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Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police said Sunday they have arrested two alleged motorcycle gang members in connection with drugs and weapon charges during a traffic stop in Centereach April 6.

Police said a 6th Precinct police officer pulled over a vehicle, driven by Salvatore Manfredonia III, on Hawkins Road for failing to stop at a stop sign at around 8:45 p.m. Manfredonia was allegedly found to be in possession of Oxycodone. His passenger, John Balogh, was found in possession of a 9mm handgun. Police said Manfredonia is a member of the Satans Soldiers Motorcycle Club, and Balogh, a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, had just left the Hells Angels April Bash held on Lynbrook Street in Centereach.

Manfredonia, 35, of 15 Louise Drive in West Nyack, was arrested and charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th Degree. Balogh, 58, of 1500 Parker Street 5B in the Bronx, was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon 2nd degree, criminal possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of marijuana. Balogh was arraigned at the First District court in Central Islip April 7, and is next set to appear in court April 12. Police said Manfredonia will be arraigned on a later date.

File photo

Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that seriously injured a motorcyclist in Miller Place April 7.

Margaret Befanis, of Port Jefferson Station, was driving a 2017 Nissan Sentra eastbound on Route 25A and was turning left into North Country Plaza when a 2017 motorcycle, being operated by Joseph Sinacore, of Miller Place, struck the car at around 1:40 p.m.

Sinacore, 27, was airlifted via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries. Befanis, 69, was transported to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson with minor injuries.

The vehicle and motorcycle were impounded for a safety check. Anyone with information about this crash is asked to call the sixth squad police at 631-854-8652.

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Suffolk County police arrested six people March 30 for selling alcohol to minors at businesses located within Brookhaven Town in the 6th Precinct.

Police said they conducted several stings in response to community complaints, and 6th Precinct Crime Section officers conducted an investigation into the sale of alcohol to minors during which 17 businesses were checked for compliance with the law.

The following people were arrested and charged with unlawfully dealing with a minor:

  • German Estevez-Rodriguez, 40, of East Setauket, employed at Upper Main Street Deli, located at 1600 Main Street in Port Jefferson
  • Joseph Ragan, 18, of Coram, employed at Speedway Gas Station, located at 1445 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station
  • Isaiah Tyler, 19, of Coram, employed at Speedway Gas Station located at 1956 Route 112 in Coram
  • Nurettin Keski, 45, of Brentwood, employed by Valero Gas Station,located at 1274 Middle Country Road in Selden
  • Buenaventura Benitez, 45, of Smithtown, employed at NY Food & Drinks, Inc. located at 2505 Middle Country Road in Centereach
  • Ervin Rhames, 21, of East Patchogue, employed at Speedway Gas Station, located at 501 Route 112, Port Jefferson Station

Eleven establishments within the 6th Precinct complied and refused to sell alcohol to minors.

All six people arrested were issued field appearance tickets and are scheduled to appear at first district court in Central Islip May 28.

Tint meter used to detect the level of colored tint on car windows. Photo from SCPD video on illegal tints

Driving around Long Island, it’s most likely you have seen vehicles with a dark sheen of having their windows tinted. 

Suffolk County police have said some may have been illegally darkened, but still managed to pass inspection. A 2017 New York State law requires window tint testing during annual motor vehicle inspections, though Suffolk County police had seen an increase in window tint violation summons issued in the two years since the new law took effect. 

In response, police conducted a three-month sting operation from November 2018 to January of this year on 11 state inspection stations that were suspected of passing vehicles with illegally tinted windows. One turned out to be an automotive place in Selden.

Police used a decoy vehicle that had tinted windows that blocked 95 percent of light at these inspection stations. Operation Black Glass, as police called the sting operation, found that two of the 11 stations passed the decoy car and issued inspection stickers. 

Staria Auto of Selden and Baldwin Automotive of East Patchogue were the two inspection stations that illegally passed the decoy vehicle. The other nine stations correctly did not issue an inspection sticker to the decoy, police said. 

Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron provided an explanation of the origins of the operation.

“If a car has illegally tinted windows, it should be failed and taken off the road until the tint is removed and the car is made legal.”

— Stuart Cameron

“Late last year I was driving on the expressway and I was still noticing a significant number of vehicles on the roadways with tinted windows, far more than I would expect to see after this law was in effect for two years,” Cameron said. “I wanted to see what the issue was — why wasn’t this law working like it was anticipated to.”

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stressed the issue of officer safety when it comes to illegally tinted windows and traffic stops. 

“It’s one of the most dangerous situations a police officer can be involved in because there is extreme unknown,” Bellone said. “The danger associated with traffic stops gets heightened by the fact that there are vehicles on the road that have [these] tinted windows.” 

The state requires tinted windows to block only up to 30 percent of light, barring medical exceptions for the driver, officials said. 

The offending stations were referred to the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, which could impose penalties on their inspection licenses. 

Police issued close to 6,000 summonses last year, far more than before the new law took effect. 

Cameron enlisted the help of the criminal intelligence section and asked them to do a comparison against the window tints summons officers have written, to the inspection stations that had issued an inspection certificate to those cars, to see if there was a pattern. 

Eleven inspection stations stood out and were targeted in the sting. 

Cameron reiterated officer safety, saying anything could be happening when you can’t see what’s behind these windows.  

“[These inspection stations] have an obligation to uphold a New York State law when cars are being brought in to be inspected,” the county police chief said. “If a car has illegally tinted windows, it should be failed and taken off the road until the tint is removed and the car is made legal.” 

Bellone said Suffolk residents should not  put officers’ safety at risk, for essentially a cosmetic addition to a vehicle.

“It’s not something we are going to tolerate, we are going to do everything to protect officers who are out there protecting us each and every day,” he said.

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Police conducted a warrant search on the home located at 535 High Street March 28. Photo from a Port Jeff resident
Police conducted a warrant search on the home located at 535 High Street March 28. Photo from a Port Jeff resident

Port Jefferson Village officials were notified March 28 of Suffolk County Police executing a search warrant on a house on High Street over allegedly possessing narcotics.

Suffolk County Police Narcotics Section detectives conducted an investigation regarding 535 High Street in Port Jefferson, and executed a search warrant at the residence March 28, police said.

Police arrested Richard Shelton, 33, a resident of the home. Shelton was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance for allegedly possessing cocaine. Shelton was set to appear today, March 29 at Suffolk County First District court in Central Islip. There is no attorney information available for Shelton as of March 29.

Police said the investigation is ongoing.

A photo Brian Newton. Photo from New York State Sex Offender Registry

An East Northport man and registered sex offender has been sentenced on transporting, trading and possessing child pornography.

In federal court in Central Islip, Brian Newton, 38, was sentenced to 19 years in prison by United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco Feb. 27. This followed a guilty plea May 3, 2018, to the transportation of child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce. As part of his sentence, Newton must serve five years supervised release following his imprisonment, during which time he must remain registered as a sex offender and not have unsupervised contact with minors. 

Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI New York Field Office announced the sentence.

“Newton, despite being a registered sex offender, again chose to victimize children by sharing images of their abuse with others online, conduct that is deserving of a substantial prison sentence and underscores a message of deterrence to others,” said Donoghue. “The protection of innocent children is a priority of utmost importance for this office and our law enforcement partners. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that those who victimize children will be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”  

Newton, who at the time of the charged offense was on probation from a conviction in Suffolk County in 2014 for possession of child pornography, was allegedly caught trading child pornography including sadistic depictions of the sexual abuse of infants and toddlers, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. During the execution of a search warrant at his residence, police seized Newton’s large collection of child pornography, including hundreds of videos and thousands of images.  After his arrest, Newton admitted engaging in conversations with minors over internet chat platforms, as well as sending nude images of himself to minors and soliciting nude images from minors.    

