Tag Archive | "Bronx"

Espada’s lawyer seeks to quit fraud case

Disgraced former state Sen. Pedro Espada may be left without legal council if court approves his lawyer’s request to quit his case in an upcoming federal trial, reports the New York Daily News.

Espada is facing charges related to an earlier conviction in May, which found he had embezzled $400,000 from Soundview Healthcare Network, a chain of health clinics he founded, to pay for expensive dinners and other personal items.On Nov. 5, he is set to stand trial for related tax fraud  in Manhattan Federal Court.

Daniel Hochheiser, Espada’s lawyer, did not explain why he is seeking to drop his client’s case.


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Bus driver charged with death of 15 drove fatigued

The bus driver charged in a crash that killed 15 tourists on the way back from a casino knew the risks of fatigue but chose to drive sleep deprived anyway, prosecutors said Thursday at the first day of his manslaughter trial, reports the New York Daily News.

Ophadell Williams was driving the bus from a Connecticut casino to Chinatown on March 12, 2011 when he lost control on Interstate 95 as the vehicle entered the Bronx, killing 15 passengers. Prosecutors believe he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the bus as a result.

His defense has said Williams got plenty of rest and was not asleep when the accident occured.

Williams has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

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Waitstaff sues Yankees over tips

Waitstaff at the Yankee Stadium’s exclusive box seats are suing the New York Yankees concession management for tips they believe they are owed, the New York Post reports.

The suit was filed at the Bronx Supreme Court and claims management formerly applied a 20 percent mandatory service charge to each patron’s bill but that tip didn’t go to service workers.The policy allegedly earned the company between $500,000 and $1 million in gratuity and thirty-two current and former workers are seeking compensation.

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Ex-detective on trial for running over Bronx grandma

A witness in the case of a former police detective accused in a off-duty drunk driving accident that killed a 67-year-old Bronx woman told court on Monday the accused slured his speech and smelled of alcohol, reports the New York Daily News.

Kevin Spellman struck and killed Drane Nikac, a Kingsbridge resident and grandmother of nine, as she crossed the street with a shopping cart in October 2009.

Sgt. Brian Lopez testified at the pre-trial hearing that the accused was unsteady on his feet and initially thought he had hit a man.

Pre-trial proceedings continue today.



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Bronx Court Officers Honored for Stopping Gunfight near Yankee Stadium

Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz, Jr., center, praised court officers for heroic acts beyond their daily duties, including stopping a vendor gunfight in late August.


It was lunchtime on a sunny day outside Yankee Stadium  last month.

Bronx Supreme Court Officer Raymond Mercado had just picked up his Spanish takeout meal when he heard the piercing pops of gunfire and watched a crowd of people fleeing in panic.

 “Everyone was running away from the gunshots,” said Mercado, 42. “I was just looking for the shooter.”

He was one of six court officers who rushed to the scene Aug. 23 after an angry vendor opened fire on the busy corner of 161st Street and Gerard Avenue. Mercado picked up the revolver the shooter had flung on the sidewalk while his fellow officers chased down the suspect. “We did what we were supposed to do. We acted on our training and we acted as a team.”

On Thursday afternoon, Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz Jr. honored the court officers for their acts of heroism in a small ceremony inside Diaz’s office in the Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse. Besides Mercado, Diaz gave accolades to Bronx Criminal Court Officers Paul Tammaro, Vincent Allis and Wascar Herrera, and Civil Court Officers Steve Snyder and Katie Dalton.

“You make your job so effortless that we don’t realize that you’re prepared, you’re trained and you  have the heart and the courage really can take charge of the situation,” Diaz told the officers, who stood side by side in a small conference room while proud family members clapped and captured the moment on their cell phones.

Seven family members, mostly siblings, of Officer Katie Dalton, 48, said they were not surprised by their sisters’ bravery.

 “No one messes with Katie,” Dalton’s sister, 46-year-old Jennifer Russell, chimed in.

Court Officer Katie Dalton, 48, hugs her sister Thursday shortly after Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. commended her heroism during an Aug. 23 vendor shooting.

The alleged shooter, 52-year-old water stand vendor Horace Coleman, is accused of firing three to six rounds of ammunition  at a newspaper seller after getting into a big argument with him the day before over a turf war, witnesses told The New York Post.

