Thursday, May 21, 2009

At The Westchester Democratic Convention

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Democratic Party Insiders Stage
A Very Tightly Controlled
Un-Democratic Nominating Convention

Last Wednesday night the clique that tightly controls all that goes on in County government to the point where the County Legislature is
nothing more than a rubber stamp for the will and the whim of County Executive Andrew Spano, ran a totally choreographed, really un-Democratic Party nominating event.

Entering the arena at the County Center in White Plains, we were immediately struck by the predetermined nature of it all. Signs declaring
Andrew Spano, Janet DiFiore, and Tim Idoni, were strung up everywhere to the exclusion of all others as though the outcome, the very
purpose of the evening, had already been pre-determined.

A district leader from Mount Vernon was told, in no uncertain terms by Reginald LaFayette, that he could not put up a sign for Tony Castro,
candidate for District Attorney. And, in fact, when he then placed some 150 Tony Castro signs at a table next to the entrance where all delegates came in to the arena, and where there were three other stacks of signs, all for Spano, Idoni and DiFiore, those Castro signs were quickly removed, never to be seen again.

When Andrew Spano, the County Executive who first ran for the Office 12 years ago, telling everyone he was only seeking two terms, and who is now, at 74, seeking a fourth, took to the podium, it was difficult to determine just what he was thinking about when he uttered the following: “You flush the toilet. Ever wonder where it goes? That’s County Government.” This reporter certainly had to agree that what has
been going on in County Government between the County Executive and the Board of Legislators doesn’t pass the smell test.

Spano then, apparently not quite through with the subject of waste matter, proceeded to tell the delegates a whopper of a lie, declaring that
he had “gotten the Mob out of the solid waste business in Westchester.”

This reporter was present, some four years ago, having been personally invited to attend a meeting of the County Legislature’s Solid Waste
Subcommittee, by its chair, Tom Abinanti, when then-Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz stood at the doorway to the conference room, and, one by one, called each of the several legislators present out of the room in order to twist their arms into approving an $87 million, five-year contract, with City Carting of Connecticut, a company the City of New York refused to do business with because of its known Mob connections, rather than exercise the County’s available option to renew with the then-current hauler for only $70 million for the next five years.

When asked by this reporter if the original hauler, at $70 million, had been doing a good job, then- Solid Waste Commissioner Landi, another Andy Spano crony, admitted that they were. When then asked, “Why, then, did you not renew the option with them for the next five years, at $17 million less than you will now be paying?”, Landi said, “We wanted to test the waters.” Landi knew then, as did each legislator in the room, that trash hauling was a very tightly-held and choreo-graphed industry, where prices only went up, just like County government over the last 12 years; just like the so-called nominating convention.

Curiously, when it came to nominating a candidate for District Attorney, Party Chairman Reginald LaFayette insisted that Tony Castro’s,
and Janet DiFiore’s, speeches could only be given after a voice vote was recorded declaring DiFiore the nominee. Apparently he was so insecure that, perhaps, if they each spoke before the balloting, perhaps Castro might have inspired too many of even the tightly-controlled, rather unenthusiastic, crowd.

Truth be told, Spano never really supported Tony Castro in either of his prior attempts to become District Attorney. Andrew Spano has far too many skeletons in his closet, both as County Clerk and as County Executive, to ever risk having a competent, experienced law-abiding prosecutor, the likes of Tony Castro, in the District Attorney’s Office. Spano and his cronies needed, and still need, people like Jeanine Pirro and Janet DiFiore, who will sacrifice the interests of decent, innocent individuals, police officers and civilians alike, while covering up crimes and malfeasance, outright corruption in office. Hence, the all-out effort to put Janet DiFiore, a horrible, self-serving Republican DA, across as a Democrat.

Spano expects the real Democrats, the families who are not Fat Cat Insiders, but who, instead, are struggling with the highest taxes in the nation, to accept DiFiore as one of their own, despite her well-known, ruthless handling of innocent victims, and her vindictive crushing of honest, hard-working police officers. He expects her acceptance from rank and file Democrats, just as he expected them to accept the $5,000 raises he wanted to gift to his crony commissioners already getting $155,000 salaries last Fall. In short, he wants Democratic families to drink the Kool-Aid and accept Janet DiFiore despite the fact that a News 12 poll, taken several weeks ago, with a hefty 999 viewer response that indicated voters for District Attorney favored Tony Castro by an overwhelming 55 percent, Dan Schorr, the Republican, with 27 percent,
and incumbent Janet DiFiore, a distant third, with only 18 percent.

We are confident that, in the certain primary between Castro and DiFiore, Westchester’s Democratic families will not be fooled into Drinking
The Kool-Aid for DiFiore.

“You flush the toilet. Ever wonder where it goes? That’s County Government.”

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano

The Westchester Democratic Convention

Democratic Committeeman Maurio M. Sax’s
Nominating Speech For Tony Castro

Chairman LaFayette, fellow Delegates, eight years ago I had the privilege to stand before you and place in nomination Tony Castro for Westchester County District Attorney. At that time you enthusiastically, and overwhelmingly, made him our nominee for that Office. Four years later, again, you gave him your unconditional endorsement and, in the election that followed, he received more votes on the Democratic line than his Republican opponent, Janet DiFiore did, on the Republican line. Unfortunately, he lost because of minor Party endorsements held by his opponent.

This evening, we have a complex issue before us, as Tony Castro, once again, seeks the Democratic nomination for DA. He is being challenged by the present Republican incumbent who seeks the Democratic nomination for her re-election to that Office. Let’s be clear. There is a real distinction between these two candidates.

Tony Castro is the incumbent Democratic nominee, seeking to be the Democratic nominee to run as our Democratic candidate for DA. Ms. DiFiore is the incumbent Republican District Attorney who seeks the Democratic nomination for her re-election.

One must question why the Republican incumbent, who campaigned against our Party’s candidate, is now seeking our Party’s nomination.
When asked, at a Committee meeting, why she is defecting the Republican Party, she responded, “I like the Democratic Party’s values.” And, when asked which of those values she liked, the response was, “I am against the Iraq War.”

The question must be asked, what, in fact, being a Democratic District Attorney, would permit you to do that you can’t do as the present Republican in that office? Is there a Democratic or a Republican method of enforcing our laws and protecting the public interest? Will you be more competent and serve the public interest better now that you are a Democrat? This Office requires a person who is independent from political demands; someone who possesses fair social ideals and humanitarian principles which relate to law and justice.

Or, is the real reason that the incumbent Republican candidate cannot win re-election against a strong Democratic challenger. If it is, it is an admittance of weakness in your ability to serve that Office. We should not allow our Party to be used for political opportunism and self-preservation. Let’s not be enablers to those who seek to entrench themselves in public office. If this is the trend, there will be a public backlash against this. Both political parties must maintain the sanctity of the two-party system which is basic to our democratic values.

The facts are, when News Channel 12 ran a poll as to who should be Westchester District Attorney, Tony Castro received 55 percent. Dan Schorr received 27 percent. And Janet DiFiore received 18 percent. From this poll, and his two campaigns, we know that there is strong public support
for Tony’s candidacy.

Most of us in this room know Tony Castro. We have seen him and supported him through two elections. He is the prime example of the American Dream. He is the son of immigrant parents, who worked his way through Harvard University. His whole life has been one of public service, having served for 14 years, with distinction, as an Assistant District Attorney. He is committed to public service and will champion the cause of virtue over vice. Finally, allow me to say this. In over 100 years, a Democrat has never been elected to this office. With Tony Castro, we now have an opportunity to elect a life-long Democrat. Let this be an opportunity to elect a true Democrat to be our next DA, for he will enrich the Office with new, dynamic leadership that is so sorely needed.

It is with great pleasure that I place the name of Tony Castro as our Party’s nominee for the next District Attorney of this great County.

The Westchester Democratic Convention

Tony Castro’s Address Before The
Westchester Democratic Convention

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice; and, when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Two generations ago, New York Democrats were instrumental in waging and winning a battle for the soul of our Party as we embraced Dr. King’s non-violent crusade for justice as our own.

Just last November, New York Democrats proudly took part in an historic election of change, and promise, when we elected a President of the United States who is as much a son of Kenya as he is of Kansas. But the battle goes on. Today, here in Westchester County, victims of violence at the hands of a few law enforcement officials, are prosecuted by our District Attorney despite public and overwhelming evidence that they have done nothing wrong.

One man was held incommunicado and denied access to his attorney and family for four days. I know, because I was his attorney. In two recent cases, the United States Department of Justice has had to step in and prosecute because our District Attorney charged the victim instead of the offender.

