Saturday, October 20, 2018

U.S. Senator Schumer Visits Proposed Putnam Trail

   It is a small former two track section of the Old Putnam line of the New York Central Railroad Line, which became the CSX Railroad. Grass has grown where the train tracks once were, and this small stretch of the former Putnam Line is slated to become the final part of the Putnam Trail which will connect Manhattan and upstate. 

   The Putnam Trail currently ends at the southern most part of Van Cortlandt Park awaiting the purchase of this tiny parcel of land from CSX Railroad to connect to Manhattan. The city and CSX agreed to abide by an independent arbitrators value of the land, but CSX seems not willing to let the land go. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer came to the West 238th Street overpass with local elected officials and Putnam Trail activists to ask CSX Railroad to abide by the independent arbitrator's assessment of the land. One after another the local elected officials told of what this little stretch of land means to the local community.

   Senator Schumer's final words were that CSX Railroad has many miles of railroad track in New York State, and that it is the federal government that regulates those miles of tracks. 

Above - U.S. Senator Schumer and local elected officials standing over the final part of what should be the Putnam Trail.
Below - Congressman Adriano Espaillat has some words for CSX Railroad.

Above - Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. speaks of the importance of this path to the community.
Below - Community Board 8 Chair Rosemary Ginty tells of the long fight the community board has had to get to this point of almost acquiring the final piece of the Putnam Trail.

Charter School Rally at City Hall

   This past Thursday over one-hundred people gathered on the steps of City Hall a rally for the much unused space in public schools for new charter schools. There had been an agreement with Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow charter schools to pick up some of the open space in NYC public schools. 

   In a report compiled by the Manhattan Institute 192 public school buildings have three-hundred or more empty seats in all five boroughs. Also in the report was that these public school seats have been empty for over five years now. There were seventy-two public school buildings citywide with over five-hundred empty seats, with twelve Bronx public schools on that list. 

   Eva Moskowitz the CEO of the charter school network Success Charter Schools led the rally as there was a surprise charter school parent among those at the rally. Assemblyman Marcos crespo said that his two young children attend a Success Charter school, and that he is a supporter of charter schools. Crespo also called on the mayor to honor his word and allow the large blocks of empty seats in public schools to be used by charter schools. 

   The twelve Bronx public schools with over 500 empty seats as compiled by the Manhattan Institute are -

   School                     District         Number of empty seats
Stevenson H.S.                8                            973
Kennedy Campus H.S.   10                           762
New School for 
Art & Sciences                8                            750
Truman H.S.                   11                           693
IS 113                             11                           677
Taft H.S.                          9                            676
Clinton H.S.                   10                           673
Bronx Regional H.S.      12                           609
IS 339                              9                            594
IS 192                              8                            564
IS 98                               12                           561
IS 219                              9                            541

Assemblyman Marcos Crespo at Thursday's Charter School Rally.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Lavellous Purcell, A/K/A “King Casino,” A/K/A “Mike Hill,” Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court

