Thursday, December 25, 2008

Westchester Guardian/Jeffrey Deskovic.

Jeff Deskovic

Remembering Prison Guards
Yes, I was a teenager. But these weren’t counselors; they were guards.
And, I wasn’t away at summer camp. I was away for Life!

In recent weeks, I have written about various aspects of my 16-year prison experience. I wrote about mental games that I played to maintain my sanity, as well as violence that I witnessed and was aware of. At this point I wish to discuss correction officers, prison guards, hopefully revealing some bright spots that I experienced in an otherwise dismal environment.

Many prison guards seemed to live to make prison a worse experience for inmates than it needed to be. In my mind, as well as that of many other prisoners who I spoke with, there was a tendency to group the guards into different categories according to how far they would take things. Some of them simply liked to engage in different forms of harassment; while others were so dangerous that when they were on duty my goal for the day was to somehow escape their notice. Still others were professionals and did their jobs. Then there were those who were
actually friendly, occasionally exhibiting kindness and offering glimpses of humanity in an overall environment that was anything but humane.

Guards Who Engaged in Harassment

There were those who made the prison experience worse because of their attitude. They would often bring their problems from home and “from the street” into the prison, taking it out on the prisoners. Sometimes they would have such a nasty attitude that inmates would refrain from asking them for anything, even things that, according to the rules, we were allowed to have. At times they were verbally abusive, which other guards, all too often, found funny.

There were a variety of harassment tactics at their disposal, and they would frequently engage in; for example, rushing prisoners out of the messhall when a half-way decent meal had been served, or making prisoners remain seated in the messhall for up to 45 minutes when the meal was lousy.

In order to fully understand what it meant to be in the messhall that long, one needs to keep in mind that the ventilation was poor and there was little fresh air. It could get very hot, either from the sun or from the heaters, compounded by the body heat of too many prisoners sitting too close to each other.

Some of the package room officers would typically take enjoyment from using the slightest excuse to refuse to allow items to be received by prisoners and, once in a blue moon an item would be stolen.

Sometimes in response to a prisoner who was loud, a guard would remove the fuse to a particular cell, leaving the prisoner with no lights or electricity. There was a code amongst the guards with respect to the fuses: If a fuse was removed or had been blown by a power overload, many of them would refuse to put in a new one.

Others enjoyed shortening the time that prisoners had in the library, by making sure that we took too long to get there, or by showing up to escort us out of there to soon, so that we had very little time. Recreation time could also be shortened in the same manner.

Guards Who Were Dangerous

Then there were other guards who even their peers disliked, because they were on a much higher level in terms of their dangerousness. Sometimes they would set prisoners up by writing a false misbehavior report which could send a prisoner to the Special Housing Unit, otherwise known as “the hole”.

At other times they would stir up violence amongst the prisoners for their entertainment. As I have mentioned in a previous column, they might accomplish this by spreading a false or even a true story about a prisoner, or by paying a prisoner o- with cigarettes.

Acts Of Kindness, Glimpses of Humanity

Yet not all of the guards were that way. Many were professional and did their jobs, no more and no less. Then there were those who I would say were decent people, and who I liked. There are a couple of points that I want to make, in order to help readers maintain a correct frame of reference by way of understanding things.

Firstly, a small act of kindness which in the outside world would seem like something barely worth mentioning, is a big deal in prison, a world in which both violence amongst the prisoners and varying levels of abuse by the guards is common, while decent treatment and respect cannot be taken for granted. Thus a small act of respect or kindness was regarded as a big thing.

Secondly, although I recognize that each person should be judged by their own actions and character rather than as a whole, it must be kept in mind that they did look the other way while the other guards were engaging in the above-mentioned tactics and many other things which, for the sake of space, I will not get into, as opposed to stepping in or reporting.

This non-intervention lead to a climate in which all of the guards knew that if they wanted to abuse the prisoners, they could do so and get away with it. In order to occasionally be able to cook a decent meal, I purchased an illegal metal hot pot on the black market. The pot cost me approximately twenty dollars, which is a lot of money in an economy where many were making twenty-five or thirty-two cents an hour.

There were various times when my cell was searched, and the guards did not confiscate the pot. There was a guard who had a similar taste in books as mine, and we would talk about books that we had both read and exchange perspectives in a way that I can’t synthesize. It was somehow different talking to someone who was free as opposed to talking to another inmate. I appreciated greatly his taking of ten to twenty minutes to talk to me, especially in view of the fact that there was a general unofficial prison code amongst both the guards and the prisoners that frowned upon such conversation.

There were a few times when that same guard allowed me borrow books from him, and even an occasion when he borrowed a book from an outside library and let me read it.

Considering that I had been in prison for a long time and had read much of what the prison library had on the subjects that I was interested in, and that there were many titles and authors that they did not have, this was no small kindness. Had he not done so, I would simply have gone without being able to read those books.

Amongst the prisoners that had developed a cautious, yet definite, rapport with each other, there was borrowing that went on, sometimes involving books, newspapers, which were hard to come by in there, or canned food items. In order to be able to get an item, I would have to ask permission from a guard to let me run down to that prisoner’s cell. Only certain guards would allow me to do so.

On one occasion, a prisoner that I knew from another facility arrived at the prison where I was. He was being housed at a different part of the facility than I. I asked a guard if he could arrange to have him transferred to the unit where I was at, so we could see each other, and that guard agreed to do so. A couple of weeks later he was transferred near me. Years later, when I had been sent to an area of the prison that was very loud and dirty, I asked the same guard if he could have me sent to a quieter unit, and he did so.

While I was working in the messhall, there was an officer who was excessively clean. He would make all of us mop the messhall floor with hot water, and then cold, changing buckets every two rows. But he would take care of his workers. That meant that when it was chicken day, he would secure us an extra piece of chicken.

There was another guard who, on a couple of occasions when the meal was nasty, stole a can of sauce and some pasta and allowed us to cook pasta and sauce. On another occasion, also involving the messhall, a guard who normally did not work in the area he was assigned to that
day, allowed me to eat two cookies that his wife had baked at home.

There were other guards who would allow me to work in the messhall on my days off, as opposed to having to remain in my cell all day. Once, when I was working in the messhall and I felt sick, the guard I was working for would not call over to the medical unit so that I could be seen by a nurse. Instead, he insisted that I do my regular duties of sweeping and mopping. I asked a sergeant. who I knew from his days as a regular officer, to call over there for me.

He did so, and not only secured me an appointment to immediately go over there, but also told the officer that I was going there, in defiance of what he knew the officer wanted. Although that helped me with my immediate need, I would pay for that. After getting better a few days later, that same officer had an attitude with me, and purposely did not call me into work, which meant that I was stuck in my cell all day up until nighttime recreation. And on those days where there was no nighttime recreation, I would only be allowed to come out of my cell
for an hour a day. In order to make up for that lost manpower, that guard attempted to have another worker assigned to him.

However, the guards who were responsible for assigning new workers knew what was happening, and refused to give him anybody new thereby forcing him to allow me to work once again. Within three or four days he caved in and called me back down to work. Had the guards assigned him another worker, it would never have happened. When hamburgers or hot dogs were served, prisoners would occasionally look to smuggle some back to eat later or the next day. We would frequently look to see who was doing the pat frisks that we would be subjected to once we left, to assess the likelihood of our being able to avoid being caught. There were a couple of officers who would ask us, in a quiet and discrete manner, if we had anything on us. If we replied that we had some food items, they would perform a cursory pat frisk and would
not confiscate the items.

The package room, which is the place where items that have been sent either from stores or from prisoners’ families and friends, was known for sometimes taking a long time to call prisoners to come and get their goods. There were a few guards who knew the package room officers, and they would sometimes call up for me and ask them if they could send me to get my items. One time I had been sent a pair of sneakers which were a close call as to whether I would be allowed to have them because of a design that they had on them. The guard told me that in
the future, I was to make sure that any sneakers I had sent to me were not of the same design, and that this time he would let me have them.
One time when I had been transferred from one prison to another one, a prisoner who was housed right next to me who had no electricity asked me if I would heat up some water for him so that he could make a cup of instant soup. When I told him that I had not as yet received my property and thus had no hot pot, he told me that he would lend me his. He said that his pot had been altered and that was why his fuse
had been blown and thus he had no power. He told me that my cell had been equipped by a prisoner who was an electrician to handle the extra voltage that the pot would draw.

Although I was skeptical, he assured me that was the case and offered me a soup to do it. Because I was hungry, I agreed. Within minutes of plugging in the pot, however, the fuse blew, leaving me without power. I stayed that way for three days until a guard was on duty that I knew. I asked him to replace the fuse so that I could have power.