I am a candidate for District Attorney this year, not out of any sense of entitlement as a former candidate. I run because, in this election, I am the better candidate, the better Democrat, and I will be the better District Attorney. Many of you know me as a life-long Democrat who fights the good fight and remains true to the values that define us as Democrats; an uncompromising, unwavering commitment to the civil liberties and rights of all, regardless of economic or social status.

That is the kind of District Attorney Westchester deserves, and that is the kind of District Attorney I will be. Our representations of justice show her blindfolded so that she may weigh, in the scales she holds, the fate of the accused before her, without regard to who that individual may be. In the United States, we are all equal before the law and, as District Attorney, I will make sure that is the practice here in Westchester County again.

Now, I know change is hard. It’s easier to embrace the status quo, to go with the conventional wisdom, to stick with the incumbent even when she just joined our Party. Senator Obama had a good gig going in Washington. It’s nice to be a United States Senator. It’s hard spending weeks in the frozen fields of Iowa convincing Iowa Democrats, sometimes one at a time, that you are the right instrument of the change that America needs.

So, tonight, in asking you to do the right thing for Westchester, and for our Party, I am asking you to do something hard. I am asking you to send a message to the power brokers who put this deal together, and to say “No”, a three-time Republican is not the future of the Democratic Party here in Westchester. And, “No”, we embrace a different vision of justice for our home towns.

It may well be easier to send this message in the privacy of a voting booth in September. But I ask you tonight to join my cause because it is the right thing, not the easy thing, to do. How important is this cause? Dr. King taught us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Westchester deserves a better administration of justice than it has. And, as the Majority Party, it is our obligation to see to it.

Fellow Democrats, I ask for your support, and with it, I promise to return law enforcement to its true purpose, the establishment of justice. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and God bless the United States of America, and our President.

In Our Opinion/Our Readers Respond.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Our Opinion...

This Memorial Day, Let Us Resolve To
Do Right By Our Returning Injured Veterans

This coming Monday will be Memorial Day, a day which, over the years, has historically been a solemn day of remembrance and tribute; a day when Americans traditionally visit the gravesites of fallen servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice that we might live in freedom and peace. It is a day to reflect upon not only those lives that were laid down on foreign soil in defense of our democracy and democracies around the world against tyranny and dictatorship, but also, in a broader sense, those back here at home as well whose lives were dedicated to protecting our liberty, our very way of life.

With the end of the compulsory military draft, the composition and mentality of our military forces, those who have faced armed combat overseas, has changed significantly. For one thing, it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of those in the Armed Services are there because they have chosen to be. Having said that, we are not suggesting that those who enlisted are necessarily all very pleased to be facing combat, or even day-to-day existence in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The enemy is very often poorly defined, hidden, but armed and ready to strike, frequently by remote control using improvised explosive devices, killing and dismembering several military and civilian victims at a time. As a result, this Longest War In Our History has produced an extraordinary number of young men and women who have returned home with missing limbs and traumatic head injury, often involving vision and hearing loss as well.

Of course, actual physical trauma is but one side of the horrible equation; most often accompanied by psychological and emotional damage and complications sometimes undetected, lodged just beneath the surface, likely to rear themselves at any time back home. And, therein, too, lies the rub. Beginning sometime after the return of military personnel from World War II and the Korean conflict, the quality and availability of medical and psychiatric care and attention extended to our returning injured servicemen and women through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, has steadily declined, while, at the same time, the nature and severity of typical injuries has become more complex, but survivable.

Sadly, we often have not kept our promise, our solemn obligation to many who have come home in desperate need of aggressive after-care, rehabilitation, and guidance. Many await processing, approvals, and much-needed care and medication as regional VA offices, and local VA hospitals, either drag their feet or outright refuse to perform services.

This Memorial Day, let us take the time to consider the ways we might make a meaningful contribution to the care and comfort of someone who has come home from war with less than he or she left. Let us contact Congressman John Hall and other veterans’ advocates to make our feelings known, not only to federal officials but to state and county veterans’ offices as well. Let us make it abundantly clear that we want to keep our end of the bargain, despite the weakened economy, in order to provide our injured returning men and women with the finest care available.

Our Readers Respond...

Yonkers Legendary ‘Legal Eagle’ Makes Request

Dear Editor:

We thought this Memorial Day you could publish a photograph of the World War II Marine Memorial Window located
in Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Yonkers, New York which accompanies this letter.

The Window’s inspiration was a letter written by Marine Corporal Frank Gambino on the Marines’ beliefs and why
they sacrificed their lives for America during the Battle of Saipan on the loss of his squad leader, Corporal Joseph Romano.

The inscription on the Memorial plaque encompasses his lasting words. Corporal Gambino was killed in action in the Battle of
Iwo Jima and awarded the Silver Star. In any event, thank you for the opportunity.

John N. Romano, Yonkers

Editor’s Note:

We are only too happy to comply with the request of World War II Marine veteran, Mr. Romano’s, request.

Reader Reminds Us Corruption Continues In New Castle

Dear Editor:

I am writing to you to inform you of a very serious problem within one of our local government municipalities. This is not a story about the injustice against a single person. This story has nothing to do with whether one person is a Republican or a Democrat; this is a story about a human being and his God-given rights being violated. It is a story about an innocent, hard-working father and husband who was trying to do the right thing and provide for and protect his loving wife (Shari) and two kids (Matthew 11, Nicole 7). It is a story that hits at the heart of our community, and the basic human values and integrity that we have a right to expect from our community leaders.

I would encourage all who believe that public integrity and Equal Protection Under Law are necessary and fundamental to the lawful operation of local government to speak up and let those in power know your sentiments. I believe there is a troubling, pervasive, and disturbing problem in the Town of New Castle (Chappaqua), that is worthy of attention. Yes, I know this is the home Town for our Past President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but do not let that sway your opinion, please.

While I am not a writer, my problem is no less real, and I have to believe that I am not the sole victim. Over the past few years, there have been several articles printed in the local papers about the Police Administration and a Lt. John P. Vize as well as Town Administrator Gennaro Faiella in the Town of New Castle. These articles have told of the patterns of serious misconduct, Anti-Semitism, racism, retaliatory action, systemic governmental corruption and conduct unbecoming of several Administrators, employees and police officers within the town.

As it was revealed in one of the articles, then-New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, along with the New York State Comptroller’s
Office, found that there were serious egregious acts committed by these individuals. Anyone who does not believe this story to be true should look up the Verified Complaint filed against John P. Vize by the New York State Attorney General in New York State Supreme Court, Westchester County index # 06-13794. This complaint against John P. Vize was received by the Westchester County Clerk on July 27, 2006.

It is amazing to see the depths that the New Castle Police Department Administration along with Town of New Castle Administrator Gennaro Faiella has sunk to, when Police Lieutenant John P. Vize is allowed to remain on the force despite allegations by the New York State Attorney General’s Office that Lt. Vize violated his fiduciary duties, falsified official records and defrauded the State of New York out of enormous sums of money. John P. Vize has allegedly damaged the pension system upon which many people depend. It has also been reported that Vize was making illegal and secret cash payments to other officers to help cover up the pension frauds he perpetrated.

Lt. Vize made these cash payments without reporting them to the Internal Revenue Service or the New York State Department of Taxation.
Did Lt. Vize commit Tax Fraud? When Lt. Vize was responsible for falsified records being sent to the United States Social Security Administration crediting Police officer Denis Mahoney for working as a Police Officer in New Castle when in actuality he was living and operating a business that he still owns in Carey, North Carolina. Did Lt. Vize also commit Social Security fraud?

Since Lt. Vize may have set up a criminal organization, shouldn’t the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York investigate these allegations? The fact that someone as reportedly as corrupt as John P. Vize is allowed to remain as a Police Administrator,
seriously damages the public trust in law enforcement. One would have to think it also damages the public’s confidence in the Town of New
Castle’s government, particularly that Town Administrator Gennaro Faiella along with Chief of Police James Baynes both of whom

knowingly and willingly condoned these actions doing absolutely nothing. These actions of keeping someone as reportedly as corrupt as John
P. Vize in his official capacity along with Chief Baynes and Gennaro Faiella together with Town Board Members that condoned these actions
speaks volumes about the serious lack of integrity in the Town of New Castle’s administration as well as other governmental agencies who choose not see that justice was brought to these people.

As reported by one newspaper (Westchester Guardian) an article read as follows: “State of New York, by Attorney General’s Office vs. Dennis Mahoney & John P. Vize, Index # 06-13794, has focused a tremendous amount of attention on the Town of New Castle’s 40-member Police Department, a matter that has churned since 1999 involving a top law enforcement officer who is still on duty, Lieutenant John P. Vize, accused of keeping fraudulent payroll records for at least a year in order to help fellow officer Dennis Mahoney obtain his
20-year pension early when in fact he only worked 19 years, the last year Dennis Mahoney was running a business he owns and was living down in Carey, North Carolina.

