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Rocky Point

Rob Bentivegna, center, helped build the Rocky Point EMS building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rob Bentivegna, a former firefighter and general handyman for Rocky Point Fire District often goes unnoticed. 

Usually a cheerful and magnanimous guy, Bentivegna allows other people to sit in the limelight, but firefighters, according to fire district and department officials, would be at a huge loss if it weren’t for their go-to maintenance man. 

Rocky Point’s Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He’s got a work ethic you don’t see in a lot of people anymore — it’s something to see,” said RPFD fire commissioner Kirk Johnson. “Anything he does do, he doesn’t do the minimum. If there’s a job out there, Rob takes care of it, he’s right on top of everything.”

Bentivegna, a Shoreham resident, has gone far beyond the scope of what his job entails. When RPFD bought a section of property at the corner Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, Bentivegna rolled up his sleeves to help reconfigure a new EMS vehicle garage out of what were two rundown buildings. Many thought the buildings were beyond repair. 

Bentivegna also set himself apart on another project: Repairing and revitalizing the old Parish Resource Center, a historical building that has been neglected for years. 

To hear the maintenance man speak of the building, one would think he designed and built it himself back when it was originally constructed in 1849. Bentivegna kept an eye on the details of everything from the molding in the building’s interior, to the hand-blown glass windows, which he stressed needed to remain intact. He built shutters, based off of old pictures, by hand. The constantly flooded basement was reconfigured into a space where volunteers could wash their equipment after a job, and the maintenance man has plans to turn it into a training space. What had once been derelict has been transformed into a useful community center. 

It was two years worth of work, and much of the effort he completed on his own time. 

Tony Gallino, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said Rob goes far above and beyond, noting that he has saved the district and the taxpayers thousands of dollars by doing work they would otherwise have to contract out. Bentivegna is a perfectionist, he said, who will do anything for the department and its volunteer members. 

When the fire department company 2 needed to move out of their space into a neighboring yard during construction, Bentivegna was instrumental in getting the new space on Prince Road ready to receive all the department’s equipment, trucks and personnel. He even went in to collect pictures and other items at the company 2 house to make sure they were preserved, Gallino said.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He doesn’t miss a day’s work, and he comes in on his own time, doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas day,” the board chairman said. 

Kristen D’Andrea, a Shoreham resident and spokesperson for Brookhaven town highways superintendent, said Bentivegna offers help to anybody who needs it. He had come by her house to offer landscaping support.

“We had a groundhog in our front yard we couldn’t get rid of,” she said. “He came over, set a trap and removed it. He wouldn’t take money. … He’s just a genuinely good guy.”

Bentivegna had been a contractor for more than 30 years and had joined the fire department as a volunteer around 15 years ago. Unfortunately, life had thrown him a curve ball. What coworkers and friends called an “illness” had left the Rocky Point volunteer in large amounts of pain. Johnson said the longtime firefighter was “crushed” to have to step down from active duty, but even as a paid employee he said the man cannot stop giving his time to make sure things are done well. The Shoreham 9/11 responders memorial had taken years of planning, but Bentivegna’s expertise in contracting and landscaping lent itself toward constructing both the wall of names and the fountain in the center of the grounds.

“For those few who know what he’s going through, actually being able to work and do what he gets to do every day gets him through it,” Johnson said.

Adam DeLumen, chief of Rocky Point Fire Department, has known Bentivegna for around 15 years. He said that Bentivegna has also renovated each company’s back rooms and created a training room at the Shoreham firehouse. He even helped with renovations to DeLumen’s own house several times. 

“Most people don’t know what they have with Rob,” DeLumen said. “He’s just one of those guys, he’ll do anything for anybody.” 

Locals Look Back on RP Teacher, Coach, Administrator and Icon

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

Just recently, Rocky Point Union Free School District lost the wonderful presence of longtime teacher, coach, advisor and administrator Michael Bowler, who passed away Dec. 1.  This legendary coach of 47 years had accumulated 447 wins as the only lacrosse coach Rocky Point had ever known. While Bowler was always a notable figure who taught, coached and mentored the students of the school, his unique background of honor, service, kindness and loyalty was established some 72 years ago.

Michael Bowler in his early days. Photo from Rich Acritelli.

