Author Archives | haw2123

Bronx Men Arrested With 1,925 Cartons of Untaxed Cigarettes

Today, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance announced the arrest of four men who were accused of possessing 1,925 cartons of untaxed cigarettes and more than 36,800 counterfeit tax stamps. Counterfeit tax stamps are used to disguise untaxed cigarettes, which can then be sold for full price in stores at a higher profit margin.

The cigarettes and tax stamps were found by Tax Department investigators during searches of an apartment, two vehicles and a rented garage. Three of the men who were arrested; Khader Awawdeh, Hakim Al-Saydi, and Dhafer Ghaleb, were charged with first degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, attempt to evade tax, possession of counterfeit stamps and unlawful possession of untaxed cigarettes. The fourth man, Fahmi Hassan, was charged with first degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. Awawdeh, Al-Saydi, Hassan, and Ghaleb are next due to appear in court on June 17.

Brad Maione, a spokesman for the Department of Taxation and Finance, said, “The presumption was that they would probably attempt to sell them at some point, but we were able to interdict them and prevent that sale.” Maione said the men “likely” got the cigarettes from an Indian reservation upstate or on Long Island. Maione said reservations are “a significant source of untaxed cigarettes.”

Maione wouldn’t disclose how the stash of illegal smokes was discovered, but he did say that Tax Department agents do “regular surveillance around the Indian reservations in Long Island and upstate New York” to identify individuals who are “buying hundreds of cartons.”

No one picked up the phone at the addresses of Awadeh, Al-Saydi and Hassan. Ghaleb’s home address is a store called Grocery Westchester, at 1781 Westchester Ave. in the Bronx. A man who answered the phone at Grocery Westchester hung up when asked about the arrests.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Crime0 Comments

Pedro Espada and Son Respond to Attorney General’s Latest Lawsuit

Sen. Pedro Espada gives a thumbs up while posing next to his son Pedro G. Espada. (Photo:

Sen. Pedro Espada gives a thumbs up while posing next to his son, Pedro G. Espada. (Photo:

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed another lawsuit against state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada and his son, Pedro G. Espada, charging them with “creating a sham job training program that cheated workers and shortchanged state coffers.” This lawsuit is the second filed against the elder Espada by the attorney general in just over a week. On April 20, Cuomo charged Espada with using a Bronx-based non-profit health care company as his own “personal piggybank.” Espada responded to Cuomo’s latest attack against him by challenging the attorney general to a debate.

Cuomo’s suit accuses the Espadas of using a for-profit management company to “siphon” taxpayer money from the Soundview health clinic. Soundview awarded Espada Management Co., which is run by Pedro G. Espada, a nearly $400,000 annual contract to do janitorial work. According to Cuomo, workers from Espada Management Co. were “mischaracterized … as trainees” and “paid a fraction of the wages mandated by law.” Cuomo said some of the janitors employed by Espada Management Co. made “less than $70 per week, or the equivalent of under $1.70 per hour.” The attorney general said this arrangement allowed the Espadas to “minimize costs and maximize profits at Espada Management.”

Thursday afternoon, Senator Espada posted a status update to his Facebook page inviting Cuomo to “debate his baseless allegations at any forum.”

Pedro G. Espada also took to Facebook Thursday to discuss the attorney general’s suit. The younger Espada posted an update of his own this afternoon saying that he “just gave my first and only interview to NY 1.” Soon after, when someone posted a comment asking what was said in the interview, Pedro G. Espada wrote that he told the television station, “The truth and nothing but the truth so help me GOD.” As of this writing, both Espadas and the attorney general’s office have not responded to requests to comment on this story.

On Thursday afternoon at the Soundview Health Center on White Plains Road, children gathered for an anti-obesity event where they displayed mounds of sugar and dramatically poured out hundreds of soda cans.

“This is heartbreaking,” cried a tall sixth-grader clutching a can of orange soda. “They told us not to open it, but I really want to drink one,” said another.

The youngsters’ reluctance to pour the soft drinks into a storm drain in the clinic’s parking lot mirrored the hesitation of the adults to comment on the Espada scandal.

Inside, the waiting room was packed with patients. David Collymore, medical director of the Soundview Healthcare Network, sat in his small office surrounded by papers. On the wall hung a plaque from Senator Espada honoring Collymore for his dedication to quality health care for the local community. Collymore said the day’s anti-obesity event was “a clear indication that we will not let the negative press of the past week prevent the hospital or its staff from serving its patients.” When asked if he thought Espada’s business practices were draining resources from the Soundview health programs, Collymore said, “absolutely not.”

