Police & Fire

During an 18-year span, an East Setauket financial adviser allegedly scammed 17 people out of more than $13 million, according to a federal indictment.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Steven Pagartanis faces nine federal charges.

Steven Pagartanis will face federal charges in addition to county charges for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme in East Setauket. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

The 58-year-old owner of Omega Planning Associates, was arrested and arraigned in federal court in Central Islip July 25 and was charged with security fraud, mail and wire fraud conspiracies, as well as money laundering for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, according to a press release from the EDNY office.

The government alleged Pagartanis solicited individuals to invest in variable annuities, mutual funds and similar investments, according to court documents. At least 17 individuals between January 2000 and March 2018 invested more than $13 million collectively with the defendant. The victims believed the money was for real estate investments, including a Canadian land development company, referred to as Company 1 in court documents. The individuals sustained a loss of more than $8 million. The investors are listed as Jane and John Does in the court documents and live in various areas including Long Island, Illinois, California and Florida.

“Rather than investing in Company 1 and other investments as promised to the victims, the defendant Steven Pagartanis, used the investment capital to repay prior investors and for his own personal benefit,” the release reads. “For example, Pagartanis used the victims’ investment capital to pay for his personal and family expenses, and to purchase luxury items such as clothing, jewelry, airline tickets, massages and cigars.”

The defendant used interstate communications including telephone calls and emails to induce the victims to invest and to prevent them from withdrawing their investments, according to court documents.

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings,” said Richard Donoghue, U. S. attorney, in a statement. “Protecting the elderly and the community at large from predators like the defendant is a priority of this office and the Department of Justice and with our law enforcement partners we will continue to pursue that mission.”

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings.”

— Richard Donoghue

Pagartanis was previously arrested May 30 for allegedly stealing millions from elderly victims in a Ponzi scheme, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. He was arraigned in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip on two counts of first-degree grand larceny, a B felony, and two counts of second-degree grand larceny, a C felony. According to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, Pagartanis allegedly stole approximately $7.5 million from his victims in the county case.

A family member of one of the victims brought the case to the attention of the district attorney’s office. The four victims included in the felony complaints, who range in age from 64 to 83 years old, began investing in the scheme in 2013, according to the statement from Sini’s office.

Pursuant to a concurrent investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., Pagartanis was barred from acting as a securities broker April 10, according to FINRA’s website, brokercheck.finra.org. The site lists customer disputes as well as a judgment/lien against the former broker. In addition to the criminal charges, a civil lawsuit was filed against Pagartanis May 30 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Sini’s office.

Attorney Kevin Keating of Garden City is representing Pagartanis. The defendant pleaded not guilty. Keating did not respond to a request for comment.

The sun came out from behind clouds to shine down on Huntington Fire Department’s volunteers as they celebrated the organization’s 175th anniversary July 28.

The event kicked off with a 4 p.m. parade that stepped off from Huntington Town Hall, headed west on Main Street before turning north onto Wall Street and ended at the Leverich Place firestation.  Huntington resident Henry Gerdes, 98, was selected as the parade’s grand marshal in honor of his 78 years of volunteer service to the fire department.  Numerous fire companies traveled in from as far away as Sheldon, Connecticut to march with their trucks draped in banners announcing their congratulations to Huntington on their 175th anniversary.

After the parade, Huntington residents and community were invited to a free festival behind the firehouse featuring free refreshment, live entertainment, carnival games, inflatable rides for children late into the evening.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Northport July 29.

Northport resident James Cherry was driving a 2016 Subaru eastbound on Fort Salonga Road at Layne Way when his vehicle struck a man who stepped off the sidewalk in an attempt to cross the road at approximately 11:45 a.m. Sunday. 

Peter Carroll, 68 of Northport, was transported to Huntington Hospital via Northport Rescue where he was pronounced dead. Cherry, 27, of Northport, was not injured.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Combating fires in Huntington has progressed a long way from the use of leather buckets and wooden ladders over the last 175 years.

The Huntington Fire Department will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of its volunteer fire company’s formation July 28 with a parade kicking off at 4 p.m. from town hall to its Leverich Place station. The department’s oldest active living member, Henry Gerdes, has been selected as the parade’s grand marshal.

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department,” he said, since its founding in 1843. “You have to grow with them.”

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department.”
– Henry Gerdes

Gerdes, 98, has volunteered his time to help the Huntington Fire Department since he was a boy working in his family-run ice cream and candy shop on Main Street. He recalled pouring cups of coffee for volunteer firemen heading on their way to work only to learn they couldn’t always hear the firehouse’s siren.

“If the wind blew the wrong way, they couldn’t hear it,” said Gerdes, who worked down the street from the Main Street station. “I would have to call them up, having to use a nickel at my payphone.”

He alerted volunteers of fires using payphone No. 28 in his family’s shop. After a few months, the process improved when telephone operators learned of what he was doing and stepped in to help direct firefighters directly to the site of the fire to meet the trucks there.

Gerdes officially joined the Huntington Fire Department in December 1939 and upon returning from serving during World War II he rose to the rank of captain. The 1950s and 60s were a busy time for the firehouse, he said, as the town was rapidly expanding and changing.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat.”
– Henry Gerdes

“Daytime fires would be brush fires or nothing,” Gerdes said. “But come night or the winter, everyone had coal stoves and fireplaces. There were a lot of chimney fires.”

In 1959, the fire station was relocated from Main Street to its current spot on Leverich Place.

“There used to be no traffic to worry about,” Gerdes said. “They had to move the Main Street firehouse because it was impossible to get to with trucks and cars.”

Firefighting methods and the department’s equipment have drastically improved since the early 1900s, according to Gerdes, who emphasized that while the department purchased top-of-the-line trucks the volunteer’s safety was treated very differently.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat,” he said. “The first one on the truck gets first selection.”

While Huntington’s Main Street and New York Avenue business district had fire hydrants installed in the late 1800s, Gerdes said firefighters often had to go looking for a wrench to open it up. For residential fires, volunteers had to locate the nearest well or pond to drain water to extinguish the flames.

“When I first joined, they didn’t have 50 fires a year,” he said. “Now, they have more than 600.”

“Recruitment is a constant issue. We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.
– Henry Gerdes

In 2017, Huntington Fire Department volunteers responded to 655 calls including emergencies, car crashes, fires and automated alarms with October being the busiest month. The department has grown to consist of three companies: The engine, hose, and hook and ladder units.

One thing that’s remained unchanged over the years, according to Gerdes, has been the need to ensure there are enough active volunteer firefighters, and now, first responders, to ensure residents’ safety.

“Recruitment is a constant issue,” he said. “We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.”

The lifelong firefighter warned that it’s not all “fun and games” but a work that requires significant training and irregular hours, including late nights and holidays. Yet, he has taken pride in serving the department and being part of its history.

“The fire department I belong to is the best,” Gerdes said. “They do a good job, they work hard, and they do the right thing. I’m very proud of them and anything I did to help them along the way.”

Residents are invited to join the firefighters in their 175th anniversary gala celebration from 5 to 11 p.m. following the parade at the Leverich Place fire station featuring complimentary bounce houses and slides for kids, pony rides, a dunk tank and other carnival-like activities. Entertainment will be provided by the Little Wilson Band and free refreshments will be served.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks during an interviw at TBR News Media in Setauket July 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Seven months into Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s (D-Lake Grove) term, several issues have become top priorities. He sat for an exclusive interview at the TBR News Media office with the editorial staff July 20 to detail the road ahead.

Staffing issues within Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office is short-staffed specifically due to officers retiring or leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, according to Toulon.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day,” he said. “We just lost two — one going to [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] police and one going to the New York City Police Academy. I’m expecting to lose two in the near future; more going to other law enforcement [jobs].”

The department is short on 76 mandated posts that the two county corrections facilities are supposed to have. This has led to an increase in overtime for existing corrections personnel. Toulon said he sees the low starting salary for Suffolk County corrections officers as the primary driver of the staff shortage. Those in the positions are paid $30,000 per year initially, reaching about $76,000 after 12 years. Starting salaries in Nassau County or New York City corrections are about $10,000 more.

“The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

Toulon said 30 people will be graduating from the county academy Aug. 8 to fill some of the vacancies.

A pay raise would have to be approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, though Toulon said he supports it.

School Security

As the occurrences of school shootings seemingly increase nationally, especially after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, security has become a hot topic amongst school districts and communities. The sheriff’s office is working on the issue as well. Toulon said getting everybody on the same page when it comes to securing schools is a tough but essential job, which requires coordination between school security, police departments and the sheriff’s office.

“When you are going into these schools you frequently realize some of these schools have armed security, some have unarmed security, and some have security that are armed because they hired retired law enforcement, and it’s not publicized,” Toulon said.

School security officers obviously do not have standards as far as uniforms across county school districts. Further confusing local law enforcement, each school might have different protocols in engaging an active shooter, whether they will actively engage the shooter with a firearm or focus on getting the children to safety.

Toulon said he and his officers have gone into schools at the request of the districts to perform security assessments. So far 10 out of 69 school districts in Suffolk County have taken the Sheriff’s department up on the offer.

Toulon said an ideal setup might be having standardized training for all school districts and school security officers in the county not only so they would know what to do in a school fire, bomb or shooting scenario, but also because it would train them to interact with any local police that arrive on the scene.

The sheriff’s office plans to host a forum for Suffolk County school superintendents August 16 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue to talk broadly about school security and to share ideas.

Dealing with gangs and immigration officials

Toulon said that while county jails only hold people charged with local crimes, they do work with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency when it comes to some inmates.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“The sheriff’s office doesn’t profile people,” Toulon said. “If you blow a stop sign or a red light, we are going to pull you over. The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

Toulon stressed that the sheriff’s department does not participate on any ICE raids. He advised the immigrant community to know their Miranda Rights, that they do not have to communicate to police without a lawyer, and that anyone concerned about an arrest could contact the sheriff’s office.

Many people in local communities are concerned about activities perpetrated by the local incarnations of the MS-13 gang. Several high-profile gang murders were prosecuted in the past few years, including the 2017 murder of two young girls in Brentwood, complicating community-law enforcement relations and heating up a polarized, politically-based national discourse. Stories of abuses of power carried out by the federal agency, mostly in areas nearer to the southern border, have not been representative of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with ICE, Toulon said, adding that he would not tolerate inappropriate behavior from any uniformed officer within the facilities he oversees, be them staff under his purview or otherwise.

Toulon said comments made by President Donald Trump (R) on the matter have made his job tougher, especially when dealing with local immigrant communities.

“The tensions that I see in the immigrant community come from what they see going on in the rest of the country,” Toulon said. “The fact that our current president tweets about it and makes comments about a whole population – that is not fair, it makes my job a lot more difficult.”

Police are searching for a couple who stole groceries in Centereach. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate two people who stole merchandise from a Centereach store.

A man and woman allegedly stole steak and shrimp from Stop & Shop, 260 Pond Path,  July 20 at approximately 6:30 p.m. The stolen merchandise has a combined value of approximately $300, according to police.

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 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637) or by email at www.tipsubmit.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

A dispute inside a Port Jefferson Station pool hall resulted in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man July 22.

Suffolk County Police Homicide detectives are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred inside Billiards DBM, located at 1604 Main Street in Port Jefferson Station at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, according to police.

Following an altercation, Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez was shot inside the hall, police said. Rodriguez, 27, of Selden was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

A look at SCPD's current K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank, which lawmakers are seeking funding to upgrade. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Republicans and Democrats in Suffolk County are having trouble getting on the same page.

Amid a greater fight over the issuance and ultimately failed vote on bond-seeking resolutions lumped together into an all or nothing proposal from the Democratic side in recent weeks, funding for several county initiatives is in a state of limbo, including for plans to upgrade Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank. The bond was voted down as a stand-alone proposal at the July 17 legislature meeting.

“This is unfortunately again, where we run into politics,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a July 10 press conference at the facility. “The funding for the new K-9 state of the art facility here is being blocked again by members of the minority caucus.”

The roof leaks in the current structure, the floor has holes in it, and the air conditioner and heating do not work properly, according to Bellone.

“I just wanted to note for the record once again that while I support the construction of this building I do still believe that we should be able to do the planning for this building in-house with [Department of Public Works] staff,” said Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) prior to the vote at the July 17 Legislature meeting. “A number of us, both on the republican side and democrat side toured the facilities. It’s clear that they need to be replaced, but we just believe that the planning for this can be done in-house. Operating funds rather than spending $150,000 of borrowed money to outside contractors to do this work.”

Bellone and other county Democrats called for funding for a renovated, full-indoor kennel for training and to house these dogs when their handlers are away during the press conference.

Sue Hansen of RSVP, Legislator Monica Martinez, County Executive Steve Bellone, and Legislator Rob Calarco call for funding for SCPD’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank at a July 10 press conference. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“The population of this county has grown over the years and as a result the size of our K-9 unit has grown over the years,” said Legislator and Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “We are housing far more dogs here now than we ever had, and we have to have appropriate facilities for these animals to be kept so that they can be in the top shape and top health, so they can do their job, which is important.”

The SCPD K-9 Unit currently has 22 dogs. Nearly 12 years ago, a more than 20-year-old Sachem School District trailer was transported to Yaphank as a short-term SCPD K-9 Unit housing facility, and it is still in-use today, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“When it came time to vote for the resolution and fund this new facility, they voted against it,” Bellone said, referring to the legislature’s Republican members. “So here it is, unbundled, a single, stand-alone bond. Earlier this year, we put that forward and they voted no.”