Bowler was born Feb. 14, 1947, to Paul and Marie Bowler. He was raised in Hicksville with his brother Kevin and his two sisters Meg and Stephanie. During World War II, his dad was a Marine Corps fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific, where he was able to fly near one of the greatest baseball hitters of all time, Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams. After the war, the senior Bowler was involved in business and his mother was an elementary school teacher. As a kid, Bowler attended Catholic school, where he loved playing football and basketball. Since religion has been a cornerstone of this family, Bowler served as an alter boy at St. Ignatius Elementary School. Later, Bowler attended St. Dominic’s High School in Oyster Bay. He was a four-year honor student, a featured running back on the football team and a major leader on the golf squad. His most crowning achievement was meeting his high school sweetheart and later wife, Helene, at the age of 16. Just recently, they renewed their wedding vows for their 50th wedding anniversary.

In 1965, Bowler graduated from high school and moved on to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He studied history and education and was later a vice president of the student council and the president of the senior class. Shortly after graduating, he married Helene on Aug. 23, 1969, and was quickly hired as a social studies teacher at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip where he taught history and theology. It was there Bowler began his lifelong passion of coaching, starting with the  junior varsity football team. In this rather busy time, Bowler enlisted in the New York Army National Guard for six years. Since his youth he was always in leadership positions, so it was no surprise that Bowler became a heavy truck operator and a platoon sergeant within a motor company. It was at this time Bowler and his wife welcomed their oldest son Brendan into the family Aug. 19, 1972.

In 1973, Bowler was hired at Rocky Point High School,where he continued teaching social studies and was offered a coaching position in lacrosse, a position that would shape the rest of his life. While Bowler was a well-rounded athlete, lacrosse was a new game for him. For the rest of his life, Bowler was always a student of a sport that saw him evolve into one of the finest high school coaches in New York. Bowler grew into a major faculty member that was in charge of the social studies department and was a senior class adviser who organized major trips to Montreal, Canada, and to Walt Disney World in Florida. He ran school dances, the battle of the classes, the senior picnic, prom and dinner from 1976 to 1995 and 2002 to 2003. For a decade, he also coached the varsity girls cross-country team. Bowler ran with his team and demonstrated a strong flair for pushing his students to do well at long-distance running. Like that of lacrosse, he was a devoted leader that had won several league titles and a coach of the year award from 1978 to 1988.

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By 1985, the Bowler family grew to three more boys through the addition of Sean, Kevan and Michael All of them attended school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson before moving onto St. Anthony’s in Huntington. On top of his busy teaching and coaching schedule, to earn extra money for his family Bowler delivered beer, moved people’s homes and even transported libraries within the city and Long Island to different locations. At night, Bowler went back to school at C.W. Post to earn his administrative degree. He was quickly promoted as an assistant principal at Rocky Point middle and high schools. Armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was responsible for discipline, hiring teachers, scheduling staff and students and being a constant presence at all school functions.  He mentored teachers like Brooke Bonomi to constantly support the students around him within every imaginable task and activity.  Often, when one observed Bowler’s desk, it was often messy and full of papers dealing with every possible concern that can occur within a school. Even as he held an administration position, Bowler continued to coach the lacrosse team, where he had a positive impact inside and outside of this school.  

After several years of working with younger athletes, establishing intramural programs, and coaching the junior varsity team, by 1978 his squad had its first full varsity season. With an energetic demeanor, Bowler instructed a green group of athletes toward attaining an 11-8 record. This was the start of many outstanding decades that saw the Rocky Point Eagles be one of the finest programs within their league, county and on Long Island. In 1985, after several years of hard work, the Eagles captured their first county title. Bowler reached the pinnacle of success within the sport, as he eventually guided his players to a 2008 New York State Championship. For all of his devotion, Bowler was awarded numerous coaches of the year awards through his league and county and he was honored with being the Man of the Year in sports through Times Beacon Record and the local Rotary Club. 

