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.
An aspiring actress from Long Island is speaking out after she was among the half dozen women who testified against Harvey Weinstein at the movie producer’s recent rape trial in Manhattan court.
Taralê Wulff, who testified against Weinstein in January, published an open letter in which she reflects on her experience ahead of Weinstein’s sentencing Wednesday. She was one of four women who testified to show a pattern of behavior, but since charges in the case stemmed from two other women and not her ordeal, she is barred from giving a victim impact statement in court. So Wulff said she published an essay because she believes it is important that her voice be heard.
“Harvey Weinstein stole a part of my self-worth, treating me like I was nothing and I became fearful and mistrustful, not only of others but of myself,” Wulff wrote in an essay published Tuesday. “These feelings were unbearable to live with and I pushed back the fear, shame and guilt to move on with my life. That is how I survive.”
A jury convicted Weinstein last month of third-degree rape and criminal sexual act but acquitted him of predatory sexual assault. Wulff is one of about 100 women who’ve alleged that Weinstein sexually abused or raped them. His case was the catalyst of the #MeToo movement in which women increasingly began coming forward two years ago with allegations against men who used their positions of power as leverage over women who they sexually abused or raped.
“I was okay (or so I thought) until I read about brave women speaking out with stories just like mine,” Wulff wrote. “The heartbreak of shame and guilt came flooding back. I knew what those women felt and I wanted to help them. I had to.”
Wulff met Weinstein in 2005 when Wulff was a waitress at Cipriani Upstairs in Manhattan, where he allegedly masturbated in front of her after pulling her onto a rooftop terrace. She testified that Weinstein raped her at the disgraced movie mogul’s apartment, where she went hoping to get hired.
His attorneys maintain that his sexual relations were all consensual and have indicated that they plan to appeal the conviction. He also faces similar charges in Los Angeles. Weinstein faces up to 25 years in prison when sentenced by Judge James Burke.
“My hope is that Judge Burke will hold Weinstein accountable by imposing a prison sentence that reflects what he has done to us and knowing that whatever sentence he renders, it will never undo what has happened,” Wulff wrote. “I hope that the sentence sends a clear message that times have changed and that more women need to speak out for themselves and that men and women need to speak out for others.”
Molloy College in Rockville Centre has suspended all face-to-face instruction for the next 18 days out of an abundance of caution amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, officials said.
The college issued a statement Tuesday that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus at Molloy, but it is suspending in-person classes “for all academic credit coursework at all locations” from Wednesday, March 11, through Saturday, March 28 to be safe. It is also canceling all on-campus events between those dates.
“Faculty will offer classes via alternate delivery methods,” the college said. “Staff and administrators who can work from home may be required to do so until further notice.”
The move came after more than 1,300 people signed an online petition calling for the college to suspend classes.
“The only way to prevent an outbreak on campus is to move classes to a virtual setting,” the organizer wrote in the petition.
“Molloy is a unique situation due to many students participating in the nursing program” said one person who was sharing the petition. “They are at a higher risk of exposure as they practice their clinical exercises.”
He noted that Molloy is close to Mercy Medical Center, where an employee recently became the first person on Long Island to test positive for coronavirus.
Molloy’s move came after Hofstra University canceled classes for a week and several local school districts and private schools canceled classes to allow time for cleaning crews to disinfect their campuses after two school bus drivers were diagnosed with coronavirus.
The number of cases in Nassau County increased from five to 17 since Sunday morning, although officials noted that the speedy increase is partly due to the Northwell Health Imaging at the Center for Advanced Medicine being authorized to conduct coronavirus tests, creating a quicker turnaround time. Suffolk County officials say they still have one coronavirus case and one person who was in contact with that patient is quarantined. Disease detectives are tracking the contacts of each patient.
“Our No. 1 priority is the health of our residents,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told reporters Monday during a news conference in Mineola.
The development came as the number of cases in New York State increased to 142 and topped 500 nationwide, including 22 deaths. The new LI total does no include an Uber driver from Queens who New York City officials said had driven around LI.
Hofstra University and the Shoreham-Wading River School District cancelled classes Monday as a precaution. That came after a Hofstra student who attended a conference with a coronavirus patient came down with repertory illness symptoms. And a Shoreham-Wading River school employee reported their spouse may have the coronavirus.
To show just how quickly the number of cases is increasing, at 9:30 a.m. Curran announced cases increased from five to 13. About an hour later during a county legislature health committee hearing on coronavirus preparedness, Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein told the panel that there were now 17 cases. And shortly before noon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated that cases will only go up as tests continue with efforts to contain the outbreak.
