Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

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Alex Petroski is a TBR bloodhound/reporter, St. John's University graduate and Mets fan to a fault.

The now opened gate to the Brookhaven Town dock in Port Jefferson was locked to the public for much of the 2017 boating season. Photo by Alex Petroski

Restricted access at a Brookhaven Town owned facility caused a stir in Port Jefferson last week.

A locked gate with a sign reading “Boat owners only” at a Brookhaven owned public dock in Port Jefferson was the result of “miscommunication,” according to a spokesman for the town, and “insubordination,” according to the supervisor.

Myrna Gordon, a longtime Port Jefferson Village resident and former boat owner first raised the issue in calls to town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and the town’s recreation department July 13, then publicly during a board meeting July 20. She said she had seen the gate to the dock — which lies within the Brookhaven Town Marina overlooking Port Jefferson Harbor — locked with the sign prohibiting non-boaters from entry several times during the day this summer, and friends of hers told her they’d also seen the same thing. The dock is supposed to be locked to the public from dusk until dawn for safety reasons.

“It is a public dock. Those who see to make it a private dock will no longer work for the Town of Brookhaven. They are insubordinate.”

— Ed Romaine

“I do understand that there are several times that a dock must be closed — a medical emergency, extreme weather, a security issue — but closing a public walkway that is paid for by the residents of this town should be thoroughly investigated,” Gordon said during the meeting.

On July 12, Gordon said she was walking past the gate to attend a concert nearby at about 6 p.m., when she saw a woman approach the gate and enter a code on the keypad which unlocked the entry to the dock. Gordon said she confronted the woman, who explained that because of security concerns, boat owners were the only people allowed on the dock and with access to the code. Gordon said the woman closed the gate behind her and didn’t allow her in.

“I understand people take dock space and they pay for that to dock their boat there,” Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said after Gordon’s comments during the board meeting. “That does not give them ownership of that dock. That dock is owned by the Town of Brookhaven. It is a public dock. Those who see to make it a private dock will no longer work for the Town of Brookhaven. They are insubordinate.”

The town’s recreation department oversees the dock. Gordon and two boaters who dock their vessels at the town site said they hadn’t seen the lock and sign in seasons past. A spokesman for the town said in a phone interview, the locking of the gate during daytime hours was the result of a miscommunication, though he didn’t specify where the policy originated. He would not comment on whether any disciplinary action resulted for any town employees.

The now opened gate to the Brookhaven Town dock in Port Jefferson was locked to the public for much of the 2017 boating season. Photo by Alex Petroski

Gordon said she has not seen the gate locked during the daytime since July 13.

“My understanding was that it was rectified immediately once they contacted our office,” Cartright said during the meeting after Romaine’s remarks. “As it relates to who was responsible for all of this and any type of disciplinary action, the supervisor can move forward on that.”

A spokeswoman for Cartright reiterated that position in an email when asked for comment regarding the details of the situation.

Joseph Kazlau, a Port Jeff resident who has docked a boat at the town facility for about a decade, said he has no problem with members of the public utilizing the dock.

“I have an issue with them closing it to the taxpayers,” another boater, who asked not to be identified, said during an interview. “There are a lot of things we’d like to see, but keeping people off [of the dock] is not one of them.”

Both boaters said the key code was first installed on the gate during the 2016 boating season, though this season was the first they’d seen it locked during daytime hours.

Gordon also took issue with bathrooms just steps away from the gate, which are part of the town office building and lookout tower at the site, which also require a code to unlock. Romaine also condemned that practice during the meeting, and as of July 24 a handwritten note that reads, “Please see tower for access,” is taped to both the men’s and women’s restrooms.

Peter Crawford. Photo form SCPD

About 60 underage people attended a party at a home on Dogwood Lane in Port Jefferson July 21, and some were observed drinking alcohol, according to Suffolk County Police. A 20-year-old resident of the home was arrested and charged with violating the Social Host Law.

Sixth Precinct Patrol officers responded to a complaint of a loud party at 112 Dogwood Lane at approximately 11:15 p.m. Friday, July 21. When police arrived, there were approximately 60 underage people at the residence, and underage drinking was observed.

