Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Frank Sterling Story: Another Outrageous Injustice

By Jeff Deskovic

On Nov 29, 1988 Viola Manville was killed as she walked along a path in Rochester, New York. The cuts on her hands indicated that she
fought with her attacker; and the attacker beat her viciously on the head and shot her with a BB gun. Four years later Frank Sterling was
arrested and convicted of her murder, and sentenced to 25-Years-to-Life in prison

Sterling is currently represented by Attorney Donald Thompson, and by Innocence Project Attorney Vanessa Potkin. The Prosecution’s theory was that the murder was committed out of revenge. Sterling’s brother had tried to rape Manville several years earlier and was in prison for it. Frank Sterling became a suspect because his brother, while incarcerated, was supposedly telling prisoners that Frank committed the crime, and one of those inmates informed authorities.

There was no evidence that Frank Sterling ever told his brother any such thing, nor did his brother testify against him. Nevertheless,
the story had the effect of focusing the investigation on Frank. He was convicted based upon a videotaped confession obtained after 12 hours
of continuous interrogation. A bizarre aspect of that interrogation was that it involved hypnosis. It is undisputed that there was an active effort to hypnotize him for purposes of the interrogation. At trial, Sterling’s attorneys maintained that he was in a semi-hypnotic state,
while being questioned, and that the confession was the product of confabulation and of being fed details of the crime.

Confabulation may be thought of as a falsification of memory occurring in clear consciousness in association with an organically-derived amnesia. “Momentary confabulations” are frequently defined as “fleeting, and invariably provoked by questions probing the subject’s memory, sometimes consisting of ‘real’ memories, displaced in their temporal context.”

An example of being fed details in the course of his interrogation, was that the Manville murder was originally investigated under the
theory that she was murdered between 9 and 9:30 in the morning. This was based upon the fact that it was known that Manville had a
habit of walking in that area in the morning. Sterling’s confession stated that he killed her between 1:30 and 2:30 in the afternoon. The Prosecution denied that he was in the semi-hypnotic state or that he was fed details.

There exists a multitude of evidence that Sterling is innocent. To begin with, it is clear that Sterling was hypnotized during interrogation.
That alone, based upon common sense, would seem to suggest that the confession was unreliable; hence there is no basis to believe
that he is guilty. When the additional information is presented regarding momentary confabulation, provoked by questions probing the
subject’s memory, the confession becomes even more suspect.

Moreover, the fact that, at times, the video shows Sterling crying and being consoled by police, would certainly seem to support the notion
that their questioning of him while he was under the hypnotic state caused a fleeting false memory. The fleeting aspect comes in because, at
another point in the interrogation, he states “this is bullshit”.

Sterling had an air-tight alibi in the morning; and police knew this from prior investigation of him at some point during the intervening
four years between Manville’s murder and Sterling’s arrest. This fact would certainly seem to support the idea that he was fed that detail by
police, wanting to find a way around his alibi. Additionally, when asked to identify on a map where the body was found, he identified a totally wrong location.

Aside from all of the above, there happens to be a mountain of evidence that one Mark Christie, who pled guilty in 1997 to the 1996
murder of four-year-old Kali Ann Poulton, actually committed Manville’s murder.

It was discovered after Sterling had been convicted, that Christie had confessed to four different acquaintances that he had committed
the murder. What is most significant is that at the time the confession was made he mentioned that he shot the woman with a BB gun, a fact which was never disclosed to the media or general public. Christie admitted owning a BB gun, but claimed that it had been broken and been disposed of. When questioned by the Monroe County Sheriff ’s Dept., he merely claimed that he had read about the case in the newspapers and made up the stories.

In fact, Christie lived in the area between the abandoned railroad tracks and Hilton High School where the murder occurred. He was often known to be in the area. In an interview with police, he stated that during the morning in question he was in school. However, it later
turned out that he had, in fact, had an unexcused absence from school during the morning hours.

Had the Monroe County Sheriff ’s Department been diligent and had they followed up, they might have discovered the lie and focused
on Christie rather than Sterling. Christie had a propensity for violence. According to court papers filed on behalf of Sterling, Christie
sexually assaulted school mates, made pipe bombs, killed dogs and cats, and frequently carried a knife. On December 16, 1992, Christie
was given a polygraph test by Lynn Prescott, employed by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office. During that test, Christie reportedly was fidgeting, attempting to control his breathing, and generally trying to undermine the test. Consequently, the test results were deemed inconclusive.

On December 17th, in a polygraph administered by the State Police, he reportedly passed. As is generally recognized today, polygraph
tests are unreliable because they have no scientific validity, and are sometimes failed by frightened, innocent persons. However, the fact
that Christy was trying to control his breathing and undermine the test certainly appears suspicious. Frank Sterling’s efforts at appealing
his case through the appellate process have been thus far unsuccessful.

In addition, at a hearing resulting from a 440.10 Motion seeking to overturn his conviction, Sterling introduced the confession along with
Christie’s propensity for violence. The judge, however, ruled that although Christie had indeed made the statements, he was an attention-seeker and therefore Sterling’s request for a new trial, at which to present this new evidence, was declined. In a separate effort to overturn
his conviction, Sterling has tried to get DNA Testing of a hair found in murder victim Manville’s hand. After much effort, authorities finally
relented and, on Jan. 25, 2005, Judge Geraci granted the defendant’s request to conduct a DNA test of the strand. Even so, the Judge denied
Sterling’s request to test other items found at the scene. The rejected items included any slides, swabs, tissue blocks or cultures, hair, fingernail clippings, clothing or shakings from clothing, BB gun parts, or other evidence that might have been susceptible to DNA testing.

Operating under the assumption that the evidence might no longer be in the possession of the agencies in question, Defendant Sterling asked
the Court to compel those agencies to produce records and documents related to their whereabouts and disposition. The hair was tested, and it belonged neither to Sterling nor Christy. Sterling appealed the decision that disallowed testing of all of the items to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, concluded that the County Court properly denied that part of the motion which sought testing
with respect to those items because “the defendant failed to establish that, had those items been tested and had the results been admitted
at trial, the verdict would have been more favorable to the Defendant.”

However, despite having won the appeal blocking the testing, the Prosecution has finally consented to allow further testing to go forward and Sterling is presently awaiting the results. Vanessa Potkin told this reporter, “Frank has an extremely strong case of innocence and it is outrageous that it took us this long to get to this point that DNA testing will be conducted.

The confession was the result of the hypnosis and was the product of questionable techniques by the of-ficers who questioned him, and the
details that Frank gave in the ‘confession’ were at odds with the true facts of the crime and were just plain wrong. At the same time there was
a lot of evidence showing the guilt of Mark Christie. After a long fight, we finally have the chance to get the testing, which is underway now.”

The Guardian placed several calls to Wendy Lehman, who is the assistant district attorney working on the Sterling cases, but she did not
return messages. I have known Frank Sterling personally for about 13 years. We served time together; and because our cases
were so similar, we frequently discussed case law. We both read considerable volumes of wrong conviction literature, sharing it with each other. Reading about others’ successes appealing such convictions would make both of us hopeful as we celebrated for them. In such euphoric moments we would often fantasize out loud about different things we would do, and places we would go if and when we emerged from prison.

During our many “down moments”, we would speak to each other in terms that only the wrongfully convicted could understand. We spoke of pain, stress, and the depression we sometimes felt and had to fight off. We also shared fears of being trapped in prison unable to prove that we were innocent. In our individual lives, we were each preoccupied with looking at every conceivable way to prove our innocence, and we were on the lookout for different people who might possibly be of any help to either of us, directly or indirectly. We kept this up for the entire 13 years that we knew each other. Ours was an unusual friendship.

Frank Sterling is an innocent man. I know this from my own interactions with him. I was neither a judge, a prosecutor, a policeman, or
anybody who had the capability of granting Frank his freedom. Therefore, there was no reason for him to engage in conversations with me for 13 years in which he consistently professed his innocence. Beyond that, there is substantial evidence against Christie; certainly more than enough to create reasonable doubt. Sterling certainly deserves a new trial at which he may present that evidence. The Judge’s decision that Christie was merely a braggart, and, in declining to order a new trial, ignored the fact that despite Christie’s history of bragging about crimes that he committed, he also told his wife about the Poulton Murder and led her to the body.

Without Sterling’s false confession, there was no basis to believe that he was guilty. Therefore, he should be presumed innocent. His confession is unreliable, based firstly on the fact that it was obtained while he was under hypnosis, and, secondly, that it contained numerous inaccurate details. It is absolutely outrageous that the Prosecution was permitted to bring to trial a case based upon a confession obtained under hypnosis; much less obtaining a conviction. Equally egregious has been the Prosecution’s fight against all appeals, and their e ort, until recently, to block any DNA testing. It should be noted that this same Monroe County District Attorney’s Office successfully blocked DNA
Testing in the Doug Warney case, and that while that appeal was being filed, secretly went back and ran the DNA through the DNA databank, matching it to Eldred Johnson, imprisoned for another crime, hiding the result for several months, only revealing it when it was time to answer Warney’s brief. Frank Sterling deserves to have his conviction overturned, and to be granted his freedom.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Northern Westchester Bureau Chief
Catherine Wilson

State Department Of Transportation Responds To Guardian Exposé

By the time The Guardian went to press with our article on the Amvets Memorial Bridge over the Croton Reservoir (published February 14, 2008), we had not heard back from the New York State Department of Transportation despite numerous requests for information. We can now report that we have since heard from several sources within that State agency Region 8 sector regarding the bridge.

