Monday, March 31, 2014

Councilman calls on mayor to suspend Commissioner Bill Dunne


JIM GORDON
Councilman Jim Gordon, R-District 1, is calling on Mayor Lou Rosamilia to suspend a top aide without pay in light of an FBI probe into three city projects.
Email from Gordon to the mayor can be seen below.
“Many have come to realize that there have been too many questionable actions with the itesm being investigated and the common denominator, Commissioner (Bill) Dunne’s involvement,” Gordon wrote. “While the investigation continues by the FBI, I call upon you to ummediately suspend the commissioner, as you have in the past, without pay, pending the conclusion of the FBI’s involvement and findings.
Dunne was suspended for five days after sidewalks were constructed in North Central with what was originally Community Development Block Grant money but, it wasn’t included in the projects approved by the city Council.
Gordon also questions the Scolite deal which is slated to go before the Council on Thursday.
Times Union Photo: BILL DUNNE
“The truth as detailed in Couch White's letter dated March 26, 2014 is that the discussions are anything but productive and in my opinion the construction of the roadway any time soon is a pipe dream,” Grodon wrote. “Secondly, why was Mr. Dunne in receipt of the job applications submitted confidentially to Valente Co? This stinks of collusion and possibly violates the confidentiality of those who applied to Valente for jobs, but found their private employment paperwork in the hands of a government official.

Dunne and the mayor were not immediately available for comment.

From: James Gordon <jgordon003@nycap.rr.com>
Date: March 30, 2014 at 9:39:16 AM EDT
To: Lou Rosamilia <lou.rosamilia@troyny.gov>
Cc: Ken Zalewski <zalewski@troycitycouncil.com>, Dean Bodnar <bodnard@hotmail.com>, Rodney Wiltshire <Wiltshire@TroyCityCouncil.com>, Erin Sullivan-Teta <teta@troycitycouncil.com>, Anastasia Robertson <anastasiavoice4district2@yahoo.com>
Subject: TU Article

Mayor

I just finished reading this mornings TU article relating to the investigation into numerous issues within the city and Commissioner Dunne's involvement. For one I am pleased to learn of such investigation by the FBI. Many have come to realize that there have been too many questionable actions with the items being investigated and the common denominator, Commissioner Dunne's involvement. While the investigation continues by the FBI, I call upon you to immediately suspend the Commissioner, as you have in the past, without pay, pending the conclusion of the FBI's involvement and findings.

Additionally, given the questionable actions during the Scolite selection process and what has transpired since (which Commissioner Dunne has been a major contributor of) - I call upon you to void the current sale proposal and reissue an RFP with all the facts laid out for all the bidders. The city is being placed in an undesirable position with the developments of this process, we are in receipt of a letter detailing pending legal action should the sale be approved. Issuing a new RFP will afford us the opportunity to restart the process cleanly and create an opportunity for a better deal for the city that could include more money for the land and a better use of the land for the neighboring residents.

Finally, let me add two more points that cast a shadow of doubt in my mind about the current Scolite process... During our Finance Committee meeting of March 20, Mr. Dunne stated several times that the discussions for the easements for the S Troy Industrial Roadway were ongoing and productive. Why did he feel the need to exaggerate and falsely lead City Council members as such? How many other mistruths have we been told? The truth as detailed in Couch White's letter dated March 26, 2014 is that the discussions are anything but productive and in my opinion the construction of the roadway any time soon is a pipe dream. Secondly, why was Mr. Dunne in receipt of the job applications submitted confidentially to Valente Co? This stinks of collusion and possibly violates the confidentiality of those who applied to Valente for jobs, but found their private employment paperwork in the hands of a government official.

It is incumbent upon you to properly and immediately address these issues on behalf of the city and it's taxpaying residents and businesses.

Sincerely,

Jim Gordon
Councilman, Dist. 1

Twitter: @jimgordon4troy
Facebook.com/jimgordonfortroy

Sent from my iPhone 5

 

The FBI in Troy, now what?


Russ Reeves
Now that the Times Union disclosed the FBI are looking into three questionable deals orchestrated by City Hall – sidewalks in North Central, King Street demolition and Scolite – everyone is wondering what happens next.
It’s really anyone’s guess. Generally, the Feds take a look when something doesn’t quite pass the smell test and then determine if it stinks enough to warrant a full blown investigation or not.
We saw that process play out the Feds took a look at voter fraud, former County Executive Henry Zwack, former state Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, former political boss Ed McDonough and most recently the conduct of police during the Jan. 25 melee at Kokopellis.
Bill Dunne
Everything may not be peachy keen, but I think it’s safe to say the FBI will not proceed unless they think they and the Justice Department can get a conviction in federal court. Bruno may be the exception to that rule, but after nearly 10 years the Feds found themselves in too deep to back off now.
Anyway, according to the Times Union, City Engineer Russ Reeves and Corporation Counsel Ian Silverman were invited to Albany to answer some questions about the three aforementioned projects. It wasn’t the mayor, deputy mayor or the head of the Planning Department, Bill Dunne, the central figure in all three projects, it was people on the fringes who would know what happened.
If we look at the projects, they each have their respective odors:
Fire Chief Tom Garrett
-The new sidewalks in front of Freedom Square were initially said to be paid for by federal Community Development Block Grant money. It was later determined it was not included in the Council approved projects and – and I’m not certain of the sequence – the Sanctuary of Independent Media would pick up the tab, the city would pick up the tab and J.R. Casale would pay for it out of the goodness of his heart.
(As an aside, I’m hearing that’s not the only tab Casale offered to pick up as he has a new found penchant for helping out with weddings.)
-Someone ordered Fire Chief Tom Garrett to order an emergency demolition of the King Street properties adjacent to Bomber’s Burritos while Reeves was out of town. As the TU article pointed out, by declaring it an emergency saved the owner, attorney Don Boyajian, tens of thousands in asbestos abatement. Garrett doesn't get along with Dunne or Reeves and it's doubtful he would take such an order from either one of those two so it had to come from higher up - my guess is Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan or Mayor Lou Rosamilia.
The question is why it was declared an emergency when the buildings have been sitting vacant for years and there are others in the city in a worse repair and arguably should have been demolished before the King Street properties.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia
Another twist is that the Local Development Corporation, headed up by Dunne, came under fire by the state Comptroller’s Office, for giving Bombers in excess of $2 million without any collateral – in other words, Bombers doesn’t own the building or have anything else to borrow against.
-The city certainly has bent over backwards to sweeten the Scolite property for the company awarded the bid, R.J. Valente.
First, it changed the zoning before the property was sold, then it said it would build a new $9 million road, then it said it would allow Valente to put a down payment on the property and allow it to work the property, then it said it would take another chunk of land from Ludlow Valve and give it to Valente.
All those tangible benefits were not in the initial Request for Proposal issued by the city and as such were not extended to the other bidders, who, according to at least one bidder, would have bid the project differently. The Council’s Finance Committee passed the deal by a 6-2 vote and is expected to formally address it at its regular meeting on Thursday.
Times Union Photo: Deputy Mayor Pete Ryan
has a mess on his hands
I guess the questions are: did any money change hands, was favoritism granted for whatever reason (usually that one goes back to the first question) and who is going to take the fall should the FBI continue its probe? That last one should be fun since that's generally when the finger-pointing begins.
One more thought, it’s disheartening to have to read about an FBI probe in the Albany Times Union rather than the Troy Record. There was a time, not long ago, when The Record would have been all over it but instead we get how to dress while travelling as its main Sunday story. I heard about it last week but The Record took my Rolodex and with it, obviously, a number of my numbers.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lawsuit threatened over Scolite deal (DOCUMENT)


Attorneys for Perry Street Companies, a conglomerate who unsuccessfully bid on the Scolite property in South Troy, are urging the Council to vote against the ordinance that would allow R.J. Valente to begin operating at the site.
According to the letter penned by James Barriere of Couch and White, the city modified the terms of the Request for Proposal after the open bidding process was complete for the “benefit of one bidder.” Perry Street Companies, which includes Warren Fane, Inc., is asking the Council shoot down the ordinance the Finance Committee approved by a 6-2 vote and put the entire project back out to bid or it will commence legal action. The Council is slated to address the matter at next month's meeting. 
“To us, it looks like a classic bait and switch where the original bidders, including our client, were asked to consider a proposal scope that has now been substantially enhanced for the benefit of one bidder,” the Match 26 letter states. “We do not need to explore the reasons why this occurred at this time, but it is clear that it did occur”
Berriere said the city extended three considerations to Valente that were not included in the original RFP during the public bidding process:
-The acquisition of additional property by eminent domain and the construction of a new access road.
-Allowing the winning bidder to put a 10 percent down payment on the property “rather than the purchase price delineated in its proposal. As an aside Berriere said it is a “benefit that we assure you any commercial developer would greatly enjoy and covet.”
-A “license” for the bidder to begin work at the site “with the apparent ability to abandon the site at any time before it obtains title.”
“These post-award concessions represent material and improper changes to the basic terms of the RFP. They violate public policy and destroy the fairness of the bidding process,” according to the letter. “The city is no doubt aware of the requirement that a procuring agency should be guided by the underlying policy of treating all bidders alike ‘so as to avoid the possibility of fraud, corruption or favoritism.’”

Here is the post I wrote about it after the Finance Committee approved it.
In In August, 2013, the city awarded the Scolite property to Valente and agreed to enter into “exclusive negotiations” with the company on how to develop the site. In June, 2013, Valente purchased the adjacent Bruno Machinery property for $750,000. In October, 2013, the city changed the zoning from commercial to heavy industrial at Valente’s request even though he did not yet formally own the property.
Earlier this month, the Finance Committee approved the ordinance that would grant Valente a license to operate the site with a $100,000 down payment on the company’s $1 million bid to purchase the site. The license, according to Planning Department Commissioner Bill Dunne, was necessary pending approval from the state Legislature, which could be a drawn out process.
Also, the city said it would spend some $9 million on building an access road along the waterfront in South Troy and take the adjacent Ludlow Valve property through eminent domain and give it to Valente.   