Of Sex Trafficking By Force, Fraud, Or Coercion, And Other Related Offenses

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that a federal jury today found LAVELLOUS PURCELL, a/k/a “King Casino,” a/k/a “Mike Hill,” guilty of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, and related offenses.  PURCELL was convicted following a one-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Lavellous Purcell, a/k/a ‘King Casino,’ was a pimp with a notoriously brutal set of rules he used to keep his victims under his control. Besides physical violence and intimidation, Purcell forced the women to dress and act in certain ways, and forced them to brand themselves with a tattoo of his alias, ‘Casino,’ on their necks. Purcell even boasted about his reprehensible abuse of women on social media. Now, Purcell has himself been branded as a felon by a unanimous jury, and faces life in federal prison. We hope today’s verdict brings at least some small measure of comfort to the victims of Purcell’s unconscionable crimes.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment and evidence presented during the trial in Manhattan federal court: 
From at least in or about 2012 to in or about 2017, LAVELLOUS PURCELL, a/k/a “King Casino,” a/k/a “Mike Hill,” the defendant engaged in the sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of numerous women across the country, including in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  The defendant recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, and maintained women for the purposes of commercial sex, and he used violent force, threats of force, coercion, intimidation, and fear to force at least one woman to engage in commercial sex for his own profit.  For example, the defendant strangled and choked certain of his victims, he hit and threatened to hit certain of his victims, and he kidnapped certain of his victims. 
The victims of the defendant’s prostitution business were required to follow a strict set of rules, which the defendant enforced through threats, fear, intimidation, and violence.  The defendant’s rules required his victims to:  make the defendant money through prostitution, give the defendant all money earned from any commercial sex acts, call the defendant “Daddy,” not speak to men other than the defendant, not look at any men other than the defendant, not talk back to the defendant, not disrespect the defendant, not have boyfriends, not wear sneakers or loose-fitting clothing, and brand themselves with a tattoo bearing the defendant’s alias, “Casino,” on their necks. 
The defendant recruited women to engage in commercial sex through social media websites, and he used, an online classifieds website, to post advertisements for commercial sex.  The defendant also booked various rental cars and hotel rooms to transport women across state lines to engage in commercial sex.  Meanwhile, the defendant boasted about the violence he used against women and his prostitution of women through social media posts, phone, text, and online communications, and in person. 
To date, law enforcement agents have identified numerous women who have engaged in commercial sex at the defendant’s direction.
LAVELLOUS PURCELL, a/k/a “King Casino,” a/k/a “Mike Hill,” 40, of Hempstead, New York, was convicted of one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, one count of enticement to engage in prostitution, one count of transporting individuals in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution, one count of using interstate commerce to promote prostitution, and one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote prostitution.  The defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, as well as maximum potential sentences that are prescribed by Congress and provided below for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Any individuals who believe they have information that may be relevant to the investigation should contact the FBI at 1-212-384-1000 or
Mr. Berman thanked the FBI and NYPD for their outstanding investigative work in this matter.  Mr. Berman also thanked the New York County District Attorney’s Office for its assistance with this investigation. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Action To Recover Old Master Painting Stolen By Nazis And Selected For Hitler’s Art Collection

The 1639 Painting by Salomon Koninck Titled “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill,” Was Looted by the Nazis from the Schloss Family During World War II

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeny Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture action seeking the return to its rightful owner of a painting looted by the Nazis during World War II.  The piece, A Scholar Sharpening His Quill, painted in 1639 by Salomon Koninck (the “Painting”), was allegedly stolen from the children and heirs of renowned Jewish art collector Adolphe Schloss.  Schloss was a prominent Jewish art collector in Paris whose large collection of Old Master paintings (the “Schloss Collection”) was regarded as among the most significant private collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings assembled in prewar France.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said:  “As alleged, this 1639 Old Master painting was owned by the Schloss family before it was stolen by the Nazis in France and transported to Munich to Hitler’s personal headquarters.  We can never reverse history and undo the horrors committed at the hands of the Nazis.  But we are steadfast in our determination to remember those who suffered and do what we can to return what was taken.”
According to the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:
During World War II, the Nazis created a division known as the Einsatzstab Reichleiter Rosenberg (the “ERR”) in order to “study” Jewish life and culture as part of the Nazis’ propagandist mission against the Jews.  Principally, the ERR confiscated artworks and other cultural holdings of “the enemies of the Reich” on a massive scale, and registered and identified those artworks – even photographing them – thereby leaving behind a detailed record of the works that they stole.  ERR records and photographs of art and cultural artifacts looted by the Nazis are digitized and available in an online database created by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and this database includes a photograph of the Painting taken by the ERR during World War II.
Upon the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Schloss heirs moved the Schloss Collection from Paris to Chateau de Chambon, a township in Southern France, in an attempt to protect the collection from looting by the Nazis.  Due to its value and significance, the ERR made substantial efforts to locate and loot the Schloss Collection.  In 1943, the Schloss Collection was ultimately looted by the ERR from its holding place in Chateau de Chambon.  The Nazis took 262 paintings from the Schloss Collection, including the Painting, and transported them to a depot located at the Jeu de Paume, a prewar museum in Paris that was operated by the ERR during the war.  Ultimately, the Painting was selected by the Nazis to be transported to the the “Führerbau,” Hitler’s headquarters in Munich, from where it and many other paintings disappeared in the aftermath of the war.
The Painting resurfaced in November 2017, when a Chilean art dealer (the “Consignor”) attempted to sell the painting through a New York-based auction house.  When the Painting arrived in New York from Chile, it was determined that it was the Painting came from the Schloss collection and had been looted by the Nazis.  When the Consignor was informed of this, the Consignor stated that her father had purchased the Painting from Walter Andreas Hofer in Munich in 1952.  Hofer was Hermann Göring’s chief purchasing agent and as such was a key player in the confiscation and looting of Jewish art collections during the Nazi era.  In 1950, after being tried in absentia by a French military tribunal for his role in art plundering during World War II, Hofer was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are seeking forfeiture of the painting so it can be returned to its rightful owners, the Schloss family.
Mr. Berman thanked the FBI’s Art Crime Team for their assistance.

