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Joyce Mitchell, prison worker accused of helping killers escape, due in court

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

PLATTSBURGH (AP) — A northern New York prison worker accused of smuggling hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat to two killers who later broke out and spent more than two weeks on the run is due in court Tuesday for arraignment.

Joyce Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at Clinton Correctional Facility, was jailed shortly after the elaborately staged June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat. Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26, about 30 miles west of the prison; Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later and sent to another prison.

Mitchell is accused of providing hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Matt. Authorities say she became close to the pair, agreed to be their getaway driver and even discussed killing her husband. But she backed out at the last moment, forcing Matt and Sweat to flee on foot after they emerged from a manhole near the maximum-security prison.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said the 51-year-old woman will be arraigned Tuesday morning on charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband and fourth-degree criminal facilitating. Wylie said she is expected to waive her right to a grand jury hearing.

Her lawyer, Stephen Johnston, has said he hoped for a plea agreement.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty after her arrest. She was suspended without pay from her job when she was arrested June 12.

Authorities said she smuggled hacksaw blades and other tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat she placed in a refrigerator in the tailor shop. They said corrections officer Gene Palmer then took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their meals.

Authorities do not believe Palmer knew of the escape plan. He was released on bail after being arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband.

Investigators do not think knowledge of the plot went beyond Matt, Sweat and Mitchell.

Authorities say Matt and Sweat cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to tunnels, broke through a brick wall, cut into and out of a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away.

Categories: State/Local

Top Senate Democrat calls Libous conviction ''tragic,'' says party has chance in GOP-leaning district

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Albany

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said last week's conviction of state Sen. Tom Libous for lying to federal investigators was "tragic on so many levels."

"As the government, we have to understand that people really expect us to be on a higher level," Stewart-Cousins said Monday on WCNY's "Capital Pressroom."

Even so, Stewart-Cousins also expressed her hope that Democrats will win Libous' seat at the special election in November as part of their overall push to retake the majority after the 2016 elections.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week endorsed the candidacy of Barbara Fiala, his former Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, and Stewart-Cousins has signed on to that effort as well.

While the lawmaker acknowledged that it won't be easy to get the Southern Tier seat — voter registration in the district gives the edge to Republicans — she believes that it is a fight that the Democrats will be able to win.

"Everyone understands that as Democrats we get a lot done," she said. "We are good for New York."

Stewart-Cousins said the conference is making plans for what it would do after winning the majority.

Asked about the SAFE Act "memorandum of understanding" signed recently by Cuomo and Senate GOP leader John Flanagan, Stewart-Cousins expressed continuing support for the gun control law, and her hope that it will not weaken despite the MOU.

Republicans have claimed the MOU cancels the development of a database that facilitates background checks for ammunition purchases. Cuomo's administration, however, says that project is moving forward and that the MOU merely reiterated elements of the existing law.

Categories: State/Local

Teachout to lead campaign finance reform PAC

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Albany

Fordham Law School professor, author and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Zephyr Teachout will serve as the CEO of Mayday PAC, which describes itself as the "Super PAC to end all Super PACs and the corruption of private money."

"Getting ready for 2016!," Teachout announced on Twitter on Monday.

The PAC, created in 2014 by Harvard professor and progressive gadfly Lawrence Lessig, supports incumbents and challengers who advocate for any one of five pieces of legislation that would create public financing systems for elections.

Almost every Mayday-backed candidate lost in the 2014 cycle, which prompted a recalibration of its strategy.

Although she was soundly defeated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in her primary bid, Teachout outperformed expectations after she was refused the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

Teachout earned roughly a third of the Democratic vote, and won large chunks of upstate with her message of reform and transparency.

She will also serve as chairwoman of the Mayday board, but will keep her Fordham job. (Teachout noted when her campaign ended that her immediate plans involved securing tenure.)

She said in a Facebook post that Mayday would hire an executive director.

In the same post, she said her "personal goal is to connect race and concentrated power to how candidates raise money."

"Basically, if the color of campaign money is overwhelmingly white — which it is — we should see how that connects to political silence on serious race issues," Teachout wrote. "And if the funnel of money comes from concentrated industries — which it does — we should see how that connects to political acquiescence in our new monopoly politics."

Categories: State/Local

Biden in Rochester to tout $600 million hub for photonics research, development

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

ROCHESTER (AP) — Rochester has been chosen as the national headquarters for a photonics hub that will be launched with more than $600 million in federal, state, university and industry investment.

Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement in western New York Monday.

New York's bid was selected from among three finalists for the U.S. defense department project. Southern California and central Florida also were in the running.

