Village Beacon Record

A scene from Steiner's Woods. Photo from Beth Dimino

By David Luces 

A nearly 30-year fight to protect 10 acres of land known in the Sound Beach community as Steiner’s Woods has finally come to an end. 

On Dec. 20, Town of Brookhaven purchased the land for $5 million, effectively preserving the site as open space. 

“Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.”

— Beth Dimino

The stretch of land, situated near Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, had been owned by Robert Toussie for over 25 years. The Brooklyn-based developer proposed to build up the site as Villages on the Sound, a 15-home development clustered on the northern portion of the property near the bluff, with a single access road extending northward from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

For years, the proposed plans have been marred by environmental and logistical issues raised by town officials and community members. 

Local residents have voiced their concerns the development would have led to more vehicular traffic on existing narrow roads that were already overburdened in the neighborhood. The property also serves as protection for Scott’s Beach, and residents have argued development could have led to negative environmental impacts due to stormwater runoff into the Long Island Sound. 

The woods serve as a natural drainage site and water recharge basin for the surrounding communities, according to an environmental analysis conducted by the town in 1989. If development went through, the town would have spent close to $2 million to mitigate stormwater runoff from Lower Rocky Point Road. 

Sound Beach resident and retired science teacher Beth Dimino, who lives adjacent to the property, is glad the town was able to purchase the site. 

“The woods provide natural drainage in the community,” the Sound Beach resident said. “Water has been naturally dumped to these woods, and over the years wildfire and vegetation have developed.” 

The 1989 environmental report also stated the trees support the environment and also protect the community from winds from hurricanes and rainstorms. 

Dimino said she has to give credit to Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). 

“She understood the problem and understood the concern of the community,” Dimino said. “I told her it would cost millions to mitigate the water drainage issue. We are indebted to her — she has helped save the environment in that area and it’s going to help preserve the wildlife.”

“The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

— Bea Ruberto

Bonner said this has been a long process, one that started before she took office. 

“This is a win for the community and the Town of Brookhaven,” Bonner said. “It’s a beautiful parcel of land and it’s great that it won’t be developed.”

Bonner said her office has received many positive phone calls from residents who are happy with the recent news. 

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto said the community is elated about the news. 

“I’ve been involved for the past ten years,” she said. “The community and the civic association have been advocating against development for close to 30 years.”

Ruberto said if development went through they would have had to instead fill the ravine, located in the vicinity of Steiner’s Woods, which serves as a drainage point. Filling that would have led to issues of water runoff that normally flows into the area.  

“They would’ve had to mitigate the stormwater and it would’ve cost millions of dollars,” she said.  “If it could be done.”

Bonner points to the advocacy done by local residents and the town as the reason the property was able to be preserved.

“This has been a total group effort,” the councilwoman said. “It’s nice to finally put this to bed.”

At center, Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, speaks about WIC changes Jan. 10. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Suffolk County officials are working to partner with food pantries and nonprofits to help ensure low-income women and children keep access to basic food and health care in the months ahead as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children undergoes a major change in the months ahead. 

The county offices of the WIC program are closed Jan.14 for a week to upgrade to a debit card-based system, making the transition away from paper checks to electronic benefit transfer cards in accordance with New York State law. 

The facilities will reopen Jan. 22 in limited capacity only to allow time for employee training and EBT card distribution to clients. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers.”

— Rebecca Sanin

Suffolk officials expect the WIC program to be back up and running in April, but many are concerned that its recipients should have ready access to food and health care during
the transition.

The officials viewed the new EBT system changes as necessary to modernize and streamline the program for its more than 12,000 Suffolk recipients.  

“I can’t think of no greater priority than making sure babies and children in their youngest years are well fed and never face nutritional insecurities,” Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, said during a Jan. 10 press conference. 

The council, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares and Island Harvest of Bethpage have compiled a listing of food pantries in close proximity to WIC offices for families in need during the closure at www.hwcli.com/wic-closings. 

