Clarkstown calls out religious school for continuing to use unsafe building
Attorneys with the Town of Clarkstown are preparing to present evidence in court that Congregation Lizensk, a religious group which operates several schools in Rockland County, has moved back into a Clarkstown building despite being ordered to vacate. The attorneys stated Congregation Lizensk’s South Central Avenue location, which houses about 150 students and can accommodate up to 180, was closed a few months ago due to zoning, fire and safety violations. Though a request by the Congregation to reopen the building was rejected, Clarkstown claims firefighters found the building was still being used as a school when they were checking on a false alarm. According to Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, firefighters found garbage and food, suggesting the building had been occupied for some time. They also discovered the Congregation had done work on the building without a permit, though none of the violations had been fixed. “We believe they are in contempt of the judge’s order and we will be filing additional documents with the judge,” Gromack said. “We will be asking for fines or jail time.”

Nanuet home severely damaged by fire
A house on West Palmer Avenue in Nanuet caught fire early in the morning of January 6, inflicting no injuries but causing serious damage to the home. Fire personnel were notified at about 3 a.m. on Sunday and fire crews from Pearl River and West Nyack responded, putting out the blaze and remaining on the scene until around 6 a.m. However, by the time they brought the fire under control, the house had already been gutted by the flames. Neighbors said the homeowner was out of town when the fire occurred. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

Cuomo announces $2 billion in tax relief for New York residents
In an effort to reduce the financial burden associated with New York State taxes, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the state would pursue a new tax relief plan which will give $2 billion in relief for state residents. The plan, which was made possible by a projected $2 billion surplus, contains several items designed to curb or eliminate taxes and encourage growth. Included in the plan are a 2 year freeze on property taxes for residents in counties which are staying within the 2 percent tax cap, a “circuit breaker” property tax relative to income for low and middle class residents, renter’s tax credit for renters making less than $100,000 per year and an increased estate tax threshold. Also included are a series of tax relief measures aimed at the private sector, including a merger and lowering of the bank tax and corporate franchise tax, real property tax credits for manufacturers, elimination of corporate income tax for upstate industries, the phasing out of the 18-A surcharge and a simplification of the state’s tax code. Among such tax code simplifications are reductions or elimination of several smaller taxes and add-ons as well as an increased income threshold for required tax filings.

Rockland Catholic group calls for child molester to receive stiff penalty
The Rockland County Catholic Coalition recently came out in support of a heavy penalty for Monsey rabbi and convicted sex offender Moshe Turner, who was recently found to have violated his probation. In a letter to Rockland County Judge William A. Kelly, Coalition President Eileen Peterson called on the judge to hand down “the maximum penalty for Moshe Turner so that children will no longer become his victims and will be safe from his evil abuse.” Turner admitted last January to having sex with a 14 year old boy seven times in 2011, but only received 10 years of probation for the crime. In July, he was found to have violated his probation by failing to notify his probation officer of his use of a car and going to a wedding which the boy also attended as a volunteer. Kelly has already ruled that Turner had violated his probation and is currently considering a sentence. It is believed that prosecutors will push for a felony charge, likely punishable with jail or prison time.

Day appoints former WABC reporter as Director of Communications
Newly-elected County Executive Ed Day announced on January 6 that he would appoint former WABC News reporter Scott Salotto as his Director of Communications. “With nearly two decades of high-level communications experience, Scott’s skills and keen insight make him the perfect fit for my executive team,” Day stated in a press release announcing his pick. Salotto spent nine years as a general assignment news reporter for WABC, where he coordinated reporting on several major stories including Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook shooting and the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crash in the Hudson River. He has also worked on other major stories within the Tri-State area, including the 9/11 attacks. Before WABC, Salotto reported for NYC-based Westwood One Radio Networks and radio news outlets in Rhode Island and Texas.

Chestnut Ridge woman has heart attack after house fire
In a situation which drew significant attention from first responders, A Chestnut Ridge woman suffered a heart attack on the evening of January 4 shortly after her home caught fire. The woman and her husband was able to escape the fire without injury, but suffered the heart attack shortly thereafter. Police, fire personnel and EMS responded to the scene and the woman was brought to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, where she is recovering. The fire itself, which South Spring Valley Assistant Fire Chief Vincent Curcio reported was likely the result of an electrical malfunction, was largely contained in the house’s garage. Though the structure and two cars inside were heavily damaged, little damage was done to the rest of the building. Investigators reported they were investigating the cause of the fire, but did not consider it suspicious.

$800 stolen from Haverstraw Library safe
Police are currently investigating the theft of $800 from a safe at the Haverstraw King’s Daughter Library, a crime which was likely committed by a member of the library’s staff. The safe, which was in an area off-limits to patrons, contained envelopes of money collected from library fines. According to Library Director Claudia Depkin, the location of the theft meant it was likely a library staff member was the one responsible. According to Depkin, the theft is believed to have occurred sometime between November 27 and December 15.

Analysts: Gas prices will remain the same or decrease in most areas
According to AAA’s year-end report, gas prices are expected to continue in most states, save a few where higher taxes will mean the same or higher prices. The report points out that the average price of gas was $3.49 per gallon in 2013, but a forecasted average of $3.40 has been calculated for 2014. This is a marked decrease from 2012, when prices hit an average of $3.60 per gallon. The exceptions to this general trend are states which have approved higher gas taxes. Such states include Wyoming, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and New Hampshire. According to GasBuddy, the overall downward trend is driven by more fuel efficient cars, less consumer spending on gas and higher domestic oil production.

Rand Paul to file suit against NSA for surveillance
Having announced a federal lawsuit on Friday, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the latest opponent to the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. Paul announced the decision on Friday’s episode of Fox News’ Hannity and explained the move had been considered for several months before a decision was made. Paul went on to state a formal complaint would likely be ready within a month. In addition, Paul has requested support from Americans through his Facebook page and the page for his PAC. Thus far, over 250,000 people have shown support for the suit. According to a senior staffer with Paul, the lawsuit might be pursued “in tandem” with a prior lawsuit filed by conservative activist Larry Klayman which saw some success when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon issued a preliminary injunction against the spying program which was later stayed pending appeal.

Clarkstown to vote on $6.5 million bond for Congers Elementary School
Clarkstown residents will have the opportunity to vote on a $6.5 million bond for repairs to Congers Elementary School on February 4. The bond would allow the school to borrow money to fix a series of critical flaws to the school. Included among the repairs would be asbestos removal, replacement of crumbling walls, fixes for the roof, window replacement and additional handicapped-accessibility. The proposal has generated questions regarding the tax burden of the project on the town and more details on potential tax increases are expected at upcoming board meetings prior to the vote. The school has been closed since the beginning of the year and its students have been temporarily transferred to St. Augustine’s in New City. According to school officials, the bond’s failure at the ballot would likely mean the permanent closure of the school.

Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea with other former NBA players
Dennis Rodman arrived in the isolated communist state of North Korea with a team of former pro basketball players on Monday for a game in honor of North Lorean Leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday. Rodman was joined by Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, Vin Baker, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith, and four streetballers. This will be the third trip Rodman has made to North Korea, the first being a trip to visit Kim Jong Un and the second being a visit to oversee tryouts for the North Korean basketball team. According to Rodman, he is not interested in politics and the visit is purely a goodwill gesture to alleviate tension between North Korea and the U.S. “I’m just an athlete and the reason for me to go is to bring peace to the world, that’s it,” Rodman said. “That’s all I want, no money.” However, Rodman had a meltdown while being interviewed on CNN and some of the other NBA stars expressed remorse for making the trip.

Chicago judge: City cannot ban weapons
A ruling in a U.S. District Court on Monday has proven to be good news for gun rights advocates, concluding Chicago’s restrictive gun control measures are unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang concluded that Chicago’s ban on sales and transfers of weapons within the city did not stand up to muster. While he did not elaborate on alternatives and left room for restrictions to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, Chang did conclude a blanket restriction on sales was unconstitutional. Chang did allow the decision to be stayed pending appeal by the city. Chicago has grappled with high rates of murder for years, with 500 in 2012 and 431 in 2011.

Syrian national accused of murder attempts to withdraw guilty plea
A Syrian national accused of beating his girlfriend to death with a shoe made a surprise about-face in court on Tuesday morning when he attempted to change his previous guilty plea to not guilty. Riad Dib, 66, stated he wanted to withdraw a previous guilty plea after he was told he would receive 18 years to life for the beating death of Cecile Garbarino, 68. According to Dib, he had previously been told by his public defender that a guilty plea would mean he would have to serve 14 years to life. Though the prosecutor argued Judge William Nelson should not adjourn sentencing, Nelson stated he was required to allow the defense time to make a motion withdrawing the guilty plea, after which he would make a quick decision and push sentencing back to February 4. Dib was arrested last January for Garbarino’s death. During a domestic dispute, Garbarino attempted to call for help, after which Dib allegedly knocked her down, repeatedly kicked her in the ribs and beat her with her own shoe hard enough to shatter the bones in her face.

Indian Point workers authorize strike against Entergy
Utility Workers of America Local Chapter 1-2 working at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant voted on Monday to authorize a strike against plant owners and employers with Entergy if a labor deal cannot be reached by January 17. Though the vote merely authorizes a strike and does not actually enact one, it functions as a strong message to Entergy, according to Local 1-2 President James Slevin. Negotiations are still underway and there are no other indications that a strike is imminent. Strikes were also threatened in 2004 and 2008, but were averted thanks to compromises between Entergy and the unions.

Woman accused of murdering infant might not understand Spanish
The attorney for Maria Oliva Guaman-Guaman, who stands accuse of murdering her newborn infant and dumping the body in a recycling bin, is arguing Guaman-Guaman might not have understood Spanish when she provided her confession. Guaman-Guaman, an Ecuadoran immigrant and native speaker of the indigenous Quechua language, was identified by DNA canvassing and arrested for the murder in late 2013. However, her defense attorney, Kenneth Murphy, argues she might not have had a good enough grasp of the Spanish language to understand police instructions. Justice William Kelly, who is judging the case, stated the matter would have to be cleared up as the court proceedings progress. Guaman-Guaman’s next court date is scheduled for February 5.

State authorities to investigate police killing of North Carolina teen
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations is now investigating the fatal shooting death of 18 year old Keith Vidal, whose parents called police for help during an emergency response. According to Vidal’s parents, Vidal, who was not known to be violent, was tased, subdued and shot in front of his parents by two officers from Brunwick County and Southport. The family drew attention to the issue by protesting the press conference held by District Attorney Jon David on the shooting, calling the incident a murder. According to them, David prohibited them from attending and they feared a cover-up was underway. David responded to reporters by stating he visited the crime scene, intended to speak with the parents after the press conference and announced the state was investigating. Vidal, who had schizophrenia and depression, was frequently visited Boiling Springs Lake police department. According to his parents, the family had a good relationship to the department and knew the officer from Boiling Springs, but did not know the other two officers who responded.

80 NYPD/FDNY retirees arrested for bogus 9/11 benefits claims
80 retired FDNY members and NYPD officers have been identified and arrested on Tuesday in a scam wherein they made phony claims of emotional trauma stemming from experiences as first responders on 9/11, only to show up later with no visible signs of their illnesses. In a massive scheme which included 106 scammers from as far off as Nassau County and could have up to 1,000 participants in total, former police, firefighters and corrections officers claimed they suffered severe PTSD which was often so debilitating they could not perform simple tasks. However, it was discovered later that many were living it up by piloting helicopters and jet skis, fishing, teaching karate and running half marathons, all while collecting a total of over $400 million in social security benefits. Investigators made the discovery through social media, finding pictures of the men’s activities and no sign they were suffering from emotional distress. The fraud was orchestrated by four ringleaders who instructed the fraudsters in how to lie and navigate the pension process to get anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per year in claims.

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