Joan Dupont, the regional director for DOT, Hudson Valley, informs us that the DOT is aware of the need for repairs to the bridge and has, in fact, already scheduled. Ms. Dupont reassured The Guardian: “DOT has a contractor scheduled for this Spring and is currently working on obtaining environmental permits. is bridge is to be cleaned and painted and will receive repairs to the steel structure. This bridge was inspected over the past two years as part of the State’s routine inspections and the repairs are being made as a result of that

As part of our original investigation, The Guardian discovered that over seventeen thousand bridges nationwide, including almost three thousand federal bridges, are more than two years behind schedule for routine inspections. Some states, such as Hawaii, had over 45% of their bridge inspections behind schedule. New York State was one of only eight states nationwide with zero percent late inspections reported. The Guardian confirmed that statistic with the DOT.

“We do inspect all bridges every two years and move bridges into a one-year category when warranted,” Ms. Dupont told us. As to the level of inspections performed, Dupont continued: “Our inspectors do both a visual and a manual hands-on inspection to obtain
close access. We use bucket trucks to reach over the side and underneath the bridges which allow the inspectors to get up close to all the members of the bridge. This bridge, because it doesn’t have trucks traveling on it, is subject to less stress than other regional bridges,” Dupont assured us.

On the heels of those statements, The Guardian then contacted the Engineering Section for the Hudson Region to obtain answers to some additional questions. Carol McGarrigle, a co-coordinator for the region’s headquarters, forwarded responses to our queries from engineers in the field:

Guardian: What is the expected useful life of this bridge at present?

DOT: The useful life of a bridge is based on many factors. Primarily the main influences in the life of a bridge are deterioration and fatigue.
Fatigue is when the metal is stressed repeatedly through many cycles of loading and unloading. The fatigue of a bridge is dependent on the
strength of the original design and the loading, the type and amount of traffic-like trucks.

Guardian: What work will be performed on this bridge ?

DOT: The project is a maintenance-type project where deteriorated steel will be repaired or replaced and the entire bridge will be repainted. The painting of the bridge will include complete removal of the existing paint and painting all of the steel with three new coats of paint. The
entire project plans and specifications are available on a CD in PDF format.

Guardian: What are the expected dates of this work and how long is it anticipated to last?

DOT: The project is expected to begin this spring and end in late 2009.

Guardian: Are there any special or significant repair techniques and/or equipment that will be used in the repairs and upcoming maintenance on this bridge?

DOT: For the type of work being done there are generally no unique techniques or equipment anticipated. The work will be progressed in a
manner that will keep three lanes of traffic on the bridge during all peak traffic hours.

Guardian: What is the work schedule like?

DOT: The contractor will begin at one end of the bridge and progress his work across the bridge to the end.

Guardian: What was the date of the last inspection and repairs on this bridge?

DOT: The bridge was last inspected on November 16, 2007.

Guardian: What is the projected cost of the upcoming repairs and maintenance on this bridge?

DOT: The low bid for this project was $ 9.3 million.

Guardian: What is the annual cost to maintain and inspect this bridge? Is it on a one-year or two-year cycle for inspections? What time cycle is it on for repairs?

DOT: We do not have readily available data on maintenance cycles and costs. A bridge is normally inspected on a two-year cycle. When there is a yellow structural flag on a bridge it is inspected every year. There is currently a yellow structural flag on this bridge for deterioration at the end of a stringer. If the stringer does not get repaired this year, the bridge will be inspected again this year.

Guardian: What was the annual expected usage of this bridge when it was built? How much has that annual usage increased? Has the increased usage contributed to increased maintenance and repairs or changed the cycle of the maintenance and repairs?

(Note to readers: the Westchester County Planning Department estimates this usage to be currently as high as 75,000
vehicles daily).

DOT: We do not have any readily available information on this.

Guardian: Will any equipment be used to test the weight and stress load on this bridge when checking for hairline cracks not visible to the naked eye?

DOT: is type of work is not anticipated at this time.

Guardian: What type of stress is this bridge subjected to? How does that vary from other bridges in the area, such as, not having trucks cross
it? Does that contribute to different inspection types/cycles and maintenance/repair work?

DOT: The bridge is restricted to cars except that buses are permitted to use the right lane. Generally the only trucks that would be on the bridge are DOT maintenance trucks. The inspection cycle of a bridge is based on the deficiencies (yellow structural flag like noted above).

Guardian: What approvals are needed before the projected maintenance and repairs can be started? What government agencies or other groups are involved in obtaining or obstructing those approvals; DEC, environmental groups, etc.

DOT: This project is developed in coordination with various regional groups. The contractor is required to obtain a NYCDEP permit prior to
starting work.

Some of the above information that The Guardian requested required additional research by the DOT engineers, all of whom were out in the
field either inspecting or repairing the local infrastructure. Naturally, we did not wish to interfere with those important functions at this time but have asked the regional engineers to provide us with further information in the near future. We will keep our readers apprised of those updates and developments with respect to the repair work to the Amvet Memorial Bridge over the Croton Reservoir, as it become available.

Northern Westchester Round-Up

Croton-on-Hudson: The town is seeking to prevent the flooding problems at the Croton-Harmon train station by raising the level of the parking lot by five feet. Town officials sought financial assistance for this project from FEMA, but were denied federal funds last week. FEMA rejected the grant application stating that it did not meet the standards for a hazard-mitigation grant since it is a voluntary parking
lot, not a permanent facility, and warning signs are readily posted to warn commuters of the danger.

Ossining: The Village will be hosting a job fair on April 5 to assist middle and high school students in finding summer employment. The Village will be inviting local businesses and County departments to meet the students.

Somers: The Somers Town Board approved a bond last week to cover improvements to the town’s library. If the bond is passed by the voters, the library will receive needed renovations and a 7,000 square foot addition for a total anticipated cost of $9.5 million.

– Catherine Wilson

Hudson Valley Area Facing Acute Blood Shortages At This Time

A group of Mt. Pleasant Boy Scouts are currently seeking blood donors for the Hudson Valley Blood Service as part of an
Eagle Scout project. Todd Bello, the scout in charge of this project, hopes to get at least 45 to 60 donors to ensure 30 viable donors from a
blood drive he is organizing at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center.

According to the New York Blood Center, nearly 2,000 men, women and children across all ethnic groups in the region need donated blood products every day. These include people who are surgical patients, victims of leukemia, hemophilia, etc., accident victims, and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Only about 2% of our locally eligible population donates blood each year - far below the nationwide average of 5%.

According to Mr. Bello “New York depends on blood from other parts of the country, like the mid-west, for a portion of our local supply. But due to their extremely bad winter this year and local natural disasters lately, the supply from these sources is far lower than usual. And
blood supplies are only good for 42 days”. Contributing to this shortage is the increased demand for blood due to a growing local population, increased transplants, and surgeries, and better medical technology and techniques prolonging survival rates from diseases. Maureen Roberts, an Account Manager at the Hudson Valley Blood Service, is working with these ambitious young men to provide the materials and assistance they need to reach their goals to alleviate this severe shortage affecting our region.

Mr. Bello’s goals for his project: “First, getting the team together and starting publicity – we had a meeting with other scouts, adults, advisors, etc. and laid out the plan(s) for publicity, calling donors, Day-of-the- Drive activities, etc. Then provide training for the team and hold publicity activities – like setting up tables to get people to sign up to donate. Put up posters and other materials and ask local merchants for donations to give out to people who successfully donate”.

(This reporter encountered these young men in front of the Rosehill Shopping Center in Thornwood on a very frigid Saturday morning recently, bravely encountering the elements to sign people up). “Most of the Hudson Valley Area Facing Acute Blood Shortages At This Time people who stopped at our information table told us personal stories of how they, or someone they knew, had been saved by a blood transfusion” Bello told me. “Many people are inspired to donate blood because their own lives were saved by strangers”. In two hours, he and his team had enlisted twelve volunteers to donate blood and distributed over 100 flyers.

A local merchant, Silvio’s restaurant, handed them welcome cups of hot chocolate, although they confided to me that taking turns in the
blood-drop shaped “Mr. Hemoglobin” suit also helped keep their spirits and temperatures up!