WIC provides more than food for low-income families, it also offers basic health care for children under age 5 including height, weight, blood tests and iron levels. The program provides women and children with access to nutritional counseling, breastfeeding support and peer counseling. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers,” Sanin said. “Food security leads to lower infant mortality rates and safer pregnancies.” 

 Paule Pachter, president and CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said he recognizes there are challenges ahead. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them.”

— Paule Pachter

“When you are trying to provide food for mothers and babies, you are talking about some of the most expensive food on the market,” Patcher said. “Formula, baby food, diapers, specialized food — this stuff is not readily available at the local food pantries.” 

Many individuals rely on LI Cares and Island Harvest for these products. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time.”

As part of the preparations for the months ahead, LI Cares has made sure that mothers can have access to these vital products at their satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst and Huntington Station. 

The Hauppauge nonprofit also created mobile outreach units to go into the community to make residents aware of the ongoing closure and changes to the EBT system. They will be visiting Centereach, Bay Shore, Bohemia, Brentwood, Patchogue, Riverhead and Southampton.  

Sanin said WIC agencies have worked very hard to get in contact with clients to pick up  their checks in advance. 

In addition, part of the new system will include the launch of a new smartphone app, WIC2Go, that will let clients track their benefits, find vendors and items. 

“The new system will be much easier for clients,” Sanin said.

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

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Todd Aydelotte, a Manhattan native and ultrarunner, was more than winded as he crossed through the threshold of the Shoreham Wardenclyffe property Jan. 10. He was frozen solid from running 74 miles in subfreezing temperatures and whipping winds, and he was visibly exhausted by near-constant running across the length of Long Island over two days.

But once he arrived at the site of famous inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla’s last living laboratory, he still had the strength to embrace his wife and lay his hand on the century-old building’s facade.

“Tesla said energy was everywhere around us — it was all over the Earth, and we, as people, could actually harness that energy,” Aydelotte said to the small crowd gathered to welcome him at the Tesla Science Center. “I started seeing myself capturing that energy.”

‘I started seeing myself capturing that energy.’

— Todd Aydelotte

The Manhattanite is an ultrarunner, a person who commits to a form of long-distance running that goes far beyond something like a marathon. Whereas a typical marathon is 26.2 miles, an ultrarunner can run for 50, 70 or even more than 100 miles. Often these extreme athletes take treks through natural preserves such as the Grand Canyon, but for close to two years Aydelotte has taken a different approach, instead using his passion for history as the driving force for him to take these long-distance treks. 

“If you look at some of the world’s great ultrarunners … one tool they use is they’re mostly trail runners, when they get into it they lose themselves in the beauty all around them,” the runner said. “Being in Manhattan I don’t have that luxury, but I’m super into history. I started going off on these long runs after studying up on history, so it could be in my head, something that could carry me the long miles.”

Those working in the Tesla Science Center, which plans on turning the Shoreham Wardenclyffe site into a science museum and science startup incubator, learned of Aydelotte’s plan around two weeks before the run and were ecstatic to see him arrive.

“We’ve been waiting on you with bated breath,” the center’s board president, Jane Alcorn, said to the newly arrived runner.

Aydelotte’s route started at around 11 a.m. Jan. 9 and took him all over Manhattan, taking breaks in between running to visit and take pictures of sites such as the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown where Tesla lived for many years at the height of the Gilded Age, and the Gerlach Hotel on 27th Street where Tesla once resided and tested his transmission equipment on the roof. 

The runner’s route also took him to Chambers Street in Manhattan, a site made famous when a Western Union lineman John Feeks was electrocuted to death in 1889 while working on the electrical lines above the street. This occurred just as the famous “current wars,” a feud between the well-known Thomas Edison and Tesla over whether Edison’s direct current would propagate better than Tesla’s superior alternating current. Edison would use this event as well as other displays, such as when he publicly executed a living elephant in 1903 with alternating current, as a way to discredit Tesla and show how his form of electrical current was harmful or even dangerous.