According to twenty-year’s worth of documents seized from the New Castle Police Department in 2003 by the Public Integrity Section of the
Office of Westchester District Attorney Jeannine Pirro, Lt. John P. Vize was also involved in arranging shifts under Dennis Mahoney’s name, referred to by some of the Police Department members as ‘The Mahoney Days’. Approximately 25% of the department’s officers have been reported to have participated in the pension fraud scheme! What line of action was taken by the Chief of Police or the Town Administrator, or the Town Board after these findings were uncovered by the Attorney General’s office? They did nothing, and according to Town Administrator Faiella’s statement in The Journal News, they don’t plan to take any action. (Journal News articles dated: July 28 & 30, 2006).

Instead these individuals are promoted, rewarded, and carry on with their daily routines, unpunished.” Now, what is even more disturbing, is that, as of recently, the Journal News has been doing stories about local municipalities and their pay scale. What they found out was most troubling. As quoted by the writer of the article, April 14, 2009: “The overtime champion in 2008 was police Lt. John
Vize, who earned $34,784. Vize, who is being sued by the state Attorney General’s Office over accusations that he helped former Police Officer Dennis Mahoney defraud the pension system, was the third-highest paid town employee.”

Do you all find that just a little disturbing that the Town of New Castle Administrator Gennaro Faiella, along with the Town Board’s backing, has the audacity to keep this man who is being tried in our very courts to this day for pension frauds from our New York State Pension system which many hardworking men and women and some, if not all, of you contribute to is still allowed to remain on its payroll?
What does that say about the Administration and Legal system in New Castle?

As a member of the community and a major contributor to the New York State Pension System and the spouse and father of members of the
Jewish faith, and, worse yet, a victim, I find these actions are appalling and disgusting. I was employed by the Town of New Castle D.P.W. Highway Division for 14 1/2 years with an outstanding work record and evaluations.

I have received several certificates for years of dedicated service, Letters of Commendation, as well as letters from residents and people traveling through Chappaqua who I assisted. I have also been recognized, and received commendations from surrounding towns for my actions in evacuating a full bowling alley before a roof collapse on March 17, 2007.

In 2004, I filed a lawsuit against the Town and several employees for Harassment, Discrimination, Anti-Semitism, Retaliation and a Hostile
work environment. For years there were anti-Semitic remarks made towards me, such as “Jew Lover”; and I was told by one person “Hitler Had the Right Idea; the only thing Jews were good for was to skin them and Make Lamp Shades”. One of the Foremen (Mike Clifford) referred to the local Yeshiva as a “Jew Farm”.

There was also an instance involving the Foreman being advised of the name of an applicant for summer hire, whereupon he replied “That
Jew will never get a job here”. There is no excuse for those remarks, and they strike a deep chord within me as my wife and children are Jewish, and these comments were abhorrent. I brought my concerns over these Anti-Semitic remarks to the Chief of Police and the Town Administrator, and they took no action, essentially condoning the illegal acts, the same way they took no action with the complaints within their own department. I should not say they took no action because as you read on you will see just how corrupt the administration is there and what they have been covering up.

In 2002 The Town of New Castle went and hired an outside law firm to arbitrate an incident that took place on May 17, 2002 which involved Michael Molnar, one of the individuals named in my lawsuit. In a separate incident Molnar even tried to run over one of the foremen while yelling vulgar obscene comments out his driver’s side window. This is just one example of several that Molnar was involved in. Yet, to this day, Gennaro Faiella, Penelle Paderewski and the Town Board members, Robin Stout, John Buckley, Elise Kessler Mottel, and Michael Wolfensohn, all choose to ignore the fact that he is a potentially serious problem there. Instead they’ve promoted him and he is receiving an ample amount of overtime on a weekly basis.

Prior to filing my lawsuit, I suffered an on-the-job injury to my back. At that time, as well as currently, I was a volunteer with the Brewster Volunteer Fire Department. I informed the Fire Department that I would be out of service because of my on-the-job injury, as I’ve done any time I’ve had an on the- job injury. During my recovery, I was informed that the Town was investigating me for Worker’s Compensation
fraud based on an “eyewitness” account that I was flagging at a car accident on I-84. Through their investigation, the Town found no evidence to support the allegation, to be truthful. In reality, there was not even an accident on I-84 that Brewster responded to during that period of time. This malicious investigation was conducted with the intention of damaging my reputation and character, and was never officially cleared up.

After filing my lawsuit in 2004, I suddenly found myself getting written up for various “insubordination” charges, including, but not limited
to, my saying “aww, shucks.” In May of 2006, my lawsuit was amended to add the Town Administrator, Gennaro Faiella. Within weeks, I was further retaliated against with additional bogus charges, culminating in my being suspended for 30 days without pay, and my being required to appear for a Section 75 hearing. It is interesting to note that as I was being handed the letter suspending me, another employee was standing there repeating the ‘f ’ bomb over and over again in front of the Deputy Town Administrator, Penelle Paderewski who, at that time, was also Acting DPW Commissioner. And, interestingly enough, she was also this employee’s mother.

As an aside, the employee in question was not written up for his foul language while I, on the other hand, was written up for saying “aww shucks.” Just to be clear, I had never been written up prior to filing the lawsuit! Upon returning to work after my 30-day suspension I was relocated to another department, denied any overtime, and specifically instructed that I was not allowed to use any equipment or drive any vehicles, which essentially meant that I was only permitted to work as a laborer, not at my level of MEO. This is not unlike the Supreme
Court case, Burlington Northern Railroad v White Sheila that was ruled on June 22, 2006. ( If that weren’t enough, they also instructed me as to the specific facilities
I was permitted to use when I had to relieve myself.

Where is the justice? Those of us who have filed lawsuits against these individuals and the Town of New Castle have done nothing wrong.
All we have done is fight for our civil rights which were repeatedly violated, and protect the integrity of our families. In response, the Town
of New Castle and its administrators continually harassed and retaliated against us in every way possible.

An example would be that on one occasion my assistant foreman John O’Hearn approached me and made a verbal statement, “Do yourself
a favor and drop the grievances and drop all the other stuff (meaning the lawsuit) because you are on thin ice with the Town.”

They have used us as examples of what will happen if you stand up for what is right, and as their method of intimidation to other employees.
I specifically know that men I was friends with were told to keep their distance from me if they knew what was good for them. This created an environment of fear of retaliation, fear of losing their jobs, fear of losing overtime, fear of further financial repercussions, etc.

Finally, and most disturbingly, is the fact that while I was out of work due to an on-the-job injury, they terminated my employment. Even worse, as a result of this injury, I’m not currently able to seek new employment. Most maliciously however, is the fact that from October 2006 through mid January 2007, they falsified my time sheets, using up my vacation time, personal time, sick time, and comp time. Thus, when they fired me, they wouldn’t have to immediately pay me for that time. There is a history in the Town of New Castle involving falsifying of time sheets, whether for personal gain as in the police department fraud case, or in the case of someone injured on the job.

The Town paid me while I was out on disability, and was reimbursed by Workman’s Compensation. Given that Workman’s Comp income is not taxable, the Town had the responsibility to amend the employee’s W2 form, indicating the correct amount of taxable income. This also did not happen, thus resulting in fraudulent tax records. To summarize, the Attorney General’s office filed a suit against a current police officer, and a retired police officer, but the Town took no disciplinary action. The police officer is currently still on the job, at the same level, with the same responsibilities. An individual (Mike Molnar) physically attacked the foreman of the DPW; no disciplinary action was
taken. This same individual tried to run over another supervisor, as well as another employee, in the DPW; again, no disciplinary action was taken.

Six individuals complained about a hostile work environment caused by this same individual; once again, no disciplinary action was taken.
An individual spray-painted town trucks; but received no disciplinary action. These actions as well as others are all documented. This
is a small example of the discrimination and retaliation that exists. I, however, was written up, suspended for a month without pay, and ultimately fired, for what were essentially bogus and false charges of “insubordination” that “coincidentally” started after my lawsuit Notice of Claim was filed.

Jeffrey S. Chiara, Carmel

In Loving Recognition
Of Memorial Day
And All That Our
Fathers, Mothers
And Families
Sacrificed That
We May Be Free

The inscription on this Memorial Declaration Plaque was from a letter written by Cpl. Frank Gambino, U.S. Marine Corps, 3Bn-COL-23 Regt. 4th Division, on the Battle of Saipan, June 15, 1944 where he describes the Battle - The Marines - Their Beliefs and the loss of his Squad Leader, Cpl. Joseph G. Romano.