Police arrested and charged the host, Peter Crawford, 20, with violating the Social Host Law. He was transported to the 6th Precinct, where he was released on bail. Crawford is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Sept. 9.  Attorney information for Crawford was not immediately available.

Neil DeVine and Scott Declue are honored in front of family and attendees of a Port Jeff Village board meeting for saving a motorist who drove into the harbor in April. Photos by Alex Petroski

The decisive actions of four good Samaritans likely saved the life of a motorist who drove his car into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Brookhaven Town boat ramp at the end of Barnum Avenue in Port Jeff Village in April, and for their efforts the heroic men were honored by the board of trustees during a meeting July 17.

Scott Declue was on the phone with his wife Jeyce, with whom he had plans to meet later in the evening April 6. The 40-year-old Mount Sinai resident said in a phone interview he was driving on Route 25A in a severe rainstorm, and was sitting at the light at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Route 25A, yards south of the boat ramp which leads straight into the harbor. When the light turned green, he said miraculously it stopped raining, and near the edge of the dock he could see a car almost fully submerged in the water. Declue said he told his wife he was going to pull over to take a picture. Soon after stepping out of the car he said he saw a person’s head peeking out of the sunroof of the car.

Good Samaritans and SCPD Marine Bureau divers help a driver submerged in
Port Jefferson Harbor April 6. Photo by Andrew Tetreault/Fully Involved Media Group

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me,” Declue said was the thought crossing his mind as he began running to the end of the dock, shedding clothing as he went. Declue dove into the water and swam to the car.

Port Jefferson Village resident Neil DeVine, 38, was also driving when he said he realized something was out of the ordinary. He said he was making a right onto Barnum Avenue from Route 25A when he caught a glimpse of the car, and turned around to enter the marina parking lot. He said he repeatedly tried to call 911 but got a busy signal several times.

“I didn’t expect the water to be as cold as it was,” DeVine said during a phone interview. Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the presentation of a proclamation to honor the heroism of the four men that the water was about 38 degrees at the time of the incident, which occurred around 5:30 p.m. DeVine said he and Declue jumped in the water, but he soon realized his heart rate and breathing were slowing.

Declue reached the car and got on the roof attempting to pull the driver out of the car. DeVine said he went back to the dock and tried to find a way to help pull both men to safety. The two men described DeVine luckily finding a line from a crane on a nearby barge that was tied to a ring, and both line and ring were thrown to Declue and the victim. DeVine, with other-witnesses-turned-heroes Tony Barton and Wayne Rampone Jr., pulled the two men to the dock and lifted them out of the water. Barton and Rampone could not attend the meeting.

Declue, who is an Eagle Scout, said he thought the victim was dead while he tried to get him to safety.

“His eyes were rolled back a little bit and yellowish,” DeVine said of the victim. He added during the rescue he heard the driver say he couldn’t swim.

“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me.”

— Scott Declue

Since the incident Declue said he spoke briefly with the victim and family members, but no in-person meeting has taken place. DeVine said the victim’s mother wrote a letter to DeVine’s children, thanking him for his bravery and explaining the actions the men took on the night of the incident.

Declue said he had a hard time articulating to his wife what exactly happened after he tossed his phone and sprinted to the end of the dock.

“I think I saved someone’s life,” he said he told her. “She asked, ‘How big was this puddle?’”

Declue called it divine intervention that his plans changed.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he said, adding that the incident kept him up at night for weeks.

DeVine said he was appreciative of the village recognizing their actions.

“We want to thank you for, really, saving a life in the Village of Port Jefferson,” Garant said. “That’s what this community stands for — citizens like yourselves seeing a person in harm’s way or an accident situation — so I really want to commend you on behalf of the board of trustees.”

The victim was treated for severe injuries in the aftermath of the incident according to the Suffolk County Police Department, and his current condition is not known.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Thanks to the start of a pilot program this past weekend, one of the most difficult aspects of life in Port Jefferson Village was a little easier. Finding parking has long been a complaint of visitors to Port Jeff, especially during the summer months. In an effort to address the problem, a joint venture valet parking service spearheaded by the Business Improvement District, the village and the Port Jefferson School District kicked off July 14.

