East Ramapo closes on Hillcrest Elementary sale
The East Ramapo Central School District completed their $4.9 million sale of Hillcrest Elementary School on Friday, ending a series of tumultuous legal and political skirmishes over the building.
This marks the second time the school has been sold to Congregation Avir Yakov, the first being a deal in 2010 which was annulled by the state education commissioner after a legal challenge exposed what was alleged to be a sweetheart deal between the predominantly Hasidic school board and the Yeshiva’s leadership. Though school officials did not face charges, an appraiser responsible for determining the cost of the school pled guilty to filing a false instrument.
After the state struck down the first agreement, school administrators allowed the Congregation to lease the building while the parties scrambled to put another deal together. The school officials and the deal’s terms are still under scrutiny in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by East Ramapo families, who argue the sale represented an unconstitutional shift of public assets toward religious education at the expense of public school students.
This is the second sale of a school by East Ramapo in recent months. In July, Colton Elementary School was sold to another religious school for $5.1 million.
Spring Valley man pleads guilty for intentionally running over cat
A Spring Valley man pled guilty on Monday to a gross misdemeanor charge for intentionally striking a cat with his car over the summer.
An 18-year old man identified only as Fiegel admitted responsibility after a witness observed him swerving westbound on Church Street on July 15, apparently drunk. He struck the cat, then backed up and struck it again. According to him, he did not want to see the cat suffer and ended its life before dumping it in a wooded area.
Spring Valley police were notified and a deputy confronted Fiegel at his apartment. Fiegel admitted to hitting the cat and showed the deputy where he had thrown it before the owner of the cat was notified.
Fiegel’s sentencing has been set for January 26. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison or a $3,000 fine.
County executive, Planning Department oppose Ramapo zoning change
A County Planning Department review has pitted not only Clarkstown residents against a proposed zone change on the Ramapo-Clarkstown town line, but now the county executive as well.
County Executive Ed Day stated this week that the planned zone change for the Pascack Ridge plot between Spring Valley and Nanuet was “inappropriate” and unfit given the character of the neighborhood. New zoning would allow developers to build up to 210 multifamily units for up to 2,000 residents.
The plan has elicited outrage in the Town of Clarkstown, where Supervisor Alexander Gromack and several members of the Town Board have come out in opposition to the plan.
However, with Planning Department disapproval, the Town of Ramapo will now require a four-fifths super-majority vote in its own Planning Board before they can move the zone change along. According to Town Board member Brendel Charles, the Town is still seeking public comment and will hold another public hearing on December 10.
Clarkstown Board of Education member dies at 82
Diane Hoeneveld, a former teacher and member of the Clarkstown Board of Education, passed away on Sunday after a storied career with the school district.
The exact cause of death for Hoeneveld, who resided in West Nyack, was not specified. In her absence, a special election or board appointment might be pursued to fill her seat, but information on the Board’s plans has not been made public yet.
Hoeneveld taught fifth and sixth grade at Strawtown Elementary School. After she retired in the early 2000s, she was elected to the Board in 2004 and served until her death.
Hoeneveld’s funeral will be held at 10 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Church in New City.
Funding crisis threatens food aid to Syrian refugees
A program created to provide food aid to refugees of the Syrian Civil War might be in danger of shutting down and leaving millions of displaced Syrians without adequate sustenance through winter.
The World Food Programme (WFP), an international aid organization administered by the United Nations, reported that funding for the program ran out and operations ground to a halt, leaving 1.6 million Syrian refugees without assistance. Though the WFP is attempting to secure $64 million from donor commitments to sustain the program through December, a lack of support would mean the program would have to fold for the long-term.
Funds from the WFP have gone to refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq which support about 3.2 refugees. In a situation the WFP hopes to alleviate, care for displaced Syrians has proven a significant financial difficulty for host countries and prompted some such as Lebanon to close their borders.
Nazi war criminal confirmed dead in Syria
An infamous Nazi war criminal responsible for the deportation of 128,000 Jews to death camps during the Holocaust likely died in Syria four years ago, according to the investigator tasked with tracking him down.
Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff stated this week that Alois Brunner, a former SS captain who escaped Germany after the fall of the Third Reich, likely died in 2010. Though the Syrian Civil War complicated efforts to find Brunner, Zuroff said a former German secret service agent was able to provide reliable information on Brunner’s death and burial in Damascus.
Brunner, a darling of SS commander Adolf Eichmann, rounded up and detained Jews in southern France from 1943 until the end of the war. He took refuge in Syria around 1950 and lived there under the protection of subsequent authoritarian regimes, including that of former President Hafez Al-Assad, for whom Brunner allegely advised on matters related to torture techniques.
Though Brunner was long known to reside in Syria, he had been under watch by Israeli Nazi-hunters for decades. Attempts to assassinate him were made in 1961 and 1980, but both ended in failure.
Egyptian president confirms no new charges will be pursued against Mubarak
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi suggested on Monday that he would make no further attempts to try former President Hosni Mubarak on corruption or murder charges which arose from the deposed leader’s tenure.
Sisi, a top Egyptian general who overthrew his predecessor and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in a military coup, stated publicly that the nation needed to move on from the violence in its recent past.
The announcement, which was made a day after an Egyptian court decided to drop all remaining charges against Mubarak, spurred protests among detractors who continue to call for accountability for Mubarak’s crimes. The charges against the former leader included allegations of corruption, cronyism and human rights abuses, including violent crackdowns against the protest movements that ousted him from power.
At the same time, Sisi directed the country’s prime minister to review both procedural technicalities which allowed the court to dismiss murder charges leveled against Mubarak and compensation for the families of protesters killed on his orders.
Before the new charges were leveled, Mubarak, who is now bedridden and in declining health, was sentenced to three years in prison in a corruption case involving personal use of public construction funds. However, under Egyptian law, his continued detention counts toward his sentence, which means the ailing former leader may soon be released.
Britain mulls ban on carry-on luggage, cell phones after terror threat
British officials are considering a ban on carry-on luggage and cell phones in light of recent reports that terrorists might attack airlines during the holiday season with explosives hidden inside electronics.
Calling the attack “almost inevitable,” officials have stated the plan involves a 9/11-style attack on at least five planes. U.S. intelligence officials learned of the plot two months ago and believe it will be implemented by sleeper cells.
Consequently, negotiations have begun between European intelligence agencies and airlines over possible changes to baggage carry-on policies. However, negotiations have not yet produced results, due in particular to the difficulty of banning carry-on luggage.
With Westerners traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State and other suspected threats emerging from other Islamist groups, security officials have been on edge through the summer and fall. Most recently, the al-Qaeda splinter group Khorasan was cited by U.S. officials as an active threat to airlines, though questions have been raised as to exactly how much of a threat the loosely-organized group poses.
Pataki poises himself for a possible presidential run
Former New York Governor George Pataki, one of several unorthodox Republicans spawned from the New York political scene, seems ready to throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential race.
Though Pataki has been out of politics for eight years, has little name recognition outside New York and might prove unpopular to the Republican base with his positions on gun control and gay marriage, individuals close to the former governor reported he was serious about a 2016 run. Pataki has already visited New Hampshire and South Carolina and is poised to meet with prominent GOP donors in the next few days.
Though both insiders and polling experts agree his chances of standing up to political heavyweights such as Marco Rubio, Chris Christie or Rand Paul is low, the decision might not necessarily mean Pataki wants the presidency itself, either. If he demonstrates an ability to turn out a significant number of votes in the primaries, he might be eyed for a cabinet post or a long shot vice presidential nomination.
Pataki has had similar flirtations with presidential runs in the past. After leaving office in 2006 he considered entering both the 2008 and 2012 races.
Boy found alive after being held captive for four years
A 13-year old boy who had been missing for four years was found alive and hidden behind a fake wall in a Jonesboro, Georgia home this weekend.
The boy, Gregory Jean Jr., disappeared after his father, Gregory Jean, refused to return him after a visit. His mother initially reported the incident to child protective services, but due to her immigrant status and consequent lack of knowledge on U.S. reporting procedures, the police were never notified.
Jean Jr., who was imprisoned behind a hidden wall panel by Jean and the boy’s stepmother Samantha Davis, managed to find a cell phone and used it to text his mother. Thanks to a subsequent phone call, the boy was able to pass information on his whereabouts through his mother to the police.
Jean and Davis have been charged with child cruelty, imprisonment and obstruction.
Grand jurors begin to hear evidence in NYPD chokehold case
A grand gury has been convened to determine whether or not an NYPD cop will be tried for the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after being placed in a chokehold during an arrest over the summer.
The grand jury began hearing evidence on September 29, but Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan has declined to say when he expects their deliberations to be complete. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton also announced the NYPD is making preparations for potential unrest following the decision, beefing up police presence in anticipation of similar riots that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri after the acquittal of former Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
At the same time, sources within the NYPD stated the department will use a similar model to the one used to address the Occupy Wall Street protests, employing mounted and foot patrols with scooters, aerial surveillance and barricades. The same sources also stated the approach would not be “heavy-handed” and arrests would only occur in instances where there is a threat to people or property.
The case made national headlines after several cell phone videos emerged showing NYPD Officer locking his arm around Garner’s neck during an arrest for sale of loose cigarettes. Both the New York Medical Examiner and an independent forensic expert hired by Garner’s family agreed the chokehold, along with chest and neck compressions, contributed to the death, with the medical examiner explicitly ruling it a homicide.
Remains confirmed by DNA testing to belong to English king
A set of bones found under a municipal car park in Leicester, England in 2012 belong to King Richard III, according to Leicester University researchers.
DNA tests from the remains were compared to two known, living relatives of the English king and confirmed within less than a one percent margin of certainty that the bones belonged to the late monarch. The discovery also led forensic experts to examine the circumstances of the king’s death in battle and conclude he was felled by a fatal halberd blow to the head.
Just as interesting, however, are discoveries within the king’s genetic code that suggest infidelity might have permeated the English royal bloodline. According to the researchers, genetic markers from Y chromosomes-which are inherited from fathers-showed five male descendants’ genetic code did not match that of Richard.
The genetic tests also revealed historic depictions of Richard III with dark hair were incorrect. Instead, researchers stated he likely had a fairer complexion with blonde hair and blue eyes.