The goal of these Eagle Scout projects is not just to get the young men involved in their community. It also teaches them valuable management skills. The day before the blood drive the scouts are geared up to make reminder calls to people who have signed-up and will do a walk-through at the donation site. On the day of the drive itself, the entire team will be on hand to greet donors as they arrive, hand out paperwork, check off names from their list, call no-shows and remind them, take pictures, walk successful donors to the snack
table, man the snack table, hand out any give-aways, and thank everyone who comes to donate.

Bello and his troop’s contribution to the need in our community won’t end there, though. The day after the drive he plans on personally sending out a note to the whole troop on the results of the blood drive, again thank everyone involved including all donors, and contact the no-shows to see if they would be willing to donate in the future.

According to the New York Blood Center, future donations are easiest to obtain from those who have already donated since anxiety is the hardest part of giving blood for most first-timers. The regional blood centers laud their donors as “quiet heroes whose contribution speaks volumes to those in need of a life saving contribution”. In addition to the blood donors, the behind-the-scenes efforts of the blood drive organizers like these local boy scouts, speaks volumes too.

For any of our readers who wish to alleviate this acute blood shortage and help save lives in our region, the Hawthorne Boy Scout Troop 1 will be hosting this Blood Drive on Saturday, March 1st from 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Mt. Pleasant Community Center at 125 Lozza Drive in Valhalla (adjacent to the Mt. Pleasant branch library).

The Hudson Valley Blood Services also sponsors blood drives across our region. For more information on blood drives near
you and what you can do to save a neighbor’s life, call 1-800-933-2566, or log onto

The Guardian thanks the following members of Hawthorne Troop 1 for bringing our region’s critical blood shortage to
our attention, and for all their good work: Todd Bello, Stephen Fabrico, Robert Briggs, Jake Antonaceio, Dante Di-Giansante, Chris Recine, Matt Vogel, Chris Frustaglio, Tommy Higgins

Janet Difiore.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Veil Of Secrecy Over Officer Ridley’s Death Serves No Good Purpose

From the very beginning there has been an unreal veil of secrecy over the investigation into the tragic death of Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley at the hands of four County police officers. At a press conference held 23 hours after the incident, attended by press and media anxious for some explanation, some details of what had actually led up to, and caused the death of Officer Ridley, no details were released. And those gathered were told that no questions would be entertained.

So little was shared by Commissioners Belfiore, Straub and Chong, of the County, White Plains, and Mount Vernon Police Departments, respectively, that it was obvious they were virtually under a gag order from DA DiFiore, who stood at the podium next to them and said not one word. In fact, it was not even established at that press conference how many Westchester County police officers had been involved, much less their identity. Most reporters were surprised to discover, several days later, that there were actually four County officers involved.

The veil of secrecy continues to be so opaque that, weeks later, the name of the 59-year old individual who reportedly suffered two broken wrists and several broken ribs in-flicted by homeless assailant Anthony Jacobs, is still being withheld from defense counsel and the press. Also withheld, except from Officer Ridley’s family, are videotapes from surveillance cameras on the County Office Building. More incredibly, we are told, three weeks following the tragedy, none of the County police officers were yet interviewed for their statements. Memory is not like wine or cheese; it doesn’t get better over time.

We have taken the position, from the start, that the investigation into Officer Ridley’s tragic and untimely death needed to be conducted by the FBI. We have taken that same position with regard to the death of Rene Perez, for which Mount Kisco Police Officer George Bubaris has been charged with Manslaughter. Quite simply stated, the record of the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, with respect to homicides, and other incidents in which police officers have been implicated, is not a good one, to say the least. Given what was learned in eight days of testimony at the Evidentiary Hearing, several weeks ago, in the Court of Judge Rory J. Bellantoni into a 440.10 Motion by former New
York City Transit Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo, regarding the activities of the Dobbs Ferry Police Department under the direction of Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy, her handling of the Ridley investigation remains particularly concernful. Confirming
our concerns were published reports on Friday, February 15 that Murphy had said that Anthony Jacobs would be granted immunity from prosecution for Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon if he would agree to appear before a grand jury.

We were outraged by that offer. And, we were not alone. Who, after all, was Murphy intending to target with the testimony of a homeless, convicted, violent felon? The National Black Police Association declared, on this page, “The recent report of the DA’s Of-fice offering immunity to Anthony Jacobs in exchange for his testimony, is distressing.”

No doubt many sources expressed their disdain and disappointment with such dealings by the Westchester DA’s Office, because the very next day, the statement was disclaimed as having been “misspoken.”

We stand by our position that the shooting death of Police Officer Ridley must be investigated by the FBI. Given the sordid history of the Westchester District Attorney’s Office in such matters, not to mention the political involvement of the various Westchester police departments in endorsing and advocating the election of Westchester District Attorneys over the years, including the present District Attorney, only a federal investigation and prosecution can ensure that there will be fairness and justice without any conflicts of interest.

Our Readers Respond...

County Into Recycling Big-Time? Don’t You Believe It

Dear Editor:

Based on your article, County Steps Into Recycling Big Time, your readers might assume that Westchester County government is the trend setter in recycling. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leadership is best achieved through setting an example. How can County government demand action from others when their own attempts are so flawed? It would appear as though there’s a program in place at County facilities (particularly recreational locations especially since they seasonally generate the most recycling potential). However, blue bins and signage are just a step.

Unlike our communities where recycling days and pickups are in place, County staff are without a plan. It is up to individual facilities to dispose of recyclables, which, too often, means trash. Usually deposit items fare better. Keep in mind there is no oops here, only blue bins have recycling potential. As for paper/cardboard, the dumpsters at County sites, piled with boxes rarely flattened, tell the tale.

It looked like something might happen when Spano wanted to ban styrofoam. The public read this, not as a goal, but a fully researched done deal. But there were many unanswered questions: What is a cost-effective alternative for businesses? What, if any, methods of dissolving styrofoam had been explored?

In the course of Westchester Government activity, staff suggestions are regularly ignored and rebuffed. A compartmentalized County truck was deemed too expensive (yet there are always funds available for a new administrator). Even the notion of working out an arrangement for pickups by local municipalities as part of their regular recycling days was cast aside.

It’s business-as-usual; County Government wants to look good, loyal staffers comply, awards continue to be made. It’s mind-boggling what can be done with numbers.

A former staff person with a conscience

Reader Lauds Coverage Of Affordable Housing Advocate

Dear Editor:

I applaud your article in your weekly publication, The Guardian, about the march on Yonkers City Hall by Affordable Housing Advocates. The current administration, I believe, is trying to get rid of low-income residents by getting rid of low-income housing. Lets face it, if you can’t afford to live there, that means you must move. What’s going to happen when you move and then the same thing happens again? How is that helping, or teaching, our children anything?

First it was just The Stadium, but Yankee Stadium has always been there and they’re building another one, in one of the worst neighborhoods in the Bronx. So I hope that wasn’t the reason that people would not come, with the projects so close by, because, as we know, 55,000 people come to see the Yankees daily, anyway.

Another problem I have with pushing low-income people out of Yonkers is that it ruins families, not just the ones moving but the people that are left behind. In closing, I see where Mayor Amicone’s spokesman said they are going to give low-income people a chance at ownership. This I got to see. Thanks for your article. I’ll be looking forwards to reading more.

John Foust, Yonkers
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Racing Industry Legislation Brings Long-Needed Help To Harness Racing And Yonkers Raceway

By Richard Blassberg

There is truly wonderful news for the City of Yonkers and its residents in the Racing Industry legislation passed two weeks ago in Albany. Senators Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jeff Klein are to be congratulated for their respective support and passage of the bill that will bring $26 million specifically to Yonkers Raceway. It is no secret that the Horse Racing industry in New York State, both Thoroughbred and Harness, have been suffering for more than 30 years attempting to compete with other gaming and gambling venues.

Over that period, Atlantic City, the Indian Tribal Casinos of Connecticut, Meadowlands Racetrack, and, yes, New York City Offtrack Betting, have all taken a big chunk out of the Hilltop Oval’s bottom line. The State, itself, for decades, continued to strangle “the goose that laid the golden eggs,” with too large a take-out. OTB, particularly New York City OTB, with its proximity to Yonkers Raceway, over time virtually destroyed on-track attendance, and with it, all of the revenue from parking, dining, and concessions that once kept a healthy cash flow for horsemen’s purses and management’s profit. At first, the impact was gradual as OTB came into being in the mid-’70s. However, over time, crowds that were once 15,000 spectators and more, during the week, and more than 25,000 on Friday and Saturday nights, dwindled to the point where, today, they are counted in hundreds, mostly horsemen.

Importantly, last week’s vote by the New York City Offtrack Betting Corporation to shut down its operations within a few months, while painful in some quarters, couldn’t be better news for Yonkers. Without question, that decision will bring thousands of harness racing fans back to the track. And, while some may venture across the river to the Meadowlands, Yonkers will get a goodly share.The closure of all nearby OTB parlors, and the infusion of $26 million, will have a dramatically positive impact. Horsemen, and suppliers of feed, harness equipment, veterinary services, blacksmithing, and the like, will all prosper in the back stretch. Additionally, those involved in the gambling operations as well as dining, and concessions, will prosper in the clubhouse and casino area. Communities all over the state, where harness racehorses are bred, trained, and housed, and serviced by local vendors and practitioners, will also see much needed, added revenue.

