Friday, July 31, 2009
On Thursday afternoon several dozen girls could be seen on the front lawn with several women watching them. There were also about five or six cars parked on the grounds of the camp, which is operated by Congregation Bais Trana, based in Rockland County. Monday, the state Department of Health ordered the camp to close, citing “serious health and safety conditions.” The camp opened in early July without a permit.
The DOH said it was weighing its legal options if the site was not completely vacated soon.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Supervisor Dan Sturm said Wednesday that town engineers and lawyers will review the files of six to 10 projects. The town believes that Building Inspector Tim Dexter made mistakes in the handling of the shul project, which led to a standoff with the Brooklyn-based United Talmudical Academy through this month.
The UTA rapidly built a 6,900-square-foot shul and community center after Dexter issued a building permit. There was no Planning Board oversight. Engineers say plans in the file lack basic structural information and some plans are missing. They aren't sure if the building is up to code.
However, the UTA opened the shul before receiving a certificate of occupancy, and the town ordered it shut. The UTA sued the town. County Court Judge Frank LaBuda toured the shul Friday and granted a six-week temporary certificate, allowing UTA to use the shul and prayer rooms for religious purposes only this summer. He also directed the UTA to allow engineers into the building.
On Tuesday, the Town Board met behind closed doors with Planning Board Attorney Kimberlea Rea for more than an hour, citing "a matter of litigation." Sturm wouldn't speculate on whether Dexter would be disciplined. "We want everything reviewed so we don't make any rash judgments," Sturm said.
Dexter, who has worked for the town for 16 years, was the Satmar group's star witness at a hearing in Monticello last week. He was at odds with the town's lawyers.
Dexter frequently inspected the building and testified that the shul and four prayer rooms on the upper floor were safe to occupy. The basement, which includes a mikvah — a ritual bath — and bathrooms, is unfinished.
Dexter was preparing to issue a temporary certificate of occupancy and has said that Sturm knew about the project all along, then suddenly changed his mind about allowing the group to use the building. The town posted an order to vacate the building and issued a stop work order, touching off a two-week standoff with the UTA.
Dexter said on Wednesday that he welcomed the Town Board investigation, but had no other comment.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Such after-the-fact alterations can automatically invalidate a ticket, which Brodigan thinks wasn't an accident, "It is hard for me to believe that Officer Witriol did not realize that by altering my citations after he gave them to me that he was essentially invalidating all of them." Brodigan—who is still looking for work after being fired from her Plum TV job as a result of the arrest fallout—was also disappointed Witriol did not appear (and therefore could not be questioned) at the hearing.
She has filed a complaint against the officer with the NYPD's Civilian Complaint Review Board, which may consider the invalid tickets during its investigation of misconduct. A third charge against Brodigan for disorderly conduct is still pending and will be heard in criminal court in late August.
The camp, which is operated by Congregation Bais Trana, opened in early July without a permit and the group has already defied a Monday deadline to leave. The state last week obtained a Commissioner's Order to Vacate the resort, located off Route 209.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-C-Forestburgh, said Tuesday that she's confident DOH is handling the situation correctly. She and other sources have been told the matter appears headed for Supreme Court action. "I asked about a timeline and they were not able to tell," she said.
DOH officials visited the camp Monday and found a large group of girls and families still occupying several buildings.
Mamakating Supervisor Bob Fiore said some of the campers have left. "I would say approximately 50 percent of the people are gone and there are signs more will be leaving." Fiore said the town will check Wednesday, but has deferred enforcement to DOH.
DOH believed about 265 campers and 35 families were staying on the grounds.
The resort, now called Machne Bnos Square, is owned by another congregation, based in the Rockland County Village of New Square. New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer recently visited the properties, a source familiar with the situation said. Spitzer did not return a telephone call on Tuesday seeking comment.
The owners have been "very elusive" about who is in charge and who owns the properties, the source said. This has made dealing with the situation even more difficult.
"The Department's top priority remains the safety and the well-being of the residents at the former Homowack Lodge," DOH Spokesman Juan Merino said Monday night in a prepared statement.
"The Department was on-site today and is working to ensure compliance with the commissioner's evacuation order. We take these types of situations on a case-by-case basis; it's an ongoing process."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
In response to Glen and Gary McCoys’s anti-Semitic, syndicated cartoon, The Flying McCoys, which appeared in yesterday’s Daily News, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) today sent a letter to Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman “demanding a public apology from your newspaper for displaying this ugly cartoon.”
The Flying McCoys bills itself as a “delightfully absurd comic panel [which] takes superheroes, office humor, huggable animals and twisted relationships, blending them in a bizarre marriage of Gary Larson, The New Yorker, Conan O'Brien and Mad Magazine.”
Hikind, however, completely disagrees with this description. In his letter, Hikind wrote, “A father telling his son to, "Stand back, son. I think Rex has rabbis" with two men dressed in religious garb similar to how many Rabbis dress, including black hats, black coats, beards and side curls, standing on either side of a dog is not just demeaning, insulting and repulsive but surely smacks of anti-Semitism á la Goebbels.
Hikind, a child of Holocaust survivors continued, “The arrests last Thursday by the FBI of 44 individuals including a few rabbis are no excuse to slander the entire Jewish people. To imply that Rabbis have rabies and are therefore contagious is to indulge in the vilest type of character assassination.”
A Hasidic group has defied a state deadline to leave the former Homowack Lodge.