“Child pornography is not an abstract crime. It is a direct by-product of the sexual abuse of innocent children — in this instance, including infants and toddlers,” Sweeney said. “And though he was already on probation for a prior child pornography conviction, Newton continued and even escalated his depraved actions, sharing child pornography while sexually soliciting minor children online.”

This prosecution is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative led by the Department of Justice to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. attorneys’ offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.

The government’s case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States attorneys Lara T. Gatz and Michael R. Maffei were in charge of the prosecution. 

Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

An East Setauket man faces a multicount indictment for allegedly receiving more than $400,000 through insurance fraud.

On Feb. 28, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) office announced the unsealing of a 70-count indictment against former health care worker Joseph Basile, 50. It is alleged he fraudulently received more than $400,000 through a health insurance fraud scheme where he would file claims for unperformed procedures and list a former employer, a colorectal surgeon, on the forms.

“This was an act of pure greed,” Sini said. “He used his knowledge of the health care insurance system to illegally pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that would have otherwise been used to care for people who were sick and in need.”

Basile was charged with insurance fraud in the first degree, three counts of health care fraud in the second degree, two counts of grand larceny in the second degree, health care fraud in the third degree, grand larceny in the third degree, scheme to defraud in the first degree and 60 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree.

Basile was employed as an office manager for a private health care practice by a colorectal surgeon in Port Jefferson before the practice closed in 2013, according to the DA’s office. From January 2014 through July 2016, Basile allegedly fraudulently filed insurance claims for medical procedures, including colorectal surgeries, to Empire BlueCross BlueShield in excess of $3.8 million on behalf of himself and others, listing his former employer as the provider. The medical procedures had not been performed.

Basile then allegedly forged the signature of his former employer and deposited the checks into his own account. The more than $400,000 received was paid by both the insurance company and John T. Mather Hospital.

The former health care worker also allegedly filed fraudulent insurance claims on behalf of another individual whose health care is provided through Teamsters Local 1205’s welfare fund, according to Sini’s office. Basile allegedly stole more than $3,000 from the fund by filing false health care insurance claims.

Basile was released on $5,000 bond and is due back in court March 12. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum sentence of eight and one-third to 25 years in prison.

He is being represented by Legal Aid of Suffolk County attorney Kathleen Evers who could not be reached for comment.

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A mugshot of Arieta Gouvakis. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police arrested a female dental assistant Feb. 8 for allegedly stealing jewelry from patients at a dental office in Rocky Point.

Arieta Gouvakis, a dental assistant to Dr. Elliot Koschitzki at Long Island Implant and Cosmetic Dentistry, located at 31 Fairway Drive in Rocky Point, allegedly removed jewelry from two patients who were being treated at the office under her care Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Neither patient realized their jewelry was missing until after they left the office, police said.

The Suffolk County Police Property Recovery Squad recovered the stolen jewelry from local pawn shops. The dental office cooperated fully with the investigation once they were notified of the allegation against their employee.

Gouvakis, 38, was arrested at her home, located at 270 Weeks Avenue in Manorville, at approximately 12:30 a.m, police said. She was charged with two counts of grand larceny and two counts of criminal possession of stolen property. She was held overnight at the Fourth Precinct and was arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip the morning of Feb 8. She is set to appear in court Feb. 11 at Suffolk First District Court in Central Islip.

Anyone with information or other patients who think they have had items stolen in the Rocky Point office were asked to contact the 7th police squad at 631-852-8752.

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File photo

Suffolk County Police 6th squad detectives are investigating a single-vehicle crash that killed a Selden woman the morning of Feb. 8.

Nancy Neumann, 60, of 16 Strauss Road in Selden was driving a 2006 Saturn northbound on Nicolls Road at around 11:23 a.m. when she lost control of the vehicle, which veered off the roadway and rolled onto its side, according to police.

Neumann was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The Saturn was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information on this crash is asked to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

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