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Geraldine Hart

Suffolk County Police Department conducted a two-week undercover sting operation on businesses that were illegally selling vaping products to minors. TBR News Media file photo

As part of a two-week undercover sting operation dubbed “Operation Vape Out,” Suffolk Police found that more than two dozen business had been illegally selling e-cigarettes and tobacco to individuals under 21.

The operation, which occurred from Sept. 4 through Sept. 18. It resulted in 32 violations issued to employees of those businesses.

“After years of a steady decline in nicotine addiction and cigarette sales, the introduction of vaporizers has reversed this positive trend so that nicotine addiction is once again on the rise,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone (D). “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Suffolk County. In a coordinated effort with the Suffolk County Police Department and the Department of Health, a sting operation uncovered 30 establishments that allegedly sold these products to minors and arrests have been made.”

In 2014, 73 percent of high school students and 56 percent of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some local businesses that were charged with the sale of e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine to persons under 21 were:

  • VaporFi, located at 229B Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset
  • Aroma Smoke Shop, 6 East Main St., Smithtown
  • Island Wood Cigars and Vapors, located at 298 Maple Ave., Smithtown
  • James Vape Shop, located at 448 Lake Ave., Saint James

The following businesses were charged with unlawfully dealing with a child 2nddegree:

  • 76 Gas, located at 1714 New York Ave., Huntington Station
  • The Barn, located at 2020 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport
  • Hemp Clouds , located at 1515 Route 25, Selden
  • Hookah City, located at 202 Main St., Port Jefferson

“The department will continue to target the issue of vaping with increased education and enforcement efforts,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. “We urge businesses to check IDs when selling vape products and abide by the ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes because we will continue to check for compliance.”

In addition, Bellone announced the expansion of the Health Department’s vaping prevention and intervention program, known as VAPE OUT!, by adding community youth vaping cessation classes. The program also includes peer and parent education forums and alternatives to suspension enforcement programs.

Over 200 high school students were trained as peer educators and they presented VAPE OUT! to over 1,840 middle school students, Bellone said in a statement.

 

DA displays material confiscated, "ghost" guns and heroin, during a recent bust.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and the Suffolk County Police Department announced Sept. 10 the indictment of a Sayville man in connection with an alleged operation to assemble “ghost guns,” which are untraceable by law enforcement, and the illegal possession of other weapons including machine guns, loaded handguns, high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and more than 800 bags of heroin. St. James resident, Leon Jantzer, was among three people indicted in the case. 

“This was a dangerous drug dealer assembling ghost weapons in a hotel room right here in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “Had it not been for the police officers’ vigilance, their keen investigative skills, and their bravery in entering that hotel room, there’s no doubt in my mind that these weapons would still be on the streets of Suffolk County.”

Christopher Swanson, 42, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a B felony; two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a C felony; 10 counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a D felony; and attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, an E felony.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the 5th Precinct police officers who, while on routine patrol, stopped to investigate a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit, which ultimately led to the discovery of a cache of untraceable guns that are extremely dangerous and put everyone’s lives at risk,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We are making great strides working together with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to take guns and drugs off of our streets and we look forward to our continued partnership leading to more successes.”

At approximately 11:35 p.m. on Aug. 13, a police officer from the 5th precinct was on routine patrol when he observed a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit at the Clarion Hotel, located at 3845 Veterans Memorial Highway in Ronkonkoma. The officer determined that the vehicle was a rental car that had been reported stolen after it was not returned to the rental company by Marcella Brako, 39, of Sayville.

Further investigation of the vehicle resulted in the recovery of mail addressed to Swanson. Fifth Precinct police officers determined that Swanson was staying in a room at the hotel and, after identifying themselves as police, were permitted to enter the room by Swanson. Swanson and Brako were inside the hotel room along with a third individual, Leon Jantzer, 42, of St. James.

Upon entering the room, police observed an assault rifle, two handguns, assorted high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and assorted gun parts, according to the DA’s report. One of the handguns was fully automatic, also known as a machine gun. Police also allegedly observed packaging materials consistent with drug sales, including glassine envelopes. A subsequent search warrant was obtained and resulted in the recovery of an additional quantity of ammunition, drug paraphernalia and more than 800 bags of heroin.

The firearms recovered had allegedly been purchased in parts and assembled by Swanson, resulting in their not being registered and not having serial numbers, otherwise known as ghost guns.

