound crossing idea, Newsday reported. Proposals of a bridge or tunnel to Connecticut or Westchester date back decades but have long faced fierce opposition.

“We have so many other things that we need to do,” Flanagan said of the idea, which he didn’t see as a priority. 

Also speaking at the LIA event were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who took office two weeks ago.

Bellone said Long Island Rail Road improvement projects, transit-oriented community projects around the region, park enhancements and other projects are helping lure more young people back to LI, reversing the Brain Drain.

“Our ability to retrofit suburbia in a way that will create broad-based sustainable economic growth has never been stronger,” he said.

Curran said she’s seen enthusiasm from county workers despite $18-million in cuts being ordered by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state-appointed fiscal watchdog panel.

“I’m finding that the malaise that has settled over the county operations is beginning to lift,” she said. “A dialogue is beginning in each department about what we can do better. We need that buy in from our county employees, because it comes as no surprise, we’ve inherited a mess and it is going to take a lot of work to clean it up.”

Schneps Family Acquires Noticia Long Island

Schneps Communications, the parent company of the Long Island Press, has acquired Noticia, a popular Spanish-language media company with more than 150,000 readers online and in print. They have served the Long Island communities for over 26 years.

Cinthia and Silvana Diaz took over Noticia from their parents in 2009.

Schneps, which owns and operates 22 other publications, events and websites throughout New York City and Long Island, is planning to continue to publish Noticia on Long Island and will separately publish El Correo of NY, the company’s other Spanish language newspaper that serves Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.

“We’re very proud to have acquired Noticia and the very special people who have built it the past 26 years,” says Victoria Schneps-Yunis, president and founder of Schneps Communications. “This will offer an unparalleled opportunity for clients who want to reach the Hispanic/Latino audience in New York City and Long Island. We’re thrilled to bring on board as the publisher of El Correo of NY and Noticia, Silvana Diaz.”

Schneps-Yunis adds that the combined talent of Noticia and El Correo brings “four decades of quality news to the Spanish-speaking communities of our region.” Karmina L. Fonseca will be editor in chief of both publications.

William and Vicky Diaz founded Noticia in 1991.

Silvana Diaz, the publisher of Noticia, lives in Baldwin and her parents, William and Vicky Diaz, founded the paper in 1991. Silvana and her sister, Cinthia, became co-owners in 2009. The newspaper also ran successful Hispanic networking events and a scholarship fund, Fundación Hispanoamericana, for many years.

“Our family is excited to be joining the Schneps Communications family, where our mutual goal is to continue to serve our communities from NYC to Long Island, through all our platforms – print, digital and event marketing,” Diaz says.

“It is with great responsibility and humbleness that I take this new role of publisher of Schneps Communications Hispanic Media Division,” she continues. “It has been my family’s mission to give a voice and empower our community through unbiased and accurate local news reporting. This mission now expands geographically and demographically.”

Reputed MS-13 Gangsters Charged With Roosevelt Murder

ms-13

Seventeen reputed MS-13 street gang members and associates were arrested this week on murder, conspiracy and drug trafficking charges in a round-up spanning Nassau County, New Jersey and Maryland, authorities said.

Among the accused were David Sosa “Risky” Guevara and Victor Lopez, who were charged with second-degree murder for the July 19 killing of 15-year-old Angel Soler, whose cement-encased mutilated remains police unearthed Oct. 19 in a Roosevelt preserve, according to local and federal investigators.

“This massive multi-agency investigation laid bare the global size, complexity, and brutality of MS-13, and these indictments strike a heavy blow to the gang’s operations on Long Island,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said.

The case, which started as a heroin and cocaine trafficking case, was one of three indictments that took down the MS-13 leader in charge of the El Salvador-based gang’s Northeast operation, but authorities did identify the suspect, who was arrested in Maryland. Twenty-two agencies were involved in the joint investigation, including the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force.

“A local drug investigation led to unveiling ruthless MS-13 cliques responsible for murder, assaults and drug trafficking in our backyard,” DEA Special Agent in Charge James Hunt said. “Not only did we arrest the highest-level Mara Salvatrucha leader in the Northeast who reports to MS-13 in El Salvador, but we sent a message that we will continue to investigate their violent crimes and bring justice to their victims.” 

Besides murder, some of the suspects were also charged with operating as a major trafficker. All of the suspects face up to 25 years to life in prison, if convicted of the top charges in the indictments.