Supporters say the project could mean thousands of jobs for the region as it brings together government, industry and academia to advance photonics research and its use commercially.

Photonics involves the use of light in robotics, medical imaging, national security and other fields.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter says the institute could shape the region's economy for decades.

Categories: State/Local

Fire destroyed two buildings in heart of Lake Placid

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

LAKE PLACID (AP) — A fire has destroyed two building in Lake Placid, just a day before hundreds are expected to partake in the annual Ironman triathlon in the village.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports Saturday that police and firefighters will need to remain at the scene throughout the night.

Flames broke out around 6:30 p.m. in a building with apartments and stores. They quickly spread to a neighboring building.

Officials with the state's Department of Environmental Conservation are also working to keep falling debris away from the Ironman swim course.

The buildings are near Mirror Lake, where the competition kicks off with a swim Sunday morning.

Triathalon officials said Sunday's race went ahead as scheduled.

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

It's a slow week in state government despite a visit from the White House's No. 2 elected official:

MONDAY

• State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher will participate in a panel discussion moderated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on "Serving Students and Accelerating Innovation: A Vision for the Future of Higher Education." The event, starting at 9:30 a.m. from the University of Maryland Baltimore College, will be webcast.

• The state Board of Elections meets at noon at its offices at 40 N. Pearl St. in Albany.

• Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make a major infrastructure announcement — reportedly the renovation of LaGuardia Airport — at 2:30 p.m. at the Sheraton New York. The two are then expected to journey to the Rochester area for another announcement, this one expected to concern a new high-tech center. Both events will be webcast on the Capitol Confidential blog.

TUESDAY

• The Commission on Statewide Attorney Discipline, created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to conduct a comprehensive review of the state's attorney disciplinary system, meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Court of Appeals, 20 Eagle St., Albany. It's one of three public hearings to receive the views of interested individuals and organizations.

— Staff report, NYSNYS.com

Categories: State/Local

Man pleads guilty in eagle deaths case

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

A western New York man has pleaded guilty in the deaths of three young bald eagles that ate poisoned meat he set out to kill coyotes.

Federal prosecutors say 54-year-old Kirk Canfield of Wilson pleaded guilty Friday to violating the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act.

Investigators say Canfield put a pile of meat mixed with an insecticide at the edge of a cornfield on his produce farm last August in an attempt to kill coyotes. But some of the meat was eaten by the eagles, which were found dead nearby by an individual riding an ATV.

He faces up to a year in prison when he's sentenced in October.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Hi again, Karner blue

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Albany

More than 20 years of habitat restoration and breeding programs have helped the endangered Karner blue butterfly make a comeback in the Capital Region pine barrens where it was discovered by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov decades ago.

"This project has been unbelievably rewarding," said Neil Gifford, conservation director for the 3,200-acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve. "Getting to see an animal that was on the brink of extinction locally now have a robust and healthy population is just incredible."

The silvery-blue, postage stamp-size butterfly that was among the first species on the federal endangered list in 1973 is also making a comeback in parts of Ohio and New Hampshire where it was thought to have been wiped out before 2000. Populations have persisted in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The outlook is less sunny in some other parts of the butterfly's former range from Minnesota to New England. At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana, extensive work to restore and expand the butterfly's sandy, savannah-like habitat has come to naught.

"The population over the last 15 years has declined to the point where we're pretty concerned that it's been lost from this area," said Ralph Grundel, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Porter, Indiana. The reasons are elusive.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Karner blue has declined by 99 percent over the past 100 years, with 90 percent of the decline occurring in the last 15. Among the reasons are habitat loss from land development and suppression of the wildfires that are a necessary part of the ecology of the pine barren and black oak savanna where the insects live.

The Karner blue is still found in the Pine Bush just west of Albany where it was discovered by Nabokov in the 1940s. The author of "Lolita" and Cornell University educator was also a notable butterfly expert who played a key role in establishing the relationship between the Karner blue and its dwindling pine barrens habitat. His research was at the heart of the discussion of habitat and restoration provisions of the Endangered Species Act passed by Congress in 1973.

Recovery efforts focus on restoring the original pine barrens ecology by removing non-native trees such as black locust, burning the landscape to destroy invasive plants and help fire-dependent species like pitch pine and scrub oak, and planting plenty of blue lupine, the only plant Karner blue larvae eat.

Scientists have also partnered with New Hampshire officials in a captive breeding program since 2001. New York sends adult Karner blues to New Hampshire each spring, and New Hampshire returns some of the pupating larvae back to Albany to be hatched and released.