Dr. Eisenstein urged the public to not panic, but cautioned those with compromised immune systems should avoid large crowds.
“I want us to continue to go about our lives, but use common sense,” he said.
Officials have previously said they suspect that three women may have contracted the virus from a 42-year-old Uniondale man and Mercy Medical Center staffer being treated at NYU Winthrop University Hospital. But it was not immediately clear how the new fifth Nassau County patient or the Suffolk patient may have picked it up. The new LI total does no include an Uber driver from Queens who New York City officials said had driven around LI.
“If you get this virus, you will get sick, you will recover, you will most likely not even go to the hospital,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared a state of emergency Saturday, told reporters Sunday during a news conference in New Hyde Park, where he tried again to allay fears. “The facts do not justify the frenzy. The fear is just unwarranted.”
The new statewide total is 105 cases, with the bulk in Westchester County. There have been more than 400 cases reported nationwide and 19 deaths as of Sunday. The most vulnerable are those with compromised immune systems.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the first patient in his county is a man in his early 40 who is currently hospitalized and in isolation.
“Suffolk County communicable disease professionals have begun a thorough investigation into the patient’s contacts as it is believed that this case was contracted via community transmission,” Bellone said. “We are continuing to work closely with the New York State Department of Health to ensure a swift and effective investigation. While we continue to do all that we can to avoid a wide-spread outbreak, we are asking the public to do the same. If you are sick, stay home and contact your primary care physician to avoid spreading any illness to others.”
The governor called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to authorize automated and private labs to test for coronavirus. He held the news conference at the Northwell Health Imaging at the Center for Advanced Medicine, which he said is equipped to process the tests.
“Get this lab to work,” he said. “Why you wouldn’t make absolutely no sense.”
Cuomo also blasted President Donald Trump for saying “anyone who wants to get tested can get tested” despite the fact that testing capacity is limited. The governor said increasing capacity for testing is essential to containment.
“We don’t have the testing capacity that we need,” Cuomo said. “Not everybody who wants a test can have a test. We have to prioritize … Once we increase our testing capacity we can have more tests.”
The governor also warned businesses not to price gouge customers seeking cleaning products such as bleach and hand sanitizer.
“Any store owner who is doing this should really think twice,” he said.
The three women ages 36, 41, and 63 are suspected of being connected to the 42-year-old Uniondale man who became Long Island’s first coronoavirus case on Thursday. The man, a part time worker at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, reportedly has seen his condition improve since being admitted into isolation at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. All four reside within the Town of Hempstead.
“This is actually good news in some ways because it says the process is working,” said New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has tried to ease public fears of the possible pandemic. “You get a case and you follow that case and you test that case because you want to find the people who were infected. You want to isolate those people so there is not continued spread.”
There are currently 250 cornoavirus cases nationwide and 15 deaths as of Friday.
Nassau officials said Friday that they were monitoring 59 people, nine more people tested negative, and eight more are pending.
The new trio “are people that we identified, isolated, and tested relatively quickly, so we’re hoping that secondary spread them will be limited.”
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services said Thursday they are monitoring 15 individuals who recently returned from mainland China and are under voluntary home isolation, officials said. There are three patients under investigation in Suffolk and the county is currently awaiting test results.
Suffolk County lawmakers have proposed reforms designed to correct systemic flaws uncovered when 8-year-old Thomas Valva’s father allegedly caused the boy to freeze to death after prior signs of abuse were disregarded.
County legislators pitched the CPS Transformation Act, a legislative package of a half dozen bills intended to overhaul the county’s Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. But some say the proposals don’t go far enough.
“These reforms will ensure that CPS will never operate in the same way again, and that is appropriate because what happened to Thomas Valva can never happen again,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Wednesday. “It is our obligation to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to prevent such a terrible tragedy.”
The legislation would create a new specialized unit in the agency, the CPS Special Needs Unit, to handle cases involving children with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, which Valva had. It would also adopt new CPS caseload standards, develop new training requirements for CPS caseworkers, and create reporting standards.
“This package of legislation will make this vitally important division of the Department of Social Services more transparent, more accountable, and most importantly, better equipped to protect our children,” said Suffolk County Legislator Karan Hahn (D-Setauket), who co-chairs the Suffolk Task Force to Protect Children.