The gang’s leaders allegedly instructed LI-based MS-13 members to kill a suspected informant in Maryland in September, but that hit was thwarted by investigators, officials said. Another LI-linked attempted murder was also thwarted in New Jersey.

“Today’s indictments of charges on murder, conspiracy and drug charges is a stark reminder that our work is not done in our quest to rid these violent street gangs form our neighborhoods,” said acting Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. “Although we are making great strides regarding our enforcement aspect, we must also be there to educate the young adults and children in these communities. I cannot have good families and their children in our Hispanic communities be intimidated.”

 

  

New DA, Sheriff and Police Commissioner Take Over in Suffolk

From left to right: Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon and acting Suffolk Police Commissioner John Barry.

A changing of the guard took place this week for the three top Suffolk County law enforcement posts as a new police commissioner, district attorney and sheriff all took over.

Errol Toulon replaced Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent Demarco on Monday. On Tuesday, outgoing Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini was sworn in as district attorney. And his deputy, John Barry, was named acting police commissioner Monday while a search gets underway for a permanent replacement.

“The first and most important objective is to restore integrity the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, which has been called into question,” said Sini, referring to the indictment of his predecessor, Tom Spota, who resigned after he pleaded not guilty in October to federal corruption charges.

Sini, a Democrat, beat Republican criminal defense attorney Ray Perini in the race to replace Spota, who declined to seek a sixth term this year before he and his top public corruption investigator were accused of trying to cover up the former police chief’s beating of a handcuffed inmate.

“I promise that to the best of my ability, I will create a culture that empowers my administration, my assistants, to do the right things,” Sini said. “To secure convictions that will withstand appeal and to protect the innocent.”

Barry, who worked with Sini at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, had been Sini’s top deputy commissioner, making him next in line to take over as acting commissioner. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said he’ll launch a nationwide search to replace Sini. Barry,an NYPD veteran, had led the investigation into ex-New York State Assembly Speak Sheldon Silver (D-Manhttan), who’s facing a retrial on federal corruption charges after his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Toulon, a Democrat, beat Republican Larry Zacarese following a recount in a race that was too close to call on election night. Toulon is the first African American to hold a county-wide seat in Long Island history. He replaced DeMarco, who didn’t seek re-election and lost his Conservative Party support after getting its ex-leader convicted of $200,000 in payroll theft.

“I want to create an environment over the course of this transition that encourages our employees to share their ideas and ways in which I can support their professional growth,” said Toulon, who spent the transition assessing staff levels, learning about the inner workings of the Sheriff’s Office and fine-tuning his agenda.

In addition to those changes, U.S. Attorney General appointed Richard Donoghue the interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which prosecutes federal crimes on LI, beginning Friday. He investigated and prosecuted a wide array of cases, including MS-13 racketeering cases and other violent crime, white collar crime, public integrity offenses, and drug trafficking and transformed the agency’s Public Integrity Section.

Bridget Rohde, who has been Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District since Sessions dismissed her predecessor, Robert Capers, will resume her role as First Assistant United States Attorney.

Long Island Under State of Emergency Amid Blizzard

A snow plow clears Montauk Highway in Islip on Jan. 4, 2018 (Long Island Press photo).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a state of emergency Thursday for Long Island just as Winter Storm Grayson brought blizzard conditions, dumping a forecast 12 inches of snow on much of the area.

Although roads, bridges, and the Long Island Rail Road remained open while schools, airports and many businesses closed, officials urged residents to stay home to avoid getting stranded. The storm is expected to bring up to three inches of snow per hour, but 60 mph gusts will make keeping the roads clear difficult, officials said.

“This is not a normal snow storm, this is two weather patterns that have collided,” Cuomo said. “Today is not the day to go out if you really, really do not have to.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued blizzard warnings for Nassau and Suffolk counties through early Friday morning. Eastern LI could see as much as 18 inches of snow, with lesser amounts at points west, the agency said. As of 11 a.m., Old Brookville had the highest amount in Nassau with 7 inches and Long Island MacArthur Airport had the highest amount so far in Suffolk with 13 inches.

PSEG Long Island had more than 4,000 customers without power as of Thursday afternoon. The heavy snow is expected to down tree limbs, knocking out utility wires.

“This is a difficult, challenging, dangerous storm,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who urged residents to check on loved ones and neighbors that live alone. “This is a time when we have to come together as a community.”

After the storm passes, freezing temperatures will make clearing the snow difficult since the snow will turn to ice, officials said.