By the time Dalton made it to the shooter, fellow officers had the suspect pinned down on the street, so she scrambled to help the victims. The shooter hit 60-year-old newspaper vendor Douglas Watkins and 41-year-old Clarence “Clay” Pearson in their torsos. Dalton knelt down by Pearson as officers waited for medical aid.

Dalton recalled Pearson saying, “‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she said. “I  just tried to keep him calm,  just tried to help him out, to make him feel better.”

Pearson died on Aug. 25, and Watkins survived. Coleman, who had sold sunglasses and bottled water, is facing murder charges.

Bronx County Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon commended the court officers for helping prevent the erratic gunfight from escalating further.

“Their commitment doesn’t end or begin at the courthouse steps,” McKeon said. “They truly epitomize the kind of characteristics that we need in officers today. When money is tight, they’re asked to do more.”

Amid budget shortfalls, the New York State Court system has eliminated more than 1,300 positions through layoffs and attrition over the past few years, including court officers from all ranks.

Mercado said he has aided police in a handful of similar scuffles during his eight years in the court’s civil division. He can’t help but feeling a little uneasy these days on his lunch break, and he tries to be extra vigilant as he strolls the crowded thoroughfares near the stadium.

 “It’s a little nerve-racking,” he said. “You don’t feel it while it’s happening; you feel it afterward, and then you start thinking you have a family.”

Mercado’s 5-year-old son, Justin, smiled wide as his dad shook Diaz’s hand and accepted his certificate. If he doesn’t cut it as a singer like Justin Bieber, Justin Mercado wants to become a cop or court officer like his father, Mercado’s wife, Jane, said.

“He looks up to his dad tremendously,” she said. “It’s exciting for him.”

Court Officer Raymond Mercado strives to be a good role model for his 5-year-old son, Justin.

Thursday’s awards ceremony also honored several other court officers for their acts of heroism in two other incidents. On June 19, Capt. Anthony Manzi, Sgt. Ramon Dominguez and court officers Jose Reyes and Carlos Rivera helped catch a man accused of burglarizing several vehicles in the area. Court Officer Angel Ripolls of the criminal division helped save a 1-year-old who was choking on Sept. 3.

“It’s cool for me to know that everyday people who are doing their jobs are here in our borough, and are also our heroes,” Diaz said.

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Cuevas Family Faces Robbery Suspects In Court

The Bronx District Attorney charged three robbery suspects with homicide in the death of bodega worker Reynaldo Cuevas, shot by police as he tried to flee the robbers. SADEF A. KULLY/Bronxink)

The family of the bodega worker shot and killed by a police officer two weeks ago reacted with strong emotions yesterday as they faced in court the three suspects accused of robbing the Morrisania grocery.

Police claim the officer shot 20-year-old Reynaldo Cuevas by accident when Cuevas ran out Natalie Deli and Grocery on the street in the Bronx and collided with Officer Ramysh Bangali.

All three suspects–Orlando Ramos, 31, Ernesto Delgado, 28, and Christopher Dorsey, 17–have been charged not only with robbery but with the murder of Cuevas. All three suspects have pleaded not guilty.

After the first, and the youngest, suspect appeared in court, the Cuevas family left the courtroom and burst into tears, holding each other and crying as Assistant District Attorney Theresa Gottlieb tried to explain the case to them.

One family member was so hysterical that she needed medical attention explained a court officer in the court hallway.

The Assistant District Attorney had no comments on the case and family members did not speak to the press.

The case has stirred some already heated emotions in the community against the New York City Police Department. 

The Cuevas family did not stay behind for Ramos and Delgado’s court appearances. Delgado smiled and winked at his family members who sat in the back of the courtroom.

The suspects were assigned Judge Miriam Best to oversee the trial, and their next court date was scheduled for Oct 26.



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The Long Road to Affordable Senior Housing

When Ynocencia Reynoso, 68, applied for an apartment at the University Heights Senior Housing complex in 2009, she was put on a waiting list with more than 200 other applicants.

Reynoso, a 68-year resident of University Heights, said that an apartment in the building was all she could afford. That’s the case for many elderly people in the area who end up on the waiting list. Many of them just wait, hoping to get in when a tenant moves out or dies. Reynoso had waited for three years when she finally received a phone call for a tenancy placement interview in July.

The University Heights building, classified by the New York City Housing Authority as independent living, provides housing services for people 62 years old or older as well as those with permanent disabilities who cannot afford rent on their own. It is subsidized by the State Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for eligible tenants. For the past 30 years, it has remained the only publicly financed apartment complex for seniors and the disabled in the neighborhood.

“We are fully occupied all the time,” says Janette Fortier, senior manager of the building. “We have a waiting list of three to four years. People are living longer and there is no place to go.”

When Reynoso applied at the age of 65, she was struggling with a back injury from a car accident, a condition that left her unable to work for seven years. Because of her age and disability, she was qualified to live in the building on two fronts. “I did not want to be a burden to my children,” she said.

Although she received federal disability payments, she still needed to take on menial jobs such as babysitting to pay her rent in a single-bedroom apartment she shared with two others. One month after her interview in July, she was offered a one-bedroom studio that had become available a resident senior moved out. She pays $166 a month, approximately 30 percent of her federal disability benefits. “I am very happy now,” she said. “I am going to live here until I die.”

A Real Need
Her story has a happy ending, but hundreds more Bronx residents are still waiting for help. The University Heights building has only 105 apartments – ranging from one-bedroom studios to three-bedroom units. It currently serves 125 tenants (including couples). Out of this number, about 80 percent come from the University Heights area.

According to the 2010 census, the neighborhood has 1,976 seniors more than it had in 2000, representing a 1.5 percent increase. Although the increase remains relatively low, no new low-cost housing has been built for seniors in the area.

In the statement of needs submitted to the Bronx Borough President for the year 2013 on behalf of Bronx Community District 5, District Manager Xavier Rodriguez requested funding for senior housing.

“It is one of the priority areas for this district,” Rodriguez said. “Though young, the population is getting older.”

The University Heights Senior Housing complex, has over 200 eligible seniors on its waiting list. (SELASE KOVE/ The Bronx Ink)

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Goodbye to St. Augustine’s

Up in the attic of St. Augustine’s Church in Morrisania, Danny Torres, 46, looked through papers and files scattered across the floor. Torres, a fine arts teacher at Cardinal Hayes High School and Morrisania native, now lives in Queens, but often visits his mother who still resides a few blocks away in the house were he grew up. “This was the mother church of the South Bronx and this here is history going out the window,” he said, as he picked up a torn marriage certificate from the floor. Among papers that will soon be garbage, Torres rescued the original blueprints of the church, which he plans to frame.

The century-old church is a landmark on Franklin Avenue. The façade of the building is beautiful and inviting, but on the inside, the roof  is falling and the walls are crumbling. After years of attempts to save the church, long time parishioners are saying their final goodbyes. The building is scheduled for demolition this month.

During Mass on Aug. 19, the Rev. Thomas Fenlon invited parishioners who now attend services a mile west at Our Lady of Victory to go into St. Augustine’s for the last time and take any remaining items to sell or to keep.


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Among those who accepted that invitation was Brother Giles Naedler. “For me it’s been more like a wake,” he said. “And then when it’s gone it will be the funeral.” Naedler, 63, is the director of religious education at the parish and has worked with St. Augustine’s since he first arrived in the South Bronx in 1976.

“We at St. Augustine’s are troopers,” said Denise Wong, 58, as she decorated the aisle of Our Lady of Victory with white plastic bows for an afternoon wedding. Wong is strongly attached to the church where she was baptized and got married; she describes the St. Augustine’s congregation as an anchor for the community and hopes that it will be just as strong in Our Lady of Victory.

Mass has not been held inside St. Augustine’s since 2009 when pieces of the ceiling began to fall, and it was no longer safe to use the premises. Fenlon, 78, who is the head of St. Augustine’s and Our Lady of Victory, has accepted the loss of the church and says that it is time to move on. “It’s just not worth keeping, the repairs would cost close to $6 million,” he said. The land’s estimated value is set between $3.2 and $4.6 million. According to Fenlon, the demolition will cost about  $3 million.

Marva Crocker, 73, a retired schoolteacher who has been attending mass at St. Augustine’s for over 40 years, says that even though she and her fellow parishioners have been working to keep the church open for some time, the final decision to tear down the building came as a shock. “It was a low blow,” she said. “We had no idea it was really going to come to this.”

Leaving St. Augustine’s has been hard on some of the longtime attendees. Crocker explains that getting used to a new church, with different traditions and different people, has taken time. But, she said, church is about community.  “And as our father always says, ‘The building is not the church; we are the church.’”


Correction: A previous version of the story implied Danny Torres taught high school in Queens. Torres lives in Queens but teaches at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. 

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Culture, Rituals, Slideshows, Southern BronxComments (1)

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