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Suffolk County

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Suffolk County District Attorney Wednesday released a massive indictment of 13 individuals and several companies for allegedly conspiring to defraud using fake identities. 

In what’s called a synthetic identity fraud scheme, the defendants are charged in a 108 count indictment of using stolen social security numbers to obtain over $1 Million from fraudulent loans and credit card accounts from financial institutions.

The indictment was announced in a press conference held Sept. 23 with DA Tim Sini and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. The investigation started in August, 2018 when a member of the DA’s financial investigations started tracking a suspect of identity fraud at several banks and credit unions on Long Island. They would eventually discover the defendants allegedly created more than 20 identities and obtained loans and credit accounts from 19 different institutions. They said the investigation was conducted alongside the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, California police and DAs as well as several credit bureaus. The investigation is still ongoing, Sini said.

Of the 13 individuals charged, Viki Osredkar, 35 of East Northport, was charged with multiple counts of grand larceny, falsifying business records and scheme to defraud. Osredkar is one of 10 from Long Island to be charged by a grand jury. 

An additional three companies have been charged with money laundering. District Attorney Tim Sini said all these companies are owned by the same individual, Adam Arena, 43, of Corona, California.

“Some of the people involved in this scheme had strong financial backgrounds and recruited individuals who were down on their luck, offering them cash, for assistance in this operation,” Hart said in a release. “Together, they stole more than a million dollars but fortunately, our dedicated team unraveled their plot and are holding the perpetrators accountable.”

The crime goes like this: participants would allegedly create synthetic identities by associating a stolen social security number with a different name, address and date of birth. The social security numbers usually involved children, recent immigrants, elderly or anyone else not likely to monitor their credit history.

Perpetrators would allegedly make the identities more legitimate by applying for phone accounts, email records, library cards and more. They would then allegedly build credit for the fake identities. Using that credit, they would take out loans and credit card accounts. They would use this credit to the maximum amount allowed but the balances would never be paid.

Among the banks the individuals allegedly defrauded included State Farm, USAA, Suffolk Federal Credit Union, Teachers Federal Credit Union among many others.

“This is an extremely complex crime and it can be very difficult to identify the perpetrators, but the team who is investigating and prosecuting this case meticulously followed the evidence and unraveled this scheme, which has far-reaching impacts on everyday citizens,” Sini said in a release. “We will seek justice for all of the victims — both the financial institutions that have been defrauded and the individual victims whose identities were stolen by these criminals.”

 

Real Estate brokers said people from more urban parts of the state are on the hunt for rustic or suburban homes like this one for sale in Port Jefferson. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Go east, homebuyers.

That’s the message people in Nassau County and New York City have heard in connection with home-buying decisions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘A number of people, because of the density of the population, decided they might like to move away from the city life and get to more open space.’

—John Fitzgerald

After the real estate market all but shut down during the worst of the lockdown in the spring, buyers have shown considerable interest in homes for sale in Suffolk County, driven by numerous factors including people leaving the higher-density areas of Manhattan. Additionally, prospective buyers working there have recognized that a remote working environment has given them options further from the city.

“Because of the pandemic, there was a slowdown in the request for housing and the market stopped for a while,” said John Fitzgerald, an owner and broker with Realty Connect USA, which is headquartered in Hauppauge. Once the market returned, “a number of people, because of the density of the population, decided they might like to move away from the city life and get to more open space,” he added.

With more buyers than houses available, bidding wars erupted. Prospective buyers also benefited from low interest rates, as people shopped for homes based on the monthly cost to build equity in their homes, rather than absolute price.

In some cases, within 10 minutes of a seller listing a house on the market, the phone started ringing for agents, Fitzgerald said. Prospective buyers and agents are calling or reaching out through the internet soon after some new listings appear on the market.

“It doesn’t matter the time of the day or the evening,” said Setauket-based Michael Ardolino, who is also an owner and broker at Realty Connect USA, which has offices throughout Long Island.

The prices for some homes have increased during the course of the year.

“If you’re selling something in February for one price, here we are in September, you can see a price difference,” Ardolino said. “Clearly, people are getting more money.”

Indeed, one home seller, who preferred not to use her name, said she put her house on the market in May but due to the pandemic nobody could come see it.

That, however, didn’t stop people from showing interest as numerous calls were made to her. She even received an offer from someone who hadn’t been in the house.

The offer that the seller eventually accepted was higher than the asking price. The sale closed only a few months after she put the home on the market.

With homebuyers expecting to use their houses for leisure and remote working, Fitzgerald said builders are already considering altering their architectural designs. Instead of a large den, some builders are exploring the potential for two private offices.

