Bomb squad responds to false alarm in Congers

A suspicious package in Congers prompted a response from the county’s bomb squad, but was ultimately deemed to be harmless.

The package was discovered on Route 303 at around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. After being notified, local police inspected the item and called the bomb squad as a precaution. Upon investigation, the bomb squad determined the package posed no threat.

No information has been released on the contents of the package.

Sheriff’s Mounted Unit trains out-of-state officers in horseback policing

The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department certified 31 police from across the Northeast to patrol on horseback, a declining but still prevalent practice which Rockland continues to implement.

The Department, which manages its Mounted Unit Headquarters off Route 202 in Ramapo, held a graduation ceremony on Friday for officers who completed a two week training regimen. Included among the honorees was New York State Trooper Mary Elena Moran, who intends to lobby State Police to form a mounted unit dedicated to the Lower Hudson Valley. Also included were police from the County Sheriff’s Department, the NYPD’s Parks Enforcement, Wyoming County, Bridgeport Connecticut, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Bergen County in New Jersey.

Horseback patrols have become more uncommon across the country as budgets have tightened and technology has progressed. However, mounted officers are still used for crowd control, regular patrols and ceremonial events such as parades.

Man attempts to rob cab driver in Ramapo

Police are searching for a man who attempted to mug a cab driver at knifepoint early Sunday morning.

Armed with a knife, the suspect demanded money from the driver while the cab was on Tioken Road off Route 45. However, the driver fought back and a struggle ensued before his attacker escaped on foot. The driver was not injured.

The attacker was described as a black man in his twenties who stood at around 5-foot-6 and wore a blue or green sweater.

Bids for Nyack’s Gazebo move soar over Village budget

The bids have come in for Nyack’s planned project to move its gazebo in Memorial Park and their high price tag has left the fate of the project uncertain.

Each of the bids run well over the $150,000 budgeted from state grants. One bid from Cal Mart Enterprises came in at $220,220, while another from A-Tech totaled $234,875.

Consequently, the process of demolishing and rebuilding the gazebo now seems cheaper than the original plan to use a crane to lift and set the gazebo down on a new foundation. The Village is now re-evaluating plans and has not made a final decision.

The relocation of the gazebo is part of a larger plan to revitalize the park. When a plan does go forward and the gazebo is moved to its desired location near Nyack Brook, it will be easier to outfit the structure for speaker systems and more room will be available for a planned skate park. The park’s baseball field has already been relocated.

Injured woman rescued from Hudson River cliffs

In a dramatic rescue effort, emergency responders came to the aid of a hiker who had been injured and trapped on a cliff just south of Rockland County in New Jersey on Sunday

NYPD helicopters worked with Piermont and Nyack Fire Departments to assist Amanda Graham, 36, who broke her ankle and almost fell 200 feet down a sheer, rocky incline. Local fire crews approached with boats at around 1:30 p.m., but were forced to call for the helicopters when they could not safely reach the woman.

The woman was airlifted out and dropped off at a makeshift landing area at the Piermont Pier cleared by the Piermont Fire Department ambulance crew, Rockland Ambulance Corps and Sparkill Fire Department. She was then taken to Nyack Hospital for treatment.

State senate approves tougher hit-and-run penalties

The State Senate approved new penalties for hit-and-run drivers on Wednesday, drastically reducing the maximum time perpetrators could serve and opening the door for tougher penalties.

The law would replace the previous one year maximum sentence for fleeing the scene of an accident which results in an injury with seven years in prison. If the law is passed, fines will also increase.

Senate passage was one of the law’s last major hurdles. A similar bill is set for an upcoming vote in the State Assembly.

Defense Secretary open to reviewing military’s transgender ban

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made waves on Sunday when he expressed a willingness to review military policies barring transgendered people from service.

Hagel argued the current prohibition should be “continually” reviewed to determine whether or not it was in the best interest of the armed forces. While acknowledging there was a medical component to the question of transgender soldiers, he declared himself open to any plan which would improve the military and boost enlistment.

“Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said.

