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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 Gets $87.9M in Economic Development Grants

Visitors at Montauk Point.

Ninety-four Long Island projects received a combined total of $87.9 million in New York State economic and community development funding, officials announced Thursday.

LI was named one of five top performers among the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils statewide that were all granted a total of more than $761 million in the 2019 regional council competition.

“By bringing together local leaders and stakeholders who are invested in their communities we have replaced the ‘one size fits all’ approach to economic development with one that is unique to each community, creating opportunities for success all across the Empire State,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. 

Since its inception in 2011, more than $6.9 billion has been awarded to more than 8,300 projects that are projected to create and retain more than 240,000 jobs statewide, including $727 million for 885 projects on LI.

Projects awarded this year on LI include $3 million awarded to The YMCA of Long Island to build a new state-of-the-art facility to provide pediatric and wellness services in Lake Success in collaboration with Northwell Health. 

Biocogent LLC, a Stony Brook University incubator company, will receive $1.5 million to add jobs and expand its bio-manufacturing capacity outside the incubator.

Pal-O-Mine, an equine therapy provider, will receive $600,000 to expand its facility and program for high-risk youth and adults with disabilities to receive job training, work-force preparedness, and internships.

And the Montauk Lighthouse Historic Restoration project received $438,500 in grants.

A full list of winners can be found here.

Ex-Suffolk DA Spota, Aide, Convicted of Cover-up

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

Ex-Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his former top deputy were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to cover up police brutality following a month-long trial at Central Islip federal court.

Following a day of deliberations, a federal jury found found Spota and his former public corruption bureau chief Christopher McPartland guilty of 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.

Federal prosecutors said Spota, McPartland, and ex-Suffolk police chief James Burke conspired to conceal Burke’s role in beating a suspect that stole a bag of sex toys, pornography, and ammunition from the chief’s SUV in 2012. Authorities also said the three talked about using their power to cover up the chief’s attempted cover up of the beating that Burke ultimately pleaded guilty to in 2016. Burke has since been sentenced and released from prison. 

In addition, investigators said they 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.

The thief, Christopher Loeb, a recovering heroin addict, also served time, had his conviction vacated, and later won a $1.5 million settlement from the county.

The prosecution’s star witness was retired Suffolk County police Lt. James Hickey, then the commanding officer of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, who Spota, McPartland, and Burke tasked with orchestrating the cover up and making sure detectives who witnessed the Loeb’s beating didn’t cooperate with federal investigators, authorities said.

 

School Bus Stop-arm Cameras Coming Soon to Long Island

A school bus stop arm camera, like this yellow device attached to the side of a bus, can catch drivers illegally passing the vehicles (Photo courtesy of American Traffic Solutions).

Long Island’s school buses will soon be equipped with new technology that automatically generates traffic tickets for drivers who illegally pass a bus when it’s stopped while children get on or off.

Nassau and Suffolk county lawmakers have approved legislation authorizing local school districts to start the process of contracting the devices known as school bus stop-arm cameras after New York State legalized the photo enforcement method earlier this year.

“I have seen cars zooming past stopped school buses,” said Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip), the legislature’s Republican leader. “I have witnessed near misses. We have to do everything in our power to protect our kids.”

Twenty-one states nationwide have legalized school bus stop-arm cameras that mail home fines to drivers who break laws against driving by a stopped school bus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Vehicles pass stopped school buses about 50,000 times daily, according to statistics provided by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, a nonprofit school bus safety advocacy group that also has been calling for the cameras for years.

Under the law, violators will be fined $250 for a first offense, $275 for a second offense within 18 months, and $300 for a third or subsequent offenses within 18 months.

Critics have called such traffic-enforcement cameras intrusive and a ploy for lawmakers to plug budget gaps in the name of public safety — an argument similarly applied to red-light cameras and LI’s short-lived school zone speed cameras.

“They have to have some protections there for the data,” Jason Starr, the former Nassau County chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has said.

Proponents maintain that the goal of the bus cameras is to help protect kids, not track drivers. Among those who testified at the county legislatures to lobby for passage of the laws were kids themselves. But even traveling to the Suffolk County Legislature to ask for protections put children at risk of drivers who ignore school bus stop signs.

“When we pulled up with our students at the legislative public hearing, our kids were starting to get off the bus when a car whizzed right by in the parking lot while the [school bus] lights were flashing,” a Longwood School District official told the legislature last month. “Luckily, the bus driver, whose antenna was way up, stopped the kid right away … It’s an accident waiting to happen too often.”