A.G. Underwood Announces Takedown Of Brooklyn-Based Cigarette Trafficking Ring

Multi-Agency Crackdown Leads to 21-Count Indictment Charging 3-Person Cigarette Trafficking Ring with Distributing More than 1.25 Million Untaxed Cigarettes, Evading Nearly $430,000 in Tax Liability

  Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced the indictment and arrest of three individuals for their alleged roles in trafficking significant quantities of untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to Kings County. In a 21-count indictment unsealed today in Kings County Supreme Court, the defendants were charged with various tax- and money laundering-related crimes for their involvement in the cigarette trafficking network. 

“As we allege, the defendants ran a criminal trafficking ring that funneled over 1.25 million untaxed cigarettes into New York – while cheating New Yorkers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes,” said Attorney General Underwood. “These traffickers are charged with sidestepping the law, which put legitimate, law-abiding businesses at a disadvantage. We’ll continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to hold accountable those who try to game the system and cheat New Yorkers.”
Code-named “Operation Sidestep,” state, federal, and local law enforcement agents concluded a months-long investigation into a network that allegedly evaded New York State and New York City excise and sales taxes by trafficking more than 1,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes per week from Virginia to be sold in retail shops in Brooklyn. The investigation was led by the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force (“OCTF”) in partnership with the Intelligence Bureau of the New York Police Department (“NYPD”) and Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”). It is alleged that a total of approximately 1,255,000 cigarettes were smuggled into Brooklyn, evading a total of $426,700 in tax liability due to New York State and New York City. 
“Financial fraud victimizes an unknowing and unwilling public for the unabashed gain of a small handful who know full well their gains compromise the widespread safety, security, and economic health of others,” said HSI Baltimore’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Cardell T. Morant. “I thank the dedicated investigators involved and commend the invaluably productive and efficient partnerships in place that assure these charges will be faced and answered for.”  
During the course of the takedown, authorities seized three handguns, one shotgun, three vehicles, and more than $312,000 in cash from the Ramadans’ home in Maryland, as well as more than 341,000 untaxed cigarettes from a storage location in Brooklyn.
The Attorney General's indictment charges the following three defendants with different crimes, including, but not limited to: Criminal Tax Fraud in the Second Degree (a class C felony), Money Laundering in the Second Degree (a Class C felony), and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (class E felony), in relation to their involvement in the cigarette trafficking operation:
Basel Ramadan, 47 years old – Ocean City, MD
Samir Ramadan, 45 years old – Ocean City, MD
Fahd Muthana, a/k/a “Ahmed Abdullah,” 39 years old – Brooklyn, NY
Basel Ramadan and Samir Ramadan were arraigned today in Kings County Supreme Court before Judge Danny Chun; bail for Samir Ramadan was set at $2 million cash or $500,000 bond. Fahd Muthana was arraigned on October 11, 2018 in Kings County Supreme Court before Judge Chun. All three defendants’ cases were adjourned to December 19, 2018.
The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. 
The Attorney General thanks the NYPD and Homeland Security Investigations for their partnership.
The NYPD portion of the investigation was led by Detective Christopher McDonnell and Sgt. Robert Olson. The HSI portion was run by Agent Kenneth Oland and Regional Agent in Charge Frank McGarvey.

Comptroller Stringer Demands End to Exclusionary Policy That Denies Transit Access to New York City Straphangers

The Connecticut DOT and Metro-North Service Agreement preserves an antiquated policy, barring city straphangers from accessing same service as their suburban counterparts

  New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called on the Connecticut State Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Metro-North to end an agreement that prohibits passengers in the Bronx from boarding certain trains heading into Grand Central Terminal.