In 2014, Rocky Point lost a hard fought game to Lynbrook, where the team came extremely close to making it to the state tournament. Ever the master communicator, Bowler made a detailed speech about the strengths of this group and the importance of giving their all to a contest and still being proud of themselves, even when some goals are not achieved. John Fernandez was a 1996 graduate of Rocky Point, a member of the West Point lacrosse team and close confidant of Bowler. He was severely wounded during the Second Gulf War in Iraq. This talented player openly recalled Bowler “never screamed or belittled a player, lost his cool or uttered profanity on the field. His success in coaching has come from his ability to encourage and get players to ask the most from themselves, not from others.”

Over the years the incredibly personable man established solid relationships with college coaches all over this nation. His “boys” played on every athletic college level at schools like Albany, Adelphi, Brown, Colgate, Dartmouth, Delaware, Hofstra, Manhattan, Stony Brook, Towson, Trinity, Wagner and Wesleyan. In larger numbers, his players served in the armed forces as they played within every service academy team. It is said Rocky Point has more captains that lead the West Point team than any other high school in America. Rocky Point guidance counselors Matt Poole and Jimmy Jordan always marveled at Bowler’s ability to fully understand the college recruiting and admissions process. For decades, Bowler drove his students on numerous trips in New England and the East Coast. Often the case, he quietly took money out of his own pocket for the sake of his players. Just this past year alone, former Rocky Point standout Peter LaSalla was a freshman and faceoff man on the University of Virginia lacrosse team. This local kid that just played for Bowler was a key member of a team that recently won the 2019 National Championship.

It is with a heavy heart that Rocky Point school district mourns the difficult loss of an individual that always made time for his family, friends, students and players. Even as he retired from his administrative position in 2004, Bowler continued to coach lacrosse until his declining health conditions forced him to retire from this position. Bowler leaves behind the love of his best friend Helene who spent countless hours at the school rooting for his teams, along with his three boys Brendan, Kevan and Michael. There is undoubtedly a special place in heaven for Bowler who is surely united with his second oldest son Sean, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2005. The family loved Sean’s girlfriend Adena Herskovitz, who as she was attending Yale Law School had taken care of him after he was diagnosed with ALS. While the Bowler’s are dominated by all boys, Adena truly represented the lone daughter of this family. As with Sean, Adena was recently at the bedside of Bowler to ensure that he was properly receiving the correct medical attention at Sloan Kettering in Manhattan.

Like that of Brooklyn native and Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who was a devout Catholic, teacher, coach, mentor and loyal member of his church, Bowler truly resembled the traits of this historic figure, of living his life for the love of his family, God and the Rocky Point Eagles. For decades, Bowler was a major member of the Infant Jesus Parish in Port Jefferson where he could be seen assisting with the weekly and Sunday Masses. At times, it is my custom to speak with Father Francis Pizzarelli of Hope House and Infant Jesus. With a big smile, Father Frank always described the devotion of Bowler who always enhanced others within his church and team. The priest recalled how Bowler even coached his family members. Always with a hectic schedule, Bowler and his wife took care of a special needs young man and his home over the last several years. Never did the Bowlers ever seek any type of attention for always putting others first — it was not their way. From his youngest moments, Bowler and his family “selflessly” aided others with a tremendous smile, kindness and heart.

Up until his death, Bowler dearly loved his family, team, community and church. He leaves behind a “tribe” of six grandsons, who he was immensely proud of seeing during his visits to Massachusetts and Colorado. Like that of his players, he followed their every lacrosse movements and was happy that they were all well-rounded student-athletes. In the summers, the family vacationed on Block Island where they looked forward to being together. While lacrosse was always a passion for Bowler, the athletic tradition has been passed onto all of his sons, who were all tough college players that later became high school coaches. His two older grandsons are devoted students who are currently playing for Duke University and Marist College. At a gathering that was held at the Bowler home after the cemetery services, the younger grandsons were running around the house with their football helmets on. They were catching passes from Bowler’s brother Kevin in the backyard of his home.  Like their grandfather, they flashed a brilliant smile as they were running around and tackling each other.  

At this sad time, as the Bowler family came together and at several points during this trying week, they could be heard laughing at colorful memories of this unique man.  At the church service at Infant Jesus Church in Port Jeffeson, his younger son, Michael, soundly recalled the dynamic ways and “quirks” of his father that had given so much to all those around him. It was hard to find a seat or place to stand as family members, neighbors, friends, current and former teachers, players and coaches all gave a final goodbye to a person that garnered so much affection. And these accounts that were creatively stated by Michael produced a large roar of laughter from the crowd. Each in turn  easily recalled the genuine ways of this former husband, parent, family member, educator, coach, church member, neighbor and veteran.