Educators say kids and parents don’t need the extra stress caused by such a simple task as crossing the street on their way to or from the school bus.

“Students face a lot of worries between school, college acceptances, sports, studies,” Dawn Sharrock, a Middle Country Board of Education vice president, also told the legislature. “We don’t need to make getting on and off their school bus daily one of those worries that they have to have.”

Suffolk Corrections Officer Pleads Guilty to Sexually Abusing Child

Robert Weis

An ex-Suffolk County correction officer has admitted to sexually abusing a child over a nine-year span, as well as theft and weapons charges.

Robert Weis pleaded guilty Monday at Suffolk County court to felony counts of sexual conduct against a child, criminal sex act, criminal possession of a firearm, and criminal possession of stolen property.

“This is an individual who routinely abused his position of power, in both his official capacity as a correction officer and as an adult who was an authority figure for children,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini has said. 

Prosecutors said the investigation into the 55-year-old Hampton Bays man began after a man reported to the Southampton Town Police Department that Weis had sexually abused the victim from from the ages of seven to 16.

Weis, who is the adoptive parent of five males and has been a foster parent for approximately 15 years, has been employed as a Suffolk County correction officer since 1995. He has been jailed since his arrested in April, when bail was set at $5 million cash or $15 million bond. He has since been terminated by the sheriff’s office.

When authorities executed a search warrant at his home, they said they seized three illegal handguns, 32 rifles, and more than 50,000 rounds of ammunition. Police also said investigators recovered stolen property belonging to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including bulletproof vests and EMT equipment.

Weis was placed on modified duty working as a quartermaster for the Sheriff’s Office and had access to the office’s uniforms, gear, and other official property after he was arrested in South Carolina in 2016 for allegedly sexually abusing a minor. 

He faces up to 25 years in prison when is is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 8.

Arrest Video Spurs Call For Investigation Into Freeport Police

A Freeport village police officer repeatedly punches a suspect in the face while trying to handcuff him on Dec. 3, 2019.

Officials are calling for an investigation after a video surfaced of Freeport village police officers beating and using a stun gun on a fugitive who allegedly resisted arrest this week.

When police tried to arrest Akbar Rogers at his home on Tuesday, he ran away through several backyards before officers captured him, officials said. The video shows multiple officers punching Rogers and using a stun gun on him during a struggle. Police said he refused to surrender and kept reaching for his waistband. 

“I have viewed the video and have many questions,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. “I call for an independent investigation of this arrest by the Freeport Village Police. At this time, I am asking all to remain calm and patient as the investigation unfolds.“

Freeport Village Mayor Robert Kennedy asked Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office “to look into the matter,” a village spokesman said. A Singas spokesman said, “we are reviewing the matter.”

The incident comes as former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and his ex-deputy are on trial in Central Islip federal court for allegedly covering up a disgraced police chief’s beating of a handcuffed suspect.

Rogers had a warrant out for his arrest for driving without a license, was wanted for allegedly harassing a victim in October, and is accused of fleeing police in a Mercedes at speeds of more than 100 mph while driving through red lights, stop signs, and on the wrong side of the road when police tried to pull him over last month, authorities said.

He was arraigned at First District Court in Hempstead on charges of harassment as a violation, misdemeanor resisting arrest, and felony assault with intent to injure a police officer. He is being held at Nassau jail and has not posted bail, records show.

The 58-second-long video shows several officers taking Rogers to the ground while other officers later arrive on the scene. Some of the officers punch Rogers repeatedly. Another kicks him while he’s on the ground.

Rogers is heard pleading for help in the video. The woman who filmed it is heard yelling at police. The video sparked outrage online as the footage quickly spread across social media.

“The video, taken by a bystander, clearly shows Akbar lying face down on the ground, pinned down by four officers, as two or more officers take turns punching and tasing him repeatedly,” the advocacy group Justice League NYC said in a statement. “Viciously beating a restrained man is a clear case of brutality exercised by white officers who have no fear of repercussions. When we see examples of white criminals who pose a threat to others including police — being taken into custody without a scratch, time and time again, it makes it very clear this lack of accountability only applied to black and brown people.”

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Legislator Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) issued a joint statement in response to the incident.

