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New Landlord for Troubled Building but Tenants Are Skeptical

A week after residents of 2710 Bainbridge Ave. announced that they were filing a lawsuit against their landlord because the building was falling apart, signs of improvement could be seen throughout the structure. The changes came about after Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. -- previously owned and run by Frank Palazzolo -- was bought Thursday by another company,  Damberly Realty Services, said city and Damberly officials as well as tenants. The sale took place the same day as several news articles about the conditions of the building and the lawsuit.

“It seems that we are finally being heard, but we needed a courtroom and the help of the media to achieve that,” said Trina Guzman, who lives on the second floor of the Fordham building.

2710 Bainbridge Av.

The building was listed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as one of the 200 worst maintained in the city.

On Friday, the two front doors, which tenants said had been broken and without locks for years despite  repeated  complaints, were being replaced. For the first time in almost a year, tenants said, they received official rent statements in their mailboxes. “Before that,” said Cruz Maria Renvill, the daughter of a couple that has been living in the building for 27 years, “the management would simply send someone randomly every month to collect rent.”

Among other fixes that tenants pointed out to the Bronx Ink were new waterproofing on the roof,  repaired walls and ceilings that had been  collapsing and replaced water pipes and radiator valves.

“We are fixing the most urgent problems first,'' said Omar Quintana, who works for Damberly Realty and supervises the repairs of the entire building at 2710 Bainbridge Ave. The building, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has more than 200 violations. "We have work for more than six months here," Quintana said.

A year ago, the building was listed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as one of the 200 worst maintained in the city. Palazzolo was listed by The Village Voice as one of the 10 worst landlords in the city.

Sean Curoy, who heads the new management company, went to the building to introduce himself to the tenants on Friday and reassure them.  “We pay our superintendents to do a job,” Curoy said to a Bronx Ink reporter. “If they don’t do it, they don’t keep their job. It’s as simple as that.”

Although the news was received among the residents as an encouraging sign of improvement, many remained skeptical. “Since I moved in three ago, I received more than five letters telling me a new management was to take care of the building,” said fifth-floor tenant Edgar Sandoval. “I never saw a difference.”

This skepticism was also shared by Garrett Wright, staff attorney at Urban Justice Center, which is representing the city in the lawsuit against Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. "The fact that it's a new person running the management company doesn't change a thing,'' he said. "If on May 12, which is when the first court appearance is to take place, the judge decides there are still too many violations, the building will still be taken off Semper Fi's hands."

The fact that the work had already started was not enough to reassure some residents. “I believe it when I see it,” declared Enriqueta Garzon, also one of the fifth-floor residents. She pointed at two men fixing the entrance doors and added: “Today, they are removing the doors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow they didn’t come back and they left it all like this, without installing new ones.”

Interviews with several residents echoed this sentiment. Toneisha McFadden, who moved into the building six months ago, said she hasn’t been able to cook once in her apartment. “We had a gas leak, and after weeks of complaining about it, they finally came and fixed it,’’ she said. “But they left without connecting us to the gas line and we still haven’t got a meter! They just never came back!”

Two years ago, when workers were sent to repair the leaking ceiling in the Revills’ bathroom, they left all the repairs showing, said Theodora Revills who has been living in the building for 23 years. “It looks terrible, but at least we don’t need an umbrella anymore when we use the toilet,” she said with a grin.

In the stairwells, all of windows are stuck, making it impossible to open or close them; the glass is cracked and the frames are covered in mold. As Enriqueta Garzon climbed the stairs to show her fifth-floor apartment to a reporter, where the ceiling is cracked and leaks whenever it rains, her foot hit a syringe that had been left on the floor next to the wrapping plastic it came in. “We’ve seen everything here; I even found condoms once!” she said, explaining that the presence of the unwanted visitors was a result of the broken front door: “Anyone can come and go as they please, I don’t feel secure at all,” she said.

But the worst, tenants said, is that during last winter, the heating system broke down and wasn’t repaired until the last week of December. “No heat, no hot water; we bought several electrical radiators, but with the winter we had, it just wasn’t enough,” said Theodora Renvill. Her husband, Crucito, continued: “The hot water disappears very often, so we are used to simply boil up two saucepans and washing ourselves like that.”

Edgar Sandoval said he was dealing with a whole other set of problems. His bathtub is blocked, and every time he takes a shower, he has to take out the water with buckets and throw it in the toilet. All this in a bathroom where the faucet doesn’t run and where no light has ever been installed. He said he called the city’s information hotline, 311, hundreds of times, but the HPD "couldn’t do anything because the landlord refused them access to the building.”

These are only some of the complaints residents cited last week. Others include rats running around, mold, holes in the ceiling and in the floor, broken windows, destroyed intercoms, leaky faucets and unlighted hallways.

Frank Palazzolo, the previous landlord, could not be reached for comment.

Curoy, also owner of six other buildings in the Bronx, told the residents that “workers [would] be there every day until the building is finished.” As soon as he heard that, Fidias Gonzalez, from the fifth floor, said: “It’s about time! There’s human beings living in here, too. Not just the rats!”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Health, Housing, North Central Bronx0 Comments

Progress in DNA Testing Leads to Indictment in 30-Year-Old Murder

After almost 30 years, the skin cells found under Tolila Brown's fingernails finally led the police to the man they think killed her. On Nov. 2, 1981, Brown, who was then 36 years old, was found dead in a shack on an abandoned lot along Minford Place in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. She was found with a scarf around her neck, which was used to strangle her. The scarf had been tightened with a chisel.

Fight Of His Life

Close to 95 % of cases supported by DNA evidence end in a guilty verdict, experts say. (AP)

A yearlong investigation failed to unearth any leads on the case, and it was abandoned. Nearly three decades later, however, samples of skin cells found under the victim’s fingernails were subjected to DNA testing, and a suspect was identified: 56-year old Jesus Aguilera. On Wednesday, the Bronx State Supreme Court unsealed an indictment against him with a single count for murder in the second degree.

Police Sgt. Carlos Nieves of the New York Police Department told the Bronx Ink that Aguilera is already serving two sentences of 20 years to life for the murders of Guillermo Graniella, 30, and Josephina Cepada, 24, committed in August and September 1981, respectively. Graniella's murder took place on Park Avenue in the Bronx, Cepada's on State Street in Manhattan. “Similar to Moore,” Nieves noted, “both Graniella and Cepada died from strangulation.”

The new technology provides the strongest evidence in many prosecutions, experts say.

“For juries, it is definitely the most important piece of the puzzle; DNA is considered the gold standard of evidence," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic sciences and chairman of the Department of Sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Kobilinsky added that close to 95 percent of the cases that involve DNA evidence end with a guilty verdict.

DNA testing was first used in criminal cases in the 1990s, and “it was a revolution for investigations because it is much more stable than proteins or carbohydrates; those degraded very fast,” Kobilinsky went on. Since then, “progress in testing technologies, in computer technologies and the expansion of the DNA database have made it extremely reliable and sensitive.” Kobilinsky, who is also the co-author of the book "DNA: Forensic and Legal Applications," explained that “until four or five years ago, skin cells could only be analyzed if at least 15 cells were collected. But now, a new technique called 'low copy number' allows analysts to get information from smaller samples.”

Located in the nucleus of the cell, DNA can be found in samples from blood, semen, bones, saliva, hair, nails and skin cells. As of January of this year, the National DNA Index (NDIS) contains more than 8 million profiles, from convicted offenders to unidentified human remains. The U.S. Department of Justice says that since the NDIS was created in 1989, it “added value to the investigative process” in 103,400 cases. In the state of New York, the 330,390 profiles have helped solve 9,164 investigations.

Still, although accuracy and sensitivity has improved in the past decade, DNA testing is not automatically used in criminal cases. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis by the presiding prosecutor or detective. “New York City has a team of over 180 analysts working on DNA samples from sexual abuse and homicide cases,” Kobilinsky said. “Most jurisdictions don’t have this kind of human resources but still, it isn’t enough to have every criminal investigation include a DNA test.”