He gave me a fuse on condition that I not say anything to the other guards or prisoners, because he knew that the regular guards in the block were playing a sadistic game with the prisoners, pretending not to have replacement fuses when they did. When I was in the county jail, one
of the officers tried to prevent me from using the phone to call an attorney, which I was entitled to do. His partner interfered on my behalf and got into an argument with him, with the end result being that I was allowed to use the phone.

One time the prison was locked down so that all of the cells could be searched. The guards typically trashed prisoners’ cells during such searches, which could involve anything from ripping up papers, to dumping clothes and pictures all over the floor to taking items on the slightest pretext to just generally leaving the cell in such a state of disarray that it would take four or five hours to put things back in order.
I was fortunate on one of those occasions because one of the two officers that was in my cell searching instructed the other one to take it easy because he knew that I stayed out of trouble. There was a point during my incarceration that the idea of growing food appealed to me.

One day I was talking about the idea to a guard, and learned that he was growing various vegetables on his property. He talked about his
experiences of growing them, the costs involved, and a few tips. I was able to take my fantasy of growing food a little bit further by listening to him talk. Of course, I was not personally involved in every incident of kindness of which I became aware. Some I merely heard about or witnessed. There were prisoners assigned to every floor of every cell block whose job it was to sweep, mop, throw out the trash, and
distribute the trays of food during meal times to those who were confined to their cells. There were a few guards who would inflate the number of trays of food that they needed in order to have extra trays sent to the block, which they would give to different workers.

On other occasions, the prisoners thus favored would ask the guards to call the hearing officer to ask for a break for a prisoner who had broken a rule. One time a prisoner had his radio confiscated following a search of his cell. Another guard who he worked for got the radio back for him.

Another time when a prisoner was scheduled to go on a family reunion visit which involved being in a trailer on the prison grounds from Friday until Sunday morning, got permission from the gallery officer to ask the guard who worked in the barber shop if he could have an unscheduled hair cut in time for the visit. The guard allowed him to get the hair cut.

Probably the most extreme example that I had ever heard of was when a lieutenant confronted another one over the latter’s harassment of a prisoner that had formerly worked for him for years and was a distant relative by marriage. He told him that he better leave him alone, otherwise it would be settled in the parking lot after work.

Westchester Guardian/Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Let the Buyer Beware

It’s official, our country is in a recession. Politician have stopped tap-dancing around the situation, trying to convince taxpayers that we’re simply experiencing an economic “downturn”. The economy is headed south at a rate surpassing that expected by economists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now 10.7 million unemployment workers in the United States, an increase of over 500,000 in November alone.

The national unemployment rate is now 6.7%, with New York State at 5.7% and Westchester County even lower at 4.6%. But rates alone do
not tell the human story. In October, 2007, Westchester had 17,100 unemployed individuals; in October, 2008, that number jumped by 7,300 to 24,400. As more local residents see their neighbors being laid off, they have been cutting back spending out of fear for their own jobs.

That fear is evident in local stores where shoppers are scarce and parking spaces abundant during this holiday season; a time when stores traditionally turn a profit. Retail businesses make most of their profits for the year beginning with the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, up through Christmas Eve. The holiday season is critical to their survival. This year, based upon poor early sales for the season, many stores have cut back on staff; others are offering drastic discounts and sales, and still others have filed for bankruptcy,
placing shoppers in peril.

When a store declares bankruptcy, shoppers are often left holding the bag on deliveries, repairs, warranties, and unused gift cards. According to Robert Salomon, Associate Professor of Management at New York University, with respect to major retail outlets, “The bankruptcy pace
has quickened since August. In fact, since mid-August, bankruptcies have been averaging about 21 per month”.

Many of those bankruptcies are for popular holiday shopping such as KB Toys which filed a Chapter 11 petition as recently as December 11th. Other local retailers on the latest bankruptcy lists include:

Circuit City


Lillian Vernon

Linens & Things

Steve & Barry’s

Filing a Chapter 11 petition does not necessarily mean that the company will close its stores. The impact of the filing is that it provides
a method and time for the company to pay off its creditors. However, a store in Chapter 11 proceedings does not have to honor its gift cards
according to Federal law, although many choose to continue to do so.

Some stores opt for suspending redeeming gift cards for a period of time. As many financial experts are warning, this season is not the time
to be giving gift cards as holiday presents. With respect to gift cards, consumer advocates are warning, “When an economy goes south, as it
is doing now, you’re lending money to people who may have trouble repaying it”. So far this year it is estimated that consumers have lost approximately $85 million in gift card values to bankruptcies. But, while financial experts advise against buying gift cards, most consumers love them, spending approximately $24.7 billion on them each year.

Even if a company is not in Chapter 11 proceedings, many retailers are choosing to resolve their economic problems by closing down unprofitable stores. This could mean that a gift card recipient might find that there are no longer any branches of a particular store, locally, in which to spend their gift.

Companies that have recently announced store closings include:

• Ann Taylor: Including LOFT and outlet stores.

• Bombay Company

• Cache

• Circuit City: Closing 155 stores in addition to filing for Chapter 11.

• Dillard’s Department Stores

• Disney Stores: Closing 98 stores nationwide.

• Eddie Bauer: Closing retail design centers.

• Foot Locker

• Whitehall Jewelers: Closing all remaining 373 stores.

• Gap (including Old Navy, Banana Republic: Closing 115 stores, opening 100 others.

• Hollywood Video: Closing 520 stores and filing for Chapter 11.

• Home Depot: Closing 15 outlets.

• KB Toys: Closing all 375 stores.

• Kirkland’s Home D├ęcor: Closing 130 outlets.

• Levitz Furniture: Closing all stores.

• Macy’s: Closing 11 stores.

• Pacific Sunwear: Closing 154 of its “d.e.m.o.” brand stores.

• Sharper Image: Closed all 184 stores.

• Sprint: Closing 125 stores.

• Talbot’s: Closed 28 stores, selling J.Jill stores.

• Wickes Furniture: Closing all operations.

• Zale’s: Closed 105 stores, opened 100 others.

Companies traditionally close down low-performing stores in the normal course of business (Gap, Talbot’s, Zale’s). However, if only one of those stores exist in the area, closing it down causes a hardship for local shoppers and gift card holders, for example, when J.C. Penney’s and CompUSA left White Plains. Holiday shoppers, on top of their economic worries, now have to consider if a store will still be in business in 2009 before making any purchases.

But holiday shopping worries do not end there. Credit card companies have also entered the fray. In October, both Visa and MasterCard announced rate hikes to merchants who accept their cards. These increases will either have to be absorbed by the stores, or passed along to consumers. Some local gas stations this past summer stopped accepting credit cards altogether since the rate they had to pay per transaction was more than their profit margin on the gasoline they sold, causing them to operate at a loss. Citibank recently announced that it is raising rates for some individual cardholders by 2 to 3 percentage points. American Express and Chase are following suit. That means anyone with an outstanding balance on their credit cards will now have to pay a higher minimum amount each month.

According to Ben Woolsey, Director of Marketing and Consumer Research at, “About 60 percent of cardholders don’t pay off their balances each month”. Those consumers could be in for a nasty surprise when their holiday shopping bills arrive in January.

The federal government has already recognized this problem and is taking steps to protect citizens from the credit card companies actions.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (Democrat) from Manhattan and Queens is Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee and has sponsored a bill that requires credit card companies to provide 45 days’ notice of interest rate increases, prohibit the companies
from changing the terms of the contract at any time for any reason, and makes the credit card issuers mail billing statements 25 days before
the due date, instead of the current 14-day minimum.

According to Rep. Maloney, “Consumer credit-card debt is nearing the $1 trillion mark, which is double the amount held in 1996. More and more Americans are turning to their credit cards to help pay bills, buy groceries, and make ends meet in this troubled economy”. The Consumer Federation of America notes that delinquencies in credit card payments were steadily increasing due to high gas prices, the erosion of home equity as a payment method, and other increased utility costs, but that credit card companies continue to reap strong profits even in the face of general economic downturn.

So what’s a local shopper to do this holiday season?

1. Shop with a list and a budget and stick to it. Last-minute impulse buys wreak havoc with budgets and credit card balances. Shoppers could
end up paying for that “bargain” for all of 2009, and beyond.

2. If you must shop this season using your credit cards, know exactly how much credit you have on each card and how much is left. Credit card companies often do not prevent you from using their card when you’re over the limit; they’ll just tack on a hefty fee to your next statement instead. If you already carry high balances on your cards, use cash only for your holiday shopping. That “bargain” large-screen television or computer could cost hundreds more when months of interest and fees are added.

3. Again, If you must shop with a credit card, use only one card and resist the temptation to open a store card to obtain a one-day discount. Using one card makes it easier to keep track of credit limits and balances. A new store card provides too much temptation to “max out” the discount; you may get $20 off on the spot on the item you were buying, but if you then spend $40 more in the store with the “discount” on items you did not go out to buy, and probably don’t really need, you’ve saved nothing.