“It cannot be overstated how dangerous these ghost guns are, particularly when in the possession of a criminal,” Sini said. “These are homemade weapons built from parts purchased over the internet that are not registered with law enforcement and cannot be traced. They are designed to evade detection by law enforcement and are essentially made to be used in the commission of crimes.”

Swanson was arraigned on the indictment  by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William J. Condon. Bail was set at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond. He is due back in court Oct. 8.

Brako was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substancee in the third degree, B felony, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the third degree, an A misdemeanor.

Jantzer was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, a misdemeanor. Jantzer’s attorney Brooke Janssen Breen has no comment about her client and the case and would confirm no details.  

If convicted of the top count, Swanson faces a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison. 

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

By Leah Chiappino

Victoria Glass demonstrates with ease to county and town officials how slip leads work with an intrigued dog from Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

It came as quite a surprise to her: Suffolk County police do not routinely carry leashes. So, 13-year-old Girl Scout Victoria Glass sprang into action. For the last two months she’s been collecting leads that officers can use when responding to calls about loose animals. The slip leads work as leashes and collars, and are made to fit any size animal. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart accepted Victoria’s donation of more than 150 leads at a press conference at Smithtown Animal Shelter June 18. Glass placed the first lead in a patrol vehicle, as shelter workers demonstrated how the lead works on Blossom and Sammy, two stray dogs that were brought to the shelter.

The project will help Victoria earn the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award for a Girl Scout Cadette, after identifying an issue and making a difference with a solution. 

“It’s been awesome to see the widespread effects of what I did.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Executive Steve Bellone attend a June 14 press conference to announce a partnership between SCPD and Stony Brook Medicine to host Mobile Mammography Van events in the county. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Stony Brook Medicine and the Suffolk County Police Department are joining forces to provide proactive health services to residents.

“By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

— Steve Bellone

Officials announced June 14 that the police department and Stony Brook Medicine’s Mobile Mammography Van will host events this summer at various county locations. The events will provide convenient access to mammography examinations for SCPD employees as well as the public.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who was previously diagnosed with breast cancer, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), members of the Suffolk County Police Department and Stony Brook’s Mobile Mammography Program coordinator Dr. Patrick Dineen were on hand for the announcement.

“Commissioner Hart should serve as an inspiration to us all, using her own personal experience with breast cancer to raise awareness about the power of early detection, which has saved countless lives,” Bellone said. “By partnering with Stony Brook Medicine to bring their Mobile Mammography Van to a number of different locations all across the county this summer, we are making it easier than ever for working women to get checked.”

Officers from the Community Relations Bureau, Canine and Aviation Sections will be on hand to interact with children while their parents are being screened, according to county officials. Activities will include demonstrations, games and giveaways.

Hart said her first mammogram detected cancer in its earliest stages, and she hoped sharing her story would inspire others to be screened.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities,” she said. “I believe our partnership with Stony Brook Medicine will serve as a great outreach to members of the community.”

Dineen said Stony Brook Medicine was thrilled about the collaboration.

“Our mission includes fighting crime and one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down crime is to ensure we are finding new ways to partner with all our communities.”

— Geraldine Hart

“The partnership between Stony Brook Medicine and the SCPD strengthens the efforts to ensure that all women from all socioeconomic backgrounds have easier access to screenings since we visit various locations such as businesses, school districts, libraries and churches throughout Long Island,” he said. “Furthermore, not only is the SCPD dedicated to helping our community members, they believe in this program so much that we have scheduled screening events at SCPD headquarters and the 4th Precinct so that staff members are also staying on top of their health.”

Eligible residents can visit the van for screenings at the following locations:

• Diamond in the Pines, 1844 Route 112, Coram — June 29 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• St. Hugh of Lincoln R.C. Church, 21 E. 9th St., Huntington Station — July 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• St. Anne’s R.C. Church, 88 2nd Ave., Brentwood — July 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• SCPD 4th Precinct, 727 Route 454, Hauppauge — July 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Stony Brook’s website, the Mobile Mammography Van team provides services to women on Long Island, age 40 and older, who have not had a mammogram in the last year and are not pregnant. No prescription is needed. Women seeking mammograms at the mobile events should not have implants or breast issues, such as a lump or nipple discharge, and never been diagnosed with breast cancer. They should also have had an office visit with a gynecologist, primary care physician or internist within the past year who is willing to accept the results of the screening. Individuals who do not have health insurance will be processed through the Cancer Services Program of New York, if eligible. On the day of the  mammogram, women should not wear deodorant, perfume, powders, lotions or creams on the breast area.

The van travels Suffolk and Nassau counties all year round and features a registration area, waiting room, private changing and exam space, 3-D equipment and an all-female medical staff.

For more information, call 1-833-MY-MAMMO or Dineen’s office at 631-432-0267.

Three young boys battling cancer have long been fascinated with police, and Sept. 19 they got the opportunity to immerse themselves in the lives of law enforcement officers.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron swore in Zachary Cote, 9, and Jesse Pallas, 11, of Miller Place, and Sean Hughes, 10, from Port Jefferson as SCPD officers for the day during a surprise ceremony at police headquarters in Yaphank. Sean’s brother, Kyle, 8, also joined for the day’s events.

“It’s hard to put into words what our kids go through every day, but when we see a child smiling and this excited, its these things that will stick with them,” said Fariba Pallas, Jesse’s mother.

Each held up their hand as Hart asked them to repeat the words to be sworn in. Once she reached the end, she smiled and said, “Welcome to the department boys.” Already used to repeating what she said, they repeated her again, “Welcome to the department boys,” the young officers said in tandem.

“Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

— Melanie Hughes

The swearing in was a surprise for both the kids and their parents. The adults thought their children would be meeting for a tour of the police department, but instead the kids got to join the ranks of the adults in blue.

Pallas said her son has been in the hospital for nearly half his life after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. She said being sworn in as an officer was a big moment for him.

Pallas asked her son who’s his superhero. “Police,” the young man shouted.

“He wants to be a police officer every Halloween,” she said.

The families originally met at an event hosted by the Thomas Scully Foundation in 2017, a nonprofit founded with the mission of brightening the lives of kids fighting cancer, and both the parents and kids bonded over their shared experiences. Melanie Hughes, Sean and Kyle’s mother, said that the kids did not have to talk to each other about their experiences, because they all know without having to say.

“It’s really sad to see kids go through what they have to go through to fight for their lives,” Hughes said. “Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

The idea came about from county police Sergeant Patrick Kelly, who met the kids and their families during the annual Long Island 2-day Breast Cancer Walk in Shirley. The officer was so humbled by their enthusiasm for local police he decided to do whatever he could to make a special day for the kids, he said.

“Once the word got out everyone stepped up to the plate and wanted to be a part of this,” Kelly said. “These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

“These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

— Patrick Kelly

After the swearing in ceremony, the kids were taken outside to experience a number of police department activities, including working alongside detectives from the Identification Section; meeting with Emergency Service Section officers; and checking out Highway Patrol cars and a police helicopter. The Suffolk County K-9 unit brought out a number of their dogs for the kids to meet. Officer Brendan Gayer, a member of the K-9 unit, had quite a lot of experience with the kids, especially Jesse who has had a long standing passion for the dogs, collecting baseball cards with the names and pictures of the unit’s many hounds.

“I met Jesse years ago, and he approached me, and he was infatuated with my dog,” Gayer said. “He just loves them.”

At the end of the day, the kids were presented with a proclamation followed by a walk-out ceremony usually reserved for retiring high-ranking members of the department.

All three of the young cancer patients have long been enamored with the police department. Zachary’s father Glenn Cote said ever since his child was little he would make “awooga” sounds every time a police car passed by.

“As long as he’s been able to talk he’s looked up to the police department,” Cote said. “This is a really special day for him to be around a bunch of people that he wants to grow up to be.”

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) made history by nominating a woman to serve as police commissioner, and we’re hoping a path is being paved for others.

Bellone nominated Northport native Geraldine Hart, who if approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, would be the first female police commissioner in the county’s history.

At a Feb. 22 press conference, the county executive said that gender didn’t play a factor in his selection, but he did go on to tell a story about how he told his two young daughters what he was going to do, embracing the significance of the moment. He said the pair had huge smiles on their faces, as did our editorial staff, a majority of whom are women.

“We were making calls … it was late … and Molly called me, who is 8 years old, asked me where I was, and she was able to get on the phone with Gerry, and it was really a great moment,” Bellone said. “I could tell how happy she was, even through the phone, as she was congratulating her on being nominated for this position.”

Hart has impressive experience for any law enforcement agent. She has spent 21 years of her career with the FBI, and most recently served as senior supervisory resident agent in charge of the FBI’s Long Island office. She has done it all, from investigating white-collar and cyber crimes to gang violence and terrorism. One of her investigations led to the indictment of two former NYPD detectives who were eventually convicted of committing murder and disclosing sensitive law enforcement information to mob bosses. She was also involved in investigations that resulted in the takedown of five members from the Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno organized crime families who were charged with murder.