Finally, the City of Yonkers will receive additional tax revenue and residents will enjoy increased employment opportunities as a result of the legislation. Racing Industry Legislation Brings Long-Needed Help To Harness Racing And Yonkers Raceway
Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

The ‘Obama-thon’

The ‘Obama-thon’ Perhaps what we are experiencing in the present surge of Barack Obama popularity and political capital was to be expected. If, for no other reason than the pent-up feelings and growing frustration felt by a large segment of our nation’s voting-age population.

Consider the fact that George W. Bush, a man who was an obnoxious alcoholic, money burning, son of a former Vice President,
and President, until age 40, has been occupying the Oval Office for the last seven years, installed the first time by a Right Wing,
wrong-headed Supreme Court despite losing the popular vote in 2000; and, snookered into office the second time off of
mass voting machine irregularities in Ohio, Florida, and God knows where else.

Consider, too, that this Leader of the Free World has demonstrated, time and again, that he cannot string two sentences, two intelligent thoughts, together, that are not on a teleprompter. And, think about how very unintelligent he truly is to constantly repeat the word, “NUCULA” when referring to something nuclear. One must ask if his ego is so fragile, his skin so thin, that nobody can save him from himself by simply pointing out the unacceptableness of his pronunciation of a seven-letter word.

However, as frustrating as two terms of all of the above have been, for at least half of the country, perhaps the ultimate rub comes from the
fact that he lied to us; and, based upon that now-obvious lie, dragged us into a war apparently without end; a war already 14 months
longer than our involvement in World War II. And yes, Barbara Bush’s prize package managed to accomplish his mischief while turning an inherited federal surplus into a more than $2 trillion deficit.

Can there be any wonder that Americans, from every political persuasion, now want one thing more than anything else, and want it by the carload? They want change; and they are not concerned particularly about any other aspect; neither experience nor specificity.
Unlike their counterparts, some 40 years ago, the youthful, sometimes starry-eyed followers and supporters of Obama, are neither vitriolic nor violent. They are not protesting against anyone or any thing. Their’s is not the modus operandi of a Jerry Rubin or an Abby Hoffman.

Their political passion is directed, if somewhat blindly, toward an idol, a Rock Star, a symbol of ultimate change. We witness a triumph of form over substance, promise over performance. In essence, the appeal of the Obama phenomenom is more, much more, about
what he is not, and will not be, than it is about what he is or has been. He is perceived as the Ultimate Agent Of Change, and, indeed, markets
himself in that mold. His lack of experience, his lack of connections, far from liabilities, are seen as confirmation that he will deliver a new form of governance; a presidency nothing like the last 20 years of Bushes and Clinton.

Can a Rock Star, a popular idol in February, go on to sweep the nom-inating convention in August? at remains to be seen. It’s not a simple caper to pull off. One doesn’t want to peak too soon. Surging ahead and leaving Hillary in his dust could be counterproductive if it occurred in early March, as it would pit Obama against John McCain and the full force of the Republican Party’s Right Wing Extreme political operatives for fully eight months to Election Day.

Under that scenario, a lot of the luster will certainly tarnish. The energizing of a convention victory would be replaced by a dull, pre-choreographed, affair, guaranteed to be a ‘yawner’. Things his followers never bothered to inquire about will surely surface and fester once delivered in Republican Swift Boat fashion.

However, at this point in the process, with Obama having won the last 11 contests in a row, albeit in mostly small to middle-sized states
such as Wisconsin and Hawaii, the momentum would appear to be with him. Surely the perception of momentum is - and often perception is
the mother of reality - particularly in human a- airs such as politics and the mood of the masses.

In 1952, following 20 years of Democratic occupation of the White House, the Republican Party, desperate for a win, latched on to a war hero, a man not necessarily a proven commodity in issues domestic or political; a man whose political allegiance was, if anything, likely to be with the Democratic Party, coming as he had, from Kansas farm country. Nevertheless, by that summer, the Republican Party had convinced Dwight David Eisenhower, a true American hero, a grandfatherly image with a great confident smile, to be their man.

And soon, the expression “I LIKE IKE” was cropping up like mushrooms on political buttons all across America. The Democrat he would go on to defeat, not once but twice, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, would eventually make his way to the national and international
stage eight years later as John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Ambassador to the United Nations. A gifted orator, a man of impeccable credentials and gentlemanly charm, he might have been a great president, save for the mood of the masses. Oh, yes, in addition to the political buttons for
“Ike”, the Republicans minted as many, declaring “IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE”.

Clearly, it’s that same mass sentiment that it’s time for a change, no doubt more intensely felt today, following the administration of a president many are describing as one of the worst in history, than 56 years ago. In point of fact, Harry Truman left his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, a two and a half year successful war, The Korean War, to finally wind down six months after taking office, and George W. Bush will leave a five and a half year war that nobody, not even Obama, can realistically expect to end that soon.

Finally, the Obama-thon, a serious campaign by a Black American for president, not unlike Hillary’s effort to elect a woman, is possible at
this particular point in our nation’s history, not so much because as a people we have necessarily, finally laid aside our racial and gender prejudices. Rather, it’s because even the most biased and jaded amongst us will acknowledge that if George W. Bush can be
president, anyone can be.
Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Judge Rory Bellantoni’s Court Hosts Swearing-In Of 123 New Citizens

Last Wednesday afternoon, a large group of brand-new United States citizens were sworn in at the Westchester County Courthouse, White Plains, by County Clerk Tim Idoni in the presence of, and under the authority of, County Judge Rory J. Bellantoni. The naturalization ceremony took place in the Central Jury Room, filled with the participants and their families, more than 250 in all.

In addition to Clerk Idoni and Judge Bellantoni, each of the new citizens were greeted by Mr. Sam Zherka, Publisher of The Westchester Guardian, who had delivered a brief, encouraging and congratulatory address. In his remarks, Zherka described himself as the son of Albanian immigrants, “who came to America 40 years ago.” He explained that his father, now 80, was a superintendent of a building in The Bronx
and that, through hard work and modest living, he went on to purchase that building, and several others as well.

Zherka confided that, although born in New York, he did not learn to speak English until he was seven years old, in school. Congratulating the newly-sworn citizens, he told them, “You hit the lottery today!”

Amongst the new citizens was Karla Dinora Alvarado, wife of County Legislator Jose Alvarado, of Yonkers. She was sworn in, in the company of her husband and their three little girls. Alvarado took the opportunity to tell this reporter that Publisher Zherka’s remarks were “inspiring.”

Both Clerk Tim Idoni and Judge Rory Bellantoni encouraged the participants, each informing them that they were the grandchildren of immigrants. They encouraged the newly-minted citizens to sign on with both the Board of Elections as well as the County Clerk’s Passport Office, each of which had representatives present at the ceremony.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks: Prosecutorial Misconduct and Junk Science Leads To Death Sentence, Many Years In Prison, In Two Mississippi Cases

By Jeff Deskovic

Kennedy Brewer, represented by The Innocence Project, was expected to be exonerated on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008 after serving more than 15 years in prison in Mississippi, much of it on Death Row, for a child murder that DNA proved he did not commit. The evidence should also lead to the exoneration of Levon Brooks, another Innocence Project client, who was wrongfully convicted of a separate murder.
Together, the cases reveal deep and disturbing problems in Mississippi’s criminal justice system, which in many ways mirrors prosecutorial
misconduct that is going on across this country, leading to many wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project released the following report on the cases:

“An Innocence Project investigation of the cases has uncovered new evidence, including DNA test results and a confession, that identified the actual perpetrator in both cases, who was arrested earlier this week (Monday, Feb. 11). At a hearing in rural Noxubee County, Mississippi, on Thursday, Brewer was expected to be fully cleared, making him the first person exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing in Mississippi. Levon Brooks, who was convicted of an identical murder, was to appear at the same hearing and leave the courtroom
a free man. The two cases are remarkably similar. Brooks was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing his ex-girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter.

Just 18 months after that brutal murder, the three-year-old daughter of Brewer’s girlfriend was raped and murdered in the same rural county.
In both cases, the victims were found in bodies of water very close to their homes. The same police, prosecutors and forensic analysts handled both cases and collaborated in ignoring and fabricating evidence to send two innocent men to prison. DNA testing first proved Brewer’s innocence in 2001. His conviction was thrown out, but he remained behind bars awaiting another trial because prosecutors claimed they were preparing to again seek the death penalty against him. Because the case had been so poorly mishandled by local
officials, the Innocence Project asked the state Attorney General’s office to intervene, and a Special Prosecutor was appointed to handle the case. The new team immedately said it wouldn’t seek the death penalty and agreed to free Brewer on bond in August 2007. The Innocence Project’s investigation led to an alternate suspect in the case, Justin Albert Johnson.

