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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces projects fortifying critical coastline at a Beach Water Purification Plant in Long Beach. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: Howard Schnapp 
by Erin Geismar

Cuomo: Long Beach to get $13M flood barrier


New York State will spend $13 million to build more than a mile of flood barriers to protect the Long Beach wastewater treatment plant and other critical infrastructure — the first cutting-edge technology to harden the Long Island shoreline since superstorm Sandy.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Sunday announced plans for a 4,400-foot-long adjustable seawall and bigger bayside bulkheads.

Read the full story:

 Crew members pose for a photograph beside their Vietnam War era Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse, rebuilt by Long Island, N.Y. Vietnam veterans. (Nov. 8, 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by Erin Geismar

Vietnam War-era copter restored on LI goes to museum


QUANTICO, Va. — They stood smiling together at the National Museum of the Marine Corps — graying men who came of age during the Vietnam War — posing before one of the green-hulled birds of their youth.

The moment in history for the UH-34D combat helicopter they were so emotionally attached to had arrived. During the war, it had rescued American soldiers and taken the wounded to hospitals. And over the past few years that the men helped rebuild it, the helicopter helped rescue them from the anguish of war that had followed them home.

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Clever Devices, a Woodbury based company, designed the new NICE Integrated Systems (NIS), which is a GPS-based technology that will give NICE managers and customers real time information on buses. (Nov. 6, 2013) Photo credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz  
by Erin Geismar

NICE bus awards $8M for rider info system


The Nassau Inter-County Express bus system has awarded an $8 million contract for computer systems that developers say will make the fleet among the most technologically advanced in the world.

The new NICE Integrated System will use global positioning systems and other state-of-the-art technology to provide real-time information on the exact location of all of Nassau’s 314 buses. Officials say that capability will help address many of NICE’s most nagging problems, including late buses and malfunctioning onboard audio and visual announcements.

Read the full story:

LI company shows off new NICE bus technology
by newsday via YouTube on 8:29 PM

A photo of the Court of Appeals, New York State's highest court. Photo credit: Court of Appeals' website  
by Erin Geismar

Roy: Court to look at nurse’s confidentiality breach


ALBANY — He went to a private medical clinic to receive treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. But when the man, known in court papers only as “John Doe,” arrived, a nurse recognized him and texted Doe’s girlfriend.

Uh, oh.

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New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr. speaks to
the press outside Oyster Bay High School. (Oct. 15, 2013) Photo credit: Barry Sloan    
by Erin Geismar

State education forums spark controversy on LI


Controversy is swirling over advance selection of speakers and admittance restrictions to education forums this week on Long Island featuring state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., with some angry parents saying they will demonstrate outside high schools where meetings are to be held.

The forums, Tuesday at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket and Wednesday at Mineola High School, are among about a dozen statewide that King and other state officials had described as opportunities to air concerns over revved-up student testing, the rigorous Common Core academic standards, teacher job evaluations and protection of student data.

Read the full story:

by eileen.holliday

'60 Minutes' apologizes for flawed Benghazi report

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS' "60 Minutes" apologized on Sunday's broadcast for a flawed story on the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and for the discredited source who claimed to have been at the scene.

During brief remarks at the end of the hour correspondent Lara Logan said "60 Minutes" was misled and made a mistake in its reporting.

Read more:

A man walks past debris of destroyed houses in Tacloban, eastern
island of Leyte, Philippines. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: AP  
by Erin Geismar

Typhoon deaths climb into thousands in Philippines 


TACLOBAN, Philippines — Corpses hung from trees, were scattered on sidewalks or buried in flattened buildings — some of the thousands believed killed in one Philippine city alone by ferocious Typhoon Haiyan that washed away homes and buildings with powerful winds and giant waves.

As the scale of devastation became clear Sunday from one of the worst storms ever recorded, officials said emergency crews could find more bodies when they reach parts of the archipelago cut off by flooding and landslides. Desperate residents raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water as the government began relief efforts and international aid operations got underway.

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The Roseland Ballroom on West 52nd Street in Manhattan, which will
close. (Nov. 1, 2013) Photo credit: Craig Ruttle  

Roseland’s closure part of trend distorting NYC's artistic identity


The iconic Roseland Ballroom, a favorite of bands and audiences for decades because of its size and sentimental importance, will reportedly soon join a growing group of music venues that have shuttered in recent years, an increasing trend that some say is distorting the artistic identity of New York.

Roseland, set to host its final act in April 2014, as first reported by Billboard last month, joins recent musical landmarks to close up shop, including Park Slope’s beloved Southpaw and Bleecker Street’s Kenny’s Castaways in 2012, Amato Opera on the Bowery in 2009 and, most famously, the irreplaceable CBGB in 2006.

Read the full story:

Roosevelt residents Jacob Dixon and Sharisse Carter stand in front of a brownfield site. (Nov. 8, 2013) Photo credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa  
by Erin Geismar

Roosevelt residents worried over hazardous waste site


Some Roosevelt residents, churchgoers and community advocates are concerned that a hazardous chemical found in the hamlet could have undesirable environmental and health repercussions.

The brownfield site, at 20 W. Centennial Ave., was used by various uniform and linen supply companies and was listed on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s registry of inactive hazardous waste sites in July 2005.

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Jane Clementi, front left, and Elliot London, front right, walk across the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York city to help raise awareness about the dangers of bullying. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by Erin Geismar

Family visits site of Rutgers student's suicide


FORT LEE, N.J. — The family of the Rutgers University student whose suicide sparked a national conversation about the treatment of young gay people paid their first visit Sunday to the bridge where he took his life.

Members of Tyler Clementi's family crossed The George Washington Bridge to New York City to help raise awareness about the dangers of bullying.

Read the full story:

Report: Gunman kills Iranian deputy minister 


TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's official news agency is reporting that a gunman has shot and killed a deputy industry minister.

The report Sunday by IRNA said Safdar Rahmatabadi was shot twice in head and chest that night in an eastern neighborhood of Tehran. The report quoted police as saying they believed the deputy minister was shot by someone traveling with him in his car.

Police said they had begun an investigation. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Rahmatabadi was not a well-known public figure in moderate President Hassan Rouhani's government.

This is the second attack in recent days on a government official in Iran. On Wednesday, a gunman killed an Iranian state prosecutor in a restive southeastern region near the country's border with Pakistan.

The ice rink at Bryant Park in New York is resurfaced
. A shooting at the ice rink at the popular midtown Manhattan park late Saturday sent two men to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
 (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: AP
by mandy.hofmockel

NYPD: Robbery attempt led to ice-rink shooting 


A teenager opened fired at a crowded Manhattan ice-skating rink, leaving two people wounded and blood splattered across the ice, after attempting to rob one of the victims of his coat, police said Sunday as they took the teen into custody for questioning.

The violence late Saturday at the Bryant Park rink sent skaters stampeding in all directions to safety. Authorities said a 14-year-old boy was struck in the back and a 20-year-old man was hit in the arm as the shooter opened fire in the popular park in midtown Manhattan, behind the main building of the New York Public Library. Neither injury was believed to be life-threatening.

Authorities said the shooter had approached the 20-year-old man at the Bryant Park rink and demanded his coat. The man refused to hand it over, and the shooter left. Police say the shooter then returned and started firing.

Police believe the 20-year-old was the intended target and that he did not know the suspect. They said the 14-year-old boy was just an innocent bystander.

"It was terrifying; my legs were shaking," said Raghuram Krishnamachari, who was dining with his family in a restaurant overlooking the park when they heard three shots being fired.

"We had a view of the whole thing, we saw it happening, and the first thing that came to my mind is, 'It's a crazy person with a machine gun and all he wants to do is kill as many people as possible,'" the Brooklyn man said.

Krishnamachari and his family barricaded themselves in a bathroom at the glassed-in restaurant and called 911.