“In brand new construction, that will become more of a desired piece when people shop,” he said. Additionally, people may start looking for separate entrances, allowing them to minimize the noise and traffic that comes through their offices.

Some buyers are looking for an area where they are close enough to be in walking distance to town, but don’t want to be in the middle of town.

Catherine Quinlan of Coldwell Banker has also seen high demand for homes, particularly in Port Jefferson — one of her areas of expertise, where the inventory isn’t especially high.

Houses are “selling fast if they’re priced right,” she said.

While the supply-demand curve is tilted toward sellers, the pricing power isn’t extreme. She said sellers might get an extra $10,000 to $20,000, but that they aren’t collecting an additional $100,000.

Buyers are not only looking for office space to work at home, but are also interested in pools. If there isn’t a pool, buyers are asking if there’s enough room to build one.

In other markets, some folks may not want pools, but the current uncertainty about travel, vacations and even the availability of community pools has encouraged some buyers to add them to their shopping list.

Fitzgerald said the demand for pools is high enough that there is a waiting list to buy both in-ground and above-ground pools.

For one home she wasn’t showing, Quinlan was surprised to see a bidding war.

Houses that would have been on the market for months because of the condition are selling in a market in which buyers are willing to “work with a house” to accommodate their needs and to upgrade amenities or even rooms, she said.

Homes that are in the $400,000 to $500,000 range in particular are finding receptive buyers.

For prospective buyers who might be waiting for prices to come down, Fitzgerald suggested that the other side of the cost is interest rates.

“If the rates went up 1%, [buyers] could pay $40,000 to $50,000 more for the home,” he said, so they wouldn’t necessarily have saved by waiting.

NAACP chapter President Tracey Edwards has criticized the county for not communicating well enough about the new police reform task force. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county was creating a new 30-member policing task force to develop a plan for police going forward.

The announcement came on the same day, Sept. 9, when advocates from all over Long Island protested on the steps of the county executive seat in Hauppauge over the need for police reform. Speakers also criticized Bellone for seemingly stalling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. This executive order, originally signed in June, cites that every department must make a comprehensive review of police departments and their procedures, and address the needs of the community to promote “trust, fairness and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.” The governor released new guidance for these reviews, effectively saying municipalities need to understand the disposition of the community before drafting their final plan. Municipalities who do not create such a plan could lose state funding for their police departments.

Members of the Suffolk Task Force

● Deputy CE Vanessa Baird-Streeter

● Jon Kaiman, Deputy County Executive

● Retha Fernandez, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Suffolk County

● Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner

● Risco Mention-Lewis, Suffolk County Police Department Deputy Commissioner

● Stuart Cameron, Suffolk County Police Department Chief of Department

● Errol Toulon Jr., Suffolk County Sheriff

● Tim Sini, Suffolk County District Attorney

● Presiding Officer Rob Calarco

● Majority Leader William “Doc” Spencer

● Minority Leader Tom Cilmi

● Legislator Tom Donnelly, Chair of the Public Safety Committee

● Legislator Jason Richberg

● Legislator Sam Gonzalez

● Noel DiGerolamo, President, Suffolk PBA

● Tracey Edwards, NAACP LI Regional Director

● Theresa Sanders, President, Urban League of Long Island

● Christina Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer/Title IX Coordinator Suffolk County Community College 

● Daniel Russo, Administrator, Assigned Counsel Defender Plan of Suffolk County

● Rev. Charles Coverdale, First Baptist Church of Riverhead

● Bishop Andy Lewter, Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral

● Kathleen King, Chair, Suffolk County Native American Advisory Board

● Pastor Angel Falcon, Faith Alive Ministries

● Sister Sanaa Nadim, Chaplain, Islamic Society of North America

● Cindy Reide Combs, Licensed Master Social Worker

● Serena Liguori, Executive Director, New Hour for Women and Children LI

● Jennifer Leveque, Huntington Leaders of the New School

● Girish Patel, BAPS Hindu Temple

● Rabbi Abe Rabinovich, Kings Park JC

● David Kilmnick, President & Chief Executive Officer, LGBT Network

Members of Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability, which was formed after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police in May, were especially critical of Bellone’s handling of rolling out the task force at the Sept. 9 protest in front of the William H. Rogers building. 

Tracey Edwards, who is one of the people named to the new task force, is the regional director  for NAACP Long Island and spoke at the protest building Sept. 9. She said the NAACP and other groups wrote letters to Bellone in June, shortly after Cuomo signed his executive order, but did not hear back and have only seen movement on the executive order now.

As for the task force itself, Edwards said it’s not enough to go through the motions and see nothing of substance come out of it. Specifically, she said police need to increase diversity amongst dispatchers and department leadership, and increase the number of body cameras worn by officers, as just a few examples toward lasting change in Suffolk policing.

“We don’t want a predetermined process, we don’t want selective membership that makes everyone comfortable,” she said. “This is meant to be an uncomfortable process.”

Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter, also a member of the new task force, defended the county’s timing, saying officials were waiting for Cuomo’s guidance document, which was finally released Aug. 17. 

“We were looking at this prior to that date, but this is the guidance we were looking at that allowed us to form the task force,” she said. “For the county, we really want a collaborative process, one where they feel their voice is heard, their concerns are heard, their issues are heard, and then have an opportunity to address those issues.”

The task force is split in half between county and police officials and other community groups. Of the 30 members of the task force, nine are either Suffolk County legislators or work for the county in some capacity. Another six work in some kind of law enforcement capacity, including Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president, Noel DiGerolamo. The other 15 are from a variety of faith, minority or local advocacy groups.

Though in the case of the Suffolk PBA and its head DiGerolamo, some advocates criticized his involvement, especially since the PBA has been proponents and participants of Blue Lives Matter protests countywide, where participants have been strongly opposed to any kind of police reform.

DiGerolamo said in a phone interview that he appreciated being included on the task force and that he hoped other members “will enter into it with an open mind and be reasonable in their expectations” regarding what police reforms are applicable to SCPD. He instead said he hopes people see the need for a greater police and civilian relationship, “not a defund movement, which would only cause a greater divide.”

In regards to reforms such as defunding the police, a phrase which accounts for taking funds away from traditional law enforcement and putting it toward other social services in an effort to reduce the source of crime, the PBA president called it “completely misguided.” He cited changes the police have already done, including a limited body camera program, bias training and a civilians police academy.   

“I think any time you put people together who will share their thoughts collectively, there’s always a potential for growth,” DiGerolamo said.

Baird-Streeter said the guidance document effectively mandates who needs to be on the committee, including key police stakeholders in which the PBA president is one of them.

“Actually, looking for reforms within the police department, it’s important to have the entity that represents the police,” she said.

Suffolk County police and county officials have constantly touted recent reforms already made at the department. Officials cite its implicit bias training where 65% of the force, or 1,600 officers have been trained. Officials also cite their de-escalation techniques taught in the police academy and new diversity initiatives which have resulted in a more diverse department.

But advocates say it hasn’t been enough, and they would rather hear what police plan to do in the future rather than what it’s currently doing.

Irma Solis, director of the Suffolk Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and longtime advocate has been on the side of police reform for close to 20 years. She said that while there have been recent strides on the side of police, the distance between department reform and the police enacting it is still too great. It’s especially apparent when considering communities with a high density of Black and Latino populations who have a greater sense of being targeted by law enforcement, even years after Suffolk police started its reform initiatives.

“Certain communities really receive the brunt of over policing and over surveillance,” Solis said. “If you have folks [on the task force] who are not willing to look further and begin to understand this is more of a systemic issue and not a case of a few bad apples, it’s difficult to say that we’re going to meet the purpose of this executive order.”

Suffolk County has also announced it would be releasing surveys to residents on their feelings toward police, both those who have had encounters with police and those who haven’t.

Suffolk is using the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, which is described as an independent nonprofit research group based in Albany, to conduct the more than 6,000 surveys. People will be randomly selected amongst residents as well as those who have had recent interactions with police, both victims and complainants, according to a news release. The surveys will be conducted over the next four months in both English and Spanish. Surveyors are also expected to perform a “targeted oversampling” of people of color, since generating a sample size from a population like Suffolk, which is over 67% white, would not relay how minority communities may feel they are treated differently by police.

“This is an important step to gain valuable insight into how we are doing as a department and how our members are interacting with the public,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement. “We need the support of our communities to continue to be a successful department. I encourage people to respond to the surveys because it will enable us to continue to move toward a more fair and equitable department.”

Officials said this survey will also inform whatever plan Suffolk later sends to New York State. 

Baird-Streeter said the task force will have its first meeting Monday, Sept. 21, where they will discuss how and where other meetings will take place. Though they have eight planned, they are not limiting themselves in how many they can conduct. All meetings, she said, have to be completed before the end of the year in order to have the county’s plans sent to New York State by next April.

Absentee ballots, early voting or voting in person — voters this year have three options to cast their ballots, though two months before election day, some of these methods have come under scrutiny.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioners say they have their hands full trying to make sure everyone’s ballot counts this November, but several advocacy groups on Long Island say Suffolk, New York State and the BOE should be doing more to spread the word.

Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Suffolk BOE Republican Commissioner Nick LaLota disagreed over the locations of Suffolk’s early voting places. File photo

Experts nationwide anticipate numbers like never before will be asking for absentee ballots or doing early voting for this November election. 

The two commissioners for the Suffolk BOE, Nick LaLota, a Republican, and Anita Katz, a Democrat, were present at the Suffolk County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee meeting Sept. 3. While there were multiple problems with the June primary, including that close to 25 percent of polling workers didn’t show up due to the pandemic, the two argued that even with limited resources, they have been making headway in increasing voting access. The number of early polling sites has been increased from 10 to 12 compared to 2019, and Katz confirmed they expect 90 to 95 percent of their poll workers will be on the job come election day Nov. 3.

Suffolk County has also issued an order saying any union employees who wish to work in polling centers for the election are allowed to do so, and will be compensated for doing so.

But the commissioners have also come under fire for where, and where they haven’t, put these 12 early voting locations. For one, Shelter Island, which had an early voting location in 2019, is not currently scheduled for one this year. 

Early Voting Issues

LaLota said the decision was based on “how do we do the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people,” arguing the numbers of voters in a place like Islip who would have a 20-to-30-minute drive to get to one of these places outstrips the small population of Shelter Island.

Those arguing for a Shelter Island location said the population there who would need to do early voting would have to take a ferry just to get to the mainland. Town of Shelter Island Supervisor Gerard Siller (D) has already sent a letter to the BOE, pleading them to reinstall the early voting place on Shelter Island. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who once represented Shelter Island as county legislator, also sent a letter to the BOE asking for its return as well.

“Having no on-island early voting location will unfairly disenfranchise many of the voters on Shelter Island,” Romaine said in his letter. “Voting will be particularly difficult for the elderly and the infirmed. There needs to be an early voting location on Shelter Island.”

Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Suffolk BOE Republican Commissioner Nick LaLota disagreed over the locations of Suffolk’s early voting places. Photo from Suffolk GOP website

For some officials on Long Island proper, the early voting locations still left something to be desired. Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was especially miffed about the decision for where the two early voting locations were placed in Brookhaven — one at Town Hall in Farmingville and the other in Mastic. She contended there was a “political reason” to put one on the South Shore in the Mastic/Shirley area, later stating in a phone interview that she was referencing U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who lives in Shirley and faces a challenge by Stony Brook Democrat Nancy Goroff. 

“I feel like all of northern Brookhaven got screwed by that decision,” Hahn said during the hearing.

LaLota argued choosing the Mastic destination, along with focusing on other marginalized communities, was based on the number of low-income residents in those areas. 

“Equity is the number one issue that gets put to the top, economic hardship people face — people are working two jobs, needing health care or day care, and in the grand scheme of things early voting addresses those economic hardships,” LaLota said. “I would submit to you those economic hardships are best seen in places we chose to put our early voting locations.”

Hahn shot back saying, “There are those communities all over Brookhaven.”

In a phone interview, LaLota vehemently pushed back against the characterization of the decision to put the voting location in Mastic, instead arguing Democrats are focusing on affluent areas like North Shore Brookhaven and Shelter Island. 

“I think it’s sadly ironic that a Republican commissioner is the one advocating that we bring voting to people from lesser-off communities,” he said. “I think those legislators need to be a little more introspective and be a little more receptive to the economic needs of all Suffolk County voters.”

Numerous progressive groups from all around Suffolk County signed on to a petition sent to the Suffolk BOE and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The petition argues the location of some early polling places are “puzzling at best,” considering New York State law asks BOEs to consider population density, travel time, proximity of an early voting site to other early voting sites and whether the early voting site is near public transportation routes.

Shoshana Hershkowitz, the founder of left-leaning advocacy group Suffolk Progressives, said last year she and fellow advocacy groups lobbied Suffolk to expand its early voting options. She said at the outset last year, Suffolk’s approach was only the bare minimum with a single early voting site per town. They asked for closer to 21 early polling locations with longer hours at each. Now that Suffolk went up to 12, she said she was happy to see more available, but at the same time was disappointed at the one removed from Shelter Island.

“It’s what our budget priorities should be,” Hershkowitz said. “We should be looking to add another polling location or two — it’s a question of the political and financial will.”

In a phone interview several days after the legislative hearing, Hahn argued, considering the general geographic size of a town like Brookhaven, that it would need five early polling locations to be truly equitable, but that it could do with three. If the BOE truly needed more money for more early voting locations, Hahn argued they should have made that explicit to the Legislature before now, especially seeing the cost of one of these locations is about $50,000.