4. Keep your credit card chits/ receipts. Set them aside and compare them to the bill when it arrives. Mistakes do happen. Plus having receipts on hand will make it easier to spot any fraudulent charges on your account.

5. Do not use your credit card for food court purchases at the mall. Any “savings” you get from in-store sales evaporate once you step into the food court. Using cash makes the cost of the junk food at the food court more apparent. And you won’t end up paying interest on a credit card balance in 2009 for that hot dog from Nathan’s!

6. Shop alone. Bringing kids, spouses, and friends, only increases the time spent at the mall and the likelihood that you’ll spend more money. Go with a list and go it alone. Think of it as a chore; aim to “get in and get out”, period. If you must bring a buddy, bring your accountant!

7. Shop locally. There’s far less temptation in one store than in a huge mall. There’s also less aggravation, no crowds; friendlier, more knowledgeable staff, and fewer parking hassles. Local towns, such as Pleasantville, are offering free parking during the holiday shopping season. Plus, the more money local stores make, the more sales tax dollars for the community, relieving some of the need for raising property taxes. And, it keeps our neighbors employed, and local teenagers occupied, to boot.

8. Be patriotic. Check where a product is made and try to buy American when possible; buying New York products is even better. Why buy that bottle of French wine when a nice bottle from the Finger Lakes will be just as appreciated? Books are also a great purchase for anyone on your shopping list and New York is the nation’s publishing capitol. Books are seldom produced overseas due to difficulties in translations.

9. Get as close as possible to the stars. The County is fortunate to have many local theaters and performing arts centers with a wealth of talent, at far below Broadway prices, for the theater lovers on your list.

Among them are:

Emelin Theater in Mamaroneck

Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase

Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown

Fleetwood Stage in New Rochelle

Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville

Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill

Westchester Broadway Theater in Elmsford

White Plains Performing Arts Center

10. Be charitable. Local nonprofits are struggling in this economy. The demand for their services is rising at a time when their donations and grants are falling. Make a donation in a loved one’s name or purchase items from the agency directly. UNICEF USA sells holiday cards both online and in Barnes & Noble stores locally. United Way is a good source for local non-profits. They can be reached at

11. Get crafty. Many local artisans offer classes in cooking, pottery, music, and the arts. Instead of expensive presents, what about a friends’ night out at a cooking class? Chef Central on Central Park Avenue in Hartsdale offers several classes monthly for all age groups and abilities.

12. Be a sport. Take a group of friends to experience a new sport. The Ardsley curling club offers lessons to those interested in what the Canadians get so riled up about besides hockey. Curling is similar to shuffleboard, on ice. Or go rock climbing at The Cliffs in Valhalla.

13. Shake it up. Take the girlfriends to a belly dancing class at Josie’s International School of Dance in Ossining. Grab the spouse and the neighbors for tango lessons at most local community centers. And lastly, Be a Scrooge. Sometimes the best gift is no gift at all. I’ve asked my two teenagers to “spend a day in the city” with me this winter break as my present. Since my son is now a college freshman, and my daughter is involved in high school activities, my time with them is limited. I don’t want more slippers or CD’s, especially not when I can raid their iPods! I want the gift of a memory. Preferably one that “maxes out” and generates lots of “interest”!

Westchester Guardian/Janet Difiore/The Advocate.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Westchester Needs A District Attorney Who
Is A Public Servant, Not A Self-Servant

Those who understand the power vested in a district attorney realize that it is the single most important position in all of County government. Only the DA has the power and authority to indict and prosecute. Only the DA can, if he or she chooses, turn the life of an
innocent individual and all of his loved ones into a nightmare without probable cause or justification. And, as we continue to discover, that has, in fact, happened far too frequently in Westchester over recent years.

It is vital that the individual who takes control of the office be someone of high moral character with a passion for the bringing about of justice, and beneficial outcomes, in the lives of innocent individuals and families. Reactive, politically-motivated prosecutors are truly dangerous individuals, quite capable of causing serious and prolonged misery and harm in the lives of good families. There is absolutely
no room for self-promotion, grandstanding, or covering up, at any time.

The truth must be pursued regardless of where the investigation may lead. Competent and thorough investigation must be the foundation of every case put before a grand jury.

The DA must not be engaged, for even one moment, in a numbers game; must not be all about winning, but rather about solving. It is far better to have not solved a case, and to continue struggling with it, than to prosecute an opportunistic defendant, perhaps achieving wrongful conviction and leaving the actual perpetrator out there to strike again. Such was the double tragedy in the Jeffrey Deskovic case,
where a 17-year-old, clearly innocent, as established by DNA, nevertheless went to prison for Rape and Murder, the prosecuting Assistant DA knew he did not commit, and the actual perpetrator took another life in the same fashion just three and a half years later.

The DA must be capable of withstanding close scrutiny. Someone with a powerful but scandalous spouse, one who previously attempted
to bribe another candidate off the ballot and intimi-date party chairmen for their parties’ endorsement, must be non-starters.

Neither can the People accept a DA candidate who has been closely associated with consultants and campaign advisors who have produced sleazy ethnic lies and distortions in the past, or associated with hoodlums who have engaged in election fraud, machine-tampering, and/or race
fixing, all of which have been employed in recent Countywide elections.

The People need an experienced prosecutor, one who has actually tried cases, not one who lied and said she “tried 2,000,” but in fact had only prosecuted 12 misdemeanors. Westchester needs a district attorney unfettered by incestuous relationships with various police departments in ways that render her unfit to hold office, committed to overlooking criminal activity, serious brutality against innocent citizens, and other unlawful acts. The right individual to be district attorney must not seek police department endorsements,
nor use or pressure attorneys and investigators in the Office to campaign on his or her behalf.

The People of Westchester deserve a district attorney who will strive to fulfill the full mandate of the Office, both the prosecution of the guilty and the protection of the innocent. One who would look at a videotape such as the one showing Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes bodyslamming an intoxicated, defenseless, petite woman like Irma Marquez, without any justification, nearly killing her, and then
decide to prosecute the innocent civilian victim by way of covering up the crime of the rogue officer should actually be recalled, removed from office. Such a chief law enforcer is, in reality, a grave menace to public safety.

After 15 years of misguided, self-promotional activity, and wrong-headed prosecutions of innocent civilians and police officers, not to mention all of the withheld Brady and Rosario materials, the blatant and malicious lies fed to federal and state appeals courts, and all of the subornation of perjury, tampering with witnesses and evidence, it’s time for a change. There has been more prosecutorial misconduct than most observers might imagine; and it is time for someone with the moral authority and the skill and experience to re-direct, re-train, and re-motivate those attorneys and investigators remaining in the wake of some 70 resignations over the past three years, and those who
must be hired.

Yes, it is high time the People of Westchester know the benefits of a professionally operated District Attorney’s Office, time it was restored to the level of investigative excellence and prosecutorial integrity it was known for throughout the law enforcement community under the late Carl Vergari. We have had more than our fill of district attorneys who talk about “dead-beat dads” while sleeping with one who denied paternity of his first offspring from an extramarital affair until she was 16, and DNA proved he was the father. Just as troubling is a DA who talked about law and order while her spouse attempted to bribe her opponent from the Right To Life Party to get him out of the race.

Westchester needs a district attorney who can handle constructive criticism; who does not punish and interfere with good police officers; dedicated professionals performing a difficult and dangerous job. They do not need a DA who constantly covers up the crimes and violence of rogue, violent officers from departments with whom she has twisted and incestuous relationships.

Westchester Guardian/Phil Amicone/In Our Opinion/Our Reader Respond.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

In Our Opinion...

Phil Amicone’s Last Concern: Yonkers Families

Phil Amicone has made it abundantly clear that he could care less about the lives and well-being of working-class Yonkers families, the backbone of the City. He has revealed himself in many ways, perhaps most strikingly in the area of public safety. He simply refuses to acknowledge, and deal with, Yonkers Police brutality, an issue underscored 20 years ago in the Murphy-Mayo Investigation and Report, and a continuing issue serious enough to bring about an on-going, two-year FBI investigation.

This newspaper, in September 2006, within six weeks of its inception, published a shocking, front-page story entitled, Mother, 72, Daughter, 49, Charge Yonkers Police Brutality. Within days of that issue, Police Commissioner Taggart suddenly resigned, and the Yonkers chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. held a Speak-Out at the Riverfront Library to which more than 125 citizens came out. Twenty-five of the attendees gave accounts of appalling encounters involving men, women and children with violent, brutalizing Yonkers police officers. The incidents continue unabated despite ongoing coverage.

