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Bernard Kerik Hovers Over the DiTommaso Perjury Trial


Peter DiTommaso appeared relaxed during the first day of proceedings in his trial on perjury charges. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Prosecutors argued Thursday in Bronx Supreme Court that construction company owners Frank and Peter DiTommaso lied to the grand jury six years ago about paying for renovations to the Riverdale apartment of disgraced former police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

“Back in 1999, these defendants thought that Bernard B. Kerik was a big shot, that he had  juice, power and influence,” Stuart Levy, assistant district attorney told the jury on Thursday.  Prosecutors argued that the two brothers used the relationship with Kerik to gain government contracts and licenses.

Kerik is scheduled to testify next month. “He will not take responsibility for their actions,” said Levy. Kerik, 57, is serving a 48-month sentence for eight federal crimes, including lying to White House officials when he was being considered to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Frank DiTommaso’s attorney opened her defense with a flourish. “I’m tempted to quote ‘My Cousin Vinny,'” said Cathy Fleming, referring to the 1992 Hollywood movie starring Joe Pesci. “What he said is BS,” she said, waving her hand dramatically toward the prosecutor.  Members of the jury nodded and chuckled.

Fleming then held up a poster-sized copy of her client’s indictment, in an attempt to argue that the district attorney’s case is based on conspiracy theories. “The prosecutors blurred the timeline, blurred the brothers and blurred the companies,” she said.

Frank DiTommaso, 53, is charged with one count of perjury while his brother, Peter DiTommaso, 51, faces two counts. The DiTommasos own the New Jersey-based companies, Interstate Construction, Interstate Drywall and Interstate Materials.

Levy told the jury that the cost of the renovations that included a jacuzzi and a marble foyer totaled $255,000. He added that Kerik often complained to his friend Lawrence Ray that his government salary was insufficient to cover living expenses.

Justice John W. Carter ordered the DiTommaso defense attorneys (above) and prosecutors to refrain from issuing public comments. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Ray loaned money to Kerik for the down payment on his apartment. He was also employed by the DiTommasos from 1998 to 2000 as a business consultant.

The defendant’s attorneys also stressed the relationship between Kerik, Ray and the DiTommasos. “How nicely that [Ray] fits in to the prosecutor’s conspiracy theory,” said Michael A. Marinaccio, the attorney for Peter DiTommaso.

Ray was convicted of stock manipulation in 2000. The DiTommasos terminated his employment less than a week after his conviction.

The trial is expected to resume Friday, Sept. 28, at 10:30 a.m.

“I am confident that you will find the defendants not guilty as charged,” concluded Levy, “but guilty as proven.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Front Page, Money, Politics, Southern Bronx0 Comments

A Pelham Parkway Diner Defies the Odds in a Harsh Economy

Many Bronx restaurants face hard times or have closed in the tough economy, but the management of a family-owned diner in the Pelham Parkway area  has defied the odds with an expansion that opened on Sept. 6.

Christos Konidaris, 61, the owner of the Liberty Diner, said that customers had asked for a larger restaurant. Potential diners were leaving during weekends when the diner was too crowded for them to sit and eat. The expansion will allow him to serve 75 customers instead of his previous capacity of 30.

His daughter, Kathy Argyros, 37, a manager at the diner, said that taking over the space – formerly a dollar store that went out of business – was a significant expense. Konidaris and Argyros declined to say how much the expansion cost or discuss specifics regarding financials, but they said they are able to afford some of the costs of the expansion by selling a larger diner they owned in Co-op City.

“The expansion was a big decision,” Argyros said. “I think we were going back and forth for about a year, year and a half. When the spot opened up, we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it. It was a big investment.”

Argyros added that they were able to boost business by offering more specials, accepting credit cards and buying the best meat and coffee they could afford. He also thinks the family’s reputation helps; they’ve owned two other diners in the Bronx.

Other businesses in Pelham Parkway are having a more difficult time because of the state of the economy. Pablo Torres, 39, the owner of D&G Deli & Rotisserie, Inc., which is half a block away from the Liberty Diner, said running his business has been challenging.

“A lot of people don’t want to spend money like before,” he said. Torres works another job part-time and sometimes uses his paychecks to cover his restaurant’s bills.

Torres said that when he opened D&G in 2009, he was able to get a loan easily because he had a good credit history. Since then, business has been tough. He admitted that he has considered closing or selling the café, but that he feels that his employees depend on him to keep it open. An expansion like Liberty Diner’s is out of the question.

“I would love to,” he said. “But I have no money.”

D&G isn’t the only small business facing hard times. Bobby Ruggiero, 60, the chairman of the Morris Park Alliance, said that most small businesses in the area are struggling. The Alliance represents 360 small businesses in Morris Park – just blocks south of Pelham Parkway. According to Ruggiero, many business owners are living week-to-week, having invested their savings into their businesses.