The Department of Health, citing health and safety conditions, gave Congregation Bais Trana a deadline of noon Monday to leave the sprawling grounds in the Sullivan County Town of Mamakating, a spokesman said.
As of Monday afternoon a girls camp was still occupying the property.
A large group of girls was playing basketball. Several adults were seated in the lawn area and lights were on in a building that was posted as vacant.
There was no indication of anybody preparing to pack up and leave the resort, located off Route 209.
DOH prepared what is known as a Commissioner's Order to Vacate the grounds after the agency first asked the congregation to leave voluntarily. The congregation did not comply, and so an order was served with the condition that the congregation leave by Monday.
The congregation, which is based in Rockland County, does not have a permit.
DOH denied the permit June 30, but the camp opened anyway. DOH and the Town of Mamakating also found numerous code violations. County fire personnel have called the buildings firetraps.
About 265 campers and 35 families are occupying the buildings, but state officials are unsure about the actual number.
DOH officials indicated last week that if the congregation does not comply, it will commence a court action to force the group off the former resort's grounds.
A DOH spokesman didn't immediately respond on Monday afternoon to a request seeking comment.
Monday, July 27, 2009
"There is a feeling here that the FBI purposely attempted to arrest as many rabbis as possible at once in an attempt to humiliate them," Kakun said in a telephone interview Sunday.
"Regardless of the details of the case - I am not familiar with the precise charges and the evidence - you would never see the FBI and police behaving that way with Muslim sheikhs or Christian priests. It is so obvious that the whole thing is motivated by anti-Semitism," he said.
Kakun added that he planned on devoting the editorial of his paper to an attack on the Obama administration for attempting to whip up anti-Semitic feelings against the Orthodox Jewish community in the US.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Dwek has several children and is the son of Rabbi Isaac and Raizel Dwek, founders of the Deal Yeshiva, a religious school in Ocean Township.
Prior to 2006, he was hailed by many as a pillar of the close-knit Sephardic Jewish community in Deal and Ocean Township. He often lent money to needy families and students, paid medical bills of strangers and contributed to a number of hospitals and charities.
In 2006, Dwek was an owner or a principal in companies that controlled 350 properties worth more than $300 million. Most of the properties are in Monmouth and Ocean counties. But he was running out of cash. From August 2005 to May 2006, Dwek obtained $179 million in loans, including high-interest, short-term notes, to keep his empire afloat.
April 24, 2006: He is accused of depositing a phony $25.2 million check at the PNC Bank drive-through in Eatontown, then transferring most of the money to other accounts, leaving the bank $21 million short.
May 3, 2006: On a request from PNC, a Superior Court judge freezes Dwek's assets. His real estate empire, heavily mired in debt, begins to fall apart.
May 11, 2006: Arrested on bank fraud charges.
August, 2006: An Asbury Park Press investigation uncovers a number of false signatures on deeds and mortgages sold or bought by Dwek. The Press also found that Dwek bought parcels worth $3.9 million from his parents' yeshiva for just $3.
Feb. 9, 2007: Dwek's creditors force him into bankruptcy court.
Apparently in 2007, Dwek agrees to work with the FBI to help uncover money laundering and bribery schemes. He worked as a cooperating witness for two years, according to sources and court documents.
July 23, 2009: The FBI charged 44 in a massive bribery and money-laundering scheme. The common link is Dwek, according to sources. Those arrested include Assemblymen Daniel Van Pelt, 44, R-Ocean, and L. Harvey Smith, 60, D-Hudson; and Lakewood housing inspector Jeffrey Williamson, 57, all on bribery charges.
Also arrested were rabbis from Dwek's Sephardic community: Eliahu Ben Haim, 58, of Long Branch; and Edmund Nahum, 56, of Deal; and Saul Kassin, 87, of Brooklyn, N.Y., regarded as the spiritual head of the Sephardic community in the United States. All three are charged with money laundering.
Dwek remains free on bail. Although he was arrested three years ago, he has not been indicted.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Either way, residents can't cut ties to the Hillcrest Fire Department, which is responsible for protecting the Hasidic Jewish village, and must be fully trained in firefighting before they can lift a hose.
The potential change comes as New Square volunteers have been dousing fires with a makeshift firetruck in violation of state laws mandating they must be trained.
The firefighting has increased simmering tensions between the village and Hillcrest firefighters and its Moleston Fire District.
Firefighters have complained about community members interfering at fire scenes, arsons set in Dumpsters and unsafe and congested housing conditions that makes the community a potential tinder box.
New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer said Friday that he and other village leaders want to maintain good relations with Hillcrest and county fire officials.
At the same time, he said, village leaders believe community firefighters can only improve safety for residents.
"We feel if we had our own fire department, we can respond quicker and have a better chance of saving a house," Spitzer said. "This is not to say we're not satisfied with the response time of the Hillcrest Fire Department. Our other option is to join Hillcrest Fire Department."
The cost of purchasing firefighting equipment could run as high as $1 million, Rockland Fire and Emergency Services Coordinator Gordon Wren Jr. said. He added that an older firetruck could be provided for trained New Square firefighters who become part of Hillcrest.
Spitzer said New Square residents who choose to become firefighters will take all the required training and follow all the regulations.
In the meantime, Rockland firefighters say New Square volunteers must stop fighting blazes.
Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda toured a controversial shul and community center in Bethel on Friday and then promptly gave the Hasidic sect permission to occupy the building over the objections of town officials.