According to Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president, 12 drivers utilized the service on July 14, 51 on July 15 and 12 on July 16, during the first weekend of its availability. He added the service operated without incident during the three-day span.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

“Overall it went well,” Schafer said in a phone interview. “Every time something new happens you expect an adjustment period.”

Port Jeff Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the parking committee, said during a public board meeting July 17 he received correspondence from the Port Jefferson Fire Department with concerns about a lack of signage.

The entrance to the municipal lot across from the fire department on Maple Place was supposed to operate as a “one-way” street during the hours of operation of the service, with cars only being allowed to exit the lot via Maple. A “Do not Enter” sign was also expected to be at the Maple Place entrance to the lot but was not there, according to LaPointe. A phone message requesting comment left at the fire department was not returned.

Schafer said the problem will be discussed during a scheduled meeting of all of the interested parties, which took place during the afternoon July 19.

Michael Cherry, a Mount Sinai resident, was the first customer of the service just after 4 p.m. July 14.

“Anywhere that has a lot of people you’re going to have that issue [of not being able to always find a convenient parking spot],” he said, though he added he frequently visits the village to patronize the restaurants, and parking has never deterred him from coming. “We were going to come down here no matter what so it doesn’t even matter.”

LaPointe said he hoped in coming weeks employees at the restaurants would push the service to customers while taking reservations to try and boost usage numbers.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village. This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

— Roger Rutherford

The service is functioning pursuant to a contract between the BID and the school district. The lot on Maple Place across the street from the fire department is used as a staging area. Cars are dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service costs drivers $7. The program is available during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays noon to 11 p.m.

Valets take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers do not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads, which were discussed as possible routes during the June board meeting, according to Garant. Excess traffic on residential streets received strong pushback from members of the community.

The program is cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village.

Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate, was present for the kick off of the service July 14.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village,” he said. “This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

A brave dog took Port Jefferson Harbor by storm to rescue a flailing fawn July 16, and as a result has become a national celebrity. A video was posted on Facebook Sunday morning of Storm, a dog owned by Setauket resident Mark Freeley, bounding into Port Jeff harbor to rescue a drowning baby deer as Freeley watched from the shore and urged his dog to bring the deer in. By Wednesday, several million shares and views later, the video had gone viral and Storm was set to be honored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Freeley said it best at the conclusion of the one-minute video: “Good boy, Storm!” Check back next week for a full story on the local hero.

Defendants from Port Jeff, Mount Sinai, Coram, among those indicted

Stock photo

In a plot that could have been lifted straight from the script of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” six North Shore residents were among 14 indicted in federal court in Brooklyn July 13 for their alleged roles in a $147 million stock manipulation scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

A press release regarding the indictment alleged the defendants defrauded investors by obtaining shares in five publicly traded companies from insiders at the companies for below-market prices, artificially drove up the prices of the shares, while “aggressively and repeatedly” calling and emailing victims to purchase shares — oftentimes senior citizens — and then sold their own shares between January 2014 and July 2017.

“Manipulating stock prices, as alleged in this case, to appear more attractive to investors, is a deliberate attempt at sabotaging fair market trading,” Assistant Director-in-Charge for the FBI’s New York field office William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. Sweeney and acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde read the indictments. “Manipulation, at its core, is a true act of deception, especially when the elderly are targeted. This scheme involved an incredible amount of money, more than $147 million. That’s no small change for even the savviest investor. As evidenced by our arrests today, we take these matters seriously, and will continue to pursue those who make victims out of unwitting participants in these schemes.”

Managers of My Street Research — a Melville based investment firm — Erik Matz, 44, of Mount Sinai and Ronald Hardy, 42, of Port Jefferson were among those indicted. They also engaged in a scheme to launder about $14.7 million in proceeds obtained as a result of the scheme, according to Rohde’s office. The government restrained Matz’s Mount Sinai home and seized bank accounts containing alleged criminally obtained money. The attorney representing Matz and Hardy did not respond to a request for comment. A phone message requesting comment from My Street Research was not returned.

Dennis Verderosa, 67, and Emin L. Cohen, 33, both of Coram, and McArthur Jean, 34, of Dix Hills were among those listed as “cold-callers” for the operation.