At the final wake services, where there were close to a thousand people that stood on line to share the numerous positive qualities of Bowler, 2010 high school graduate Michael Muller addressed the true meaning of this man. In front of a packed house, Muller, a graduate and a lacrosse player from Dartmouth College, said his life would have been vastly differently if it was not for the constant presence and guidance of “Coach Bowler.” Muller echoed the sentiments of this North Shore community that truly appreciated the dedication of Michael P. Bowler, who always looked to enhance the school district. 

The life of this “Renaissance man” could be summed up through the words of Lombardi who told his own players, “Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him.  It’s something we call heart power.  Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop short of success.”  

Through all of his amazing deeds to his family and school, Bowler has surely lived up to a high benchmark of excellence on and off the field.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

This year, fire commissioners from the Wading River through the Mount Sinai fire districts are running unopposed, but despite that fact, these small municipal entities have several issues and boons on their plates, and now is a good time to find out just what’s happening with your local fire personnel.

Commissioners are unpaid elected board members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. They determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

All districts have set the date of Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots.

Here is a rundown of those seeking another term at their respective districts.

Wading River Fire Department headquarters. Photo from Google maps

Wading River

Commissioner Joe Marino has been serving through the year 2019, having been elected in 2018 to fill out the term of a commissioner who left before the end of his term. Marino is seeking another five-year term.

Marino did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents can vote Dec. 10 at the fire district headquarters located at 1503 North Country Road from 2 to 9 p.m.

Rocky Point

Kirk Johnson has been with the Rocky Point Fire Department since 2006 but had been involved in fire companies previous to that when he lived in West Babylon. By day he’s also a Suffolk County police officer and has worked in the 7th Precinct for 23 years.

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

Having been with the department for over 20 years, he originally ran to contribute his experience to upper management, and now he is running again to continue ongoing projects, such as construction of the new Station 2 firehouse, while trying to keep taxes down.

Johnson, a Shoreham resident, said ongoing work on the Station 2 firehouse is “rolling along very well,” and they are currently staying within their $7,250,000 budget. The foundation is currently in, and residents will soon see more of the skeleton of the building going up.

He added that the five commissioners are working on getting a New York State grant to help them replace breathing apparatus that have reached their life span. Johnson said they hope to receive news of that grant later in
December. 

The district has finalized another grant for a fire prevention training trailer, one with different rooms that can simulate a fire with fake smoke. The trailer, he said, can also be used to teach schoolchildren what to do in case of a fire in a classroom or at home.

Rocky Point residents can cast ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse on Hallock Landing Road from 3 to 9 p.m.

Sound Beach

James McLoughlin Sr. has been involved with the Sound Beach Fire Department since 1973, but it was only five years ago, after a spot opened up, that the veteran department head and former chief decided to throw his name in for commissioner. Five years since, he’s running again unopposed. 

“I had been toying with the idea for years, but most of our commissioners were doing a good job, so I saw no reason to run,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to run, I went for it.”

McLoughlin, a retired Suffolk County fire marshal, said he has “been involved with fire my entire life.” 

Sound Beach Fire District headquarters at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. Photo from Google Maps

Sound Beach residents recently passed a $2 million bond that department and district officials said was necessary for much needed repairs to the main firehouse. This includes replacing windows and adding sprinklers in the building. It also includes drainage repairs to the parking lots in the front and rear of the building, which will also even out the pavement. 

The commissioner said it has been several years since they asked residents to pass a bond, adding he and the other commissioners know the issue with taxes on Long Island.

A growing problem for Sound Beach and other departments, he said, is the diminishing number of volunteers as people work more jobs and for longer hours. State mandates and training requirements require more hours of training from prospective volunteers, which has only exacerbated the problem, especially for as small a district as Sound Beach. 

“The first EMT course I took in 1974 was about 70 hours,” McLoughlin said. “Now it takes over 120 hours for the course. It’s hard to find people to commit to that training.”