Within weeks of Taggart’s resignation, before Christmas, Mayor Amicone hired former NYPD 46th Precinct Commander Edmund Hartnett as the city’s new Police Commissioner. It quickly became apparent that Hartnett was as determined as the Mayor to deny the Department’s brutality problem, and maintain the status quo. In simple language, Amicone and his appointee continue to pursue a Public-Be-Damned strategy. And, what has made matters worse, is the fact that they continue to be aided in their clearly criminal conduct by District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who not only refuses to investigate and prosecute rogue Yonkers cops, but, instead, goes after the innocent victims of their brutality, as in the Marquez and Florim cases.

Given Amicone’s failure to respond on behalf of working families and their mistreatment at the hands of violent police, his most recent betrayal of his sworn duty comes as no real surprise; the decision to lay off 76 City employees, including 46 Department of Public Works employees, 11 police officers, and 6 fire-fighters while, at the same time, giving generous raises to some 180 of his closest assistants and cronies, some as much as $30,000, others $15- to $20,000, many more $9500, to the tune of $1.1 million.

Of those receiving the raises, many do little, if any, work at all. It must not be forgotten that Amicone publicly adopted nearly all of Nick Spano’s 30 employees when Spano lost his State Senate seat to Andrea Stewart-Cousins for the second time, in 2006, in exchange for Nicky’s endorsement. That mass adoption has been costing the City $1.2 million a year.

The impact of the present layoffs on the quality of life within the City is incalculable, and unhealthy, the lion’s share coming in sanitation and public health venues, garbage, bulk waste, and compostable material pickups to be severely cut back and/or totally eliminated.

For a Mayor to be putting the breadwinners of some 76 families out of work, especially at Christmas, is cruel enough but, to be putting all those individuals out in the cold while, at the same time, lavishing his cronies with huge pay raises, is totally unforgiveable.

Our Readers Respond....

Guardian Reader From Manhattan Airs Pet Peeves

Dear Editor:

Why should we, the citizens of New York City and New York State pay for the mistakes of our accidental incompetent Governor and the arrogant Mayor Bloomberg and the Leadership of the MTA as well as the lousy political hacks in the New York City Council and State Senate and New York State Assembly?

Governor Corzine, you who, like Mayor Bloomberg, bought your position for your ego and to enrich your friends and family and businesses, listen and listen well. Lower your taxes and eliminate others since I am telling all New York citizens to start doing business outside of New York and if you have to do business in New York refuse to pay the higher tolls/fares and additional new taxes so these folks who caused this mess can give more to their friends etc..

It amazes me that folks like Paterson will not cut back his staff and/or his salary and perks and will actually increase spending, but he is most outraged over a very funny Saturday Night Live piece on him! Paterson is more concerned about filling quotas than competence!

How is this for an idea: All the big shots in local and state government in New York State, including Andy Spano, the crooked County Executive of Westchester, and the Heads of the MTA, cut back on their benefits/ perks and take a lower salary before we are forced to endure higher taxes and new taxes and fees which are never spent wisely in any case!

To the federal government: No bailout of high-taxed, wasteful spending; New York and to the MTA: There is no way that the federal/state and local governments, and the taxpayers, should pay for your total and complete mismanagement of the transit system. In fact, all of the folks at the MTA, from the chairmen on down, should be forced out and we, the taxpayers, should refuse to pay any increases whatsoever, and do our shopping in New Jersey. If we can do that we can teach these crooks that they will not get any more money from us!

One last thing, where is Bloomberg’s, and Paterson’s, or even Obama’s outrage at Rep. Meeks and/or Rep. Rangel’s misuses and abuse of office? If they were white conservatives you would hear from them, I bet!

Leonard P. Daniels,
New York City

Faithful Reader Grapples With The New Rules of “Marriage”

Dear Editor:

How about people who, like me, oppose same-sex marriage coming up with a new name for, and distinctive ways of entering, the male-female union that marriage used to be? Ideally, the male-female union should be called “marriage”, and contracts that can include same-sex couples should be called other words. But I and those who share my view have lost. We can still refuse not to distinguish what “marriage”, “wedding”, “bride”, “groom”, “spouse”, “husband”, and “wife” used to mean from what they inevitably will mean. How? By devising new words for the old meanings.

The male-female union must be considered inferior to “marriage” in the eyes of both the law and “liberal” and “moderate” religions. Otherwise, same-sex couples will be allowed into it too. But it would be considered superior to “marriage” by me and those who share my views.

Possible ways of forming male-female unions include, with or without “wedding” clothes, “wedding” rituals, rings, and parties:

1. A man and a woman signing contracts and, if desired, last-name change applications in front of a witness;

2. A religious ceremony for “marriage” omitting the parts that give the union legal standing;

3. Both 1 and 2, simultaneously, or close in time.

Qualifications for 1’s witness and 2’s clergy-person should include refusal to of-ficiate same-sex “marriages”. Once same-sex “marriage” hits their state, they may refuse to officiate at any legal “marriage”.

Entering a male-female union should require a different certification than a legal “marriage” license. At least initially, each officiating individual
might have his/her own certification requirements.

But these requirements must not include “proof of heterosexuality”. In fact, the male-female union should allow couples who may soon be barred
from entering or, perhaps, even staying in legal inter-gender “marriage”. These include people whose appearance, movements, and/or biological features have been declared “gay”.

A different-gender couple may choose to be in both a male-female union and a “marriage” simultaneously. However, entering or leaving one
would not automatically mean entering or leaving the other. Entering each, at least after same-sex marriage hits their state, should require a separate process/ ceremony.

Will couples in only male-female unions not qualify for the tax, insurance, etc. benefits that come with “marriage”? If so, how about me and
like-minded people forming a fund to compensate such couples? Different-sex couples who already married before same-sex “marriage”
hit their state should be able to upgrade their marriage to a male-female union with a 1-3 minute free process. Whether they want to stay legally “married” would be up to them.

The one officiating a male-female union may state a personal intention to consider the couple “as good as married” and any resulting children “as
good as legitimate”.

What about this transition phase, where in some states marriage still is a male-female union? In those states, of-ficials who share my views could perform all three of the following: inter-gender marriages, male-female unions, and both simultaneously for the same couple. What about couples who want to marry legally in a state where marriage is still only for opposite genders? They should arrange for the ceremony in at least three states, lest same-sex “marriage” hit their first choices without well-publicized warning before the ceremony. With the legal portion’s location
uncertain, the reception/party may be held in a different location and scheduled for a day or so later. Most-guests would probably come to only either one or the other.

To people who, like me, believe marriage should be for only a man and a woman: We don’t love the traditional words’ new definition; let’s leave them. We can’t stand the new heat; let’s get out of the kitchen.

Jeanette Wolfberg
Mt. Kisco

Westchester Guardian/Janet Difiore/Stephen Bonura/The Court Report.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Testimony Exposes DiFiore-Driven Sham
Police From All Over Westchester Express ‘No Confidence’ In The DA
Disciplinary Hearing Of Detective Sergeant
Stephen J. Bonura Before Pleasantville
Village Board Of Police Commissioners

Last Wednesday morning, December 17th, at around 10am, the long-awaited hearing into charges against 27-year veteran of the Pleasantville Police Department, Detective Sergeant Stephen J. Bonura, got underway in the courtroom of Village Hall. Mayor Bernard Gordon opened the proceedings, declaring before more than 100 family, friends including some 60 or so fellow police colleagues of Detective Bonura, “This is a disciplinary hearing dealing with charges against Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura by charging party Chief Anthony Chiarlitti.”

In an effort to avoid problems, Gordon advised the audience, “This hearing is open to the public, but it’s not a public hearing. No member of
the public will be allowed to speak.” He went on to explain, “It is the job of the Board of Village Trustees to determine if any of the charges have
any merit.”

Attorney Terry O’Neil, retained as counsel to Police Chief Chiarlitti, then alluded to what he referred to as “some typographical errors that had been corrected.” Following O’Neil’s opening remarks, Jonathan Lovett, Attorney for Detective Bonura, said to the Board, “We’re not talking about typographical errors here; we’re talking about date changes, substantive changes.” Showing his disgust with the irregularity, Lovett quipped, “Why not change to October 2009?”

Lovett told the Mayor, “I was surprised when you said that you were proceeding under the Westchester Police Act. Apparently you haven’t read the act. It applies to towns, not villages.” Lovett, obviously upset with the Board, said, “Prior to my arrival here, my client was coerced to sign certain stipulations. By being here, I am not implying or suggesting that this proceeding is legal.”Attorney O’Neil, in response to Lovett’s strong stance regarding the Board’s illegal position, and his having advised them, “I haven’t yet moved for an injunction in federal court,” cited a case in which a District Court had ruled against Lovett’s client.