“Three I know are doing well,” he said. “The others are grinding along, waiting.”

Ruggiero was happy to hear that the nearby Liberty Diner was expanding and praised its staff’s work ethic.

“[Liberty Diner] is in a unique location, good service, good product,” he said. “They put the hours in. They work hard.”

Liberty’s expansion included difficulties beyond money. Manager Spiro Argyros, 43, (Kathy Argyros’ husband) said that keeping the restaurant open during the construction was tough but necessary to keep customers coming in during the expansion. This meant that a lot of the construction work, which started in June, was done overnight.

The extra space will provide more room for customers as well as more space for supplies and appliances. Spiro Argyros said that the new space has a big storage area with a walk-in refrigerator, a luxury the diner didn’t have before.

Spiro Argyros said he hopes to hire more people in the future to work as dishwashers, waitresses and at the grill.

Arvin Molinas, 59, who works in bookbinding and copying at Penguin Group USA, is a regular customer who thinks that the expansion is “remarkable” and will bring the Liberty Diner more business.

“The only question I have is if they’ll be able to fill all of the seats in the space next door,” he said.

Now that the family has opened the expansion, they are looking to the future with a mix of confidence and nerves.

“We’re hoping it works out,” Kathy Argyros said. “We’re hoping it really works out. We’re thinking positive.”


Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Multimedia, Slideshows0 Comments

Newcomer Trounces Incumbent in Bid for Bronx State Assembly Seat

Mark Gjonaj becomes the first Albanian American with a chance to serve in the 80th State Assembly District. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

A Bronx ballroom filled with supporters of political newcomer Mark Gjonaj erupted in cheers near midnight Sept. 13 when poll numbers pushed the real estate developer over the top in the race for the Democratic state assembly nomination in the 80th district.

Gjonaj, 43, is poised to become the first Albanian American in the Bronx to hold a seat in the assembly. He toppled two-term incumbent Naomi Rivera by a margin of 11 percent (513 votes).

More than one hundred supporters celebrated the successful campaign with food, an open bar and DJ at Maestro’s Catering on Bronxdale Avenue in Van Nest. “I’m feeling loved,” Gjonaj told the crowd, with relief. “I’m feeling blessed and I’m grateful and I’m humbled.”

Rivera, his opponent who has held the 80th assembly seat since 2005 had the backing of the powerful Bronx Democratic Committee, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. She faced criticism after political scandals surfaced during her most recent term. Most recently Rivera came under fire for placing  boyfriend Tommy Torres on her state payroll as a part-time consultant. Another investigation involving a different ex-boyfriend is also underway.

Gjonaj won the backing of social conservative New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. He outspent Rivera by about 62 percent. Gjonaj thanked his campaign volunteers and supporters in a speech, saying “without them, there’s no me.”

“This is about progress,” said Gjonaj in a speech last night. “It’s about change. It’s about moving forward.” He also acknowledged Rivera’s public service in the district for the past eight years. Gjonaj grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, the son of two Albanian immigrants. He has worked as a realtor and businessman, and has served as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

A homemade poster supporting Mark Gjonaj. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

According to campaign manager Emmett Hare, Gjonaj currently resides in at Eastchester Road in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. He used his business acumen to his advantage, and raised $227,893 for his campaign according to financial disclosure reports from April to August. His backers included several realtors, construction companies, insurance agencies, contractors and law firms, as well as many individual donors. Rivera raised $140,697.69 between March and August.

Community outreach was a key aspect of Gjonaj’s campaign. On Sundays throughout the summer, he hosted free barbecues for residents of his district. He launched a street-cleaning initiative called “Gjonaj Cares” along 204th Street in the Norwood area of the Bronx and on Lydig Avenue in Morris Park. His Morris Park campaign office opened to the public as a cooling station during the summer, he donated school supplies to the children of the Pelham Parkway Houses development and facilitated the donation of unsold food from local restaurants to shelters.

Gjonaj’s campaign team, dressed in signature yellow shirts, was out in full force in the weeks before the election, handing out pamphlets and talking to community members. Volunteer Troy Coleman said that “the experience was fantastic.” The day of the primaries, he campaigned outside of Tracey Towers, where Gjonaj was active in preventing a rent increase.

Gjonaj promised to work hard for the future of his district. “This means the 80th assembly district will have somebody that represents their best interests,” he said. “I’m going to wake up each with them on my mind and before I lay my head down to sleep. I’m going to think about them and how I serve them.”

Mark Gjonaj stands with his family and supporters after the primary results are announced. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Politics0 Comments

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