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Smithtown

File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh 

A Smithtown contractor has pled guilty to scamming Hurricane Sandy victims out of more than $100,000, according to the Nassau County district attorney’s office.

Lee Moser, 49, pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny, a class D felony, and first-degree scheme to defraud, a class E felony, June 1 in Nassau County Supreme Court before Justice Robert Bogle.

“Superstorm Sandy savaged our communities, and contractors who defraud those who suffered from the storm’s wrath are especially despicable,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a press statement. “This unscrupulous defendant took his victims’ money to help them rebuild, regaled them with excuses for delay and never performed the work.”

Lee Moser. Photo from Nassau County district attorney’s office

From April 2015 to August 2016, Moser signed contracts with five Nassau County homeowners to perform work on their homes that have been severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, according to Singas. In most of these cases, the defendants wrote Moser a down payment check for the work, using funds from New York Rising, made payable to his business Capstone Remodeling.

New York Rising is the state-run program that assists homeowners impacted by natural disasters. The homeowners had applied for and received money from New York Rising to rehabilitate their homes after they were damaged by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.

Instead of performing the contracted work, Moser repeatedly provided excuses as to why his business had not started, such as he was in the hospital or caring for his sick mother, according to prosecutors. In total, Singas said he is suspected of stealing $113,485 from Nassau homeowners. Moser allegedly spent these funds on gasoline, dining at restaurants, telephone services and other expenditures to continue running his construction business that were unrelated to the homeowners’ contracts, according to the district attorney’s office.

The Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs received five complaints from victims of Capstone Remodeling between June 2016 and April 2017, which were forwarded to the district attorney’s office. An investigation immediately commenced.

To date, the district attorney said that Moser is currently an unlicensed contractor and has not attempted to repay any of the homeowners.

Moser is due back in court July 12, where he is expected to be sentenced to 45 days in jail and five years of probation, if he pays $50,000 in restitution to New York Rising and pays the remaining amount while on probation. If he does not pay restitution, he would be sentenced to one year in jail, according to the district attorney’s office.

Runners take off at the 2017 Breathe for Britt 5K. Photo from Megan Scheidt

Smithtown runners are preparing to take big strides and breathe deep to support a local nonprofit that helps people suffering from cystic fibrosis.

The Breathe for Britt Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting people suffering from cystic fibrosis and their families, will be hosting its 4th annual Breathe for Britt 5K run/walk June 2 at the Smithtown Elementary School. The funds raised from the race will be used to support the foundation in its efforts to help those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and their families.

“This race lets people become aware of what CF is and what the foundation has to offer to them and those with CF who might not know this is offered to them,” Louise Nichols, the co-race director for the Breathe for Britt foundation, said.

Started in 2015, the race has grown to have 150 runners last year of all ages. Laura Bence, director of the Breathe for Britt Foundation, said she expects a similar number of people to attend this year’s event.

Brittney Braun. Photo from Breathe 4 Britt Foundation

The foundation runs multiple programs to emotionally and financially support those suffering from cystic fibrosis and their families. The organization has bought groceries, laptops and even paid the electric bills for
affected families who could not afford it. Bence and her organization has also helped patients make doctors’ appointments and taken them to the hospital when they had no other means.

The nonprofit also provides opportunities such as doing salon work for the patients in their hospital beds and even larger events like Gimme-a-Break! Day, when every month a different patient from the Cystic Fibrosis Center of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park is brought on a day out to a concert, amusement park, sporting event and more.

“Some of our patients can be in hospitals for months at a time, and it can be so difficult to feel normal,” Katherine Henthorne, a cystic fibrosis social worker at Cohen’s Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Medical Center said. “It’s just so important for their quality of life. Some of our patients are affluent, they are wealthy and they have things, and other families don’t. They have to make them feel like normal people.”

The foundation is named after Brittney Braun, a young woman with who died from complications  of cystic fibrosis at the age of 14. Those who remember her know that she had a knack for putting life into perspective.

“She had a lot of spunk, a lot of personality, even if she went through a lot,” Bence said. “She was the type of person that you had to earn her love and respect, but once you did she was amazing. She had such a big impact on my life in the years that I knew her.”

Kings Park resident Brian Kane, who volunteered at Stony Brook University’s Children Hospital and became Brittney’s godfather, helped to found the organization along with Bence. He passed away in 2012.

Bence said she remembered how shortly after Brittney’s death Kane gathered her and others who knew Brittney so they could focus their loss into something positive.