The panel was created after New York City Police Officer Michael Valva and his fiancée, Angela Pollina, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges for allegedly forcing Thomas to sleep in a freezing garage, causing his death at their Center Moriches home.
The legislation stems from that external probe and an ongoing internal CPS review, both of which may lead to additional proposed reforms.
If passed, the reforms would set the process for the automatic escalated review of recurring reports once a certain volume threshold has been reached, and reports that follow reports determined to be unfounded due to insufficient evidence. It would mandate higher level reviews for specific types of cases for those involving four or more reports of unique incidents, or six or more reports of the same incident.
The bill would also create a new designation that will be unique in Suffolk County CPS: ‘unfounded due to insufficient evidence.’ Nearly 77 percent of all CPS cases are reported as unfounded statewide, but in Suffolk the rate is 81 percent. Currently, there is no way to distinguish whether a case was unfounded because the caseworker has concluded that the report is false or because they believe they do not have sufficient evidence to indicate the case and bring it to court. The new standard would require that any new report that comes in after such a designation will trigger a higher level review.
The legislation would also require all CPS caseworkers receive investigative training bi-annually so they are the more likely to identify the evidence necessary to bring a case to court.
In addition, the reforms would mandate increased scrutiny for cases reported by certain school officials. The bill would establish an automatic escalated review of recurring reports from certain school officials once a certain volume threshold has been reached. This would be at a lower level than the volume threshold for reports received from parties other than school officials.
The reforms would require Suffolk CPS caseworkers average of 12 cases and a total of no more than 15, based on the New York State recommended number of caseloads per caseworker. The law would also set the process for corrective action if the caseload limit is exceeded for four consecutive months.
The reforms would additionally create a modernized database within CPS capable of recording and tracking key data points on CPS cases to create a more robust institutional memory to enable monitoring trends and patterns in CPS cases.
And the reforms would establish criminal penalties for knowingly recording CPS interviews with children without the consent of the investigator, a violation up to $1,000. Individuals granting CPS caseworkers entry to their private residence or business for the purposes of a CPS investigation would be required to disclose whether electronic surveillance will be used while the investigation is taking place at the location.
In response to the case lawmakers in the county legislature’s Republican minority have renewed calls for the creation of an independent office of inspector general that would be tasked with ferreting out issues. Thomas’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, issued a statement criticizing the proposed reforms.
“The corruption is not going to stop if this system is not going to be fixed immediately,” she said. “The CPS caseworkers, attorneys for the children, forensic evaluators have to wear body cameras during all their interactions with the children and parties involved. The court proceedings should be video recorded to avoid manipulation with the court transcripts and fight the corruption in the justice system. Those are the basic steps that will initiate the fight against this enormous corruption and will protect the children and all the innocent people involved.”
Long Islanders should live their lives as usual amid coronavirus outbreak fears but stay home and contact their healthcare providers if they have symptoms of a respiratory illness, Nassau County officials say.
Local health officials urge the public to not let fears of a possible pandemic disrupt their daily routine. But residents should practice good personal hygiene and not touch their faces, as this is the most common way that the virus is spread.
“The best way to protect yourself right now is still to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, and if you don’t feel well, stay home,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told reporters Wednesday during a news conference at Nassau University Medical Center.
There are currently 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State and at least 160 cases in 17 states. Eleven people have died of coronavirus nationwide as of Thursday morning.
Nassau health officials said Wednesday that the county completed monitoring of 147 travelers and is current monitoring 62. The county has had six tests come back negative before one case was confirmed Thursday.
County officials say they are continuing to coordinate with state and federal partners as well as officials in New York City and local villages to adjust preparedness plans as the situation unfolds.
“This clearly is an evolving situation, things are changing on a daily basis, so we are closely monitoring all the data and what’s going on in our institution and making preparations as appropriate,” said Dr. Janice Verley, chief of the infectious disease section at NUMC.
NUMC staffers are also closely monitoring waiting rooms for signs of patients who may not be self-reporting respiratory symptoms that may require closer attention and possible coronavirus testing.
Robert Detor, who chairs NuHealth, the public benefit corporation that runs NUMC, said while most coronavirus patients can be treated at home, the hospital has 60 beds available for anyone who is diagnosed with an acute case of the illness.
“We have the capacity to create an isolation floor,” he said of the 19-story medical center. Access would be restricted for patients on the isolation floor, he added.
But for now, officials urged the public to not let the fear of the virus spreading keep healthy residents home.