Judicial candidates lining up (UPDATE)


MAIER
There are two judgeships up for grabs in Troy this year – the expiring term of City Court Judge Chris Maier and a newly created, fulltime position worth $113,900 a year for a decade.
Obviously, the Democrats will support Maier again. He’s been a solid judge, a proven vote getter and there is no real reason for voters to toss him off the bench.
The second spot is up for grabs but leading the pack for the party’s nomination is Corporation Counsel Ian Silverman, a former assistant district attorney who was appointed corp. counsel by Mayor Lou Rosamilia. He has served the party well in a relatively short time he’s been in the game and other Democrats interested will be hard pressed to get the nomination ahead of him, and harder pressed to win a primary.
On the flip side, Republicans are prepared to back attorney Jill Kehn, who in addition to having a private practice is an assistant Rensselaer County attorney, according to her Linkedin profile. She is also Troy Civil Court Judge Matt Turner's sister-in-law.
The GOP is still scrambling to find a second candidate, but given the pay scale and 10 years of job security, someone will take a shot at it.
One dynamic that is worth mentioning is the election will be similar to an At Large Council race in that the two top vote getters will win rather than a head-to-head race for each individual seat. I don’t know if it helps or hinders any particular candidate but it will make who shows up where on the ballot – and who is across from whom - all the more important.
Another dynamic is if Silverman gets the nod, which is all but a given, and wins he will have to give up the corporation counsel job. Who replaces him is less obvious, though, and one name bantered about is attorney Amy O’Connor. She is active within the party and savvy enough to help on the political end of things but she lives in Brunswick. Yes, residency requirements are often snubbed but with something as high profile as corp. counsel would be a tough sell.
Then again, Troy voters elected a Brunswick resident to the Council so who knows.

While O'Connor's name has been mentioned, I'm informed she has a full time job working as an attorney across the river for the state and taking the corp. counsel job would be a pay cut. Also, I'm informed, whoever takes the position will not be required to live in the city.

 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Troy police officer suspended without pay for involvement in drug buy (UPDATED, PART III)

     Third update is at the end.


Troy Police Officer Michael Johnson has been suspended without pay for off duty conduct.
Capt. John Cooney, the department public information officer, would not comment on the conduct in question. An internal affairs investigation is ongoing, he said.
Police officers, as per union contract, can be suspended for up to 30 days without pay and then they must be put back on the payroll while the disciplinary process plays out.  
More information as it becomes available.

According to the Times Union, Johnson was arrested in Hudson when a woman he and his brother were with purchased heroin. Johnson was driving the car at the time.

In 2012, Johnson was stabbed in the leg while on patrol near the Martin Luther King apartment complex. He stopped to talk to a group of three males who were acting suspiciously. Johnson was stabbed in the leg before the men fled and he did discharge his weapon. The men were never apprehended and the circumstances surrounding the stabbing remains under question.

At the time, Johnson's story about approaching the three men in a questionable neighborhood just to check out what they were doing was suspect. The three men in question were never apprehended and while Johnson did fire multiple times at the fleeing suspects, he did not hit any of the suspects or anything else.

The military veteran who was involved in combat in Iraq, never backed off his story, however, and since police brass could not disprove it, they had no choice but to believe it. But, since few believed it transpired as he described - with some even wondering if he stabbed himself - I'm told by reliable sources other officers were wary of working alongside him.

That year, he won the "Officer Assaulted Award" for the Jan. 4 incident - an honor I've never heard of but the Police Benevolent Association gives out a slew of awards every year so I don't know if this one was made up to tweak Johnson or not.

Another question I have about Johnson is why he wasn't arrested by Hudson police. Seems to me, if I drive a woman to buy heroin and she actually buys it and then gets in my car and I drive away, I'm as culpable - or close to it - as she is.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some questions about Scolite (UPDATED)


SCOLITE
Let me get this straight:
The city agreed to change the zoning on a piece of property for a company that didn’t yet own it. Then the city declared that company the preferred bidder without telling anyone who bid on the project it was going to build a new access road. Now the city wants to grant that same company a license to do work on the site, and presumably start working the site for a profit, by paying a $100,000 down payment with the $900,000 balance paid in five years or whenever the state Legislature gets around to approving the sale.
A few things come to mind:
-Were the other three companies allowed to make a down payment and start turning a profit? Was it part of the initial RFP the city sent out? It should have been because any company would rather keep $900,000 in the bank than shell it out so if it is offered to Valente it should have been extended to all bidders because it certainly would have changed their respective bid parameters.
-Why isn’t this just a straight sale? You send out the RFP, you get bids, you pick the best one, offer whatever financial assistance you can through PILOT programs and whatnot and let the purchaser run with it. The purpose of an RFP is to offer everyone an equal opportunity and avoid political favoritism and/or underhanded deals.   
-Again, if the city is planning to invest in a new road why wasn’t it included in the initial RFP so the bidders could incorporate that into their respective proposals. In a letter, one of the other bidders, a conglomerate that includes Warren Fane Inc., say they didn’t know anything about the road. Valente’s attorney, in a letter, said they didn’t either. I find it hard to believe the inclusion of a new road wouldn’t change the bids around a bit and both sides have indicated they will sue should the Council vote to sell or not sell.
-How much is the road worth. First it was $4.4 million in federal money but now it’s in excess of $5 million and the city is bonding for it. Now I'm told the $5 million is in addition to the $4.4 million so the road is worth $9 million-plus. The road is not a bad thing in that it will keep truck traffic off South Troy streets but if it benefits the project it should have been included in the RFP specs. 
-If approval of the state Legislature can take up to five years why isn’t the city on it already? Why hasn’t Assemblyman John McDonald or Sen. Neil Breslin taken up a bill and put it out there for debate? It’s essentially a home rule message so outside any opposition from environmentalists I don’t see why the majority of New York state should care. The city certainly didn’t waste any time changing the zoning around.
-According to the ordinance, the city is expecting to take land just north of the Scolite property, currently owned by Ludlow Valve, and give it to Valente. Was that included in the initial RFP and were the other three companies privy to that information. If not, it should have.
-What does it mean when it says the city is offering Valente a license? According to state law a municipality can grant a license to a business to: Maintain order, enforce the laws, protect property and preserve and care for the safety, health, comfort and general welfare of the inhabitants of the city and visitors thereto; and for any of said purposes to regulate and license occupations and businesses.” I’m told it applies to things like tattoo parlors and junkyards, not docking stations.
-Why won’t the city put the other three bids on its website so the public can get a look at them?
-The ordinance does not specifically spell out what Valente will be bringing into the South Troy site or shipping out of it. It does say he must adhere to any and all laws regarding whatever commodities he does transport, including garbage.

 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The cost of public information: $2,500


MANTELLO
Turns out former Troy Council candidate Carmella Mantello can get an electronic copy of last fall’s election – for a paltry sum of $2,500.
(A letter from the Rensselaer County BOE commissioners to Mantello, and a letter from Mantello to County Executive Kathy Jimino can be seen below)
According to a letter signed by Rensselaer County Board of Elections Commissioners Ed McDonough and Larry Bugbee, the data Mantello requested from the nail-biter of an election was handed over to a vendor, Dominion Voting, which provided technical support to the BOE.
“This presents you with two options to access the information you requested: Retrieval of the electronic data via the county’s BOE technology support vendor, or obtaining the legally required court order, with no opposition from the county BOE, to allow for review of the paper ballots,” said the letter from the BOE.
According to the invoice from Dominion, the process to extract the images is “complicated” and would take 10 hours at $250 an hour.
Why the BOE did not keep a copy of the images, as Mantello said the 2010 Help America Vote Act requires, is anyone’s guess. And why it would take 10 hours at $250 an hour to burn the images on a CD is another guess. Seems to me - and the Times Union editorial writers - the information should not only be readily available at the BOE, but made available on its website to save people the trip should they want to look at the results.
MCDONOUGH and BUGBEE
Mantello, who came up short in her bid for an At Large Council seat by 65 votes, has been rattling trees from local officials to the state Attorney General. She recently received an opinion from Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which backed up her claim the electronic ballot images should be a public document. I’m not an attorney, but that seems like a no-brainer to me.
“The Board has an obligation to maintain these images so they are readily accessible for any member of the public, and not create the situation where it would cost an individual some $2,500 for this information,” Mantello wrote to County Executive Kathy Jimino. “This is clearly an attempt to hide this information from the public and not have the information readily available. “It would appear that there's an ongoing conspiracy at the County Board of Elections to conceal public information which should not be allowed to continue any further.”

The BOE in Putnam County was withholding similar information from a candidate down there but ended up giving it up as required by law.
As I previously wrote, I can see McDonough giving Mantello a hard time since he’s a Democrat and well, that’s just the way the game is played sometimes. But Bugbee – a Republican who Mantello states testified in court against allowing her to see the paper ballots – should help out a member of his own party despite who likes her or who doesn’t.
Another question that comes to mind is what is the BOE hiding and why don't they want Mantello to see the ballots?


 
Dear County Executive Jimino, 
 
I received an email from you today, dated March 18, 2014, stating that 
you just spoke with the Chairman of the Legislature, Martin Reid, who informed you that the Board of Elections provided the information I was seeking in electronic format last week. 
 
Unfortunately, the information you were provided by the Chairman of the 
Legislature is incorrect. 
 
Subsequent to your email, I contacted Larry Bugbee, Republican Commissioner of Elections at the Rensselaer County Board. Per my request, Commissioner Bugbee emailed me the attached correspondence dated March 14, 2014 since it was only hard copy mailed. It is quite clear in the attached letter that the Rensselaer County Board of Elections has not provided me a copy of the electronic ballot images. 
 
I'm sure you are aware since 2010 the Help America Vote Act requires Boards of Elections to keep the digital images and a backup of these images as a record in any given election. Robert Freeman, Exec Director of the Comm on Open Government, has rendered an opinion that these images are available under a FOIL. It should be noted that I have been constructively denied this information for several months. 
Upon reading the letter I received today from the County Board of Elections it is obvious they continue to stonewall my efforts to receive the digital images which should be made available to me forthwith under the FOIL. 
 
The Board has an obligation to maintain these images so they are readily 
accessible for any member of the public, and not create the situation where it would cost an individual some $2500 for this information. This is clearly an attempt to hide this information from the public and not have the information readily available. I would submit county officials comply with the law, have it readily available, and send me the information request immediately as other counties, such as Putnam County recently did. It would appear that there's an ongoing conspiracy at the County Board of Elections to conceal public information which should not be allowed to continue any further. 
 
It should also be noted that Commissioner Bugbee gives the impression that my 
representative was given the opportunity to review any and all paper ballots. 
The only review of any paper ballots was during a random audit of 2 election 
districts and not a review of all paper ballots. In fact my request for review of all the paper ballots has been continually denied. In the correspondence Mr. Bugbee now states the board would not oppose a court ordered recount of the paper ballots. However, when I went to court and sought a recount in November, prior to the results being certified, Mr. Bugbee testified in opposition to my efforts. 
 