Charges were pending against the teen, whose name authorities did not release.

A young male deer stands with a hunter's arrow through it's head in New Jersey. (Nov. 9, 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by Erin Geismar

NJ biologists remove arrow from deer's head


ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J.  — Wildlife officials have removed an arrow from a young deer's head and released the animal back into the New Jersey woods.

The arrow that had completely pierced the 5-month-old male deer's head was removed Saturday by biologists with the Department of Environmental Protection.

Read full story here:

James Brady poses for a photo. (Nov. 8, 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by Erin Geismar

Outpouring for ex-homeless NJ man's good deed 


HACKENSACK, N.J. — Offers of support have been pouring in from around the nation for a formerly homeless New Jersey man whose good deed proved costly.

James Brady of Hackensack was notified recently that his government benefits were being suspended after he failed to report as income the $850 he had found on a sidewalk and turned over to police.

Brady, who was homeless when he found the money on a sidewalk in April after leaving a local homeless shelter, turned the cash over to police. He was allowed to keep it six months later after no one claimed it during a mandated waiting period.

But the Hackensack Human Services Department denied him General Assistance and Medicaid benefits through Dec. 31 because he failed to report the cash as new income. The director of human services said the agency was just following the rules.

The 59 year-old Brady is a former photographer and market data analyst who has suffered from depression since losing his job a decade ago, according to The Record of Woodland Park.

Brady told The Record that he hadn't realized he was required to report the money. Formerly homeless, he had recently found housing and was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and taking medication, but was unsure he'd be able to afford continuing care after his benefits were cut off.

The newspaper says offers of support for Brady have been pouring in from readers.

Bergen County's United Way has also set up an account specifically for Brady through its Compassion Fund.

The chapter's head, Tom Toronto, told the newspaper that the offers of help stem from a feeling that Brady did a good deed when it would have been easier not to.

"Here's a fellow who behaved admirably, who clearly could have used the money himself, but he showed a tremendous amount of pride and honesty," Toronto said.

Mindful that cash assistance could affect Brady's benefits going forward, Toronto said The United Way planned to work with Brady to develop a program of goods and services tailored to his needs.

Actor Billy Crystal announces the opening of the new DREAM COURTS located at the Long Beach Recreation Center in Long Beach. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: Howard Schnapp

Crystal, hoops legend, help Long Beach, kids rebound


Comedian Billy Crystal was back in his native Long Beach Sunday to open two new public basketball courts as part of an ongoing effort to help his hometown rebound from superstorm Sandy.

Crystal was joined by a basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, who grew up in Far Rockaway, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and dozens of community residents and officials. Later more than 100 youngsters tried out the new courts by dribbling, shooting baskets and running back and forth on the orange and blue rubberized tiles.

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The Rev. Frank Schaefer, right, and his son Tim. The Rev. Frank Schaefer knew that church law forbade him from officiating his gay son’s 2007 wedding in Massachusetts, but went ahead and did it anyway. (September 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by Erin Geismar

Ministers back colleague at Pa. same-sex ceremony


PHILADELPHIA — About 50 ministers gave their symbolic support to a colleague facing sanctions from the United Methodist Church by participating in a same-sex wedding.

The wedding Saturday in Philadelphia was held about a week before the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, about 90 miles to the west, will face a church trial for officiating over his son's marriage to another man.

Read the full story:

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, second from left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, arrive at a press conference at the end of the Iranian nuclear talks in Geneva. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: AP

French out-tough US over Iran nuclear program 


PARIS — When Iran appeared close to a preliminary deal with world powers over its nuclear program, France stepped up to say: Not so fast — a surprise move that exposed divisions among the United States and other Western negotiators who had long been in lockstep on the issue.

France, analysts say, was motivated by factors including its tough stand against the spread of nuclear weapons, skepticism about Tehran's trustworthiness, and the longstanding French tradition of speaking out on the world stage. Critics faulted France for alleged grandstanding and seeking closer ties with Iran's foes.

After the Geneva talks ended early Sunday with no deal, diplomats including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that progress was nonetheless made and negotiations will continue Nov. 20. He said the U.S. was "grateful" to the French and shared some of their concerns.

After the failure of European-led talks with Iran over the nuclear program in the mid-2000s — when America gave Iran the silent treatment — Paris has staked out a hard-line stance. While President Barack Obama has recently sought a breakthrough, France has little to gain politically from an accord, and that gives Paris a freer hand to stick to strategic and security concerns.

In Geneva, the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia, China and top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton were looking for initial caps on Iran's ability to make an atomic bomb, while Tehran sought some easing of sanctions stifling its economy. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius broke the near-uniform silence of the diplomats during the talks by using French radio to express reservations about Iran's enrichment of uranium and prospects of producing plutonium.

Paul Tromblee, 35, was arrested and charged in a robbery
spree that began Oct. 26 and included gas stations and retail
businesses across Suffolk County. (Nov. 9, 2013) Photo credit: SCPD
by mandy.hofmockel

Cops: Manorville man charged in string of robberies


Suffolk County police have nabbed a Manorville man who they say has been responsible for a recent string of armed robberies.

Police said Paul Tromblee, 35, is suspected in the robbery spree that included gas stations in Calverton, Mastic, North Babylon, St. James, Dix Hills and Bohemia, a Jamba Juice store in Stony Brook, the Kissed by the Sun tanning salon in Islip, and a CVS pharmacy in Lake Ronkonkoma.

In the robberies, which took place over two weeks beginning Oct. 26, Tromblee pretended to make a purchase, then demanded cash, police said.

Detectives from the pattern crime unit used video surveillance, tips, and calls received on the Crime Stoppers hotline to identify Tromblee, who was arrested at 3:05 p.m. Saturday afternoon as he drove along Sunrise Highway in Brookhaven, police said.

Tromblee was charged with eight counts of first-degree robbery and one count of third-degree robbery. At his arraignment on Sunday at First District Court in Central Islip, Tromblee was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.

He is due back in court on Friday.

Police said they are still determining whether Tromblee was also responsible for recent similar robberies, and ask anyone with information about this case to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

Kali, left, an orphaned polar bear cub from Alaska, plays with the cub Luna as he makes his official debut at the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo. (June 3, 2013) Photo credit: AP 
by mandy.hofmockel

Buffalo Zoo gets state funds for polar bears 


The Buffalo Zoo is getting some state help to close the funding gap for its new state-of-the-art habitat for polar bears and other arctic species.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that $750,000 from the NY Works program will allow the $18 million project to move forward.

Cuomo said the zoo is the most visited tourist attraction in Erie County and is an important driver of economic activity.

The new Arctic Edge exhibit will be more than 1 ½ acres in size and will replicate the snowy, frozen climate of the Arctic Circle. Two large exhibits will house polar bears. Other enclosures will feature arctic wolf, bald eagle and Canadian lynx.

There will be two large saltwater pools with underwater viewing so visitors can watch the bears swim and play.

Runners participate in the Long Island Run for the Warriors along
Sunrise Highway in Lindenhurst. It is the 6th annual Long Island Run
for the Warriors. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: James Carbone 
by mandy.hofmockel
Runners participate in the Long Island Run for the Warriors along
Sunrise Highway in Lindenhurst. It is the 6th annual Long Island Run
for the Warriors. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: James Carbone 
by mandy.hofmockel
Runners participate in the Long Island Run for the Warriors along
Sunrise Highway in Lindenhurst. The start began near Babylon
town hall. It's the 6th annual Long Island Run for the Warriors. (Nov.
10, 2013) Photo credit: James Carbone
by mandy.hofmockel
Wounded warrior Captain Byler, USMC, front left, is among the wounded warriors who participated in the Long Island Run for the Warriors along Sunrise
Highway in Lindenhurst. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: James Carbone
by mandy.hofmockel
From left: Wounded warriors Sgt. Franz Ulrich Walkup, U.S. Army; 
Captain James Byler, USMC; Stephen Anthony Ayhens, USMC; and William
R. Ventura, Jr., USMC, start their 10K run near Babylon town hall on
Sunrise Highway in Lindenhurst. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: James Carbone
by mandy.hofmockel

1 of 5

Record number run Lindenhurst race to honor veterans

A record number of competitors took part in  Sunday's  Long Island Run for the Warrior race in Lindenhurst, honoring deployed soldiers and wounded military service members.