Kobilinsky estimates that for a simple case, the cost of analyzing a DNA sample is under $400. “In private laboratories, the cost can be higher, but in publicly funded forensic crime labs, it remains rather cheap,” he said. Cheap in money, maybe, but not in time: According to a survey issued in 2005 by the National Bureau of Justice Statistics, DNA analyses are “10 times more time consuming and complex than other forensic services.”

There are more reasons why DNA should not be looked at as a definitive end to crime investigations, experts said.

“DNA evidence is like any other evidence," said David H. Kaye, a law professor at Penn State. "Once you’ve collected it and matched it with a person, it doesn’t answer every question. You have to find out how and when those DNA samples got there. DNA associates a person with an event, but the explanation for that association could prove him/her innocent."

Jesus Aguilera pleaded not guilty in this third prosecution, even though he confessed to his two prior convictions, according to Rachel Singer, director of DNA prosecution and the assistant district attorney in Aguilera’s trial.

For this new homicide charge, Aguilera faces up to 25 years behind the bars.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime0 Comments

African-American Group Defends Governor

As the political storm clouds grew more  intense over Gov. David Paterson on Thursday, a small group of African-American law enforcement officers gathered to defend him. Michael Greys, co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a group of court and police officers, was one of 10 members who stood outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office building in Harlem. “All that has been said until now are pure allegations,” he said. “Nothing has been proven, so asking for his resignation is simply premature and unfair.” The organization decided to  publicly defend Paterson who has faced mounting allegations after The New York Times reported that he intervened in a domestic abuse case involving a top aide. A few days later a state ethics panel accused the governor of lying about accepting free tickets to a World Series game. "After more than 25 years of public service without a stain, all this sudden scrutiny, we just think it’s suspicious and outrageous," Greys said. Greys did not assign blame to any specific faction or individual for the controversy surrounding Paterson but said: "Some people want the state budget to go the way they want it to go. But we are not here to make allegations ourselves. All we are saying is that we should let the objective investigation follow its course and examine the facts." He added, "If by any chance these accusations turn out to be right, then we'd understand his being asked to step down.” Last Friday, Paterson said he would not run for re-election because the accusations surrounding him were too much of a distraction from his mission to right the finances of New York State. “If he also wants to resign, based on these accusations, it’s his right, it’s his decision to make," Greys said. "But it should not be forced on him.” Noel Leader, another member of the organization, said that the members “don’t necessarily support Paterson” but that they support “the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” The members of the 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care  say the accusations  against Paterson don't have to do with race. “If it’s a trap, it has to do with state politics, but all we are saying is that we don’t know anything yet and he shouldn’t be asked to resign!” Greys insisted. “Would you resign on mere allegations? No! Me Neither! Nobody would! And nobody should!”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Severe Snow Storm Blankets Bronx

Hazardous road conditions greeted morning commuters on Broadway at 242nd Street (Photo: Yasmine Guerda)

Hazardous road conditions greeted morning commuters on Broadway at 242nd Street (Photo by Yasmine Guerda)