While he said the district is not currently looking for full-time fire personnel, the district has hired a full-time EMT ambulance driver. Other districts, like Setauket, have hired a few full-time firefighters to deal with declining volunteers. 

Sound Beach residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. between 2 and 9 p.m.

Miller Place

Commissioner Jeffrey Kinkaid has served three five-year terms as commissioner and is seeking a fourth term. However, he was with the department for many years, joining in 1989 after moving to the area in 1988. Overall, he said he has spent 40 years with fire departments both on the North Shore and in New Hyde Park.

“I went through the ranks, became chief for two years and in watching how the commissioners interacted with the chief, I thought I could help with that,” he said.

Miller Place Fire Department. File photo by Kevin Redding

Kinkaid said he has been able to interact with volunteers in the department, adding he has been out on more than half the calls that have come through to see what goes on. 

In the past 15 years, Kinkaid said the district has been busy renovating facilities and updating equipment, including upgrading the headquarters located at 12 Miller Place Road, updating equipment and the construction of a new Station 2 building on Miller Place-Yaphank Road, which was completed by a bond. Kinkaid said this has been done while at the same time trying to keep taxes low.

“I also live in the district,” he said. “I’m in touch with what’s going on, you’ve got to be.”

For the future, the commissioner said they plan to purchase a new rescue truck after decommissioning another one several years ago. The district went out for a New York State grant, but not getting it the district has decided to use budget funds to purchase another, albeit smaller truck at the tune of around $200,000 to $300,000. Kinkaid said they are also working on replacing volunteers’ breathing apparatus packs with budget funds, which could be another $350,000 bulk item. 

“My goal is to maintain equipment and keep the tax burden low,” he said. 

Miller Place residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the main firehouse, 12 Miller Place Road, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Mount Sinai

Peter Van Middelem is running again for his third term as commissioner of the Mount Sinai Fire District unopposed. He has been with the department since 1984 but has been in fire rescue for longer than that as a retired member of the New York City Fire Department. As a third-generation area resident, he also serves as trustee on the Mount Sinai board of education. He also volunteers as a coach with the girls varsity lacrosse team.

“We’re just focused on trying to serve the community and make sure our members are safe,” he said. “It’s about what we can do and what we can do without adding burden to the taxpayers.”

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Like many fire departments on Long Island, Van Middelem said Mount Sinai is suffering from a lack of volunteers, whether it’s from residents working multiple jobs, a lack of interest or young people leaving Long Island. The commissioner said his department in particular has been aging, and at age 53, he himself is one of the younger members in the department.

The district has looked at some ways to mitigate the lack of membership. One has been shared services with the Miller Place Fire Department, where they respond to calls in part with Mount Sinai and vice versa. 

Though he added they may look into additional sharedcall agreements with neighboring departments, another idea on the books is paying firefighters. Setauket recently hired a few paid members, and while Van Middelem said it has been discussed, the district is not currently looking for paid members.

“We have no idea how things will look in another five years,” he said. “A great portion of the district’s costs come from personnel — it’s something we’ll have to think about.”

Otherwise, the district, he said, is looking to get a handle of New York State insurance regulations, specifically covering cancer. It is a major turn from when he started in fire rescue several decades ago, he said, adding the district has been performing comprehensive medical screenings for members. 

“I’m very appreciative of serving,” he said. “I take this job very seriously.”

Mount Sinai residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road.

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From left, Kevin Mann of the Rotary Club of Rocky Point; Pam, Lewin Farms farm manager and Keith Owens of KO Cares. Photo from Mann

For over two decades, on the day before Thanksgiving, the Rotary Club of Rocky Point, along with a local farm, has facilitated over 300,000 pounds of produce to get into the hands of people who need it.

The Calverton-based Lewin Farms, which Rocky Point Rotarian Kevin Mann called “the big farm with an even bigger heart,” has hosted volunteers from soup kitchens and food pantries looking for fresh produce. On Thanksgiving Eve 23 volunteers from seven soup kitchens and food pantries converged on Lewin’s to gather around 20,000 pounds of produce and fruit. 