“It's for everybody who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It's the least we can do,” said Sgt. Ronald Hurtado, 32, of Staten Island, who spent 2007 conducting combat patrol in Afghanistan and ran the 5k race in his military uniform. Now an Army active duty recruiter in Patchogue, Hurtado said the race is an important way to recognize and encourage troops.

While last year’s run drew about 2,000 runners, this year brought out more than 3,000, said Tina Atherall, executive vice-president of the national nonprofit Hope for the Warriors, which hosted the races.

“People need this run and they needed a voice,” Atherall said. “It's a great weekend to support the military.” She attributed the increased number of participants to the community “embracing veterans.

Military mom Aurora Matos, 46,  of Babylon, who is counting the days until January when her Army son comes home from serving in Afghanistan, felt obligated to attend for first time.

“It's very important to support them. They give us freedom and are real heroes,” she said. 

Another mother, Paula Vidal, whose son served three Army tours overseas, most recently returning from Afghanistan in August, said she was there to pay homage to veterans.

“I'm here to make people aware of the sacrifices they commit everyday. They allow us to afford our freedom,” said Vidal, 58, of Lindenhurst, who had a clear view of runners from a nearby sidewalk. “This race becomes more important each year.

The race, in its sixth year, began at Babylon Town Hall with three events -- a mile, 5k or 10k runs. More than 300 people volunteered to help with the event, organizers said.

Hope for the Warriors raised more than $200,000 Sunday with all proceeds benefiting wounded service members, their families, and families of the fallen, officials said.

The organization also aims to enhance the quality of life for post 9/11 service members suffering from physical and psychological issues.

Before the event, Marine Lance Cpl. Billy Ventura, 22, of Holtsville, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a hit-and-run accident in July in Selden, was honored for his military service. Later he rode a donated hand cycle.

Ventura had run the race twice in honor of his brother, Marine Cpl. Jerome Ventura, 23, who died two years ago from a reaction to medication while being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder at Marine Air Station Miramar, in San Diego. But the small custom-made bike allowed him to complete the race Sunday.

Being recognized felt “amazing,” Ventura said after crossing the finish line.

Suffolk County police are searching for the driver of a vehicle that
hit a police car, while it was investigating another car accident in
Babylon. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: Paul Mazza

Cops: Driver hits police car, flees, in Babylon


Suffolk County police are searching for the driver of a vehicle that hit a police car, then left the scene.

An officer was parked in the right westbound lane of Main Street in Babylon near Melbury Road at 1:20 a.m. Sunday handling a motor vehicle crash. 

His lights were flashing and his door was open when suddenly another vehicle, described as possibly a gold Nissan Maxima, hit the officer’s open door before fleeing the scene, police said.

The officer was not hurt, and police are searching for the driver.

Long Beach to get $13M for flood barriers
by newsday via YouTube on 5:41 PM

Rep. Mike Michaud speaks to a reporter in Portland, Maine. Michaud said coming out as gay has been a positive experience, with congratulations pouring in from his GOP counterpart on the Veterans Affairs Committee and one of the six other openly gay members of the House. (Nov. 8, 2013) Photo credit: AP
by mandy.hofmockel

Gay Maine congressman: Coming out has been good


PORTLAND, Maine — When the intensely private Rep. Mike Michaud laid bare his private life and announced he's gay, one openly gay congressman joked that the Maine Democrat had never registered on his "gaydar."

As he prepares to return to Capitol Hill this week as the seventh openly gay member of the U.S. House, Michaud said the decision to come out this week was a positive experience that drew support from fellow congressmen and hundreds of constituents — even if it was political nastiness that prompted his announcement.

"People know me as Mike. They know my issues are veteran issues, economic development, health care and jobs, and nothing is going to change," he said.

Michaud, who's engaged in a three-way race for governor, used an op-ed provided to two newspapers and The Associated Press to disclose he's gay, saying he did so to address "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" that raised questions about his sexuality.

He said constituents have been supportive, with many finding his honesty refreshing.

Family and friends console each other Sunday at a house in the Houston suburb of Cypress, where two people were fatally wounded and a couple dozen others were injured when gunmen opened fire Saturday inside the house during a large birthday party. Police are seeking the gunmen. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo credit: AP
by mandy.hofmockel

Texas party 'not rowdy' before gunfire; 2 dead 


HOUSTON — A burst of gunfire at an 18-year-old girl's birthday party Saturday night left two dead, another two critically injured and dozens hurt in a chaotic scene where people jumped from second-floor windows to escape the shooting at a suburban Houston home.

More than 100 people, mostly 17- to 19-year-olds, had gathered at the home in Cypress, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said. Partygoer Shaniqua Brown told The Associated Press it "was not rowdy at all," and many people were dancing when they heard the shots, which police said were fired between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.

Authorities say they're seeking two gunmen.

A man and woman died — one at the scene and another at a hospital. They have not been identified by name. As many as 22 were hurt, with injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to twisted ankles by those fleeing in panic. Sheriff's spokesman Thomas Gilliland said Sunday authorities are still trying to determine the condition for many of the injured.

He said deputies were confronted with "mass chaos" when they responded to the call in this residential neighborhood about 25 miles northwest of Houston, adding that "kids were literally everywhere." He said witnesses reported partygoers jumping from the second floor in their scramble to flee.

Mariah Boulden told the Houston Chronicle it was her birthday party. She said her brother and others were patting down people as they entered her home. Two men refused to be searched and walked away, she told the newspaper, then apparently hopped a neighbor's fence and entered through a back gate.

"They wasn't supposed to be here whoever they was," Boulden said.

Brown said gunshots began in the house and continued outside as people ran into the streets seeking cover. She told the AP she saw one gunman when she ran outside to escape.

Pools of blood were visible outside the two-story brick home Sunday, and the garage door was bent after people had pushed it upward while trying to escape.

Karen Briones was visiting relatives in the neighborhood, which is about 25 miles northwest of downtown Houston.

"Girls were crying and screaming, banging on people's doors asking them for help and to call 911," she told the newspaper.

The sheriff's statement said those hurt were taken to at least five area medical centers or hospitals, some by paramedics and some in private vehicles. Gilliland said some people were shot in the foot, ankle and hip.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Christina Garza told the Chronicle that at least one parent was in the house. Gilliland said investigators were trying to determine if alcohol had been served at the party.

Members of Artists in Partnership  and The Roadhouse Band pose on stage Saturday after the second night of the Kickin' Country Music Festival and Food Drive at the Long Beach Public Library. (Nov. 9, 2013)  
Photo by Chelsea Katz 
by Erin Geismar

'Kickin' Country Music Fest' in Long Beach benefits food pantry


The halls of the Long Beach Public Library were hardly silent on Saturday night when The Roadhouse Band took the auditorium stage.

About 75 people filled the auditorium as the band blasted Americana and country favorites like “Proud to be an American” and “Footloose.” Before The Roadhouse Band started their set, Mick Hargreaves and Mike Bifulco brought their electric slide-steel guitar duo to the stage.

“We’re able to give people the opportunity to be exposed  to music that they might not necessarily go to the city to see,” said Johanna Mathieson-Ellmer, 64, one of the event organizers.  “We bring it here.

