Police & Fire

Rocky Point's Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

At the tip between Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, the old schoolhouse building, known as the Lecture Room, stands with its luminous white siding and large, red door. It’s situated like a moment out of time.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

For Rob Bentivegna, a member and general handyman at the Rocky Point Fire Department, it’s a beaming example of more than two years’ worth of work to restore a historic property.

“This was all stuff the fire district wanted to do, but the estimates were so high,” Bentivegna said. “I said, ‘Let me do it, it’s what I did for a living.’”

In March 2017, the Rocky Point Fire District bought the 0.92-acre property across from the fire department building on Hallock Landing. The site was to be used in the construction of a new EMS vehicle garage to bring EMTs closer to the Rocky Point/Sound Beach edge of the district line. In addition to the garage site, the property also came with the 2,000 square foot building known as the Rocky Point Lecture Room, also as the community church and Parish Resource Center. The whole property came with a price tag of $250,000.

With occasional help by fellow fireman Frank Tizzano, Bentivegna renovated and transformed what was once a termite-infested ramshackle building north of the Lecture Room. He transformed another building into a maintenance facility. 

But he didn’t stop there. It’s since become part passion project, part public service. The building is now being used for meetings and even for cheerleaders to practice.

When Bentivegna first came onto the project, vines had wormed their way under the walls and were crawling up along its inside. The windows were falling out of their frames and had been covered by plexiglass because they had been broken on the inside. The basement would flood during every storm. The roof was falling apart.

Once work began, the fire district maintenance manager said local residents came forward. They each had old photographs of the building, showing how it looked from the 1940s, and even further back to the 1920s.

“I did this with the love of making something what it used to be.”

— Rob Bentivegna

“That door is the same color door as it was in 1927,” he said.

The Lecture Room now has a completely new roof and new windows. He spent months searching for a company that would re-create the classic look of the crossbars on the windows. Inside is new carpeting, ceiling and walls. He even installed the walls and plumbing for a bathroom to the rear of the structure. 

Outside, the front door gleams with new paint, but all the doors’ glass are the original, hand blown windows. The tower above the front door and chimney to the rear are also original.

Fire Commissioner Kirk Johnson said Bentivegna worked near tirelessly on the project, often using his off time when not doing repairs at district buildings. In one case, the window shutters needed to be replaced, but nothing that could be bought matched how they looked historically. The maintenance worker instead crafted the shutters by hand.

“He really wanted it to look like it did back in the day,” Johnson said.

The handyman has plans come Christmas season as well. A tree in front of the building fell down during a storm earlier this year, landing full across the road. After removing it, Rocky Point-based Long Island Elite Landscaping Construction stepped in to supply a new pine tree, one Bentivegna plans to decorate along with the building for a bright and colorful tree lighting ceremony come December. 

Arnie Pellegrino, the owner of Elite Landscaping, has lived across from the building for more than a decade, saying he had once provided landscape designs to the previous owners, but nothing came of it. Once the fire district and Bentivegna got their hands on the property, he said, things have finally changed for the better.

“He’s a good man, he’s a good contractor,” Pellegrino said of Bentivegna. “He thinks about the neighbors.”

The Rocky Point Historical Society posted to its Facebook page thanking the fire district for keeping the historical building alive.

“We’re happy the fire department has saved the building and preserved it because it is a special historic site for the community of Rocky Point,” said historical society President Natalie Aurucci Stiefel. “We applaud their efforts to take care of the building.”

The Lecture Room’s interior was remade with new walls, ceilings and windows. Photo by Kyle Barr

The building was built in 1849 on land donated by Amos Hallock of the famed local Hallock family. It was built to serve the community as a lecture room and an extension of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for the local area, getting together to raise $500 to erect the building. Stiefel said once the local one-room schoolhouse became too crowded, people taught school out of the building as well. Later the Long Island Council of Churches declared it as a Parish Resource Center.

Johnson applauded Bentivegna for all the work he’s done, not just with the church but with buildings around the district. He said without the energy of its handyman the district would need to constantly pay outside contractors. Instead, Bentivegna jumps in saying he can take care of it.

“He deserves a ton of credit for the way that place looks,” the commissioner said. 

