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.

3rd Set of Remains Found in 9 Days in Nassau

(Photo credit: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)

Investigators found a third set of human remains in nine days while searching a fourth wooded area of Nassau County, authorities said.

The latest remains were discovered in Freeport off Babylon Turnpike in a wooded area north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks, but little other information was immediately available.

“We did find remains, but we are not releasing any further details at this time,” said Amy Thoreson, an FBI spokeswoman.

The discovery comes after the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force found human remains at Cow Meadow Park in Freeport on Wednesday, Oct. 25, officials have said. Neither the person’s name nor cause of death was immediately available in that case.

Before that, Nassau police acting on a federal law enforcement tip found the remains of 16-year- old Angel Soler buried in a wooded preserve in his hometown of Roosevelt on Thursday, Oct. 19, police have said. The teen’s family reportedly suspects he was a victim of gang violence.

Nassau police also searched Massapequa Preserve last week, but did not find anything. Several members of the MS-13 street gang have been arrested for killing a 19-year-old victim who was found dead in that preserve in March.

Suffolk DA Spota, Top Deputy Indicted for Alleged Cover-up

Thomas Spota
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota during a press conference in July 2012. (Long Island Press)

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top corruption prosecutor were indicted Wednesday for allegedly trying to cover up the ex-police chief’s beating of a suspect five years ago, federal authorities said.

Spota, 76, and Christopher McPartland, 51, the district attorney’s Government Corruption Bureau and investigations chief were charged with four counts: obstruction of justice, conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding, witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding and accessory after the fact to the deprivation of civil rights.

“Prosecutors swear oaths to pursue justice and enforce the law,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde. “Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation.”

Federal prosecutors alleged Spota, McPartland and ex-Suffolk police chief James Burke agreed to conceal Burke’s role in beating a suspect that stole from the chief’s SUV in 2012, authorities said. They also talked about using their power to cover up the chief’s attempted cover up of the beating that Burke ultimately pleaded guilty to last year, according to investigators. 

They also allegedly used intimidation, threats and corrupt persuasion to pressure multiple witnesses, including co-conspirators, not to cooperate with the federal investigation, to provide false information, including false testimony under oath and to withhold relevant information from investigators, prosecutors said.

The two men pleaded not guilty Wednesday at Central Islip federal court, were released on $500,000 bond and are due back in court Dec. 1. Burke is currently serving 46 months in prison. The man he beat, Christopher Loeb, was released from prison in January.

“As I have said many times before, Tom Spota must resign,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “The person holding the awesome power to decide whether people go to jail or not cannot effectively serve under federal indictment for corruption.”

Spota previously rebuffed calls to resign after initial reports that he was under federal investigation. He is not running for re-election this November. Robert Clifford, Spota’s spokesman, declined to comment.

 

Week of Searching 3 Nassau Sites Turns Up Second Body, Cops Say

Sirens Blue Caravan Red Lights Police Cars Car

A week after Nassau County police found a teenager’s remains buried in Roosevelt, investigators located a second set of human remains in Freeport, but a search of a third site came up empty, authorities said.

The FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force found the second set of remains at Cow Meadow Park on Wednesday, but little information was immediately available about the discovery.

“We did find what we believe to be human remains, however no ID or cause of death has been determined,” said Amy Thoreson, a spokeswomen for the FBI. “That may take time.”

Nassau County police, who said they are assisting in that investigation, were acting on a tip from federal agents when they found the remains of 16-year-old Angel Soler of Roosevelt last week. The teen, who was reported missing three months prior to his discovery, may have been a victim of gang violence, his mother was widely quoted as saying. 

Nassau police had said they were searching other possible gravesites in the preserve where Soler was found and told reporters they would scour the area “as long as it takes,” but have since suspended their search in those woods, officials said.

Also this week, police searched Massapequa Preserve, where 19-year-old Kevin Granados-Coreas of Rosedale was found dead in March, but no additional remains were found, a department spokesman said. Several reputed MS-13 gang members have been arrested and are awaiting trial in that murder.