LaLota said the BOE approached Suffolk for more funding for more early voting locations last year and was rebuffed. According to budget documents, the board of elections requested $21,384,480 for 2020 but instead received $20,304,177.

Though the Republican BOE commissioner said in terms of any new early voting locations, “That ship has sailed.”

“It’s a matter of staffing,” he said. “I don’t have the employees to open up new sites. Even if somebody funded us with $100,000 tomorrow, I don’t have the employees to staff the polling place.” 

Getting the Word Out on Early Voting

With only a little over 17,000 people in 2019 taking advantage of early voting, more people are asking that officials work to get the word out.

The BOE has plans for a countywide mailing that will go to every household explaining the three ways that people will be able to vote: absentee, early or in person. That mailing should be out around mid-September, the Republican commissioner said.

Hahn was also critical over the positioning of the absentee ballot on the BOE’s website, saying one has to navigate through multiple links before coming upon the New York State’s absentee ballot form. She argued the BOE should look to put a larger, bolder text button on the BOE’s landing page that takes people directly to the absentee ballot form. 

Click on this image to see all the current early voting locations and times.

Katz, the Democratic BOE commissioner, argued they are somewhat constricted by having a page that works off Suffolk County’s template, and they’re not able to bring a set of buttons directly to the top of the page. In terms of a social media campaign, the commissioners argue they don’t have the resources to pull that off. There is currently no Facebook or Twitter page operated by the BOE itself.

The progressive groups’ petition also argues for a stepped-up communications campaign from both the BOE and other county officials. They point to Westchester County, which pledged to use the county’s communications team to publish information for people of when or how to vote.

Sue Hornik, a representative of Advocacy Group South Country Unites, one of the proponents of the petition, said she was disappointed to hear the BOE did not have any plans for instant communication with residents online. She said the whole of Suffolk government should make a concerted communications effort countywide to emphasize the availability of early voting.

“If they don’t get out the word on early voting and make people understand they have an option — and so everybody votes either absentee or on election day that would be unfortunate.”

Fellow activist Hershkowitz also advised the importance of letting people know their options.

“My hope is that people would really take advantage of it,” the Suffolk Progressives founder said. “There’s just a lot of mistrust in government, and the more transparent and accessible we can make it seem to the public, then we can perhaps regain that trust.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. File photo by Alex Petroski

A Confederate flag displayed on the side of a Brookhaven Fire Department truck has caused outcry from multiple levels of government and many in the surrounding community.

This photo has gone viral on social media showing a Brookhaven Fire Department ladder truck sporting the Confederate battle flag.

A picture of the Confederate battle standard draped on the side of a ladder truck from the Brookhaven hamlet, showed up on social media where it went viral Sunday, Aug. 30. Many who saw it complained that it was a display of racism, especially in light of recent national dialogue about its use by white supremacists and the history of the Confederacy’s promotion of slavery.

In a statement, Brookhaven FD Chief of Department Peter Di Pinto said that the action was not authorized by the department and was done without its knowledge. The statement says the incident involved one firefighter acting alone during a non-response event. Di Pinto said the matter is currently under investigation, and therefore couldn’t release any further details.

“We can assure our community that ‘Racism has no home in our firehouse,’” the statement read.

That event was reportedly a fire truck parade in Patchogue to support a firefighter with cancer. Other department vehicles were present at the event though none other than the Brookhaven truck reportedly appeared with the Confederate flag.

While the The Town of Brookhaven and the Brookhaven Fire Department are separate entities, the town was also quick to condemn the flag.

“The Town Board condemns the display of this symbol of racism and hatred in the strongest possible terms and is calling for this fire department to launch an investigation into this matter and take immediate and serious action in response,” the town said in a statement. “Brookhaven town has been built upon a history of inclusion and diversity. Our cemeteries contain the graves of men who gave their lives fighting against this flag. This flag is a symbol of hatred, and there is no place for it, or the racism it displays, in our town.”

While on Facebook County Executive Steve Bellone (D) thanked the fire department for looking into the matter, he said that he was calling on the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and New York State Division of Human Rights to also investigate the incident.

“The public also must have confidence that any review of this matter is handled independently to ensure a fair and impartial outcome,” Bellone said in a statement. “Hate and bigotry have no place in Suffolk County and we must demonstrate that we take these matters seriously.”

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

As part of an awareness campaign, Suffolk County is trying to provide residents with updated information on testing locations, including sites in pharmacies that are free of charge. 

Suffolk officials said this was in response to U.S. Centers for Disease Control Guidelines which were inexplicably changed Aug. 25 to say that individuals do not necessarily need to get tested for COVID-19 after coming in contact with someone who has tested positive. New York State officials have also spoken out against the change, arguing it flies in the face of what we currently understand about COVID-19.