But the fire district handyman said he doesn’t want to take all the credit. He thanked the district for its years of support and willingness to let him do what he needed to do with little hand holding.

There are still finishing touches Bentivegna is looking to add to both the building’s exterior and interior. The next step is to replace the rotting back deck with new wood, adding ramps to make it accessible for wheelchairs and people with disabilities. He is currently working on the basement, where the district has stored numerous items from the other firehouse located on King Road, which is currently being rebuilt. The plan is to use the basement for washing gear after a fire, which is now mandated by New York State. After replacing the basement windows, he plans to make the basement a sort of training room, with removable walls for firefighters to practice search and rescue.

It’s at least another year of work, but for the Rocky Point handyman, he’s nothing but excited to see the entire project come to completion.

“I never once looked for someone to tap me on the back,” he said. “I did this with the love of making something what it used to be.”

Suffolk Police searched a vessel at the Port Jeff ferry dock after a suspected bomb threat. Photo by David Luces

Dozens of cars stood idle and residents looked on in curiosity as a small fleet of Suffolk County police officers arrived at the Port Jefferson ferry dock on Sept. 18 around 1:20 p.m.

SCPD responded to the ferry dock after a 911 caller reported a passenger had been overhead discussing the potential to put a bomb on the boats, according to police. 

The incident delayed the 2 p.m. ferry to Bridgeport for close to two hours as police searched the vessel and found no explosives. After interviewing passengers it was determined to be a misunderstanding and the incident was deemed noncriminal in nature.

Around 3:40 p.m., ferry services resumed and cars were allowed to disembark.

by -
0 259
File photo

Suffolk County Police said they are currently investigating an alleged stabbing that took place on Bicycle Path in Terryville Sept. 16 at around 3 p.m.

A 17-year-old, which police declined to name, was allegedly stabbed in the calf by an unknown assailant and was transported to a hospital for non-life threatening injuries. No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

by -
0 244
Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Chiappino

A state audit has left the Mount Sinai Fire District to review their finances after concluding they had too large a surplus of funds.

“These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

—Joseph Tacopina

A state comptroller report released Aug. 23 found officials at the Mount Sinai Fire District raised taxes unnecessarily at a rate of $64,000, or 4 percent, over a four-year period. Due to the district overestimating their spending needs by $312,554 between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, and underestimating revenue, the district has operated on a surplus of $383,664 over four years.

The report found the board transferred almost all of the operating surplus to its reserve funds, leaving the districts unrestricted fund balance virtually empty.

The report states taxes needed to be increased, which resulted in the hike. The district did not adopt a fund balance policy, a reserve policy, a multi-year financial plan or include an estimate of fund balance when they adopted the budget.

The comptroller’s office says multiyear planning “can be a vital tool to set long-term priorities and work toward goals.” They added the district “should adopt a fund balance policy that addresses the appropriate levels of fund balance to be maintained from year-to-year and provides the board with guidelines during the budget process.”

The district is a public entity run through the state, separate from Brookhaven town. It is governed by a five-seat elected Board of Fire Commissioners, who are responsible for managing the district’s finances, as while as “safeguarding” its resources. The district is separate from the fire department.

In a response letter dated Aug. 9 included in the report, Board Chairman Joseph Tacopina said the board will adopt an amendment to the reserve policy that will set funding balances for reserve accounts and be “more diligent in the documentation of the specific intentions for any year-end appropriations transferred into those established reserve accounts.”

Spokesperson for the comptroller’s office Tania Lopez declined to comment on the audit, stating in an email that it “pretty much speaks for itself.”

The district totaled $27,203 in spending with cases where they didn’t seek the required number of quotes in 2017 for goods and services. The comptroller’s office said they found multiple services for cheaper than the district purchased.

For instance, a car reparir shop was paid $3,125 in June, 2017 for body repairs and truck painting before the district got the two verbal quotes required. In the report, the comptroller’s office said district manager Larry Archer stated there were “limited vendors who could do this work locally,” and the shop was a “sole source vendor.” The comptroller’s office replied it would not be a sole source vendor if there were limited vendors.

In another case, the district purchased lighting fixtures for $2,030. In doing an online search, the comptroller’s office found the same fixtures for $1,628.

In an email, Tacopina reaffirmed claims that the board is doing all they can to be fiscally responsible and added the state restrictions hinder their scope.

“The Mount Sinai Fire District has consistently submitted budgets at or below the instituted New York State mandated 2 percent tax cap,” he said. “The Mount Sinai Fire District works each year successfully to cut costs and conserve the community’s tax dollars. This is despite all the mandates imposed by New York State and the federal government. Those cost savings are transferred each year to reserve funds. These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

by -
0 220
Geoffrey Girnun hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo supplied by Geoffrey Girnun for a previous article

An associate professor from Stony Brook University, who has been placed on administrative leave, is pleading not guilty to charges that he allegedly stole thousands from funds that were allocated for cancer research.

The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, announced Sept. 12 that Geoffrey Girnun, an associate professor at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, had been arrested and indicted for stealing more than $200,000 in cancer research funds, allegedly using the stolen funds in part to pay his mortgage.

One of Girnun’s attorneys, Steven Metcalf II of Metcalf & Metcalf P.C. in Manhattan, said in an email statement that he is asking that the public does not rush to judgment.

“Mr. Girnun’s defense team, including attorney Steven Siegel and my firm, are still putting all the pieces together,” Metcalf wrote. “We will continue to challenge the validity of these charges and whether the facts are fundamentally flawed. Once all the smoke clears there will be a completely different picture of Mr. Girnun, who is a family man, a loving husband and a Harvard-educated professional entirely devoted to his family and work.”

SBU officials are shocked over the alleged actions.

“The university is outraged and appalled by the allegations that led to the arrest of Geoffrey Girnun today,” an official statement from the university read. “This alleged behavior is absolutely contrary to the ethical and professional standards expected of our faculty. The university has fully cooperated with the investigation and at this time is considered by the FBI as a victim in this matter.”

The professor was charged in a seven-count indictment with theft of state and federal government funds, wire fraud and money laundering. He allegedly submitted fraudulent invoices for research equipment to SBU from sham companies he created to conceal his theft of funds from cancer-related research grants issued by the National Institutes of Health and SBU.

“Professor Girnun’s alleged theft of federal and state grant funds earmarked for cancer research can be explained in two words: pure greed,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in a statement. “He will now be held to account in a federal courtroom.”

Scott Lampert, special-agent-in-charge from the U.S. inspector general’s office,was in attendance when the charges were announced.

“Taxpayers fund medical research with the hope that promising scientific breakthroughs will result in much-needed treatments and cures for patients,” Lampert said. “Because the money for medical research is limited and the need for scientific advances is great, it’s incredibly important to clamp down on those who would steal such grant money for personal gain.”

If convicted, Girnun faces up to 20 years imprisonment.

Girnun was featured in a March 25, 2015, TBR News Media article. At the time, the researcher was exploring the role of different proteins that either promote or prevent various cancers. The one particular protein in the liver cell he was studying is one that classically regulates the cell cycle, according to the article.

Girnun discovered that the protein promotes how the liver produces sugar, in the form of glucose, to feed organs such as the brain under normal conditions. In diabetic mice, the protein goes back to its classic role as a cell cycle regulator.

Girnun made the move to SBU from the University of Maryland in 2013 and said at the time he was inspired by the opportunity to create something larger.

“I want to build a program in cancer metabolism,” he said. “I want to build something beyond my own lab.”

At the time of the 2015 article, Girnun was temporarily commuting from Maryland. The statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office now lists him as a resident of Woodmere.

Girnun is scheduled to return to court Oct.4 after being released on $250,000 bond.

This article was updated Sept. 18 to add a statement from Girnun’s attorney.

by -
0 336
Security footage of man who allegedly broke into Mount Sinai home. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police are looking to identify and locate two men who allegedly broke a door and illegally entered a Mount Sinai home at the end of August.