“Residents should stay informed on storm conditions and stay indoors,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “The bitter cold temperatures coupled with blowing and drifting snow will pose health and safety concerns.”

Cuomo noted that drivers getting stuck in snow not only find themselves in a life-or-death situation, they also make it impossible for plows to clear roads clogged with stranded vehicles.

“There’s a very quick spiral into chaos, and that’s what were concerned about,” he said.

A snow plow stuck behind a stranded vehicle in Baldwin on Jan. 4, 2018 (Photo via Noticia)

Top 17 Long Island Stories of 2017

Clockwise from left: The Barnum & Bailey Circus held its last show at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders are moving to Elmont, Suffolk DA Tom Spota was indicted, LI native John Phippen was killed in the nation's deadliest shooting by a lone gunman, LI's Bill O'Reilly was fired for sexual misconduct, and the Nassau Coliseum re-opened.

17. Long Island Press Sold, Relaunched
We’ll start with the news most local to this newsroom. In April, Schneps Communications acquired the Press from Morey Publishing. We relaunched as a monthly in September. And our publisher who led the effort, John Kominicki, sadly passed in December.

16. Russian Spy Ship Eyes LI
Reactions varied when a Russian spy ship was spotted off the coast of LI in February. Some were scared, others said it’s routine. President Trump demurred when asked what he’d do about it.

15. LI’s Fallen FDNY Firefighter
Thousands of firefighters lined the streets of Bethpage to pay tribute to FDNY veteran William Tolley, a 42-year-old married father of one who plunged to his death in April battling a fire in a five-story building in Queens.

14. First Casino Opens on LI
Despite the odds favoring NIMBYs, the Island got its first casino when Jake’s 58 debuted in Islandia in March. Of course, a lawsuit still cast a dark cloud over its future, but for now, the money keeps flowing and the slots keep rolling.

13: Nassau Coliseum Back in Action
Nearly two years after the “Old Barn” shuttered its doors, the refurbished 13,900-seat arena officially reopened to the public on April 5 in the most-Long Island way possible: with a Billy Joel concert.

12: Hempstead Town Councilman Ambrosino Arrested
The list of indicted elected officials on LI grew again in March when Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino was arrested and charged with tax evasion in what federal authorities said was a scheme to divert legal fees to his bank account.

11. Localities Graded ‘C’ in First-ever LI Transparency Report Card
We’re not just touting our own story, we swear. This unprecedented, in-depth report on LI municipalities’ responsiveness to public record requests sparked reforms in agencies that scored poorly.

10. First Cop on Scene of Pulse Shooting from LI
Orlando Police Det. Adam Gruler, the first member of law enforcement to exchange fire with the Pulse nightclub shooter a year ago in June, is a Long Island native, the Press exclusively reported on the anniversary.

9. Circus Put Out to Pasture at Coliseum
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus ended its 146-run with its final set of shows at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in May — a blow to the thousands of families that loved the show but a celebration for its animal-loving detractors.

8. O’Reilly Out at Fox
Bill O’Reilly, a Levittown native who lives in Manhasset, was the top-rated host on the top-rated cable news network, Fox News Channel, until he was fired in April following reports that he paid five accusers a total of $13 million in settlements related to sexual harassment allegations.

7. Nassau Legis. Solages Charged With Assault
Usually it’s public corruption lawmakers are busted for, but Nassau Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in June. Despite the charges still pending, he was re-elected in November.

6. Long Island Rail Road’s Summer of Hell
LIRR riders took buses and ferries into Manhattan amid two months of train service disruptions caused by Amtrak emergency repair work at Penn Station in what was dubbed the “Summer of Hell.”

5. War on MS-13
The ultra-violent street gang blamed for a quadruple murder in Central Islip this year, among other local slayings, prompted visits by U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump, who both vowed to crack down on MS-13.

4. LI Man Among 58 killed in LV
John Phippen, a 56-year-old Long Island native, was among 58 killed when a gunman opened fire this fall at a Las Vegas music festival, leaving more than 500 wounded before the shooter committed suicide in the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in US history.

3. Islanders Skating Home
In arguably the best news that could ever happen for local hockey fans, officials announced in December that the NY Islanders won their bid to build a new arena in Elmont. It’s not a return to the coliseum, but they’re coming home to LI.

2. Suffolk DA Spota Indicted
Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota resigned this fall after he and his top public corruption prosecutor were indicted in October on federal charges of trying to help the ex-police chief of cover up the beating of a handcuffed suspect.