Though an estimated 15,000 transgender men and women serve in the armed forces, Defense Department guidelines currently classify transgender people as sexual deviants and refer to their condition as a “paraphilia.” Discovery that a recruit is transgender is grounds for summary dismissal.

Remains of unidentified 9/11 victims returned to WTC site

In a ceremonial procession on Saturday, the remains of unidentified victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were transferred to an underground repository underneath the National September 11 Museum at the former site of the Twin Towers.

The transfer was undertaken with a motorcade of FDNY and NYPD vehicles carrying coffin-sized military transfer cases filled with 8,000 vacuum-sealed pouches of the victims’ remains. The transfer was meant to preserve the remains until new technology becomes available and allows medical examiners to identify more victims of the tragedy.

The ceremony was punctuated with protests from victims’ families who argued the storage of the remains in a basement-level storage area rather than an above-ground memorial was disrespectful. Other families expressed approval of the plan, which they argued respected the remains while anticipating future advances which might ultimately name the currently unknown victims.


State pension funds hits all time high

The New York State Common Retirement Fund is reported to have reached a record high, reaching an estimated $176.2 billion at the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The Fund, which serves public pensioners, recorded a 13.04 percent rate of return this year, up from a 10.38 percent rate last year which yielded a $160.7 billion fund. According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the growth is attributable to a strengthening domestic equity market which enabled big returns from private equity and real estate investments.

Broken down, the biggest returns by percentage were reported in domestic and global equities. Domestic equities showed 22.3 percent returns on investments, representing 37.7 percent of the fund’s total investments, while global equities recorded 25.1 percent returns for 3.7 percent of total investments. Losses were recorded in only core fixed income and treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS).

The Fund serves more than a million current and former state employees. It is the third largest pension fund in the country.


Secret Service agents pulled from White House to protect director’s aide

Secret Service agents tasked with guarding the president might have been improperly told to leave their posts to protect an assistant to the group’s former director.

According to sources speaking to the Washington Post, two agents from the Secret Service’s Prowler unit, which monitors the perimeter of the White House, were sent to the La Plata, Md. home of Lisa Chopey on several occasions in 2011 to protect her from alleged harassment from a neighbor. Chopey served as an assistant to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

Though the two agents themselves allegedly suspected the operation was illegal and kept records of their orders from superiors and details of the outings, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan argued the outings were much less frequent than reported and were standard procedure for threats to the agency’s employees.

This is not Sullivan’s first brush with scandal. The former director stepped down a year after agents hired prostitutes prior to a planned presidential trip to Colombia.

The Department of Homeland Security has initiated an investigation into the incident.


Thief breaks into President James Garfield’s tomb to steal spoons

An unknown burglar broke into the tomb of President James Garfield in Cleveland last week, making off with a few commemorative spoons out of a display case but nothing of any real value.

The suspect or suspects broke into the tomb and swiped a set of 13 commemorative spoons given to Garfield at his inauguration as the 20th President of the United States, but ignored more valuable memorabilia. Lake View Cemetery President and CEO Katherine Goss explained the spoons held little monetary value and even if they did, they would be difficult to sell at auction.

The thief or thieves left behind a mountain of evidence which includes a broken window, a t-shirt, cigarette butts and a bottle of whiskey. Investigators stated they had found fingerprints at the scene, but had not identified a suspect matching the prints. Garfield served as president for only 200 days before he was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau, a former campaign volunteer.


Arkansas, Kentucky marriage laws overturned by judge

In a victory for proponents of same-sex marriage in a typically conservative state, Arkansas’ voter-approved ban on gay marriage and a 1997 law similarly banning same sex unions were both struck down by a State Judge.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled on Monday that the laws were unconstitutional attempts to limit the civil liberties of a particular group. Piazza failed to issue a stay for the ruling, meaning couples began to line up for licenses almost immediately after the decision was issued. 15 were granted licenses before the State Attorney General announced on Saturday night that he intends to appeal the decision.

The absence of a stay produced some confusion among county clerks, who were given the discretion over whether or not to issue licenses. While some seem to be willing to marry the couples, others are hesitant to issue the licenses.

The decision is one among many which were handed down after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a federal ban on same-sex marriage last year. Later in the week a Kentucky judge followed suit.


U.S. Military sends manned aircraft in to search for kidnapped Nigerian girls

As the Nigerian government scrambles to find close to 270 school girls kidnapped last week by Islamist rebels, the U.S. is lending a hand with aerial surveillance.

A senior defense official in Washington announced that a Niger-based MC-12 surveillance aircraft was being flown over Nigerian airspace as part of a massive reconnaissance effort. The use of drones is also being explored, but no official statement has been made on additional American actions against Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings.

In addition to aerial reconnaissance, the U.S. is also sharing military satellite imagery of the area. Both the U.S. and U.K. have agreed to provide military advisers to Nigeria, but have not committed to direct military support for any potential ground operations.

The announcement came shortly after the weekend release of video footage showing some the girls scared but apparently unharmed as they are held captive by Boko Haram. Though the Nigerian government was initially reluctant to negotiate with the group, it is now exploring all options to secure the girls’ safe return.


State Senator charged with lying to the FBI

State Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) was indicted on Tuesday for lying to the FBI about how he managed to secure a state job for his son.

Libous, the second most powerful Republicans in the state, must now facee charges stemming from an accusation that he offered a prestigious law firm a lucrative deal if it hired his son Matthew. According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Libous allegedly told the firm he would steer business to them in exchange for hiring Matthew

In addition, Matthew Libous was arraigned separately on charges of failing to report about $300,000 in income to the IRS. Both Thomas and Matthew have pled not guilty.

The charges are the latest in another round of high-level prosecutions within the New York State Legislature. Since 2000, 26 legislators have been forced to step down due to alleged misconduct.

New safety measures to be implemented on Hudson River

A new set of safety measures will be implemented on the Hudson River to accommodate mariners during the busy summer season, according to County Executive Ed Day and Sheriff Louis Falco.

As part of the precautions, the Sheriff’s Office has upped the number of patrol boats to three. Two operate north of the bridge in Stony Point while a third will dock at a location beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Thee Sheriff’s Office explained the additional boats were added in part to deter individuals from piloting vessels under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Boaters will face similar standards as drivers, with those blowing a .08 percent blood alcohol content subject to arrest.

“Cannibal Cop” conviction overturned, suspect released from custody

Former NYPD officer Gilberto Valle, the “cannibal cop” accused of plotting to kidnap, murder and eat women, posted bail and was released from custody on Tuesday after his conviction was overturned by a Federal judge.

Valle was arrested in 2012 after his wife discovered graphic photos and chat logs on their computer which detailed plans to kidnap and eat women. It was also found that Valle had used an NYPD database to research information on several of the women he subsequently fantasized about in his logs. The suspect was subsequently stripped of his badge, charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.

However, Manhattann Federal Court Judge Paul Gardephe overturned the ruling, arguing the evidence was insufficient because there was no concrete evidence Valle’s plans were intended to cross from fantasy into reality. Nonetheless, Valle must undergo house arrest, electronic monitoring and mental health counseling and is prohibited from using computers or approaching his alleged victims.

Prosecutors have already announced a plan to appeal the decision.

Man found dead behind his Monsey home

An unidentified man found dead in a wooded area behind his West Maple Avenue home two weeks after he went missing was found to have left behind a fortune.

George Konnight, 79, was first reported missing by a friend who told police he had not seen the man in two weeks. After receiving no response to knocks at the man’s door, police scoured the area with K-9 units for three hours until they found Konnight’s skeletal remains.

What was remarkable was what else Konnight left behind. Though friends reported the man led a relatively solitary, simple life, it was revealed he had earned $3 million from the sale of property his family owned in northern Ramapo to New Jersey-based JIEM Properties in November.

The Rockland County Medical Examiner is continuing to examine the remains, but foul play is not suspected at this time. DNA tests are also pending to confirm the body belongs to Konnight.

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