Timelines: June 28, 2012

Rockland Must Move on After Bailout Fails in Senate
Rockland County’s proposal to the New York State Senate for a debt bill allowing them to borrow up to $80 million failed on Thursday, June 21. The State Assembly approved the legislation but the proposal required approval from both houses in order to move up to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk for final approval.

The county has no other choice but to move on for now without the help of the state. So far financial institutions have bought $35 million in county-issued revenue-anticipation notes, this is money the county desperately needs in order to pay its bills.

“It was a difficult, difficult day with a lot of investors asking a lot of questions,”  County Finance Director Stephen DeGroat told a local media outlet. The main concern now is how Rockland is going to address its deficit if the state didn’t back the county’s home-rule request to take out the $80 million deficit-reduction loan.

“Instead of having an absolutely dedicated bond that we’ll have to repay, we’ll do it in stages and it’ll probably take longer,” County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said. “This is a setback, but I think we’re on the right course to addressing and fixing our issues.”

Foreclosure Fraud Prevention Act Passes Assembly
The Foreclosure Fraud Prevention Act of 2012, designed to impose tough criminal penalties, including jail time, on those who intentionally engage in residential mortgage foreclosure fraud, was introduced by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and passed overwhelmingly in the state assembly on Thursday, June 21.

“For many middle class New Yorkers, their life savings is in their home. To take away people’s homes under fraudulent circumstances is a crime deserving of jail time,” said Schneiderman, who congratulated the Assembly, Speaker Silver and Assemblywoman Weinstein for overwhelmingly passing the act.

The bill makes it a class “E” felony, punishable by up to four years in state prison, for employees to engage in multiple acts of foreclosure fraud and for a managerial agent of a residential mortgage business to have knowledge of such fraudulent conduct by his or her employees and not take reasonable action to stop it.

“By treating foreclosure fraud as the serious crime that it is, we can deter future abuse and spare untold numbers of families the trauma of wrongful foreclosure,” said Schneiderman. “This legislation will ensure that employees involved in these fraudulent and abusive practices, and their supervisors who allow the misconduct to continue, will be held accountable for their crimes.”

This legislation is the latest effort by Schneiderman to hold those responsible for the foreclosure crisis accountable. The current wave of foreclosures was precipitated by the bursting of the housing bubble, which cost American families over $7 trillion in household wealth; destroyed millions of jobs; and plunged the nation into the deepest and longest recession in 70 years.

Eric Lau Handed 22 Years to Life for Murder
Eric Lau of Valley Cottage was sentenced to 22 years to life in state prison on Friday, June 22 for the murder of Jami Erlich, a 32-year-old beloved Suffern teacher. Lau, 35, pled guilty to the charge of one count of intentional murder in the second degree, a class “A” felony.

The Rockland County Courthouse in New City was packed with relatives and friends of Erlich.

“Now there is a void that will never be filled. That void is Jami,” said Charles Erlich, the victim’s father. “The sunshine has been taken from all of us. Can the punishment for taking this from us be severe enough? I think not.”

On November 29 in 2009, Lau illegally entered Erlich’s apartment. When she arrived home, Lau viciously attacked Erlich by hitting her across the head with a blunt object and then slashing her throat. Lau lived in a neighboring condominium unit. Police found some of Erlich’s belongings in Lau’s apartment. According to friends, Erlich had called Lau her “creepy neighbor” and had refused many requests to go out with him.

Executive Assistant District Attorney Stephen Moore said that Lau killed Erlich because he discovered she was going out with another man. Lau’s lawyer, David Touger, did not challenge the events Moore described but argued instead that Lau is mentally ill and needs psychiatric treatment.

Strange but True: Chef Feeds Children Ecstasy
Neil Iron, a chef famous for serving Queen Elizabeth and Prince Edward afternoon tea and nearly awarded the National Chef of the Year in the United Kingdom, is now standing trial for allegedly feeding children chocolate mousse with ecstasy.

Iron, 32, is alleged to have made a spiked dessert for a birthday party at a London bar in October. The next day two toddlers were given leftovers, got sick and were taken to the hospital. The food was found to be laced with MDMA, which is methylenedioxymethylamphetamine, the pure substance in ecstasy.

Iron denied ever putting drugs in food. “It must have been a person from the party because that’s where the food was,” he said. Another customer who attended the party told police that he had an “out of body experience” after eating two of the truffles. Iron has been warned about cocaine possession in the past.

Two Men Die in Orange County Crash
Robert Crowley of Sidney Center in Delaware County and Raymond Singleton of Queens crashed their cars into each other at Route 6 and 293 and were both pronounced dead at the scene. Crowley, 42, was driving a 2001 Chrysler van east of Route 6 and crossed the double yellow line crashing into Singleton, 49, driving his 1999 Infinity. An investigation into the cause of the crash is underway.

Boys Charged with Sex Abuse Released to House Arrest
Four Chestnut Ridge Middle School boys charged with sexually abusing two girls were released from a detention center and put in house arrest. The boys raped a 14-year-old girl and attempted to rape a 12-year-old girl despite the girls’ cries for them to stop, according to the reports. The boys, ages 12 and 13, all signed statements admitting that at least some of the allegations are accurate.

Judge Sherri Eisenpress said there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case. She banned the boys from using social media, computers or cellphones and ordered them to not talk to each other or to either of the girls. The boys are charged as juvenile delinquents with first-degree rape, first-degree sex act and other sex offenses related to attacks alleged to have taken place over several days last week.

Woman Pleads Guilty to Killing Haverstraw Ex
Jody-Ann Hemmings, who used to live in Haverstraw and is now a Manhattan resident, pleaded guilty on Monday, June 25 to charges of killing her ex-boyfriend Jason Ognenoff of Haverstraw last August.
Hemmings, 24, admitted to beating Ognenoff to death with a figurine and then stabbing him with a steak knife before setting his apartment on fire.

She pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and second-degree arson. A psychiatrist and psychologist found she suffered from extreme emotional and psychological issues. Kenneth Murphy, Hemmings’ public defense lawyer, said she acted out of extreme emotional disturbance.

Hemmings is the mother of a 9-year-old girl, was studying nursing at Stony Brook University, graduated from North Rockland High School in 2007 and went to Rockland Community College. She came to the states from Jamaica and although she is a permanent resident now may face deportation after serving her prison term. She faces five to 25 years in prison. Sentencing is set for August 23.

Teacher Evaluations Go Public, Teachers’ Rights Protected
A new New York law ensuring that parents and the public have access to information involving how the teachers, principals and schools are performing while still respecting the educators’ privacy is on the horizon.

“This law strikes the right balance between a teacher’s right to privacy and the parents’ and public’s right to know,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who recently signed the law. “New York’s children deserve a top-quality education, and the state’s new teacher evaluation system will ensure that teachers and principals are held responsible for students performance.”

The law requires school districts and BOCES to fully disclose their evaluation results to the public and the State Education Department to post and make widely available important data that will allow the public to analyze and compare how schools are performing.

Soldiers Injured in West Point Crash
Ten soldiers from Fort Polk in Louisiana crashed their Humvee into the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. They are being treated at local hospitals but all escaped without serious injuries.

According to West Point spokesperson Frank DeMaro, the soldiers are from the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry, 4th Brigade, and were riding the vehicle around on Tuesday, June 26 when it rolled over in a field off of Route 293. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

School to Accept Illegal Immigrants
Lincoln Hall School in Somers on Route 202 is launching a federal program to house undocumented and refugee teenagers onto its campus.

The undocumented boys will be sent by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and will receive temporary shelter and services before they are reunited with families within 30-60 days. The children, ages 12-17, are from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. They do not have criminal records but some are victims of torture, child trafficking or displaced because of conflict.

The school will be taking in about 60 teens at any given time.

For decades, the school has taken in adolescents from the juvenile justice system in need of supervision and services. This year there are about 120 boys but the numbers are expected to drop since New York City Family Court wants to keep the boys closer to their families.

“Our mission hasn’t changed,” said Jack Flavin, Lincoln Hall’s executive director. “It has always been to help support the welfare of needy children, and in most cases, reunite them with families.”

Schneiderman Obtains $410 Million From Madoff Middleman
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman managed to secure a settlement of $410 million from J. Ezra Merkin, who controlled four funds that invested over $2 billion with Bernard Madoff on behalf of investors.

As a result of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the investors lost in excess of $1.2 billion but Merkin received hundreds of millions in management fees.

Under the agreement Schneiderman secured, Merkin will pay $405 million to investors over three years and $5 million to New York State to cover fees and costs.

“I am proud to announce that we have recovered over $400 million for the investors and charities that were harmed by history’s largest Ponzi scheme. This agreement is a victory for justice and accountability,” said Schneiderman. “Many New Yorkers entrusted their investments to Mr. Merkin, who then steered the money to Madoff while receiving millions of dollars in management and incentive fees. By holding Mr. Merkin accountable, this settlement will help bring justice for the people and institutions that lost millions of dollars.”

Grieving Family Requests Change on 9W
The family of Janet Martinez, 53, who was killed by a car while riding her bike on 9W in Upper Grandview is asking state and local lawmakers to add safety improvements to that area of the road. The section of the road where the accident occurred is especially dangerous because of its narrow shoulders, heavy traffic and 45 mile per hour speed limit. The family is asking for signs warning cyclists of the danger and a lower speed limit for the cars.

“A tragedy like this is sometimes what’s needed to get things done,” said Martinez’s nephew Raymond Alicea.

On June 10, Martinez was riding her bicycle south along Route 9W when she was hit from behind by a 2008 Toyota Scion driven by, Denise Patawaran, 25, of Sparkill. Even though Martinez was wearing a helmet, she suffered severe head injuries. She died within an hour at Nyack Hospital. Police have not filed charges.

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