“At this point, there’s no reason to change your habits,” Curran said. “You can continue going to work, continue going to school, please go to restaurants, I know there was some reluctance from people to go to Chinese restaurants. There’s absolutely no danger. you can go to eat at your favorite Chinese restaurant.
“Please take care of yourself,” she continued. “We touch our faces more than we realize and that’s how this kind of virus gets transmitted most frequently … If you’re coming down with something, stay home.”
The patient is a 42-year-old man who has been hospitalized at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, officials said. Nassau County health officials have since begun tracing the man’s contacts to see who else might be infected. Multiple local news outlets reported that the man is a Uniondale resident who works at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.
“Our goal now is to avoid community spread,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who noted that the patient is in isolation. “There is no need to panic. If you live on Long Island, you can go about your day. But please, take care of yourself.”
There are currently 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State and at least 160 cases in 17 states. Eleven people have died of coronavirus nationwide as of Thursday.
Nassau health officials said Wednesday that the county completed monitoring of 147 travelers and is current monitoring 62. The county has had six tests come back negative before the one case was confirmed Thursday.
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is currently monitoring 15 individuals who recently returned from mainland China and are under voluntary home isolation, officials said. There are three patients under investigation in Suffolk and the county is currently awaiting test results.
“New Yorkers should focus on facts not fear as we confront this evolving situation, and the facts do not merit the level of anxiety we are seeing,” Cuomo said. “The number of cases will increase because it’s math – the more you test, the more cases you find. We are testing more people, we are isolating anyone who may have come into contact with the virus, and we are getting people care if they need it.”
Director Liz Garbus doesn’t fear giving close-ups to tough topics, having traveled the globe making documentaries about everything from AIDS to terrorism. More recently, she has focused her lens on Long Island.
The Brooklyn-based, two-time Oscar-nominated documentarian is making her feature narrative debut with Lost Girls, a film based on author Robert Kolker’s true crime book of the same name about the unsolved Gilgo Beach murders in which 10 sets of human remains were found along Ocean Parkway a decade ago. It tells the story of how Mari Gilbert, mother of Shannan Gilbert — who police were looking for when they discovered the dumping ground — struggled to get police to take her case seriously. The film starring Amy Ryan as Mari will debut March 13 on Netflix, but it’s already making waves.
“I hope just like the Golden State Killer was recently found, that renewed public interest can help push this case forward and there will be justice for these grieving families,” says Garbus, referring to how author Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is credited with helping lead to a 2018 arrest in that California case that was unsolved for four decades.
Garbus may already be on her way. The same day in January that Netflix released its trailer for Lost Girls, Suffolk County police held a news conference revealing the first new evidence in the case in nine years: a photo of the initials “WH” (or HW”) embossed on a belt they found at one of the dump sites. Although police wouldn’t say why they decided to make the announcement then, Garbus suggests the timing appears too coincidental to be a coincidence.
Will Lost Girls ultimately find answers to Suffolk’s largest-ever unsolved homicide case?
Time will tell.
Lost Girls isn’t your first film with Long Island ties. So was There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane about the Diane Schuler case, Gloria Vanderbilt biopic Nothing Left Unsaid, and the episode of HBO’s Addiction series you directed about Brookhaven National Lab’s brain imaging. Why does LI keep showing up in your work? I’m a New York City-based filmmaker. Long Island is my backyard as well. A lot’s happened there. I’ve worked on 50 or 60 films throughout my lifetime, so it’s not that I’m obsessed with one place, but there are some stories that need telling on Long Island.
You grew up in New York City. Do you have ties to LI? I have close family members who have lived on Long Island all my life. My uncle and cousins all lived in Huntington.
How did you come to make Lost Girls? It happened the way projects can happen, which is my agent sent me a script, I read it and said, ‘I want to work on this film.’ And that is where it all started.
The book was published a year before the focus of the film, Mari Gilbert, was murdered by another daughter, Sarra. Did you have a chance to meet her while she was still alive? Yes. I did meet Mari and her lawyer, John Ray, before she died. So I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to do that.
How did that influence the film? Mari was very supportive of the film. She would talk a lot about herself and her struggles and it gave me a lot of insight into the character, which influenced how we worked on the script and how I worked with Amy Ryan on the portrayal. So it was a really important meeting.
Your work has primarily been documentaries. Why did you decide to make Lost Girls your first narrative feature? It was a story that I just felt was incredibly important and timely. I love telling stories. This was a story that had been covered in documentary form. But there was a kind of story of Mari and a mother-daughter story that hadn’t been told and this was the way to tell it. I just became very passionate about making this film and it was one of those passion projects that I wouldn’t let go.