Butterflies have been released at 21 sites and have naturally colonized other sites in the preserve. The number of Karner blues has gone from about 200 in 1991 to more than 14,000 now, Gifford said.

The federal threshold for recovery is a population above 3,000 in four of five consecutive years. Gifford said the recovery goal is likely to be met next year.

At Indiana Dunes, habitat restoration hasn't been enough to save the Karner blue. When he started working there 20 years ago, Grundel said there were 5,000 to 10,000 Karner blues. Only two were found in 2014 and none this year.

An unusually warm spring and dry summer in 2012 are one explanation, as lupine growth cycles were out of sync with Karner blue larvae hatching. But the numbers were plummeting before then.

"People are concerned," Grundel said. "There's a recognition that we need to do more research to better pinpoint the causes for the decline."

Categories: State/Local

Changing lives of millions

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

New York

Five days before he was to start college, Fred Maahs' world turned upside down.

Off the Delaware coast in 1980, on the last day of summer vacation, the 18-year-old took a dive from his family's boat into an unseen sandbar barely a foot below the surface, suffering injuries that paralyzed him from the chest down.

After months of medical care, he had to find a new college to attend — the one at which he enrolled said its campus was not accessible to wheelchairs. One of his first jobs was on the second floor of a building with no elevator; two friends carried him up and down the stairs.

"For those first couple of years, I was really dependent on family or friends," said Maahs. "Back then, people with disabilities were primarily kept at home."

Were that diving accident to happen now, the campus and workplace would be accessible — with ramps, curb cuts, elevators, designated parking spots. A blind or deaf person, or anyone with a host of other disabilities, also would find accommodations enhancing their independence and engagement — all of this the legacy of the sweeping Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law 25 years ago, on July 26, 1990.

"Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down," declared President George H. W. Bush as he prepared to sign the legislation.

The act is monumental in scope, intended to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and enable them to participate fully in the workforce and their communities.

Its protections, which now cover an estimated 55 million Americans, extend to five key areas: employment, state and local government facilities and services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation.

Even before the ADA was signed, Fred Maahs was well on his way to a successful career as a businessman and disability-rights activist.

He is now an executive of Comcast Corp. and recently ended a term as chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

By bringing attention to physical barriers, the ADA has made "a quantum difference," he says. And yet the law — like the 1964 Civil Rights Act that helped inspire it — remains a work in progress, with some of its goals still unfulfilled.

"The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is outrageous," Maahs said. "And a law isn't going to change the attitudinal barriers. Probably at some point in their life, every kid today with some form of disability will encounter discrimination or stereotyping or bullying."

Categories: State/Local

Price-gouging probe opened

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Washington

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Friday the government has opened a price-gouging investigation involving five airlines that allegedly raised airfares in the Northeast after a deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May disrupted rail service.

The Transportation Department sent letters on Friday to Delta, American, United, Southwest and JetBlue airlines seeking information on their prices before and after the May 12 train crash.

Among the routes the department asked airlines for price information on were flights to certain Northeast destinations from Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport near Washington, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, three New York area airports — Newark, John F. Kennedy, and LaGuardia, Logan International Airport in Boston; MacArthur Airport-Long Island in New York, Green Airport in Rhode Island, and Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.

"The idea that any business would seek to take advantage of stranded rail passengers in the wake of such a tragic event is unacceptable," Foxx said.

The department is exploring whether the price hikes violated federal regulations prohibiting airlines from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices. The letters to airlines explain that generally a practice is "unfair" if it "causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers," cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers and "is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumer or competition."

The investigation was prompted in part by a May 19 letter from Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., who complained to the Obama administration that some airlines had increased fares to as high as $2,300 following the train crash.

However, he also noted that some airlines "self-corrected after I initially expressed concern."

"I was glad to see that after their $2,300 flight raised eyebrows, Delta Air Lines announced that it would make every effort to accommodate passengers affected by the service outage along Amtrak's lines in the Northeast," he said. On Friday, Delta was charging $428 for a same-day, one-way fare from LaGuardia to Reagan National.

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said the airline didn't raise fares after the train crash and that the $2,300 fare was in existence before May 12. The airline also said in a statement that it lowered its highest shuttle prices after the crash "by nearly 50 percent, to about $300 each way," for travel between New York, Boston and Washington. The airline said it honored existing Amtrak tickets for travel between Washington, Boston and New York, waived change fees for travel on Delta Shuttle flights between those markets, and increased seat capacity in the region by adding flights and operating larger aircraft.

American said it added capacity and its fare structure remained the same after the crash. United, JetBlue and Southwest said they are cooperating with the investigation.