Cohen’s and Verderosa’s attorneys each declined to comment via email. Jean’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Robert Gilbert, 51, of Cold Spring Harbor and owner of the investment firm Accredited Investor Preview was also among the 14 people indicted.

“We’re still studying the indictment, but Mr. Gilbert is mentioned substantively in only one paragraph,” Gilbert’s attorney Ira Sorkin said in a phone interview. “He has not been incarcerated, and there is no claim any of his assets have been frozen as is the case with some of the others. Until we have a chance to read further into the indictment we will have no further comment.”

The five companies whose stocks were pushed by the “pump-and-dump” scheme were National Waste Management Holdings, Inc., CES Synergies, Inc., Grilled Cheese Truck,  Hydrocarb Energy Corporation and Intelligent Content Enterprises, Inc.

Editor’s note: Anyone victimized by the alleged scheme can contact the writer of this story via email at alex@tbrnewspapers.com

Joseph Wilko. Photo from SCPD

A 25-year-old man from Medford was arrested at his home July 13 for his alleged involvement in a May 15 burglary in Port Jefferson and a June 27 burglary in Coram, the second of which resulted in a victim being shot multiple times, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. Following an investigation, 6th Squad detectives located the man, Joseph Wilko, at his home in Medford and placed him under arrest at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The first burglary occurred at an occupied home on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jeff May 15 just before midnight. Three men entered the home, assaulted the homeowner, and stole money and a pickup truck, police said. The homeowner, a male, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

During the second burglary, a 24-year-old man was shot multiple times inside the victim’s apartment, located on Kiowa Court in Coram, at about 10 p.m. June 27. The victim was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Wilko was charged with two counts of first-degree burglary, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

The investigation is ongoing. The 6th Squad is seeking the public’s help in finding additional suspects in connection with the burglaries. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call the 6th Squad at (631) 854-8652 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

Wilko was held at the 6th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip, July 14. Attorney information for Wilko was not immediately available.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and the Suwassett Garden Club hosted the third annual The Gardens & Landscapes of Port Jefferson, a self-guided tour of eight private gardens in the Port Jefferson Village July 8. Visitors explored the eight locations during the course of the sun-splashed afternoon. Homeowners Diane and John Aronica, Barbara and Brian McCann, Lee and Dominique Rosner, Sashi and Dinesh Shukla, Ellen and Kevin Bolier and Donna and Tom DiBernardo opened their gardens to the florally inclined guests of the tour. Stops were also included on the tour by Danfords Hotel & Marina and the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.

Supervisor Ed Romaine is taking a leadership role in trying to streamline town government services. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town is looking to get by with a little help from its friends.

The town is among six other New York State municipalities vying to be selected as the recipient of a $20 million grant that will be awarded in the fall to the applicant that demonstrates the most innovative ways to reduce property taxes through the consolidation of shared government services and increased efficiency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition in November as a way to inspire local governments to reduce the cost of living for residents in the state. Each of the nine incorporated villages within Brookhaven passed resolutions identifying the areas in which a consolidation of services makes sense, and officially pledged partnership with the town in pursuing the projects, which would be funded by the $20 million grant.  In addition to the nine villages, leadership from ambulance, school, fire and library districts, as well as special districts like sewer and erosion, were consulted and will remain involved in brainstorming ways to make shared services more efficient and cost effective going forward.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes.”

— Ed Romaine

“Property taxes remain the most burdensome tax in New York and with this competition, we are incentivizing local governments to band together to think outside the box, streamline their bureaucracies, cut costs and deliver real relief to their taxpayers,” Cuomo said in November. “New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) explained his interest in applying for the grant for the town during an interview at Town Hall July 7.

“The big winner in this at the end of the day, should we be successful, will be the taxpayers of the various taxing jurisdictions, because this should reduce costs and hopefully either reduce or stabilize taxes,” Romaine said.

Brookhaven’s application included 16 proposed projects that would accomplish the stated goal of the competition, according to Town Chief of Operations Matt Miner, who played a vital leadership role in applying for the grant.