Additional reporting by Astrid Baez.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Health, Politics0 Comments

For Pedro Espada, Accusations Swirl as Patients Wait and Watch

In the days since the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit charging State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr. with using a Bronx healthcare organization as his own “personal piggybank,” the senator’s son defended their family as details emerged about Espada’s expensive sushi habit and accusations that the senator doesn’t live in the Bronx district he supposedly represents.

See what patients at one of the Soundview clinics had to say:

Attorney general Andrew Cuomo’s lawsuit charges Espada with “siphoning” $14 million from Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, also known as “Soundview,” a company that provides low cost health care services to patients in the Bronx from five locations. Espada founded the company in 1978. He is currently Soundview’s president and chief executive officer.

Nineteen current and former Soundview employees are also named in the lawsuit including seven of Espada’s family members. Cuomo’s lawsuit alleges Espada and his relatives received vacations and lavish compensation packages through Soundview. The senator’s contract with the company included a $9 million severance bonus. Espada is also accused of using his corporate credit card for campaign expenses and personal expenses including $20,000 bills at two sushi restaurants.

Espada was elected to represent the 33rd District in 2008. In order to serve in the Senate, he is required to live within the district. Espada’s benefits at Soundview included $2,500 monthly housing allowance for a co-op apartment at 325 E 201st St. in the Bronx. During the two years Espada has maintained his apartment in Bedford Park, various residents of the building have spoken to news outlets claiming he does not live there. In the past, Espada’s response to these allegations has been that he divides his time between his home in the Bronx and his office in Albany.

Espada is also listed in the public phone directory as a resident of 115 Beechwood Road, a leafy cul-de-sac in Mamaroneck, with his wife, Connie, and their children. The home is located near the two sushi restaurants, Toyo Sushi and Red Plum, where Espada allegedly used his Soundview credit card to purchase meals. Peter Chen, the owner of both restaurants, said the Espadas visited Red Plum “probably once a week” and ordered takeout from Toyo Sushi “three or four times a month.” Though he said he couldn’t recall if they had a favorite dish, Chen said the Espadas were “average tippers.”

In 2004, Sandra Love and three other Soundview officials plead guilty to charges that they diverted money from Soundview to Espada’s political campaign. Espada and Love were previously acquitted on similar charges in 2000. According to Cuomo’s lawsuit, all four Soundview staffers who were convicted of criminal charges were retained by the company and two of them were named to the company’s Compliance Committee. Love’s son, Jerry Love Jr., was hired by Espada in 2009. Love Jr. is named in the current lawsuit.

Records show that the senator’s political action committee, Espada for the People, paid $1,265.82 to Soundview in December 2007. The senator did not respond to messages left at his offices in Albany and East Fordham Road as well as calls made to his addresses in the Bronx and Mamaroneck asking for an explanation of these charges to Soundview and the attorney general’s allegations of misconduct. An intern at Espada’s Bainbridge office said he had “no idea” where the senator was and that he last saw him in Bainbridge “a couple weeks ago.”

But Espada did appear on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” show on Thursday to defend himself against the charges. He said there was no intention for him to receive the $9 million severance bonus and that the case was “politically motivated.” Espada stated he has no plans to resign from the senate while he fights the lawsuit. On Friday morning, he continued his counter attack on “This is a witch hunt by the prince of darkness himself,” he said, referring to Cuomo.

Lourdes Espada, the senator’s daughter-in-law, is also named in the attorney general’s suit although her husband, Pedro Gautier Espada, is not named. One of the allegations against the senator is that Soundview awarded a $400,000 yearly janitorial contract to a management company run by his son. On Wednesday night, Gautier Espada posted a message on his Facebook profile that said: “Who ever thinks that the liberties and freedoms we enjoy as Americans are free has never paid and must walk through life with blinders on. The truth is, those principles that our union uses as it’s foundation are very expensive. They have been paid for in blood. sacrifice, sweat and tears. Today I keep my head up knowing that someway I have paid a small price in maintaining the very principles of our existence.”

The note has since been deleted. Gautier Espada has not responded by e-mail requests seeking further comment on this story.

*The 33rd District includes the neighborhoods of Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights, Bedford Park, Van Cortlandt Village, University Heights, Fordham, Tremont, East Tremont, Norwood and Mount Hope.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Health, Multimedia, Politics3 Comments

Major Heroin Bust in Bronx Called a Sign of a Growing Problem

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

On Thursday, four men were arrested and approximately $1 million worth of heroin was seized after an investigation by the New York Police Department’s Bronx Narcotics Major Case Squad and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office culminated with a raid on an apartment in Parkchester. People with knowledge of the case said the bust was indicative of an increasing number of wholesale heroin operations in the Bronx.

Authorities said Apartment 1L in the building at 2112 Starling Ave. was used as a heroin mill, where the drug was packaged and processed before being distributed to a variety of dealers. Heroin packaged at the apartment was placed in glassine envelopes, which according to a press release issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration, were stamped with the brand names “Almighty,” “Heat Wave,” “Maserati” and “Body Bag.”