Aydelotte’s wife, Tess Ghilaga, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, said her husband is training every single week, running two to three times a week and practicing yoga under her careful attention four to five times a week. She’s helped him through his constant training, and said she enjoys getting to be a part of learning of pieces of history like the Tesla Science Center.

‘People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it.’

— Jane Alcorn

“Depending on what hurts his body, I’ll help him with knee work, hip work, back core, the changes that happen when you run so far so often,” Ghilaga said. “I grew up in Garden City, so I know the East End, but I didn’t know anything about the science center until he read a book. It’s so cool that it’s being resurrected.”

This is the third, and longest, ultrarun Aydelotte has accomplished. Previous runs have taken him 49 miles from New York City to Long Island looking at the history of Teddy Roosevelt while another 64.5-mile run took him from the city through Connecticut tracing the history of famous American showman P.T .Barnum. While the ultrarunner said he felt accomplished to complete his longest run so far at 74 miles, this race held a raw, emotional tie to his person since he saw something of Tesla in himself, a sort of drive that pushes a person past the point of exhaustion and doubt.

“He was relentless in his work ethic, in his values,’ Aydelotte said. “He was a good man, a great man. There are so many reports of him working day upon day upon day upon day, not giving up on a vision.”

Alcorn could only nod at the notion that Tesla continues to inspire people 76 years after his death Jan. 7, 1943.

“People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it,” said the board president. “It’s what we try to do here, to put some focus on him and what he tried to do.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivers his State of the County address May 24 at Newfield High School in Selden. Photo by Alex Petroski

By David Luces

Suffolk County has been working toward reducing inmate populations through programs to give people who have been incarcerated a new lease on life.

On Jan. 2 county officials announced the completion of the Suffolk Fresh Start program which has helped assist more than 100 formerly incarcerated individuals find employment after their release.

Over the past two years, after receiving a $489,901 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the county’s Department of Labor has administered Suffolk’s Fresh Start program with the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Its main goal was to try and provide employable skills and vocational training to incarcerated individuals.

‘Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism.’

— Errol Toulon

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press release the county has created a successful criminal justice model to reduce recidivism and protect taxpayers.

“This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions,” he said.

More than 350 individuals were enrolled in the Fresh Start program where they were given resources and training to address any possible barriers to employment. They were also registered with the county’s One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge.

The employment center supplies job-seeking individuals with the tools necessary for a self-directed or staff-assisted job search. There they can receive help with creating or editing résumés, navigate the internet for potential jobs and be interviewed by prospective employers on-site.

“The program has changed people’s lives,” said county spokesperson Derek Poppe.

Since 1999, New York State’s prison population has declined by 35 percent, according to a report from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released Jan. 1. The report said since 2011, the state has eliminated 5,500 prison beds and closed a total of 13 correctional facilities. The number of male inmates in maximum security prisons has been reduced from 24,151 in 2009 to 20,173 in 2019.

Suffolk has two jail facilities. One is the Riverhead facility which was intended to hold 529 inmates in maximum security cells and 240 in medium security cells, according to a 2008 county report. The facilities in Yaphank included a minimum-security jail that had cell space for 504 inmates, and a DWI Alternative facility for 54 inmates.

Since 2010 the county’s jail population has decreased drastically. Newsday’s data on Long Island’s jail population shows a fall from 1,609 in 2010 to 1,157 in 2016. The decrease has been mostly in inmates at the Riverhead facility.

Poppe said Bellone was against the construction of a new jail facility, and programs like Fresh Start work to keep inmates from committing further crimes.

“Many of these individuals were able to find work in the construction, manufacture and telemarketing field,” Bellone’s spokesperson said.

Even though the grant from the Department of the Labor expired in December 2018, Poppe said there are plans in place to continue the programs through internal county funds and possibly funds from the federal government.

‘This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions.’

— Steve Bellone

The number of people in Suffolk’s jails is strained by a lack of corrections officers in both Riverhead and Yaphank. County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) told TBR News Media in July 2018 the county was dealing with a large amount of corrections officer vacancies, saying at the time there were 76 positions left unfilled with 30 new officers being added as early as August that same year.