Mostly Cloudy on The Sandy Money Trail

Clockwise from top left: A radar image of Superstorm Sandy, an aerial view of the breach in Fire Island dubbed "New Inlet," LIPA crews working to get the lights back on, a house on Fire Island that fell off of its pilings, one of the many felled trees, cars buried in sand in the streets of Long Beach, gas lines that extended for hours and blocks, and Red Cross volunteers helping survivors at Cedar Creek County Park in Seaford. Center from left: the splintered Long Beach boardwalk and a boat that floated onto the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

Five years after Superstorm Sandy devastated Long Island and much of the tri-state area, questions linger about how transparent federal agencies have been while allocating the $50 billion recovery aid package.

In the year after the Oct. 29, 2012 hurricane hit the region, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published monthly reports detailing the status of the funds, but in 2014 it transferred its fund-tracking duties to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where transparency has proven as piecemeal as the agency’s disaster response.

“We need to reform the system and require more transparency to hold FEMA accountable,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said two years ago when she proposed the Flood Insurance Transparency and Accountability Act. She reintroduced the measure this month. The bill calls for FEMA to set up and maintain a publicly searchable online database that “would include, but would not be limited to” claims data from the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program.

Causing $75 billion in damage, Sandy is currently the second costliest Atlantic hurricane on record, topped only by Katrina, although the cost of Harvey, Irma and Maria – the three most recent major hurricanes to hit the United States – has yet to be finalized.

Local home and business owners continue to recover from the storm by elevating homes and commercial buildings. Some of the ongoing taxpayer-funded public works projects designed to storm-harden critical infrastructure include a nearly $1 billion project to renovate the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant and the $1.1-billion Fire Island to Montauk Point project, which aims to mitigate future storm damage on the South Shore of eastern Long Island.

Three months after Sandy, Congress approved the recovery package and a month after that, HUD established the Hurricane Sandy Task Force that monitored and publicly posted details on the funding allocated to 19 different agencies. In 2014, HUD partnered with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the agency tasked with tracking the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, to post detailed data each month online. But the recovery agency declared its job done and closed up shop the following year.

HUD transferred its Sandy aid tracking responsibilities to FEMA in 2014, the same year that the inspector general for FEMA’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, issued a report warning that “FEMA is at risk for mismanagement of federal disaster funds” due to a lack of oversight in its long-term recovery offices that are tasked with evaluating the need for aid. FEMA had added one such long-term recovery office specifically for Sandy.

FEMA implemented recommendations designed to track performance data and develop policies, procedures and performance measures for long-term recovery offices, but the agency has not been publicly posting the status of recovery funds with the same frequency as HUD.

“FEMA does not regularly publish aggregate funding information,” said a spokesman for the agency who noted that FEMA obligated approximately $13.5 billion of the Sandy aid package to agencies in New York State, including $1.6 billion in Nassau County and about $193 million in Suffolk County, but did not say how much of the overall package has yet to be spent.

For an example of why transparency surrounding Sandy aid funding is important, look no further than Nassau County, which awarded a $12.6 million contract to upstart VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group for waterway debris removal after the storm.

“Serious questions remain on how a company formed in 2013 was selected over three other companies with more extensive experience,” Nassau Comptroller George Maragos said in August, when he referred findings of an audit of the contract to prosecutors.

No charges have been filed in connection with the investigation.

West Babylon Shooting Leaves Man Dead

police
Morguefile photo

A 22-year-old man was shot and killed Tuesday night in the victim’s hometown of West Babylon, Suffolk County police said.

Officers responded to a report of gunshots near the corner of North Arizona Road and Delaware Road, where they found Ricardo Tross lying next to his vehicle, at 8:25 p.m., police said.

The victim who had been shot, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Homicide Squad detectives are continuing the investigation and ask anyone with information about this shooting to call them at 631-852-6392 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Lesso Home Turning Source Mall Into Decor Hub

Lesso executive Michael Mai unveils new signage at what was The Source mall in Westbury. Photo by: Timothy Bolger/Long Island Press.

