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Suffolk County Police

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart spoke by phone to TBR News Media about the ongoing police response to the pandemic.

TBR: How have you reassured people during the pandemic?

Hart: When the Governor issued the stay at home orders, that was the public perspective of uncertainty. Once we had a high visibility presence in our communities, a lot of the anxiety level started to dissipate. With the unexpected and uncertainty that was out there in the communities, we wanted to make sure we were still connecting, making sure we were still a visible presence to everybody, which includes different types of outreach. I have been on the phone with the Chambers of Commerce, making sure they understand all the efforts we are taking to make sure their businesses are safe.

TBR: What are you doing to protect businesses?

Hart: We are working on two fronts. We are getting the calls coming in through 311 to our department of people who are seeing businesses that are non compliant or who are seeing suspicious activity in those areas. Those numbers are high. We also have proactive policing in those areas. The order has gone out that [officers] need to proactively check on all these businesses. The officers know the precincts the best. They make sure they are dropping by businesses and making sure there is no disruption, no break ins, broken glass, nothing to indicate there’s been a break in. They are going to record that.

TBR: Crime has decreased.

Hart: It is true. It bears out. Commercial burglaries are down significantly since the March 22 order went into effect. The high visibility of police officers out in the precincts and on the streets is important and it’s paying off.

TBR: Is there anxiety among police officers?

Hart: From the beginning, we have messaged that it’s important to the department that we ensure the safety and health of the officers. By doing that, we’ll ensure the safety and health of our communities. We took steps looking back to January of making sure everyone has the [Personal Protective Equipment] they need.

TBR: How do officers protect themselves?

Hart: They have the n95 masks and they have the medical, surgical masks as well, with the understanding that the burn rate is high on these. The direction to them, if they are encountering someone who is confirmed COVID-19, they need to don the n95 mask. If they are taking someone into custody who has the potential [to be infected], they should have that individual wear a surgical mask so they are not infecting our officers.

TBR: If someone in custody gets in a car, should that person wear a mask?

Hart: if the prisoner is thought to have symptoms or exhibit any signs of COVID-19, they should be wearing a mask.

TBR: What about those people who are asymptomatic but infectious?

Hart: The hope is that they would wear a mask. The officers can’t social distance with a prisoner, even if they are asymptomatic. The guidance would be, if possible, have the prisoner wear a medical mask.

TBR: Have you been vigilant about domestic abuse as people remain confined to their homes?

Hart: Reports of domestic violence continue to receive the same response. It’s always a mandatory 911 … It’s always a priority in our department. In Suffolk County, [people can] text to 911, if they are near a person who is the offender and can’t make a phone call safely. We want to message that and get that out.

TBR: Have the police been on the lookout for any hate crimes in connection with the virus?

Hart: We have a very significant hate crimes unit, which has a number of detectives assigned to it. I met with them to see if there’s anything specific they need to bring to my attention. I haven’t seen that to date.

TBR: The rate of infection among Suffolk County police officers is considerably lower than in New York City, which reported a 20 percent infection rate. How has the Suffolk County Police Department kept that rate down?

Hart: New York City has its own challenges as far as the density of the population. They have challenges to deal with, versus Suffolk, where people are spread out.

TBR: What are the police doing to help the communities?

Hart: We are looking for all those opportunities. We initially, when the school shut down, were reporting to schools for breakfast and lunch curb side. We had our community officers there to help with that. We had never done that before. It wasn’t in place. We thought it was a good opportunity to get out in the community and help where we could.

TBR: Have officers raised any funds for groups or people who need it?

Hart: They are delivering meals, and the [Police Benevolent Associations] and unions went to hospitals with meals for health workers. All our organizations are plugged in, veterans and fraternal are doing it as well, as are Cops Who Care. We are making sure we are identifying those people who are in need with food and different things.

TBR: Do you have enough staff?

Hart: Each day, I’m briefed on staffing levels. We assess it. We have made adjustments accordingly. We have not been outside the patrol bureau. We don’t have to bring in other units. We are prepared to with a continuity of operations plan. If we see more infections [among officers], we will bring other commands.

TBR: How is the mental health of the officers?