Amtrak services between Philadelphia and New York were shut down for five days following the accident. That affected passengers traveling through that region. For example, passengers couldn't travel from Washington to Boston or New York, or from Boston to Philadelphia or Baltimore.

Full service resumed on May 18.

Categories: State/Local

New hire for ethics board attacked

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Albany

Four commissioners on the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics say the recent hiring of State Police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Gagan as the watchdog panel's chief of staff and special counsel is "plainly invalid," and another example of "incessant interference" in its operations.

In a letter submitted to the Times Union, the commissioners — all legislative appointees — argued that the hiring by JCOPE's outgoing executive director is improper because Gagan's special counsel title wasn't listed in a staffing plan, approved in 2012 soon after the panel's creation, that handed responsibility for filling certain posts to the executive director.

Tuesday's announcement of Gagan's hiring coincided with news that JCOPE's Executive Director Letizia Tagliafierro will depart at the end of the month to take a new post as the deputy commissioner at the state Department of Taxation and Finance, where she will lead the criminal investigations division.

"We wish her well," the letter states. "Unfortunately in her departure certain staff moves were made amounting to midnight appointments."

The letter was signed by commissioners Joseph Covello and George H. Weissman, who were appointed to JCOPE by former Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos; Marvin Jacob, who was picked by former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; and David Renzi, named by Assembly GOP leader Brian Kolb.

Referring to Gagan, the letter says, "Although there may be other positions to which this person could be appointed, which should not occur in any event under this cloud of darkness, Special Counsel does not exist and any payments to this person in this title are impermissible."

JCOPE spokesman Walt McClure had no comment.

Gagan would not, however, be the panel's first special counsel: Rob Cohen served in that capacity in addition to his title of director of ethics and lobbying guidance.

The commissioners closed the letter by arguing that Gagan's hiring is indicative of a more general problem.

"Needless to say, this appointment and the cavalier approach taken only foretells more bad news for JCOPE. Designed to be 'independent,' the incessant interference continues," the letter states. "If the next Executive Director is not hired from outside State government after an exhaustive search, the public trust will be inexorably destroyed."

Though the source of the interference is not identified in the letter, it would not be the first time JCOPE commissioners have groused about meddling from the executive branch.

Tagliafierro was Gov. Andrew Cuomo's former director of intergovernmental affairs. JCOPE's former executive director, Ellen Biben, served in Cuomo's attorney general office before being named by him as state inspector general. Gagan served as an assistant attorney general under Cuomo, who appointed him to his State Police post after becoming governor.

JCOPE also announced this week that Chief of Staff and Deputy Counsel Monica Stamm will become general counsel. Stamm served as Attorney General Cuomo's deputy bureau chief for public integrity.

A Cuomo spokeswoman declined to comment.

Under the 2011 legislation that created JCOPE, the governor appoints six of its 14 commissioners, "at least three of whom shall be enrolled members of the major political party that is not that of the Governor." The other eight are named by legislative leaders: three apiece by majority leaders, one apiece by the minority conference chiefs. (Those eight, however, must be balanced evenly between Democrats and Republicans.)

The changes occur as JCOPE prepares to take on expanded duties as a result of the ethics changes included in this spring's state budget agreement. Under the changes — demanded by Cuomo in the wake of the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — groups spending more than $5,000 lobbying municipalities with populations of more than 5,000 will have to register that activity; the previous cutoff had been populations of 50,000 or more.

JCOPE has said it will expand its staff to deal with the increase in its oversight role.

An eight-member JCOPE review panel named in early May by Cuomo and legislative leaders is now halfway through its anticipated lifespan, though it's unclear if any activity has taken place. The review panel was originally required by statute to be named almost a year earlier; Cuomo and lawmakers ignored that deadline and gave themselves a new one in the 2015 budget negotiation.

Dick Dadey, executive director of the ethics reform group Citizens Union, said he had heard "nothing" about the review panel's activities — including whether it would be scheduling public hearings — despite numerous queries.

Dadey pointed to the latest wave of corruption news, including the convictions of former senators Tom Libous and John Sampson.

"With these legislators dropping like flies, it's remarkable that this review commission isn't doing anything," he said.

A JCOPE spokesman identified Anthony Crowell, dean of New York Law School, as a media contact for the review panel. Crowell did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

The report is due Nov. 1.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Sen. Sampson found guilty of 3 charges, loses Senate seat

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Albany

John L. Sampson, the Brooklyn state senator and one-time Democratic majority conference leader, was convicted Friday on three federal charges — obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements.

Because the convictions were felonies, Sampson lost his Senate seat as soon as the verdict was rendered.

