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Setauket

Caravan goers and Counterprotesters Butt Heads in Setauket

For close to an hour, hundreds of President Donald Trump’s (R) supporters rolled through the North Shore and parts of the Middle Country area during a huge caravan Saturday, Oct. 17.

Members of the Trumpalozza event, organized by right-wing online group Setauket Patriots, leaned on their horns and shouted “four more years” and “Trump” while people lined up at the corner of East Broadway and Main Street in Port Jefferson shouted their support as well. Some cars sported bull horns that blasted their support into the cool fall air. Many cars and pickup trucks were hung with flags supporting Trump’s reelection campaign, as well as many pictures and even some blow up representations of the president.

Some cars also used tape to cover up their license plates, which is a violation of New York State law. Many of those gathered to cheer on the caravan were not wearing masks.

In a previous article, James Robitsek, the event organizer for the Setauket Patriots, said they did not ask participants to block their license plate numbers but added people had been doing it to avoid being outed online.

The Setauket Patriots also brought an impersonator  of the president to lead the caravan. The actor’s name was Thomas Mundy, aka TOMMY Trump45, who is listed as a comedian on his Facebook page.

The caravan originally organized at the LIRR parking lot in Port Jeff Station a little before noon, where the actor portraying the president, speaking in Trump’s voice, called Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant “evil.” The Patriots were issued a summons earlier this month for hosting a parade on 9/11 without a permit. The village put a moratorium on any new parade or march permits in June, citing fear of spreading COVID-19. A Black Lives Matter march was held in June, followed by a Setauket Patriots-held car parade for Fourth of July. Village officials have said they are the only group to have attempted a parade since the moratorium was put in place.

Robitsek has previously told TBR News Media he feels he and his group are being targeted by local Democrats in the area. The original date for the summons was moved to November, but Setauket Patriots had planned to protest in front of Village Hall.

While many supporters saw the event as a success in getting the word out about their support, some felt they were harassed by participants if they shared any dissent.

Andrew Rimby, a doctorate student at Stony Brook University and Port Jeff resident, said he was called a gay slur by a member of the caravan as he walked in the village.

“There were those of us who expressed our dissent, who said we don’t agree,” he said. “A woman started to call me a gay slur, and I had a lot of time to talk to her. I was, like, ‘Why are you insulting me like this?’ And she said, ‘You don’t support our president.’”

Rimby sent a letter to Garant voicing his and 14 other local residents’ concerns about the caravan that went through the village. The letter complained about the caravan violating noise codes as well as how people harassed him and anybody else who showed dissent.

During the village board meeting Oct. 19, Garant made a statement about the weekend’s events, saying they have received multiple complaints from residents though none of those issues were addressed specifically. Police were on-site as they could issue citations for traffic or moving violations, though she commended both them and code enforcement for keeping things organized in a tense situation.

“I want to reemphasize the Village of Port Jefferson does not condone lawless or disrespectful behavior regardless of any messaging a person or group is attempting to convey,” Garant said. “We’re hoping that with each day that ticks off the calendar that we may return to somewhat of an existence of peaceful and quiet enjoyment in our community. … I just wanted to let everybody know it was a tough day for everyone here in the village.”

Once in St. James, the caravan stopped at Patio Pizza, which had come under several bouts of controversy after people threatened to boycott the establishment after it was shown with a Trump flag. Trump’s Twitter account has previously tweeted about the St. James pizza parlor.

The parade traveled a circuit first through Port Jefferson up into Setauket, down through St James and going through Centereach and Selden before eventually coming up Route 112. In Setauket, members of the North Country Peace Group stood in front of the caravan, blocking its path. Some caravan goers got out of their cars to confront the people blocking their path. One woman yelled into a megaphone, “Liberals go home.”

Police said three people were arrested for disorderly conduct, namely Deborah Kosyla of Setauket, Anne Chimelis of Setauket, and Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and leader of the peace group. A video from the Setauket Patriots Facebook page shows peace group members standing in front of vehicles clenching fists in the air and holding signs. In that same video, the Trump look-alike also called the people assembled in front of them “evil people.” A man in the car with Mundy apparently makes a crack about how the “Secret Service is going to take out the machine guns.”

Gordon, speaking on behalf of the peace group, said they were unable to release a comment at this time, citing it being an ongoing police issue.