The sheriff said in a press release that Fresh Start gives county inmates opportunity and hope following incarceration.

“Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism, and we are fortunate to have Department of Labor staff working with us to improve outcomes for those transitioning from jail to our communities,” Toulon said.

By repurposing existing internal funds Poppe said the county plans on having Department of Labor staffers work in conjunction with the correctional facilities in future, adding, “We want to continue to run this
successful program.”

By Bill Landon

Harborfields boys basketball team took an early lead and never looked back besting Rocky Point, 65-45, at the Tornadoes’ home  Jan. 10.

Harborfields senior forward Mike McDermott had the hot hand for the Tornadoes netting seven field goals and a pair of free throws to lead his team in scoring with 16 points. Tornadoes senior forward Joey Mitchell followed with a field goal, a pair of treys and 5 points from the line for 13 points while guard Jordan Robinson banked 10 points.

Rocky Point junior John Henry Dyroff led scoring for the Eagles with a pair of field goals, a triple and swished 7 from the charity stripe netting a total of 14 points.  Eagles junior Gavin DaVanzo sank 3 field goals and 2 triples to put up 12 points.

Both teams retake the court Jan. 15 with the Tornadoes traveling to take on West Babylon and the Eagles at home against Half Hollow Hills West. Both games tip-off at 5:45 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

After a disastrous first half for Shoreham-Wading River’s boys basketball team netting only 7 points before the break, the Wildcats came out shooting in the third quarter out scoring Sayville 20-14 over the final 16 minutes of play; but it was too little too late. The Wildcats fell to visiting Sayville 32-27 in a League V contest Jan. 5. Tristan Costello banked 4 field goals and a free throw to lead his team in scoring with 9, followed by Tom Bell’s 4 swishes from the free throw line and a pair of field goals for 8 points. The loss drops the Wildcats to 1-4 in the league, 4-5 overall. The team was back in action Jan. 8 where they traveled to Westhampton, but the Wildcats lost 58-60.  

 

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Karina Gerry

The Town of Brookhaven returned to a dual-stream recycling model — where paper, plastic and metals are separated —at the end of November to alleviate problems in the recycling market, but the switch has left some Brookhaven residents confused and frustrated.

The Three Village Civic Association hoped to ease residents’ worries and concerns at its Jan. 7 meeting by inviting Chris Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s Department of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management, and Erich Weltsek, town recycling coordination aide, to speak at Emma S. Clark Library in Setauket about the new dual-stream recycling schedule and explain why the change was necessary.

“We decided to focus our monthly meeting on changes in the town’s recycling program because the changes are significant,” George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In October 2018, Green Stream Recycling, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, terminated its 25-year agreement to operate Brookhaven’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The recycling market was deeply affected by China’s National Sword policy, implemented in January of last year, which bans the import of 24 types of solid waste and has set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. 

China has been the leading world importer of waste, at one point taking in more than 50 percent of the world’s plastic recyclables. As a result of National Sword, recycled material has piled up at recycling facilities across the country, like Brookhaven’s in Yaphank.

“Switching from single stream to dual stream was not something we wanted to do,” Andrade said during his presentation Monday night. “But it was a product of circumstance.”

Andrade went on to explain recent changes to the recycling marketplace were unexpected, noting that no one thought it would happen on the scale that it did and so quickly, too.

“In my opinion, the buyers need to own some of it,” Andrade said. “There were domestic mills when I started in this business. There were domestic processing plants. They started paying less money than the overseas plants and so everybody started shipping material overseas. People put all their eggs into one basket and then when China shut down there were no homes for us anymore.”

While Andrade notes the future for domestic mills seems likely to turn the market around, he doesn’t believe it will happen for at least a year.

As the markets took a downturn, cross contamination of recycling became an issue. For Old Field resident and Sierra Club Long Island Group chair Jane Fasullo, the problem isn’t surprising. Fasullo took a tour of the single-stream facility and was surprised by what she saw.