Hart: We are making sure we are connecting. We have peer teams at each level. They have unions, a peer support team, which are critical. They are out there working together and are able to observe somebody who might be having a tough time in getting the support they need. There’s a great [resource] with EAP and Chaplain Program, led by Stephen Unger.

TBR: How are you doing?

Hart: We have pushed a lot of things to teleconferencing. We jam pack everything in [to the schedule]. I don’t have to travel anymore. It’s a fantastic command staff. Everybody really is working together. We say that as a cliche, but it’s absolutely true here. Chief [Stuart] Cameron is well versed in all sorts of terrorism situations and homeland security, active shooter training. We have tremendous resources and are coordinating a lot of efforts. All our division chiefs have a wealth of knowledge through many emergency situations. This one is different, bringing that experience, making sure we are sharing that information, with a priority of officer’s health and safety.

TBR: Has anyone in your command staff tested positive?

Hart: Nobody has. We are distancing even in our headquarters. When we have our staff meetings daily, we changed rooms. We are six feet apart. We have a contingency plan if chiefs go out sick. We’ve been healthy and distancing and taking all precautions we need to be effective.

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The numbers of people infected and affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to climb.

This afternoon, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who himself was finally out of a two-week home quarantine, reported a climb of 753 in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus. The total number stands at 4,138 people, which is more than the entire country of Australia, according to a tracking site at Johns Hopkins University.

The virus also continues to affect the Suffolk County Police Department, with 23 officers testing positive.

Suffolk County health care providers continue to test more residents, as over 12,000 people have been screened. Of those, Stony Brook University’s mobile testing site has administered about 5,000 tests.

“Our major concern and focus has been on the vulnerable population,” Bellone said on his daily media call with reporters. Indeed, 16 percent of the positive tests were among people who were over 65 years old.

Hospitalizations also continued to climb. The number of people in hospitals throughout the county stood at 409, which includes 139 in the Intensive Care Unit.

For the 10th consecutive day, Bellone reported additional fatalities associated with the virus. Seven people died who had the virus, bringing the total to 37 for the county. Those who passed away were: a man in his 60’s who died in his home on March 24, a woman in her 90’s who died at Good Samaritan Hospital March 26, a man in his 70’s who died at Long Island Community Hospital on March 22, a man in his 50’s, who died at St. Catherine’s Hospital March 23, a man in his 60’s who died at Southampton Hospital yesterday, a woman in her 90’s who died at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and a man in his 90’s who died at Mather Hospital on March 26. Underlying medical conditions continue to contribute to most of the deaths.

The police have responded to 140 reports of violations of social distancing. In the last day, there were 28 new reports and the officers found that four of the businesses were non compliant. That includes a vape shop, a hair salon, and a house party.

“All of the individuals involved complied voluntarily when the police and county officers were there,” Bellone said.

The coronavirus has so far claimed seven lives in Suffolk County as of March 20. Image from CDC

The number of fatalities from coronavirus Covid-19 more than doubled in the last day, as four more people died, including three people in their 90s in the Peconic Landing Medical Facility.

At the same time, positive tests for the respiratory virus have reached 459.

“Everything we’re doing is to keep that number down and keep it as low as possible,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters.

The positive tests include a member of the Suffolk County Police Department who works in the Highway Bureau, as well as a second member of Bellone’s staff, Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen. The positive test means that Bellone, who was under voluntary quarantine, is now under mandatory quarantine at his home.

Bellone described the police officer as a male in his 50s who lives in Nassau County. The officer is expected to make a full recovery, he said.

The county executive reiterated the importance for the community to stay home and remain isolated as much as possible.

“Young people may not believe the virus is something that impacts them,” he said, but it has locally as well as nationally.

Indeed, among those with a positive test for the virus, 50 of them are in their 20’s, while 50 are in their 30’s. About half of all the infections are among people who are in their 40’s and 50’s.

To reduce the spread of the virus, Bellone yesterday closed all playgrounds in county parks, even as the parks remain open.

“We close the playgrounds because what we found is that it’s very difficult to keep kids apart,” Bellone said.

Health officials urge people to maintain social distancing of over six feet in those public spaces.

The county also closed dog parks because of the crowding at those areas as well.

“People can bring dogs to parks on leashes and are able to be out there in the open space while practicing social distancing with their pets,” Bellone said.

Even as the new Stony Brook University mobile testing site has increased the ability to test, residents has met some of the pent=up demand to understand the extent of the presence of the virus in their areas. Suffolk, like so many counties others across the nation, is still confronting a potential shortage of supplies of personal protective equipment.

“This has been challenging,” Bellone said. “A lack of supplies or PPE is close behind the testing in something we’ve been lacking on a national basis.”

Bellone’s office is working to accept donations of personal protective equipment in industries that have excess equipment that they can spare. The priority remains to protect people at the front lines in this battle, the county executive urged.

Bellone encouraged residents to go to Newsday’s web site, newsday.com/business, which alerts customers and the community that some businesses remain open. In light of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to reduce businesses to essential services starting on Sunday, those businesses would need to meet that stringent threshold.

Supermarkets have created morning hours when seniors can do their shopping. Seniors can shop at the following morning stores during the following hours: Dollar General, from 8 to 9 a.m., Stu Leonard’s, from 730 to 8, Stop & Shop, from 6:30 to 7:30, Uncle Giuseppe’s, from 7 to 8, Target from 8 to 9 on Wednesday, Giunta’s Meat Farms, from 6:30 to 7:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Walmart, from 6 to 7 on Wednesday.

Bellone addressed concerns about empty shelves at some of these stores. He assured the public that supplies remain robust and that some shelves are empty as residents horde items they are concerned might not be available during the crisis.

“There is no need to be concerned,” Bellone said. “Critical products will be there on the shelves. I would encourage people not to buy items in bulk.”

In the realm of child care for first responders, Bellone said first responders and health care providers can reach out to the Child Care Counsel of Suffolk to schedule care for their children. The phone number is 646-926-3784.

In the meantime, Suffolk County has reached out to retired first responders and health care providers as the anticipated increase in demand, and potential for more positive tests among those helping the public, triggers the need for more help.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Bellone said. “There’s no part of this government that’s not involved in this operation or response. It’s like calling in the reserves. People will need to step up.”

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University Hospital said in a release it currently had enough personal protective equipment to meet the needs of every staff member coming into contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19.

The hospital is working to find additional supplies. Hospital officials expect supplies of personal protective equipment to become strained as the pandemic evolves and is reviewing alternative practices to protect the staff.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory canceled or postponed all programs that invite visitors to campus. The research center has also restricted education, research and administrative operations.

Employees are required to work remotely or adjust their schedules if they support mission-critical research or facilities, to lower the number of people on site. The lab expects the restrictions to last for at least the next month.

The DNA Learning Center has canceled education programs starting March 16 for middle and high school programs on Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County. Public programming including campus tours, lectures and concerts have also been canceled since March 8.

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The first day after the Stony Brook University mobile testing site started administering tests for the coronavirus Covid-19, the number of positive tests continued to build.

Earlier today, Suffolk County had 239 confirmed cases, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D). That includes 64 in Huntington, 39 in Islip, and eight in Smithtown.

Among those with the virus, 27 are in the hospital, with 7 in the intensive care unit. Public health officials said the majority of the cases remained adults.

The current treatment involves supportive management, which includes maintaining oxygenation through ventilatory support, and maintaining fluid balances, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of the county Department of Health Services, said on a conference call with reporters.

Bellone suggested that the number of cases climbs as testing increases, adding that the virus is here throughout the county and is spreading through community transmission.

Bellone urged people to keep practicing social distancing and to keep their children, who might otherwise want to congregate in larger groups amid the warmer weather and the time off from school, from gathering.

Suffolk County has tested over 1,500 people to date. Those with symptoms can call 888-364 -3065 to set up an appointment for drive thru testing at Stony Brook University’s South P Lot. Bellone has heard that people have complained about the time they need to wait for an appointment, but he asks for patience amid the growing need. He also reminded residents that they won’t necessarily get a test without medical authorization from a doctor or telephone reference.

The county’s text alert update, which residents can receive by texting CovidSuffolk to 67283, now has 26,000 people signed up, while 5,500 people have signed up to create a Smart911 profile.

The county executive said the county delivered personal protective equipment to hospitals yesterday and is continuing to make similar deliveries today.