Lovett immediately came back with, “The Second Circuit reversed the District Court that found against my client, and the school board paid my client $600,000. So put that in your due process pipe and smoke it.”

Not 20 minutes into the hearing, and Jonathan Lovett had so strongly admonished and cautioned the Board, that they called for a recess to go into executive session in order to consider their position and their response. The Board emerged from executive session having apparently and unlawfully voted, out of public view, on a number of issues; and, announced, through its chairman, Mayor Gordon, that they had accepted the amended changes, rejected Mr. Lovett’s request for discovery, and “deemed itself to be in compliance with the law.”

Lovett waited for the Mayor to announce the Board’s decisions, and then said, “The meeting you just had was in executive session, and a vote of the Board cannot occur out of public view.” Mayor Gordon asked if Bonura would be waiving a reading of the charges against him. Lovett responded strongly, “We are not going to waive anything. We want the Chief to read every word.”

Chief Chiarlitti began to read the charges at 10:55am, and was not finished until 12:35pm. On their face, the charges read by Chiarlitti were a reptitious list of by-the-book regulations that one uses when they are nitpicking to find fault with standard operating procedures, a point repeated more than a few times by Bonura’s attorney, Jonathan Lovett.

Mayor Gordon, upon the completion of the chief ’s reading of the charges, said to Bonura, “How do you plead?”

Attorney Lovett responded with, “We deny the charges and we are not waiving anything.” PBA President Erik Grutzner turned to this reporter’s inquiry regarding the proceedings, and said, “This is as expected.” A retired New York City police officer, seated near him, chimed in, “This hearing is a damned shame, and a disgrace; a waste of our tax money.”

An off-duty Pleasantville police officer added, “Why do we continue to be the victim of all this? How come the DA continues to do business with a career criminal with 30 arrests, letting him go? Why don’t they put him away?”

Following a break for lunch, Attorney O’Neil attempted to put the charges brought by Chief Chiarlitti into focus, declaring, “It certainly isn’t about DA DiFiore. It isn’t about her.”

He then proceeded to summarize all of the charges that had been leveled against Detective Bonura:

• Failure to make a timely arrest;

• Failure to properly handcuff;

• Failure to use a caged police car to transport;

• Conducting an “outrageous strip-search” of Gonzalez;

• Improper evidence-handling;

• Exposure of Gonzalez’ rap sheet;

• Exposure of Gonzalez as an informant.

Having detailed the categories, O’Neil told the Board he had, “Never heard of a police officer exposing a confidential informant, and that’s what triggered the investigation. We are focusing on how Mr. Gonzalez was treated.” He went on, “We are confident you will find Detective Bonura guilty on every charge.”

Jonathan Lovett responded, “Mr. O’Neil thinks he can trivialize the United States Constitution. It’s not going to work this way. The police
chief has gotten you to do what DA DiFiore has done to him.”

Lovett went further, telling the Board, “Lieutenant Love repeatedly lied to the Assistant DA in this case.” Going on, he declared, “Lieutenant Love reportedly wore pants with a hole in them, and no underwear, saying look at my chicken.”

Turning to another subject, Attorney Lovett announced, “Lieutenant Clouseau knows the truth, and so does the chief; my client wasn’t present for the rap sheet.” Pausing for a moment, Lovett then told the Board, “When we get through with this case, and the federal case, police officers will
know that they have the right to speak the truth.” He then remarked, “The revolving door is oiled daily by Janet of the Apes.”

Lovett then warned the Board, “If you lose in Federal Court, my client cleans your clock.” It should be noted Detective Bonura has filed a $32 million lawsuit in Federal Court. Lovett went on, “You will find that the only reason that my client is here is because he criticized the DA. The lawsuit that Lieutenant Love invited, presumably with the Chief ’s blessings, isn’t going anywhere.”

Lovett, changing gears, then remarked, “I said it’s a Kangaroo Court.” He then demanded, “What were you doing on September 4th when you coerced my client to sign a stipulation?” And, again he demanded, “How would you like to have five kids and a wife to support without an income?”

Lovett then informed the Board, “I purposely did not seek a preliminary injunction to allow you to stick yourselves in the position you’re in now. We’ve got cops out there putting their lives on the line and a DA cutting criminals get out of jail free cards. For reasons that escape me, a career criminal is being coddled, and a career police of-ficer is being prosecuted.”

He then asked the Board, “Have you ever heard of Freedom Of The Press, the First Amendment? Why are you siding with the career criminal? What is a police lieutenant doing, inviting a career criminal to sue you?”

Attorney O’Neil’s first witness was Pleasantville Police Sergeant Mark Cistero. On cross-examination by Attorney Lovett, Sgt. Cistero’s testimony virtually dismantled Chief Chiarlitti’s case. Mr. Lovett succeeded in establishing:

• Handcuffing in front is a routine practice in the Pleasantville Police Department;

• Use of uncaged police cars to transport persons in custody is common;

• Chief Chiarlitti, in Cistero’s presence, acknowledged and approved what Detective Bonura had told the newspaper reporter;

• It was Sgt. Cistero who had obtained Gonzalez’ rap sheet by going directly to the State BCI Unit, as is usually the case, without the necessity of a subpoena from Judge Murphy;

• Sgt. Cistero witnessed Lieutenant Love seated inside the holding cage at Pleasantville Police Headquarters with the door open, talking with Gonzalez and his girlfriend.

Dan Schorr, a former ADA under Jeanine Pirro, and an announced candidate for District Attorney, who was present at Wednesday’s hearing, shared the following with this reporter:

“I worked closely with Detective Sgt. Bonura on the attempted murder prosecution of Sheila Davalloo and came to know him as an excellent, skilled, hard-working law enforcement officer. In large part because of his outstanding work, the defendant was successfully convicted and sentenced to the maximum of 25 years in prison.

“Detective Sgt. Bonura is just one of many in the Westchester law enforcement community who have recently expressed frustration with the current leadership in the DA’s Office. I have spoken with many other law enforcement officers who cite the DA’s Office’s failure to adequately prosecute dangerous criminal defendants and its tendency to give probationary pleas to offenders who belong in prison. While others may not have spoken out as vocally as Detective Sgt. Stephen Bonura, the sentiments he expressed are shared by many other cops throughout the County who
work hard to arrest dangerous people, only to see them released by the DA’s Office.

“It is very important that the Westchester community supports this excellent law enforcement officer who has dedicated his life to fighting to protect our public safety. After witnessing the hearing I am convinced that Detective Sgt. Bonura is being unfairly targeted by people who are trying to ruin the career and reputation of a great man.

“Furthermore, part of the job of the District Attorney is to stand up for good members of law enforcement. Considering Detective Sgt. Bonura’s excellent history of service to this County, Janet DiFiore should have either spoken out on his behalf or sent someone from her Office to the hearing in order to show her support for him.”

Tony Castro, who ran against the present District Attorney in 2005, and who many people believe will be a candidate next year for that Office, told The Guardian:

“I trust that the Village of Pleasantville Board of Trustees will faithfully and thoroughly consider the evidence, as well as the lack thereof. In doing
so, I hope that they keep in mind Detective Sergeant Bonura’s decades of dedicated public service while never losing sight of the possible ulterior motives behind the charges against him.”


In three years in office, DA Janet DiFiore has managed to establish one very clear fact; she just can’t get it right when it comes to police officers. She has the terrible habit of protecting the bad cops, guys like Wayne Simoes, who nearly killed Irma Marquez with a totally unjustified body-slam while, at the same time, she attempts to punish good cops. The latest victim of her misguided vindictiveness is Pleasantville Detective Sergeant Stephen J. Bonura, a 27-year veteran of the force who dared to exercise his First Amendment right to honestly and constructively criticize her Office’s repeated wrongful handling of a career criminal.

However, it is just possible that her malicious, behind-the-scenes maneuverings may have finally caught her in the proverbial wringer. She is now lying in every media outlet she can intimidate into carrying her denial. Unfortunately for her, it has become crystal clear that Pleasantville Police Chief Chiarlitti, and through him, the Village Board, have been frightened into bringing bogus charges against one of the most highly regarded, dedicated public servants to ever wear a Pleasantville Police uniform.

The contortions that Chief Chiarlitti and the Village Board were willing to subject Detective Bonura, his loved ones, and the entire community, to, the trumped-up charges, the out-and-out fabrications and lies they have resorted to in their effort to satisfy DA DiFiore’s lust for retaliation, are reprehensible, and call for substantial compensatory and punitive damages. Right-thinking citizens have been expressing their outrage and indignation for months, as will voters across the County come next November.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Westchester Guardian/Jeffrey Deskovic.