The seven groups that came are Long Island Cares, which gathered 8,896 pounds of food, Island Heart Food Pantry in Middle Island, The Friendship Kitchen in Middle Island, Mount Sinai Congregational Church, Friend’s Kitchen in Rocky Point, North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River, the Medford-based KO Cares and the Gordon Heights SDA Church.

Mann said the project will continue next year and thanked Lewin Farms for its consistent help. 

Rocky Point senior Gavin Davanzo drives by a defender in a non-league matchup Nov. 29. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point struck first and often in their 2nd non-league game of the pre-season against visiting Centereach, besting the Cougars 56-41 at home Nov. 29. The Eagles hit the road for another non-League contest against Comsewogue Dec. 4 with a 5:45 p.m. start, before their home opening league debut against Hauppauge Dec. 6. Game time is 6 p.m.

Centereach will play Ward Melville at home Dec. 3 and travel to Commack two days later for a pair of non-league starts, with both game tip off at 5:45 p.m. They will conclude its pre-season when it travels to Sachem East Dec. 10 for a 6:15 p.m. start. League play for the Cougars begins on Dec. 17 with their home opener against Smithtown West. Game time is 6 p.m.

Nonprofit Accepts Grant Funds for Postage Costs

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) talks with Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore while Greg Thompson, right, and Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino, back, work to pack boxes for Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino watched with awe last week as women older than he worked like machines on an assembly line and prepared care packages for troops as part of a volunteer group called Operation Veronica that works out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point. 

Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino helps pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sorrentino serves in the Air National Guard as a technical sergeant out of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton and has routinely flown military aircraft in state and federal missions, supported space shuttle launches, flown in rescue missions with hurricanes Irma and Maria and was sent to Djibouti, Africa, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Still, he couldn’t help but be impressed by the group’s energy.

“It’s really efficient,” Sorrentino said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of getting care packages, and it’s awesome — its greatly appreciated.”

Multiple members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr (D), visited Operation Veronica during its regular Friday meeting a few days after Veterans Day. Members of the department helped put together boxes of care packages, which can include snacks, toiletries or other personalized items that can give a little bit of comfort to men and women stationed overseas.

Nearly every Friday since 2005, close to 20 women spend several hours putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas. 

Janet Godfrey, a Wading River resident and founder of the group, explained to their visitors how they pack boxes under a certain weight to avoid excess postage fees. Volunteers also showed the sheriff’s department staff how they create survival bracelets out of 550 paracord, the same rope used for paratroopers during World War II, and polar fleece sweaters for soldiers out in deserts that may become freezing at night. 

Greg Thompson, a deputy sheriff who is currently a reservist machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard, was also impressed at the skill and attentiveness of the women at Operation Veronica.

“I think this is amazing, absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Toulon called the group extremely efficient in, “not only just the assembly line, but the coordination of the organization, and really it’s just the effort — to say to these vets we’re thinking about them, we’re caring for them and we’re praying for them.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon assists pack boxes at Operation Veronica. Photo by Kyle Barr

He expects the sheriff’s department to collaborate with Operation Veronica in the near future, by either donating goods or assisting in getting the boxes shipped abroad. 

In 2018 TBR News Media recognized Operation Veronica as one the newspaper’s People of the Year. Since then, Godfrey said the group has picked up steam and is still managing to send out hundreds of items week after week.

“We are busier than ever,” Godfrey said.

Funding is always difficult, especially in the shipping department, though the women of Operation Veronica often donate their time and buy their own goods to go in the boxes, as shipping can be upward of $70 for a heavier box.

“The women in this room come in to work, they do everything out of their own pockets,” she said. “They have passed the hat to pay postage at the end of the day.”

Godfrey had some good news, though. She said the Port Jefferson-based Richard & Mary Morrison Foundation has agreed to pay for the costs of shipping, which the Operation Veronica founder said can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 a year. 

“They have promised to pay our postage however high it goes,” she added. 

For more information about Operation Veronica, visit www.operationveronica.org/.

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Rocky Point natives Gerard and Diane Hahn are honored along with three other siblings for service in the armed forces. Fifty other veterans were honored on the high school Veterans Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Rocky Point, it’s hard to find a family without at least one armed service veteran as a family member.

