TIMELINES 12/24/14

Spring Valley man charged with rape of teenage girl

A Spring Valley man faces multiple felony charges after he was caught during sexual activity with a 14-year old girl on Friday.

Police stated Brajan Vasquez-Garcia was found in the victim’s room by her legal guardian. According to police, the incident did not appear to be a forced rape situation.

Vasquez-Garcia has been charged with second-degree rape, a felony, and false impersonation, a misdemeanor. Police stated he had given authorities false information about his identity.

Art storage company makes $8.5 million purchase in Orangetown

A Bronx-based art storage and stewardship company has made moves to acquire an Orangetown warehouse property for long-term use.

UOVO acquired the 106,141 square foot property, which is situated on a 13 acre parcel of land at 33 Kings Highway in Orangeburg. The property was initially owned by DHS Systems LLC.

“It is well suited to the company’s needs, with ceiling heights of up to 25 feet and fully enclosed loading dock, all located on a beautiful, sprawling campus just miles from New York City, a hub for collectors, galleries and museums,” said Budd Wiesenberg, who represented UOVO with colleague Kevin Langtry during the purchase.

According to their website, UOVO specializes not only fine art storage but also transportation, insurance services, project management and logistics.

Seven men arrested for illegal gambling operations

An ongoing probe into illegal sports betting in Rockland County produced seven more arrests, according to Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe.

The defendants, four of whom were Rockland residents, were arrested on December 17 after a 16-month investigation into a larger criminal operation earlier this month which resulted in 14 arrests. The DA’s Office reported the seven individuals in the new wave of arrests surrendered at the Clarkstown Police Department and were released on their own recognizance.

The ring, which arranged betting on football, baseball, basketball and hockey games, is believed to have taken in millions of dollars each month. The ring spanned well beyond Rockland, with associates operating out of New York City, New Jersey, and Florida as well.

Charges levied by the District Attorney include promotion of gambling, possession of gambling records and money laundering. Over the course of the investigation, about 60 court-authorized searches were conducted in New York, New Jersey and Florida and $3 million in cash and other property has been seized from defendants.

New trial ordered for Shop Rite stabbing suspect

The conviction of a Haverstraw man in the stabbing of a retired teacher at the West Nyack Shop Rite was overturned by the New York Court of Appeals last Wednesday, opening the way for a new trial.

The court concluded that Raul Johnson, 25, was improperly questioned by Clarkstown Police when he agreed to cooperate in exchange for leniency for a burglary charge. Johnson initially indicated a friend was responsible for the stabbing, but later admitted guilt during a meeting without his counsel present, resulting in a conviction for second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault.

Though the Rockland District Attorney’s Office argued Johnson waived his right to an attorney during the process, the court found Johnson’s right to counsel extended to leniency discussions.

Johnson is expected to appear in court again for a review of his current incarceration. Meanwhile, the Rockland DA’s office stated the case is under review to see if a conviction will stand without the confession.

Deepest-living fish found in Marianas Trench

An expedition to the Marianas Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean revealed a surprising new find: The deepest-living fish currently known to science.

The research team, headed by scientists from the University of Hawaii, reported they saw the fish at a depth of 5 miles underwater, two miles short of the trench’s deepest spot. The creature is a new species of snailfish, with wing-like fins and an eel-like tail.

The expedition explored an area of the trench between 3.5 to 6 miles deep. According to University of Hawaii Professor Jeff Drazen, most studies target the very bottom of the trench and neglect the ecosystems in areas higher up the naturally-occurring depression.

Study: Majority of Dr. Oz’s advice is scientifically dubious

A study recently published by the British Medical Journal determined most medical advice dispensed by Dr. Mehmet Oz, a former regular on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the current host of The Dr. Oz Show has not been validated by current medical science.

The study sifted through 40 episodes and tallied the recommendations Oz gave in each one. They found that 46 percent of his claims were corroborated by science, but 36 percent had no supporting evidence and 15 percent were directly contradicted by scientific evidence. In effect, over half of Oz’s recommendations had no scientific basis.

Though he is a recognized, Harvard-educated expert on cardiothoracic surgery, Oz has been scrutinized several times in the past for promoting scientifically unsubstantiated weight loss supplements and alternative medicines on his show. The doctor was brought under harsh scrutiny during a June 2014 Congressional hearing on false advertising in the weight loss industry, with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) calling his claims of miracle cures a “recipe for disaster.”