Sampson was acquitted of six charges. The judge in the case had earlier tossed out charges of embezzlement because the statute of limitations had expired, through prosecutors intend to appeal that decision.

Sampson was originally charged with embezzling funds that were supposed to go back to the courts in foreclosure proceedings where he had been appointed as a referee. The other charges focused on his subsequent efforts to cover up the alleged stealing. Sampson's conviction following a three-week trial was the second such action against a sitting New York State lawmaker in less than 48 hours: On Wednesday, Republican Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous of Binghamton was convicted of lying to an FBI agent, bringing an end to his quarter-century career in the chamber.

Even by Albany's standards, the recent cases are extraordinary, given both their frequency and the fact that they involve state lawmakers who occupied top leadership positions.

Sampson was appointed as conference leader in 2009 at the end of the five-week Senate coup crisis that served as the dysfunctional low point of the Democrats' rocky two-year tenure in the majority. The title of majority leader was given to Pedro Espada Jr., whose defection to the Republican conference had kicked off the coup. Espada is currently in federal prison after being convicted of raiding the nonprofit health care group he ran.

This year has seen the federal indictments of Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both of whom were tossed from their leadership posts but remain in office pending their trials. Former Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith of Queens — whom Sampson replaced as the head of the conference — was convicted earlier this year on bribery charges.

Sampson's conviction prompted good-government groups to repeat their calls for large-scale ethics laws overhauls.

Citizens Union noted that 31 state lawmakers have been convicted or left office amid scandal over the past 15 years; a third of those exits have occurred since 2013.

Several groups called for lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to come back to the Capitol as soon as possible to pass tougher ethics rules. Blair Horner, legislative director at the state Public Interest Research Group, referencing a recent poll that found an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers think scandals are a problem in Albany.

"Only a shrinking number of New York's political elite disagree," Horner said. Cuomo on Thursday rejected the notion of a special session, saying nothing had changed since last month's end of the legislative session regarding lawmakers' willingness to pass further reforms.

Even some elected lawmakers weighed in. Hudson Valley Democratic Sen. George Latimer also called for closing the LLC loophole, but also called for more vigilance by voters.

"It's time for the people of the state of New York ... to hold lawmakers accountable at the ballot box," Latimer said. "Four of the disgraced officials were re-elected by their district voters last November. Voters need to place ethical behavior above party affiliation if we are to truly right the ship."

Smith was turned out by voters last fall, more than a year after his spring 2013 arrest. Sampson, who was dropped as conference leader in 2011 and expelled from the Democratic conference after his arrest, prevailed in November.

The cases against Smith, Skelos, Silver and Libous were brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, but Sampson's case was in the Eastern District.

Categories: State/Local

Silver loses bid to get charges wiped

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

New York

Former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lost a bid Friday to have corruption charges against him thrown out.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan dismissed the Democrat's efforts to portray behavior that earned him millions of dollars over the last decade as innocent conduct that, at most, stretched the limits of ethics rules.

"Evidence that Silver went to lengths to conceal his allegedly ill-gotten gains is evidence both of Silver's knowledge that the money that he received constituted 'criminally derived property' ... and evidence of Silver's consciousness of guilt regarding his allegedly fraudulent and extortionate activities," the judge wrote.

Silver is free on bail after his January arrest on charges that he collected $4 million in kickbacks by abusing his powerful legislative position. The 71-year-old Silver faces a Nov. 2 trial, where he has vowed to be vindicated.

His lawyers said in a statement Friday that they were studying Caproni's decision.

"We look forward to a trial of this case in which Mr. Silver will clear his name," they said.

Caproni noted that prosecutors plan to prove that Silver used his power and influence to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

"The fact that the payments Silver allegedly received as 'bribes' or 'kickbacks' were funneled through entities in which he had an undisclosed interest does not transform the bribery or kickback schemes into 'undisclosed conflict-of-interest' schemes," she wrote.

In court papers, defense attorneys had argued that the indictment made allegations that weren't crimes, but instead constituted "longstanding features of New York state government that the U.S. attorney finds distasteful."

Silver, a Manhattan resident, resigned from his Senate leadership post after his arrest but retained his Assembly seat.

First elected in 1976, he represents a district on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he was born and raised.

Categories: State/Local

Despite alcohol test, DWI charge still holds in Cutchogue

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

Riverhead

A New York prosecutor said a misdemeanor DWI charge remains in effect "at this time" for the pickup truck driver who police say slammed into a limousine in Long Island wine country, leaving four women dead and four others injured, even though his blood-alcohol reading was below the legal limit.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Friday that a lab report revealed the driver, Steven Romeo, had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.066, below the legal standard of 0.08 for a driving while intoxicated charge. The prosecutor said Romeo's blood was taken one hour and 40 minutes after the fatal crash on July 18.