LaBuda granted a temporary certificate of occupancy to the United Talmudical Academy, allowing it to use the building for six weeks for religious purposes only. He also granted the right for town engineers to inspect the building. He ordered the UTA not to use an unfinished parking lot, the lower level of the building and one of the prayer rooms.
The UTA sued Bethel after the town ordered the academy to leave the building and stop work about two weeks ago. Sect members have defied the town and denied an engineer access.
With members of the Brooklyn-based Satmar group peeking through the windows, LaBuda walked through the 6,900-square-foot building. At one point, he banged his hand against the heavy masonry wall and stomped his foot on the concrete floor.
"Anybody want to point out anything unsafe here?" he said.
Members have owned the colony for 30 years. The shul is located about 300 yards off Route 17B on Schultz Road.
"We are law-abiding citizens," said Bernard Stein, who lives in Brooklyn and was among about 60 members of the sect who watched the proceedings. "For something like this to happen, it hurts us a lot."
The morning hearing pitted Bethel's attorneys against the town's own building inspector, Tim Dexter, who has worked for the town for 16 years. Dexter sat with the Satmar group during the hearing and was called by the group's attorney, Henri Shawn, as a witness.
The town's Planning Board attorney, Kimberlea Rea, said Dexter made several errors.
Among these, she said, was that he issued a building permit on his own when the project needed a special-use permit and Planning Board approval. The Planning Board never reviewed this project. There were no traffic or environmental studies done.
Town engineers pointed out that the plans lacked basic structural information about the roof, floors and heavy masonry walls. There were no mechanical, electrical or plumbing plans in the file. Because the information is missing, engineers aren't sure the building was built correctly and is safe.
Dexter testified that he inspected the shul at least once a week over three months. In early July, he informed the group that the town would issue a temporary certificate with some minor conditions.
Dexter said Supervisor Daniel Sturm attended a meeting where the certificate was discussed. Soon after, Sturm told him not to issue it.
Dexter said the first floor, which is used as a shul — a religious facility — and also has four prayer rooms, was safe to occupy. The lower level, which includes a mikvah — a ritual bathing area — and bathrooms, isn't finished.
Sturm said he doesn't believe the building is safe. He said the Town Board will look more deeply into the mistakes that were made.
"I believe I have the right to expect reliable, accurate information from my building heads," Sturm said. "I don't think that is the case here."
Friday, July 24, 2009
He was joined by town officials and attorneys for the United Talmudical Academy, who have argued for weeks if a certificate of occupancy should be issued for the building, located in a Hasidic bungalow colony about 1,000 feet off Route 17B.
The town issued violations last week after colony members defied an order to vacate the 6,900-square-foot center.
The tour followed a morning hearing in county court in which Tim Dexter, the town building inspector, testified that he believes the building is safe. The colony’s attorney, Henri Shawn, indicated that Dexter was in fact prepared to issue a certificate of occupancy for the main synagogue but instructed by the town board not to do that. Shawn said that he believes that the sect is being singled out because of their Hasidic religious order.
Town attorneys indicated that Dexter should not have given the building permit in the first place. They said the planning board never reviewed the building.
LaBuda is expected to make his ruling on the certificate of occupancy Friday afternoon.
The "Wedding Plan," which was sent to the families of the community this week, includes a list of restrictions regarding wedding preparations. For instance, the parents of the groom are instructed to choose between a bracelet and a mixer as a gift for the bride during the engagement period.
The document also states that it is prohibited to send the bride's family Purim gifts or birthday presents. It also places a limit on the price of flower bouquets and states that the wedding ring must be adorned with a fake, rather than a genuine diamond.
According to the instructions of the stream's spiritual leader, the Admor, those who fail to abide by the new rules will not be eligible for loans or financial assistance from the Hasidic court's administration. Wealthy Belz families are required to follow the regulations as well.
The document was based, among other things, on questionnaires handed out to families of the community.
Belz is not the first Hasidic court to place limitations on its members' wedding expenditures, as Satmar and Gur have done so before. But it is the first stream to publish an elaborate document that leaves no room for interpretation. For example, it stipulates the exact number of guests a family is allowed to invite to wedding events, and defines which family members should be considered "close relatives."
Luckily, the new plan includes not only restrictions, but also some benefits. The document's authors have taken a number of steps to help families lower the cost of the wedding by getting entertainers, photographers and wedding bands to agree to charging reasonable prices for their services.
Home furnishing for the newlyweds will also be offered for cheap.
The home at 48 Bates Drive, listed as his address by the FBI, was empty and appeared unoccupied. It was among several multifamily units newly built on a street with aging two-family homes in a predominantly Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.
A new neighbor said she hadn't seen any cars, drapes, lights or people going in or coming out of the house since she moved in a few weeks ago. Another neighbor, among several who said they had just moved in, said she didn't know who lived at that address.
The deed to the house also names Itzhak Friedlander as a resident. Friedlander is named in the FBI complaint as a co-conspirator and an employee of Altman's real estate development company.
The development, also called Bates Horton, was the focus of a lawsuit a decade ago.
The town of Ramapo sued the the builder, claiming two- and three-family houses were built where only single-family, semiattached ones were allowed.
Altman is also registered as living at 68 Bates Drive, along with eight other residents, including Friedlander. Yesterday, however, the house bore the number "12," though the mailbox still read "68."
A woman surrounded by several children opened the door at that address and denied any knowledge of Altman or where he lived.
Neighbors near that address denied knowing him or where he lived.