Suffolk police recently held a news conference revealing new evidence, new DNA techniques being used to help ID five unidentified victims in the case, and launch a new website, gilgonews.com, to generate tips, but police wouldn’t say why they decided to do this now. Do you think they were trying to get ahead of the film’s release? I can’t say this with 100 percent assurity, but I do think that they knew the trailer was coming that day. And they called the press conference the night before. I’m sure they knew there would start to be attention on the case and it’s only natural that they would want to say that they are still working on it.
Do you have any theories on the photo of the belt police released? I don’t have any theories. I’m not a detective. Hopefully it leads somewhere. But it’s distressing if that’s all that we’re working with at this point in time.
Police are portrayed in the movie as not properly pursuing the case because the victims were sex workers, but Suffolk police maintain that victims’ line of work doesn’t dictate how thoroughly they investigate. Do you believe them? You look at the semantics and the way that the case was discussed and the treatment that family members prior to Shannan Gilbert in other jurisdictions — it’s not just Suffolk County — had while they were trying to get some answers about their loved ones. It was not JonBenét Ramsey. It was really a disregard and a lack of urgency. Now they’re adults, it’s not a child like JonBenét, and of course adults can go off on their own and they’re allowed to not report back, but these were sisters and mothers who were clearly missing and they were right there along Ocean Parkway and it took way too long to make those connections.
The cause of Shannan Gilbert’s death is officially considered “inconclusive” by the medical examiner. Police have said she may have accidentally drowned in the marsh, but her family believes she was murdered. What do you think happened? I think that Shannan was on Craigslist like the rest of the young women, and she was the same type as the rest of the young women in terms of build and characteristics, that perhaps this perpetrator was looking for and interested in, and her body was found not far from the other victims. Shannan was really scared that night. We know because Mari and her family got to listen to the 911 call and we have reports of civilians at Oak Beach that saw her terrified. So to say that she just happened to run into a marsh and drown seems a very implausible theory when you have so much data that young women who did advertise on Craigslist were murdered in that area. Something could have gone wrong. The pattern is certainly a little different. But to assume that it’s not connected seems to not add up with common sense.
As far as the larger case, some believe it’s one perpetrator, others suspect it’s multiple killers using the same dumping ground. Have you come away with any insights after making this film? I don’t know if it’s one or multiple killers. The film was told through Mari’s point of view. We know that Mari had her ideas and we portray those in the film, but of course there’s a wide range of theories.
You’ve been on record stating that you hope the film helps generate tips that crack the case. How do you think that this case may finally get closure? You look at the recent Golden State Killer case, which had been unsolved for far longer, and there was renewed press interest. Michelle McNamara wrote a book called I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which renewed press interest. It was a very different case. There were many detectives who were extremely passionate and said, ‘if there’s one thing I want to do before I die, it’s solve this case.’ It was very much on people’s minds. But because of press interest and because of the passion of some of those detectives who would not let it go, they made a DNA match. But it was hard, it was a needle in a haystack, and it was people caring and working, and retired police officers who continued to speak with one another. If we had that kind of passion here, couldn’t we make a difference as well? It seems that it should be within reach.
Guinness World Records has confirmed that Freeport-based nonprofit The Book Fairies officially broke the record for the longest line of books, 3.81 miles, at two Wyandanch schools in November.
More than 150 volunteers spent three hours lining up 31,000 books winding through the halls and gyms at at the Lafrancis Hardiman / Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary schools in Wyandanch, thereby breaking 2017 record of a 2.6-mile-long line of books set in Illinois.
“It’s truly exhilarating to know that it is official,” said Amy Zaslansky, who founded The Book Fairies. “We literally won by a mile and set an incredible new record with the help of our dedicated volunteers, partners, and sponsors.”
The nonprofit, which recently donated its two millionth book, organized the event on Nov. 14, Guinness World Record Day, to raise awareness to their efforts to fight illiteracy by donating literature to underprivileged communities across Long Island, the New York Metro area, and overseas. The 500 boxes of books used in setting the record were donated to Wyandanch residents.
The Book Fairies will celebrate their new world record on Monday, which is Read Across America Day.
“The teamwork and excitement I witnessed during this event reinforced the reasons why I have dedicated eight years to bringing the love of books and reading to underserved populations,” Zaslansky said. “Books have immense power to uplift and bond a community. It was truly evident during this effort.”