Remarkably, Johnson had been an initial suspect in both crimes. He lived near each of the victims at the time of the crimes, and he was the
only initial suspect with a history of committing sexual assaults against young girls and women. When DNA testing matched
Johnson, the state Attorney General’s office arrested him and, earlier this week (Feb. 11), he confessed to committing both murders alone.

‘If local law enforcement had properly investigated these crimes, they would have stayed focused on Albert Johnson from the beginning.
In fact, if Albert Johnson had been apprehended for the first crime, the second one would never have happened and the three-year-old victim
would be approaching her 18th birthday,’ said Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin. These two cases show just how
broken Mississippi’s justice system is. The main evidence against both Brewer and Brooks was the testimony of Dr. Michael West, who testified at both trials that marks on the victims were bites caused by each of the men. In fact, the marks were caused by insects and animals in the water where the bodies were dumped. West was discredited years ago and collaborates with a similarly discredited medical examiner, Steven Hayne. It is well known throughout Mississippi that Hayne works closely with police and prosecutors to reach autopsy determinations that suit their investigations and prosecutions, and that West will dispense with professionalism to provide the testimony prosecutors need to secure convictions.

Together, West and Hayne, enabled and empowered by police and prosecutors who pursued two innocent men despite the evidence,
misrepresented and fabricated evidence that convicted Brewer and Brooks. This week, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks both learned
that the injustice they have endured for more than 15 years will finally come to and end. ‘In two decades, we have never seen a more stark and troubling example of a rush to judgment at the hands of notorious forensic analysts who conspired to commit fraud. The system
wasn’t just broken in these cases; different elements within the system actually conspired to convict two innocent men of heinous crimes, while the actual perpetrator remained at large,’ Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said. ‘These cases should haunt Mississippi and the nation, and they should lead to a top to-bottom review of how the state is investigating and prosecuting cases.’”

Although these two cases are particularly egregious, they contain many of the same elements of numerous wrongful conviction cases.
They were brutal crimes, and accordingly there was public outrage. Police made their minds up fairly early as to who they would arrest. It was only a matter of figuring out how they would do it. They were assisted by “experts” who provided fraudulent science and evidence enabling the arrests. Once the cases were in the hands of the District Attorney, he did not merely look the other way but, in fact,
took an active part in multiple acts of prosecutorial misconduct. In addition, it was well known that Hayne, the coroner, worked backwards. Yet the prosecution took no steps to attempt to remove him from his position, but allowed him to continue to work hand in glove with the police. They sat idly by, allowing him to continue his justice-obstructing tactics. This unwillingness to go against other law enforcement personnel is reminiscent in many ways of the blue wall of silence that exists among police agencies as otherwise honest police officers sit back and look the other ways as rogue officers allow corruption to rule the day.

It is representative of ‘the Us v Them’ mentality, in which any action can be justified. After all, the twisted thinking goes, it is being done to ‘solve’ a crime. In this case, as in many wrong-
ful conviction cases, it is not good faith errors that occurred, but willful engaging in evidence fabrication. When evidence to the contrary surfaced during the investigation, it was ignored because it did not fit in with the theory that they were hellbent on proving. As in all wrongful convictions, when the wrong person is sent to prison, it leaves a perpetrator free to strike others. And, as so frequently happens, he did, thus needlessly causing yet another person to be victimized.

Even after that, once the second crime had been committed, surely the similarities, which were obvious, should have caused a reevaluation
of the first case and prompted an inquiry into whether, in fact, the wrong person had been sent to prison. But instead, nothing was done. No law enforcement officer was prompted to lose any sleep or take any action by opening up a line of inquiry.

Junk science was involved in sending these two men to prison, one of the causes of wrongful convictions in general. Then, the prosecution
suborned perjury by allowing the so called ‘experts’ to testify to knowingly untruthful things. The defendants, being poor, were unable to afford skilled lawyers who might have provided the vigorous defense which all American citizens are entitled to under the Constitution,
but so rarely receive.

Instead, they were represented by public defenders, who rendered typically inadequate representation. The trial judge, responsible to ensure that trials are fair and to promote justice as an arbiter between the state and the defendant, was not much help either. A harsh penalty was imposed. The appeals process failed the defendants, as the cases were rubber-stamp denied through the appellate process. Then, once evidence surfaced of innocence the Prosecution still did not want to acknowledge that innocence, and so the Defendants remained incarcerated.

When one considers the police collusion with the coroner known to tailor findings, with the coroner’s actions himself, combined with the
Prosecution’s knowing use of that testimony; and then single-mindedly fighting against all of the appeals, keeping the Defendants incarcerated, the unmistakable conclusion to any observer must be that this was no good faith error but rather was intentional. As in all wrongful convictions, no compensation is provided to the exonerated, but instead they must embark upon another legal battle to get anything at all. In the intervening 2-7 years they are turned loose with nothing, to sink or swim, unable to simply focus on trying to get their lives back together, much less cope with their traumatic experience. They will be extremely challenged, facing a different world, attempting to overcome
financial pressures.

In reflecting about these cases, although Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks are the Defendants, their story could have been written about
any of the far too many wrongfully convicted individuals that continue to come to light. The similarities are too many. The story could have
been about Marty Tankleff and the uncovering of new evidence and the single-minded opposition of the Suffolk County District Attorney. It could have been about John Kogut, John Restivo, and Dennis Halstead, of Nassau County, and the role that the junk science played. It could have been about Barry Gibbs in that DNA was not preserved. In fact, it could have been my own case: a rush to judgment, making evidence fit a conclusion, fabricating and tailoring of a coroner’s report to facilitate prosecution.

It could have been about the multiple parts of the law enforcement community, from police to coroner to prosecutor, to inadequate public
defenders, through single minded opposition to appeals. These cases, once again, show the importance of getting legislation
passed to protect the innocent. They show the need for many of the reforms that have been previously written about, including the need for
a revamped system of public defense. They show how innocent people get sentenced to death.

These cases demonstrate the need for legislation to attach severe penalties for prosecutorial misconduct, and to lengthen the statute of
limitations on perjury. It is certainly a crime that neither the prosecutors, nor the coroner, nor the police will face prosecution for fabricating evidence, suborning perjury, and purposefully sending innocent men to prison, one of them to death row.

Mississipi does not stand alone. There had been 212 DNA exonerations nationwide, and with these two men, 214. Or course, there are non-
DNA exonerations occurring all of the time, such as Marty Tankleff and Anthony DiSimone. These cases do not show that the system is working, but rather that it is not. No “justice” that consists of spending years, often decades in prison before producing a finding of “not
guilty” can be reasonably said to have worked. For if this is a “working”, then God help us all. We might as well pack it in and resign ourselves to long years of incarceration once arrested.

These cases show the need for Innocence Commissions to further study what went wrong in cases in order to prevent future ones, much like black boxes in airplanes are studied, and further investigations to discover if there are other occurrences of wrongful convictions not yet uncovered but perpetrated by the same actors.

In addition to preventative legislation, funds are needed to cover basic needs such as housing, cost of living, mental health, health insurance, and the education of exonerated individuals. Society as a whole can learn from these cases, far beyond the borders of Mississippi. Wrongful convictions occur and there are holes in the system which desperately need to be closed. And make no mistake, the chest beating of those in different states, “This could never happen here” could not be further from the truth.

All those involved in law enforcement, prosecution, judges, must be made to see what happens when these kinds of tactics are permitted to go on; when innocent people are wrongfully sent to prison, and perpetrators left free to strike again. All those right-minded individuals within the criminal justice system must resolve within themselves to guard against becoming similarly involved.

The thing that haunts me, personally, the most, even beyond the fact that, like Mr. Brewer, I, too, could have been sentenced to death had I been just two years older, are the many men and women currently wrongfully incarcerated, especially those whose cases do not fall into the mere 10 percent that have DNA to test.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Northern Westchester Bureau Chief
Catherine Wilson

Cleaning Up Our Act

In November, 2007, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano announced that the County would be enforcing the Source Separation Law. Starting January 7, 2008, the County would require municipalities and garbage haulers to flag garbage and recyclables, not properly separated, with a yellow sticker. After February 1, 2008, any garbage not in compliance would be tagged with a red sticker and not be removed. In addition to fines, civil and criminal penalties might also be imposed.

Given such a stern announcement, many local residents are concerned as to how this law will impact them and their privacy. The Guardian interviewed the County administrators, local municipalities, and trash haulers to determine what impact this will have on the citizens in our area. To be honest, we shared the concern that this would be Big Brother sniffing around in our personal garbage. What we found was a win-win situation that everyone involved with was excited about participating in. Who knew people could get so jazzed up over garbage?