Spota said toxicologists have indicated Romeo's blood-alcohol level "was most likely over 0.08" at the time of the crash, but that the investigation remains ongoing and no final determination has been made on whether to proceed with a DWI prosecution. He said he is still awaiting the results of drug tests, as well as an accident reconstruction report to determine the speed of the pickup truck and other factors.

Spota also said none of the surviving women involved in the crash have been interviewed by authorities yet.

Eight friends were in a limousine after a day touring eastern Long Island's wine country when the vehicle was slammed by a pickup truck while making a U-turn at an intersection along Route 48 in Cutchogue. Police said a pickup truck driven by Romeo broadsided the car. Three of the injured women remain hospitalized, as does Romeo, Spota said Friday.

Romeo, a 55-year-old businessman from Southold, has pleaded not guilty. Bail was initially set at $500,000 but was reduced Thursday to $50,000, in part because of the revelations about his blood-alcohol level, Spota said.

One of his lawyers, Dan O'Brien, said in a statement Friday that Romeo "is devastated by the loss of those lives and the injuries sustained," but insisted that his client was not drunk at the time of the crash, nor did he cause the accident.

Authorities have said that Romeo was making a legal U-turn at the intersection. Southold town Police Chief Martin Flately has said limousine drivers are ticketed about a dozen times a month for backing into the intersection on the four-lane roadway while maneuvering the turn, but the limousine driver involved in the fatal crash was not issued a summons.

Categories: State/Local

Remains of WWII pilot from Herkimer are identified

Albany Times/Union - 10 min 43 sec ago

HERKIMER. (AP) — The remains of a World War II pilot from New York have been identified and will be buried in his upstate hometown more than 70 years after he died in a crash in the southwest Pacific.

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Thursday that the remains of 2nd Lt. Edward F. Barker of Herkimer have been identified from circumstantial evidence and DNA provided by his niece and nephew.

Barker was a 21-year-old Army Air Forces pilot when he failed to return from a training mission on Sept. 30, 1944, in Papua New Guinea.

In 1962, a U.S. military team discovered the wreckage of Barker's P-4 Thunderbolt in a mountainous region. His remains weren't recovered until 2012.

Barker will be buried Aug. in Calvary Cemetery in Herkimer, 60 miles east of Syracuse.

Categories: State/Local

Ex-DMV chief gets backing to run

Albany Times/Union - 5 hours 10 min ago

Albany

A state lawmaker's "sad, sad personal tragedy" could prove to be a former state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner's chance to run for state Senate.

As he lamented the conviction of prominent Republican Tom Libous on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo endorsed his former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala, a Democrat, to run for the now-vacant Southern Tier seat that Libous occupied for 26 years.

The endorsement was of statewide import for a few reasons — particularly because the governor said he'd do "whatever I can" to get Fiala elected to what has long been seen as a safe Republican seat in the closely divided Senate.

"She knows Albany, she knows Broome County, she knows the district — she would be fantastic, I think, as a candidate," Cuomo said on WCNY's "The Capitol Pressroom." " ... She has 100 percent integrity and 100 percent performance."

Cuomo's encouragement came less than 24 hours after Libous, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, was convicted of lying to FBI agents. He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 30.

A few hours after the governor's interview, Fiala told Gannett News Service she would formally announce her candidacy next week. That would give her roughly three months before an off-cycle election for the seat is held this November.

While Cuomo's support for a former commissioner wasn't surprising, it represented a turn from what Senate Democrats perceived as his lukewarm support from the governor in the 2012 and 2014 cycles.

His words were of special note for a race in the 52nd Senate District, where voter registration favors Republicans by roughly 10 percent.

"He's saying the right words, and in the next couple of months we'll see if those words have any meaning," said one Democratic source.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement the conference is excited for "such an accomplished and qualified candidate" to run for the seat. She indicated her conference has been talking with Fiala for several months.

Raw politics aside, Cuomo expressed sadness for Libous' fall.

"I've been in his district with him; he's a hero in his district," he said. "He's not well. He's been battling cancer and showing up for work and showing the strength and the courage that frankly I found admirable. He never stopped serving the people of his district even though he had tremendous pain."

Wednesday's conviction provided more fodder for good government groups who have been calling for a special legislative session to address ethics reforms.

Cuomo scoffed at the idea, and pointed to the ethics fixes passed since he took office.