One man angrily said neither Altman's family nor neighbors would discuss the man or the morning's events.
The state Department of Health on Thursday afternoon had not yet served a Hasidic sect with an order to vacate the former Homowack.
According to a spokesman, DOH was still working out the details of what is known as a commissioner's order for a girls' camp to evacuate the buildings at the sprawling resort in Spring Glen.
On June 30, the DOH denied a permit application to Congregation Bais Trana to operate a girls' camp. But the camp opened anyway in early July, and now has roughly 265 girls and 35 families on the grounds. Code inspectors have found numerous health and safety violations and emergency personnel have called the buildings a firetrap.
DOH has provided no details of what the order will say, whether the camp will be required to leave immediately or be afforded extra time to make arrangements.
"The occupants have been asked to vacate the premises and they have not complied," DOH said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The department is pursuing all possible remedies to ensure the health and safety of campers and staff."
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Here's the entire list of the 34 New Jersey officials and others who have been arrested this morning in an FBI sweep:
Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, who is also a Jersey City Housing Authority commissioner and Director of Parks, Engineering and Planning for Hudson County
Former Jersey City Councilman and former state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith
Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt
Former Jersey City City Council Lori Serrano
Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez
Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell
Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini
Political operative Joseph Cardwell
Former Hoboken Councilman Michael Schaffer, who now works for North Hudson Sewerage Authority
Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III
Former Jersey City Council candidate Guy Catrillo
Political operative Jack Shaw
Hudson County Affirmative Action officer Edward Cheatam, also a Jersey City Housing Authority commissioner
Former Jersey City City Council candidate LaVern Webb-Washington
Former state Assemblyman and perennial candidate Lou Manzo
Former Jersey City City Council candidate Michael J. Manzo
Ron Manzo, brother of Lou Manzo
Richard Greene, former aide to L. Harvey Smith
Former 13th District congressional candidate John Guarini, also a city taxi inspector
Former 32nd District Senate candidate Denis Jaslow
Eliahu Ben Haim
Levi Izhak Rosenbaum
Maher A. Khalil
David S. Goldhirsh
WNBC-TV in New York reported and showed images of the mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus being taken into FBI headquarters in Newark. The station also showed rabbis being taken into custody.
Radio station New Jersey 101.5 FM reports the sweeps are taking place in Hudson, Bergen, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The stations say the probe centers on money-laundering and political bid rigging.
FBI spokeswoman Myrna Williams tells The Associated Press the arrests will go on till noon. She would not provide any more information.
Corruption has permeated New Jersey politics for years. Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie takes credit for 130 convictions of elected and appointed officials on corruption charges.
Christie is the Republican candidate for governor.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
There are a number of reasons why people don't mail back their questionnaires, officials said.
Some are living in the United States illegally and fear being exposed. Others might be crammed into housing and don't want anyone to know. Some don't speak English, or are simply reluctant to divulge personal information, or are not aware that they must fill out the form or risk being fined.
Whatever the reasons, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said parts of Rockland, such as Spring Valley, were "woefully undercounted" in the census, which takes place every 10 years.
The 2010 census forms - 10 questions that can be filled out in less than 10 minutes - will be mailed in February and March as the federal government seeks to account for every man, woman and child living within its borders.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
“After personally speaking with the Mayor, I became convinced that he did not hear the question which the NY1 reporter posed to him,” Hikind said. “In this case, I have decided to give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt. But this unfortunate incident is a prime example of why we all need to be more cautious about what we say publicly.”
On Monday, Hillcrest firefighters responded to a blaze at the grand rabbi's home in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of New Square. They found volunteer firefighters dousing the flames.
Hillcrest Fire Chief Kim Weppler worries that the volunteers might injure themselves or others because they lack proper training and equipment.
Weppler says that about a year ago, he began noticing a makeshift firetruck the size of an ambulance turning up at fires around New Square. He said volunteers often failed to contact the Hillcrest department.
The village insists it has a friendly relationship with Hillcrest and Rockland County fire administrators.
Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer says village officials want to meet with Rockland fire officials. The volunteers also hope to get training.
Troopers say Saturday's early morning fire occurred at the former Homowack Lodge in the Ulster County hamlet of Spring Glen, 70 miles north of New York City.
The abandoned building was located a half-mile from the main hotel complex on the sprawling property, which is currently being run as a girls' summer camp known as Machne Bnos (MAHK'-neh beh-NOS') Square.
The building is owned by a Congregation Bais Trana, a Hasidic Jewish group from Rockland County. The group bought the old resort in 2006.
Last week, the hotel was cited for violations by state environmental conservation officials after an oil spill at the property.
The state health department also asked for a voluntary evacuation of the summer camp after citing the facility for building violations.
A Hasidic bungalow colony Monday denied town inspectors access to a newly built shul and community center, prolonging a standoff that likely will be headed to court.
Supervisor Daniel Sturm and a town engineer planned to inspect the building in the afternoon but were called off by the colony's attorney.
"They are not going to let us in at 1 o'clock as scheduled," Sturm said. "We'll discuss this with our attorneys and decide what the next move is."
The town issued violations on Friday after colony members defied an order to vacate the building, which is located about 1,000 feet off Route 17B on Schultz Road.
The colony does not have a certificate of occupancy but continues to use the building.
While Sturm said town officials were denied entry, the colony's attorney, Henri Shawn, said he merely asked the town to delay the inspection until he had time to meet with his clients.
"I can see this is going to be war," Shawn said.