Carmella Mantello 

Monday, March 17, 2014

(UPDATED) Former THA employees plead guilty to fraud

MEISSNER

I remember when the scandal at the Troy Housing Authority was first unraveling. Four years ago, then vice chair of the board, Jay Vandenburgh, came into the office with what amounted to a shoe box of paperwork outlining how then Executive Secretary Bill Meissner was cooking the books – so to speak.

The pile of paperwork may have looked like a disorganized mess but Vandenburgh knew there was something up in regards to Meissner’s vacation time and with his comptroller, Roger Rosenthal’s pension.

Two years later, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli put the entire thing together in a neat little package and handed it off to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who Monday announced the two had plead guilty to defrauding the pension system and have to pay back $63,517.41.

Honestly, I thought they forgot about the whole thing and was as surprised as anyone, including Vandenburgh, to hear of the settlement. Not because the two weren’t guilty of something but because it took four years to come to a conclusion. Here is a column I wrote about the whole thing two years ago.

It could have been worse for Meissner and Rosenthal too but they hired one of the best attorneys in the city, E. Stewart Jones, and they struck a deal rather than face more serious penalties including outright theft of vacation time. If I recall correctly, Meissner used to take vacation, claimed he worked during them so they weren’t really vacations and then reimbursed his unused vacation time for cash -including the time he took a trip to the Caribbean for his daughter’s wedding.

In the end, the two former THA officials plead guilty to fabricating and backdating a contract in an attempt to show that Rosenthal, who retired from the THA in 2005, was working within the pension system parameters. The contract they fabricated, however, had letterhead that wasn’t even used by the THA until three years after the date the “contract” was signed. Yes, that is the epitome of #troycrazy.  

It wasn’t all Vandenburgh, Executive Secretary Dan Crawley took over for Meissner and when he went to the THA he brought with him city Comptroller Deborah Witkowski – who knows numbers, money and spread sheets like an 80-year-old bookie but is honest as the day is long.

Meissner and Rosenthal really had no chance, yet Meissner came out swinging against Vandenburgh.

There was some scuttlebutt by the commenters on who appointed who and if I recall correctly then Executive Secretary Mario Musolino, a Democrat hired by a board appointed by Mayor Mark Pattison, hired Meissner as comptroller. After Musolino went back to the state, Meissner was appointed acting executive secretary, by a board headed up by Republican Vince Jimino, and then he brought aboard Rosenthal. As one commenter astutely put it – Meissner was keeping the seat warm until Crawley was ready to make the jump from City Hall to the THA.

Anyway, good for Schneiderman and DiNapoli for following through with what Vandenburgh, Crawley and Witkowski uncovered. It took them four years but at least they got some of the public’s money back.  

Below is the press release by Schneiderman and DiNapoli:

A.G. Schneiderman And Comptroller DiNapoli Announce Guilty Pleas By Former Troy Housing Authority Employees Who Tried To Defraud New York State Retirement System
Roger Rosenthal, Former Comptroller For The Housing Authority, Conspired With William Meissner To Submit Forged Documents

Rosenthal Collected Pension While Earning More Than $200,000 From The Housing Authority
TROY — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced today that William Meissner and Roger Rosenthal, former Troy Housing Authority employees, pled guilty to defrauding the New York State Retirement System (NYSRS).

Rosenthal retired from the Troy Housing Authority in 2005 and began collecting a full pension with the NYSRS, then went back to working as a supposed ‘consultant’ with the Authority, collecting more than $200,000 in a three-year period in addition to the pension. 

When the validity of Rosenthal’s ‘consulting’ arrangement with the Housing Authority was questioned, Rosenthal and Meissner submitted a falsified, backdated contract in an effort to cover the illegal retirement payments.   As part of today’s plea agreement, Meissner and Rosenthal have paid New York State Retirement System $63,517.41 in restitution.

The case stems from a report produced jointly by the State Comptroller’s office and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General and is a product of the Joint Task Force on Public Integrity, a cooperative effort between the offices of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P DiNapoli that seeks to root out public corruption and maximize the resources of each office.

“These men abused the public trust, defrauded the New York State Retirement System, and harmed both taxpayers and retirees,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “I applaud Comptroller DiNapoli for referring this case to our office and for his continuing work in our partnership to ensure that those who defraud taxpayers are held accountable.”

“This case is about pure greed and Mr. Rosenthal scamming the retirement system by unlawfully double-dipping to collect $63,517,” State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “He and his accomplice, Mr. Meissner, were thwarted by the swift actions of my office in partnership with the HUD Inspector General and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. As a result of our joint efforts, we exposed the crime and have recovered the money stolen from the retirement system.”

“The arrests and charges today of Mr. Rosenthal and Mr. Meissner serve to remind the taxpayer that law enforcement will continue to pursue corruption, in all forms, especially those that impact the integrity of housing authorities overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban

Development. It is especially disappointing to learn that Mr. Rosenthal and Mr. Meissner used their positions with the Troy Housing Authority to facilitate their greed while the public reeled from the economic challenges of that time. We wish to thank the New York State Comptroller's Office and the New York State Attorney General's Office for their perseverance and steadfast efforts in ensuring a just conclusion to this matter,” said Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge, Northeast Region, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General.
Rosenthal and Meissner entered guilty pleas to Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, a class A misdemeanor, with intent to defraud the New York State Retirement System.