The library and Long Beach-based nonprofit Artists in Partnership Inc. held their second annual “Kickin’ Country Music Festival and Food Drive” this weekend to help celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. The country music celebration debuted three years ago but was canceled last year because of superstorm Sandy.

Admission was free but the audience was asked to bring canned food to go to the Long Island Cares Harry Chapin Food Bank. Mike and Lisa Bivona, of Wantagh, were the Long Island Cares volunteers for the night.

“We know Long Beach has been hammered pretty hard in the past year so we wanted to try and help,” Mike Bivona, 52, said about their decision to volunteer at the music fest, “and to listen to some country music.”

“We’re just trying to help people who are having a hard time right now,” Lisa Bivona, 51, added.

As of Saturday night, attendees had purchased about $300 worth of raffle tickets. Half of the money goes to the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library. The other half goes to Artists in Partnership.

The festival continues Sunday with family activities starting at 1 p.m. and Brooklyn-based bluegrass band Astrograss taking the stage at 2 p.m, followed by Walking the Line, a Johnny Cash and June Carter Tribute Band.

Mathieson-Ellmer, director of Artists in Partnership Inc., said the best parts of the Kickin’ Country Music Fest and Food Drive are the people.

“I love the music -- I love to meet the musicians, people that I never met before, I’ve never worked with before but I love the audience,�� she said.

Ex 'Wolf of Wall Street' says he's a changed man

In this undated photo provided by, Jordan Belfort is shown. 
by mandy.hofmockel


Jordan Belfort insists he's a changed man.

The old Belfort was a notorious stock swindler who squandered profits from a boiler-room, "pump and dump" scheme on cocaine, prostitutes and other excesses — a story that became basis for two memoirs and "The Wolf of Wall Street," an upcoming movie starring Leonardo DeCaprio.

The new Belfort is a business consultant who claims he would never tell a lie and frets over recent suggestions that he may be avoiding payments on $110 million in restitution by hiding his profits from the book and movie deals.

"It's very strange being accused of something I wouldn't have done in a million years," the 51-year Belfort said. "It's so not where my head is at."

In early October, prosecutors asked a federal judge in Brooklyn to find Belfort in default, saying he paid only $11.6 million of the $110 million he owes as restitution for a securities fraud and money laundering conviction. They have since withdrawn the request to see if a settlement can be worked out — but not before a wave of bad press portraying Belfort as a deadbeat.

"In some weird way, it probably helps the movie," he said in a recent phone interview. "It doesn't help me."

The film — directed by Martin Scorsese and set for release on Christmas Day — chronicles the boyish, fast-talking Belfort's antics as chairman of Stratton Oakmont Inc., the firm he started with a few desks and phones set up in a former Long Island auto shop.

"Leo's amazing, a brilliant actor," Belfort said. "I spent hundreds of hours with him. And Marty's brilliant too."

Stratton Oakmont made a fortune by using deceptive, high-pressure tactics to peddle penny stocks at inflated prices. After artificially pumping the value up, Belfort and others would dump their own shares before prices crashed.

Belfort and his cronies ended up making more cash than they knew what to do with: A movie trailer shows a smirking DiCaprio crumpling up $100 bills and throwing them in a waste basket. He spent part of his ill-gotten gains on a 166-foot yacht — which sank — and a $175,000 sports car.

Looking back, he says becoming rich by deceit wasn't worth it.

"Fraud is not something you want to be good at," he said. "I was always taking great efforts to cover my tracks. It was unbelievably exhausting, keeping track of all the lies. ... I think that's why I lived so recklessly. You're doing things that you know can't go on indefinitely. It fuels that insane lifestyle."

Belfort pleaded guilty in 1999 and agreed to become a government witness in a case against an accountant and other stock fraud defendants accused of cooking the firm's books and funneling money into a bogus holding company and overseas bank accounts.

In 2003, after a broken marriage and a bout with drug addiction, Belfort was sentenced to 3½ years behind bars and ordered to chip away at the $110 million restitution by giving 50 percent of his future earnings to the government. Book sales resulted in payments of about $700,000 from 2007 to 2009, court papers say.

But after completing probation in 2010, prosecutors claim Belfort's payments have slowed to a trickle — even after he made $940,500 off the sale of the "Wolf" movie rights and continued to capitalize on his notoriety as a motivational speaker and business consultant. Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that the government went on the offensive, said Marcos Jimenez, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami.

"I think it's a little bit in-your-face when you write books and help make movies about your crimes, especially when the crimes are why you owe restitution," Jimenez said.

In the interview, Belfort said he now can make tens of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements and other services. His website boasts that he's developed a system to "take virtually any company or individual ... and empower them to create massive wealth, abundance and entrepreneurial success, without sacrificing integrity or ethics," and features testimonials of heads of telecommunications and real estate companies in Australia.

"Jordan is no longer a criminal," his fiance, Anne Koppe, wrote in a recent letter to the judge. "He is an exemplary contributor to the economy. He is a taxpayer and a very hard-working man."

As to his current problems with the law, Belfort's lawyers have argued that his obligation to pay half his earnings ended when he went off probation. Still, he claims he's repeatedly offered to pay 100 percent of his book and movie profits and to negotiate a settlement on restitution, only to be met with silence.

"There's so much distrust," Belfort said of the prosecutors. "Most people lie to them. I don't want to make any money from the books or the movie. I don't think they could fathom that."

Someone like Belfort bemoaning a lack of trust is outrageous, said Dianne Nygaard, a Kansas City, Mo., lawyer who once represented some of his victims. She recalled that one of her clients, after being duped by a cold call from Stratton Oakmont, sold the family farm so he could invest.

"No one should consider him trustworthy," Nygaard said of Belfort. "He is the consummate con man, winning the confidence of the naive, the trusting and the greedy by calculatedly selling people what they wanted to believe."

In a letter dated Oct. 25, prosecutors told the judge they're reviewing documents turned over by Belfort before the case returns to court later this month. He's hoping for a quick resolution so he can move on.

"I just want to finally close out that chapter of my life," he said.

Geiger Lake Memorial Park in Wyandanch.
(Sept. 26, 2013) 
Photo credit: Ed Betz 
by Erin Geismar

Babylon board OKs changes to construction contracts for Geiger Lake Park


The Town of Babylon has approved changing work orders for construction of a spray park in Geiger Lake Park.

The spray park opened in the summer, the first phase of a long-term overhaul of the 23.4 acre Geiger Lake Park, which sits in Wyandanch and Deer Park. The work is part of Wyandanch Rising, the town’s $500 million public-private initiative to revitalize the hamlet’s downtown. Plans for other areas of the park include basketball courts, a carousel, conservatory and botanical garden.

The 14,400-square-foot spray park and amenities cost more than $10 million, with the town using $1 million from a state grant, $1 million from a federal community development loan and bonding for $8 million.

Eldor Contracting of Holbrook had an increase of $65,000, bringing their contract total to nearly $434,000. Norberto Construction of Medford had their contract increase by nearly $75,000 to $2.5 million. Stalco Construction of Islandia had a nearly $15,000 decrease to their contract, bringing it to $3 million. Advanced Conservation Systems of Lindenhurst saw a decrease of $36,000 to set their contract at $258,000.

The town board approved the changes at a meeting last week. Supervisor Richard Schaffer abstained from votes on the changes. Schaffer, an attorney, said he works with the Plumbing Contractors Association, an umbrella group for Plumbers Local Union 200 companies, some of whom performed the work.

 Singers Robin Thicke, left, and Miley Cyrus perform "Blurred Lines" at the MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn. (Aug. 25, 2013)
by mandy.hofmockel

Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke to perform in Amsterdam 


AMSTERDAM — Katy Perry, Robin Thicke, Kings of Leon and Miley Cyrus are among those who will be performing at MTV's Europe Music Awards.

Cyrus delighted a group of fans as she left her hotel for the Sunday show by sticking her tongue out at them — the same expression she flashed repeatedly during her memorable appearance at MTV's Video Music Awards in New York in August.

The European awards traditionally focus on global, rather than U.S. pop music acts, though the overlap is huge: Eminem is receiving a "Global Pop Icon" award and Justin Timberlake and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are nominated in five categories each.

The show in Amsterdam's Ziggo Dome begins at 9 p.m. local time and is scheduled to be rebroadcast in the U.S. later Sunday.

Jim Valentin, of Huntington, and his son Dante, 1, donated candy to radio station 94.3 The Shark's "Treat for Troops" drive, which collected 500 pounds of leftover Halloween candy at Play N Trade in Bay Shore to send to troops in Afghanistan. (Nov. 9, 2013) 
Photo by Brittany Wait 
by Erin Geismar

Donated Halloween candy to give vets 'a taste of home'


Holding an empty pumpkin-shaped candy bucket, 1-year-old Dante Valentin reached for an overflowing box of Halloween candy, but he was there for the purpose of donating candy, not taking it.

Jessica Taylor and her husband Jim Valentin brought their son to Play N Trade in Bay Shore on Saturday to donate a bucket of chocolate bars and mini bags of Sour Patch Kids to the radio station 94.3 The Shark's inaugural "Treats for Troops" drive.

The rock radio station set up a booth outside the store to collect leftover Halloween candy to send to the troops overseas. Anyone who donated candy got a $5 gift card to Play N Trade in exchange.

"Jim's grandfather was a U.S. marshal in the Army," said Taylor, of Huntington. "We've always done anything we could to support our troops. And this keeps our kids from rotting their teeth. They have enough candy as it is."

Since the drive launched on Oct. 28, the radio station has collected nearly 500 pounds of candy, stored in 42 boxes that have filled the Play N Trade’s back room, according to store owner Richard Berezein.

"Anyone in the military already gets a discount when they walk into the store," said Berezein, 37, of Selden. "Why not give back to those serving us overseas, providing them with a little comfort from home."

Most of the candy donated came from a candy drive organized by Levittown’s Paul Rauch, a sophomore at MacArthur High School, and his class, said Berezein.

Simone Domonkos, account executive at 94.3 The Shark, said the U.S. Marine Corps will be shipping the 500 pounds of candy to troops serving in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

"We wanted to utilize Halloween candy that would otherwise go to waste, so we asked the public to donate treats for our heroes serving overseas," Domonkos said. "We'll be able to give these guys a small taste of home."

Sheriff: 1 dead in animal attack at Ore. sanctuary 


PORTLAND, Ore. — Authorities say an employee at an Oregon animal sanctuary has been attacked and killed by a wildcat.

Sgt. Robert Wurpes of the Clackamas County Sheriff's office says the attack was reported Saturday night at WildCat Haven in the suburban Portland community of Sherwood.

He says the animal was locked in a cage following the attack.

Wurpes declined to release any details on the victim, how the attack occurred or the type of wildcat. He says more information will be available Sunday.

The Oregonian reports that fire officials identified the victim as a 35-year-old woman.

From left, honorees Benedict Cumberbatch, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kathryn Bigelow, Sir Ben Kingsley, George Clooney, and Idris Elba are seen onstage during the 2013 BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2013) Photo credit: AP
by mandy.hofmockel

Sacha Baron Cohen spices up newly televised awards 


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Now that the Britannia Awards are televised, viewers can see Sacha Baron Cohen knock an 87-year-old woman out of her wheelchair.

Cohen "accidentally" pushed the woman's wheelchair off a stage as he accepted an award for excellence in comedy during Saturday's ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The stunt played perfectly into the newly televised show, which is set to air Sunday on BBC America.

The Britannia Awards come just two weeks after the refurbished Hollywood Film Awards drew some of the same celebrities, but there can never be enough Hollywood awards shows. Networks love the star power, stars adore the accolades and fans delight in the spectacle.

"There are more than 35 Hollywood awards shows on prime-time TV," said Tom O'Neil, founder and editor of awards website "They're the ultimate reality show because we get to witness our cultural gods be winners and losers just like the rest of us."

The Britannia winners were announced in advance, but who doesn't want to see a barefoot Julia Roberts present an award to George Clooney, or watch filmmaker Judd Apatow playfully pick a fight with Sean Penn?

Besides Cohen and Clooney, Kathryn Bigelow, Idris Elba, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ben Kingsley accepted awards from the Los Angeles branch of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the two board members who voted against the 2014 budgets did not offer amendments. Photo credit: James Escher
by Erin Geismar

Huntington Town board narrowly approves 2014 budgets


The Town of Huntington has approved its spending plan for next year by adopting operating and capital budgets for 2014.

The adopted $185.2 million 2014 operating budget calls for a net zero increase across the town’s 14 taxing funds. But there will be hikes in two of the top three funds. The general fund will see an increase of 3.6 percent, and there will be a 1.7 percent rise for the Consolidated Refuse Fund.

The Highway Fund will see a decrease of 4.65 percent. The budget calls for no reduction in services or layoffs; and raises will go only to those under a collective bargaining unit contract.

Spending is up 2.2 percent, but the amount to be raised by taxes stays at the same level as last year — $109,686,705.

“We spent a lot time putting this budget together; we got a lot of input and obviously the board thought it was fine and thought it was the proper budget for this next fiscal year,” said Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, also the town’s chief financial officer. “The two people who voted against it did not offer any amendments so I don’t know where their concerns are.

Both budgets were adopted 3 to 2 with Mark Cuthbertson and Susan Berland voting yes and Mark Mayoka and Gene Cook opposing the plans.

Cook cited discrepancies in the costs allotted for outside attorney fees and to settle various lawsuits against the town.

“I just didn’t believe the numbers and I couldn’t vote for something I didn't believe in,” Cook said.

The $8.8 million capital budget was also approved 3 to 2. The capital budget includes building a boathouse at Centerport Beach, $350,000 is earmarked for that expenditure.

Sunday’s skies will be partly sunny, with highs in the mid- to upper 50s, said Joe Pollina, meteorologist with the service’s Upton bureau.
 Photo credit: Weather Underground 
by mandy.hofmockel

Very cool week forecast for LI 


Long Island will see below-average temperatures and a rainshower early this week, according to the National Weather Service.

Sunday’s skies will be partly sunny, with highs in the mid- to upper 50s, said Joe Pollina, meteorologist with the service’s Upton bureau. Lows on Sunday will be in the mid- to upper 30s, with mostly clear skies.

Monday will be mostly sunny, with highs in the lower 50s. An approaching cold front will bring a 40 percent chance of rain to the area on Monday night, with lows in the mid- to upper 30s, Pollina said.

The chances of rain taper off on Tuesday, with a 20 percent chance of showers that day, Pollina said. Highs will be in the mid- to upper 40s, with lows on Tuesday in the upper 20s to around 30.

Wednesday will bring mostly sunny skies, with highs only reaching into the low 40s. Partly cloudy skies will emerge Wednesday night, with lows in the upper 20s to low 30s.

Thursday will again be mostly sunny, with highs in the mid- to upper 40s. Lows on Thursday will be in the 30s.

A high pressure system will push the cold front offshore, leaving slightly warmer temperatures on Friday. Highs that day will be in the low 50s, Pollina said.

Ron Kahl, executive director of AMT Children of Hope Foundation, and Erik Fischer carry the casket of Denise Hope.
(Nov. 9, 2013)
 Photo credit: Howard Schnapp
by mandy.hofmockel

Funeral held for dead newborn found in Lawrence


More than 100 people stood outside a Hewlett church Saturday to say farewell to an unwanted newborn who was found dead last month.

Pallbearers carried the small white casket, a bouquet of yellow flowers on top, into St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

"The little angel needs a dignified burial," said Diane Fairben, 62, of Floral Park, who attended the service. "This baby had a tough life, as short as it was. I don't understand how you can discard a child."

Nassau police are investigating the case as a homicide after the baby -- later given the name Denise Hope -- was discovered Oct. 22 in a garbage bag at a Lawrence sanitation facility.

The Wantagh-based AMT Children of Hope Foundation, founded by police paramedics, made the arrangements for the funeral and burial that followed at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

Ron Kahl, the group's executive director, said young women about to give birth sometimes get anxious, "and they don't think there is any help, but there is."

The Rev. Thomas Moriarty, who presided over the service, urged people not to pass judgment on the mother of the dead baby or her family.

"We don't know the impact this child would have had in this world . . . we don't know what talents or abilities, which brings up tears and broken hearts," he said. "The good news is this is not the end. This child is with the Lord."

The state's Safe Haven law allows a mother to anonymously drop off an unwanted newborn at designated sites, such as hospitals and fire stations.

"It's a shame," said George Carolan, 73, of New Hyde Park, who also attended the service. "There is no reason today to abandon a baby."

Looks Great Services trucks are parked in a lot in Huntington. State labor law governing how cleanup crews should be paid was repeatedly violated in the chaotic aftermath of superstorm Sandy, potentially depriving hundreds of workers of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages and benefits, officials said. (April 1, 2013) Photo credit: Ed Betz
by mandy.hofmockel

Officials say some Sandy workers were underpaid


State labor law governing how cleanup crews should be paid was repeatedly violated in the chaotic aftermath of superstorm Sandy, potentially depriving hundreds of workers of hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages and benefits, officials said.

The losses occurred when some cleanup contractors and subcontractors responding to the disaster failed to pay New York State-mandated wages, required for certain types of work performed for municipalities, governmental agencies and other public entities, records show.

In addition, local governments' role in interpreting the law and the state's own conflicting signals helped foster an environment where the wage requirements were not always followed in the weeks and months after Sandy, experts and officials said.

"There's a practical consideration for us locally," said state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who wrote in July to Peter Rivera, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor, urging speedy resolutions for workers. "If we mistreat workers this time, who will come to help us after a disaster, what do we do next time around?"

Sandy destroyed or damaged more than 50,000 Long Island homes, caused an estimated $8.4 billion in property and economic losses, and left in its wake more than 3 million cubic yards of debris.

Removing that debris cost taxpayers more than $300 million in the 12 months since the storm, $270.8 million from the federal government.

To do the cleanup, the state, counties, towns and various local agencies hired contractors, some of whom hired subcontractors from other parts of the country.

In one example, workers hired to clear the Long Island Rail Road tracks of trees and debris were paid at barely a quarter of the hourly rate and benefits called for under state law. They were underpaid further on overtime to which they were legally entitled, according to their pay stubs and the state wage schedules.

Four of these workers -- from Texas, Philadelphia and Kansas -- await a hearing before a labor department administrative law judge this week, more than a year after Sandy hit, in a bid to secure what the department has estimated they are owed: about $60,000. The four were part of a crew of around 20 working for a Topeka, Kan.-based firm, Custom Tree Care, which was hired by Looks Great Services of Huntington. Workers have two years from their last date worked to file a claim with the department.

An additional 40 workers, employed by another dozen contractors, had received more than $113,000 in back wages and benefits by late August after post-Sandy wage verification investigations on Long Island by the state labor department, according to officials and records.

Suffolk DA investigates

Local prosecutors also continue to investigate whether workers were paid the proper prevailing wages, which are based on what is paid to union members in the locality where the work is performed, for Sandy debris removal.

In Suffolk, the district attorney's office so far has investigated "a couple of hundred" prevailing-wage cases related to Sandy -- more than four times the caseload of an average year, officials said.

Several potential prosecutions have been identified but it is possible they could be settled with back wages and benefits paid to workers, said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Nicolino.

The Nassau County district attorney's office has investigated 16 Sandy contractors and found violations in seven cases with about $424,000 in wages owed to workers, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Tarek described Sandy prevailing-wage violations as "crimes of opportunity" fueled by huge amounts of federal aid. He said the district attorney anticipated both civil restitutions to workers as well as prosecutions of contractors.

"We won't tolerate unscrupulous businesses cheating workers on Long Island," said Rice. "Whether it's after a major disaster like Sandy, or during any other time of year."

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said his office's investigations and reviews of records from five towns show state labor law is too complex and open to interpretation.

"I don't think anybody in municipal governments really understands . . . what prevailing wages are," he said. "Because the law is so ambiguous."

Law passed back in 1894

The confusion was widespread. Newsday's examination found:

The state's prevailing-wage law, passed in 1894, covers different facets of public work with different record-keeping requirements that more than a century later do not clearly apply in the wake of a natural disaster. The law is also open to interpretation, experienced labor lawyers and municipal officials say, enabling different responses between governments.

The state Department of Labor sowed widespread confusion among governments and contractors about the meaning of prevailing-wage law during the Sandy recovery, when and if it applied, and what kinds of work it covered. In 2011 in the wake of Hurricane Irene, a labor department official told a local contractor that tree trimming and tree removal along the roads weren't covered by New York's prevailing-wage laws; in May, the same official wrote to Suffolk County that any items "deconstructed" to clear the roadways, including trees, are covered by Article 8 of state prevailing-wage law -- but sand removal isn't.

The two counties followed different paths, with Suffolk County's two largest debris cleanup contractors, Tennessee-based Phillips & Jordan and Plainview-based Grace Industries, paying workers prevailing wages, while in Nassau, officials determined tens of millions of dollars paid to its largest contractor, Looks Great Services, did not fall within prevailing-wage requirements.

Towns in both counties took different positions, with Islip and Smithtown in Suffolk hewing to the law, while Huntington did not comply with the law because it did not require some cleanup contractors to supply certified payrolls. At least two Nassau municipalities, Hempstead and Long Beach, piggybacked on the county's Looks Great Services agreement and thus did not require prevailing wages for that contract.

Flaws highlighted by the Sandy cleanup experience need addressing, said state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who plans to propose changes when the State Legislature convenes in January.

"I'm expecting strong bipartisan support," Boyle said. "The state's labor law, as it is currently written, is inadequate."

Hannon agrees. "If you're in an emergency situation as a municipality, there's no clear, cookie-cutter solution under labor law for the cleanup," he said. "And if, in the aftermath of such an emergency there's only criticism, municipal officials may be hesitant to act next time. So it's necessary for us to take a look at what happened after Sandy, see what didn't work, and try to set some reasonable parameters next time."

Municipalities must instruct contractors what prevailing-wage requirements apply when a contract is competitively bid. Immediately after Sandy, while many governments on Long Island passed emergency declarations that enabled them to suspend normal competitive bidding requirements, at no time was state prevailing-wage law waived. The wage law itself does not make any allowance for emergency situations. 

Told he'd get $20 an hour

Sean Cottrell was out of work when he signed up -- on the hood of a car in a Topeka parking lot -- to work the Sandy cleanup on Long Island, just days before the massive storm system struck the Northeast.

Cottrell, 45, made the three-day trip with other employees of Custom Tree Care. As they traveled, the firm's supervisor, a cellphone pinned to his ear, hustled for work. On the second day, Cottrell said he was told he'd be earning $20 an hour and would work to clear debris from Long Island Rail Road property.

By the fourth day, he was working sunup to sundown dragging trees from railroad tracks across Long Island and sleeping on a cot at a Red Cross shelter in a Levittown high school gymnasium. He was among 20 workers hired to clear the tracks when Looks Great Services subcontracted Custom Tree Care for the work.

At week's end, his first paycheck showed he'd earned $10 an hour, with $15 an hour for overtime.

"I thought, 'Hell, no!' " Cottrell said. "I went to the Custom Tree foreman and said, 'I can make $10 an hour, more than that even, at home.' That really hurt me."