The colony is owned by the United Talmudical Academy Torah Neyirah, which has a Brooklyn address. UTA has a permit to build the 6,900-square-foot building, but it had not been finished or given a final inspection, town officials say.
Engineer Michael Weeks of McGoey, Hauser and Edsall visited the property a week ago. After looking at the unfinished parking area, he deemed the use of the building unsafe. The town posted an order to vacate and a stop-work order in the window.
A colony board member who didn't want to give his name said the town has mysteriously changed course, first promising a temporary certificate of occupancy, now issuing violations and threats.
Colony members said they believe "anti-Semites" in town are influencing board members.
Monday, July 20, 2009
He was charged with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
Authorities said the criminal activity occurred within the past year, and the victim was a boy under the age of 13.
Bail for Kolko was set at $125,000 and if he is released on bail, he is not allowed to have contact with the victim or anyone else under the age of 18, according to the complaint.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Senior Investigation Colleen Lynch in the special victims unit at 732-929-2027, Ext. 2905 or Lakewood Detective Thomas D'Elia at 732-363-0200.
A Brooklyn teen was killed Sunday afternoon when he was thrown from the SUV he was driving on Glen Wild Road.
Yeshayohu Eckstein, 19, was pronounced dead at the scene, Fallsburg police Chief Simmie Williams said. An unidentified 19-year-old male passenger suffered minor injuries but was flown by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center as a precaution.
"From what the passenger told us, the driver fell asleep (at the wheel)," Williams said.
The crash occurred just after 4 p.m., just south of the entrance to the old Davos ski resort on a curved portion of Glen Wild Road. Eckstein was driving a Ford Explorer when the SUV rolled over several times before coming to rest in a wooded area a few feet from the roadway. Eckstein was thrown at least a hundred feet from the vehicle and landed on the roadway, Williams said, even though his seat belt was buckled.
Eckstein's passenger, who also was wearing a seat belt, was able to climb out of the SUV. He was talking and alert when emergency crews arrived.
Police aren't sure how fast the SUV was going; there were no skid marks on the roadway. Glen Wild Road was closed for at least three hours. Williams said the two teens were Hasidic Jews who were staying in the area for the summer.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Summitville fire Chief Tim Koestler said the fire is suspicious and is being investigated. All utilities, including electricity, had been shut off in the building, Koestler said.
The building was located off the now-dilapidated golf course, down the road from the sprawling former resort, Koestler said.
Authorities say the building, formerly used as housing for employees at the hotel, had been abandoned for a number of years. The building is owned by Congregation Bais Trana, a Hasidic group from Rockland County that bought the former Catskill resort and 400 acres of land in 2006.
Nobody was injured in the fire, which began shortly after 5 a.m. and took nearly three hours to contain. The fire was called in by a neighbor, and the building was engulfed in flames when emergency responders arrived. There was also a false fire alarm at the main hotel building later in the day.
The fire comes after a long string of complaints by neighbors and public officials about safety concerns at the former Homowack Lodge, now called Machne Bnos Square.
Early last week, the hotel was cited with three violations by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation after an oil spill.
Later in the week, the state Department of Health asked for a voluntary evacuation of the building "in the interest of public safety."
Town officials say the group was running a girls camp at the site, despite not having the appropriate permits.
Holly Budd, who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, said neighbors are becoming increasingly concerned that the former hotel is becoming a safety hazard.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The position opened up last April when former commissioner Martha Stark quit following revelations that she had a close friend and relatives on the payroll.
Michael Hyman was appointed Acting Commissioner of Finance on May 4, 2009, but political insiders think Felder is making a play for the spot.
The job could be his if Mayor Michael Bloomberg is re-elected.
Stark was only one of two African-American commissioners in the Bloomberg administration, the other being Human Rights Commission head Patricia Gatling.
When questioned about the move, Felder said he was thinking only about a third term in the City Council.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Residents of the colony on Schultz Road this month started using the large center without a certificate of occupancy, Town Supervisor Daniel Sturm said.
On Wednesday, the town issued a stop work order and ordered residents to vacate the building, but members of the colony have since been spotted inside the facility.
“We are trying to stop them,” Sturm said on Friday. “I think they are trying to occupy it still. We are monitoring it every day.”
The community center, located about 1,000 feet off Route 17B, is within easy eyesight of the road.
The colony is owned by United Talmudical Academy Torah NEYIRAH, which has a Brooklyn mailing address, according to town records.
Bethel residents have lodged numerous complaints that colony members was using the building. UTA has a permit to build the 6,900 square-foot center, but it had not been finished or inspected, town officials say.
Engineer Michael Weeks, of McGoey, Hauser and Edsall, visited the property Tuesday evening and deemed it unsafe. Weeks wrote in a letter he noticed several people coming and going from the building and numerous vehicles parked in front.
The unfinished parking area had extremely steep sides slopes, and had not been properly graded. There were no guide rails or clear pedestrian access to the building.
“At present, this site poses a clear danger to its users and other members of the public,” he wrote.
Sturm said the town will issue violations and these will continue as long as the colony continues to violate the order not to use the building. The town also plans a detailed site plan and building review to determine if the colony has complied with the building permit.
“We are taking this very seriously and doing everything we can to make sure people are safe,” Sturm said.
Even though the state Department of Health asked residents to evacuate the sprawling resort off Route 209 on Monday for safety reasons, more than 200 girls again slept overnight in buildings on the property.