Such sites are listed below:

Town of Brookhaven and East End

  • CVS Pharmacy, 6221 Route 25A, Wading River, NY 11792
  • CVS Pharmacy, 496 County Road 111 Building C, Manorville, NY 11949
  • Rite Aid, 803 Montauk Hwy Unit D, Shirley, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 29 Havenwood Drive, Shirley NY 11967
  • Walgreens, 1580 Route 112, Medford, NY 11763
  • CVS Pharmacy, 470 West Main Street, Patchogue, NY 11772
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1710 Route 112, Coram, NY 11727
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2315 Middle Country Road, Centereach, NY 11720
  • Rite Aid, 229 Independence Plaza, Selden, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 729 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
  • Stony Brook Drive Through Testing Site, 100 Nicolls Rd, Stony Brook, NY 11794

Town of Smithtown

  • CVS Pharmacy, 977 Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, NY 11725
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Terry Road, Smithtown, NY 11787

Town of Huntington and Western Suffolk

  • CVS Pharmacy, 520 Larkfield Road, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2000 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Depot Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746
  • CVS Pharmacy, 107 South Country Road, Bellport, NY 11713
  • CVS Pharmacy, 450 Main Street, Farmingdale, NY 11735
  • CVS Pharmacy, Candlewood Road and 5th Avenue, Brentwood, NY 11717
  • CVS Pharmacy, 311 Main Street, Center Moriches, NY 11934
  • CVS Pharmacy, 831 Connetquot Avenue, Islip Terrace, NY 11752
  • CVS Pharmacy, 105 Montauk Highway, West Sayville, NY 11782

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during a press conference Aug. 26 that New York would not adhere to the new guidance. He instead proclaimed that the CDC was following the bidding of President Donald Trump (R). He called the new health policy “political propaganda.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a release that the new CDC guidance is inconsistent with what has already helped stop the spread of COVID-19.

“From day one, we have prioritized access to testing, especially in our hard hit communities,” Bellone said in a release. “In light of the puzzling CDC guidance released this week, I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo and others in the medical community to encourage our residents to continue to get tested. If we want to avoid a second wave and keep our infection rate below one percent, testing must be a top priority.”

For their part, federal health officials have told reporters the CDC’s change in testing policy was not based on politics and the change was made by CDC themselves. However, Trump has publicly said that he believed the reason the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase was because the U.S. has increased the number of tests it conducts.

Suffolk Commissioner of Health Services Dr. Gregson Pigott said testing is the best way to prevent a new wave of the virus come the end of summer.

“A robust testing program allows us to identify as many positive cases as possible, isolate those individuals and quarantine their close contacts, therefore slowing and containing the spread of COVID-19,” Pigott said in a release. “In order to protect public health and help prevent a second wave in the fall, we will continue to recommend everyone who is exposed to the virus gets tested.”

Additional testing sites can be found by typing in a zip code at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you

 

Owners of Huner’s Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson said they believe they should be considered essential for the work they do helping people remain active and healthy. Photo from Huner’s Fitness Advantage website

After doing heavy lifting to ensure customer and employee safety, gyms can begin to reopen soon.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced a gradual gym reopening starting this Monday, Aug. 24. This comes after earlier this week Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said gyms can start to reopen once they receive guidance from local government.

Commercial gyms, such as Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, Retro Fitness and those that require a membership fee, along with indoor classes can restart next week.

Each fitness center will have to pass a county health inspection to make sure the gyms have sufficient procedures to protect staff and customers while following state guidelines established by Cuomo.

Hotel, office, higher education and residential gyms can reopen starting the following week, on Aug. 31.

On Thursday, Aug. 20, the county will host a virtual meeting with facility owners to review guidance, answer questions and provide any clarifications.

“With our infection rate holding steady at or below 1 percent and a robust testing system in place, we are confident we can reopen gyms in a way that is both safe and responsible,” Bellone said in a statement. “I want to remind our residents and gym owners that we are still in the midst of a pandemic.”

Bellone encouraged those attending gyms to wear a mask and follow all safety procedures.

Communal showers, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms and water fountains and self-serve bars and samples must remain closed. According to the governor’s web site, individual showers and stalls can remain open as long as they are cleaned between use.

Classes are restricted to the most restrictive guidelines, which could either be six feet of distance in all directions from a participant, a limit of 33 percent capacity and no more than 50 people.

Gym owners also must provide sanitizing stations, acceptable face coverings, which exclude bandanas, buffs and gaiters and the limitation of physical contact activities including boxing and martial arts.