Jeff Deskovic

Yes, I Witnessed Violence
In Prison Part 2

Once, when I was walking from one area of the prison field house to the next, along the way someone passed by me, walking in the opposite direction. He was holding his jacket up high to cover his right cheek. I was surprised and horrified, all at once, to realize that the cheek was bleeding. He was hiding the fact in order to be able to get to the other side of the fieldhouse to exact revenge on the person who had cut him before being spotted by the guards. I was so shocked that I don’t remember what happened next.Another time, when I was in the gym watching a game
a basketball game, sitting in the bleachers, I saw through my peripheral vision a young African American male, who could not have been more
than 19 years old, bleeding somewhere out of the middle of his face. Just 20 minutes prior to that he had been walking and smiling in the same area.

Another gym incident was involved a guy who carried himself in a loud and boisterous way and was very lax in his attention. He went to the bathroom, which contained six urinals and several toilets; a blind spot into which the guards could not see. The next thing I remember was seeing the guards carrying him on a gurney. His eyes were open, but he was not moving, and appeared to be in shock.

On another occasion, one prisoner owed another a pack of cigarettes. The one who owed them decided that he was not going to repay. This led the first one to sneak into the former’s cell in the morning and administer such a beating that he put the debtor into a coma. Naturally, not all violence in prison took place at recreation. There were many incidents in the messhall and the kitchen as well. The kitchen, a place where food was prepared and various other tasks were performed, such as cleaning the trays, cups, the sheet pans, and various cooking wares, provided access to any number of utensils and implements. Yhe messhall, where inmates went to eat, intersected the kitchen at the serving line, where preset
portions were given out and prisoners would frequently seek more food.

That meant that servers were frequently caught in the middle. The more desireable the food being served, the greater the potential for conflict because the prisoners eating there would often ignore and not even reach for less edible items.

On one occasion, a few of the servers had been chewed out a day earlier by a guard. The next day, the guard rotated the prisoner who had been serving out bread with the one who had done an unsatisfactory job serving out the main course. Before the meal started, he warned the man to only give out a small portion per person, and he reminded him of the previous server’s screwup the day before.

The new server was significantly smaller than the previous man. Motivated by implied threat, he tried to carry out a difficult assignment. He had only gotten through 60 or so men when suddenly a prisoner, unsatisified with the portion he had given, spontaneously threw the tray. The hard
edge of the tray struck the worker, leaving him with an injury that required eight stitches and a permanent scar in his forehead.

On another occasion someone, having received their meal and having sat down to eat it, encountered another inmate, an enemy of his, whose back happened to be near him. Suddenly, one prisoner got up and slammed the tray over his head punching him at the same time. The guards broke up the fight, and then slammed one of the participants, who was already subdued, onto the table.

Sometimes the kitchen workers, themselves, were involved in violence. Once when a man was sitting down, waiting for his shift to end, suddenly someone, who was walking by, cut him in the head and the eye. As the victim got up, the other inmate started walking away to make his escape.
Meanwhile, a guard who saw it all purposely walked off in the opposite direction.

Another incident involved a couple of prisoners who were drunk. The two had an argument. A little bit later, one, wanting to continue, went up to
the other’s friend, asking to fight one-on-one. When refused, the belligerent
prisoner attacked him with a shank.

This victim also had a shank on him, so they stabbed each other. When they were through, they both staggered out and the friend who had denied permission suddenly slammed a huge container on his head. There were times that guards would arrange for violence simply for their entertainment. I recall one incident involving two men who had stabbed each other in the chest, and yet had escaped detection. When word reached the prison administration, they were each placed in a status that required them to be kept in their cells while an investigation went on.

They were both moved from one cell block to the next, where they were now kept on the same floor just a few cells apart. One day, at the mandatory one-hour-a-day recreation time, the guards put them both into the same caged area, hoping that they would fight more. However, fortunately, one prisoner pointed out to the other that the guards were purposely doing that for their entertainment, and they therefore ceased hostilities.

Unfortunately, at other times, things didn’t turn out so well. Sometimes guards would spread rumors, whether true or not, about different prisoners,
claiming that either they were a snitch, or that they were in jail for sex offenses. On one occasion, a guard put the word out about a prisoner who he didn’t like. Within a few days, some of the other prisoners were physically abusing him, causing him to have to sign into protective custody. Later that guard and his friend, along with the prisoners who had carried out the deed, were talking about it and laughing.

Another incident involved the guards purposely leaving their areas, so as to allow two prisoners to fight each other uninterrupted for a good half
hour to 45 minutes. When they had previously fought each other a few days earlier, the guard had told the combatant that he liked, “If he comes in here again, kill him.”

Having served sixteen years in prison and having witnessed a lot of violence, I have a few suggestions for reducing the violence that goes on there.
For one thing, prisoners should be separated in different ways:

A) I do not believe in housing teenagers, sentenced as “adults”, with the adult prisoners, because they are particularly vulnerable and unable to
effectively defend themselves.

B) Those who are sentenced to less time should not be housed with those with a lot of time, regardless of the reason. Though theoretically this is supposed to be the case with minimum, medium, and maximum security prisons, it doesn’t work out that way in real life. I often saw parole violators who had less than two years to go, imprisoned in maximum security prisons, along with people who were there for allegedly committing murder. Prisoners who are just starting out their sentence are sometimes sent to maximum security prisons for 6 months-to-a-year before being transferred to a medium security facility. As I see it, they should be sent there directly without ever setting foot in the max.

C) Those who are imprisoned for drugs or other non violent crimes should not be housed with prisoners who are there for violence.

D) Those who conduct themselves violently while incarcerated should not be housed with those who do not, regardless of whether the crime they were imprisoned for is violent. To group everybody together has the effect of putting people in a position where they potentially have to become violent in order to defend themselves and survive. I think that there needs to be an overhaul of the personnel who work in prison. Guards who are not professional, who are abusive, and either encourage violence or look the other way while it is occurring, should be weeded out and no longer employed as correction officers.

They set a bad example, and add to the level of violence in prison. Similarly, the general level of mistreatment and indifference needs to be reduced, as it adds to the stress, as does the dangerous practice of double celling. Lastly, rules which have no legitimate purpose in terms of safety or preventing escapes should be done away with.

The practice of putting two prisoners in a cell which was designed for one has led to a lot violence. There was an incident once when a prisoner was assaulted by his cellmate. He reported it to a guard and understandably didn’t want to go back into the cell. He was nonetheless ordered back into the cell. When he went back into the cell, he was assaulted again. On another occasion involving two different prisoners, one prisoner raped the other. It has happened on more than one occasion that two prisoners were fighting inside of a double cell and then as the guards went into the cell to break the fight up, the prisoners turned on him. There were some acts of violence that I did not personally witness but which occurred in different parts of the prison which I learned about. These accounts very much affected the overall feel of violence constantly in the air, and added to the feeling that one had to be on one’s toes at all times. There was an incident while I was in Elmira where a prisoner snuck into another one’s cell and attacked him. After subduing his victim, he then shut the cell door and not only killed him, but kept cutting him afterwards.

Some instances of violence I heard about from prisoners who came from other facilities were quite startling. One inmate said that the guards in Comstock Correctional Facility were paying prisoners with a carton of cigarettes in order to get them to cut other prisoners. Most prisoners were in fear of being sent to Attica prison, because the guards were known for groping prisoners during pat downs. The word was that if it happened to you, the thing to do was to shut up and above all do not remove your hands from the wall. If a prisoner failed to do either of those things, the guards would assault the prisoner and claim that he came off of the wall and tried to assault them. They were also known for removing prisoners
from the line of those who were going to recreation, sending the rest of the group ahead, and with the potential witnesses out of sight, commencing to jump and stomp on the prisoner.

I remember once when I had been transferred to Eastern Correctional Facility. I had arrived a few weeks before a protest would take place, involving all of the prisoners refusing to come out of their cells in protest of double bunking. This demonstration, of course, subjected all
who participated to the risk of being given serious sanctions by prison authorities.

Yet, all were expected to participate. Although referred to as a “protest”, participation in it was by no means voluntary. Word went around that on the scheduled date, anybody that came out of their cells would be stabbed. When it happened, there were a few people who dared to come out anyway. There was a lot of yelling and name calling that went on as they were observed. Later on, those who came out were assaulted, sometimes with weapons.

Westchester Guardian/Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Where Our County Tax Dollars Are Going

Regional County Executives recently met with New York State Governor Patterson to request a reduction in state mandated programs and services that are not fully funded by the state. Most residents are aware that Westchester County taxes are the highest in the nation. On the County website, Andrew Spano, the Westchester County Executive, alleges, “Westchester would not have this dubious distinction if it were not for the fact that our property values are so high compared with the rest of the country”.

Spano also blames much of the cost of County government on state and Federal “mandates”, such as Medicaid and school aid. However, these claims are based on dubious math and incorrect analyses and belie the real problem with our County government costs.