DOH staff and Town of Mamakating officials met with the operators Thursday and reiterated "the necessity to evacuate the property as soon as possible," said DOH District Director Mark Knudsen, of the Monticello office.
The resort, now Machne Bnos Square, is owned by an Orthodox Jewish sect based in New Square in Rockland County.
"The operators are contacting parents of campers and expressed concern about sending children home if parents or guardians are not available," Knudsen said.
Knudsen said the camp has been directed to hire a third party to conduct 24-hour fire watches and act as an on-site fire marshal. They must also hire plumbing and electrical contractors, a building consultant to remove mold, and a certified wastewater treatment system operator to maintain the on-site sewage disposal treatment plant.
The owners had no permit from DOH or the town, prompting an investigation. Inspectors found leaking roofs, faulty electrical equipment, mold, plumbing problems and violations with the water and sewer. DOH gave the owners until July 13 to correct the problems before seeking a voluntary evacuation of camp residents.
County and town emergency personnel have called the buildings a fire trap. The fire alarm system was not operating fully or sending a signal to the 911 Center, and the sprinkler system does not work.
The owner faces fines ranging from $500 to $2,000 for each violation. The DOH Division of Legal Affairs is preparing orders to force the operator to close, Knudsen said.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The Department of Health has asked those staying at the former Homowack Lodge to evacuate the resort after citing the owner for "numerous, persistent and serious violations of the state sanitary code," the Times Herald-Record has learned.
The sprawling resort off Route 209 in Phillipsport is owned by a Hasidic sect and is being used as a summer girls' camp. The state found violations during inspections after an oil spill last week.
"After several investigations conducted by New York state Department of Health in conjunction with Town of Mamakating and other health and safety agencies, on July 13, the Department of Health requested a voluntary evacuation of the Homowack hotel in the interest of public safety," said Mamakating Supervisor Bob Fiore.
DOH District Director Mark Knudsen, of the Monticello office, said in a prepared statement that Machne Bnos Square (the former Homowack) was cited for inoperable/defective fire suppression and fire alarm systems, pervasive moisture problems from leaking roofs and plumbing and mold in occupied and unoccupied buildings. Inspectors discovered numerous electrical problems resulting from leaking pipes flowing over electrical boxes.
The owners further were cited for inadequate supervision of children, failing to maintain the sewage disposal system and the proper disinfection of drinking water, and protecting the drinking water well from contamination, Knudsen said.
Anita Altman, who owns property next door, said she first complained to town officials that the buildings and grounds were a hazard in April 2008, but that she has largely been brushed off by the town.
"There has been no enforcement," she said. "It just goes on and on and we have to ask, 'What do we have a government for?'"
Fiore said he was not sure if the owners had complied.
"We will be going there today (Wednesday) to observe their progress," he said.
On July 10, county Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic, in a letter to town Building Inspector Mary Grass, wrote he had "great concern for the overall fire safety of all persons who occupy buildings in the camp."
Among other problems, he noted the fire alarm system was not operating fully or sending any signal to the 911 Center, and that the sprinkler system also wasn't working.
The lodge is now owned by a group in New Square in Rockland County.
Entrance ways were posted with notices that the fire system was disabled and the buildings were vacant. However, no doors were padlocked. Several adults and a few children were still in the posted buildings on Wednesday. Inside the main lobby area, the ceiling was caving in and the lights were on. Numerous children's bikes and playthings were scattered about the grounds. People indicated that the camp children had not yet been moved off the property.
"They are dealing with other hotels to get a spot," said Rabbi Bernard Freilich, who serves as a liaison with the Orthodox communities. "I know they are trying."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The town and the Department of Health have found numerous health and safety violations.
The facility is being used as a summer girl’s camp.
“After several investigations conducted by New York State Department of Health in conjunction with town of Mamakating and other health and safety agencies, on July 13, the Department of Health requested a voluntary evacuation of the Homowack hotel in the interest of public safety,” Supervisor Bob Fiore said.
Fiore said on Wednesday morning he was not sure if the owners had complied.
“We will be going there today to observe their progress,” he said.
Last Thursday, authorities responded to a oil spill on the grounds.
The county Bureau of Fire and the Summitville Fire Department have also identified numerous violations.
A spokesman for the DOH couldn’t immediately be reached.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Several years before, the Missouri Department of Transportation had lost a long legal battle to try and prevent the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway on freedom-of-speech grounds. So the state decided to counter the Nazi group’s speech with more speech, in the form of another roadside sign.
Officials are renaming the stretch of highway near Springfield that the organization cleans after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States.
The renaming, which would take effect this summer, was approved by the legislature as part of a large transportation bill. The governor has not yet signed the bill but supports the concept of renaming the road, an aide said. The measure is not popular, though, with some members of the National Socialist Movement, who clean a half-mile stretch four times a year.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Naftali Tzi Weisz (naf-TALL-e, ZEE, WHY-z) could face up to five years in prison after signing a plea agreement last week that is contingent on other co-defendants also pleading guilty to various charges.
An e-mail message left for Weisz's attorneys was not immediately returned Monday.
Prosecutors say Weisz and others helped donors avoid paying federal income taxes by having them make contributions to charitable groups run by Spinka, a New York-based Orthodox Jewish group led by Weisz.
U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek says an agreement with the charitable organizations is almost finished.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
A Brooklyn woman who argued with an Orthodox Jewish cop at the Bedford Avenue subway station last week has lost her job. Thirty-two-year-old Chrissie Brodigan claims her boss at Plum TV did not think she had defended herself well against charges she was a bigot. "I received a lot of hate mail," she told PIX News.