“We are thankful that the district attorney’s office is reviewing the arrest captured in this video,” they said. “We are deeply concerned by the contents of this video and believe a comprehensive, independent investigation is essential. As that process unfolds, we ask for the public’s patience as investigators perform their duties and establish the facts of the case”

Shawn Randall, president of the Freeport Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the village police department’s members, issued a statement backing the officers.

“The Freeport Police Benevolent Association stands behind our officers and the safety and security of the residents we serve,” he said. “I am confident that when the judicial process is complete and all facts are presented, it will be confirmed that our officers did their jobs in accordance with the law.” 

 

NY Pols Propose Mandating HPV Vaccine For Students, Sparking Debate

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Wilson/Released)

A proposal in the New York State Legislature that would require elementary school students receive the HPV vaccine is proving controversial among parents who are trying to stop the bill from passing.

State lawmakers say they’re just trying to keep children from contracting the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus that can cause genital warts and cancer. But opponents of the legislation are concerned with side effects of the vaccine and are a second bill that would allow schools to immunize children without parental consent.

“These bills trample on parental rights and medical freedom and the government has no place in making medical decisions for our families,” Jessica Rudin, a parent from East Setauket, wrote in an online petition opposing the bill that has gotten nearly 90,000 signatures as of Dec. 4.

Rhode Island, Virginia, and the District of Columbia are currently the only jurisdictions nationwide that require the HPV vaccine to attend school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least eight other state legislatures are considering such proposals.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children ages 11 and 12 receive Gardasil 9, which is the only HPV vaccine available in the United States. The American Cancer Society (ACS) agrees, noting that more than 33,000 men and women are diagnosed annually with cancers caused by HPV.

“HPV vaccination offers the very rare opportunity to help prevent not just one but six types of cancer,” said Debbie Saslow, PhD., managing director of HPV and GYN Cancers for the ACS. “Just two doses of this vaccine, given to kids at age 11 or 12, and starting as early as nine, can prevent 90 percent of HPV cancers.”

The debate comes after the state removed the religious exemption for students to attend school, a measure that also proved controversial. The HPV bill would require students born after Jan. 1, 2009 receive the vaccination before entering the seventh grade. The legislation, proposed in January, is pending in the health committees of the state Assembly and Senate. 

“Why not give our young people the opportunity to guard against, protect themselves against, anal and cervical cancer?” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Brooklyn), who is sponsoring the bill, told WCBS New York. “To me it’s a no-brainer. I don’t understand why we would leave this one out.”

Digital Legacies: The Online Graveyard

How to handle people’s online presence must be considered in the internet age. (Getty Images)

Whatever you post on the internet stays there forever, so they say, which is why people are increasingly not only planning funerals and inheritances, but also their posthumous digital legacies. 

A person’s online presence after they pass on is often most visible in two arenas: the continuation of their social media accounts, and the creation of web pages that act as an interactive obituary where loved ones can post comments.

“In recent years, the ways people choose to remember deceased family members and friends has changed,” said Ruth Sheridan, director of supportive care at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. “Trips to the cemetery are replaced by online memorials and social media sites which can be updated regularly and accessed freely.”

With the number of Americans older than 65 projected to outnumber children in 15 years for the first time in the nation’s history and Facebook users of that vintage among the website’s fastest-growing age groups, the issue is sure to gain steam.

Underscoring the phenomenon, a recent study found that in 50 years, the number of dead Facebook users will outnumber accounts held by the living — assuming the social media website is still around in a half century. 

The study, Are the Dead Taking Over Facebook? A Big Data Approach to the Future of Death Online, raised important questions about how a dead person’s sensitive private information should be handled — and who should have access — after the person can no longer control the account. 

“An exclusively commercial approach to data preservation poses important ethical and political risks that demand urgent consideration,” researchers Carl J Öhman and David Watson wrote. “We call for a scalable, sustainable, and dignified curation model that incorporates the interests of multiple stakeholders.”

As for parts of the web intended for the dead, some social media pages are specifically set up to memorialize lost loved ones. Legacy.com has grown into a Facebook-sized obituary website, acquiring competitors while allowing more and more well-wishers to share memories alongside death notices and photos of those who’ve passed.

Of course, the idea that everything stays on the internet forever is a myth. It’s often a graveyard of dead links. But it’s nonetheless important to ensure loved ones can access your social media accounts after you die so the records can be properly preserved or destroyed, whichever is the final wish.