Lesso Home, a Chinese home furnishings, décor and design company, announced Thursday a planned $25-million renovation turning Fortunoff’s mostly vacant The Source mall in Westbury into Lesso’s first New York location.

Dozens applauded when workers on the roof unfurled a massive banner displaying the mall’s new owner’s name above what will be the front entrance near the corner of Old Country Road and Merchant’s Concourse when the retail and commercial complex reopens next summer.

“Where creativity takes flight,” is written in clouds beside a silhouette of a single-engine airplane, a nod to the designing that will be going on and the site being the location of where Charles Lindbergh departed on his historic 1927 trans-Atlantic flight.

“The driving force behind every new advancement is a pioneering human spirit,” Lesso executive Michael Mai said, likening Lindbergh’s flight to his company building “a sophisticated environment that allows [shoppers and home designers] to check out the latest trends.”

The company invested $92 million to purchase the mall, home to a handful of remaining tenants, including Dave & Busters, Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s and Fortunoff’s jewelry and backyard stores, which mall representatives said will remain open during the renovations. The Pets4Luv Foundation, a nonprofit animal rescue, will remain, but be moved to a new location in the mall, a spokesman said.

Touting the jobs, shoppers and revenue that the project will bring to the area, Mai also said the complex “will attract industry buyers from Maine to Miami, as they seek the latest international designs without the need to travel around the world.”

Lesso Home, a Hong Kong-based company with another location in Los Angeles, will include showrooms for international manufacturers of home furnishings, décor and designers, walkable markets, children’s entertainment, conference center and the company’s offices. Mai compared it to home design version of Eataly, the popular gourmet food market in Manhattan.

Long Island Association President Kevin Law quoted a Chinese proverb about wealth.

“If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain,” he said. “If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”

Esther Fortunoff, whose family built the mall, was equally optimistic.

“To see this retail complex reinvented into an economic engine that benefits the region is exactly what I think my dad, Alan Fortunoff, would have wanted,” she said. “He understood as few did that change comes to every business sector and the ability to manage that change is the key to success.” 

An artist’s rendering of the exterior of Lesso Home in Westbury.

Human Remains Found in Roosevelt Woods, Cops Searching for More

(Photo credit: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)

Nassau County police unearthed male human remains buried in a Roosevelt nature preserve and plan to search other parts of the wooded area that may have additional grave sites, authorities said Friday.

Investigators, who are continuing a slow and extensive dig through terrain so rough it broke a detective’s ankle, are awaiting DNA test results from the medical examiner’s office to identify the person, police said.

“We don’t know who this person is right now, so we don’t know anything about his past or who he was associated with,” Det. Lt. Steven Fitzpatrick, commander of the Homicide Squad, told reporters at a news conference near the scene. “The investigation is very early on.”

Police were acting on a tip from the Homeland Security Investigations. New York State police identified other parts of the woods, just south of the Southern State Parkway, that may be additional grave sites. Nassau police started searching the area Thursday.

“We have to follow the information as it progresses,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that it’s unclear how long the person has been there.

“There are a couple other spots that we’re interested in,” Fitzpatrick said, noting that investigators will remain in the 27-acre preserve with a pond off Wilbur Lane for “as long as it takes.”

Update: Authorities identified the remains as that of Angel Soler, 16, of Roosevelt. 

Merrick Man Admits to $86M Stock Pump-and-dump Scam

insider trading

An attorney from Merrick admitted to using the online university he founded to con investors in an $86-million stock pump-and-dump scheme with the help of his company’s former CEO four years ago.

Darren Ofsink, 48, pleaded guilty Wednesday at Brooklyn federal court to conspiracy to commit securities fraud along with 56-year-old Ira Shapiro of Congers.

Prosecutors said the duo led CodeSmart Holdings, a publicly-traded company, when they engineered a reverse merger with a public shell company, gained control of CodeSmart’s three million unrestricted shares and twice fraudulently inflated the company’s share price and trading volume before selling their shares at a profit between May and September 2013.