For over a century, and under the auspices of various rail companies, trains running on the New Haven line have allowed suburban passengers commuting from Connecticut and Westchester to exit at only a single station in the Bronx (Fordham), while explicitly refusing to board any Bronx commuters for the last leg of the trip into Manhattan. Today’s announcement follows the release of Comptroller Stringer’s proposal to end the MTA’s two-tiered transit system for 1.4 million Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn residents who are forced to choose between the high costs of commuter rail or longer commutes on the subway and bus.
When New Haven trains stop at the Fordham Road station, Metro-North’s public address system announces that the stop is “discharge only.” This exclusionary practice is historically rooted in a contract between the long-defunct New York-New Haven and New York-Harlem rail companies that dates back to 1848, but has been effectively extended for decades, most recently through the CDOT and Metro-North’s Amended and Restated Service Agreement.
“Metro-North and the Connecticut DOT’s decision to uphold this exclusionary policy of bypassing and neglecting Bronx residents is abhorrent and irresponsible,” said Comptroller Stringer. “While New York City’s transit system is in crisis, the MTA and Connecticut DOT are barring Bronx communities from trains that connect them with their jobs, schools, and loved ones. Your zip code should never determine your quality of life – not in this city or anywhere else in America. If New York wants to lead this nation, we must bring our transit system into the 21st century on every front. End this policy now.”
report and proposal released by the Comptroller’s office Tuesday detailed a plan that would dramatically expand transit access in 31 neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens with Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road stations. Of these 31 neighborhoods, 13 are located beyond the subway map and are critically in need of improved transit access and mobility. People of color account for 82 percent of the population in these neighborhoods and 41 percent are foreign born. Nearly 60 percent of the renters in these communities are “rent-burdened,” leaving them with little to spare for the steep commuter rail fares.
Circumstances in the Bronx, meanwhile, are particularly dramatic. In the eleven neighborhoods with a Metro-North station, the unemployment rate is 12 percent and 61 percent of residents are rent-burdened — further underscoring the need for more affordable transit and improved job access across the city.
Moving forward, the Comptroller calls on the MTA to charge a flat fare of $2.75 on all transit trips within the city — whether bus, subway, or commuter rail­ — and allow free transfers. He also demands more frequent commuter rail service within the five boroughs, improved bus connections to Metro-North and LIRR stops, and that all commuter rail stations be made ADA accessible.


New strategy to reduce outages and restore heat faster by installing new boilers, hiring more heating staff and external contractors, as well as improving resident communication

  The de Blasio Administration announced the result of heating improvements made across NYCHA this summer and fall to prepare for cold weather. In response to last year’s record cold temperatures, NYCHA’s new leadership has developed a comprehensive strategy to reduce outages and restore heating faster this winter. Systemwide, NYCHA residents now have more heating staff, more mobile boilers on hand for emergencies and better handling of their heat complaints. And 87,000 residents at developments that had chronic heating issues last year have received target improvements, ranging from new boilers to new third-party experts that will manage heating plants to reduce outages.
“Every NYCHA resident deserves heat in the winter. Our new leadership at NYCHA have delivered major improvements that will reduce outages and get the heat back on faster,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This plan will benefit all 400,000 New Yorkers who call NYCHA home, and is the only the beginning of more improvements to come."

“In preparation for this winter season, we have been fully dedicated to ensuring real improvements to keep residents warmer,” said NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Stanley Brezenoff. “While there is no magic wand, our operations team, under the leadership of our General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo, is tackling problems we have immediate control over while looking to the future when we can have more reliable heating throughout our portfolio for all New Yorkers who rely on us.”

“After joining NYCHA in the height of the heating problems last winter, I committed from day one to ensure that we were better prepared when this winter season came around,” said NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo. “With unprecedented support from Mayor de Blasio, we have achieved operational improvements, streamlined capital timelines and better technology both internally and for resident communication, so when the winter freeze comes, we will be able to respond faster and get boilers up and running quicker.”
Last winter in New York City was one of the coldest on record, bringing NYCHA’s aging infrastructure to a brink. Approximately half of NYCHA developments experienced one or more heat service interruptions lasting longer than 24 hours last heat season. This winter, NYCHA is targeting investments towards the worst performing heating systems. 

The citywide improvements for the 2018-19 heating season include:
  • More Heating Staff: NYCHA has added 50 new heating technicians this heating season, and added more contracts with skilled laborers to provided additional expertise if needed. These staffing expansions will improve maintenance and speed response times.
  • Better Customer Service: When NYCHA makes heating repairs, it will now robocall all affected residents before closing out work orders. Any resident that has not experienced heat restoration will be able to immediately respond through the call to keep staff on site to address their issue.
  • New Mobile Boilers: 5 additional mobile boilers are ready to deploy during emergencies to keep heat running.

The targeted improvements affected 87,000 residents include:
  • New Boilers: 12 developments have had boilers replaced since last winter with three more under repair now, improving heating service for 9,100 residents. Six developments, with 7,300 residents, have received dedicated mobile boilers. 
  • Outside Experts to Monitor and Manage Boilers: For 41 scattered sites or high-tech heating plants, third-party agencies will provide faster and better fixes, helping 70,000 residents experience better heat this season. Further developments will be transferred to third party managers over the course of the heating season.
  • Better Windows: 7,600 senior apartments received new window balances, a key issue in last year’s struggles to keep the cold out. These repaired windows will lock in the heat more securely for NYCHA’s elderly residents.