The Source Separation Law which was the basis for the County Executive’s announcement, is not a new law. It was enacted on July 20, 1992. Its stated purpose was “to protect the environment and to manage the solid waste stream in Westchester County” (Source Separation
Law Sec. 825.11 – the full text of this law is available on the County website at

As Lou Vetrone, the Deputy Director of the Westchester Solid Waste Commission explained to The Guardian, the County is now attempting to increase the compliance with this law. “Westchester County is one of the best counties in New York State for Cleaning Up Our Act
recycling” Mr. Vetrone noted. “We recycled over 46% of our waste in 2006, whereas New York City recycles less than 30%. However, out west, in places like California, that percentage is closer to 70%.”

The County was taking steps to improve compliance with the recycling law months before Spano’s announcement last November. According to Vetrone, in August 2007 the County formed a Recycling Enforcement Task Force comprised of the County’s Solid Waste Commission, Public Safety departments, and the Department of Environmental Facilities. The task force’s commendable first step was to audit all County facilities to ensure that the government institutions responsible for enforcing the law were not themselves in violation of the law. The goal
was for the County to hold itself up as a successful role model. “We made sure that the County was in compliance first before we told anyone else what to do” Vetrone bemused. “Based on that audit, we then made recommendations for the public. We sent out over 400,000
mailings to homes and held seminars for municipalities, private haulers, schools, businesses, hospitals, and sanitation crews. Then we
revamped the County’s website to include self-audit forms for municipalities and schools/hospitals/businesses/etc,” said Vetrone.

The County has been doing extensive due diligence on recycling compliance. “The law has been around since 1992,” Vetrone noted. “So all the county is trying to do is enforce it.” To that end, the task force sent out inspectors to sites and personally inspected 750 loads of garbage. They issued warnings to haulers not in compliance and, in some instances, tracked the non compliant trash back to the waste generator. But the public should not be concerned that the County will start looking through their personal garbage. “We are not looking for the Coke bottle in your garbage,” Vetrone stressed. “We are looking for egregious violations. No one is going to get a $250 fine because they tossed a soda can into the garbage. We’re looking for violators who don’t recycle.” In addition to the privacy issue, another concern of the public has been
the matter of using clear trash bags for recyclable garbage. Vetrone noted that, “The county is not requiring the use of clear bags for recyclables. Recyclables are never in clear bags, they belong in the sorting bins”. However, Vetrone did note that some private haulers may require their customers to use clear bags for waste disposal purposes.

The County is taking a positive approach to enforcing the recycling law. “We are looking at this as a partnership with our citizens,” Vetrone
continued. “We are leaving a bigger carbon footprint on our planet so we need to reduce that. Plus, recycling reduces our tax bill. The more we recycle, the less it costs the county.” The County is already seeing benefits from this enforcement. On February 1 of this year, Spano announced that, “Revenue generated by recyclables brought to the County recycling center last month broke a record of $903,350.80. The previous record was about $700,000.” That’s already an increase in revenues of almost $2.5 million a year. The County enforcement
procedures are still in their infancy so the potential for even greater revenues from increased recycling exists.

The County’s lead on improving compliance has generated raves from an unlikely source – the private waste haulers. Diane Chickering, the Account Representative and Recycling Coordinator for Suburban Carting, stressed that, “The tools from the County have
been very helpful. The County gave us a head start last August. They’ve added a lot of structure. The results have been wonderful; it helps to get customers in compliance.” Suburban Carting is taking their role in recycling beyond the trash dumps. Ms. Chickering goes to schools, nursing homes, businesses, and municipalities to give talks and seminars on the benefits of recycling.

“It’s terrific to see a kindergartener get excited about helping our planet,” Chickering enthused “I can’t stop talking about recycling to people. When we recycle, each and every one of us is doing our part.”

Private haulers also see a financial benefit from increased recycling by their customers. As Chickering explained, “With the increased recycling efforts the (paper products & cardboard) and the volume, the market for these materials is very high right now. This is very good because it helps us keep the additional (recycling) operations cost down. This is passed onto our customer. For example the rate we charge the customer for trash rate is higher than our cardboard rate. That is where the customer can see the difference.

It is cheaper to pick up recyclable items than trash”. Suburban Carting is the private hauler for the towns of North Castle and New Castle, the latter of which is taking an even greater lead in “going green.” New Castle is priding itself as being at the forefront of combating climate change. On February 12, the town board adopted a resolution pledging to reduce greenhouse gases and to adapt to a changing environment.

According to the town’s followup press release, “The 10 measures in the resolution include a commitment to encourage renewable energy; realizing the benefits of recycling; and incorporating climate changes, sustainability, and environmental goods and services into any economic plans the Town may adopt”. New Castle is the first town in New York State to officially pledge its commitment to combat climate change.
But only The Guardian attended the February 12th meeting to report this important milestone – Cable 12, The Journal News, and other regional media did not brave the snowstorm to attend the town meeting!

In its efforts, New Castle will be partnering with the newly developed NYS Office of Climate Change. The town’s press release notes that “by partnering with the state, New Castle will have access to the Office of Climate Change’s technical staff of engineers, economists, and researchers. They’ll help assist the Town through the process, and possibly help secure funding necessary for the measures the Town
commits to adopt”.

The climate change resolution by the Town of New Castle is already more than just a pledge. The Town will be hosting a forum on Wednesday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall to discuss recycling laws and procedures with the public. According to Ms. Lori
Sachare, the Public Information Officer for the Town of New Castle, “We are definitely encouraging our residents to think green”. That attitude was evident at the February 12 hearing where several residents expressed their opinions on the proposal to address the garbage
issues for the businesses on Allen Place.

The local residents weighed the benefits of collecting garbage from one dumpster at one time as opposed to the current system of multiple dumpsters/collections. David Rambo, the Assistant Commissioner of Public Works for the town, noted that, “Establishing a transfer
station for the garbage pickup will result in fewer pickups.”

Other towns are seeing similar responses to this issue. Marco Gennarelli, the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works for the Village of Croton-on-Hudson said that, “So far, there are no problems with the recycling compliance.” Gennarelli did note that multi-family buildings are tough, but the village has been talking to building managers to achieve compliance.

The County is already taking even further steps to reduce the trash in our midst. The “Treasure Hunt” page on the County website is a popular source for residents to swap their unused items with each other, for free. Items on this page have ranged from medical and
business equipment to personal items like furniture and large swing sets to left-over building materials from construction sites. This page is updated every week for new “treasures”. County residents can even post a wish list of items they are searching for on this

These new compliance measures are just the tip of the iceberg for the county. As Mr. Vetrone noted, “San Francisco has the highest rate of recycling in the country, over 70%. But they achieve those rates because they also do composting.” Vetrone continued that
several towns in northern Westchester are now encouraging composting, especially for leaves. “Addressing organic waste is the next logical step,” Vetrone noted. Ms. Chickering pointed out that while Suburban Carting can recycle all classifications of plastics (symbols 1
through 6) most municipalities are currently only accepting types 1 and 2 for recycling. Expanding the acceptability of all types of plastics for recycling will result in even greater revenues for the County.

As for all those recycled items; they end up as new products. According to Suburban Carting, glass manufacturers regularly use recycled glass in the production of new containers with percentages of recycled material ranging from 7%-50%. Unlike glass or steel, paper degrades each time it is recycled. for this reason, not all recycled paper goes directly to manufacturers to make more paper. Some of it is used to create
insulation, animal bedding or in composting.

Publications from Suburban Carting stress the importance of recycling to their clients by reminding them that, “Plastic is made from fossil fuel (approximately 30% oil and 70% natural gas), a non-renewable resource.” Recycling not only reduces our trash and provides a new source of revenues for the County, but it also preserves our planet’s natural resources. Enforcing compliance with the County’s existing recycling law makes sense. Any local resident with questions can call the County’s Solid Waste Commission’s new recycling hotline at

Northern Westchester Round-Up

Buchanan: The NYS Department of Environmental Protection is calling for the development of a new water cooling facility at Indian Point. The DEC is insisting upon this facility as a stipulation for renewing Entergy’s operating licenses. The DEC alleges that the
current water cooling system dumps billions of gallons of heated water into the Hudson River on a daily basis, killing billions of fish and plant life there.

Ossining: Sandy Galef, NYS Assemblywoman 90th District, announced grants awarded in her district for road and infrastructure improvements. The grants ranged from $20,000 to Croton-on-Hudson for repairs to route 129, to $50,000 to Cortlandt for repairs to King’s Ferry Road.

Yorktown: The town announced that it is dismissing the town attorney, Kevin Sweeney, and is soliciting proposals from law firms and attorneys to represent the town in legal matters. The town supervisor, Don Peters, claims the town can save $200,000 annually by outsourcing its legal services. Peters also favors using a law firm over a single litigator to provide the town with expertise in a variety of areas of law.

– Catherine Wilson
Our Readers Respond...

DA’s Offer Of Immunity To Anthony Jacobs Distresses National Black Police Association

Dear Editor:

The Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association continues to monitor the investigation of Detective Christopher Ridley’s death. As previously stated, we will not rush to judgment until the facts are concrete and clear.