During each inspection, businesses will receive a gallon of NYS Clean hand sanitizer.

According to Cuomo, local health departments are required to inspect gyms prior to reopening or within two weeks of reopening, to ensure strict adherence to the state Department of Health guidance.

Indeed, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will begin inspections on Monday, Aug. 24 for commercial and traditional gyms.

“New Yorkers must closely adhere to the guidelines and local health departments are required to strictly enforce them to help ensure gyms and fitness center reopen safely and protect the public health,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning will work with the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to create an online database of gyms and fitness centers within the county.

Before an inspection, gym owners will need to complete the affirmation for each location, which owners can find at the New York Forward website forward.ny.gov, that they reviewed and understood the state guidelines and will implement these protocols.

After owners attest to their safety plans, the county will schedule inspections. Suffolk will send out an email with the date and approximate time for an inspection.

Gym owners need to post a written safety plan describing the ways they are protecting employees and gym members from COVID-19.

Cuomo also requires that gyms use a MERV-13 or greater air-handling system. If the gym can’t operate at that level, the owners need to have a heating, ventilation and air conditioning professional document their inability to use such a system and adopt additional ventilation and mitigation protocols from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Debra Bowling of Pasta Pasta talks to County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Kyle Barr

This past weekend, President Donald Trump (R) was in Suffolk County, raising money for this reelection. During his time on Long Island, he called requests for financial aid amid the pandemic a bailout, repeating some of the language he used two years in response to Puerto Rico’s request for financial aid after Hurricane Maria.

“I couldn’t disagree with this more,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said today on a conference call with reporters. “We need federal disaster assistance to respond to, and recover from, COVID-19.”

Bellone said the county abided by guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that it shut down its economy to protect the health of its population, lowering the death toll at the cost of the economy.

Approaching an argument the president has made against the reaction to the murder by police of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Bellone suggested that the lack of financial support from the federal government would be a form of defunding the police, taking away salaries from public health workers and removing the financial support necessary for the safe return of students to in-person learning this fall.

“This should have nothing to do with politics,” he argued. “We are still in the middle of fighting a pandemic.”

The county executive urged the federal government to provide vital financial resources to fund these recovery efforts.

“When President Trump talks about federal disaster assistance as a bailout, this is flat out wrong,” Bellone said. The money he has requested, including during a recent trip to Washington, DC, he argued will pay for police officers. Bellone also pointed out that Long Island has provided ample financial resources to the federal government during more prosperous years through tax dollars.

By taking away state and local property tax deductions, the federal government has added billions to what Long Island sends to Washington as a region every year, Bellone said.

“The notion of a bailout suggests we did something wrong in Suffolk County,” the county executive continued. “The fact of the matter is, we all did our jobs here.”

Viral Numbers

Separately, Bellone said Suffolk County has managed to keep illnesses and deaths down in the public health battle against COVID-19.

In the last day, the number of people who have tested positive for the virus was 55 out of a total of 5,030 people who received a test. The rate of just over 1 percent is tracking with the positive tests for the last few weeks and is well below the 5 percent threshold schools have for reopening.

The number of residents who tested positive for the antibody to COVID-19 stands at 24,392.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued to be well below the worst of the pandemic, when the health care system strained under the weight of sick residents.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 stands at 33, which is an increase of 2. The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit was three.

Hospital bed occupancy stood at 72 percent overall and at 67 percent in the ICU.

The number of people who have died from complications related to the virus stands at 1,998. Four people were discharged the hospital in the last day.

PSEG trucks remove a downed tree in Mount Sinai Aug. 7. For several days, cars had to swerve around the tree that split the intersection of North Country Road and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

PSEG Long Island plans to restore power to the remaining 400 Long Island customers by midnight who haven’t had electricity since last Tuesday, when Tropical Storm Isaias hit.

“We remain committed to getting all customers related to last Tuesday’s storm restored by midnight tonight,” PSEG President and Chief Operating Office Daniel Eichhorn said on a media call Wednesday.

PSEG has 6,500 line workers and tree trimmers who are working to restore power from a host of states and continues to accept any other workers who are available.

This morning, PSEG moved workers from New Jersey, where it is headquartered.

Eichhorn assured residents that their bills would reflect the energy they used, which means that they won’t have to pay for electricity during the time their power was out.

The total number of outages in Long Island, including those who have been without power since the storm hit, stands at 10,500, which is a number that might increase this evening amid the predicted thunderstorms. Of those who are out, approximately 7,500 have lost power related to the storm, although Eichhorn said they are unlikely to have been without power for over a week.