Separately, Suffolk County police are investigating a hit-and-run crash that occurred at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket that same day. Police said the call came in at around 1 p.m. for the crash, which they said occurred some time around 12:45 p.m. They did not release details on whether the crash involved a member of the caravan or a protester.

The Setauket Fire Department confirmed they did take one person to a hospital for minor injuries around that time, but department officials declined to offer further comment.

There was not much in the way of counterprotesters, though at one point during the parade a driver threw up the middle finger to supporters assembled on the sidewalk. One counterprotester stood at the turn into the Port Jeff train station parking lot holding a sign that read Black Lives Matter. He was later seen down at the corner of East Broadway and Main after the caravan had already gone ahead. There was also a separate protest held by progressives next to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber train car about the ongoing controversy over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court replacement.

The Trumpalozza event ended with many caravan goers returning to Port Jeff to participate in a rally across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, in the Town of Brookhaven-owned park for locals who died on 9/11.

Setauket Patriots Plan Caravan Despite Village Summons for Previous March. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Coming to a town near you: another Trump caravan.

The Setauket Patriots announced they would be hosting a Trumpalozza Road Rally event starting and eventually ending in Port Jefferson Saturday, Oct. 17.

A copy of the summons received by Setauket Patriots, posted to Facebook.

Setauket Patriots organizer James Robitsek said he expects 800 to 1,000 participants. On the group’s Facebook page, a little over 400 say they will be attending, with more indicating they possibly may. 

The car caravan is just the third event hosted by Setauket Patriots, an online right-wing group that often posts in support of President Donald Trump (R), among other conservative and far-right messaging. Previous events have been based on Fourth of July and Veterans Day celebrations, though each has carried a strong political tinge in support of Trump. Out of these other past events, this one is the most explicit in its support.

The caravan is to start in the parking lot of the Port Jefferson LIRR train station before moving down Main Street then turning left onto West Broadway. Cars are set to move onto Route 25A in Setauket, down into St. James along Lake Avenue, past the Smith Haven Mall. The caravan will move through Centereach and Selden before turning onto County Road 83 and back onto Route 112 to finish back at the Port Jeff train station.

Robitsek said he has been in contact with Suffolk County police about the event, and though they might be around to facilitate cars leaving the parking lot, they will not be there for the entire run of the car parade.

Other car caravans in support of Trump have passed through the North Shore in the past month. Several went from Huntington out to the North Fork, where people hung out sunroofs and stood in the back of pickup trucks. Pictures also show people in the caravan had placed tape to obscure their license plates, which is against the law. 

Robitsek said he has not advocated that drivers use tape on their license plates, but participants in other pro-Trump events have been outed online by people tracking their license numbers.

Despite this, police report nobody in the caravans has been arrested to date, though one resident from Northport was arrested by Northport police for alleged menacing and disorderly conduct involving a caravanner’s truck, something he has reportedly heavily disputed.

The planned caravan is only three days before Robitsek and the Setauket Patriots are set to be in village traffic court, Oct. 20, over their previous Veterans Day event, which drew hundreds down through the village without a permit. Most marching that day did so without masks.

Village of Port Jefferson had issued an executive order signed July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopping the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests. This was in response to the Patriots’ July 4 car parade as well as a Black Lives Matter march hosted in Port Jeff in June. The order was enabled by the village’s previous declaration of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Garant has said the issue is with how many people these events bring together during a pandemic.  

On Facebook, Robitsek said they were issued a summons on Oct. 5, and claimed local officials from village, county and state were targeting him and his group.

“I’m being unfairly targeted because I’m a pro-Trump group in an all-Democrat town,” he said, adding the reason they chose Port Jeff as their starting point was “its high visibility, it’s a Democrat-run village, so why not show support for the silent majority that does support President Trump.”

Village officials have previously said the Patriots submitted a permit application for the July 4 event, but that they failed to file it correctly, and that they did not pay fees attached to the permit process. 

The Setauket Patriots organizer posted the summons online, which said the offense was because they “led a procession/parade down a public sidewalk without a permit” in violation of village code. The Setauket Patriots have also planned a rally in front of Village Hall Oct. 20 in protest of receiving the summons.

Deputy Village Attorney Rich Harris said the summons was only for the violation of the village code, which depending on a plea or a court ruling could result in a 0 to $2,000 fine or up to 15 days in jail. On its face, the violation does not have anything to do with recouping losses from either police or constable’s overtime.

“It’s a violation of the village code for operating a parade or procession without permit,” Harris said.