The first time, they pumped stock prices from $1.77 to $6.94 before dumping it and months later, they pumped it from $2.19 to $4.60 before selling, authorities said. But company paperwork they filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission listed only $6,000 in total assets, $7,600 in revenue and a net loss of $103,141. By July of the following year, the company’s stock was valued at one cent per share.

They face up to five years in prison, a fine, forfeiture of proceeds and will be required to make full restitution to their victims when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano.

Nassau Exec Hopefuls Face Off in Latest Debate

From left: Nassau County Legis Laura Curran and ex-New York State Sen. Jack Martins.

Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) and ex-New York State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) faced off Tuesday in their latest debate as they race to be the next Nassau County executive.

The candidates largely agreed on what they say are the most pressing issues in the county—better managing Nassau’s $2.9-billion budget, increasing affordable housing and enacting new ethics reforms. But they parted ways on who they believe makes a better candidate.

“I think this election comes down to experience,” Martins said, emphasizing that his tenure as Mineola village mayor gives him a background in executive-level decision making.

Curran touted her crossing party lines to vote with the county legislature’s GOP majority as making her the independent candidate, saying: “I’m running to fix this culture of corruption, to break it up.”

The candidates are running to replace outgoing Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges last year. The debate, held at LIU Post in Brookville and organized by the Nassau County Village Officials Association, was the eighth in which Curran and Martins went toe-to-toe in the race.

Both candidates said they would reopen the Nassau County Police Department’s sixth and eighth precincts that Mangano closed under a controversial initiative that shuttered half of the eight police precinct station houses—a plan that was abandoned halfway through its implementation.

They also agreed that the county needs independent ethics oversight. Nassau’s commissioner of investigations and ethics commission are both staffed by the county executive’s appointees, which the candidates say creates the appearance of a lack of independence required of such responsibilities.

In addition, they agreed that Nassau needs to reduce the amount of money it spends on employee overtime to help close perennial county budget gaps that contributed to the creation of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state-appointed fiscal watchdog agency that has controlled the county’s finances for nearly 20 years. The candidates differed on how to revamp the property tax assessment system’s contribution to the county budget woes.

“There is nothing more important to restoring trust in county government right now than getting this assessment system right,” Martins said, noting that Nassau is one of only two counties in New York State where the county handles property tax assessment instead of the towns.

He proposed transferring the assessment responsibility to the towns. Curran noted that Mangano proposed same idea, but the towns didn’t want to take it over. She said the county needs to get assessments in order before reconsidering the idea of transferring responsibility, but Martins said Nassau needs to act sooner rather than later.

Among the recurring themes of the debate was the need for inter-party cooperation so the county can handle the public’s business without the bickering that is regularly displayed at county legislative meetings.

“There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole,” Curran said.

The candidates are scheduled to debate again at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct 26 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. That event will be run by the Long Island Association. For more information, click here.

Ex-North Hempstead Dem Leader Admits to Tax Evasion

Gerard Terry
Gerard Terry

The ex-Democratic leader for the Town of North Hempstead has admitted to federal tax evasion for failing to pay about $1 million in taxes.

Gerard Terry, an attorney who held numerous local government titles in addition to his former party leadership role, pleaded guilty to tax evasion Thursday at Central Islip federal court.

Prosecutors have said the 62-year-old Roslyn man failed to pay more than $1.4 million in federal taxes since 2000 despite earning more than $250,000 annually working for the town, the Nassau County Board of Elections, the Long Beach Housing Authority, the North Hempstead Housing Authority, the Freeport Community Development Agency, the Roosevelt Public Library, the Village of Port Washington and the Village of Manorhaven.

After the IRS pursued him, he filed paperwork that included false information, but still failed to file returns for 2009 and 2010 and later provided false, misleading and incomplete information to obstruct internal revenue laws, authorities said. He then tried to evade IRS collections by cashing more than a half million dollars worth of checks instead of depositing them in bank accounts where they could be seized, according to investigators. He instead only deposited enough to cover his bills, making it impossible for the IRS to collect.

The guilty plea comes two weeks after he pleaded guilty to similar charges in Nassau County court. He faces up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines.