Police & Fire

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota, who did not plan to run for re-election, was indicted Oct. 25 and will retire prior to the completion of his fourth term in office. File photo

Suffolk County residents and lawmakers have known since early 2017 there would be a new District Attorney for the first time since 2001, but thanks to a federal indictment, the timeline for that to take place has moved up.

Thomas Spota (D), the sitting Suffolk County District Attorney, was charged by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York Oct. 25 with four counts relating to his involvement in the obstruction of a federal civil rights investigation. Christopher McPartland, the Chief of Investigations and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau of the DA’s office, was also indicted.

Spota released a statement Oct. 26 announcing his intentions to step down “at the earliest opportunity after the resolution of normal administrative matters relating to my retirement.” Emily Constant, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, will serve as the interim District Attorney until the winner of the 2017 campaign for the seat is sworn in next January.

The four charges were conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; and accessory after the fact to the deprivation of civil rights. The initial civil rights violation investigation was examining the actions of former Suffolk County Police Commissioner James Burke, who was charged in December 2015 after assaulting and thus violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man who had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s police-department issued vehicle. He was also charged with conspiracy to obstruct the investigation. Burke was sentenced to 46 months in prison almost exactly one year ago.

“Prosecutors swear oaths to pursue justice and enforce the law,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement following the indictment. “Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation. Abuses of power by law enforcement authorities cannot and will not be tolerated. There are serious consequences to such actions.”
Since allegations against Burke came to light and he pleaded guilty in February 2016, Spota’s resignation has long been discussed by members of both political parties.

“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in May 2016 on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office, “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”

Bellone renewed his call Oct. 25, before Spota’s announcement the next day.

“The person holding the awesome power to decide whether people go to jail or not cannot effectively serve under federal indictment for corruption,” Bellone said in a statement.

The indictment detailed some of the specifics of Spota’s and McPartland’s actions that led to the charges.

“Between December 2012 and the present, defendants Spota and McPartland, together with others including Burke and other members of the SCPD, had numerous meetings and telephone conversations discussing the assault of John Doe, John Doe’s allegations against Burke and the federal investigation,” it reads. “During those meetings and telephone conversations, defendants Spota and McPartland, and Burke and other members of the SCPD, agreed to conceal Burke’s role in the assault and to obstruct and attempt to obstruct the federal investigation in order to protect Burke.”

Bellone has been criticized by Republican legislators and others for his role in Burke’s promotion, and some have also called for his resignation during the last year.

Spota, 76, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 51, of Northport, were arraigned Oct. 25.

Northport police have played a key roll in providing information that may get a suspected heroin dealer off the village’s streets.

Three Northport Village Police Department officers worked on a joint operation with the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Sherrif’s office and Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to execute a search warrant on a Central Islip home Oct. 11 that led to the arrest of an alleged heroin dealer.

In searching the Wilson Avenue apartment, officers found and confiscated 33 grams of heroin, seven grams of Fentanyl, $3,050 in cash along with drug scales and drug packaging materials. A 2016 Honda was also seized in the raid.

Davon McNair, 25, of Central Islip, was found and arrested a short distance from his home, and found to be in possession of crack cocaine, according to police.

Davon McNair mugshot. Photo from Northport Police Department

“Anyone who sells this poison in our village can expect the Northport police to pursue them to wherever their trail leads,” said Chief Bill Ricca of the Northport Police Department.

Ricca said the information that led to McNair came to light when two of his officers made unrelated arrests for drug possession in May. Upon questioning those in custody, police were able to piece together details that appeared to lead back to the same individual making heroin sales not only in Northport but throughout Suffolk County. The intelligence was brought before the Suffok County task force, who had undercover agents purchase heroin from McNair on three different occasions over several months before applying for the search warrant.

McNair, a known member of the Bloods street gang, was charged with five felony counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He is currently being held on $100,000 bond/$50,000 cash bail.

“McNair maintains his innocence, defends his reputation, and will vigorously defend himself against these charges,” said his defense attorney Pierre Bazile.

In the past few weeks, Northport police have also been involved providing Suffolk County police with information that led to the arrest of Manorville resident Donald Guichard Sept. 20. Guichard was arrested for allegedly growing more than 100 marijuana plants in a subterreanian home for sale, according to Suffolk police.

“We like to let the public know when we can get bad guys off the street,” Ricca said. “But if there is more to gain, we don’t publicize it.”
Ricca said he was confident strict enforcement polices seem to be reducing the amount of drugs in the village.

“For the first time in three or four years, we’re seeing a downtick so far,” he said, noting there are three months left in the year. “We’ve been told by those we arrest or informants that the word is out — ‘stay away from Northport.’”

Huntington town officials hope federal funding will help crack down on drug use and gang violence. File photo

Huntington town officials were pleased to find out they will be receiving federal and county funding to implement local programs addressing drugs and gang violence. 

The town will be receiving part of the $500,000 federal grant awarded to Suffolk County Police Department from the U.S. Department of Justice Oct. 5 to combat the influence of street gangs such as MS-13. The grant comes from the justice department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative aimed at stemming gang and gun violence through enforcement and community outreach programs.

“This is the fruits of a collaboration between Suffolk County Police Department and our town officials,” Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said. “The gang situation and opioid crisis are symptoms of something larger. While they are working on enforcement, we locally have to work on prevention and intervention.”

Edwards said she called for a meeting this past July with top Suffolk County officials including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) and town officials upon learning about this grant’s available to come up with a strategy.

“We agreed at that meeting that tackling the problem required working together to coordinate the work being done by law enforcement and social services and youth programs,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “The funding will enable us to move ahead at full speed towards making a dent in the effects gangs and violent crime have had on the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods.”

Edwards said she did not know exactly how much of the grant, or what funds, will be directed to the Huntington community, she will start working with local leadership to see what form the prevention and intervention initiatives will take.

“The money is now available to create these initiatives,” the councilwoman said. “We will work with community leaders and school districts to see what is best for their needs.”

Edwards said she hopes to gather these “key stakeholders” together in November, once election season is over. Ideas will also be brainstormed by Huntington’s Youth Council, a group comprised of students from each of the town’s nine high schools which meets monthly.

In addition to the federal grant, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) announced the county legislature approved spending $70,000 to purchase two license plate scanners for the police department’s 2nd Precinct.

“It doesn’t infringe on civil liberties, but gives the police a heads up while they are cruising around,” Spencer said.

This will bring the precinct’s total up to five scanners allowing them better coverage of Huntington’s main roadways when searching for stolen cars or those on a watch list    whether protectively for an Amber Alert or wanted for suspected drug trafficking.

Spencer said, as a member of the county’s new Heroin and Opiate Advisory Panel, that recent reports pointed to Route 110 as a roadway heavily used for drug trafficking. He hoped the addition of two license plate scanners will help reduce the illegal activity in the Huntingon area.

“I want to keep the pressure moving in a positive direction and not only being reactive when there is some sort of public safety incident that has occurred,” he said.

The Mingoias: Samantha, Gina, Denise and Sal. Photo from Gina Mingoia

By Kevin Redding

Throughout his life Salvatore Mingoia brought smiles, laughs and music to those around him. And even though he’s gone, the impact of Shoreham’s “Superman” will surely resonate forever.

The Suffolk County police officer, Beatles-loving musician, devoted family man and friend to all died Oct. 9 following a two-year battle with lymphoma at 56 in the company of friends and family at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Although Mingoia had been in a great deal of pain as a result of his cancer,
which was diagnosed in December 2015, he never once let it show or get him down, according to his family.

Sal Mingoia was a devoted family man to his daughters Samantha and Gina. Photo from Gina Mingoia

“He was the nicest guy in the world,” said his oldest daughter Samantha Mingoia, 25. “I want to be my dad when I grow up. He was so caring, giving and understanding. Anything he could do to help someone, he’d do it and he never looked for praise.”

His trademark  upbeatness and kind character prevailed even under the circumstances — when nurses asked how he was feeling on a particular day, Mingoia always responded with a chipper “I’m great! How are you?”

This, of course, was not at all surprising to those who knew him.

“He was a sweetheart of a man,” said Suffolk County Sgt. Arthur Hughes, Mingoia’s colleague for more than 30 years. “Everyone loves Sal. You can’t say anything bad about him.”

Gina Mingoia, 19, said her dad was always “so strong and hopeful right up until the end.” She regularly shared the stage with him as a two-piece band, serving as lead singer while he played guitar during gigs throughout the area. They played everything from country to classic rock, from covers to songs they wrote together

“It was comforting,” she said on rocking alongside her dad. “Now, if I ever have to sing the national anthem or anything and my dad isn’t with me, I’m going to get panicky. I need him. He’s like a safety blanket.”

Sal Mingoia, on right, was a musician from a young age. Photo from SCPD

His daughters said while they both saw Mingoia as the best dad ever and knew how beloved he was by peers and colleagues, it wasn’t until the wake that they grasped just how many lives he touched. During the first service alone, Samantha said nearly 800 people, maybe more, showed up creating a huge line that wrapped around O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place and stretched down the street. Even a friend of his from kindergarten, from North Carolina, came to pay his respects.

“They all said the same thing — that he treated them like they were the most important people to him,” Samantha Mingoia said. “He always made everyone feel so special.”

A graduate of Centereach High School, Mingoia, one of seven children, played football and competed in track and field while excelling in math and science. An avid musician from the moment he was able to hold a guitar, he played in numerous bands throughout his life, the first being a family band with his father and brothers.

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special,” said his older sister Eydie Gangitano. “And I’ve got to tell you, I think Sal was my mother’s favorite, I really think he was. And we didn’t care, because he was all of our favorite.”

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special.”

— Eydie Gangitano

Mike Pollice, a friend of Mingoia’s for more than 40 years, met him in school and said although they were on opposite ends of the spectrum — Mingoia being seemingly well-grounded while Pollice was a self-
proclaimed “troubled kid” — Mingoia saw past that, and initiated a conversation with him over music. The two had played in bands together ever since.

“He had a heart like nobody else,” Pollice said, who described Mingoia as the salt of the Earth. “I really would not be the man I am today if it weren’t for him. The path he led me down with music served me well and kept me out of a lot of bad things in my younger days. In school, he was the guy who stuck up for people getting picked on. He was a friend to everyone. A very rare kind of person.”

After high school, Mingoia wound up at the police academy even though being a cop wasn’t exactly what he had planned for himself. His childhood friend Kenny Kearns was a New York City police officer and planned to take the test to transition to Suffolk County and encouraged Mingoia to take it too. He ended up getting a better result than Kearns and decided give the occupation a try. He joined the police department in April 1987, spending his career in the 5th and 6th Precincts and was an active officer in the Crime Scene Section
when he died, an analytical field he much preferred over issuing traffic tickets.

“He didn’t like ruining people’s days, he liked making people’s days,” Kearns said of his friend. “If Sal pulled you over, and you had a good excuse and were sorry, that was good enough for him.”

Sal Mingoiaa Suffolk County police officer, working in the Crime Scene Section when he died. Photo from SCPD

Kearns often visited with Mingoia at Mount Sinai Hospital when he was sick, and was present when he passed away.

“The last time I was in that hospital with Sal was 30 years ago when he donated blood to my father who was undergoing cancer-related surgery,” he said. “He’s been a constant in my life. Someone I could always count on. He was the true definition of a best friend.”

Those who knew him best say, despite how dedicated he was to his job on the force or as a friend, his greatest passion in life was being a husband to Denise, whom he married in 1990, and father to his two daughters. Not only did Mingoia never miss a day of work in his life, he never missed a family dinner or birthday party either.

“He was Superman,” Gina Mingoia said of her dad. “He always had his day full, but made room for everyone.”

She often thinks of goofy moments now when she thinks about her dad. Like when they were rehearsing a song and she struggled to remember an entire verse.

“He put his guitar down and rolled around on the floor, then stood back up and grabbed his guitar again,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Why did you do that?’ and he said, ‘So you would never forget that line again.’”

For Samantha Mingoia, she said she’ll simply miss sitting around the house with her father.

“Every night we all ate dinner as a family and then just never left the table,” she said. “We’d sit there until 9 p.m. talking about the day, philosophies about life, politics, anything. The house is definitely quiet and empty now.”

Wendy Velasquez. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police 2nd squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to locate a Huntington Station teen who was reported missing last week.

Wendy Velasquez, 16, who was last seen at her residence in Huntington Station Oct. 10, was reported missing Oct. 12. She is Hispanic, 5 feet, 4 inches tall, 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Detectives do not suspect foul play.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call 911 or contact the 2nd squad at 631-854-8252.

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File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police 6th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that critically injured a pedestrian in Port Jefferson Station Oct. 17.

A man was crossing Route 112, south of Joline Road, when he was struck by a southbound 2010 Honda Civic at approximately 5:30 a.m.

The pedestrian was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was admitted in critical condition. The pedestrian’s identification is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The driver of the Honda, Edward Ortega, 43, of Islip, was not injured.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

Stony Brook resident Rocco Pesola has been reported missing after leaving a family member's house in St. James Oct. 15. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
UPDATE: Rocco Pesola has been found unharmed
The original Silver Alert issued for Rocco Pesola:
The Suffolk County Police Department has issued a Silver Alert for a missing Stony Brook man who suffers from dementia.
Rocco Pesola, 89, of 39 Knolls Drive, was last seen leaving a family member’s home in St. James to return to his residence Oct. 15 at approximately 1 p.m. Pesola is white, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds with brown eyes, an olive complexion and white hair. He was driving a 2015 Nissan Rogue with New York license plate BVY 6910. He was wearing a blue vest over a flannel shirt with khaki pants and sneakers.
Detectives are asking anyone with information on Pesola’s location to call 911 or the sixth squad at 631-854-8652.
 

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

Daniel Justino’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police have arrested a man in connection with a stabbing of two men that occurred on Oct. 4 in Port Jefferson Station.

A man was walking on Jayne Boulevard at approximately 9 p.m. when the driver of a passing Jeep slowed down and yelled at him. The man ran to a nearby friend’s house as the Jeep followed. The driver of the Jeep and a passenger exited the vehicle and attacked him. Two male occupants of the house heard the commotion and came to the man’s aid. During the altercation, the two men who came to his aid suffered stab wounds. The man being chased was not injured. The suspects fled in the Jeep.

The victims were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. One man was treated and released, and the other victim remains in the Intensive Care Unit following surgery.

After an investigation, 6th Squad detectives charged Daniel Jusino, 20, of Centereach, with first-degree and second-degree assault. He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct for arraignment this morning, Oct. 6, at First District Court in Central Islip. The investigation is ongoing.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a burglary at an occupied Commack home that occurred early this morning.

Two men entered a home on Orchard Lane at 2:12 a.m. and demanded money from the residents. One of the burglars struck a 27-year-old woman in the head with a gun and then struggled with the woman’s 54-year-old father. During the struggle between the two men, the homeowner’s Rottweiler ran into the room and the burglars fled with no proceeds.

The woman refused medical attention and the man was not injured.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the 4th Squad at 631-854-8452or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

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