As the Rocky Point High School band played out military tunes during a Nov. 15 assembly honoring vets, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore read off each branch of the armed service based on the music playing. Veterans and their families stood up, but it wasn’t just the visitors, students stood up as well. For both the men in service caps to the kids in T-shirts and jeans, service to country runs deep.

People take pictures and point to names of family members on Rocky Point HS Wall of Honor. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s a testament to the number of veterans and veteran families in Rocky Point that this year the district added 50 additional names to the high school’s Wall of Honor, which was constructed last year with just under 60 names of veterans who were from Rocky Point or graduated from the district.

Social studies teacher Rich Acritelli was the major driving force between the wall and its update. He sunk considerable time and resources into fundraising and getting the updated plaques on the wall, working alongside fellow teachers, administrators and the school’s Varsity Club.

“In less than two years, the entire main hallway of the social studies wing will be full of people from the armed forces who sat in the same chairs, played in the same gym and fields, performed in school plays, band and chorus as you do,” Acritelli said to the assembled students. “These are people who played on the same blocks as you did.”

Some families had more than one person in the armed services. The Hahn family, all Rocky Point natives, had five siblings whose pictures now hang up on the wall. Gerard and Diane Hahn flew back home to their roots to accept the honor on behalf of their family.

“Our reason for entering the armed forces was different for each of us,” Gerard Hahn said, who after high school had joined the Air Force as a munitions specialist. 

“For various reasons and in different branches of the service, we wanted to serve our country,” he said. “Regardless of which branch, we were all proud of our service and our combined over 40 years in the military.”

Diane Hahn, Gerard’s sister joined the Army after she graduated in 1982. She said she joined the military, already having an interest in computers, spending five years in active duty and six as a reservist in data. She now works as a government contractor with her own IT company in Washington, D.C.

The brother of Gregory Brons, a veteran who graduated Rocky Point in 1996 and studied physics from Syracuse University, said his brother joined the U.S. Army in the signal corps both at home and overseas. He moved to southern California to work in defense research and has become an activist for the LGBTQ community.

Greg Hotzoglou honors his brother Taylor, a veteran who died trying to stop an armed robbery. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He is a champion for the freedoms we live under,” he said.

This year’s updated wall also included the names of faculty, some who served and some whose families had been in the armed forces. Jerry Luglio, athletic trainer, came to the podium to calls of “Jerry,” by students. He served in the U.S. Submarine Corps during the Cold War. Anthony Szymanski, a business teacher at the high school, died in 2014 but was remembered for his service to both the school and U.S. Army.

Many veterans whose pictures hang on the wall in Rocky Point High School have given much, but some have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Taylor Hotzoglou was honored by his brother, Greg, who said the young man joined up and served in the 101st Airborne Division in 2007 and had been fearless in his wanting to protect his fellow soldiers, often volunteering for the gunner’s seat in Humvees, known to be the most targeted and dangerous position a soldier could take in a vehicle. Hotzoglou died when he returned to the U.S., as he tried to stop an armed robbery while outside of Fort Campbell Army Base in Tennessee.

“His attitude was, if it’s not me, then somebody else is going to have to go over there and suffer,” Greg Hotzoglou said. “He said, you know what, it should be me, I should go.”

Aventura in Commack was cited by feds for allegedly giving Chinese-made technology to the U.S. Govt. Photos from U.S. Attorney’s Office

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is charging a Commack company, Aventura Technologies Inc., and seven current and former employees with allegedly selling Chinese-made electronic equipment with known cybersecurity vulnerabilities to the federal government and private customers, while falsely representing the equipment as made in the United States.

Yacht seized from the owners of Commack business Aventura. Photos from U.S. Attorney’s Office

The individual defendants charged in the alleged scheme include Northport residents Jack Cabasso, Aventura’s managing director and de facto owner and operator, and his wife Frances Cabasso, purported owner and chief executive officer. The Cabassos were also charged with money laundering proceeds from the alleged schemes and fraud for falsely representing Frances Cabasso as chief executive of Aventura to gain access to government contracts set aside for women-owned small businesses. The government froze approximately $3 million in 12 financial accounts that contain proceeds from the alleged unlawful conduct and seized the Cabassos’ 70-foot luxury yacht Tranquilo, which was moored in the gated community where the Cabassos reside. 