[Brittney’s] story was very sad, but to have this in memory of her, it’s really amazing.”

Katherine Henthorne

“I took the [director] position to honor both of their memories,” Bence said.

Cystic fibrosis is a disease caused by a genetic mutation that forces the body to produce a thick mucus along the organ’s lining. That mucus builds up over time in the lungs, pancreas and other organs, trapping in bacteria that can lead to infections and extensive lung damage.

Approximately one out of every 31 people in the United States are carriers for cystic fibrosis, according to the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25 percent chance the child will be born with the disease. The average life expectancy for those afflicted who live past childhood is approximately 43 years, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Most of our patients unfortunately die from respiratory failure,” Henthorne said. “[Brittney’s] story was very sad, but to have this in memory of her, it’s really amazing.”

The Breathe for Britt 5K will take place at Smithtown Elementary School, located at 51 Lawrence Ave. in Smithtown. Preregistration costs $25 for adults, $20 for those age 17 and under. Day of registration costs $30 for adults, $25 for those age 17 and under. Awards will be given to the top three male and female
finishers in each age group.

Check-in will run from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. with the race starting at 9 a.m. rain or shine. For more information, contact the race director at breatheforbritt@yahoo.com.

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Smithtown May 25 to say goodbye to one of New York’s bravest who was taken too soon.

A funeral was held Friday for New York City Police officer John Martinez,  of Hauppauge, who was killed in an upstate car crash earlier this week. One lane of East Main Street was closed as a full police motorcade escorted Martinez’s body from Saint James Funeral Home to the funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick R.C. Church.

Martinez was killed in a single-car crash with fellow NYPD officer and Huntington Station resident Michael Colangelo, 31, a single-car crash May 20 in Shandaken. New York State police said Martinez was driving a 2018 Maserati southbound on Oliveria Road at approximately 11:23 p.m. when he lost control of the vehicle, striking a large tree and flipping the car. The vehicle came to a stop on its roof.

Colangelo and Martinez were pronounced dead at the scene. A third passenger was transported to Albany Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, according to state police spokesman Trooper Steven Nevel.

Colangelo was a member of the NYPD’s canine unit who had married his sweetheart, Katherine Berger, earlier that day at the Full Moon Resort in the Hudson Valley. Martinez worked for the NYPD’s 84th Precinct’s detective squad.

The men had departed from Full Moon Resort, but their planned destination was not known, according to Nevel. He said the stretch of Oliveria Road is very rural, curves and has no street lighting. State police said based on skid marks left on the roadway that the vehicle was traveling well in excess of the posted 40 mph speed limit at the time of the accident.

“We don’t know the exact speed they were going at this time,” Nevel said. “We are looking to get that information from the black box of the Maserati.”

State police said they did not know if drugs or alcohol may have played a role in the deadly crash, but an investigation remains ongoing. An autopsy of the driver was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 21, but the
results would not be immediately available.

“We’ve interviewed several people at the wedding reception, and everyone was very distraught,” Nevel said.

Colangelo and his wife had planned to travel to Costa Rica for their honeymoon, according to their www.honeyfund.com site, which read, “We’ve lived together quite a while with all our pots and pans, and as we don’t need very many home goods we’ve got another plan. We know it’s not traditional, but it would be a lot of fun, to have some items on our wedding list that will help us catch some sun.”

Anyone who may have witnessed the accident or has information on the events of May 20 is encouraged to contact the state police’s Catskill barracks Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 518-622-8600.

 

Smithtown Vape and Smoke Shop. Photo from Google Maps

Suffolk County Police arrested a teen May 23 for selling e-liquid nicotine to a minor at a Smithtown business.

In response to community complaints, 4th Precinct Crime Section officers conducted an investigation into the sale of e-liquid nicotine at nine businesses in Smithtown, Saint James, Nesconset and Ronkonkoma May 23 from 5 to 7 p.m.

A 16-year-old male employed at Suffolk Vape and Smoke Shop, located on Terry Road in Smithtown, was arrested for selling e-liquid nicotine to a minor.

The following businesses complied and refused the sale of e-liquid nicotine to minors:

  • Village Kava Bar and Smoke Shop, located on Maple Avenue in Smithtown
  • Aroma Smoke Shop, located at on East Main Street in Smithtown
  • S & V Convenience Store, located on West Main Street in Smithtown
  • Saint James Vape Shop, located at on Lake Avenue in St. James
  • VaporFi, located on Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset
  • Citgo, located on Hawkins Avenue in Ronkonkoma
  • Best Express, located on Ronkonkoma Avenue in Ronkonkoma
  • Lucky Food Mart and Smoke shop, located on Lake Avenue in Saint James

The 16-year-old was charged with second-degree unlawfully dealing with a child and violating the Suffolk County code regulating the sale of e-cigarettes, which includes e-liquid nicotine. He was issued a desk appearance ticket and scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

Suffolk County police Capt. Kevin Williams. Photo by Kyle Barr

A Suffolk police officer offered startling insight into threats of school violence within the Smithtown community.

Suffolk County Police Department Capt. Kevin Williams gave his first presentation of what is expected to be many to Town of Smithtown officials at their May 8 town board meeting. As the town’s new liaison to the 4th Precinct, he gave an overall picture of what threats police are dealing with at area schools and in the community.

Graphic showing the 4th Precincts business investigations and arrests in 60 days prior to May 8. Graphic by TBR News Media

Williams said that since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, police have seen an increase in school-related incidents within the areas of Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset and Smithtown.

“If you’ve seen it in the media, there’s probably one a day, threats from students against the school stating they are going to do a Parkland-like shooting or Columbine-type thing,” he said.

Williams said the increased cases of threats of school violence are not unique to Smithtown but are occurring in other precincts across the county. He advised parents to make a point of talking with their children about what may be inappropriate things to say and how they can raise a red flag with police. All threats are taken seriously, according to Williams, and are fully investigated taking a “decent” amount of time.

Suffolk police have been reaching out to and engaging in conversation with those school districts who have chosen to hire armed guards, including Hauppauge School District, following the Florida shooting, according to Williams.

“One of the most important things we all agreed is the people they hire are ex-law enforcement,” he said. “Highly trained professionals who have been out there and dealt with dangerous situations like this.”

He indicated a second school district within the Town of Smithtown is considering hiring armed guards in the future. As this becomes more common, Williams said cops are working to make sure they can quickly and easily identify armed guards in case of an active shooter situation.

Opiod overdoses reported by the the 4th Precinct. Graphic by TBR News Media

In April, the police department reported violent crimes and drug overdoses were all heading in the right direction in the first quarter of 2018. This trend has continued over the past 30 days in Smithtown.

Williams reported drug overdoses due to opioid use, both fatal and nonfatal, have decreased by 25 percent compared to the same time period last year. He credited this to the agency’s 852-NARC (6272) hotline, which receives approximately 12 to 15 phone calls a month from residents providing tips on drug dealers and sales. The officer said the 4th Precinct’s narcotic detectives executed 14 search warrants in January alone and made numerous arrests.

Over the last month, Williams said robberies are down, with one in 2018 compared to four over the same period of time in 2017, as well as a decrease in residential burglaries. The biggest culprit of home invasions remains unsecured homes or buildings, he said.

“It’s summer and people want to leave their windows open, but a screen is not protection,” he warned.

One exception to the decrease in crime is in the area of commercial burglaries. In the past 30 days, there have been four instances compared to none during the same period of 2017, according to Williams. One recent case involved an individual who attempted to pry open the back door of St. Thomas More R.C. Church in Hauppauge.

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials will pay out more than $13,000 in past-due overtime pay and offer training to settle labor disputes involving more than 25 town employees.

The Smithtown Town Board approved settlements at the May 8 town board meeting for two labor grievances with unionized town park employees related to overtime pay and hiring a third-party contractor installing its new playgrounds.

Currently, Gibbs Pond Park in Nesconset, along with Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James are receiving long-awaited renovations including the installation of new playground equipment. When the town bought the equipment in September 2017, it also hired the installation services of Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc. The members of Civil Service Employees Association local union Chapter 852 brought the labor grievance to the town board claiming that said town employees were not notified of the hiring of the third-party company and having an outside company install the playground equipment was a violation of the workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Despite repeated attempts, a representative from the union chapter could not be contacted by press time.

 [I]f somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.
– Ed Wehrheim

Some of the playground work included groundwork and removal of old playground equipment. The town paid Landscape Structures $144,000 for the installation of the Gibbs Pond equipment, $87,050 for Gaynor Park and $94,000 for Veterans Memorial Park for a total of more than $325,000.

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that the notification of hiring the third-party installer was run through the town’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds.

“For the type of playground that was purchased, it requires a certified installer from the company,” he said.

Town officials said that the playground equipment required workers who had Certified Playground Safety Inspector licenses, which are the National Recreation and Park Association produced certifications giving lessons on playground safety issues such as hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods, according to NRPA’s website.

“We put that out to bid to furnish and install that equipment,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “The reason we did that is federal standards have changed in what we are required to do for liability purposes in playgrounds. In this case, when [the third party] installs, the equipment is warranteed. So, if somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.”

Under the settlement, Smithtown officials agreed with the union that, starting in 2019, the town will provide an opportunity for any town employee who wishes to get licensed to take the necessary classes and become certified. Wehrheim said the town will cover for any associated expenses.

Officials also agreed that in the future the town discuss whether any new playground equipment or playground maintenance will be done by town employees or a third-party directly with the chapter president or other chapter officers.

The town also reached an agreement with parks employees on overtime equalization.

In 2017, unionized workers brought to the attention of the town board, problems with the equalization of overtime pay of parks department employees in 2016. Under current agreement, member employees are allowed an overtime equalization equal to 80 percent of the employee who received the highest overtime pay. Jakubowski said that a mistake in the parks department meant several employees were not given those funds.

The town will pay out the sum total of $13,775 divided among 25 employees who did not receive their proper overtime wages.

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown might finally be coming together, literally. Town officials are getting appraisals of town-owned property as a first step toward consolidating town departments under one roof.

“We need to consolidate, no doubt about it,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Though how we do it depends on how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. We’re going to look for the most economical way to do it.”

At a May 8 meeting, Smithtown’s Town board unanimously approved retaining the services of Mineola-based Michael Haberman Associates Inc. to perform appraisals of four town-owned and operated buildings. The cost of the appraisals is not to exceed $10,000, and Wehrheim said it will be a few months before the town has results.

I don’t see [ the New York Avenue building] as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

– Tom Lohmann

The properties to be evaluated to determine their real estate value are: 40 Maple Ave. in Smithtown, where the town comptroller and assessor offices are; 124 Main St. in Smithtown, currently home to the engineering department and department of environment and waterways; 23 Redwood Lane, which houses the building department and its neighbor, 25 Redwood Lane, which contains both the planning and community development department.

Wehrheim said that the properties chosen for appraisal are already costing the town money for annual maintenance.

“Those structures are pretty old buildings,” he said. “They require a lot of maintenance in terms of heating, air conditioning, … etcetera. We’re gonna save that much money right off the bat for the taxpayer.”

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said that one of the big perks that will come with consolidation will be residents will no longer have to travel a good distance to meet with several different town departments.

We need to consolidate, no doubt about it.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“The other part is one stop shopping,” Lohmann said. “You got to go down to the town clerk, you got to go to the town attorney, the tax receiver’s office, you have the tax assessment, it wouldn’t be a big difficulty. If you have all those entities here you’re not running around all over the place.”

Some town-owned properties are not included in the appraisal because they are simply too large to be included or moving their base of operations would be too costly.

“The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate,” Lohmann said. “Public safety you won’t because there is too much money invested just with the telecommunications systems.”

There are currently two options for consolidating, according to Wehrheim. The supervisor said the town is looking again at potentially purchasing the Smithtown school district’s administrative offices, the Joseph M. Barton Building on New York Avenue, for moving town hall. The second option is for the town to build an extension onto Town Hall itself.

The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate.”

— Tom Lohmann

Smithtown United Civic Association, led by President Tim Smalls, presented a proposed plan for downtown revitalization that pushed for Smithtown town government offices being consolidated into the New York Avenue building.

Lohmann said that he believes the school-owned building is not feasible because of its need for extensive renovations.

You’re talking about over $2 million to do cleanup and an abatement there, then a redesign,” he said. “I don’t see that as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

David Flynn, the town’s planning director, said consolidation is not as big a deal for his department in the age of computers and easy telecommunication.

“Of course, it will make some difference, but in the current world where people use phones and computers for communication it means less than it would of 20 years ago,” he said. “Would it be more convenient to meet with somebody, sure.”

Whether or not Flynn and his department moves is all going to come down to comparing the costs of keeping the buildings or consolidating them.

“It all depends on running out the costs for both scenarios, how much the cost is for heat, light, water and other kinds of maintenance,” he said. “I think you estimate it either way and see what the costs are.”

Smithtown residents can watch the Brooklyn Atlantics play for free through October

By Sara-Megan Walsh

“No gloves, no steroids” is the motto of the Atlantic Base Ball Club, which has a classic approach to playing America’s favorite pastime.

Smithtown’s vintage baseball club team hosted a two-day festival at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park off East Main Street May 5 and 6. The Atlantic Base Ball Club is a recreation of the 19th century Brooklyn Atlantics, wearing period-appropriate jerseys while remaining committed to playing the game by 1864 rules. The original team was organized Aug. 14, 1855, and played home games on the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.

Spectators quickly noticed the hand-made baseballs are larger and made of rubber, and the wooden bats come in different lengths according to a player’s preference. Under the vintage rules, the catcher and field players don’t wear mitts, but a batter will be called out if a fly ball is caught on the first bounce. Runners must be careful not to overrun first base, or they can be called out. Those interested can find a full explanation of the rules changes on the team’s website at www.brooklynatlantics.org/rules.php. 

The Atlantic team is 7-2 at the start of its 2018 season with games running through October. Admission is free. The schedule of upcoming home games is:

May 20 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Talbot Fairplays
June 9 @  11 a.m.      Double header versus Old Dutch Day, Providence Grays
June 30 @ 11 am.      Double header versus New Brunswick Liberty
July 14 @ 11 a.m.      Versus Red Onion BBC
Sept. 15 [day-long]    Smithtown Heritage Fair event
Oct. 27 @ 11 a.m.     Annual ABBC Scrimmage

For those interested in attending, all games are held at Smithtown Historical Society’s Atlantic Park on Franklin Arthur Farm at 239 East Main Street in Smithtown.

 

Dozens of volunteers were willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to show their love for Smithtown’s state park this weekend.

Boy Scout Troop 565 of Smithtown and Girl Scout Troop 2861 of Hauppauge participated in the annual New York State Parks & Trails I Love My Park Day May 5 at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve. The scouts worked alongside resident volunteers to restore trails and plant flowers.

The groups were part of the more than 8,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand at one of the 135 parks, historic sites and public lands in celebration of New York State’s park system, according to New York State Parks & Trails website. The annual I Love My Park event is hosted in partnership by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the National Park Service, Excelsior Conservation Corps and the New York Commission on Volunteer and Community Service.

Attorney Philip Butler, an associate of Weber Law Group, explains a puzzle that might be inside one of Puzzle Break's escape rooms. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

A new interactive game center has the green light to excite and perplex Smithtown Main Street shoppers this coming summer after eight months of extensive negotiations with town officials.

Puzzle Break Long Island will offer escape-the-room style games for individuals eight years of age and older in its new Smithtown location. Participants, working in teams of up to 12 people, are stuck inside a room and must work together to solve a number of unusual puzzles in order to make it out of the room within a one-hour time limit.

We got into the escape room business because we wanted to bring people together in a fun, interactive environment.”
– Ian Kelly

“We got into the escape room business because we wanted to bring people together in a fun, interactive environment,” said Ian Kelly, general manager of Puzzle Break LI, said in an email statement. “We’re excited to bring a fun, family friendly establishment to Smithtown that’s good for everything from birthday
parties to corporate team building events.”

Smithtown Town Board members voted unanimously April 26 to give the project a special exception permit to create the 4,432-square-foot game center located in the shell of what once was Cornet Music on Main Street. The building was zoned for retail use only, and the company was required to demonstrate meeting 17 zoning requirement to allow the game center to open as well as a parking variance.

“This was one of the more enjoyable applications because the applicant and the town were on the same page,” said Bram Weber, an attorney with Melville-based Weber Law Group representing Puzzle Break LI. “I know Smithtown is looking for new ways to have vibrant downtowns, and this is a perfect use

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said he is excited to see if this new type of business in the area will help increase traffic to Smithtown’s downtown businesses.

“I think it’s going to be good for the business community.”
– Ed Wehrheim

“I think it’s going to be good for the business community,” Wehrheim said. “I think we have to move toward things like that, that make a destination point for the business district. Generally, once you have them there like this, they’ll use one of the restaurants, ice cream parlor or something like that.”

The company hopes to build four different puzzle rooms, each with its own theme and challenges. In its current Syosset location, the escape rooms themes are modeled after “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a carnival, exploring inside an ancient Egyptian tomb and one is based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Representatives for Puzzle Break LI said renovations are getting underway, with hopes of opening for business this summer. Their puzzles are harder than your average crossword, according to Kelly, with only a 15 percent managing to successfully escape.

“Our escape rooms are definitely challenging,” he said. “Our escape rooms bring people together without the use of Siri or Google. Yes, that means people actually interact with one another.”

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