Cpl. Frank Gambino’s life ended on February 23, 1944 where he was awarded the Silver Star. A copy of the letter is in the Church and Memorial Services have been held monthly.

“These are our dead and we, their comrades, are the living. Our task is to continue the struggle for which they gave their lives. They shall not have died in vain. Make us worthy of their memory.”

U.S. Marine Corps. Memorial
Mt. Carmel RC Church
70 Park Hill Avenue
Yonkers, New York

The Court Report.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Dr. Sherry Bobrowsky Returns
To Federal Court
United States District Court, White Plains
Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith Presiding

Last Tuesday morning, May 12, Dr. Sherry Bobrowsky, a podiatric surgeon whose medical practice was brought to an abrupt halt by a severe auto accident from which she is left with bouts of intolerable pain and the need to often wear a corrective collar, appeared in United States District Court, White Plains, before Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith. Bobrowsky, the Plaintiff, appearing pro se, had hauled the City of Yonkers represented by Assistant Corporate Counsel Neal E. Kumar, Judicial Title Company, represented by Attorney Angelo Delli Carpini, and Attorney Herbert N. Posner, not admitted to Federal Court, acting pro se, into Smith’s Court.

Judge Smith opened the session declaring, “Judge Robinson referred this case to this Court for either motion, trial, or settlement. There’s been
a Motion to Dismiss by the City of Yonkers; another Motion to Dismiss by Judicial; and the request by Mr. Posner for permission to make a Motion to Dismiss.”

Posner told the Court, “The complaint rambles; there is a complaint in State Court.” He went on to briefly review his role and representation
with respect to Lillian and Jacques Bobrowsky, the doctor’s mother and brother, respectively, currently residing in Florida, telling
the Judge that although they had discharged him, he still had an obligation to keep their address confidential.

Bobrowky began by telling Judge Smith, “The City of Yonkers has refused to send me my tax bills. This is my home that I was removed
from. This is a travesty of justice to not even get a copy of my tax bill.” She went on to tell Smith, “Mr. Posner’s notary license was revoked
for mortgage fraud. He was disbarred for fraud in 1987. The case in State Court is finished, because Mr. Posner failed to show up.”

Bobrowsky went on to inform the Court that the following day, last Wednesday, her house was scheduled to be sold by the City of Yonkers
at auction for back taxes, and that she desperately needed a stay of that tax sale. She began to lay out, in detail, the manner by which Attorney Posner, in concert with the Yonkers Police Department, the Tax Assessor’s Office, and Yonkers Corporate Counsel had conspired
over a three-year period to put her out of her home on Fanshaw Avenue, to isolate her from her mother and brother, and to cause her to be
vulnerable to loss of her rightfully-owned house.

Judge Smith, who at points seemed somewhat impatient with yet another pro se litigant, and, at the same time, appeared quite empathetic
to her plight, broke into an ‘echo’ of, “I do not have the power. I do not have the power. I do not have the power.” She went further, “You’ve made an application to Judge Robinson.”

Posner now said, “Alot of things have been said about me.” He went on to discuss his relationship with Dr. Bobrowsky’s mother and brother, and the obligation he believed he had to each of them to keep their address in Florida secret.


Of course, having been involved in the coverage of Dr. Bobrowsky’s struggles with the City of Yonkers as well as with Attorney Posner for a few years, and having been at various city, state, and federal courts in the presence of her mother Lillian and brother Jacques, accompanied by
Posner on numerous occasions, this reporter believes their personal vulnerability and their manipulation as portrayed by Plaintiff Bobrowsky to the Court, to be quite accurate and on-the-mark as opposed to the benevolent spin offered by Posner.

Magistrate Judge Smith, attempting to keep the proceedings on course and consistent with her assignment from District Court Judge Stephen C. Robinson, told the parties, “The question is, what motions I should permit.”

Dr. Bobrowsky, under the imminent threat of wrongfully losing her home in a tax lien sale the next day, the home that was declared rightfully hers in State Supreme Court by Judge Richard Liebowitz many months earlier, now launched a counter-attack against the portrayal laid out by Attorney Posner.

She informed the Court of a “pattern of interference” in the conduct of her life, not only involving receipt of her mail, and continuation of her
disability insurance payments but, more importantly, her relationship with her mother and brother.

She spoke of the actions taken by the New York State Department of State in revoking the notary license of Attorney Posner for fraudulent
acts in connection with her home and property. She repeated a quote from Westchester County Clerk Tim Idoni about that County agency’s
dependence upon the honesty of filers of documents, intending to show the Court how little protection she, and others similarly situated, have from those who would fraudulently seize, or financially encumber, their homes and other property.

The doctor’s presentation was sufficiently effective that it motivated Assistant Corporate Counsel Kumar to offer to remove her home
from the tax sale. Again, Magistrate Smith was compelled to bring the proceedings back on course, back within the limited scope of her jurisdiction and assignment in the matter, despite the anguish and urgency being justifiably felt by Plaintiff Bobrowsky, and the emotional thread that ran through an otherwise well-stated pro se presentation. Smith declared, “I’m not the fact-finder. You’ve gotten the
immediate remedy that you wanted from the City of Yonkers.”

The Judge then set up a series of deadlines for receipt of motions and responses from the parties between mid-June and early August, with a
next conference scheduled before her to occur on October 2.

Catherine Wilson.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

The Coming Food Crisis:
Robbing Peter To Pay Paul

If you feel lately that your wallet is hurting at the supermarket, you’re not alone. According to the United States Department of Agriculture
(USDA), food prices in the United States rose 4% in 2007, compared with an average 2.5%, per year, for the previous 15 years. The USDA expected increases in 2008 to be far greater. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), issued in April 2008 showed expected increases in food prices for last year were another 4.8%.

The dramatic increases in food prices, globally, are creating food shortages and causing riots worldwide. The Guardian investigated what is behind this mounting crisis. The reasons for these increases go far beyond global warming, changing weather patterns, and energy costs.

For the past 25 years, the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged conservation by farmers to limit production of certain crops to stabilize food prices. Under the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers could earn more by not planting certain crops, and the government
could keep the prices of those crops stable.

However, in recent years, the snack food and energy industries have been upsetting this delicate balance. A coalition of ethanol, baking, snack foods and other industry groups are now offering incentives to farmers to grow the desired crops for their industries. Crops such as soybeans, wheat, and corn are now in big demand for uses other than for domestic food consumption. These new markets have pushed up prices.

The USDA incentives cannot compete with the industry payments, overriding the federal government’s long-standing methods of controlling the costs of our nation’s food supply. In addition, the demand for corn, specifically, in recent years to produce ethanol has swayed farmers away from other staples, such as wheat and soybeans. Thus, the rising costs of these staple crops are having a domino effect across the farm
industry itself as higher soybean prices mean higher feed costs for farm animals. The demand for ethanol has increased the cost of corn, ironically increasing the cost of energy for the production and transportation of crops. And, the high wheat costs are affecting our local bakeries and even our pizza shops.

Michael DiNardo, owner of Silvio’s restaurant in Thornwood, told The Guardian that his food costs have increased an average of 50% in the last year alone. “That’s an average increase”, DiNardo stressed. “Some items, such as dairy and fowl, have increased by as much as 200% over last year’s prices. Our tomato distributors have already warned me to expect another increase, and our wheat distributors are warning me of continuing shortages come summer. at’s my livelihood – we can’t make pizza without flour,” DiNardo added.

Rising costs of ingredients are nothing new to the restaurant industry. DiNardo noted that he has usually been able to absorb temporary increases before. “Usually prices increase for a period, like the summer, but then come back down. We try to absorb a temporary increase where we can, but
this is looking like it’s here for the long-term.”

With a long-term problem, the increase cannot be absorbed by restaurants and have to be passed along to consumers. “I’ve already had to raise my prices and I did a major price increase a while ago,” DiNardo said. “When I raised my prices, I was very upset. I live in the community and I
see my customers every day.” The rising costs have also placed greater emphasis on items that were once an after-thought. “Mozzarella used to be the most expensive item I purchased,” DiNardo noted. “But wheat is almost as expensive. It used to only increase a penny or two at a time. But it’s been competing with mozzarella as the most expensive ingredient”.

Local supermarkets are also feeling the pinch of rising prices. Stew Leonard, Jr., President of Stew Leonard’s Supermarkets, spoke to The Guardian about how they are dealing with this issue. “We buy from local farmers so we speak to them on a constant basis. Our dairy farmer has over 3,000 cows on his farm. The cost to heat his barn for those cows has doubled. It now costs him more a day to feed a cow. Since we deal with small local farmers, if they tell me they have to increase their price to me, I don’t want to say no because that could but them out of business. But if we raise prices, sales drop. So we try to wait as long as we can while still being fair to our farmers. The idea for us is to respect our suppliers and to get the best quality for our customers. But our farmers can’t do that if they’re hurting financially. So we work with them to find solutions.”