Whether this event could also be in violation of village code depends on how the event proceeds, Harris said. It could be different, especially as most people will be in vehicles and that the caravan will not be exclusive to Port Jeff.

The car caravan is scheduled for the same day and time as the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce’s Pumpkinmania, that’s set to bring in professional pumpkin carvers to do live demonstrations as well as host a pumpkin carving contest. 

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the chamber, said she is not worried that the caravan would impact the chamber’s event. Pumpkinmania will be held 12 to 7 p.m. and will be located at 138 E. Main St. in the small brick patio area. There will also be a set of pumpkin carving contests for Port Jefferson residents, one for children and one for adults, that will be judged by the professionals. There is a $5 entrance fee for each participant.

Ransome said the caravan of cars will likely have already moved on, and there will be plenty of time afterward for people to come down. The chamber event is also designed to promote the small businesses on East Main Street.

The Mother Theresa Council Knights of Columbus hosted its second annual car show at St. James R.C. Church Oct. 3. With more than 50 cars in the church’s parking lot, the vehicles represented a variety of classic and muscle cars.

Attendees were able to vote for their favorite on their way out and proceeds from the event benefitted the Council Youth and other charities.

File photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Cops said that over the past week there have been a rash of car thefts and vehicle break-ins within the Three Village area.

Now several Port Jefferson residents have also reported vehicles were stolen from their property as well, though police said they are still investigating if the same perpetrators were committing the robberies in both areas.

Suffolk County Police provided TBR News Media a list of 16 total car thefts and break ins. The list shows a total of four cars were stolen from residences in Stony Brook Aug. 23. Two of those vehicles, a 2020 Nissan and a 2019 Volkswagen were recovered — the former was found in Connecticut while the latter was located in Stony Brook. Two other cars, a 2016 Mazda and a 2009 Acura, have so far not been located, according to police.

The 12 other incidences were petit larcenies of property from cars in Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field. Several items electronics like laptops or earphones, while others were purses, money and car keys. All incidents took place within the 6th precinct.

Suffolk County Police Detective Lt. Sean Beran said all incidents were from unlocked vehicles. The investigation is ongoing, according to Beran, though he added there are a couple of people of interest.

Uniformed and plainclothes personnel have been patrolling the area, and the Special Operations Team has been assigned to the case. Beran said no additional break-ins or thefts were reported after Aug. 23 in the Three Village community.

Beran said it’s important for car owners to remember to lock their vehicles, make sure they have their car key FOB and remove belongings even when parking a car in a driveway.

Police confirmed that more car thefts have since been reported by locals in the Port Jefferson area as well. A man in the Harbor Hills section of the village on Landing Lane said two cars were stolen from his driveway at around 1:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28.

One vehicle was a 2020 Honda Accord and another was a 2016 Honda CRV, according to the Port Jefferson man’s posts on social media. Cops also said that a 2013 Mercedes was also stolen from Sands Lane in Port Jeff. That vehicle has since been recovered nearby.

Police said it is still under investigation whether the Three Village and Port Jeff car thefts are connected.

People can contact the 6th Precinct with information at 631-854-8652 or submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com.

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A dozen people stood on the corner of Main Street and Route 25A Aug. 1 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Photo by Odeya Rosenband

By Odeya Rosenband and Rita J. Egan

Community members gathered on the corner of Main Street and Route 25A in East Setauket Aug. 1. They were there to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

A protester at the Aug. 1 rally. Photo by Odeya Rosenband

Standing in front of the Pen & Pencil Building, about a dozen ralliers held signs reading, “Racial equality now,” “Equality & justice for All, Black Lives Matter,” “Stop the hate” and “A change is gonna come.”

One of the organizers, Kathy Schiavone of Port Jefferson, said they picked the corner because it’s a well-trafficked intersection with a red light, which would give drivers an opportunity to read their signs. The participants received displays of support from some drivers honking or giving the thumbs up, while others in vehicles passing by yelled out, “Communists,” “Trump 2020,” “All lives matter,” “Blue lives matter” and “Get over it.”

“We are only on this planet for a short period of time, and it really behooves us to be kind to one another,” Schiavone said. “And as Rodney King [a 1992 police victim] said, ‘Can we all just get along?’”

She said she was touched by the work of former Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D), a civil rights activist who would frequently say get into “good trouble.” The congressman died July 17.

“It brings tears to my eyes when I listen to the tributes for him and all he went through his entire life for the good of the community, and I just want to support the Black Lives Movement and everyone who feels that they need support at this time,” she said.