This matter was handled by Colleen Glavin and Stacy Aronowitz of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau. The Bureau is part of the Criminal Justice Division, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Zalewski trashes Doherty's videotaping ordinance

ZALEWSKI

DOHERTY
In no uncertain terms, Councilman Ken Zalewski, D-District 5, shot down a proposal by Councilman Bob Doherty, D-District 4, that would make it a crime for police to prohibit citizens from videotaping officers while they work.  

“I will state this clearly to you right now: If any legislation is presented to the Public Safety Committee that attempts to target police officers for actions that are already covered by law and procedure, I will vote against it,” Zalewski wrote to Det. Sgt. Sean Kittle in response to a letter he addressed to the entire Council. “In addition, I would encourage my colleagues to vote against it as well.
“This is a bit presumptuous of me, but I’m fairly confident that any such legislation would never make it out of committee.”
Doherty, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said his ordinance would carry a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 15 days in jail.
Kittle, in his letter to the Council, said he was “disheartened” by the ordinance, not because he disagrees with it in principal but because there are already laws protecting a citizen’s right to videotape police officers. Also, he said, it violates the Constitution by singling out police officers.
ZALEWSKI LETTER
“I am disheartened because I expect much more from an elected city official than an attempt to advance legislation that is directed at only a select group in our society,” Kittle wrote. “A na├»ve person may believe your intent is honorable because of misconceptions that exist. But, if you simply change the words from “Troy Police Officer” and replace it with some other specific group (ex: race, religion, disability, etc.) you may begin to realize that you, as an elected official, are not embracing the basic principles held in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Earlier, Capt. John Cooney called the ordinance an "insult."
Doherty has not formally proposed the legislation but it came out of a third Public Safety Committee meeting over the Jan. 25 melee at Kokopells bar that ended with eight officers injured – six requiring hospital care – and eight people arrested for a host of crimes including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
KITTLE LETTER
During the first, well-attended Public Safety Committee meeting, many of the public claimed the TPD implements institutionalized racism and often uses excessive force with little or no ramifications. The criticism continued during the second, but Police Chief John Tedesco did have an opportunity to respond to the accusations and many citizens defended the police not only for their actions on Jan. 25 but in general.
The letters came to this blog through someone with close ties to the Council.
 

  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Another jail employee files a lawsuit (DOCUMENT)


MAHAR
Another employee at the Rensselaer County jail has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Jack Mahar.
Senior Accountant David Snyder, a 20-year employee, claims Mahar or those working at his direction violated his right to privacy by accessing his medical records in 2007.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month, on Feb. 26 Snyder was not feeling well and visited the jail nurse who told him his blood pressure had skyrocketed and he should go to the hospital. After a visit to Samaritan, he missed one or two days of work.
Last year, Snyder along with nearly 50 other jail employees, received a letter from Samaritan telling him his medical records had been accessed by someone at the jail. The hospital had given the jail access to records to facilitate the continuity of care given to inmates by the hospital.
The account and password were given to nurse Debra Young, who has since resigned her 13-year post at the jail. However, the lawsuit claims she either left the password taped to her computer monitor or in her desk drawer. Young, through her attorney Kevin Luibrand, say the password was readily accessible to other employees and she maintains she did nothing wrong and is cooperating with the internal investigation headed up by Mahar.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Elmer Robert Keach, claims that in 2004, also claims Sheriff Jack Mahar instituted a new sick time policy to cut back on abuse. There were some employees, according to the suit, who Mahar suspected of abusing sick time and were denied time off absent a doctor’s note.
“To facilitate this policy, Sheriff Mahar personally accessed and/or directed, other employees at the Renssealer County Sheriff’s Department, including Defendant Young, to improperly access personal and medical information of multiple employees who were absent from work, were harmed from work, or were filing worker’s compensation claims,” according to the lawsuit. “This is evident by the fact Sheriff Mahar personally handled all claims for sick leave or other injury related benefits.”
   The latest lawsuit is one of a handful accusing Rensselaer County and Mahar of violating federal privacy laws - under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act - by improperly accessing confidential medical records. One was filed by the parents of a 9-year-old girl who claims she was injured by the K-9 owned by a corrections officer who was a neighbor.

None of the suits specify a dollar amount, but do ask for a jury to award punitive damages.
 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chief Tedesco under oath: There were problems (DOCUMENT)


(If you are at all interested, I highly recommend reading the deposition – it’s a good read. It can be seen at the end of this post.) 
A 2012 deposition given under oath by Police Chief John Tedesco outlines problems he saw with how Internal Affairs investigations were done before he became chief, and the influence by the Police Benevolent Association on such investigations.
“There was a – this memo was written shortly after Officer Fitzgerald, I believe, was either elected or reelected to his position as PBA president, and part of his campaign literature it stated, he boasted of his relationship with then Chief of Police Nick Kaiser,” Tedesco told attorney Elmer Keach. “And as to other Captains Fernett and Paul, my relationship has been strained for quite some time.”
“What do you mean? So Officer Fitzgerald boasted of what, having a good relationship with the chief?” Keach asked as a follow up question.
“Yes. I guess if one were reading it, it would be that he could get things resolved favorably, so to speak,” Tedesco answered.
According to a memo Tedesco wrote to then Corporation Counsel Dave Mitchell in December 2007, Fernett was head of the Internal Affairs at the time.
I’m not going to re-write the entire three-hour, 98-page deposition, first reported on by the Times Union, but it is a good read and does lend credence to concerns voiced by the minority community that their complaints about the TPD were largely ignored for years. And it shows one reason why the PBA was so dead set against having Tedesco appointed chief and pushed hard to get Anthony Magnetto appointed commissioner – because it knew Tedesco was going to shake up how the Troy Police Department policed their own.