Farm costs are not the only increases affecting our local supermarkets. Energy costs are taking a toll as well. According to Stew Leonard, rising energy costs are impacting the transportation of the products he is purchasing. It is also affecting non-farm products. Leonard told us, “I spoke to
our fishing boat and he told me that it cost him $500 to fill up his tank 3½ years ago, and that last year it cost him $1,000 to fill the same tank to go out”. Leonard’s solution is to work directly with his farmers, fishermen, and suppliers.

“We try to work with our suppliers and give everybody the best bang for their buck. In an economy like the one we have, you have to keep your prices sharp”. Leonard notes that not every item on their shelves is affected by the food shortages and energy costs. Some items are actually doing
well. Last year the high Euro made wines more expensive, but other countries, including the United States, looked at this as an opportunity to gain market share.

So they lowered their prices to compete. We saw the same trend with cheese. Plus, as food costs increased, and going out to dinner became more expensive, coupled with weak economy, people ate at home more. So supermarket sales actually increased. Leonard’s began getting more requests for recipes while seeing an increase in wine sales.

The rising cost of food is not only affecting our local restaurants and supermarkets, but it is also placing hundreds of thousands of county residents at risk. Christina Rohatynskyj, the Executive Director of Food Patch, told The Guardian that they were seeing the impact of rising food costs first-hand last year. “We purchased a lot of food for distribution, and we saw the changes in costs. Plus, many of our food pantries, and soup kitchens, and other organizations, were telling us that they were seeing more people come in for help. They told us if they had more resources, they could give out more food because the demand is there. As our economy grows worse, there are going to be more people who will need help to stretch their
food dollars.”

The number of county residents who are already hungry or at risk of being hungry is dramatic. Rohatynskyj estimates that “there are approximately 200,000 people in this county who are hungry or at risk of being hungry – that’s one out of every five residents! According
to the 2006 Census, the median income in Westchester County was about $71,800.

That means about 450,000 people, or half of our total population, fall below this income level. An average family of four or five cannot live in Westchester County on an income of $71,800, let alone less than that”. The statistics of who the hungry in our midst are is equally dramatic. “Thirty-six percent of those who are hungry in Westchester County are children under the age of 18” Rohatynskyj noted. “Almost 30% of our residents over the age of 50 fall into this risk area, along with 15% of our seniors over 65. Over 83% of the individuals who come to us for help are United States citizens and only 5% are homeless. Most of the individuals we serve, about 50%, are the working poor. They have a job, but cannot afford to feed their families. For many people in our area, they have to choose every day between paying rent, prescriptions or buying food”.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, increasing food prices, coupled with food shortages, are placing a strain on already impoverished nations around the world. The President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, announced in mid-April 2008 that 33 nations were already at risk of social unrest because of the rising prices of food. In the United States, most households spent less than 16% of their budget on food. But in developing nations, that number was closer to 50% or even 75% (Nigeria) of their income. The World Bank has noted that the doubling of food prices in the past three years could push more than 100 million people into poverty. The United Nations attributes this increase to poor weather for crops in many countries, increased demand by growing populations, and a substitution of growing crops for food staples for the production of alternative fuels instead. Riots over the shortages of food in several impoverished countries last year had already led to deaths leading
former President Bush to release $200 million in emergency aid.

The demand for alternative fuels led to the production of ethanol which siphoned away the corn production in our country and globally. Ironically, the solution for one of our nation’s problems has resulted in the creation of a greater problem in our midst. One short-term solution to the food crisis would be to increase production locally. Dr. Susan Rubin, founder of the Better School Food organization (pro-filed by The Guardian in 2007),
advocated a return to backyard gardens. “Not only will the food be healthier, but gardening has therapeutic values – it helps relieve stress. Plus, it is a better environmental use of our land than drowning it in pesticides to keep our lawns weed-free,” Dr. Rubin notes.Westchester County Government even offered several workshops in April and May last year at the Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights to assist local residents in composting a backyard organic farm and other topics.

In the meantime, middle class residents, however, are still faced with paying for their weekly grocery shopping bills. Even limiting purchases to mere food basics, without adding cleaning supplies or toiletries or snacks, can mean a minimum weekly bill of around $150 or more for a family
of four. Now that soda is cheaper than milk, local families are already making unhealthy choices to keep their food costs down.

The immediate impact of rising food costs was already evident last year with food riots and sticker shock at our supermarkets. But the long-term impact could be even greater. The threat to our health and our national security has yet to be acknowledged.

Jeff Deskovic.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jeff Deskovic.

Exposing The Death Penalty, Part 2

In my effort to raise awareness about the problem of wrongful convictions, as well as seeking legislative changes to make the criminal justice system more accurate, I have always included abolishing the death penalty amongst the reforms I advocate. My reasoning is simple: any system of justice that results in wrongful convictions will, if it has a death penalty as a sentencing option, inevitably execute innocent people. This past March 17 New Mexico legislatively abolished the death penalty citing, amongst other issues, that very real possibility. In this three-part series I will review likely wrongful executions, near-misses, ongoing cases of potential wrongful execution, systemic deficiencies, along with one case example wherein innocent people were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death before being cleared. And then, I will look at modern-day recognition that the death penalty risks the execution of innocent people.

Ongoing Cases Of Potential Wrongful Execution

There are several ongoing cases in which manifestly innocent defendants are locked up, fighting to establish their innocence, and hence regain their freedom and avoid being executed: Larry Swearingen and Troy Davis, whose case has been previously written about in The Guardian.

Larry Swearingen was convicted of murder in 2000 and sentenced to death. The Innocence Project has summed up his case in the following way: Swearingen was convicted largely based upon a second leg of torn panty hose that prosecutors said matched the half used to strangle the victim. The hose mysteriously surfaced at Swearingen’s trailer after it had been thoroughly searched twice by deputies.

Although Swearingen had maintained his innocence from the start, he didn’t help his defense. Early on, from jail, he concocted a ridiculous confession letter in Spanish, supposedly from the real killer. Swearingen’s Spanish was unintelligible. During the trial in 2000, he was caught lying on the witness stand about other things. The jury quickly convicted him and sentenced him to death despite DNA testing showing that blood found under the victims fingernails and a pubic hair found in a vaginal swab did not match him.

But since then Swearingen and his appellate attorneys have discovered glaring inaccuracies in the forensic evidence presented to the jury. From the beginning, prosecutors had based their case on the theory that the victim had been killed and dumped in the forest on the same day
she went missing, Dec. 8. That theory was supported by the testimony of a medical examiner who stated that the body could have been decomposing for a month.

Her testimony was vital to Swearingen’s conviction because he was arrested and jailed for traffic warrants just three days after the victim disappeared. The medical examiner has since changed her testimony in light of new examinations, saying it was not possible for the victim to have been killed and left in the forest any longer than two weeks before her body was discovered.

This would mean Swearingen was incarcerated at the time the crime occurred. In addition, according to The Texas Monthly, five different
physicians and scientists—forensic pathologists and entomologists— say there’s almost no way Swearingen could have done it. Dr. Glenn Larkin, a retired forensic pathologist in Charlotte, North Carolina, said, as reported by The Dallas Morning News: “As a forensic scientist
since 1973, I always kept an objective stance when called to testify; however, there comes a point when as a human, and as a Christian, there is a mandate to speak in the interest of justice. This is a moral issue now; no rational and intellectually honest person can look at the evidence and conclude Larry Swearingen is guilty of this horrible crime.” Besides that, there are efforts to get even further scientific evidence which could further prove his innocence: further DNA testing.

The Innocence Project is seeking to get additional DNA testing in his case on the panty hose, the victims clothing, and more blood scrapings.”
The Dallas Morning News reported that “despite the DNA not matching him, and the other evidence showing that he was in jail at the time that the crime happened, and despite trying to get even further DNA testing, Swearingen came within 1 day of execution before a federal appeals court granted him a last second stay of execution on Jan. 26, 2009, with one day to go before execution, so that his innocence issue may be looked at.”

Troy Davis

According to Wikipedia, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for the August 19, 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police
officer Mark MacPhail solely on the basis of now discredited eyewitness testimony. No physical evidence linked him to the murder, and the weapon used in the crime was never found. Throughout the trial and subsequent appeals, Davis steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming he was wrongfully convicted of the murder, and has been wrongfully imprisoned for the past 20 years. Nine eyewitnesses recantations from all but two of the prosecution eyewitnesses, the testimony of another previously undiscovered eyewitness and others with information bearing on the crime—all strong evidence suggesting Davis was not the gunman and is, in fact, innocent of the crimes for which he was sentenced to death.

All the witnesses stated in their affidavits that their earlier statements implicating him had been coerced by strong arm police tactics. Davis argued that since seven of the nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony and voluntarily filed sworn affidavits stating they lied in the original trial, he is entitled to a retrial based on his actual innocence claim. In addition, five other witnesses have come forward to say that an alternative suspect confessed. Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck had this to say about the case, in a letter published in The
Huffington Post: “Seven of the nine key witnesses who testified against Davis now recant their trial testimony, claiming they were coerced to lie by Savannah police.”

The reliability of those witnesses was characterized by Amnesty International as “containing inconsistencies even at the time of the trial”. Scheck continues in his letter, “Despite the seriousness of these allegations and the sheer number of recantations, Georgia courts and state
officials have not only been unwilling to stay his execution, but they have even refused to hold a hearing with live, sworn testimony to assess the credibility of the recanting witnesses. What most people don’t know is why Davis can’t get a full hearing on the new evidence and just
how ridiculously far four judges of the Georgia Supreme Court have gone; there were three dissenters; to avoid reviewing post-conviction evidence of innocence.

The recantation of a witness alone does not and should not automatically result in a conviction being vacated. Recantation evidence is treated with caution by courts because, after all, the witness is saying he or she once lied under oath, so how can one be so sure they are not just
lying again?

Nonetheless, many wrongful convictions have been overturned because a recanting witness, testifying in person and under oath before a judge, is found to be credible and the reason for the recantation, often a claim that the original trial testimony was coerced is found to be persuasive. But in Georgia the recanting witnesses don’t get to testify because the state’s courts have created an extraordinary Catch-22 rule, the ‘purest fabrication’
doctrine, that arbitrarily denies evidentiary hearings even when extremely persuasive recantation affidavits have been submitted. The ‘purest fabrication’ doctrine means that post-conviction hearings don’t have to be held to evaluate the credibility of recanting witnesses unless the defendant can show, by extrinsic proof before the hearing is held, that the original testimony was absolutely false.”

Many prominent people and groups recognize the injustice involved in Davis’ case. Amnesty International has strongly condemned the refusal of U.S. courts to examine the innocence evidence, and has organized rallies and letter-writing campaigns to persuade the Georgia and Federal courts to grant Davis a new trial or an evidentiary hearing. Many prominent politicians and leaders, according to Wikipedia, including: former President
Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Presidential candidate Bob Barr, and former FBI Director and Judge William Sessions have expressed their shock at Georgia authorities’ plan to execute Davis without a proper, judicial examination of the innocence evidence, and have called upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing.

Only a last-minute emergency stay, issued by the United States Supreme Court less than two hours before he was scheduled to be put to death, prevented his execution. Modern Day Recognition There is a general recognition that the death penalty risks executing innocent, but wrongfully convicted, defendants. As mentioned above, out of the 235 DNA proven wrongful convictions, 17 of them had been sentenced to death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center database, the total number of people who have been cleared from death row, whether by DNA or
non-DNA means, is 130. The criteria that they used is that they must have been convicted and sentenced to death, and subsequently either their conviction was overturned and 1) they were acquitted at re-trial, or 2) all charges were dropped, or 3) they were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence.

In addition to the general systemic deficiencies having the ability to lead to a wrongful conviction and execution, there is also, within the death penalty system itself, a mechanism which makes a wrongful conviction and execution likely: the process of death qualifying a jury. The article Pretend Justice: Defense Representation In Tennessee Death Penalty Cases states that death qualification of jurors is “a process that essentially erodes the defendant’s opportunity for a fair trial by an unbiased trier of fact. Required in death penalty cases, unlike other criminal cases, this process results in a jury whose members are notoriously prosecution prone, that is, jurors who are receptive to prosecutors and their witnesses, and biased against defendants, defense counsel, and their witnesses, not only on the issue of life or death, but also on the issue of guilt or innocence.”

The imposition of the death penalty adds the following obstacles to a wrongfully convicted defendant seeking to establish his or her innocence: 1) It puts a defendant, who typically has scant financial resources, in a time pressure situation to hurry up and uncover evidence of innocence; 2) It limits the amount of time in which innocence can be proven by circumstances outside of conscious efforts made either by the defendant or
his attorney, such as eyewitness’s coming forward to say that they misidentified him; a real perpetrator confessing; and evidence of innocence coming forward as a result of governmental agencies and/or law enforcement investigating other cases.

One example of this phenomenon, Jeffrey Scott Hornoff was a police officer in Rhode Island who had been wrongfully convicted of murdering a woman that he had an affair with. The actual perpetrator, Todd Barry, as a result of his conscience bothering him, came forward and confessed to his guilt and Hornoff’s innocence. Another example involved that of chemist Fred Zain. According to The Los Angeles Times, it was discovered
that Zain was in the habit of committing perjury, faking lab test results, and evidence tampering. As result of discovering Zain’s actions, in West Virginia one man was freed and three others received new trials. Sixty seven other cases are under review in West Virginia. Hundreds of cases that he worked on in Texas are also under review.

The author of the book “Capital Punishment: A Balanced Examination”, Evan Mandery, speaks about the increased impact of being wrongfully
convicted in a capital case as opposed to a non-capital case: “The death penalty affects the plight of the innocent-convicted in three ways: 1) it shortens the amount of time during which a mistake can be discovered and corrected 2) in instances where mistakes are caught after execution, the mistakes cannot be corrected in any meaningful way and 3) in instances where mistakes are not corrected, the innocent are killed rather than spend the remainder of their lives on death row.” As long as a person is alive, the chance, as mentioned above, is that a miracle could occur and innocence
could be proven. Once the person is executed, the defendant can no longer seek help to clear his name, and attorney’s only rarely continue to work
on the case.

The Innocence Project has made the following public statements about the danger that the death penalty poses by creating the possibility of executing innocent people: “Our work has proven that innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit, and these exonerations illustrate the causes of wrongful convictions that must be remedied. These DNA exonerations are a window into the criminal justice system’s flaws: While DNA testing is an option in just a fraction of all criminal cases, the factors proven to cause wrongful convictions exist regardless of whether the case involves DNA.

Specific to the death penalty, our work has shown that innocent people are sentenced to die. Of the 223 people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, more than 25% were convicted of murder. Seventeen were sentenced to die; others were charged with capital murder
but narrowly escaped the death penalty, and still others would likely have been charged with capital crimes if the death penalty had been in place at the time of their trials.

We have also worked on cases of people who were executed before DNA testing could be conducted to confirm guilt or prove innocence, and we are aware of several non-DNA cases where evidence of innocence surfaced after people were executed.”

In recognition of the danger that the death penalty poses to executing innocent people, the governors of Illinois, New Jersey, and New Mexico have all taken steps. After pardoning 4 people who were on death row on the grounds of innocence, Gov. Ryan proceeded to commute the death sentences of all of the death row inmates. In explaining his decision, Gov. Ryan made repeated references to the possibility of executing innocent
people. [Excerpt taken from the website].

“Soon after taking office, I watched in surprise and amazement as the freed death row inmate Anthony Porter was released from jail. Anthony Porter was 48 hours away from being wheeled into the execution chamber where the state would kill him. It would be so antiseptic that most of us wouldn’t have even paused for a second, except that Anthony Porter was innocent. He was innocent for the double murder for which he had been condemned by the State of Illinois to die.

Over the next few months three more exonerated men were freed because their sentences hinged on a jailhouse informant or some new DNA technology proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were innocent. We then had the dubious distinction of exonerating more men than we
had executed. Thirteen men found innocent, 12 executed.

As I reported yesterday, there is not a doubt in my mind that the number of innocent men freed from our death row stands at 17, with the pardons of Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard and Leroy Orange. That is an absolute embarrassment. Seventeen exonerated death row inmates is nothing short of a catastrophic failure. But the 13, now 17, men is just the beginning of our sad arithmetic in prosecuting murder cases. During the time we have had capital punishment in Illinois, there were at least 33 other people wrongly convicted on murder charges and exonerated. … Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error, error in determining guilt… To say it plainly one more time -- the Illinois capital punishment system is broken. It has taken innocent men to a hair’s-breadth escape from their unjust execution.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jeff Deskovic/Janet Difiore.

Jeff Deskovic.