William Moore, of Orange, Texas, worked alongside Cottrell. Also unemployed before Sandy, Moore, 41, hoped he'd earn as much as $2,000 a week. Instead, his first full week's check was for $850.

"I lost a lot not getting paid right," Moore said this summer from Evanston, Wyo., where he moved for work after Sandy. "I'm just now getting my head back above water."

Greg Gathers, CEO of Custom Tree Care, declined to be interviewed for this story.

The two men joined Philadelphia resident Salaam Saffiy, 46, and Aaron Mathis, 34, of Topeka, in filing complaints with the state labor department in December. On Nov. 13, two weeks after Sandy struck, the men had learned through an email from Matthew J. Myers, the labor department's regional supervisor for public works, that state prevailing-wage rates applied to their work.

Myers sent the men the appropriate pay rate in an attachment: tree trimming and line clearance on the LIRR merited $28.63 per hour with $13 an hour in supplemental benefits.

"I got messed over in New York," Moore said recently. "Honestly, if I had to do it again, I wouldn't." 

Guidance was sought

In the days and weeks after Sandy, some local governments across the region sought guidance from the state labor department on the issue of prevailing wage for the cleanup and repairs. Between Nov. 1, 2012, and Jan. 1, 2013, the department's public works bureau received and processed 316 requests for wage schedules from Long Island towns, villages, counties and other public entities. By late August, the department had overseen reimbursements to 40 Sandy workers totaling $113,259.87. They ranged from a few hundred dollars per worker to $31,973 to a single worker.

New York labor law, articles 8 and 9, requires prevailing wages for two kinds of public works contracts: construction and building service contracts.

There is a key difference between the two: Municipalities entering into construction contracts are required by law to collect, verify and sign certified payrolls from contractors. An official who knowingly disregards these duties could be guilty of official misconduct under state criminal law. This requirement assists investigators in detecting fraud.

For building services contracts, municipalities aren't required to collect certified payrolls, but a contractor must.

Through the years, interpretations have varied over what types of work must pay prevailing wage.

In a Nov. 1, 2011, email, Myers wrote to the head of Looks Great Services, Kristian Agoglia, under the subject line, "Emergency Tree Trimming Info," that tree trimming and removal -- the very same work the four Custom Tree Care employees had done for the LIRR -- was not covered by state prevailing-wage laws.

"Tree Trimming and Tree Removal along the roadways & byways related to Hurricane Irene is NOT COVERED," he wrote.

But in another email to Suffolk County officials, subject-lined "Coverage on Sandy," dated May 8, 2013, Myers took a different stand: "Any items that must be 'deconstructed' to clear the roadways and byways ARE covered by Article # 8 (i.e., tree(s), housing, etc)." In this email he said sand removal was not covered. Snow removal also is not covered.

Interviews with a number of regional officials show Myers' first email fanned ambiguity as to whether tree removal after Sandy required payment of prevailing wages. That ambiguity made it harder for prosecutors in both counties to bring a larger number of cases, sources said.

Nassau relied on email

Nassau County relied on the 2011 email as justification that Looks Great's work for the county after Sandy was not covered by prevailing-wage laws, according to a legal opinion written in April and provided to Newsday by county Attorney John Ciampoli.

The labor department declined to allow Myers to be interviewed for this story. Agoglia declined requests to be interviewed. Looks Great Services has repeatedly stated its view that its agreement for cleanup work with Nassau County was not subject to prevailing wage based on the November 2011 Myers email.

The department acknowledged that the law as written does not have the scope to cover all facets of work necessary in a storm cleanup. For example, asked to explain how the law applies to road-clearing after a storm, the department's spokeswoman, Jennifer Krinsky, said contracts to clear storm debris from public roads are not subject to prevailing-wage requirements. She cited an exception: "where the task is incidental to a contract that is subject to prevailing wage."

She said the department's position on tree trimming and removal didn't change between Myers' email of November 2011 and the aftermath of Sandy. "It has been and remains that tree trimming and tree removal contracts are subject to Article 8," Krinsky said. However, "incidental" tree trimming performed under a storm debris removal contract is not subject to prevailing-wage law, she said.

The DOL routinely conducts investigations after referrals from agencies or complaints from workers and provides information and educational outreach to public entities, contractors, labor organizations, workers and other interested parties, Krinsky said.

Few should be surprised that state labor law is "messy" on prevailing wage because interpretations of the law can be framed by politics, Ciampoli said.

"Labor law in general is one of the most political, if you will, areas of law," he said. "There are constant changes of direction and policy depending on what administration is running the show."

Saul Zabell, a Bohemia attorney who specializes in labor law, said that prevailing-wage matters are influenced by politics -- particularly trade union support.

"Unions can only be competitive if the Department of Labor is taking a hard line," Zabell said, noting prevailing-wage rates mirror construction union pay scales.

The purpose of prevailing-wage laws is to encourage municipalities to use a better-trained local workforce to ensure that public works projects are built properly and a community's standard of living is protected, experts say.

"These laws were originally promulgated to protect against local job loss to out-of-state contractors," Spota said. "We have a higher standard of living here on Long Island, and in general in New York State, that can be used against us when you have out-of-state contractors coming in who pay their workers lower wages, who are less trained, who don't do the same quality work, and all that government money is going out of state."

Changes after subpoenas

A number of local governments that did not follow prevailing-wage laws abruptly changed course when subpoenas were issued by the district attorneys' offices last spring. In addition, Spota in May summoned five Suffolk town supervisors and their attorneys to his office to underscore municipalities' obligations under the law.

Some governments and public entities that piggybacked on the Nassau Looks Great Services agreement, including Huntington, Hempstead and the LIRR, then suspended millions of dollars in payments to the company. The firm has filed suits demanding payment from several entities. Officials confirmed the Department of Labor ordered the LIRR to withhold payment. Barry L. Kluger, MTA's inspector general, said, "We can confirm that there is an ongoing investigation between the MTA Office of Inspector General and the district attorneys in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.''

Pushed by the subpoenas, post-Sandy reforms are underway in two towns, Huntington and Brookhaven, that acknowledge they did not meet obligations under prevailing-wage law.

"I do believe that the town was proceeding along the lines . . . that prevailing wage didn't apply," said Huntington Town Attorney Cindy Elan-Mangano, who took office in January.

In an about-face, Huntington officials last spring required nine of the town's more than 50 Sandy cleanup vendors to supply certified payrolls, Elan-Mangano said. Deputy Town Attorney Jacob Turner, hired in April, said: "Cindy is going over what we did in Sandy and making sure we're in full compliance going forward."

The town sought payroll from the nine because they were the only vendors as of late April to which it still owed money, said spokesman A.J. Carter. As of Oct. 15, only one vendor had complied and the town is still withholding payment from the remaining eight, including $781,697.91 from Looks Great Services.

Future storms will be handled differently. The town board in September voted to authorize 10 emergency debris removal contracts that specify prevailing-wage rates. Looks Great Services won three of them, Carter said.

"I think there have been a lot of lessons learned . . . we have learned now how best to handle it," Elan-Mangano said.

Brookhaven officials say the administration was unaware that prevailing wage applied when Sandy hit. The town board passed legislation in June that requires private operators of heavy equipment hired by its highway department to pay rates in line with prevailing wages in future storms. The town had engaged some private vendors who were paid rates too low for some of the Sandy cleanup work, officials said.

"We all like to pay lower price, but the law is the law and needs to be respected by the Town of Brookhaven," said Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, who took office a month after the storm. "I'm committed to honoring our state prevailing wages -- it's the right thing to do. It's expensive to live and work here and we need to pay wages that make sure people can continue to do that." 

Sought to leave no doubt

In contrast, Islip Deputy Town Attorney Mike Walsh was clear right after the storm: all cleanup work paid for by the town would be covered by state prevailing-wage law requirements.