Sun-Vet Mall Presses On Despite Hardship

Sun-Vet Mall
Sun-Vet Mall

When shoppers stormed Long Island malls on Black Friday, the local shopping center that easily saw the smallest crowds was Sun-Vet Mall in Holbrook, where the retail sector’s troubles are most visible.

Sun-Vet’s two anchors, Toys ‘R Us and Pathmark, remain vacant since the two companies went out of business in recent years, leaving bare more than half of the mall’s about 200,000 square feet of retail space. At least half of the smaller storefronts in the mall are also shuttered. And this week, another Sun-Vet mainstay, A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts, announced that it is also shuttering all of its locations nationwide.

“This place at one time was hopping,” a shopper named Kelly said on Yelp. “Now I just feel sad walking around there. So empty.”

By comparison, Long Island’s neighborhood and community shopping centers had a vacancy rate of 8.2 percent in the third quarter, up from 7.3 percent for the same time period in 2018, according to Moody’s Analytics REIS, a Manhattan-based real estate information company. That’s compared to a vacancy rate of 10.1 percent for the U.S., which has not changed much over the last two years. 

Across the county line in Westbury, The Mall at The Source similarly fell on hard times when anchors Fortunoff, Steve and Barry’s, and Circuit City closed up shop a decade ago. But there are signs of life, as Chinese mall developers announced two years ago that it bought The Source and is turning it into Lesso Home, an interior design hub, although the planned reopening has been pushed back.

The shuttered Pancake Cottage at Sun-Vet Mall.

Built in 1973 and named for its location at the intersection of Sunrise Highway and Veterans Memorial Highway, Sun-Vet these days typically has just a few shoppers milling about. Among those still calling the one-floor mall home is Mandee, Kin’s Costume Jewelry & Bridal, The Karat Stop, Close-Outs & Liquidations II, Lucille Roberts, Aegean Pizza & Restaurant, a liquor shop, an antique store, and a dentist. The mall directory continues to list former tenants such as Blockbuster Video, Sears Portrait Studio, and Payless Shoe Source. Some of the many shuttered shops with gates drawn are Pancake Cottage, Sterling Optical, and Computer Mart.

Sun-Vet’s contraction comes as brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide continue to struggle against the rise of online shopping. Some shopping centers are banking that creating an experiential retail environment will draw more foot traffic. For instance, the American Dream mall that opened last month in New Jersey has a roller coaster and ice rink, with an indoor ski slope scheduled to open in December. SeaQuest similarly proposed, then withdrew an application for, an aquarium at Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa this spring.

The dismal state of Sun-Vet spawned a mock self-depreciating Twitter account that begs for shoppers and boasts in its bio that it was “Voted Best Mall on Long Island in 1987!” The feed has amassed more than 4,000 followers in two years.

Schuckman Realty, a Lake Grove-based commercial real estate firm, “is consulting on the redevelopment of the Sun-Vet Mall,” according to a 2017 profile in New York Real Estate Journal. In a Schuckman brochure advertising “prime real estate for lease” at Sun-Vet Mall, in which the realtor is described as the exclusive broker, it touts “redevelopment coming soon.” 

What those plans entail remain to be seen. Schuckman and mall officials were not available for comment. But in a sign that the moribund mall’s operators are keeping hope alive for happier days ahead, Sun-Vet’s lonely halls are decked out for the holidays, with Santa Claus joining the remaining merchants waiting for visitors.

Women Under 50 Most Stressed Over Holidays, Poll Finds

The holidays can be a stressful time of year for everyone, but those who feel the most stressed out during the most wonderful time of year are local women under 50, according to a new poll.

Sixty one percent of females in that age group reported their stress level is high or very high, a Truth in Medicine poll of New York Metro area found. That’s compared to non-holiday periods when 26 percent reported having high stress and 5 percent who reported their stress is very high. And 46 percent of those polled overall reporting high or very high levels of holiday-induced anxiety.

“Women seem to take the brunt of preparations during the holidays and it shows in the increased stress levels they are reporting,” said Dr. Adhi Sharma, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside. “Everybody reacts to stress in different ways. However, stress can be dangerous when it impacts our daily life for long periods of time.”

The Mount Sinai South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, is a quarterly survey of 600 Long Island and New York City residents conducted by LJR Custom Strategies over landlines and cell phones between Nov. 6 and 11.

Finances and family were the two top causes of stress cited by those polled. Twenty-five percent rated debt and financial concerns associated with the holidays as stress-inducing and 20 percent said family issues raised their stress levels. When asked to choose the top three out of five reasons for holiday stress, a plurality of respondents said all factors — finances, family, overscheduling, shopping, and overeating — cause stress.

“Chronic and long-term stress can have an adverse effect on your health,” said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine. “Talk to your loved ones about ways to make the holidays more enjoyable and less stressful. It can be as simple as asking other family members to contribute a dish to a family gathering so all the cooking doesn’t fall on one person.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s December 2018 Holiday Health and Safety Tips also recommend managing stress by “balancing work, home, and play” and “getting support from family and friends.” The American Psychological Association recommends managing expectations during the holidays to reduce stress and feel happier now and healthier in the long term. 

Coping mechanisms vary. While 61 percent of women under 50 exercise and 54 percent turn to friends to relieve stress, one in five use alcohol or drugs. Just 6 percent of area adults have sought counseling to help deal with stress, while 9 percent have considered counseling, with the key impediments being cost and time.

Poll results vary by race and other demographic indicators like whether or not residents live in the New York City or Long Island. As was the case with all women 50 and under surveyed, both black men and women respondents in the same age group reported very high or high stress levels around the holidays.

Retirement appears to alleviate a significant amount of stress. The least stressed demographic polled are respondents 65 and older who are retired or choose not to work. This was the only subgroup to not report an increase in stress as the holidays approach.

“At some point in our lives, everyone can use a little extra support in dealing with life’s challenges, especially around the holidays,” said Janet Kahn-Scolaro, LCSWR, PhD, Administrative Director of Behavioral Health and Family Medicine Services at Mount Sinai South Nassau. “When this is not enough, I cannot state enough the importance of speaking with a licensed professional who can help you understand your moods and behaviors and help you cope when life’s stresses become overwhelming.”

New Shop Small Scavenger Hunt Offers Prizes For Small Business Saturday Shoppers

L. to R.: Nassau IDA Executive Director Richard Kessel, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran,the owner of TrainLand, Kenneth Bianco, Sr., and Nassau IDA CEO Harry Coglan.

A new Shop Small Scavenger Hunt is offering fun incentives for shoppers who patronize locally owned stores and restaurants this holiday shopping season.

Nassau County officials unveiled the initiative, which is designed to expand Small Business Saturday by highlighting the economic impact and importance of shopping and dining locally. 

“Ninety percent of all Long Island companies are small businesses so shopping small makes a big impact,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told reporters Monday during a news conference at TrainLand in Lynbrook.  “For every dollar spent at a small business, approximately 67 cents stays in that local community. Small businesses employ our neighbors, family, and friends and choosing to buy local helps keep our communities vibrant and strong.”

To participate, officials encouraged shoppers to print out the Shop Small Scavenger Hunt sheet available at nassaucountyny.gov/shopsmall, nassauida.org/shopsmall, or ncchambers.org/events.

To compete in the hunt, shoppers must complete four of the eight tasks, such as purchase a beverage or snack from a local shop or deli and take a selfie with it, take a selfie while getting a haircut at a local barber shop or while getting nails done at a local salon, purchase clothing at a local boutique or gift shop and take a photo with it in front of the store, or buy something at a local hardware store or variety store and take a photo with the purchase in front of the store.

All purchases must be made on Small Business Saturday, all of the shops must be within the same community, and none of the purchases can be made at national retail chains — locally owned mom-and-pop shops only.

The completed Scavenger Hunt sheet and corresponding photos of four tasks must be submitted by 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30. Entries can be submitted on Facebook by tagging: @NCExecutive, @NassauCouncilofChambersofCommerce, @NassauCountyIDA and #ShopSmallNassau or via email to info@ncchambers.org with the participant’s name and #ShopSmallNassau in the subject line

The first successfully completed contestants will win gift cards to stores in the community in which they shopped. The first place winner gets $300 in gift cards, the second and third place winners get $200 in gift cards, and the fourth place winner gets $100 in gift cards.

“It’s important that we continue to support our small businesses who are the backbone of this county and nation,” said Richie Kessel, Chairman, Nassau Industrial Development Agency. “We encourage all Nassau residents to shop locally and in their downtowns throughout this holiday season.”