The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Arrested in conjunction with the raid were four men, including 28-year-old Luis Lara, who was described by the DEA as, “a manager of the drug trafficking organization.” Lara was observed, according to the press release, “traveling to both JFK Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport on Sunday and then returning to The Bronx.” Law enforcement officials also said they arrested 28-year-old Jose Polo, who was stopped leaving the apartment with a backpack containing 3,000 glassines of heroin, and two other men who worked at the Parkchester mill. In total, the DEA said the search of the apartment uncovered seven kilos of heroin prepackaged in 50,000 envelopes along with “cardboard boxes of empty glassines, scales and coffee grinders used for cutting the heroin” and “other paraphernalia.”

A source with knowledge of this investigation described heroin mills as a growing problem in the Bronx. Officials said this was a large drug operation, but that there have been at least four major raids on heroin mills in the Bronx since last July, including seizures more than twice the size of this latest bust. New York City special narcotics prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan released a statement  that said the bust was “one of many significant heroin seizures in the city over the past nine months.” Brennan’s statement cited  a case last July when police officers found a quarter of a million envelopes of the drug, five times as many as were seized in Thursday’s raid.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx1 Comment

Joseph Yancey Track and Field Set to Open Friday

Map showing the location of Yancey Field next to Yankee Stadium and the planned Heritage Field. Photo: Courtesy of the Parks Department

Map showing the location of Yancey Field next to Yankee Stadium and the planned Heritage Field. Photo: Courtesy of the Parks Department

City officials and the family of a New York sports legend will gather Friday at the opening ceremony for the new Joseph Yancey Track and Field in the Bronx. The facility replaces an older park of the same name that was closed as part of the construction of the new Yankee Stadium.

Joseph Yancey Track and Field is a $35 million facility that, according to a press release sent out today by the Parks Department, includes, “a 400-meter competition-quality track, eight handball courts, four basketball courts, a soccer/football field with grandstand seating, landscaping, adult fitness equipment, passive recreational space, a comfort station and shaded picnic tables.” The field was built on the rooftop of the Ruppert Plaza Parking Garage in Macombs Dam Park adjacent to the new Yankee Stadium.

Yancey Field is part of the $195 million Yankee Park Replacement Program, the effort to replace the 22 acres of parkland eliminated during the demolition of Yankee Stadium. Delays in the program have caused controversy among area residents and activists. In a telephone interview, Jose Rodriguez, district manager for Community Board 4, said: “There’s definitely been some delay in the construction of the new parks. Folks are frustrated.” Despite these delays, Rodriguez said, “At the end of the day, I think folks will be happy, we’re extremely happy here at Community Board 4. … It will be the best competition track and field in the city.”

This afternoon, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, which oversees the Yankee Park Replacement Program along with the Empire Development Corp., said: “We’re happy to open the park, we’re looking forward to the ribbon cutting tomorrow. … And we look forward to bringing the rest of the parks online.” The elements of the park replacement program that have yet to be completed are two lots on River Avenue slated to contain a skate park and children’s play area, and the three baseball fields that will be built on the grounds of old Yankee Stadium. A parks department spokesperson said construction on the River Avenue parks will be completed in June. Work on the new ballfields, which will collectively be called Heritage Field, is scheduled to begin once demolition on the old stadium site is finished in June. Heritage Field is due to be completed by fall 2011.

The ceremony Friday will be attended by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and family members of the field’s namesake, Joseph James Yancey Jr. Yancey co-founded America’s first interracial track team, the Pioneers Track and Field Club, in 1936. Yancey’s granddaughter, Yvonne Floyd-Mayers, said the Pioneers Club often practiced in Macombs Dam Park. Many Olympic athletes got their start with Yancey’s team. In addition to his work with the Pioneers Club, Yancey also coached the Jamaican Olympic team and served with the “Harlem Hellfighters” 369th Infantry Regiment. In 1984, Yancey was inducted to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He died in 1991.

Yancey never lived to see the park that bears his name, but Floyd-Mayers said she thinks “he would be thrilled” with it. Floyd-Mayers said three of Yancey’s six grandchildren and two of his great grandchildren will be at Friday’s ceremony along with other members of his extended family.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern Bronx, Sports0 Comments

Tribeca Coyote Will Be Taken to an Undisclosed Location

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

On Thursday, the Bronx Ink reported that city officials were considering releasing a wild coyote captured in Tribeca in Van Cortlandt Park. Today, we learned that the coyote’s final destination will be kept secret.

Officers with the New York City Emergency Services Unit caught the coyote on Thursday after shooting it with a tranquilizer dart in a parking lot on Watts Street and the West Side Highway. As of Friday morning, the coyote was being held at the New York City Animal Shelter on East 110th Street. According to the Health Department, the coyote was observed overnight and “was found to come out of tranquilization safely and appears healthy.”

The Health Department said the Parks Department is now working with New York Animal Care and Control “to release the animal in a city park that possesses a more suitable natural habitat for the coyote.” Though Van Cortlandt Park was considered as a possible home for the coyote, the Health Department said, “to avoid stressing the coyote, and disturbing its relocation process, we will not be releasing the name of the site where it will be relocated.”

This coyote might not be moving to the park, but the Bronx already has several of the animals in residence. Wild coyotes have been known to frequent both Van Cortlandt Park and nearby Woodlawn Cemetery.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Northwest Bronx2 Comments

Tribeca Coyote May Find New Home in the Bronx

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A statue of "Major the Coyote" stands by the southwestern entrance of Van Cortlandt Park. Photo: Ashley Harris/The Bronx Ink

A wild coyote captured by the New York Police Department might be on its way to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. On Thursday morning, police officers working with the Emergency Services Unit caught the coyote in a parking lot at the corner of Watts Street and the West Side Highway. The animal was tranquilized, placed in a pet carrier, and transported to the New York City Animal Shelter on East 110th Street where it is still in custody.

Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, a parks department spokesperson said they were in the process of determining if, where and when the coyote would be released. The 30-pound female coyote was first spotted downtown on Wednesday.

One of the potential destinations being considered for the coyote is Van Cortlandt Park, one of the only places in New York City with an established coyote population. Several wild coyotes already make their home in the park and the city has previously released other captured coyotes there. In 1998, a statue was erected by one of the park’s entrances in honor of, “the first confirmed coyote sighting in New York City since 1946.” That coyote, a female nicknamed Major, died on the nearby Major Deegan Expressway in February, 1995.

Coyotes are rarely found elsewhere in the five boroughs, but recently, the animals have been making an increasing number of appearances inside the city limits. In February, three coyotes were spotted on the Columbia University campus in Manhattan.

According to a 2006 report from Professor Emeritus Robert E. Chambers of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, coyotes have “been present in New York state at least since 1920” as they “extended their range eastward after wolves became extinct in the eastern U.S. and southern portions of Canada.” At the time Chambers said there were “between 20,000 and 30,000” coyotes living in New York.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Northwest Bronx2 Comments

Marchers Oppose Cuts to Education Spending

Hundreds of students and other protesters gathered this afternoon opposite the Midtown offices of Gov. David Paterson to protest against an array of state education policies which, according to activists, have cut spending on CUNY and SUNY by a greater proportion than any other state agency in New York. The rally concluded a daylong series of protests that included an event at Lehman College in the Bronx.

“Education is a right. Fight, fight, fight,” chanted the crowd as they listened to speeches from students and representatives from organizations fighting to defend the right to free education. Today’s protests also included walkouts at Hunter College, NYU, and the New School, while other rallies took place at City Hall, Queens College, CCNY, the CUNY graduate center, and Lehman College.

Protesters gather opposite Governor Paterson's offices in Manhattan. (Ian Thomson / The Bronx Ink)

Protesters rallied against budget cuts in education. (Ian Thomson / The Bronx Ink)

Activists’ Web sites said they are demonstrating against CUNY tuition hikes, the elimination of free student Metrocards, mayoral control of the board of education, and the privatization of public schools. A loose coalition of political groups sponsored the protests including the CUNY Professional Staff Congress Union and groups at NYU and the New School that were responsible for the occupation of school buildings last year.

A blog created to promote the protests listed the diverse interests of the participants apart from supporting public education: “Money for… Hospitals, Housing and Jobs, No Budget Cuts, No Layoffs, No CUNY Tuition, No More Money for War, No Money for the Military Occupation of Haiti, No More Money for Corporate America!”

Paterson’s education policies have been sharply criticized in recent months. At the beginning of this school year, CUNY tuition went up $295 per semester. In October of last year, the state legislature rejected Paterson’s proposal to cut $686 million in state school aid. At the end of 2009, the governor withheld $190 million in state payments from the public school system, about $84 million of which was due to New York City schools. Paterson has said these drastic measures were necessary to keep the state from insolvency.

Matt Anderson, a spokesman from the governor’s budget office, said that the proposed cuts were ” a difficult choice in terms of closing the budget deficit,” which he said was now approaching $9 billion. He said that reductions were being made across every area and not being targeted solely at education.

“What we’re proposing is to provide flexibility to SUNY and CUNY to provide more rational tuition increases based on inflation,” Anderson said. He said the proposed system would prevent students from facing tuition hikes during fiscal crises when the state needs to close the budget shortfall.

Additional reporting by Ian Thomson

Posted in Bronx Beats, Education0 Comments

Page 1 of 212