The recent report of the DA’s office offering immunity to Anthony Jacobs in exchange for his testimony is distressing. Mr. Jacobs is the homeless man that our brother Detective Christopher Ridley was trying to arrest when he was fatally shot. Mr. Jacobs is part of the reason that Detective Ridley is not in the ranks with us today.

It is the opinion of the Westchester NBPA, that giving total immunity to Mr. Jacobs is a disservice to the heroic efforts of our brother Detective Ridley. Additionally it sends a negative message to all Law Enforcement Professionals when we are called to go above and beyond the call of duty.

In Unity And In Peace

Damon K. Jones,
Executive Director, Westchester NBPA
Executive Board Member, National Black Police Association

National Black Police Association Expresses Further Concerns

Dear Editor:

On February 1, 2008 we sent our brother to a better place. Detective Christopher Ridley is our Hero. Whenever there is a loss of life of one of our fellow law enforcement brethren, it is unfortunate and tragic.

We will ask the question over and over again. How could this happen to our brother Detective Christopher Ridley? Is it because he didn’t have the complexion for the protection? Or was it just a bad case of miscommunication and judgment on the part of all of the officers involved? God only knows the truth at this time. We ask the community to not rush to judgment on any officer’s role in this unfortunate situation, until the facts in this matter are concrete and clear.

Moreover, we do not condemn our brother officers to stand alone in their time of need. We embrace them as they must come to terms with their role in this tragic incident. We will say OVER and OVER AGAIN as Black Law Enforcement Professionals we must look into the institutional perception and policies of policing when it comes to people of our communities.

With these perceptions, black communities are at a tremendous disadvantage and can never hope to receive the service and protection from the police they are rightfully due. We can never forget that slavery led to the creation of uniformed police in southern cities decades before New York and Boston established the forces which remain the accepted starting point for the history of the police in the United States.
In an article by Shelly Zieger she wrote that Joshua Correll who is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, Correll has been trying to find the answer through a series of studies he has published since 2002.

Through a video simulation Correll and his colleagues created, the studies tested 270 police officers from 15 different states and 187 civilians, in an attempt to gauge how racial bias plays into a police officer’s decision to shoot a suspect. It showed that the officers, just like untrained civilians, seem to exhibit racial bias in their reaction time: They were quicker to decide not to shoot an unarmed white suspect than an unarmed black suspect and slower to decide to shoot an armed white suspect than an armed black suspect. The results, Correll believes,
suggest that participants associate African Americans with more violence. And the implication could be ominous, he said.

The Numbers

According to the Department of Justice Westchester County has six (6) police agencies with one hundred (100) or more full-time employees. These agencies are Greenburgh, Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains, Yonkers, and the Westchester County Police Department.

The racial breakdown of the six agencies including the Westchester County Police Department is:

Total Blacks Percentage

Westchester County Police 290 15 5%

Greenburgh Police 133 17 13%

Mt. Vernon Police 211 51 24%

New Rochelle Police 257 37 15%

White Plains Police 265 29 11%

Yonkers Police 673 27 4%

The population and racial breakdown of the cities that have 100 or more full time law enforcement professionals is as follows:

Total Black Percentage

Greenburgh 41,828 8,489 21%

Mt Vernon 68,381 40,743 62%

New Rochelle 72,182 13,848 20%

White Plains 53,077 8,444 17%

Yonkers 196,086 32,575 18%

The total population of Westchester County is 923,495. The black population is 131,132 (15%). By reviewing these totals, it is clear that these agencies do not come close to representing the population of the citizens they serve. Mt. Vernon and Yonkers have no black official higher than the rank of Sergeant. In the year 2007 this is very distressing when the black population of Yonkers in 18% and Mt.Vernon is 62%.

It is the view of the Westchester Chapter of the National Black Police Association that proper representation of black law enforcement professionals is a key when we are dealing with the issues of: Departmental Promotions and Management Departmental polices and how they affect the communities in Westchester; especially the communities of color. Police Brutality and Police Misconduct Effective Community Policing Institutional Perceptions of African Americans

We will NOT lose another officer as we did in losing our brother Detective Christopher Ridley.

Damon K. Jones
Executive Director, Westchester NBPA
National Board Member, National Black Police Association

Reader Takes Issue With Columnist Polvere

Dear Editor:

As a true Conservative, I respect yours, and Fred Polvere’s, Constitutional right to express a Liberal viewpoint. The views expressed, however, should not be tainted with such hatred of President Bush, that the basics of good reporting are cast aside in the rush to unsubstantiated judgment. Mr. Polvere uses fuzzy math to support his thesis that the so-called “Bush tax-cuts” are only for the rich and cites the experience of Warren Buffet, a well known financier, to prove his point. Polvere claims that Buffet was aghast that his employees paid an average of 32.9% of their earnings in Federal Taxes, much, much more than the 17.7% he says he paid on an income of $46 billion. Polvere says that Buffet was especially concerned that his “Receptionist’s tax rate of 30%” was higher than his.

Oh that each of us were in Buffet’s employ because, for that Receptionist to pay 30% of her income in Federal Income taxes, her earnings would have had to exceed $300,000 per annum--not bad for a Receptionist. I ran the 30% through the 2007 Federal Tax tables based on the following, reasonable assumptions. The Receptionist is under age 65; is married and filing jointly; is taking the Standard Deduction -- although we all know that persons with such incomes itemize their deductions.

The following computation is based on the Tax Table, page 75 of the “1040 Forms & Instructions-2007.” Earned Income of $300,00,00; Standard Deduction of $10,300.00 leaving a Taxable Income of $289,700.00. Section B. indicates that Federal Income tax on such taxable Income is $289,700.00 multiplied by 33%, ($95,601,00), “less” a “Subtraction Amount” of $20,800.00. The total tax, therefore, is $74,801.00. Based on earned income of $300,000.00, such tax amount represents 24.934% of total income--not the 30% quoted by Polvere. To achieve the “average tax rate of 32.9%” paid by Buffet’s other employees, they would have had to be paid an annual salary in excess of

Whatever happened to the first rule of reporting; “first you check the facts, and then you check the facts, and then you check the facts.”
One of my close friends was also of the opinion that the “Bush Tax Cuts” only affected the rich. When I asked him to compare his tax returns year by year, adjusting totals for any increases in income year to year, he sheepishly replied “based on my views, I guess I must be rich.” His highest annual earned income during the last four years was $120,000.00. Excepting the above, not a bad newspaper. Hope you expand and get bigger.

Vincent Forte, Eastchester

Editor’s Note: One need not be a “Conservative” to respect another’s right of free speech. However, you are free to categorize the political viewpoint of any author appearing in these pages, my own included, though one should be careful with their assumptions.

Reader Brings Engineering Details To Bridge Story

Dear Editor:

I thought Ms. Wilson’s February 14th article about the bridge across the Croton Reservoir was thorough, interesting and well written, but something you wrote about the bridge might upset persons who deal regularly with the design of bridges. In the third paragraph, you correctly described the bridge as a triple-hinged, steel truss arch bridge, but only a few lines earlier you had called it a deck truss bridge. I think most engineers think of a deck truss bridge as a wholly different (much less elegant) structure, i.e. that they think of a deck truss bridge as a fairly pedestrian structure in which the deck is supported by trusswork whose long axis is parallel to the roadway and placed approximately at its level, not as one in which the deck is suspended from a soaring, trussed arch. A bit trivial, I suppose, in the larger context of your article, but perhaps confusing to some.

Incidentally, you may find interesting the fact that this Taconic Parkway bridge was designed by Howard Baird, who had about seven years earlier designed the Bear Mountain Bridge.

Don Wolf, Somers

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Mayor Amicone Must Welcome These Residents To The Table

Last Tuesday night, in weather that was as nasty as we had seen all winter, members of a group known as Community Voices Heard, Yonkers Chapter, and numerous low-income Yonkers residents, marched on City Hall from “Chicken Island”, demanding a voice in the redevelopment of their city, their neighborhoods.

Specifically, they wished to be heard by the Amicone Administration and the City Council, with regard to their concerns over the demolition of low-income housing that they fear will be replaced by apartments which they will not be able to afford. They believe that the City has wrongfully left them out of their plans and negotiations with developers of luxury housing.

Marching were families who cannot afford rents of $2,000 or more for a two-bedroom apartment. They are all for tearing down dilapidated, outdated and institutional-type apartment complexes, but not if it means they will be driven out of the community. They say, “The City is targeting outside people to come to Yonkers to live in these luxury apartments when we’ve got people already here who don’t have a place
to live.” The demonstrators are seeking more than an affordable apartment. They are demanding a place at the table, a stake and a say in the future of Yonkers. And, they do not sense that the Amicone Administration is particularly anxious to sit down with them. One gets the feeling, speaking with them, that these Yonkers residents feel as though the rug is being pulled out from under them. Perhaps they’re right.