Below is a list of sites that are receiving targeted improvements:

New Boilers
·         104-14 Tapscott Street
·         Claremont Rehab (Group 2)
·         Claremont Rehab (Group 4)
·         Coney Island I (Site 1B)
·         Coney Island (Sites 4&5)
·         Fort Washington Avenue Rehab
·         Hope Gardens
·         Ingersoll
·         International Tower
·         Lower East Side I
·         Manhattanville Rehab (Group 2)
·         Manhattanville Rehab (Group 3) *
·         Melrose*
·         Ocean Hill-Brownsville
·         Rehab Program (Wise Rehab)
·         Robinson *
·         Rutland Towers*
·         Sutter Avenue-Union Street
·         Taft*
·         Washington Heights Rehab
·         Wyckoff Gardens*

Note: The locations with an asterisk are receiving a mobile boiler.

Third Party Management
·         303 Vernon Avenue
·         Albany
·         Albany II
·         Astoria
·         Beach 41ST Street
·         Brownsville
·         Conlon Lihfe Towers
·         Cooper Park
·         Corsi Houses
·         East River
·         Elliot
·         Fiorentino Plaza
·         Glenmore Plaza
·         Highbridge Gardens
·         Howard
·         Hughes Apartments
·         International Tower
·         Jefferson
·         Kingsborough
·         Kingsborough Extension
·         Lexington
·         Long Island Baptist Houses
·         Low Houses
·         Pink
·         Queensbridge North
·         Queensbridge South
·         Rangel
·         Roosevelt I
·         Roosevelt II
·         Shelton House
·         Sumner
·         Tilden
·         Unity Plaza (Sites 17,24,25A)
·         Unity Plaza (SITES 4-27)
·         Van Dyke I
·         Van Dyke II
·         Vandalia Avenue
·         Wagner
·         Washington
·         Williamsburg
·         Woodson

Better Windows
·         Armstrong I
·         Baruch Houses Addition
·         Betances I
·         Bethune Gardens
·         Borinquen Plaza I
·         Boston Road Plaza
·         Bronx River Addition
·         Brown
·         Cassidy-Lafayette
·         Chelsea Addition
·         Claremont Parkway- Franklin Avenue
·         College Avenue – East 165th Street
·         Conlon Lihfe Towers
·         Corsi Houses
·         Davidson
·         East 152nd Street- Courtlandt Avenue
·         Fort Washington Avenue Rehab
·         Garvey (Group A)
·         Glebe Avenue- Westchester Avenue
·         Haber
·         Harborview Terrace
·         Hope Gardens
·         International Tower
·         Kingsborough Extension
·         La Guardia Addition
·         Leavitt Street- 34th Avenue
·         Lower East Side I
·         Marshall Plaza
·         Meltzer Tower
·         Middletown Plaza
·         Mitchel
·         Morris Park Senior Citizens Home
·         Morrisania Air Rights
·         Palmetto Gardens
·         Public School 139 (Conversion)
·         Randall Avenue-Balcom Avenue
·         Rehab Program (College Point)
·         Reid Apartments
·         Robbins Plaza
·         Roosevelt I
·         Shelton House
·         Stuyvesant Gardens II
·         Surfside Gardens
·         Twin Parks East (Site 9)
·         Union Avenue – East 163rd Street
·         Upaca (Site 5)
·         Upaca (Site 6)
·         Van Dyke II
·         Vandalia Avenue
·         West Brighton II
·         West Tremont Avenue – Sedgewick Avenue
·         White
·         Woodson

The de Blasio Administration has made an unprecedented commitment to preserve and strengthen public housing. This investment is part of the Administration’s total commitment to $2.1 billion to support NYCHA’s capital infrastructure from Fiscal Year 2014 to Fiscal Year 2027 and $1.6 billion to support NYCHA’s operations from Fiscal Year 2014 to Fiscal Year 2022. This investment includes $1.3 billion to fix over 900 roofs, over $500 million to repair deteriorating exterior brickwork at nearly 400 buildings, and $140 million to improve security at 15 NYCHA developments.

The City waived NYCHA’s annual PILOT and NYPD payments to the City, relieving NYCHA of nearly $100 million in operating expenses a year. In January 2018, the Mayor announced $13 million to improve NYCHA’s response to heating emergencies this winter, followed by an additional $200 million for long-term heating improvements at 20 NYCHA developments.