The deposition was taken as part of the civil suit brought by James Foley, who claimed police brutality and who settled with the city for $90,000.  

Tedesco was appointed chief by Mayor Harry Tutunjian in 2010, Magnetto was appointed commissioner to oversee the day-to-day operation of the TPD by Mayor Lou Rosamilia in 2013. A year later, Magnetto went back into retirement and Tedesco now has his old responsibilities back.  

Tedesco outlined some changes he made – such as complaints are filed in duplicate with the person filing it getting a copy so as to have a record the complaint was made – and others he is working on such as taking the position of being head of IA out of the bidding process, which is now required in the PBA contract.
The chief said he did complain about the IA process with both the Harry Tutunjian administration and Kaiser but did stand up for an officer who pepper sprayed a woman handcuffed in the back seat of a cruiser because she was attempting to spit on him.
“I would say that, you know, handcuffs are not a full proof method of having someone subdued,” Tedesco said. “I think the officer’s actions in this according to this document I have before me, I would say that it is an appropriate use of pepper spray.”
The chief said, to his recollection, there have not been any police officers within 10 years of the deposition disciplined for excessive force or for being rude or inconsiderate to the public.
Tedesco also talks about a letter from federal Judge Gary Sharpe to Kaiser indicating one of his juries had concerns about the TPD internal affairs process while deliberating a case where a man allegedly suffered brain damage at the hands of officers.
“’It was their distinct view, however, that there was no real effort by Internal Affairs to investigate those complaints,”’ referring to use of force complaints,” Keach read from the letter.
It’s unclear which case in particular Sharpe had before him but Tedesco said Kaiser did not make any adjustments to how discipline was handled by the TPD.
When he became chief, Tedesco said he let it known that there would be changes and he would not put up with some of the behaviors that he indicated were either ignored or buried like before.
“Was that words or substance you letting your subordinate police officers know there is a new sheriff in town, things are going to be done differently,” Keach asked Tedesco.
“Yes. The sheriff would support them, however, I will support them only so far, you have to be correct in what you are doing … If you have to defend yourself, if one punch does it, that’s all you get.”
Foley was struck by four officers 15 times, according to Keach, and suffered a punctured lung when he was arrested in 2010.
Keach (pictured right) also represents the owners of Kokopellis, Barry and Joe Glick, who have filed a notice of claim with the intent to sue the city over what they claim were inappropriate actions by officers of the TPD on Jan. 25.

 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Valente answers Scolite concerns (DOCUMENTS)

SCOLOITE 
     Attorneys for R.J. Valente answered concerns raised by one of the entities that was not awarded the Scolite, in part by saying they were not aware the city was planning to build an access road at the time it requested proposals from interested bidders to develop the South Troy site.

“RJ Valente Companies in submitting the RFP had no knowledge nor discussion of any industrial road being extended to the Scolite site and all submittals were based on the information available at the time to all parties,” wrote Joseph Zappone, an attorney for Valente. “RJ Valente Companies was made aware of the city’s thoughts for proposing their scope of improvements from the King Fuels property to connect north up to the Congress Street Bridge most recently on our about the beginning of 2014.”
The letter goes on to state the Valente proposal has been approved by an 18-member panel as well as the Zoning and Planning boards. 
In August, 2013, the city awarded the Scolite property to Valente and agreed to enter into “exclusive negotiations” with the company on how to develop the site. In June, 2013, Valente purchased the adjacent Bruno Machinery property for $750,000. In October, 2013, the city changed the zoning from commercial to heavy industrial at Valente’s request even though he did not yet formally own the property.
Attorneys for Adams Street Properties, a conglomerate that includes the company of Warren W. Fane, wrote a letter asking the city to put the property back out to bid since a constructed road wasn’t included in the Request for Proposal documentation. If it were, the letter states, their parameters of their own bid may have been different. Furthermore, the company is concerned, according to the letter, with the industrial road crossing on property owned by Adams Street Properties and with the potential of eminent domain being utilized to take their property for such a construction.  
 The city does have some $4 million of federal money it is planning to use on constructing the road and the money has to be spent by sometime in September.
How the truck traffic will get back and forth from the Scolite site to Route 787, the nearest highway, with minimal disruption to the South Troy neighborhood is a bone of contention among neighbors and a challenge to those looking to develop the site.
It appears that if the city doesn’t put the chunk of land back out to bid the Fane group will sue. If they do go back out to bid with the inclusion of the road Valente will sue. In their respective letters, the two companies outline their stances on what they think should happen.

(The Fane letter can be seen from the post linked above and the Valente letter can be seen below)
Final approval of the sale to Valente was pulled from the city Council’s Feb. 6 regular meeting agenda by Mayor Lou Rosamilia because members had some questions as to the bid process. It was also not on the Council’s March Finance Committee agenda.
The other two bidders on the Scolite properties were Collar City Aggregate and Land Development of New York.


 

Mason is a marshal without the mess


MASON
By unanimous vote, the Troy Council approved the appointment of five city marshals, bypassing the drama that accompanied the largely benign position two years ago.
To get around the drama, the Council lumped all five marshals – Jack McCann, Rick Mason, Keith McDermott, Mike McDonald and Mike DeViddio - into the same resolution that it unanimously passed at last week’s meeting. Even though some of their terms have not yet expired, the Council opted not to stagger the appointments thereby isolating certain marshals that in the past have drawn political fire. McCann's term isn't up until the end of the month, for example, and Mason's isn't up until May.
If you remember, two years ago, Rensselaer County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Wade came out strong against the Mason’s appointment in part, because he was a friend of then Councilman Kevin McGrath. Initially the Council passed Mason’s appointment 5-2, Mayor Lou Rosamilia vetoed it because of a technicality and a month later it passed by a 5-4 vote. In the middle of all that, Wade made the unprecedented call for McGrath’s resignation.  In the end McGrath won the battle and eventually the war.
This year, however, everything went off without a hitch or even a whisper. Obviously, the dynamics have changed in two years. McGrath (pictured right) opted not to run for another term, Rodney Wiltshire usurped Lynn Kokpa as Council president – the former not being nearly as loyal to Wade as the latter – and he’s willing to cut some deals with the GOP minority while still appeasing the Wade crowd.
By approving the marshals en masse everyone gets what they want without raising the ire or egos of those involved.
The anti-Wade crowd gets Mason, the Wade crowd gets McCann, McDermott and McDonald the GOP get DeViddio – who has been a loyal party soldier for years.
The marshal is a pretty benign appoint in that their paycheck is based on the number of summons and eviction notices they choose to deliver, but with the limited number of jobs at the Council’s decision it is seen as a way to pay back those loyal to a party or a person.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dems send Laquidara's name to governor

LAQUIDARA

The Rensselaer County Democratic Party Executive Committee endorsed Carmelo Laquidara for district attorney, Saturday.
Well, it’s shy of an all-out endorsement in that the Democrats only voted to send his name to the governor for consideration and the whole committee will need to meet to actually nominate him for its formal candidate sometime in the near future. Obviously, that’s a given.
The governor could appoint Laquidara, or anyone else for that matter but odds are he won’t buck the local party, to fill the spot left vacant by Rich McNally, who is now a Supreme Court judge. There will be an election in November for a full four-year term. Right now, McNally’s number two guy, Arthur Glass, is filling in as DA by default.
ABELOVE
If Gov. Andrew Cuomo does decide to appoint Laquidara, the City of Rensselaer judge will have a leg up on any Republican opponent since it’s always easier to run as an incumbent. Laquidara also has decent name recognition and has run county wide, narrowly losing a primary for Rensselaer County court judge to Troy City Court Judge Christopher Maier.
For the Republicans, three names are out there with the frontrunner apparently Joel Abelove, a former assistant district attorney under then DA Trish DeAngelis who lost to McNally in 2012. Others who have either sent a letter of interest to the GOP are Troy attorney Bill Comiskey, who ran for Troy city court judge in the 80s and North Greenbush attorney Kathryn Dell, who ran for DA in the 90s as a Democrat.
 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Public can already videotape police; ordinance is an 'insult' at best


Imagine if a Department of Public Works employee trashes your mailbox while snowplowing and he or she is arrested for vandalism, fined and has to do some jail time.
That’s pretty much the same premise behind an ordinance proposed by Councilman Bob Doherty, D-District 4, that would make it a crime for police to prohibit the public from photographing or videotaping an officer’s activities. The punishment for doing such, according to Doherty, would carry a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence up to 15 days, according to Doherty, chair of the Public Safety Committee.
For starters, police officers work for the city so if the officer is charged – and a cop is innocent until proven guilty just like anyone else – he or she is indemnified and the city has to represent them. And if the officer is found guilty, the city would be responsible for paying the fine. Who does the city pay the fine too … itself?
Also, according to the City Charter, any ordinance passed by the Council “shall be punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year or both, or as a violation by a fine not exceeding $250 or by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 days, or both.”
So, if Doherty does implement his ordinance as proposed, first he would need to change the Charter.
In addition to the local issues, there are numerous federal court cases that already give the public the right to photograph or videotape police officers so long as doing so does not interfere with the officers’ duties. Officers are fair game just like anyone else on a public street or a public gathering spot. A law prohibiting police officers from doing something that is already prohibited is duplicitous at best.
Capt. John Cooney called the ordinance an "insult." I'm sure other officers are calling it much worse, and rightly so.
Obviously, Doherty is catering to the large contingent of Troy that came out strong against the police in the wake of the Jan. 25 melee at Kokopellis. Many residents claim there police used excessive force and have used excessive force for years particularly against minorities. He also pointed to two other cases – James Foley who settled his brutality suit for $90,000, and Brian Houle, whose civil suit is still pending.
The melee did highlight problems between police and the community, but as an elected member of the Council, Doherty should work to bridge the gap and not ostracize or insult one side or another as he is clearly doing with this inane, useless ordinance.