First, it is not the “property values” that cause high taxes, as Spano would have us believe. Taxes do not necessarily have to increase in accordance with value. Some government costs are fixed, e.g., it does not cost more to collect garbage from, or run a sewer line to, a more expensive, newer
home than to a lower valued older home.

If the value of Westchester County homes truly affects our property taxes, then we would have the highest rates in proportion to value. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Westchester County property tax rates, in relation to property values, do not even rank in the top 10.

Second, if the New York State mandates are indeed responsible for the high cost of local property taxes, then all New York State counties would be feeling this impact. According to the Census Bureau, the median property taxes for Westchester County are $8,422, indeed making our County the
highest in the nation. However, the median property tax for all New York State counties is $3,486, meaning half of the counties in New York State fall below this amount!

The New York State Office of the Comptroller notes that: “Nassau, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties have tax burdens per household that are more than twice the statewide average. The remaining downstate suburban counties, Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster,
are also well above average. By contrast, several western and northern counties have overall burdens that are 20 percent or more below the state average”. So how can other New York State counties operate, under the same state mandates, at tax levels far below those of Westchester County?

By keeping our taxes high, Spano is actually inhibiting Westchester’s ability to collect state and federal funds for programs, such as:

• The Department of Agriculture which uses real estate taxes to determine which areas should receive direct multifamily loan assistance;

• The Department of Health and Human Services which uses real estate taxes to assess the need for housing assistance for low-income, including
elderly low-income, households. The County’s high taxes are actually one of the reasons why Westchester is not receiving more in aid for state and federal mandates. Currently, the County will receive 24.4% of its total operating revenues from New York State and the Federal government
in 2009, a total of $416,506,114.

But lower taxes and a lower tax rate would actually increase the aid to our County. So, if it’s not the state and federal mandates that are responsible for our high taxes, then what is the cause?

The benefits received by county employees are placing a burden on overtaxed residents and creating a massive social divide in our local communities; those with government benefits, and those without. County employees receive health insurance and paid time off that extend far beyond benefits in the private sector. Among those benefits, our tax dollars fund for county employees, are:

• Up to 750 paid workdays off for “employee organization leave”;

• Employee representatives are granted reasonable and necessary employee organization leave, including travel time, for the investigation of claimed grievances and processing of grievances;

• Employees are granted a reasonable amount of employee organization leave, including travel time, for the purpose of participating in mutually scheduled joint meetings of special committees;

• Employees paid on an hourly, per diem, or annual salaried basis who work a minimum of one-quarter time, but less than half-time, during their qualifying period, receive $200; work a minimum of half-time, but less than three-quarters time, during their qualifying period, receive $400; work a minimum of three-quarters time, but less than full-time, during their qualifying period, receive $600; work the equivalent of full-time during their qualifying period receive $800

• “Inconvenience” pay of $550 per year to employees who work four hours or more between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m;

• Holiday compensatory time credited for time worked on such days shall be calculated at the rate of time and one half;

• $20 additional travel expense reimbursement for each weekend employees are in overnight travel status;

• A supplemental mileage allowance rate for the use of personal vehicles for those persons eligible for such allowance when authorized to transport clients or residents, in addition to the standard IRS mileage reimbursement rate;

• Health Insurance office visit charges by participating providers will be subject to a $12 co-payment per covered individual. Office visit charges by participating providers for well child care, including routine pediatric immunizations, will be excluded from the office visit co-pays;

• Maximum enrollee coinsurance out-of-pocket expense under the basic medical component of $900 per individual or family in any one year for County Court employees, $1,292 for most other County employees, as compared to $2,000 for many local non-government health insurance contracts;

• Employees contribute $22.19 per biweekly paycheck for an individual health insurance plan as compared with many local employees who pay up to $600 a month, and more, for their own coverage;

• Employees contribute $95.10 per biweekly paycheck for family health insurance coverage whereas most local companies can no longer afford to subsidize family coverage and employees must pay the cost in full, approximately $1,800. Also, since the family members do not work for the County, the question is raised as to why taxpayers should be paying the cost of health coverage for non-government employees?

• Employees 50 years of age or older and their covered spouses/domestic partners 50 years of age or older are allowed up to $250 reimbursement annually towards the cost of a routine physical examination provided by a non-participating physician. These benefits are not be subject to a deductible and coinsurance, which begs the question, once again, why taxpayers are being asked to provide free physicals for spouses/domestic partners who are not government employees?

• Hearing aids are reimbursed up to a maximum of $1,500 once every four years;

• Free annual eye exams and free eyeglasses for every member of an employee’s family each year;

• Maximum lifetime benefits for non-network substance abuse services of $250,000, compared to zero for many local non-government
health insurance programs;

• Provide basic medical coverage for the treatment of infertility up to a lifetime cap of $50,000 compared to zero for many local non-government health insurance programs;

• Subsidizes 90 percent of the cost of individual coverage and 75 percent of the cost of dependent coverage toward the hospital/medical/mental health and substance abuse components. Most employees of local businesses have to finance 100% of the cost of coverage for their spouses/domestic partners and children;

• Subsidizes 90 percent of the cost of individual coverage and 75 percent of the cost of dependent prescription drug coverage. Many local taxpayers have no prescription coverage at all;

• Part-time employees; those who work at least half of the regularly scheduled work time, are entitled to full benefits. Most local part-time workers receive no benefits, including no health insurance or paid time off;

• Seasonal employees who work at least a half-time basis for at least six months, are eligible to apply for health insurance coverage as of the date of employment. Most local seasonal workers receive no health insurance or paid time off;

• Continued health insurance coverage will be provided for the un-remarried spouse and other eligible dependents of employees who die in government service. Local businesses offer insurance to these individuals under Federal COBRA laws where the spouse/dependents absorb the full cost of the benefits;

• The un-remarried spouse and otherwise eligible dependent children of a retired/deceased employee is permitted to continue coverage on the health insurance program with payment at the same contribution rates as required of active employees for the same coverage. These individuals, who never worked for the County at all, continue to subsidized by tax dollars after the government worker is no longer employed by the County;

• Employees may use their sick leave time to offset the cost of their health insurance. Most local workers don’t receive this benefit at all;

• Holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and day after, Christmas Day – a total of thirteen (13) days, compared to most small local business holidays consisting of New Year’s, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, and Christmas – a total of eight days. By simply reducing paid holidays to eight days from thirteen, a savings of one work week, the County could reduce staff and costs without affecting productivity or level of services

• Employees also receive two “floating” holidays in addition to the days above;

• Employees can accumulate sick leave up to a total of 200 days. Employees can use up to 200 days of such credits for retirement service credit and to pay for health insurance in retirement. Most local workers do not have any sick time and must use their two weeks of vacation time to cover this. If they do have sick time, it’s on an annual “use it or lose it” basis, and may not be accumulated year to year;

• Government employees also receive personal leave, leave for adoptions, funeral leave, jury duty leave, time off to vote, three days to renew licenses and professional requirements, such as the continuing education requirement for lawyers. Most local professionals squeeze in these courses
at night and weekends, even taking audio courses while commuting!

• Employees are reimbursed for professional training and annual certification fees, even if they are basic requirements for obtaining their jobs. Most small business employees pay their own costs; • Employees receive four hours off for annual mammograms. In contrast, most local workers who are expected to attend to medical exams on their own personal time;

• Many local government workers receive a minimum of four weeks vacation. In addition, the County Courthouse closes for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, giving those employees an additional paid week off. All vacation time may be accumulated and the employee may receive a lump sum check for their unused vacation time upon their retirement, paid at the latest rate of pay, not at the rate of pay at which that time was earned. Most local workers are on a “use it or lose it” basis and may not accumulate their unused vacation time;

• Overtime meal allowances for employees who work at least three hours overtime on a regular work day or at least six hours overtime on other than a regular work day. Most local employees do not get this benefit;

• Annual benefits, up to $600, to defray dependent care costs

• Overtime pay for most levels of staff, even those at high rates of pay. Most local employees now work a standard 50 hour week, 70 for professionals, without any additional compensation. They feel lucky to have a job in this economic environment;

• A government contribution of $212.50 per employee to employee’s organizations; • Employees receive one hour paid lunch breaks;

• Employees receive compensation for uniforms and equipment. Local office workers are not reimbursed for the cost of their suits and briefcases;

• Employees may deduct the cost of their health insurance premiums pre-tax, and allocate up to an additional $4,000 in pre-tax dollars to a health fund for expenses such as orthodontia;

• Fully financed pensions. Most local businesses do not have pension plans so employees must struggle to contribute to 401K’s. As funds in the County pensions drop with the stock market decline, the government contributions will increase to compensate. At a time when local residents have seen their own retirement funds decline, they will be expected to contribute even more to the pensions of County workers.