"Special session to do what? We've proposed every ethics law imaginable," he said. "We've proposed and accomplished unprecedented disclosure of law firms and conflicts of interest of clients."

mhamilton@timesunion.com 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Operator of Subway shops sued after manager allegedly propositioned job applicants

Albany Times/Union - 10 hours 10 min ago

Albany

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued the operator of two dozen Subway shops in the Capital Region two years after a manager allegedly offered two female applicants jobs in exchange for sex.

The suit claims Nick Kelly, manager of a Subway at Rotterdam Square Mall, separately propositioned two 17-year-old women through explicit text messages, EEOC said in a release.

The women refused, and were not hired.

The action names Draper Development of Albany as defendant. The company's CEO Lawrence Jasenski said Thursday that Kelly was fired the day after the first young woman brought the incident to the company's attention.

The incident was reported at the time by CBS 6 news, which spoke to the initial complainant, Alysha Rizzicone. The texts she provided to the station included Kelly allegedly asking "would you sleep with the manager to get this job?" and "bang my brains out the job is yours."

The second complainant was uncovered by the EEOC several months later, Jasenski said, after the commission sent "hundreds and hundreds of letters" to three years' worth of Draper's employees, former workers and job applicants. The alleged incident involving the second young woman had occurred three months prior to Rizzicone's encounter.

"We never received any information about her from the EEOC," Jasenski said.

The federal commission filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Albany after attempting to reach a settlement with Draper. Jasenski said the commission's proposed settlement, submitted to the company six months ago, was "unrealistic."

The lawsuit seeks "monetary relief for the two applicants in the form of back pay, compensatory and punitive damages," plus a permanent injunction against any future sexual discrimination or harassment.

Jasenski insists the company had acted appropriately at every turn, including its swift investigation of the initial incident and its cooperation with the EEOC's probe.

Efforts to locate Kelly were unsuccessful.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

New York shortens turkey hunting season

Albany Times/Union - 10 hours 10 min ago

ALBANY (AP) — New York regulators have shortened the fall turkey hunting seasons because of a declining turkey population across the state.

The new fall seasons are two weeks long with a statewide season bag limit of one bird of either sex.

Season dates vary regionally with the season in the Northern Zone running October 1-14, the Southern Zone running October 17-30, and Suffolk County running November 21-December 4.

The Department of Environmental Conservation received about 120 comments on the regulatory proposal, almost all expressing concern over the decline in turkey populations over the past 15 years.

The new fall hunting season changes will be evaluated as part of a four-year research program.

Categories: State/Local

A Call for Equitable Development in Southeast Queens

Gotham Gazette - 10 hours 17 min ago

Rev. Wilkes, middle, leads a prayer & voter registration drive (photo: @andrewjwilkes)

Jamaica needs development that benefits long-term residents, workers, and the families of Southeast Queens. Development is a multidimensional process. At best, the process not only supports real estate firms, but also expands the availability of affordable housing opportunities and family-sustaining jobs that pay a living wage. Although we applaud the efforts for improving Jamaica, we are concerned that current plans are not going far enough to guarantee equitable development of jobs and housing for local families.

Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City witnessed rezoning to facilitate development in industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. With that process came the escalation of rents, leases, and the overall cost of living. While some individuals benefited from this process, wide scale displacement of residents and the local workforce occurred, especially among people of color. In 2007, under the same administration, 368 blocks of downtown Jamaica were rezoned for higher-density development, meaning more units of housing, office, or retail space for the broader community of Southeast Queens. As the economy crashed in 2008, much of the anticipated development was stalled, but a real estate boom is kicking in now with estimates of more than 3,000 units of housing in the coming years. As faith leaders of Southeast Queens, we're lifting up our voices to ensure that our community promotes equitable development of job and housing opportunities for individuals and families whose labor makes this area such a vibrant constellation of neighborhoods.

We recognize and appreciate the contributions of other voices to this conversation. Participants who created the "Jamaica NOW" action plan, for instance, have championed valuable – and viable – ideas for improving Jamaica. The plan intends to do three things: increase quality jobs and small business support; promote commercial growth and economic development; and improve livability for both residents and visitors. Already, the beautification of Rufus King Park is making a difference in the recreational and cultural life of Jamaica. The plan, however, doesn't specify a comprehensive vision for equitable development. Without such details, our concern is that modestly inclusive projects will benignly, but mistakenly, be heralded as successes and the best we could do for our communities.