Protester Sue Hoff, also of Port Jefferson, said she participated to make it known that she believes in the movement. She said of the upcoming 2020 election, “I’m voting Black Lives Matter.” She has protested since the late 1950s for civil rights, for peace during the Vietnam War and for the reduction of nuclear weapons.

“I have grandchildren,” she said. “I’m not going to give up.”

Another protester, Kevin Mulligan of Setauket, said it was a responsibility to speak out.

“It’s an obligation in these times of political divisiveness to choose a side and not stay complacent and set a model for the children that change only comes through action,” he said.

Attendee Jeff Goldschmidt said as a longtime resident in the Stony Brook area the last few years have been revealing to him.

“I never knew Suffolk County was so undemocratic,” he said. “It’s so red and so bigoted. I was very surprised.”

Organizer Christina Maffia, of Setauket, said it was important to her to rally at the corner because she feels the nation’s rhetoric has turned negative, especially after what happened with the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May.

“Just because people feel Black lives matter does not mean white lives don’t matter or blue lives don’t matter,” she said. Because if Black lives matter, we wouldn’t have to worry about anybody else’s life mattering, because all lives would matter.”

The silver maple tree outside Chris Ryon’s home in Setauket rises about 60 feet. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a small East Setauket street off Shore Road and near Se-Port Deli, a giant stands dying. 

It’s hard to relate just how large it is in words, let alone photos. Nothing does it justice. At approximately 60 feet high and 222 inches in circumference, measured at 4.5 feet off the ground, the enormous silver maple in Setauket is one of the few of its kind that remembers a time potentially up to the Revolutionary period or even further back.

Three-year-old Dina Amelchenko standing in front of the enormous tree in Setauket. Photo by Chris Ryan

Along Carlton Avenue, in front of Chris Ryon’s house, the best way to gauge the size of it is by comparison. Three-year-old neighbor Dina Amelchenko is dwarfed by it. Ryon, at 5 feet, 7 inches tall, can only reach the crook of the lowest branches with the tips of his fingers.  

Ryon, a lifelong area resident and village historian for Port Jefferson and Poquott, has taken care of it for more than two decades. Now its bright bark is flaking off its core, and limbs are starting to tear from the trunk.

“Although the tree has been admired by many, for hundreds of years, it has reached the end of its lifetime,” he said. 

Silver maples once lined the streets in the Setauket community, but the tree is not known for its steadfastness over such a long lifespan. Ryon said almost all have fallen or been removed, though none were anywhere near the size of the one in front of his house.

Ryon and his wife Karen purchased the house in 1996 from Fred and Betty Griffith, he said, which meant they also started taking over care of the tree. Prior to their moving in, the Griffiths had installed three cables connecting six of the giant tree branches together. Since then, the Ryons have paid for trimming the maple and removing any of the dead wood, with the help of neighbors Rich and Jeff Usher. 

Despite these efforts, the tree still seems to be on its last legs. Some of the tree’s limbs have snapped off and crushed a part of the Ryons’ fence. Others could also come loose and damage neighboring homes or cars. 

“We want to document it before it goes, if it does go, since it is unsafe at this point,” Chris Ryon said. “There’s a lot of question marks — we don’t know what the town is going to do with it.”

The race is now on to preserve the great silver maple and find some way to preserve the specimen for future generations.

There are ways to date it, either by bisecting it to count the rings or by coring it using a specially made device, or by carbon dating it. Without state foresters able to take any kinds of measurements, the exact age is still unknown.

John Wernet, the regional state forester of Long Island, said he has had conversations with Ryon but has not been able to go out to see the tree, as the pandemic and state cuts have left him unable to leave his office. Though he said the tree is not the biggest tree of its type in New York state, based solely on its circumference, it could easily be one of the largest on Long Island, if nothing else. 

The state keeps a registry of all large trees, but the list does not offer any kind of protections. 

“It’s more for bragging rights,” he said, adding that there is little he can do on the state side in tree preservation efforts, though he hopes the silver maple can somehow be protected.

Setauket groups are especially keen on preserving local history. with entities like the Three Village Historical Society and its annual Culper Spy Day event. Ryon said the tree could be used by local historical societies, where even a bisection of the tree could show what years showed more or less rain, and even relate which years local or national historical events took place.