Twelve to 18 inches of snow is expected to blanket the Bronx today. Schools are closed, subway and bus service is delayed, power is out in some neighborhoods, driving conditions are dangerous, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. postponed his first State of the Borough address. Power outages have been occurring throughout the city, but according to Con Ed, the Bronx wasn't severely affected. Seven houses have lost electricity service this morning; in Valentine Street, Terrace View Street, Fteley Avenue, 150th Street, Clay Avenue and Locust Avenue. Con Ed says power should be back to those homes in the next few hours. For the second time this month, Mayor Bloomberg closed all public schools in New York City. According to the Bronx director’s office at the Department of Education, “all public high, middle and elementary schools are closed in the Bronx until further notice.” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. was scheduled to give his first State of the Borough speech at Evander Childs High School this morning, but his office says it “has been postponed due to the city’s decision to keep schools closed” and will be rescheduled “at a date to be determined.” CUNY and Fordham University also canceled all classes. Many private schools also declared snow days including Aquinas High School, All Hallows High, which will remained closed until Monday, and Immaculate Conception, on Gun Hill Road, where officials said the school will be closed “hopefully only until Monday, but maybe longer if the storm makes it impossible to clear the paths by then.” For more information, visit your school’s Web site. Train and bus service is running, but the MTA is implementing a “cold weather service plan” with delays expected on the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, E, Z, F, G, and N trains. F may be interrupted entirely and Bronx-bound 4 trains are running especially slow because of signal problems at the 167th Street and Fordham Road stations. According to the MTA Web site, "Buses across the region are experiencing snow related delays due to street conditions." Parking regulations are suspended and the city recommends that people leave their cars and use public transportation. Alternate side of the street parking will be back in effect over the weekend. No bridges or tunnels leading to the Bronx are closed, but traffic conditions on Kings Bridge are classified “red” by the Department of Transportation. According to the 50th Precinct of the Police Department, traffic is normal today on and around Gouverneur Avenue, but several streets were blocked Thursday afternoon after an oak tree on Van Cortlandt Park South, fell across the road and smashed two cars. Some services are on schedule in spite of the snow. Mail is being delivered as usual in the borough and all Bronx courts are open today. The National Weather Service says "an intense storm will drift across the tri-state area through tonight." They have issued a "major winter storm warning" for all five boroughs and Westchester County that will remain in effect until 6 a.m. on Saturday.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Center Receives $200,000 to Fight Obesity and Hunger

When she received the call yesterday afternoon, Aida Martinez couldn’t believe her own ears. State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. was calling the Davidson Community Center chairwoman in person, to announce that a $200,000 grant would be delivered this week to improve nutrition conditions in the Bronx. Excellent news for a borough that was recently ranked as the least healthy county in the state.

Espada speech

Senator Pedro Espada Jr., made a speech on the necessity to change nutrition habits in the borough. (Photo by: Yasmine Guerda)

“We pay now with money, or we pay later with diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases,” the senator said in front of a crowd of 50 people from the neighborhood.

As the founder of the Soundview Health Network, Senator Espada says he has been aware of the health problems in the Bronx for several years. “We know the challenge," he said. "The Bronx is the obesity capital of America, the asthma capital of America, and many other titles that we don’t want anymore.”

The Davidson Community Center had been applying for a grant for five years. “We haven’t worked out all the specifics yet, but what we know so far is that we are going to use the money to buy a van so we can distribute food in various places, like senior residences, health centers and schools,” said Angel Caballero, executive director of the community center.

The money will be used to distribute free fruits and vegetables to residents in need but, more importantly, to organize healthy nutrition workshops. “We want to show people that they can keep eating what they eat but that with slightly different methods of cooking, it can be better for their health,” Martinez said. The workshops will be organized weekly, in Spanish and in English, and will include ethnic recipes, “so nobody is excluded,” she said.

Feat_Espada

The money will be used by the community center to distribute free food and to teach Bronx residents how to eat healthily. (Photo by: Yasmine Guerda)

According to a survey released at the beginning of this month, the 16th Congressional District in the Bronx , encompassing several South Bronx neighborhoods, has the highest hunger rate of the United State.  In the survey, 36 percent of the residents  said they did not have enough money to buy food in the last year.

“The situation has been getting worse and worse lately,” Martinez said. She explained that the group used to be able to put together three food distributions per week; but last year, because of the recession, it barely made it once a week. “Last week, we received two bags of potatoes, two bags of onions and a box of apples. What can we do with that?” she said. This scarcity  made residents lose faith in the community center, she said.

While in previous years the center was able to serve more than 300 families a week, fewer than 50 families a week received free food in the last couple of months. “And it’s really hard, you know, to have people come ask for food and not be able to give them any,” Martinez said.

She claimed that the $200,000 could potentially benefit close to 10,000 people in one year, depending on their needs. "We are confident that this initiative is also going to encourage business owners  to give us more food as well and participate in this effort to create a healthier Bronx,” said Angel Caballero, of the community center. “It’s about creating a positive dynamic in the neighborhood, and this money is going to help us do that. We gotta stick together!”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food2 Comments

VIDEO – Romantic Bronx

For Valentine's Day, couples in the Bronx have their own special ways to celebrate.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments