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Jail for Dogfighting Ringleader

April 5, 2010

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ALEXANDER ESTEPHANE KEPT SOME OF THE DOGS IN THESE CAGES IN THE BACKYARD OF HIS HOUSE(FILE PHOTO)

 By JAMES FERGUSSON

Mount Hope resident Alexander Estephane has been jailed for running a dogfighting ring out of the basement of his house at 108 E. 179th St.

Estephane, 45, was arrested in June 2008, when police and animal welfare officers, acting on a tip-off, conducted a raid and found a dogfight in progress in the basement.

Sixteen pit bulls were recovered, including one who later died from its injuries. While some dogs were re-homed, four were considered dangerous and had to be euthanized.

The authorities also recovered syringes full of testosterone, to make the dogs more aggressive, along with other dogfighting paraphernalia.

In February, a jury found Estephane guilty, and last month a judge sentenced him to up to four years in prison. He was also slapped with a $15,000 fine. Jan Toledo, 40, from New Jersey, was found guilty of a similar felony charge and sentenced to one year in prison and fined $25,000.

Jennifer Panton, president of United Action for Animals, an animal welfare group, said she was “very pleased” with the verdict and the fact that the two men will serve jail time, a “first” for convicted dogfighters in New York City.

“I absolutely think it sends a message to dogfighters in the Bronx that these heinous crimes will not be tolerated,” she said.

Related articles:
Protesters Say Dogfighting Is the Pits
Dogfighting Ring Smashed

Local Cop Tied to $1 Million Perfume Heist

April 5, 2010

Kelvin Jones, a 28-year-old police officer who had been recently assigned to the 46th Precinct, has been charged with attempting to swipe $1 million worth of perfume from a warehouse in New Jersey on Feb. 9.

At least eight other people – including two police officers who worked out of the 34th Precinct in Northern Manhattan – face similar charges.

The gang allegedly entered the warehouse, located near the Giants Stadium, and claimed they were conducting a routine inspection on behalf of the NYPD. They tied up several employees and then had a group of day laborers, who they’d picked up earlier, load crates of expensive perfume into five rental trucks.

The plan began to unravel when a warehouse employee managed to call the police, who seized two of the trucks at the scene. The arrested cops’ had used their drivers’ licenses to rent the trucks, giving investigators a vital lead.

Jones, who lives in Yonkers, was arrested on March 8. He was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and faces up to 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine if convicted, according to NorthJersey.com.

-JAMES FERGUSSON

City Approves Local High School’s Move to the South Bronx; Students Slam the Decision, Vow to Fight On

April 3, 2010

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UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS SECONDARY SCHOOL WILL HAVE TO LEAVE ITS CURRENT BUILDING (PICTURED) AT THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR (FILE PHOTO BY REBECCA THOMAS)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy has voted to approve the Department of Education’s recommendation that University Heights Secondary School’s move to the South Bronx High School in Morrisania.

The school has to relinquish its current building on Bronx Community College’s campus at end the school year because the college needs the extra classroom space.

Many students and teachers are furious with the DOE for not doing more to stop the eviction, and for then suggesting a move to the South Bronx.

Nine Panel board members voted in favor of the relocation at a meeting in Staten Island on March 23, and only two against, according to Margie Feinberg, a Department of Education spokesperson.

The Panel’s decision is final, unless the DOE decides to revoke it (which happens very rarely), or BCC announces it doesn’t need the building after all.

Despite this, students have vowed to fight on. And they have taken heart from the New York State Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn 19 school closures ordered by the DOE.

“University Heights High School students, we don’t give up,” said Astrid Barreras, 17, a senior. “We know what the Department of Education is doing is an injustice.”

Astrid and more than 200 of her peers made the trip to Staten Island that night to state their case: namely, that it makes no sense breaking up a high-performing school, and that South Bronx High School is miles from most students’ homes.

But they failed to convince the Panel. “We could tell they came to Staten Island with their mind set,” Astrid said.

If the school has to move, students would rather see it take over an empty four-story building on Jerome Avenue at East 179th Street, which is just seven or eight blocks from BCC.

This is the location favored by Councilman Fernando Cabrera, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the developer, Frank DeLeonardis, who has been looking for a tenant.

DeLeonardis says his 56,000 square-foot building would be perfect for a school because it’s close to public transportation, and is “unfinished” inside, which would allow the DOE to customize it, at a cost of approximately $5.6 million. He’d charge the department $2 million a year in rent – a reasonable price, he said.

Greg Faulkner, Fernando Cabrera’s chief-of-staff, said DeLeonardis’ building is a “viable alternative,” but that the DOE hasn’t been responsive.

“Every time we solve a problem they create another challenge,” Faulkner added. The building is on the DOE’s radar screen, but now they’re saying they don’t do mid-year moves, Faulkner said. (DeLeonardis’ building wouldn’t be ready for students until early 2011.)

“Here we have a successful high school, that does very well, and we can’t find a way to keep it intact… in the community,” said Faulkner.

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INSTEAD OF MOVING TO THE SOUTH BRONX, STUDENTS WOULD RATHER THE SCHOOL RELOCATE TO THIS BUILDING ON EAST 179TH STREET AT JEROME AVENUE (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

Department of Education officials also say money is an issue; there are no capital funds for new high school capacity in Education District 10, in which the Jerome Avenue building sits. (At present, the DOE doesn’t pay rent for the building on BCC’s campus, according to college spokesman, Bryant Mason.)

So it is over? Is the local area going to lose its only high school?

In a statement emailed to the Monitor, DOE spokesman Danny Kanner hinted that the agency was still keeping its options open. He wrote, in part: “We will work with Councilmember Cabrera to review alternatives that come up, but first and foremost we must make sure every student at University Heights has a seat in September.”

Beyond that, the DOE made no commitments, and wouldn’t discuss the Jerome Avenue building with a reporter.

As Faulkner sees it, if BCC would allow the school to remain on its campus until January 2011, the school could then take over the Jerome Avenue building – providing the DOE okayed a mid-year move.

“We’re going to try to resolve this,” Faulkner said. “We’re going to get all the parties in one room.”

Related articles:

Protests Continue Over H.S.’s Relocation; School’s Fate May Be Decided at March Meeting
Local High School Could Move to the South Bronx
Opinion: BCC Must Rethink Decision to Evict High School

School Community and Local Politicians Criticize Plans to Relocate High School
BCC to Expel University Heights Secondary School

On University Avenue, a Safe Haven for Kids and Teens

April 2, 2010

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THE BUILDING ONCE HOUSED A SYNAGOGUE AND A HEBREW SCHOOL. IT WAS LIKELY BUILT IN THE 1920S, ACCORDING TO BRONX BOROUGH HISTORIAN LLOYD ULTAN (PHOTO: J. FERGUSSON)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

For decades, the former Hebrew Institute of University Heights lay empty, its windows and doors boarded up, its once elegant stone walls grimy with dirt and graffiti. But no longer.

On March 18, community leaders and local residents attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its transformation into Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club’s new community center, the Frederic R. & Margaret Coudert Clubhouse.

Those present included Adolfo Carrion, the former Bronx borough president who now works for the Obama administration in Washington, DC. 

It was Carrion who, as district manager of Community Board 5 in the early 1990s, first started advocating for a community center in the building, located at 1835 University Ave. just north of West Tremont Avenue.

As a city councilman in the late 1990s, he got Kips Bay involved and, over the years, provided millions of dollars in funding.

“I remember seeing the building for a long time and being troubled by the fact that there was a symbol of urban decay in this part of the Bronx that the kids in the neighborhood had to walk past every day,” said Carrion at the ceremony. 

Still, it’s been a long road – nothing came easy, and the years dragged out. Carrion was tearing up a little during his speech. He said he couldn’t put into words how much it meant to him to see the renovation complete.

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DANIEL QUINTERO (LEFT) AND ADOLFO CARRION EMBRACE AT THE RIBBON-CUTTING CEREMONY (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

The four-story center boasts a gymnasium, a game room with pool tables, and a computer room, among other amenities. It will accommodate 400 to 600 children a day, said Daniel Quintero, the executive director of Kips Bay, which runs another clubhouse in the southeast Bronx. (Kips Bay is also partnering with Morris Heights Health Center to provide health information to youngsters.)

The clubhouse will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The cost? Just $8 per child per year.

“We just felt that it was an underserved part of the community,” Quintero previously told the Monitor. “We all have our talent within and what I think the Boys & Girls Club does is that we tap into it and nourish it and bring it out.”

Editor’s Note:  For more information about enrolling your child at the Frederic R. & Margaret Coudert Clubhouse, call (718) 975-0788.

Man Gets 40 Years for Killing Mother, Brother

April 2, 2010

A Morris Heights resident has been sentenced to 40 years in prison killing his mother and older brother in November 2007.

Lamar Platt, then 24, shot dead Marlene and Nashan Platt in the apartment they shared at 1610 University Ave. before chopping up the bodies and dumping them in the Harlem River.

At the time, Nashan was in his final year at Lehman College, where he was studying Health Services Administration. “He was a very smart guy,” said Michael Burke, Nashan’s uncle, at a memorial service that December. “He was studying hard. He was almost done. We won’t let his memory fade.”

Burke said Marlene “experienced life, she lived it.”

Lamar pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter, each carrying 20 years. His sentencing was first reported by Bronx Ink, a Web site run by students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

-JAMES FERGUSSON

Sedgwick Houses Resident Murdered, Boyfriend Arrested

April 2, 2010

Maxine Collier, a 47-year-old mother of one, was stabbed to death inside her apartment at 1535 University Ave. on March 8.

Police arrested her boyfriend several days later and charged him with her murder. Robert Young, 44, was known to police and had been arrested once before for attacking her.

“It’s an incredibly sad story,” said Inspector Kevin Harrington, the 46th Precinct’s commanding officer, speaking at last month’s precinct council meeting.

Neighbors of Collier who attended the meeting described her as very active in the community. Each summer, for example, she would help organize “Sedgwick Day” (1535 University Ave. is part of the Sedgwick Houses complex), a day of basketball, entertainment, and food for residents.

Collier was also active in her church, the Whosoever Will Baptist Church on Popham Avenue, and had recently become an usher.

On March 15, close to 1000 people attended a memorial service her at the Featherbed Lane Presbyterian Church opposite Sedgwick Houses.

“Then turnout was more than for a celebrity or a rapper,” said a neighbor, Ms. Brockington, who didn’t want her first name published. “She was well-known and liked. The turnout was phenomenal.”

“Everyone know her because she grew up in that building,” she added. Indeed, Collier had lived there since she was a toddler. She used to say “nobody gonna run me out of MY PROJECTS,” according to an obituary circulated at the service.

After graduating from Taft High School, Collier, who went by “Max,” spent much of her career working with the mentally challenged. She also loved to cook and dance and entertain, the obituary said. And she was “known for her beautiful smile.”

Collier leaves behind both parents, a grown-up son (from an earlier relationship), a sister and a brother, and many other relatives and good friends. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

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