Surely, developers are disinclined to construct affordable housing. It’s all about bottom-line profit. Whether they retain the development as a rental property, sell it off as condominiums to owner/occupiers, or sell to a management corporation, the higher the rental value, the greater the profit. Affordable housing does not cost all that much less to construct if built to high fire and safety standards, as well as aesthetically-pleasing architectural and materials choices.

Mayor Amicone, and those with whom he has contracted to change the face of Yonkers’ ‘blighted areas’, should not be avoiding Community Voices Heard, nor any other civic group wishing to have a say in the evolution of their community. They are not mere faceless masses; bodies of adults and children who will occupy millions of square feet of reconfigured space. They are the individuals and the families
from whose kitchens will emerge the sounds and smells that will turn thousands of dwellings into homes.

Many years ago, the City of New York embarked upon the construction of low and middle-income housing amidst existing tenements and single-family homes throughout the City without community consultation. “The Projects”, as they came to be known, were generally disliked by those already living in the affected neighborhoods as well as by many who took apartments in them. Those of us who befriended
schoolmates living in The Projects felt badly for them whenever we visited; the smell of urine in the elevators, the broken fixtures, the graffiti, just assailed you. There was no sense of commitment, no pride that comes with community involvement, and a feeling of belonging.

Those who braved the elements to march last Tuesday night, and to register their concerns about the way Mayor Amicone and the city government have failed to involve them in the planning and reconstruction of their own community, need to be welcomed, not ignored. Low-income families are a legitimate component of the community. Their needs must be accomodated and they must be allowed to have a stake in their city’s future, a sense of pride and a sense of belonging.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

When Will Joe Bruno And Friends Stop Politicizing New York’s Criminal Justice System?

Republican-Sponsored State Senate Bill Would Reduce Parole To A Trickle

If it were entirely up to the Republican-controlled State Senate, nobody in the state prison system would ever be paroled. Hypocrites the likes of Joe Bruno would like it just fine if we simply spent billions of dollars building more and more prisons, and never let any of “those criminals” out. Of course, “it’s just too bad about” those who were unlawfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. What was it Joe’s good friend, Jeanine Pirro, wrote in her book: “Cage The Bastards.”

Under George Pataki, the State Parole Board was a virtual stone wall. Unless, of course, you were the relative of an influential and wealthy political contributor. Inmates well beyond their sentenced time, with excellent conduct in prison, were routinely turned down. Those who were, in fact, innocent and doing hard time for crimes they did not commit, were made to admit that they were guilty, or else be automatically
turned down. It’s incredible that creatures such as Joe Bruno and Jeanine Pirro, each under federal investigation, hold themselves
out as protectors of the public; “tough on crime.” And, of course, there was Republican Governor George Pataki and his army of
Republican appointees, mostly greedy, common criminals, such as Robert Boyle and Jack Gaffney.

Not content enough with their six-figure appointments, Boyle to the Chairmanship of the Port of New York Authority and the Javits
Center; Gaffney, as Commissioner of the Bridge Authority; each had to steal from the public treasury.

A new bill recently introduced by the Republican majority in the State Senate would require all three appointees on a parole panel to vote in favor of release. Two out of three would no longer qualify. Joe Bruno, Republican State Senator and Majority Leader, whose financial dealings with pension funds are under investigation, and whose son, for years, practiced as a lobbyist, trading on his father’s position and
influence, has the gall to refer to Governor Spitzer as “soft on crime.”

However, while continuing their charade, their pretend protection of the public from criminals, the Republican-controlled State Senate refuses to recognize the need for legislation to control prosecutorial misconduct. They would, instead, prefer to sweep the growing body of evidence that District Attorneys’ Offices, all over the state, have engaged in unconstitutional conduct from public awareness. Nevertheless, Jeffrey Deskovic, Anthony DiSimone, Richard DiGuglielmo, and numerous other cases in Westchester; Marty Tankleff in Suffolk; and the Central Park Jogger and Paladium cases in Manhattan, all refuse to go away. Some 13 recent exonerations across New York State, based on DNA evidence alone, cannot be ignored.

Prosecutors who engage in the withholding of exculpatory information, Brady and Rosario materials; intimidation and turning of witnesses; tampering with evidence; suborning of perjury, and countless other unlawful acts, must be punished. The notion that prosecutors are immune
from accountability, the notion of absolute immunity, is a fiction.

The fact is, prosecutors enjoy only qualified immunity when appropriately engaged in lawful investigatory or prosecutorial activity.
Unlawful conduct that knowingly, and intentionally, violates the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of any accused must be
met with decisive punishment; stiff fines, and loss of licensure, at the very least.

We must not tolerate a two tiered criminal justice system; one for the wealthy and politically-connected, and another for the rest of us. The Joe Brunos, Jeanine Pirros, and Bernie Keriks of New York, who essentially say “Do as I say, not as I do,” and who believe that they are above the law, must be brought down to earth, and made to comply with the same laws that govern us all. As for prosecutors at every level; “One who would enforce the law, must live by it.”
Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Civil Rights Violations At Every Level In New York State Government

Not Merely The State Court System, Prosecutors, And Law Enforcement; The Thruway Authority As Well

It seems that more and more frequently persons engaged in any form of activity or relationship with New York State agencies find themselves seeking relief and redress in Federal Court. Julia Basile, a welder and a single mother of a young daughter, is employed by the New York State Thruway Authority, and has discovered, over the last five years, just what a “good old boys’ ” club the Thruway Authority is. She has also discovered how dangerous to life and limb things can quickly become in a hostile work environment. Most discouragingly,
she has learned that neither her employer nor her Union, Local 72 of the Teamsters, will protect her from sexual harassment, or even from retaliatory attempts on her life.

Basile, who began her employment with the State Thruway Authority in April, 2003, could never have imagined the intense sexual harassment she would encounter from Walter Spagnola, a painter and supervisor at her job site on the Tappan Zee Bridge. As the only female welder assigned to maintenance and repair of the bridge, Ms. Basile, 34, endured sexual harassment, stalking, unwanted touching and physical contact, and verbal abuse, in the presence of several male painters and associates, and co-conspirators of Spagnola.

Formal complaints to the Authority, as well as to New York State Police, and even to her union, fell repeatedly on deaf ears. Finally, after two years of abuse without letup, Ms. Basile filed a Civil Rights action in United States Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. Following a jury trial in the spring of 2007, she was awarded $200,000 in total, $50,000 of which was punitive damages.

One would ordinarily assume that following the jury’s decision a year ago Spagnola and his gang would cool it. No such luck. On the contrary, Spagnola redoubled his stalking and harassment in retaliation. And, more specifically, in conspiracy with four other Thruway Authority employees, has allegedly attempted to cause Basile’s death.

In one alleged attempt on her life, Spagnola and his co-defendants placed her welding truck in gear, causing it to slowly roll forward on the bridge while she was suspended under the bridge, using an oxyactylene torch. Were it not for the fortunate intervention of Basile’s helper, who spotted the moving truck and placed it in park, the truck’s motion would have severed both the actylene and the oxygen lines running from the truck to Basile’s equipment under the bridge, likely resulting in a massive explosion and fireball.

Following their first attempt, the Defendants allegedly attempted to kill Basile by ordering her to work on a defectively rigged scaffolding, intended to drop her some 200 feet into the Hudson River below. A third attempt on her life involved a high pressure air hose allegedly punctured by the Defendants with the intention that the hose, under 1500 pounds of pressure, would rupture while Basile was using it, suspended beneath the bridge.

As it turned out, a co-worker used the air hose and Basile, on the surface of the bridge, observed the hose beginning to shred and turned off the compressor, thus preventing the air from blowing her co-worker off the scaffold, into the river. Back in Federal Court, as the result of Defendants’ retaliatory actions, Basile is now suing under Title VII, for gender discrimination and retaliation, as well as violations of her Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection, as well as the New York State Human Rights Law.

Beginning within months of Basile’s being hired by the Authority, Spagnola is alleged to have embarked upon an open and notorious campaign of sexual harassment of her including, but not limited to, the following:

a) Repeatedly placing his hand on her thigh,

b) Regularly hugging her,

c) Routinely putting his arm around her,

d) Daily observing her through binoculars for extended periods of time, while she was suspended under the Tappan Zee Bridge performing welding repairs; conduct which Spagnola described to co-workers as Basile “sunbathing”,

e) Expressing himself to her in terms of obscenities,

f) Stalking her and staring at her,

g) Telephoning her at home, after work hours, to advise her that he wanted to “eat her like a sandwich”,

h) Inviting her to spend time with him at his “cabin” with the intent to engage in sexual relations,

i) Inviting himself to her home for dinner with the intent of engaging in sexual relations,

j) Making obscene gestures to her,

k) Forcibly grabbing her and attempting to stick his tongue down her throat,

l) Repeatedly standing within inches of her in a physically threatening manner while verbally degrading her in front of co-workers, and,

m) Cautioning her that if she did not accede to his sexual advances, he would have her fired.

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