Police said two men broke a rear glass door to gain entry to a Liso Drive home Aug. 29 at around 8:40 p.m. The men fled the home without any proceeds.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

by -
0 361
If residents vote ‘yes,’ the Setauket Fire District will buy four new pumpers like the one above used by the Dix Hills Fire Department. Photo from Dix Hills Fire Department Facebook page

A special election will be held in the Setauket Fire District Sept. 10 to replace some outdated equipment.

Residents will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” for four Pierce Class A Pumpers from PNC Equipment Finance, LLC. On Aug. 1, the board of fire commissioners approved a referendum to hold the vote to buy the new vehicles.

David Sterne, fire district manager, said the fleet of trucks is aging — two pumpers are more than 20 years old, while another is 26 years old. Over the years, manufacturers have made safety changes when it comes to pumpers, he said. For example, modern fire truck cabs are built differently. More recently built pumpers have restraints for firefighters seated in the back, and there have been updates to secure equipment to meet the latest standards of the National Fire Protection Association. 

“These trucks are wonderful, but we’re looking to build very scaled-down efficient trucks,” Sterne said. “That they do the job. They don’t have all the bells and whistles.”

If the majority of residents vote “yes,” it will give the district permission to enter into a tax-free Municipal Lease-Purchase Agreement with PNC Equipment Finance. The total cost of the four vehicles will not exceed $2,557,314. While the proposition is to approve a five-year payoff, Sterne said the district hopes to pay it off in three years.

He said a municipal lease-purchase agreement allows the district to set up a structured payment for the agreed amount of time and budget a certain amount for every year. Such a lease is different from a car lease, in that once all payments are made, the district will own the pumpers outright. While the agreement incurs interest, the rate is low.

“The good news is that interest rates are incredibly low, and we are looking at a below 3 percent interest rate,” Sterne said.

Since this is not a bond vote, it will not raise taxes in the fire district. The commissioners are currently preparing the budget for next year, and they are under the cap, according to the district manager.

Members of the fire district have test driven similar pumpers, which are made in the U.S., as some local departments have bought the same truck, such as Dix Hills which owns two.

“We’re excited to have something that will be under warranty for quite a while and will be very reliable for us,” Sterne said.

When it comes to voting for special elections like the one taking place Sept. 10, Sterne said residents can find information in various places. In addition to the Setauket Fire District posting a legal notice in The Village Times Herald, residents can find announcements on electric signs outside the firehouses, the district’s Facebook page and website, www.setauketfd.com. Mailings are not done for special elections, according to Sterne, since they can cost thousands of dollars to do. Mailings are saved for bond votes since they have the potential to raise taxes. 

Residents can vote on the proposition to purchase four new pumpers Sept. 10 from 2 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook.

by -
0 763
File Photo

Police said they arrested a man after he allegedly broke into the home of an off-duty Nassau County Police Department officer in Selden Monday, Aug. 30.

Suffolk County Police said Franklin Almonte, 25 of Selden, entered the Catherine Drive home of off-duty Nassau County Police Officer Mark Kellerman through a kitchen window at around 1:20 p.m. Almonte fled when Kellerman identified himself as a police officer, but he was quickly stopped and restrained by the officer, who called 911. 6th Precinct Patrol officers responded and arrested Almonte.

Officer Kellerman, 45, has been with the NCPD for more than 15 years.

Almonte was charged with criminal trespass 2nd degree and criminal mischief 4th degree. Almonte was held overnight at the 6th Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on September 3.

by -
0 550
Friends and family laid a memorial for Jason Russo at the crash site on Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

A Patchogue man was killed in Port Jefferson Friday, Aug. 23 after his motorcycle left the road and struck a tree, police said.

Friends and family established a roadside memorial for Jason Russo, 35, along Sheep Pasture Road near Willis Avenue, on the north side of the small bridge with pictures, flowers and candles spelling out his name. Friends and family came to pay respects throughout the weekend into Monday.

Suffolk County Police said Russo was operating a 2008 Kawasaki motorcycle westbound on Sheep Pasture Road when he lost control of the vehicle, left the roadway, and struck a tree at around 6:45 p.m. He was transported to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson where he was pronounced dead. Down the road, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption was hosting its annual Greek Festival.

The motorcycle was impounded for a safety check. Police have asked for anyone with information about this crash to call the 6th squad at 631-854-8652.