Bellone reiterated that “experts have made clear that this virus may not reach its peak for four to five weeks. When it does, we will see the need for hospital beds to rise and potentially rise dramatically. That is an issue of great concern.”

At the same time that hospitals have been able to increase the number of beds in the county by 300, Suffolk County officials are working to identify potential spaces for future sites to treat residents who are battling the virus.

As of earlier today, Suffolk has 479 beds available, including 74 in the intensive care unit.

“The question is not what’s available now, but it’s a question of what’s going to be needed in three to five weeks,” the county executive said.

The county has considered a site adjacent to the jail in Yaphank. They have also spoken with Suffolk County Community College about evaluating space for potential future patients as well.

Despite murmurs that New York City officials are considering a shelter in place order, effectively asking residents to not leave their homes, Suffolk officials said they have no expectations of sheltering in place.

In the meantime, Suffolk County law enforcement have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, although they are seeking additional equipment in the future, according to Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron. The police are also modifying some of their procedures and are considering altering some interactions with the public.

“If we can, we are asking members [of the public] to come outside to meet our officers,” Cameron said. “We are much more able to maintain social distance outdoors and are muc less apt to be exposed to surface contamination.”

Additionally, the police department is considering requiring the public to make some routine reports by phone or through a citizen-based online reporting, instead of making it optional.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D). File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Several individuals from all over Long Island, including Selden, St. James and Northport, have been implicated in multiple labor crime violations.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) joined Suffolk police along with multiple New York State officials from the labor and insurance departments to announce their arrest.

Sini said, collectively, the charged crimes involve the theft of more than $250,000 in employees’ wages and benefits, nonpayment of more than $58,000 to the state Department of Labor for unemployment insurance fund contributions and nonpayment of more than $133,000 to the New York State Insurance Fund for workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Paul Gilistro, 58, of Selden, and his company Goldstar Installation Services Inc. are each charged with a scheme to defraud in the first degree and willful failure to file a true certified payroll.

From 2016 to 2019, the defendants, formerly doing business as The Floor Worx of Long Island, allegedly misclassified 12 employees as independent contractors to avoid paying the statutory prevailing wage on public works jobs performed throughout Suffolk and Nassau counties. The DA said, during that time period, Gilistro allegedly regularly falsified the sworn certified payroll records he submitted to reflect the job classifications and wages the employees should have received.

“Here in Suffolk County, we will not tolerate the exploitation of workers or our taxpayers by greedy corporations and business owners,” Sini said. “Not only will our efforts protect workers and taxpayers, they will also prevent these bad businesses from gaining an unfair competitive advantage against legitimate, law-abiding businesses.”

Alan James, 70, of St. James, and his company APJ Restoration Inc. were each charged with fraudulent practices against the state insurance fund in violation of New York State workers’ compensation law.

An audit by the NYSIF revealed evidence that between August 2017 and August 2018 the defendants allegedly failed to report more than $450,000 in revenue to the NYSIF in order to avoid paying $68,613.69 in policy premiums that would have otherwise been assessed.

Richard Hall, 57, of Northport, and his company Regal Contracting Inc. were each charged with a scheme to defraud and willful failure to pay prevailing wages in an amount less than $25,000, a misdemeanor in violation of state DOL law. In addition, Hall and Triangle Enterprises of Long Island Inc. are each charged with fraudulent practices against the NYSIF in violation of New York State workers’ compensation law.

In the summer of 2018, Hall and Regal Contracting Inc. allegedly failed to pay $7,400 in benefits to the Laborers Local 66 Benefit Fund for multiple workers on five different projects. In December 2018, Regal canceled its state insurance fund policy. Hall then incorporated Triangle Enterprises of Long Island Inc. and allegedly fraudulently omitted his ownership of the company on its application for workers’ compensation insurance. Regal Contracting allegedly owes more than $28,000 in unpaid unemployment insurance fund contributions to the DOL and allegedly owes more than $48,000 in unpaid workers’ compensation premiums to the insurance fund, therefore making Hall ineligible to take out a new policy.

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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Police said an East Setauket woman, who had been trying to assist people involved in a separate crash in Islandia, was struck and killed by a passing vehicle the morning of Monday, March 2.

Suffolk County Police said a 2005 Toyota was rear-ended by a 2002 Toyota on eastbound Suffolk Avenue, west of Casement Avenue, at around 5:40 a.m. Jennifer Burgess, 36, of East Setauket, who was not involved in the crash, stopped to render assistance to the involved drivers.

A 2014 Toyota and a 2003 Chevrolet then struck the 2005 Toyota, causing Burgess to step into the westbound lane of Suffolk Avenue where she was struck by a 2018 Honda.

Burgess was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore where she was pronounced dead.

The driver of the Honda, Chris Cardinale, 59, of St. James, was not injured.

The Honda was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 3rd Squad at 631-854-8352.

But Have ‘Only Scratched the Surface’

Maria Francavilla, left, and Lisa Principe speak about their daughters' experiences Jan. 31. Photo by Kyle Barr

Two mothers, one from Farmingville and the other from Merrick, may live on different parts of Long Island, but both had very similar experiences, watching their daughters abused in sex trafficking schemes that saw men use drugs to keep their children captive.

Photos of Maria Francavilla’s and Lisa Principe’s daughters. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lisa Principe and Maria Francavilla spoke of their experiences Jan. 31 at a Suffolk County Police Department press conference in Yaphank to round off National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. 

Principe said her daughter, Jenna, went to school at Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore. She said her daughter fell in love with a man who ended up taking advantage of her in the extreme. She was gang raped at only 19 years old, as her “initiation.” She was kept in motels with a number of other girls as her pimps used her addiction to drugs to keep her under control. She would spend time in and out of jail, but as soon as she got out the traffickers were there to pick her up and bring her back into the fold. 

“They took her soul,” Principe said. Even after the men keeping her were arrested, Jenna would later die at 27 from an overdose at home. 

Though her hardship remains, she said she hopes new initiatives from the police will help combat the slew of sex trafficking cases happening all across the Island, targeting potential victims on the internet, in public places or even around schools.  

Jennifer Hernandez, the executive director of the nonprofit Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, which provides trauma services for victims of human trafficking and other abuse, said they have worked with more than 160 victims of trafficking just this past year.

“Most of which were born and raised right here on Long Island — in Suffolk County.” she said.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the biggest misconception about sex trafficking is that it’s men piling people, mostly immigrants, into the back of trucks and taking them away. Modern sex trafficking happens to people of all walks, immigrants and native-born Long Islanders. Traffickers take vulnerable people, mostly young women, and use a combination of drugs, violence and other emotional manipulation to control these women. There’s no single place, police said, whether rich or poor, that sex trafficking isn’t happening. The epidemic is tied to the opioid crisis that still rages in communities across the Island.

Since October of 2017, the police’s human trafficking unit has leveraged 417 charges against individuals, with 186 she said were specifically related to sex trafficking. The police has interacted with and identified over 220 women involved with trafficking since the beginning of the initiative, with the youngest one being only 12 years old.

Still with those numbers, Detective Lt. Frank Messana, the commanding officer of the department’s human trafficking unit, said they have “only scratched the surface.”

On Jan. 25, Kings Park man and alleged Bloods gang member Abiodun “Abi” Adeleke was sentenced to 25 years in prison for multiple counts of sex trafficking. He allegedly participated in this ring from 2014-18.

Last year, Sound Beach man Raymond Rodio III was arrested for allegedly hosting a sex trafficking ring at his parent’s house on Lower Rocky Point Road. Police and the county district attorney said he had preyed on more than 20 women over several years, most from Suffolk, with many floating in and out from the man’s basement apartment as his parent’s home located in a relatively middle-class neighborhood.

Lt. Frank Messana of the police’s human trafficking unit speaks alongside commissioner Geraldine Hart. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rodio’s investigation originally began in 2018 when an officer witnessed a suspected victim of trafficking in the alleged perpetrator’s car during a traffic stop. Hart said such awareness and education, for not only police officers but the general public, is doing much of the job of finding and arresting sex traffickers.

In October 2017, police first piloted its human trafficking program, which then became permanent in 2018. The commissioner said in the year prior to the unit being formed, there hadn’t been any examples of sex trafficking arrests.

In 2019, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office started a human trafficking unit to work inside the county jails. Undersheriff Kevin Catalina said the team of officers look to identify human trafficking victims within the jail. While women are in jail for a stint, officers can get them to “open up.” Many, he said, could not even identify they were victims of trafficking, instead thinking these people were their “boyfriends.”

Francavilla had a similar experience to Principe. Her daughter, Tori, fell in with the wrong people early out of high school. She described it got to the point that her daughter was, “handcuffed to a bed and kept captive.”

She would eventually help put the perpetrator away but, like Jenna, the opioid addiction followed her even after her traumatic experiences. She died when she was 24.

Police said a person is at-risk or is already a victim of trafficking if they start to show behavior of chronically running away from home or having a history of unstable housing, demonstrates inability to regularly attend school or work, exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, signs of drug or alcohol addiction, inconsistencies in their stories, inappropriate dress, a mention of a pimp, “daddy” or being “in the life,” suspected engaging in prostitution, history of pregnancies, abortions or sexually transmitted diseases, and looking as if they worked excessively long hours.

Identifying such a person, a resident should call 911 in an emergency, or contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

People can find more information and resources at the ECLI at www.empowerli.org.

For more information about Suffolk County’s public information initiative, visit https://scatili.org/

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The house where Raymond Rodio III allegedly committed acts of sex trafficking. Photo by Kyle Barr

A Sound Beach man who was arrested last year for sex trafficking pled guilty Feb. 4. He is set to be sentenced in March and faces what could be more than nine years in prison.

The Suffolk County district attorney announced Raymond Rodio III pled guilty to several counts of sex trafficking, selling drugs and several counts of promoting prostitution. 

Police and prosecutors said Rodio had been conducting a human trafficking operation in the basement apartment of his parent’s house located on Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, in which police said they identified more than 20 victims who had been moved through that house. Rodio engaged in drug sales, including heroin and crack cocaine, and used those drugs to keep better control of his victims, which he pimped out in motels around Long Island.

“This is an individual who clearly had no regard for the women he victimized, subjecting them to exploitation, fear and humiliation,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said after the defense’s guilty plea was read out. “It is our hope that this guilty plea delivers justice for the many survivors of Rodio’s scheme.”

Police also said Rodio would keep women in that basement for an extended period of time, forcing them to use a bucket as a toilet since there was no bathroom in the apartment. The Sound Beach man would post advertisements on websites, including Backpage and Craigslist, promoting prostitution by the victims and would keep either a large percentage or all of the profits of their prostitution.

Rodio’s attorney is listed as Scott Gross, a Garden City-based criminal defense attorney. Gross did not return calls for request for comment.

Police originally started investigating Rodio after a Suffolk County police officer noticed a suspected victim of trafficking in his car during a routine traffic stop in August 2018. The man was later arrested in March 2019 after an investigation found a score of other victims.

Rodio is scheduled to be sentenced by Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen March 9. The court promised the defendant a 9½-year with five years of postrelease supervision on the top count. He will also be required to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison.

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FIle photo
Kenneth Regan, of Centereach, has been charged with murder on a New Jersey interstate.
Photo from Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office

Centereach man Kenneth Regan, 21, was charged with alleged murder, attempted murder and various weapon offenses in New Jersey last Thursday after a week-long investigation by that state’s detectives. He was charged alongside an Eastport man, Douglas Coudrey.

New Jersey State Police said they responded to a 911 call Jan. 18 at around 12:15 a.m. reporting shots fired on Interstate 80 West in Lodi, New Jersey. Responding police said they found a vehicle in the middle lane with the driver, 27-year-old Luis Perez of the Bronx in the driver seat with gun shots to his neck and chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Two other passengers, also of the Bronx, were in the car, and one is in critical but stable condition and the other was uninjured.

The investigation brought investigators to Coudrey’s Eastport residence, and when police tried to stop Coudrey, Regan and a third male in their vehicle, the alleged perpetrators fled, crashed into a fence and were subsequently arrested. Police later found a .22 caliber rifle modified to be used as a submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun.

Both men were charged in New Jersey. Suffolk County police and the district attorney’s office were said to have aided in the investigation and apprehension of the alleged perpetrators.

Attorney information for both men was not available.