• Many employees receive subsidized phones, computers, cars, and houses. The Guardian has requested a complete inventory of all County houses, many of which are located in County parks, and the names of the individuals residing in those residences, and the amount, if any, of rent paid by them to the County for the use of these properties;

• Employees receive free life insurance, with coverage up to three times their annual salaries

• In addition to the above, the County also pays employment taxes, such as FICA, and provides unemployment and disability insurance for employees. The County budget provides only a brief analysis of what these benefits cost taxpayers:

Retirement costs: $34,883,259
Payroll Taxes: $27,464,958
Health Insurance: $91,147,315
Employee Benefit Fund: $2,727,125
Unemployment Insurance: $500,000
Other (Disability) Insurance: $959,122
Total Employee Benefits: $157,681,779

With only 4,912 employees on the County payroll, that’s an average cost of $32,101.34 for each and every employee in benefits!

Depending on the department, and the salaries of the employees, the distribution of County benefits fluctuates. The County Legislators have salaries of $3,998,153 in their 2009 budget for their 57 employees, and benefit costs of $1,758,881, meaning their staff receives an additional 44% in mostly non-taxable benefit compensation on top of their base salaries. Not only do most local taxpayers have to pay for the cost of their
own benefits, they also do not receive any tax breaks for most of those payments, increasing their economic burden even further.

In the chart below, compare two fifty-year old employees, one County government, and one small business worker, both making $70,000 a year
For some reason, County government is continuing to expect local non-government employees to be able to afford to pay the average $8,422 in local property taxes. The only way the average local worker can afford to continue to subsidize County employees is if we forego our own benefits, at the risk of our families, our health, and our retirement.

Isn’t it time the County addresses the real problem mandates in its budget? Isn’t it time we cut the benefits the staff is receiving and bring those benefits in line with those being offered to local taxpayers in their place of business? We cannot afford to pay for benefits of non-County employees which may be illegal if not mandated by County charter. We cannot afford to subsidize carryover plans for excessive vacation and sick leave policies and fund high cost health and pension plans. Westchester residents can no longer afford to subsidize these unrealistic benefits and the social and socio-economic divide they create among us.

Westchester Guardian/The Advocate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

The Winter Of Our Discontent
A Massive Crisis Of Confidence

We are living through a period unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes. We are grappling with a Crisis Of Confidence; one which, in the financial realm, is virtually world-wide in scope. However, here at home, we are confronted, simultaneously, with a Crisis Of Confidence In Government at every level. The constant reminder that our most fundamental institutions, not merely our banks and major corporations, but also our courts, our legislatures, and our elected executive officials, are frequently shaky and not at all what we have relied upon them to
be, is unnerving and, for many, depressing.

In a few days, it will officially be winter, not merely a season, but a state of mind, particularly for those of us living in the northern latitudes.
Mental health professionals tell us that about 25 percent of our population suffers with seasonal depression. Shorter days, more darkness,
and the cold, combine to make some of us wish we didn’t have to get up in the morning. If only we could pull the covers over ourselves and hibernate ‘til spring.

Unfortunately, what’s concerning most of us, now, will still be with us come spring. We have been deceived and let down by far too many individuals and institutions who should have stood by us; none more significantly than our courts. No free and democratic society can long
survive without a fair and equitable judiciary. Citizens must believe that no matter what else may fail them, they can rely upon their courts to honestly and fairly interpret and enforce the law.

However, we discover, with ever-increasing frequency, that our State Courts in New York; the state whose civil law is opted for by corporations throughout the world for conflict resolution, are as corrupted and unconstitutional as any in the country. The Matrimonial Part of State Supreme Court is scandalous, awash with cases that time after time prove the axiom: As between any two parties to a matrimonial
action, the spouse with the money, and/or political connections, will have it his or her way.

On the Criminal Court side, in many counties, particularly Westchester, Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), and Rockland,
locally, the County and Supreme Courts are radically and unconstitutionally biased in favor of the District Attorney’s Offices. Self-promoting so-called public servants, such as Robert Morgenthau, Jeanine Pirro, Charles J. Hynes, Richard Brown, and Janet Di-Fiore, operate fiefdoms in which the selection of trial judges is often anything but random, and the withholding of evidence, Brady and Rosario
violations, are the rule, and not the exception, and witness intimidation, evidence tampering, and subornation of perjury, are just as

Most de-pressing, with regard to our state courts, bar associations, the Grievance Committee For Attorney Complaints, and the Commission on Judicial Misconduct, are little more than wrist-slapping peer review clubs in 99 percent of cases brought before them. Only those cases that involve highly-publicized transgressions, such as the proven acceptance of bribes, or the co-mingling of funds, ever incur disbarment
and/or criminal prosecution.

Consider Albert J. Pirro, Jr., convicted taxcheating felon found guilty in federal court of 38 counts of tax evasion on June 20, 2000, but not acted upon by the Grievance Committee until May, 2003; and, then, not disbarred, but merely suspended for three years. Imagine anyone
other than a highly-connected wheeler-dealer like Albert Pirro, Jr., married to the District Attorney of Westchester, receiving a 29-month sentence for 10 years of tax evasion and serving only 11 months in prison.

Additionally, imagine receiving only a three-year suspension, not a disbarment, for 38 felony convictions, but nevertheless, continuing
to practice before municipal and other agencies representing him-self and others throughout the period of suspension, calling himself a consultant, and getting away with it.

More discouraging, still, imagine the Police Chief of the Town of Harrison retaining that same Al Pirro as his attorney to represent him in actions brought against him before the Harrison Town Board/Commissioners of Police. And, speaking about police, and police departments; what comfort or con-fidence is to be drawn by law-abiding citizens from the incestuous and tainted relationships between District Attorney DiFiore and Westchester police departments such as Harrison and Yonkers, in particular.

What confidence, indeed, when police brutality, in each of those departments, is condoned and rewarded by a District Attorney so corrupt
and incompetent as to prosecute the victims of brutality rather than the rogue police officers, as in the Irma Marquez and Rui Florim cases, and numerous other cases not as well known. Many ask, “How long must it take the FBI to complete its investigation into such matters?”

The corruption permeates the ranks of elected officials to the very top of the ladder, as well. Here, in the tri-state area alone, within the last couple of years, there was Connecticut’s Governor Rowland who went to prison for having accepted over $250,000 in home improvements,
New Jersey’s Governor Corzine, who nearly killed himself, and others, driving down the Turnpike at more than 100 mph, and, of course, our own

Eliot Spitzer, whose penchant for highpriced prostitutes was only exceeded by his penchant for political ones. So bad is the public perception of elected officials, so shaken has been our confi-dence, and our belief systems, that David Paterson, unexpectedly called upon to step up to the plate upon Eliot Spitzer’s humiliating exposure and departure, felt compelled, as did his wife, to publicly reveal each of their
numerous sexual dalliances for fear that they, too, might come under investigation by the federal government.

A thousand miles away, in Chicago, where the former governor went to prison, Governor Blagojevich was arrested last week, by the FBI, caught on a wiretap trying to sell the appointment to Barack Obama’s United States Senate seat to the highest bidder. Of course, mention of the federal government opens up a whole other can of worms. What comfort can be drawn from a Justice Department that fired a string
of United States Attorneys for having failed to prosecute enough Democrat elected officials, while serving the Republican George W. Bush/
Dick Cheney Administration?

How confident can any American citizen feel about a president who dragged us into war with false claims of weapons of mass destruction; telling us we would be “bringing democracy to the people of Iraq,” in exchange for the lives of thousands of our sons and daughters, not to mention the tens of thousands who would come home without arms and legs, only to be inadequately cared for by a Department Of Veterans’ Affairs, too antiquated and incompetent, and often too unwilling, to provide the care so desperately needed and deserved.

Let us not lose sight of the incredible erosion of human rights, of fundamental Constitutional guarantees that we have witnessed over the
last seven years, since 9/11. We have been made to understand that detention without formal criminal charges, isolation without legal representation, and torture, are all acceptable under our Constitution.

We have been told, “The ends justify the means.” We have stood by as the highest Court in the land has permitted the Administration
that has gained control over it, by appointment, to scrap one Constitutional guarantee, one promise of our forefathers, to us, after another,
to the point where even state and local municipal governments believe they can get away with stifling Free Speech and Freedom Of The Press, trampling the First Amendment.

It would be a sad day, indeed, for our nation, if despots such as Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzalez, and Phil Amicone, Mayor of our State’s fourth largest city, who refuses to deal with Yonkers police brutality, preferring instead to steal and destroy the distribution boxes of the
newspaper urging him to deal with the problem, were to go unchecked and unpunished. For that would turn the present Crisis Of Confi-dence into anarchy.

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