The confrontation with Police Officer Joel Witriol happened on Monday, June 29, when she took her sick pug, Dempsey, out of his carrier, because he had thrown up. Witriol, the city's first, Hasidic Jewish cop -- who wears a yalmulke and paes (curls on the side of his face) -- stopped her at the Bedford Avenue station. She told PIX News he demanded identification, and when she could not produce it, he became agitated when she tried to walk off. Brodigan claims he kicked her ankles apart and held one of her arms to the wall, "There are two strong witnesses who photographed the incident," Brodigan said.
Yet The New York Post quoted another witness who said Brodigan hurled ethnic slurs at Officer Witriol. "I believe this to be a fabricated witness," Brodigan told PIX News from her Brooklyn apartment, a day after getting fired by the CEO at Plum TV.
Brodigan told PIX News when she received her graduate degree in history, she did a dissertation on civil rights. For nearly a year, she said she worked 12-hour days at Plum TV, rebuilding its website as Vice President for Online and Community. Plum TV has eight stations across the country, catering to wealthy clientele in vacation spots like Martha's Vineyard, The Hamptons and Aspen.
The New York Post would not respond to Brodigan's claims, telling PIX News it had "no comment." But Brodigan told us she's retained a lawyer, and she's considering filing a lawsuit against the paper, for allegedly slandering her.
Plum TV did issue a statement about Brodigan, saying "Her employment was terminated for valid reasons, unrelated to the determination of whether or not she made the objectionable statements as alleged in the press."
Thursday, July 09, 2009
convicted child molester
Yechiel (Jerry) Brauner
Convicted child molester Jerry (Yechiel) Brauner has once again been arrested and has been charged this time with sexual abuse, harassment, forcible touching and menacing. Brauner, who is currently on probation from a previous conviction, has a long history of sexual abuse of minors. Also, due to political intervention, Brauner has a long history of getting off easy when he is charged and quickly returning to the streets and to his continued abuse of minors.
Link to court case
Click on WebCrims and search for Jerry Brauner
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Investigators say there have been at least a dozen incidents since June 19th in Crown Heights.
Police released surveillance video of the suspect earlier today.
The victims range in age from 19 to 44 years old.
"He's a low life. I think he's a coward and he will be arrested. And he will be sent to jail," said City Councilwoman Letitia James. "It's just a matter of time. We have some good leads. The police are following him."
The suspect is described as being in his mid 20s, between 5 foot 10 and 6 feet tall. He is said to weigh between 175 and 200 pounds. He has short black hair and brown eyes.
Cops released a montage of surveillance video clips Tuesday depicting a serial groper on the prowl in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
A dozen women, almost all of them Hasidic Jews, told police that the lanky pervert slapped them on the buttocks or pinched them in recent weeks.
Sex crimes investigators put together the video by piecing together several clips taken from surveillance cameras throughout the tight-knit religious community, cops said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at (800) 577-TIPS.
Information also can be texted to 274637 (CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Thursday, July 09, 2009
From 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM
Central Park SummerStage
A benefit concert to support the full season of free programs at Central Park SummerStage.
Monday, July 06, 2009
The latest attack happened on Carroll St. Sunday when a skinny man hit a woman in her 20s around 1:45 p.m., police said.
Cops are investigating a series of complaints from several Hasidic Jewish women who said they were groped by a sicko terrorizing the tight-knit religious community.
"Walk in groups and stay in well-lit areas," said one cop from the 71st Precinct.
Each victim has called the Shomrim civilian patrol hotline to report the gropings, the first of which took place June 19. Shomrim then told cops, said group spokesman Binyomin Lifshitz.
Shomrim leaders said they believe yesterday's attack was "a copycat."
There have been at least six victims assaulted by a skinny man who appears to be in his 20s, Lifshitz said.
Resident Sara Malasky, 28, said a thin man wearing plastic frame glasses slapped her neighbor on Crown St. Saturday around 5 p.m. The victim wasn't hurt, but she was unnerved.
"She had this nervous laughter afterward," Malasky said. "I don't think she knew how else to respond."
Sunday, July 05, 2009
That’s the rationale provided by the office of City Councilmember Simcha Felder, whose spokesperson, Eric Kuo, told this paper that Felder has “long supported eliminating the office of public advocate” and is now “exploring ways to do this legislatively.”
While Kuo declined to confirm that Felder was either “drafting or requesting legislation,” news of the councilmember’s planned legislation was first aired last Thursday on the website, cityhallnews.com.
Why eliminate the position, which serves as an ombudsman for city residents and a watchdog over City Halli “Ninety nine percent of New Yorkers don’t know what the public advocate does or who the public advocate is,” Kuo responded. The office’s responsibilities, including oversight over other officials, could be taken over by other offices, Kuo contended.
The public advocate’s office has been under frontal assault lately. The fiscal year 2010 budget, adopted last month by the City Council, cut funding for the office by a whopping 40 percent.
The proposal is “unworthy of a comment,” noted Anne Strahle, campaign manager for former Public Advocate Mark Green, who is running for the office again this year.