The question lingers on what can be done to or for the tree. Three Village Civic Association 1st Vice President George Hoffman said the organization was just recently contacted about it, but said that they want to work with both residents and the town to help preserve the giant maple in some way, shape or form. 

“I know highways [department] have responsibility, but that should be the last resort to take down a tree,” Hoffman said. “We’re here to support the community, but it’s still really early.”

Those in the community who were there in the 1970s are still burned by the loss of another tree, known as the Lubber Street Oak at the corner of Lubber and Black Duck Drive in Stony Brook. According to a bronze plaque residents set up at the site, the tree stood at 84 feet tall with a circumference of 280 inches. It was believed to be over 300 years old when it was taken down by the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department in 1979.

Bill Schaub, the Ryons’ neighbor and member and past president of the civic, said they would like the tree preserved in some way, especially considering residents’ past consternation with local government unilaterally removing those trees without first speaking to residents.

“If it has to be cut down because of disease then that’s understandable, there has to be a balance between beauty and safety,” he said. “But I think we can achieve that.”

A Highway Department spokesperson said the tree was only recently brought to the department’s attention, and no final decision has been made.

Along Nicolls Road, where dozens of people held signs thanking the hospital workers both leaving and arriving at Stony Brook University Hospital, another truck, one bearing a large screen and speakers, rumbled down the road bearing another kind of thank you to the folks on the front lines.

Christian Guardino, a Patchogue resident, came down to the hospital late on Thursday, May 22 to serenade the workers just after their 8 p.m. shift change. The singer, a America’s Got Talent’s Golden Buzzer and Apollo Theater Competition Grand Prize Winner, sang three songs to a crowd gathered in front of the children’s hospital. Others watched from the windows above, even waving lighters from a dark room as Guardino finished a rendition of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

He said he too has been stuck at home because of the pandemic, unable to perform because practically all venues have been shut down. First performing at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, he came to Stony Brook to make sure those workers knew they were top in people’s hearts and minds.  

“The one thing I want to say and for them to get out of this is just thank you, how grateful we are for everything they’re doing for us,” Guardino said. “They’re on the front lines taking care of the people who are sick, risking getting the disease and I just want to thank them.”

Nicole Rossol, the chief patient experience officer at SBUH, said Empire Entertainment, a New York City-based event management company, reached out to Stony Brook looking to do a late show. At the same time, the patchogue singer also made mention he wanted to give back to the hospital. Guardino’s mother, Beth, had worked as a nurse at the hospital previously for nearly a decade.

“We thought if we could do it together, it would be a very beautiful thing for our staff,” Rossol said. “I think the staff has been looking for things to keep them upbeat and help them through this time. Every piece of support from the community really makes a difference.

Empire Entertainment, with their Illuminate Our Heroes tour has brought crews from the city, to New Jersey, and now out to Long Island. Alyssa Bernstein, a senior producer for empire entertainment is herself a Setauket native, and she said she made it a point to come back and support her hometown during the ongoing pandemic.

“We decided, what is a way that we can give back and say thank you, and that’s putting on a little show, that’s what we do best,” Bernstein said. “The work that they’re doing means that we’ll get back to work.”

 

Bud Conway and Kalpana Astras outside the camper where Nic Astras is staying during the ongoing pandemic. Photo by Kyle Barr

At the end of a grueling 12 hour shift as an internal medicine resident at Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue, Setauket resident Nicolas Astras can’t simply enter his home, put his feet up on the couch and relax, not anymore, not since the pandemic hit Long Island hospitals like a tidal wave. 

Drawings Kalpana’s daughter drew for her father. Photo by Kyle Barr

He has a wife and three kids, ages 13, 10 and 5. For all he knows, he is covered in COVID-19. If he wanted to go in and take off his clothes and shower, he knows he could potentially spread the virus to other parts of the house and to his family members.

Astras’ wife, Kalpana, said her husband had few choices. He could have lived in an unused hotel room or house, but that would have been a bitter and depressing pill to swallow, having nobody to come home to, nobody to talk to. 

Then, Kalpana said after friends referred her to Facebook group RVs 4 MDs, the family was given a third option, one that while nowhere near as good as getting to be home with the family, it would offer a degree of separation and homeyness, despite the need to be separated.

“It has given us an area where he can be secluded from us so he cannot give us anything,” Kalpana said. “It makes him feel safe that he’s not spreading it.”

From the street, it seems like the Grey Wolf camper parked in Nicolas and Kalpana Astras’ Setauket driveway would just be a summer getaway vehicle. Though now it has become a saving grace. It belongs to Bud Conway, a Farmingville resident who heard about the Facebook group through a family member. Not having an account, he signed up and put his name down as having a camper. Soon, he was linked with the Astras family, and that was that.

Kalpana, who herself is still working full time at a clinical trials company, takes in her husband’s clothes to be washed, trying to be careful around them. She also stocks up the fridge and makes meals for the doctor when he goes to work. Every time she enters the camper, she wears an N95 mask and is careful when touching anything.

Though it’s not completely isolated. The daughter’s bedroom overlooks the driveway on the second floor, and when the husband walks out to get air in the morning, the daughter talks with him and connects.

Despite how thankful the family is, Conway said it wasn’t much, even with him and an electrician friend traveling there to help fix the camper when something was broken. With him not using it, he said it was the least he could do.

“I’m not the hero here,” he said. “It’s just a camper, not a kidney.”

RVs 4 MDs started March 24 as just Texan Emily Phillips, the wife of an emergency room physician, was convinced to ask the community if anyone had an RV for her husband. Days later she founded the Facebook group,which has since blown out into a nation-spanning movement to connect camper and trailer owners to doctors who need to be able to self-quarantine.

But over a month since that started, as the number of hospitalized patients decline in the county, officials say there is some hope on the horizon. But for hospital workers still in the midst of it, the silver linings usually come not from thinking of work, but with communicating with the family.

“Yesterday he said they extubated some patients, which is good news — it’s a flicker of good news,” Kalpana said. “It’s really to boost his morale, to keep him home with us.”

Inside the camper, a number of index cards lay on the table in the suffused light. They show pictures of rainbows, hearts and messages saying, “We love You” and “Your Our Hero,” all from his kids.

“My 10-year-old, her way of coping is with art,” Kalpana said. “Every time I come in with food, she does artwork, and he just collects them on the table.”

Police and PSEGLI have been trying to catch scammers pretending to be from the utility company for several years, but the con is still on the rise. Stock photo

Phone scammers have used a number of tactics to get unassuming people to hand over their money, but one con has police and a Long Island utility company especially concerned.

Some scammers have been claiming they are employees of a utility company like PSEG Long Island, and then tell a person their bill is in arrears. They threaten to turn off heat or electricity if they do not receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars, often in the form of a gift card instead of the normal check or direct deposit.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed.”

— Stuart Cameron

Such is what happened to Setauket resident Candy Maeder, who said she was called March 5 by a person claiming to be from the utility company. The man on the phone said Maeder was late on her bills and her service would be shut off in a matter of hours if she didn’t give them hundreds of dollars in cash. She said they would not even take a debit card over the phone.

“I fought with them back and forth,” the Setauket resident said. “At first, I really believed it was them.”

After hanging up the phone, and after talking with her boyfriend and also her electrician, she came to the conclusion it had been a scam. 

That day, she called PSEGLI and the police, but Maeder’s experience is all too common in the modern day — almost textbook with what others have experienced. Suffolk County police has records of the number of reports of phone scams received over the past several years. Records show the frequency of the PSEGLI scam has increased. In 2018, there were 56 reported cases of the scam throughout Suffolk. In 2019, police received 76 reports of scammers claiming they were PSEGLI, where people did not give them money. An additional 55 actually resulted in the scammers stealing money from victims for a total of 131. In January and February of this year, police have received reports of 30 scams so far.

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said scammers are always coming up with novel frauds, but the PSEGLI scam has been on the rise. Like many scams, it particularly targets the most vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, who particularly can’t afford to be out several thousand dollars as some scammers demand.

“The elderly might not say anything because they may be embarrassed,” he said. “Scammers play on that type of fear and embarrassment to exploit money from those residents who are probably in the worst position to lose money like this.” 

New Jersey-based PSEG has been tracking this scam even before taking over the electric infrastructure portion of LIPA’s business from National Grid in 2014. Robert Vessichelli, the senior security investigator for PSEGLI, said the actual number of people falling for the scam has decreased over the years. In 2019 the utility company received notice of 6,574 scams for the whole of Long Island, where 305 of those fell victim to the scammers. The con artists often ask for as little as a few hundred dollars and up to several thousand. 

“The best way to combat these scams is by educating the public,” Vessichelli said. “When I learn people haven’t heard of the scam, it kind of concerns us.”