Two examples illustrate our concern. Let's start with the NYPD lot development project on 168th and Archer Avenue. The city's Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act defines a "living wage" as just $11.50 per hour and notably applies to construction workers on this project because the property is receiving more than $1 million in subsidy from the city Economic Development Corporation. However even if two members of a family were working full-time, with no vacations, at this wage they would still be ineligible for the affordable housing within the project because they would not make enough to meet the income threshold accorded by the zoning of the area.

Another example drives from the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York. In that community, the administration recently announced a plan for 50 percent of new housing to be affordable at neighborhood-based incomes, yet in Jamaica we are talking about just 20 percent of affordable housing being produced – and that only within a smaller "special inclusionary zone" in which the builders are only required to build if they take additional subsidy. Yet even this 20 percent is not truly affordable - a family of three would need to make at least $62,150 to be eligible for the housing, while the median income in Community Board 12 representing Southeast Queens is $50,857 per year.

Given the dynamics outlined above, our question is: what can be done differently? How can we ensure that we advance equitable development in Southeast Queens, that we build it right in our community?

Three ambitious, yet achievable goals stand out for our community, congregations, and city. First, we can lift up the moral imperative of our faith traditions to make the case for equitable development. Our religious traditions teach us that laborers deserve to be paid; that what's done in the dark – negotiation of terms and deals – should be brought into the light; that attending to the weighty matter of justice is central to our convictions and congregations. Second, we can use city subsidy and the leverage that it brings to infuse parity into the production of affordable housing. Instead of settling for developments whose housing is 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable, we can pursue an even division of residential opportunity: 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent affordable for local residents. Third, we can ensure that strong legal protections prohibit harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities.

We celebrate the resurgence of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding community. In many respects, this resurgence is a belated recognition of the tremendous legacy and potential of Southeast Queens. We invite you to join us as we learn, pray, and take action together for a renewed call for equitable development in Southeast Queens tonight, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. Our best days await us, and we look forward to continued collaboration with elected officials, labor unions, congregations, and other community groups to create deeply affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs in our neighborhoods.

***
Rev. Andrew Wilkes, the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York
Bishop Joseph Williams, Christ Church International
Pastor Brian Ellis Gibbs, Queens Baptist Church
Father Jeffry Dillon, Christ the King & St. Mary Magdalene

Categories: State/Local

Uber growth unhampered in surprise deal with NYC

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 11:07am

NEW YORK (AP) — Uber cars can continue to be a growing presence on the streets of New York City now that an agreement has been reached between the ride-hailing company and the city.

Just before a City Council vote that could have capped the number of cars Uber can have on city streets, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration announced late Wednesday that Uber agreed to a four-month study on the impact of the cars on the city's traffic and the environment.

The agreement contrasts sharply with the legislation the council was set to vote on Thursday, which called for a 1 percent cap on the San Francisco-based company's growth within New York City during a yearlong study. Uber has steadfastly opposed any cap, and the company and City Hall had traded increasingly nasty barbs over the past week.

Under the deal, the city will not cap Uber's growth during those four months. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a growing number of public officials who had been calling for the council to delay the vote, instead cheered the agreement. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that the study will be passed Thursday but no longer carry a cap.

The surprise arrangement also included a commitment to turn over far more data to the city on the location and duration of its rides. The company also agreed to discuss working toward making more of its vehicles handicap-accessible and contributing to the region's mass transit network.

"The city received a willingness on the company's part to make sure there was no effort to flood the market with dramatically increased rates of growth," said First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, who is in charge at City Hall as de Blasio returns from a conference at the Vatican. "The company eventually agreed to what we've been asking for a while."

"We are pleased new drivers will continue to be free to join the for-hire industry and partner with Uber," Josh Mohrer, Uber NYC's general manager, said in a statement. "Together, we can build an even better, more reliable transportation system."

The $40 billion company has become a dominant force on the streets of New York, dispatching 25,000 cars — up from under 100 just four years ago — compared to 13,000 of the city's iconic yellow taxis.

Uber rider Kryzsztof Anton of Queens said he was pleased the two sides reached at least a temporary halt on the city's plan. The Long Island City resident said he has been riding in taxis in New York for more than a decade and now always chooses Uber.

He said Uber travel is a more comfortable experience and believes the drivers are more courteous and polite because they are being rated by the customer.

"It's a completely different experience," he said. "I'm a big fan."

In pushing for a cap, the de Blasio administration cited concern over increased congestion on Manhattan's clogged streets. When talks broke down last week, sniping between City Hall and Uber reached a frenzy with the ride-hailing service launching an expensive TV ad campaign that depicted the mayor as too influenced by the yellow taxi industry, which ranks among his biggest donors.

———

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.

Categories: State/Local
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