1. Laura Curran Breaks Nassau’s Glass Ceiling
Women made history in the November elections when Laura Curran became the first female Nassau County Executive, Laura Gillen unseated Republican Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino to become that town’s first Democratic supervisor in over a century and Laura Jens-Smith was the first woman elected Riverhead town supervisor.

Bitter Cold to Grip Long Island Through New Year

Dangerously cold weather is forecast to grip Long Island and surrounding areas with temperatures dropping into the negatives this week and remaining in the single digits through next week, experts warn.

Wind chill values of -5 are expected Wednesday night into Thursday, forecasters said. The bitter cold, which comes as the region has a 50-percent chance of a snow storm this weekend, prompted officials to urge the public to prepare.

“Bitterly cold winter temperatures have settled in across the state and New Yorkers need to make sure they are prepared for this dangerously cold weather,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I encourage New Yorkers to stay informed and safe during this inclement weather — we will continue to monitor conditions and stand ready to assist any communities in need.”

The weather on the Island won’t be as severe as parts of upstate New York, where temperatures may drop as low as -40, officials said. But temps on LI are forecast to remain in the teens through the weekend, when it will warm up to the 20s. Temperatures overnight are expected to stay in the single digits through next week.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said the temperatures are 15-to-20 degrees below normal for this time of year. In addition, Upton-based NWS meteorologists issued a hazardous weather outlook to warn of a possible winter storm this weekend.

“There is the potential for a developing coastal storm to bring heavy snow to the area Saturday into Saturday night,” the agency said in a statement. “There is still uncertainty with the track of the low, which will determine the amount of snowfall.”

Cuomo issued reminders to make sure smoke alarms are working, fireplace chimneys are clean and keep flammable objects away from kerosene heaters. Nassau County, the town of Hempstead and Oyster Bay and the City of Glen Cove opened warming centers to help those without heat or homes.

Cantiague Park Ice Rink at 480 W. John St. in Hicksville is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m., the Mitchel Field Administration Center at 1 Charles Lindbergh Blvd. in Uniondale is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., the Ice Skating Center at Bethpage at 1001 Stewart Ave. is open 9 a.m.-11 p.m. and the Glen Cove Senior Center at 130 Glen St. is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

And the Nassau County Winter Homeless Hotline is 1-866-WARMBED. Hempstead town’s 16 warming centers are open 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. For more information, call 516-489-5000.

How Patchogue’s Arts Scene Sculpted its Comeback

Patchogue’s Alive After 5 summer street festival, which runs Fridays in July and August, attracts thousands.

Politicians, developers, microbrewers and restaurateurs are often credited with fueling Patchogue’s resurgence as a Long Island destination, but the village’s comeback is also thanks in large part to its burgeoning arts scene.

The artistic renaissance binds the booming downtown, where the last decade ushered in one of LI’s few and newest arthouse cinemas, an artists’ colony, new music venues and last year’s $1 million renovation of the island’s largest nonprofit performing arts center — the historic Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts – credited with sparking the revival.

“Patchogue Theatre is important to the village because it brings people to the village,” says Jack Krieger, Patchogue’s deputy mayor. “When people come to the theatre and they see a show…after the show [they] stop by one of our restaurants or walk around the village and enjoy themselves.”

The same could be said for the village’s other creative lures. That’s the idea behind the Patchogue Arts Council — one of a handful of such groups on Long Island dedicated to a specific community — that serves as a muse hosting local events encouraging, supporting and promoting artists of all media since the council was founded in 2008.

Artspace Patchogue Lofts, an $18 million development with affordable housing units dedicated for artists and their families, started leasing to tenants in 2010. That year, the Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center — which screens foreign and independent films, often with panel discussions — opened on the ground floor of the building.

“It’s more of a cultural center than a commercial cineplex,” says Catherine Oberg, PlazaMAC’s executive director. “Patrons come from…miles around.”

Besides traditional fine art galleries, the village displays a permanent exhibit of murals along Roe Walkway, which links Artspace and PlazaMAC on Terry Street with Main Street a block north. Mayor Paul Pontieri calls it “the pathway connecting arts in Patchogue.”

The village also hosts the summertime biweekly Alive After Five music and arts street fair on Main Street. All that’s in addition to conventional live music venues such as 89 North and Stereo Garden LI, which replaced The Emporium last month.

With such plentiful arts to patronize, Patchogue awaits.