It was an “eye-opening experience,” Fasullo said. “It wasn’t as lean of a separation as I thought it would be.”

While Fasullo noted single stream did encourage more recycling overall, she said she believes dual stream produces a cleaner stream, yet she insists the problem we should be concerned about isn’t single stream versus dual stream, the real issue plaguing our country is plastic.

“The biggest industry going that prevents major changes is the plastics industry,” Fasullo said. “We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.”

When Brookhaven announced its decision to move back to dual stream the town placed ads in a number of papers including TBR News Media newspapers. Later the town broadcast its new policy through radio, television, social media and newspaper ads. Still, many residents said they were not properly contacted and informed about the changes. 

“You know, there are so many forms of media now to communicate to,” Andrade said. “So, it’s a challenge.”

‘We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.’

— Jane Fasullo

A popular concern that was continuously brought up at the meeting was the issue of glass, which is no longer being picked up curbside, much to the dismay of residents. Instead, satellite locations have been set up throughout the town where glass can be dropped off free of charge. So far there are seven locations, including the town’s parking lot across from the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) expressed her appreciation for the commissioner coming to speak to the community and providing background information to help people understand the switch from single stream to dual stream.

“This education is key to the success of recycling with the town,” Cartright said. “This office will continue to promote further education and work with residents to address any complaints or concerns they may have during this transition.”

After the meeting was over, Andrade expressed a positive outlook on the results from the meeting and future meetings that he and his colleague Weltsek hope to hold with civic associations around the town.

“I think overall people want to do the right thing,” Andrade said. “And I think they will do the right thing. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time and enough information to do the right thing.”

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Gabby Sartori drives the lane in a Feb. 6, 2018 game against Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The players on Mount Sinai’s girls basketball team like to rib senior Gabby Sartori about her scoring record. Of course, it’s all in good humor, and if she’s anxious about her record, she doesn’t show it. After all, having sunk over 1,500 points in her 6-year varsity basketball career, and with college looming on the horizon, the final score isn’t something she wants to stress about.

“I’m not a braggart, but they definitely mention it a lot — they kind of say it to get me uncomfortable about it,” Sartori said. “That’s the kind of thing you expect from your friends.”

Gabby Sartori maintains possession along the sideline in a 2018 lacrosse game. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Mount Sinai senior scored her 1,000th point Dec. 27, 2017, but it only took her a short time to reach that next milestone in a Dec. 28 game against Smithtown West, with Mount Sinai finishing, 56-44. It’s an achievement that has her coach, Jeff Koutsantanou, close to reeling.

“I’ve been coaching for about 20 years, both boys and girls, and I’ve never had a player who has an ability to score like her,” Koutsantanou said. “One thousand is great, but for her to get 1,500 is tremendous.”

It’s a constant edge of improvement, and while 1,500 is a nice round number, Sartori already scored 35 points in a Jan. 2 game against Bayport-Blue Point in which the Mustangs won, 57-47. 

Yet Sartori, who plays guard in most games, said she is not letting the numbers go to her head. She’s cool under pressure, and she becomes laser focused on achieving what she wants, whether it’s sinking a basket or in her academics with a 94 unweighted GPA.

Sartori will be attending Brown University after she graduates Mount Sinai, but she won’t be playing basketball once she gets to the Ivy League school. Instead, she’ll be there for lacrosse, which along with soccer, is another sport she has excelled in.

“I’ve gotten so used to balancing them, but there was one point where I had to balance all three sports at the same time with travel, but it helps with college next year because I’ll have that all year round,” she said.

While Ivy League schools don’t give out much in the way of scholarships, the young basketball player said it’s all about what she can use, either in sports or in the name of a school, to help her realize her professional dreams.

“If you can use a sport to that high ground, I would do it 100 percent,” Sartori said. “I don’t care if they haven’t won any tournaments.”