“We’re doing duplicated services — why can’t one municipality do ‘that,’” Miner said. He said some of the projects would include the consolidation of tax collection and tax assessor services; utilizing Brookhaven’s staffed maintenance workers rather than putting out bids for contracts; creating a regional salt facility to be used during snow removal; using town contracts for things like asphalt replacement, which yield a better price due to Brookhaven’s size compared to the smaller villages; and creating digital record keeping and storage.

The supervisor said in total, the projects would result in a savings of about $66 million for taxpayers, or a return of more than three times the investment made by the state in disseminating the grant dollars.

Romaine and Minor both stressed the importance of allowing the towns to maintain their autonomy despite the consolidation of services. The projects will emphasize ways to eliminate unnecessary redundancies in the administration of government services while allowing incorporated villages to continue overseeing themselves. Romaine also dispelled possible concerns about loss of jobs as a result of the consolidation of services. He said he expects the phase out of antiquated departments through retirements, stating no layoffs will be required to make the consolidation projects happen.

“New York has no future as the high tax capital of the world and by encouraging innovation, we are taking one more step toward a stronger, more affordable Empire State for all.”

— Andrew Cuomo

Port Jefferson Village approved a resolution to partner with Brookhaven in pursuit of the grant during a June 26 board meeting. The resolution stated the village’s interest in pursuing projects related to enhanced services in the highway department and department of public works; the purchasing portal; electronic records management and storage; and several others.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview she was on board for any initiatives that would result in savings for taxpayers, though maintaining Port Jeff’s autonomy and independence is of the utmost importance to her.

“The reason why you incorporate is so you have home rule,” Garant said, adding she has concerns about the management of a government that would in effect be growing, should the town win the competition. “The proof will be in the pudding. It’s all about who is going to manage these programs and what level of competence they have.”

The winner of the $20 million grant is expected to be announced this fall. Representatives from the town will head to Albany next week to present their case to a panel, but for reaching Phase II of the competition, Brookhaven has already received a $50,000 grant, which was used to develop project proposals for the application.

As another aspect of the application, the town passed a resolution in June that formed the Council of Governments, a committee that will be led by the town and comprised of leaders of the various villages and districts that will meet quarterly to discuss common issues. The first meeting of its kind is slated for September.

Finding a parking spot in Port Jefferson is often difficult, but a valet parking service could change things. File photo

By Alex Petroski

Despite concerns raised by members of the community, a valet parking system backed by restaurant and other business owners as well as elected officials in Port Jefferson Village is slated to begin this coming weekend.

The plan has progressed thanks to the efforts of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and Pro Port Jefferson Association, a group assembled to act in the interest of restaurant owners in the village. During a contentious public village board meeting in early June, members of the community spoke out against and in favor of the plan after Tommy Schafer, owner of Schafer’s and Tommy’s Place, and John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, and others revealed the plan to the public.

At the time the village board had not been involved in the planning or implementation of the service, but because the designated staging area for car drop off is on village property, they had to approve the plan, which they had since the June meeting. The plan will proceed as a pilot with the possibility of cancellation at any time at the discretion of the village, according to Mayor Margot Garant.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

The service will function pursuant to a contract between the BID and the Port Jefferson School District. The municipal parking lot on Maple Avenue across the street from the fire department will be used as a staging area. Cars will be dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service will cost drivers $7. The pilot program will take place during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays from noon to 11 p.m.

Valets will take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets will exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers will not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads which were discussed as possible routes during the June meeting, according to Garant.

Marge McCuen, a longtime village resident, spoke out against the proposed plan during the meeting because she didn’t want excess traffic on Tuthill Street, where she and her husband John live, during the night hours. She called the service an “invasion” of a residential area for the purpose of making money, a disturbance of quiet streets, and also objected to a lack of public hearings or advanced notice for residents.

“The whole thing is, they don’t seem to care about the people,” she said in a phone interview.

Schafer and Urbinati each expressed excitement for the possibilities at their respective restaurants now that customers will presumably have an easier time parking.

“I think it’s a great joint venture that the businesses and the village itself have been able to come together and make this project work,” Urbinati said in a phone interview.

Garant said resident concerns from the June meeting were taken into account in mapping out a pick up and drop off route, and the board aimed to have as little additional traffic on residential streets as possible.

The program is cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village.

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