"I was there in the town emergency operations center as we were trying to get the cleanup operation up and running and departments were asking, 'Do we pay prevailing wage?' And I made it clear -- 'You bet we do.' "

Walsh, who formerly worked in the Suffolk district attorney's office, said he told anyone giving him pushback: "My job is to keep the DA out of our town. It's absolutely covered by state prevailing-wage law."

The two counties also are a picture of contrast in how they enforced the law.

In Suffolk, Sandy cost the county about $21.8 million, $17.5 million of which went to two debris-removal firms, Phillips & Jordan of Tennessee, and Grace Industries from Plainview, officials said.

Suffolk's two contractors "played by the rules" regarding state prevailing-wage laws, Comptroller Joseph Sawicki said.

However, around $55,000 in additional wages was later paid to five employees of one subcontractor who were mistakenly paid according to the federal prevailing-wage rate, instead of the higher New York State rates, Sawicki's audit staff said.

The county's Department of Public Works did "an excellent job" of ensuring certified payrolls were supplied by all Sandy cleanup vendors, Sawicki said.

Even so, the county's department of audit and control will recommend standardized language in the contracting process with future debris removal vendors so that obligations under prevailing-wage law are clearly stated, Sawicki said.

While Suffolk determined almost all its debris cleanup was covered by prevailing-wage law, Nassau ruled the work of its largest debris removal contractor -- Looks Great -- was not because it contends prevailing-wage law does not apply to the firm's contract.

Asked why some workers were paid as little as $10 an hour to clear debris in his county, Ciampoli said: "It is not a question of whether it is acceptable to us, it's a question of whether or not it's legal."

He added: "I assume it met the minimum wage requirement, then it would be legal." Still, Ciampoli said, "the ultimate determination of whether prevailing wage applies, in the criminal setting, is the matter appropriately before the DA."

LI group sought assurance
Marc Herbst, the executive director of the Long Island Contractors Association, reached out to state officials on Nov. 8, 10 days after Sandy struck, to seek clarity that prevailing-wage laws would be followed. If they weren’t, he feared, the economic impact on his members, their employees and their families would be profound as local contractors were undercut.

“Most informal responses from various government officials to the question whether prevailing-wage rates will be honored have been ‘I think so.’ Obviously, we need something more concrete,” he wrote in a Nov. 8 email.

Herbst received an unequivocal response from the Office of the State Comptroller. “Prevailing-wage rates will be honored based upon local law and NYS law. If the local government is required to pay prevailing wage then prevailing-wages rates will be reimbursed,” came the same-day response from Kathleen McCormack, assistant comptroller of labor affairs in Albany.

“Without a doubt, Sandy magnified the issue of prevailing-wage enforcement for us in the local construction industry,” Herbst said, adding that his members depend on a level playing field for wages.

“As it stands, the municipalities all have a different process — there’s no oversight nor consistency applied to enforcement — and that’s the problem,” he said.

Overhaul sought
State labor law was last reformed by the legislature in 2008, and those who know it well and how it played out on Long Island after Sandy say it must be overhauled.

Thomas Walsh, an attorney with 27 years’ experience in labor and employment law, said municipalities’ sometimes laissez-faire approach to prevailing-wage obligations can end up hurting the contractor that wins the work.

“The problem is, if the municipality is not crystal clear on telling contractors with which it is bidding that a job is, or is not, prevailing wage, the law puts all the penalty on the contractors for making the wrong decision,” Walsh said. “The municipalities should be completely upfront about prevailing-wage requirements.

Experienced contractors who regularly do big public projects are well aware of their responsibilities, but problems occur when work — such as storm cleanup — “is not on its face plainly public work meriting prevailing wage,” he said.

“Cleaning sand off Long Beach streets, picking up downed trees off roads immediately after Sandy, a contractor may not be sure on those gray areas,” said Walsh. “The municipality had a responsibility when they put the bid out ... to seek guidance from the DOL.” In the absence of that, contractors would be wise to seek department guidance themselves, he added.

As for what happened during Sandy, Spota, the Suffolk district attorney, said: “There’s no question some municipalities aren’t fulfilling their obligations under the law. And that’s not necessarily because they’re deliberately flouting the law. In a lot of cases, it’s ignorance.

Asked about mixed messages emanating from the state Department of Labor, Spota said he had an appreciation of the pressure the department was under. “We understand the tension between the DOL trying to enforce the law and at the same time help municipalities work through an emergency situation,” he said.

“They are trying to walk that middle ground. The ambiguity occurs when you’re trying to serve two different objectives — following the law and getting a storm cleanup done quickly.

No penalties for officials
Earlier proponents of toughening the law wanted to include criminal penalties within the law itself for municipal officials who shirk their requirements to receive and review payrolls. The provision was eliminated by the State Assembly Codes Committee.

Yet without a specific penalty in labor law for municipal officials who fail to fulfill their role, prosecutors say it’s difficult to bring criminal charges against government officials because they must show the official knew of the requirement and intentionally ignored it.

Another reform effort is in the works with changes Boyle hopes to introduce early next year. Among them: increasing penalties for violators, including municipal officials, and requiring contractors to file certified payrolls with the municipalities regardless of the type of public work performed. Boyle said this would give investigators greater access to company records and help them in bringing prosecutions.

“The law in my view still enables unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of some workers,” he said. “The Sandy cleanup, with its vast amount of public work out to contract and millions of dollars of public money, seemed to expose the law’s shortcomings. The fact that it was public money misused in this way is particularly egregious.

For Cottrell, who learned last month he could be owed more than $11,000 in underpaid wages and benefits for helping clear the LIRR tracks, money alone is not the issue.

“The money’s important, but so is the principle,” Cottrell said. “People who don’t follow the law should be held accountable. Workers like us who traveled across the country shouldn’t be taken advantage of, is what it comes down to.
With Randi Marshall.

Contestants pose on stage during the Miss Universe Pageant Competition 2013 in Moscow, Russia. (Nov. 9, 2013) Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images 
by Erin Geismar
Constanza Baez of Ecuador walks the stage during the Miss Universe Pageant Competition in Moscow, Russia. (Nov. 9, 2013)  
Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images 
by Erin Geismar
Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler, from Venezuela presents the Yamamay
Million Dollar Swimsuit for Miss Universe after the 2013 Miss Universe
pageant in Moscow, Russia. (Nov. 10, 2013) 
Photo by AP/Pavel Golovkin
by Erin Geismar
Jakelyne Oliveira, of Brazil walks the stage during the Miss Universe Pageant Competition 2013 in Moscow, Russia. (Nov. 9, 2013) 
Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images
by Erin Geismar
Gabriela Isler, a 25-year-old Venezuelan television presenter,
was crowned Miss Universe in Moscow in a glittering ceremony. Judges
including rock star Steven Tyler from Aerosmith picked the winner from
a total of 86 contestants at the show, watched by several billion
viewers around the world. (Nov. 9, 2013)
Photo by Alexander Nemenov/Getty Images 
by Erin Geismar

1 of 5

Venezuelan is the new Miss Universe 


MOSCOW — A 25-year-old Venezuelan who appears on TV in her country and is an accomplished flamenco dancer is the new Miss Universe.

Gabriela Isler was crowned Saturday night in the pageant at a sprawling exhibition hall on Moscow's outskirts.

In the excitement just after the announcement, the tiara fell off Isler's head as she was being crowned by Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo of the United States. Isler caught the crown laughing.

Patricia Rodrigues of Spain was the runner-up.

The panel of judges was led by American rock musician Steven Tyler.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Isler on Twitter, calling her title a "triumph" for Venezuela, a country that has now won three of the last six Miss Universe pageants.

While we work on our login difficulties, you can read today's paper here: 
by mandy.hofmockel


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