Amid concerns about the pace of restoring power, the number of homes and businesses who were out and a communications problem on the day of the storm that made it difficult for residents to connect with their power company, Eichhorn said PSEG plans to use this experience to improve on the company’s storm-related processes.

Once the company restores power, PSEG will do a self assessment, which will include a “deep dive” into “lessons learned,” at which point the company will make immediate and long term changes to makes sure they are ready for the next storm.

Indeed, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined a growing chorus of politicians who expressed their concerns about the company’s readiness for the remainder of the hurricane season, which extends through the end of November.

“As we move towards the fall, we could be struck with a much more significant storm than this tropical storm,” Bellone said on a separate media call. “If that is the case, these issues need to be fixed. They need to be resolved before then.”

Eichhorn said PSEG hasn’t given much thought at this point to making the company’s assessment about its performance during the storm public.

Meanwhile, New York State Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) called for the resignation of Eichhorn and Long Island Power Authority President Thomas Falcone.

Asked about the call for his resignation, Eichhorn said he was “aware of that” and the response of the company to the storm will be “part of our lessons learned and review. I’m pretty proud of the restoration efforts from our team. People have worked extremely hard and are very dedicated.”

Eichhorn added that PSEG would look into the IT issues that caused the frustration from customers and would “get better” and “make sure, for the next storm” they are “fully prepared.”

Eichhorn said he recognized the frustration people have been feeling, especially during a pandemic. Amid a discussion of residents in Cold Spring Harbor who blocked in a utility crew, preventing them from leaving until they restored electricity, Eichhorn said he understood that it’s a tough time to lose power, especially when so many people are working from home.

Still, he urged residents not to limit the ability of crews to react to the order of jobs. When crews are blocked in, they might help one or two homes or families at the expense of 100 or 200, he said.

PSEG wasn’t prepared today to discuss the possibility of reimbursing families for lost food during the outages, even as several politicians, including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) requested that the company provide $500 to each household that lost power for more than two days.

“Our plan is to really focus on making sure we get customers’ [power] back today,” Eichhorn said. “Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at those other decisions.”

Bellone: County Looking at Potential $800 Million Gap in Next Budget Cycle

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

As Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) among other officials continue their crusade to get federal assistance to local government, he said come next month, Suffolk may have to create a budget around a $800 million hole.

Counties on Long Island may be some of the hardest hit financially compared to other New York State counties outside New York City. During a media call Aug. 10 where Bellone talked with two fellow county execs from Upstate New York about the need for federal relief, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (R) said his county was facing a lesser but no less devastating $60 million gap. This stacks up to the devastation caused by COVID-19 in each county. Whereas Suffolk County has seen over 43,000 cases and close to 2,000 deaths, the less populous Dutchess has seen 4,613 cases and just 153 deaths.

But overall, despite partisanship, all electeds are concerned with the impending financial cliff. The bipartisan National Association of Counties said in a release in late July that county budgets could see a total loss of $202 billion from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The outset of national disaster took us all by surprise, did not expect what has happened here, we knew from outset we would not only be dealing with a public health crisis, but followed by an economic crisis, a human services crisis and a fiscal crisis,” Bellone said. “I’ve been through fiscal crises before, but we’re calling this a fiscal emergency — we’ve never dealt with something like this before.”

Broome County Executive Jason Garnar (D) said it even more succinctly.

“I think the only worse thing you could do is drop a bomb on our county,” Garnar said during the Aug. 11 media call.

Hope rests on a federal bailout, but talks have been mired in political wrangling. The House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act almost three months ago that would have, among other stimulus, provided aid to state and local governments. The bill was universally supported by Democrats, though a select few Republicans including local U.S. Rep. Pete King (R-NY-2) also gave their support.

The Republican-controlled Senate refused to pick up the bill, and negotiations for its own stimulus bill stagnated. When negotiations later broke down between the While House and House and Senate Democrats, President Donald Trump (R) signed several executive orders Aug. 7. One such order authorized $300 out of $400 in additional payments to people on unemployment, though cash-strapped states who are facing their own financial crises are supposed to pick up the last $100. 

The bipartisan National Governors Association, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), has requested unrestricted $500 billion in state aid. The association criticized the president’s executive orders in a statement Aug. 10 for “the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.”

Bellone and his fellow county executives said they were concerned that without federal assistance social services that have been overloaded since the start of the pandemic could be facing cuts and layoffs. The Suffolk County Executive said he is “having discussions with all our bargaining units” including the police union. 

“If you’re not going to provide assistance to local governments that provide public safety and public health … our public health workers, all services that we provide will be even more important,” Bellone said. “It will take a couple years at least to get back on our feet again. We are looking at extending this devastation and that’s just unacceptable.”