An Open Letter To Chief Judge Lippman

On Sunday, May 3, I discovered that The Journal News published a lead editorial entitled Another Turn At Justice. Let me quote the opening
paragraphs: “New Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals is quickly moving to address the kind of mind-numbing legal travesty that cost Peekskill’s Jeffrey Deskovic much of his youth and liberty, and gave the criminal justice system in Westchester a black eye. Intervening where the slow-moving Legislature had been content to slumber, Lippman is forming a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them.

The initiative is a long overdue reply to a steady string of exoneration cases in New York, most often brought to light by the do-gooder lawyers group the Innocence Project. Aided by ever-improving DNA technology, the New York City-based group played a critical role in securing the 2006 exoneration of Deskovic, who served more than 15 years in prison for the 1989 rape and murder of Peekskill High classmate Angela Correa. DNA testing ultimately ordered by District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who entered office in 2006, led to the stunning revelation that someone else had killed Correa.”The article also contains a picture of me.

Before getting to my open letter to Judge Lippman, there are a few things that I want to clarify. As many people are aware, I served 16 years in prison for a murder and rape which I was innocent of. In the face of a negative DNA test which clearly showed that semen found in the victim did not match me, I was convicted based upon a coerced, false confession, prosecutorial misconduct, and forensic misconduct.

In addition, my public defender was not very good. All of my appeals had been exhausted by 2001. For approximately the next four and a half years I tried in vain to obtain the legal assistance needed to prove my innocence and regain my freedom. Try though I did, nobody would take my case pro bono, as I had no money. I, therefore, languished in prison while desperately trying to obtain assistance.

I was ultimately cleared because The Innocence Project agreed to represent me, and then approached Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore who agreed not to oppose further DNA Testing. Once the results matched an individual in the DNA database, who, in fact, had been imprisoned for another rape and murder of another Peekskill woman just three and a half years after my wrongful conviction, DiFiore then joined the defense motion to overturn my conviction and shortly thereafter, have the indictment dismissed on the grounds of actual innocence.

I appreciate her not opposing the testing and deciding to join the defense motions. But that is not to say that I was freed because my case was discovered in the course of a pro-active search of old cases by the DA’s Office, which is one way that The Journal News article
could be mistakenly interpreted. Further, I would like to add that although I was saved from having to litigate for the testing, and again I am grateful for that; if we had had to I haven’t any doubt that The Innocence Project would have won the right to the testing.

Life’s events seldom happen in a vacuum, and the election cycle for Westchester District Attorney is nearing. My photo in The Journal
News article at this time might suggest that I support Janet DiFiore in her re-election bid. I have nothing against her personally, and, as stated previously, I appreciate her doing the right thing in my case. However, I am concerned about more than simply my own case.

I am concerned with both preventing future wrongful convictions and seeing that ongoing cases of injustice are corrected. at is my life’s calling and mission and I cannot, ultimately, betray that mission or the people who support my anti-wrongful conviction advocacy by remaining silent.

I do not support District Attorney DiFiore in the upcoming race, for the following reasons:

A) The Anthony DiSimone case, in which the Westchester DA’s office, under DiFiore, fought up until the last minute before being forced to concede by the federal Court, and only then handing over exculpatory, previously withheld, evidence pointing to a third party suspect, yet continuing in their efforts to retry DiSimone;

B) The Richard DiGuglielmo case, involving DiFiore’s fighting the overturning of the verdict in which the Judge ruled that information had not been turned over to the defense, and then appealing the decision, not to mention the Prosecutor’s conduct, which I personally witnessed, and
that the Judge noted in his decision, that rather than being concerned with the truth the prosecutors were simply trying to win;

C) The Kian Khattibi case, in which the prosecutors first dissuaded the defendant’s brother from telling the truth in court that he committed
the stabbings by falsely threatening him with prosecution although the statute of limitations had run out, and then, once the brother wouldn’t
testify, arguing that the other family member’s testimony as to the confession they had heard was hearsay; when then-Judge DiFiore denied
Khattibi’s meritorious 440.10 Motion placing procedure above justice arguing that his petition contained inconsistent statements by witnesses, some of were on the record and others which were not;

D) Her failure to prosecute rogue Police Officer Wayne Simoes, who ultimately was arrested by the FBI for body slamming Irma Marquez
thereby breaking her jaw and causing multiple physical trauma, even though it was all on videotape; and, instead prosecuting Marquez;

E) Waiting 18 months before dropping her prosecution on false charges against Yonkers police brutality victim Rui Florim.

Dear Judge Lippman,

I have read that you have created a permanent task force in order to address the serious issue of wrongful convictions. As you know, wrongful convictions are much more prevalent than society previously realized. DNA has opened a window into the world of wrongful convictions allowing us to identify the systemic causes as well as common themes and patterns.

Since DNA material is only available in 10-12% of all serious felony cases, it is important that we prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. As it stands for the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no science that can definitively separate guilt from innocence. Additionally, as I can attest personally, the human toll of wrongful conviction on defendants and their families is incalculable.

I would hope that since you are seeking to make the New York State Court System more accurate, you will address issues that contribute to wrongful outcomes which I would respectfully like to point out.

1) More Frequent and Careful Review Is Needed. A common theme in many wrongful conviction cases, especially the 24 DNA-proven cases in New York, is that the Defendants have long since had their appeals exhausted. In many of those cases, including my own, the Court Of Appeals declined to grant permission to the Defendants to appeal to them.

In my case, for example, I was denied permission to appeal to the Court Of Appeals, with a ruling that stated there was “no merit in law to justify the reviewing.” Why is it that in so many of these wrongful conviction cases we can look back and see many red flags that should have been clear signs that something was not right? More cases need to be caught while they are still in the appellate process. Clearly,
what is needed is more review, not less. Therefore, cases that come before the Court should be given a closer look when deciding whether to review them or not. That scrutiny should be done in light of what is known about the causes of wrongful conviction.

Cases based on confessions should be looked at very carefully in terms of the circumstances under which they were procured. In identification-based cases, the quality of the ID and the procedures used to procure them should be closely looked at. Additionally, in many cases involving misidentification, courts have erroneously allowed convictions to stand despite victims having given clearly inaccurate descriptions with respect to height and weight. Cases involving allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel should be looked at carefully since it is known that without quality representation defendants may be wrongfully convicted despite being innocent. Such cases need to be heavily scrutinized and adjudicated on the merits rather than with deference to the defense attorney.

I am aware that such deference is accorded in order to uphold the sanctity of defense counsel and not by way of second guessing one’s strategy. However, either a challenged omission or commission constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel or not; no deference is needed. Instead, it must speak for itself.

If forensics furnishes part of the evidence, the Court must question whether it is based upon sound science, studies and data, or merely junk science. When a so-called science has been exposed as junk, every judge should be on the lookout for it in future cases, and even old cases should be re-examined to see if anything slipped past.

While I understand that the Court Of Appeals does not review cases on a factual basis but merely rules on issues pertaining to law, clearly where claims of actual innocence are present, particularly when DNA is involved, the Court should keep that in mind when deciding whether to accept a case in order to rule on the legal issues it presents.

2) In Confession Cases, Implement A Pre-Trial Hearing On The Issue Of Truthfulness. False confessions have been the cause of wrongful convictions in 25% of the 237 DNA-proven wrongful conviction cases, and in 10 of New York’s 24 cases. Yet, in none of those cases, despite clear warning signs that can be pointed to post exoneration, were the confessions suppressed. False confession literature shows that
once a confession has been entered into evidence there is an 80% conviction rate. Clearly, a pre-trial Huntley hearing where the sole issue considered is voluntariness is insufficient. Instead, a hearing in which the focus is the truthfulness of the confession is needed, akin to a Wade Hearing.

3) Ban Tactics Which Have Been Linked To False Confessions, such as prolonged interrogations, the misuse and abuse of the polygraph, lying to suspects, claiming to have non-existent evidence, and the interrogation of the mentally ill and/or retarded without an attorney present. Such practices, that are acknowledged to be psychologically coercive, lead to false confessions and therefore to wrongful convictions, and run
in the face of the spirit and intent of both New York State and federal Constitutional prohibitions against self incrimination.

4) Reverse Parole Board denials of parole applications as the result of applicants expressing innocence. There have been cases in which otherwise meritorious parole applications have been denied because they maintained innocence at the parole hearing. Such declarations are seen as “not taking responsibility” and “not showing remorse”. Colin Warner served 21 years in prison in New York prior to being proven
innocent. He was denied parole three times, in part because he refused to admit guilt at the Parole Board. Westchester Exoneree Kian Khattibi served nine and a half years before it was revealed that his brother committed the crime, and not he.

Prior to that, at his Parole Board Appearance, he maintained his innocence. The Parole Board denied him parole based upon that fact, saying “Your lack of remorse minimizing your involvement, notwithstanding your institutional adjustments, are a concern, and, when coupled with the violence in the instant offense make you an unacceptable risk for release at this time.”