A spokesperson for Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum had more to say. “It seems that Simcha Felder has resumed his role as cooing pet pigeon to the mayor and speaker, just like with term limits,” said Sarah Krauss of Gotbaum’s office when asked for a comment. “Whatever his motive, one thing is clear, this is one councilmember who is impossible to take seriously.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Sent in by a Chaptzem reader
Friday, July 03, 2009
The Hasidic section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn — roughly bounded by Division Avenue, Broadway, Heyward Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard — is an anachronistic pleasure. Unlike in the hipster section north of Grand Avenue, the images here — knife-grinders on the street, bearded men in 19th-century frock coats — are not only vivid, they are also apparently lost to time. The neighborhood, which is served by the Marcy Avenue stop on the J, M and Z trains, is home to thousands of Hasidic Jews, mainly of the Satmar sect, which derives its name from the town of Satu Mare in Romania. Be forewarned: some of the residents do not take kindly to intrusion and may greet strangers with a brusque look.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
A recent rash of constituent reports involving mystery shopping, alleged monetary windfalls, “free grants” and other financial scams has prompted Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) to push for tougher consumer protection laws. Hikind is concerned about what he sees as a burgeoning industry preying on countless innocent people, many of whom are unemployed or in dire financial straits. Hikind has written to Attorney General Cuomo to request an investigation into this upsurge.
“Unfortunately, in this economy, many people are feeling the crushing despair of debt,” Hikind noted. “These scams offer a welcome respite from that, causing otherwise reasonable people to buy into offers they know are really too good to be true. New Yorkers have to be better protected from these kinds of deceptive practices.”
The latest scam to come to the Assemblyman’s attention is particularly egregious because the solicitation contains a check in the amount of $2,987.75 (pictured above) which is drawn on a Park Avenue Bank account. The check appears to be perfectly authentic, right down to its security watermark on the reverse side.
All that is required is for the unsuspecting victim to deposit the check into their personal account, and then act as a “customer service evaluator” or a “mystery shopper” at any Western Union location to “evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the payment system you choose to visit.” Participants must then wire $2367.00 to their “training agent” via Western Union. For each mystery shopping task completed, a payment of a few hundred dollars is promised, along with assurances of future assignments and higher salaries. In reality, once the scammer’s check is deposited into a victim’s bank account, the victim’s funds are stolen within a matter of days. Hikind contacted Park Avenue Bank and was told that while the account is real, a hold has been placed on it until further notice.
“Ultimately, consumer protection is about vigilance,” said Hikind. “People need to do their research before accepting any sort of unsolicited offer, and they should avail themselves of the wealth of resources available in order to make an educated decision.”
For more information or to file a complaint, Hikind urges consumers to contact the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs by dialing 311 or the Office of the New York State Attorney General Consumer Helpline at: 1-800-771-7755.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly came to the defense yesterday of a Hasidic cop accused of abusing a female straphanger he arrested for having an unleashed dog in the subway.
But Kelly did say her allegation will be probed by the Civilian Compliant Review Board.
"[There is] no indication that she was [manhandled]," he said of Brooklyn blogger Chrissie Brodigan.
"She made an allegation that she was abused in some way, and that's an appropriate issue for the Civilian Complaint Review Board to handle."
Brodigan got into a confrontation with Officer Joel Witriol, the city's first Hasidic cop, when she refused to put her pug in a travel container Monday.
Witnesses say she hurled anti-Semitic remarks at the yarmulke-wearing officer when he wanted to give her a summons.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The city's first Hasidic cop was excoriated in a anti-Semitic rant by a dog-loving subway passenger who allegedly refused to place her sick pet in an animal carrier, sources and a witness said yesterday.
Brooklyn blogger Chrissie Brodigan claimed Officer Joel Witriol went ballistic when he saw her take her pug, Dempsey, out of her purse in violation of subway regulations at around 5:30 p.m. Monday. She said he cuffed her, insulted her and roughed her up.
But a witness, Viane Delgado, said Brodigan was the one out of line. Delgado said Witriol "repeatedly" asked the woman to place the barking pug in a carrier she had. But instead, she allegedly insulted him with anti-Semitic slurs and tried to walk away.
"You f---ing Jew, you're not even human," Delgado quoted Brodigan as saying.
She repeatedly said, "Jewish people think they own everything," a source said.
But Brodigan denied that account.
"I don't remember saying anything anti-Semitic," she said. "I do remember saying, 'Clearly, you have trouble with women.' I probably called him an a--hole."
According to her account, Witriol "said he needed to talk to me" as she was ascending a staircase at the L-line Bedford Avenue station.
"He pushed me against the wall and said, 'I need your name and ID.' "
Brodigan, 32, said that when she told Witriol she had left her wallet at work, things turned ugly.
"He pushed me against the wall and said, 'If you're gonna act like a woman, I'm gonna treat you like a woman,' " said Brodigan.
The blogger denied she had a carrying case with her and said her dog suffers from a health condition that causes it to overheat.
She claims that when she started to walk away, "he handcuffed my wrist, pushed me against the wall, punched me in the back and kicked me in the shin."
She also claimed Witriol at one point put his hands on her breasts.
Melissa Randazzo, 29, another witness, backed up Brodigan's story.
"His tone was really alarming," Randazzo said of Witriol. "The girl looked scared. She didn't look like someone who would get into trouble. Something didn't seem right about this situation."
Witriol's family would not comment on the case last night.
The NYPD said that there's no record of any impropriety on the part of Witriol and that Brodigan was given a summons for failing to identify herself and for not having a dog in a proper container.
A police source said Brodigan was belligerent and argumentative.
Brodigan claimed the cop took away her pug and threatened he'd have it "put down."