When it comes to her college expectations, the young basketball player said she expects to enroll in the college’s communications programs, eventually hoping to work in sports broadcasting as either a commentator or analyst.

‘If you can use a sport to that high ground, I would do it 100 percent.’

— Gabby Sartori

In her visits to Brown, Sartori said the Ivy League’s lacrosse team has already been friendly, but are amazed at her skill having come from a little known public school on Long Island.

“They’re all shocked that I go to a public school, because they all come from private schools,” she said. “Their shocked and say, ‘you go to school with boys?’ and I say, ‘yeah, I do.’”

Even with college lacrosse on the horizon, basketball has been one of those lifetime sports for Sartori, as she’s been playing the sport since she was 4 years old, egged on by her father Jim Sartori.

Despite her impressive record, Sartori is just one exceptional player amongst a standout team. Last season the girls went 20-0 in a near perfect run before finally being defeated Feb. 26 in a county finals loss to Hauppauge. 

The Mustangs are currently sitting at a solid 6-2, but there is still much of the season left. Of course, Sartori said the team’s goal is to make it to county champions, but the young basketball player said she wants to see the team go as far as they can in the playoffs.

“I want us to try to get as far as we can in the postseason — I’d take a loss now over that,” she said.

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right, present common phone scams.

By David Luces

Suffolk County police and elected representatives are saying if you think the person on the other end of a phone call may be a scam, hang up as quickly as possible and call the authorities.

According to Suffolk County officials, 2018 has seen a steady increase of telephone and digital scams, especially those targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. In 2018, there were 68 incidents reported, and the largest amount of money taken was $800,000 between 2017 and 2018. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly. 

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery.”

— Steve Bellone

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulent gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion.

At a press conference Jan. 4, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the trend is alarming.

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery,” Bellone said. “These scammers are targeting a vulnerable group of people.”

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the median loss people experienced from a phone-based scam in 2017 was $720. 

Bellone said thieves will sometimes call victims using an automated message to demand money or threaten to call the local authorities. 

“Our message to the public is to not give personal financial information when someone is calling you over the phone,” Bellone said. 

Suffolk County Police Department chief  Stuart Cameron said these scammers call threatening to stop certain utilities, claiming bills were unpaid. With tax season close by, Cameron cautioned the public to be on the lookout for scams mentioning the IRS as well.  

“They also call claiming a relative is seriously injured or in danger,” the chief said.

It is difficult to hold these scammers accountable because most are either out of state or out of the country and are using technology to mask their identity. 

Cameron said payment is usually requested through gift cards. 

“No government agencies are going to ask for gift cards,” Cameron said. “If you get a call like this, call law enforcement.”

Bellone mentioned that many of these crimes go unreported because victims feel embarrassed or simply ignore the calls. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to protect residents from these scams,” the county executive said. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself.”

— Geraldine Hart

At the press conference Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also informed the public on five robberies — one as recent as New Year’s Eve — involving the LetGo app, a digital marketplace that allows users to buy and sells items locally on their phones. 

Four out of the five robberies involved meeting up to purchase an iPhone, according to Hart. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself,” Hart said. “Make sure you can verify the seller.”

A majority of the robberies occurred in the Mastic Beach area beginning in August 2018. During that month, a victim arranged to sell a cellphone to someone outside a home in Mastic Beach at 10 p.m. The suspect took the phone and told the victim he would return. The suspect fled into the backyard and never returned with the money.

On Nov. 30, a suspect and a victim agreed to meet to sell an iPhone. The suspect showed an iPhone in a box and the victim gave him $400. The suspect told the victim he had to get a SIM card and fled through a backyard and onto an adjacent street. 

The most recent incident occurred at the Mastic-Shirley train station. The victim gave the suspect money and was pushed to the ground. When the victim attempted to follow the suspect, a second man threatened to shoot him.  

 “Thankfully no one was seriously injured,” Hart said. 

The suspects involved appear to be connected to all five robberies and got away with several thousand dollars. 

Officials said if residents have information on phone scams and the robberies to call 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

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