Women in a position of authority in Suffolk County is a trend we would like to see continue. We can’t help but be optimistic when we hear stories like Laura Curran (D) being voted Nassau’s and Long
Island’s first female county executive, and Laura Jens-Smith (D) being voted in as Riverhead’s first female town supervisor this past election. We hope to see a day in Suffolk when journalists will be covering its first female leader.

Today’s women have confidence in their knowledge and ability to take on these roles and be models for future generations, which was the case with Danielle Turner, who took over as Port Jefferson School District’s athletic director in 2016. In an interview with TBR News Media, Turner credited Lisa Lally and Deb Ferry, Miller Place and Port Jefferson’s former longtime athletic directors, for paving the way for females in the position. She also said the two were supporters of her ambitions.

Hart’s nomination is also a second first for the county in recent months. Earlier this year, Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) became Long Island’s first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position. In recent years, the county saw the first person of color be elected as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature when, in 2014, Legislator DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) was named to the position.

Sometimes being the first can be intimidating, but when a person has the experience and talent as backup, anything is possible. We hope to see more firsts in the near future, especially for people in power, because in 2018 there are still plenty of glass ceilings waiting to be broken.

Suffolk County Police Department conducted a two-week undercover sting operation on businesses that were illegally selling vaping products to minors. TBR News Media file photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is looking to continue the year of firsts for law enforcement.

Bellone announced 21-year FBI veteran Geraldine Hart as his nomination to be the next police commissioner in Suffolk at a press conference Feb. 22. If confirmed by the county Legislature, Hart would be the first female police commissioner in Suffolk’s history.

“I am honored for the opportunity to serve the residents of Suffolk County and privileged to serve with the brave, hardworking men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” she said. “I am extremely optimistic about the future of the Suffolk County Police Department and what we can accomplish together.”

Hart was most recently the Senior Supervisory Resident Agent in charge of the FBI’s Long Island office, a position she held for four years. Hart received a bachelor of arts from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and juris doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in Queens.

“Geraldine possesses the integrity, competence and excellence that we are looking for in someone to lead the Suffolk County Police Department,” Bellone said.

In addition to her work combatting gang violence, Hart oversees complex investigations that include public corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, counter-intelligence, child exploitation and cyber crimes. Hart is also actively engaged in liaison activities, such as providing active shooter training opportunities for county school superintendents, houses of worship, and the first FBI teen academies in Central Islip and Brentwood.

Her leadership abilities were recognized at the highest levels as the recipient of the 2015 Director’s High Impact Leadership Award, which is given to a select number of individuals in the bureau based on an anonymous survey among their peers who rank them for superior leadership abilities.

Hart began her career as an FBI special agent focused on transnational organized crime, where she helped lead and execute complex investigations and enforcement actions to dismantle violent organized crime enterprises, such as the Lucchese crime family. In 1999, Hart was assigned to the Lucchese organized crime squad, working on an investigation that led to the conviction of fugitive Frank Federico, who was responsible for the murders of garbage-industry haulers and informants Robert M. Kubecka, of Greenlawn, and Donald Barstow, of Stony Brook (United States v. Federico). That same year, Hart was awarded the Office of Inspector General’s Integrity Award.

As an FBI case agent, Hart, in 2005, worked closely with the SCPD to investigate two former NYPD detectives who secretly worked as mafia associates on behalf of the Lucchese crime family.  The investigation led to the indictments of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were ultimately convicted of committing murder and disclosing sensitive law enforcement information to mob bosses. The investigation also led to the discovery of a body in Brooklyn in connection with the criminal actions of these two individuals (United States v. Eppolito). For her performance on the case, Hart received the United States Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, the highest award given out in the FBI.

In 2012, Hart was promoted to supervisory special agent to supervise a task force comprised of FBI special agents and NYPD detectives investigating the Genovese, Colombo and Bonanno crime families. In January 2014, these investigations resulted in the takedown of five organized crime members for murder, one tied to the Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy Airport, along with a body that was identified and dug up dating to the 1970s.

“As our next Police Commissioner, she will bring a fresh perspective and build on the progress that we have made over the last two years,” Bellone said.

Hart joins recently inaugurated Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. in a year of firsts for the county, as he became Long Island’s first African American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position earlier this year. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said in a phone interview she was happy to hear of Hart’s nomination because of her integrity and experience, and also noted the significance of a woman holding the position for the first time.

This post was updated with new photos and to include videos Feb. 22.

Check back soon for more information on Hart’s nomination.