The Minority Caucus wants the planning done in-house rather than borrowing to pay for the project, which, according to Bellone, would delay the project up to four years.

“We made it clear to police officials that we agree with building a new facility — that’s not the problem here, but what the county executive is asking us for is to borrow $150,000 to pay an outside contractor to design a kennel,” Cilmi said last week. “We spend $250 million in public works every year, and we believe that somebody from public works, working with our police department, should be able to engineer that building. They’re in a donated shack basically right now, we don’t need a Taj Mahal here.”

Animal rights activist Sue Hansen attended the conference representing local animal welfare and rescue organization Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets. She said the organization has been working with Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who is chairwoman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, on laws dealing with animals. Hansen said the organization is in favor of bonding to pay for the upgrades to the facility.

This post was updated July 17 to reflect the result of the vote on the matter at the July 17 Legislature meeting.

Eric Williams, 27, of Centereach, was found dead in an Oakdale home. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County police found Eric Williams, 27, dead inside a house on Vanderbilt Boulevard in Oakdale July 16.

According to SCPD 6th squad detectives, Williams’ parents reported him missing July 14. He left his Centereach home, located on Jonas Boulevard, July 13 at 5 p.m. in a 2011 gray Ford Ranger.

The death does not appear suspicious, according to SCPD.

It was no sweat for the Town of Huntington officials to open their first interactive spray water park July 11 to the sound of children laughing and playing in the summer heat.

The Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park, located along Cuba Hill Road in Elwood Park, is  dedicated to Huntington native and fallen New York City police Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo whose family attended the park’s opening.

“Happiness was something that Paul brought to everyone he met,” Tuozzolo’s wife, Lisa, said. “Even though the smiles don’t make up for all the heartbreak that my family and I have suffered, it does prove just how much Paul did and how much he meant to his fellow officers and his community.”

“Happiness was something that Paul brought to everyone he met.”

– Lisa Tuozzolo

The interactive spray park contains multiple water features, including several button- activated water jets, water spraying hoops and overhead buckets that fill up and dump down onto children’s heads. The largest bucket that hangs several meters off the ground is labeled with big block letters spelling “NYPD.”

A 19-year veteran of the NYPD, Tuozzolo was working for the 43rd Precinct in the Soundview section of the Bronx in November 2016 when he was shot and killed responding to what was initially reported as a home
invasion, and later found to be a domestic incident. A police dispatcher told responding officers that a man who had broken into the home was fleeing in a car, which Tuozzolo swiftly tracked down. Upon approaching the vehicle, the suspect shot Tuozzolo, who later died of his injuries.

“The Sergeant made the ultimate sacrifice, he warned other officers of the same fate,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “But let’s not reflect on how he died, but on how he lived. He believed in service and love for the community.”

The police officer is survived by his wife and two young sons Austin and Joseph. The family was strongly involved with the initial proposal for the park and later its design, according to former Huntington
Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) when the project was first announced in September 2017.

“This is absolutely fantastic — one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen,” Terry Monahan, NYPD’s chief of department, said. “To have this in his hometown really means something.”

This is absolutely fantastic — one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen.”

– Terry Monahan

The park is 4,900 square feet in area with 2,500 square feet of active play features, according to town Civil Engineer Ed Parrish, the project manager for the spray park. Parrish added that the spray pad water runoff will be collected and reused for field irrigation at Elwood Park.

Right up until a week before the park opened last minute touches were being added, including the gate’s memorial trellis, which was installed July 5. Town spokesperson Lauren Lembo said that the project was
finished on schedule, but a new sanitary system for the park is expected to be finished by spring 2019.

Ridge-based Laser Industries Inc. and its subcontractors were paid approximately $610,000 to build the spray park, which included installing the new waterlines, spray features, concrete and safety features as well as the custom park benches and memorial trellis. Town of Huntington employees were paid $50,000 to install a new 4-inch water line into the park as well as the sprinkler system, sidewalk and fencing.

Parrish said that trained staff are being provided with first aid equipment and umbrellas to monitor the kids at play.

Only children age 13 or younger are allowed to use the spray park. Parents or guardians must show a Resident Recreation Photo ID or that day’s picnic permit to gain access to the park. Official hours will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., but with this year’s planned playground camp being held at Elwood Park, it will be open to the public from Monday through Friday, 12:30 to 8 p.m. now through Aug. 10.

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