“As alleged, the defendants falsely claimed for years that their surveillance and security equipment was manufactured on Long Island, padding their pockets with money from lucrative contracts without regard for risk to the country’s national security posed by secretly peddling made-in-China electronics with known cyber vulnerabilities,” stated U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue in a release. 

In addition to Aventura and the Cabassos, the company’s senior executives Jonathan Lasker of Port Jefferson Station, Christine Lavonne Lazarus of Shirley and Eduard Matulik of North Massapequa were charged in the complaint, along with Wayne Marino of Rocky Point, a current employee, and Alan Schwartz of Smithtown, a recently retired employee. 

If convicted, the defendants each face up to 20 years imprisonment on each charge of the complaint, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. No trial dates have been set, according to John Marzulli in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The attorney for Frances Cabasso was out of town. Jack Cabasso’s attorney did not respond before press time to messages left on his answering machine.

Equipment labeled with the Aventura logo. Photos from U.S. Attorney’s Office

“With the arrests, the defendants’ brazen deceptions and fraud schemes have been exposed, and they will face serious consequences for slapping phony ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ labels on products that our armed forces and sensitive government facilities depend upon,” Donoghue said.

Case documents state that the company lied to its customers, including the U.S. military, for more than a decade. Aventura reportedly generated more than $88 million in sales revenue from November 2010 and the charged scheme has allegedly been ongoing since 2006. 

“Greed is at the heart of this scheme, a reprehensible motive when the subjects in this case allegedly put into question the security of men and women who don uniforms each day to protect our nation,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. 

The money laundering scheme allegedly entailed siphoning illegal profits out of the company through a network of shell companies and intermediaries, including transferring hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars into an attorney escrow account belonging to an unnamed Long Island-based law firm, where the funds were used to purchase homes, in some cases for relatives. 

The FBI has established an email hotline for potential victims. Anyone with information regarding Aventura’s alleged crimes or anyone who believes they have been a victim can send an email to NY-AventuraVictims@fbi.gov. 

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Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr
Rocky Point hosts a Veterans Day Event Nov. 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Following nearly a month of going to different schools in the area prior to Veterans Day, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 held its annual ceremony Nov. 11 honoring those who’ve served, both those that are here and those no longer with us. They were joined by Rocky Point Boy Scout Troop 244.

“Veterans Day means much more than a federal holiday,” said post Commander Joe Cognitore. “It’s to make sure the men and women receive what they need.”

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The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Julianne Mosher

A former Rocky Point Fire Department treasurer pleaded guilty to stealing over $23,000 from the local department over the course of two years. 

The Rocky Point Fire Department Company 2 is using a warehouse on Prince Road as its main base. Photo by Kyle Barr

David Crosby, 28, of Rocky Point made his plea on Thursday to a petit larceny, an A misdemeanor, and will be required to pay the department back a full restitution equaling $23,324. 

“This is a just disposition that ensures the brave firefighters who serve the Rocky Point community will receive the full amount of money that was stolen from their department,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said. “The theft of public funds will not be tolerated. Our Public Integrity Bureau will continue to investigate and prosecute criminals who steal funds from our first responders and other public entities.”

The plea agreement will spare Crobsy prison time, officials said. He is expecting his sentence by Acting Suffolk County Court Judge Richard Dunne Jan. 14 to three
years probation.

From 2017 until 2019, Crosby served as the treasurer of Rocky Point Fire Department’s North Shore Beach Company 2, located at 90 King Road. During the two years, he made approximately 80 unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the department’s account totaling $19,744.09, along with $3,580 from a fundraiser the department held. 

When the department became aware of the missing funds a few months ago, they referred the issue to the District Attorney’s Office “right away,” William Glass, attorney for the Rocky Point Fire District said. Crosby surrendered to the DA Oct. 17. 

The attorney added that the money was not from taxpayer money but was solely from the fire department’s personal funds. 

“It’s a shame,” Glass said, “because the money was raised by the fire department.”

Crosby’s defense attorney, Paul Barahal, had no comment on behalf of his client. Assistant District Attorney Carey Ng, of the Public Integrity Bureau, will be prosecuting his case.