Such a rigid approach doesn’t take into account the reality that wrongful convictions occur. I am unaware of any person so denied then successfully taking their case to court and obtaining relief. In fact, in many of the rare cases where a parole appeal based on any grounds at all is reversed, frequently the Court Of Appeals has stepped in and reversed the Appellate Division.

The problem of such a policy on the part of the Parole Board is obvious. It places the wrongfully convicted prisoner in the position of potentially sacrificing his or her freedom as the price for maintaining innocence, when in reality it doesn’t need to be done that way. Either an applicant can demonstrate by their record that they are likely to live and remain at liberty without breaking the law or not. The granting of parole need not be tied to a statement of responsibility.

An additional pitfall of such a guilt acknowledgement is that the wrongfully convicted defendant potentially creates additional evidence against himself in the event that his conviction is overturned, as part of the price of trying to meet the Parole Board requirements. An example of this is the John Duval case. He was convicted in 1973 of committing a murder in Rochester, New York, along with his co-defendant Betty Tyson. They were convicted based upon confessions which they stated were beaten out of them, and on the testimony of two teenage runaways.

After his appeals failed, in order to try to obtain his freedom, Duval twice admitted guilt in front of the Parole Board in 1995 and 1997 because he felt that was the only way he could regain his freedom because of the practice.

Later his conviction, along with that of his co-defendant Betty Tyson, was overturned because one of the witnesses recanted his testimony, saying he had lied previously. In addition, prosecutors then came up with a buried synopsis of a police interview with the other teen, in which he denied seeing Duval or Tyson, contrary to what the teen had testified in 1973. However, while the prosecutors dropped the charges
and Tyson was awarded money for her imprisonment, prosecutors retried Duval, using the statements that he had made in front of the Parole Board as evidence.

5) Reverse Prior Decisions Allowing The Department Of Corrections To Mandate Self Incrimination In Order To Continue To Participate In The Sex Offender Program. Prior court challenges of this practice by the Department Of Corrections have not yielded any relief, even when a defendant is still pursuing appeals. In order to have any chance at parole, defendants convicted of sex offenses must admit guilt, to staff and peers, in writing, and give details. To not do so is considered to be tantamount to refusing the program. This, too, forces prisoners to potentially sacrifice freedom as the price for maintaining innocence. This does not take into account wrongful convictions.

I will close by saying there is a great need for incarcerative and financial penalties for rogue prosecutors who intentionally commit Brady and Rosario violations, suborn perjury, fail to correct perjury, and who have patterns and practices established with coroners and other experts, whereby those experts work backwards to prove whatever a prosecutor is trying to prove. I would urge you to include these in your report. After all, what does an honest prosecutor have to lose? To me, prosecutorial misconduct is like any other crime. Don’t do the time if you can’t do the time.

I hope that your report will be hard hitting, critical, and proves to be an impetus by which urgently needed legislation is obtained. The cracks in the system which I have attempted to point out above are correctable judicially. Please do not ignore problems from within while only addressing those from without.

Best regards,

Jeffrey Deskovic, Criminal Justice Advocate and Exoneree

Janet Difiore.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

The Justice Department Needs
To Enforce The Law Of The Land
Collegial Deference Makes Them An Accomplice After The Fact

Simply put, those who would enforce the law must live by it. A front-page dispatch out of Washington, D.C. in last Wednesday’s New York Times stated, “An internal Justice Department inquiry has concluded that Bush Administration lawyers committed serious lapses of judgment in writing secret memorandums authorizing brutal interrogations, but they should not be prosecuted according to government officials briefed on its findings.”

The report, which was prepared by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Ethics Unit within the Justice Department, indicated that the Feds might relegate their responsibility to identify and punish those attorneys who blatantly authorized and justified serious violations
of Constitutional guarantees, to state bar associations, and, would likely involve little more than reprimands, went a long way to con-
firm the two-tiered justice system most Americans believe we have been living under for some time.

The Obama Administration needs to push for a Justice Department that ordinary citizens will have reason to believe will dish out equal penalty and punishment for equal offense. After all, Constitutional guarantees are the bedrock of our democracy, the rules of the game. If the promise of change is what prompted the majority of Americans to install an African-American man with a Muslim-sounding name in the
White House, Constitutional violations and Executive Privilege, the like of which the Bush/ Cheney Administration thrived on for eight years, simply will not do.

We all quickly came to understand what the Right meant by “Law And Order.” It simply meant that those in power were above the law and would give the orders. And, make no mistake, the so-called trickle-down Republican philosophy was never more effective than in the realm of law enforcement. Here, in Westchester, we were exposed to the penultimate model.

Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, one Michael J. Garcia, precisely three years ago, May 12, 2006, took the unprecedented measure of releasing the telephone number of a so-called “Corruption Hotline” 1-877-ENDGRAFT, as he put it, “through which members of the public can call and report potential abuses of the public trust by public officials.”

Judging by the extraordinarily low number of public integrity arrests and prosecutions in Westchester, as well as the five counties immediately north and west named in Garcia’s original announcement, one might logically conclude that we were as clean as a whistle, and that there were few calls, given that one can count on the fingers of one hand the number of public integrity cases indicted and convicted by
the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for the County of Westchester, “the suburbs north of New York City,” as then-President Bush had defined the geographic scope of his area of concern.

One would surely conclude that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, manning the hotline, were like the Maytag Man, waiting for the phone to ring. But, in fact, the opposite was true.

We learned from scores of readers who did phone in that they had been repeatedly told by FBI agents that they were “swamped with calls and couldn’t handle any more.”

So what happened? By comparison, Chris Christie, the United States Attorney, appointed by Bush in 2001 to deal with corruption in New
Jersey, had, by 2008, convicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 125 corrupt public officials; most of them going to prison. What was Mr. Garcia doing with the flood of information pouring into his hotline? We have no way to know for sure.

However, we do know that he attended the retirement party given for former Dobbs Ferry Police Chief George Longworth, the same corrupt
police chief who eyewitnesses in the Richard DiGuglielmo case, testified personally harassed them, together with all three of his detectives, and treated them like suspects until they broke down and changed their original accounts with respect to the self-defense shooting of

bat-wielding perpetrator Charles Campbell to accounts that conformed with what DA Jeanine Pirro wanted them to say.

We do know that on at least two separate occasions Garcia was entertained at the Hamptons Villa of Westchester DA Janet DiFiore, whose refusal to prosecute a rogue, violent Yonkers police officer, and another from Sleepy Hollow, has caused federal prosecutors to step in and do so. In the Yonkers incident, not only did DA DiFiore fail to prosecute the violent, abusive cop, but, in fact, proceeded instead to prosecute
Irma Marquez, the innocent, severely injured victim, even after viewing a videotape of the incident. She did the same in the Rui Florim
case, involving a near-fatal beating by six off-duty Yonkers cops, as well as in numerous, similar, documented cases without any reprimand or acknowledgement of wrongdoing, from Garcia’s Of-fice.

Call it collegial deference, selective prosecution, whatever lightweight term you wish. In plain language, it is injustice; a two-tiered system of enforcement; federal prosecutors protecting and covering up the misconduct of their state counterparts, and their cronies. Westchester is rife with corruption and serious issues of public integrity; and, yet, there has been in-finitesimally little production in that area of criminal activity from the United States Attorney’s Office.

Taxpayers are disillusioned; quick to believe “They’re all in bed together.” They cannot understand the lack of accountability from federal, state, and county government officials, and law enforcement agencies as, all the while, they are being bled dry with taxes to support the
corruption. The “Trickle-Down Effect”, the “Them v Us” reality at a time when families are losing their homes, and putting food on the table, has become harder and harder, is the more intolerable while many police officers are making $250,000 and more, and part-time County commissioners, such as Reggie LaFayette, are getting $155,000, plus all they can steal from one slush fund or another.

The Justice Department must enforce the law of the land, holding persons, particularly those in positions of power and authority, to account if this Nation is to come through this difficult period intact. The majority of hardworking reasonable individuals must not become convinced, as too many already have, that the ‘Promise of America’, a good life for one’s family, is merely a myth, no longer supported by
constitutional guarantees.

While many, particularly in New York, already acknowledge the corruption and greed that has clearly taken control of the State Court System; and, with it, much of state and municipal government, many still hold out hope that the federal government, the Department of
Justice, particularly under the Obama Administration, will fulfill its mandate and prosecute crime and malfeasance everywhere without malice or favor.

To do less would be to invite societal collapse. William Pitt said it quite bluntly; “Where Law Ends, Tyranny Begins.”

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