Tracking these individuals is difficult, even when scammers are calling locally. While the police chief said they have made some arrests, the suspects often do a process to their phone numbers called “spoofing,” making their caller ID on answering machines appear as a completely separate number, even making it out to look like it was coming from PSEGLI or even police.

The Long Island utility company has been participating in a national campaign to promote awareness of phone scams. Utilities United Against Scams, a U.S. and Canadian consortium of utility companies, ran the campaign during National Consumer Protection Week March 1-7 to promote scam awareness. Vessichelli said the consortium uses its influence to block the numbers of callers they confirm are from scammers, but of course the perpetrators will simply move on to use a different phone number. Sometimes, these calls come from people outside the U.S. 

The scam comes in multiple forms. While often it’s a person on the phone proclaiming a bill is in arrears, con artists also conduct phishing schemes by telling people they are owed money from overpayment and ask for bank account information. They may also call saying they need a deposit for a new meter, though PSEGLI does not charge a deposit for such a thing.

“At first, I really believed it was them.”

— Candy Maeder

One of the more frightening tactics is when charlatans show up in person at people’s houses claiming they are utility employees. When such people come to the door, Vessichelli said its best to call PSEGLI to confirm those are legitimate employees. The security expert suggested if they show ID, ask to take a picture for you to send to the utility to confirm identities.

Warning signs are often readily apparent. If a resident receives a cold call without any prior email or snail mail notifications, that’s usually a bad sign. Another sure sign is if they ask for any nontraditional form of payment, such as asking you to buy gift cards which the person then asks for those to be scratched off, or a payment of cash by drop off or in person. 

These are points often seen across all sorts of scams, so police’s general advice is to not relay any kind of personal information, such as your name or the name of family members or where you live. Scammers often take private information off social media such as Facebook, so if one starts hearing familiar names, don’t take it as a sign they are who they say they are. 

PSEGLI workers are required to wear photo IDs, so in meeting one of these scammers in person, a surefire sign is if they cannot produce such an identification. 

Cameron said if one suspects a caller might be a scam, then one should hang up, get the number where called from and phone PSEGLI at 800-490-0025 or the police at 631-852-2677. For more information, visit www.psegliny.com/scam and www.utilitiesunited.org.

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Harbor Grill in Port Jefferson is now under ownership of the people behind the Meadow Club and Curry Club. Photo by Kyle Barr

The owners of a popular catering hall and Indian cuisine restaurant along the North Shore are making their move to West Broadway in Port Jefferson. 

The family of restaurateurs has plans to take over the Harbor Grill, previously known as Schafer’s. The new restaurant would be one of the latest addition to the Port Jeff harborfront. 

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, is part of a family of business owners on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said they had been renting out the space in Port Jeff during the holiday season and hosted their annual Small Business Holiday Party there. 

It was during that time that they realized the potential of the building. 

“We noticed that our clients really liked the space and the overall ambiance,” Kaur said. “It was perfect for smaller parties — we saw a great opportunity.”

In addition to the client’s feedback, Kaur said she liked the layout of the two-story restaurant with an outdoor dining section that boasts views of the harbor. 

“We have been brainstorming a few things, we wanted to move into a new direction and are excited to offer something different to Port Jeff residents,” she said. 

Kaur said they haven’t decided on a name for the restaurant yet, but are leaning toward a water theme being they are close to the harbor as well as incorporating a touch of their business background.  

A chef has already been hired for the new space, and the family is in the midst of finalizing the menu and other aspects of the new restaurant. 

Kaur said that residents can expect Indian cuisine and a fusion of menu items similar to what they offer at their other two restaurants. 

“It’s going to be great to offer new options to our customers,” she said. “It will be a great place to have a nice lunch or dinner.”

In addition, they hope to attract visitors coming in from Bridgeport. Kaur also teased the possibility of adding a brunch menu as a way of attracting more patrons. 

As the family prepares to open the new restaurant, the Meadow Club which was closed due a fire in 2018, is expected to reopen this spring. 

Despite rumors that The Curry Club may close, Kaur said the restaurant will continue to be open and that the famed train cart will remain. 

One of the first events the family will host in the building will be a Valentine’s Day four-course dinner. Tickets for couples are $120 which will include a Champagne bottle and a cocktail drink. Reservations from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. can be made by calling 631-928-3800. The dance floor will be open, and a DJ will be playing all night. 

“We are excited about the move and we are looking forward to helping bring more people into Port Jefferson,” Kaur said.