North Korean Internet goes dark after Sony hack

A series of outages disabled North Korea’s closed internet network only a few days after a widely-publicized attack on Sony Pictures and terrorist threats that U.S. officials attributed to the hermit nation.

The incident began on Saturday when lasted for about nine hours and 31 minutes before a full restoration was reported. Though analysts stated the nation’s internet service had been largely disabled, it was unlikely that most North Koreans-who do not have widespread internet access due to censorship by North Korea’s ruling party-noticed the loss.

Analysts indicated the shutdown resembled a distributed denial-of-service (DDNOS), a common attack on online networks. Suggestions have also been made that technical problems might also be to blame.

Though the attacker or attackers are currently unknown, suggestions have been made that China, which has called for a deescalation of recent tensions, was responsible. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the allegations as unfounded and inaccurate.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still weighing its own response to what the FBI concluded was a hack and theft of sensitive data from Sony Pictures by North Korea. North Korea has also been faulted by analysts for terrorist threats which prompted Sony to cancel the release of “The Interview,” a film with a comedic depiction of the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Cuomo proposes new medical marijuana regulations

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new regulations on December 18 to guide the administration of medical marijuana in New York State.

The new regulations limit use of the drug to patients with serious medical conditions who have been certified to need the drug by physicians with special training and registered with the state Department of Health. Legally-acceptable administration would be left up to the DOH, but it is already known that smoking will be prohibited.

Patients would be required to obtain registry identification card to make the purchases, but could also designate a caregiver to make purchases in their stead. Cards cost $50, but that fee may be waived in cases of financial hardship.

Cultivation of marijuana will be similarly strict. Growers would need to submit detailed plans on their infrastructure, operations and security to the DOH while maintaining separate facilities for manufacturing and distribution. Five licenses will be issued for a $10,000 application fee and a $200,000 registration fee.

The proposed regulations are expected to be published in the New York State Register on December 31.

Vote sale evidence blocked in Malcolm Smith case

Federal prosecutors suffered a setback on Thursday when a judge rejected their bid to present evidence that embattled State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) offered to sell his votes like stock shares.

Smith, who was charged with bribery in April 2013 for accepting $200,000 to cross his own party and secure a Republican nomination for the 2013 NYC mayoral race, was also accused of comparing political contributions to initial public offerings (IPOs) at a golf outing with lobbyists. According to prosecutors, Smith encouraged early donations while prices were low and while they still had the chance to sway the Senator.

Though the prosecution attempted to use the incident to characterize Smith as a negotiator of shady deals, White Plains federal judge Kenneth Karas did not see it the same way. Karas argued any plan hatched from the outing was a “completely different scheme” and would prejudice jurors.

Regardless of whether or not he is convicted, Smith is expected to leave the State Legislature in January after losing the primary for his seat.

Famed musician Joe Cocker dies at 70

Acclaimed English rock and blues musician Joe Crocker died on December 22 after a long fight with lung cancer. He was 70.

Cocker, a prolific artist whose career spanned half a century and produced 40 albums, received widespead recognition for cover of the Beatles song “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which became the theme to the television show The Wonder Years. He also received a Grammy for Up Where We Belong, a duet with Jennifer Warnes which topped American charts in 1983.

Since his big break, he has shared a stage with other rock legends such as the Rolling Stones and remained a good friend of the Beatles, who often allowed him to preview their songs before they were even recorded.

Cocker is survived by his wife, brother, step-daughter and two grandchildren.

New York Times editorial calls for prosecution of U.S. officials for torture

The New York Times’ editorial board released an opinion piece on December 21 which calls for the prosecution of torturers associated with the CIA’s once-secret interrogation program and high-level officials who cleared the program.

The op-ed is a sharp rebuke against efforts by the Obama Administration to avoid prosecutions of CIA officials for the crimes, even after the release of a 524 page executive summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee report which outlined practices widely characterized as torture. In response, the editorial board demanded Obama’s Justice Department at least implement “a full and and independent criminal investigation.”

“Mr. Obama has said multiple times that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as though the two were incompatible,” The piece stated. “They are not. The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.”

In addition to torturers themselves, the New York Times goes so far as to support investigations of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington, former CIA Director George Tenet, and other officials who cleared the program or had an otherwise active role in its design and implementation.

The New York Times is one of several organizations calling for prosecutions. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch have called for the appointment of a special investigator to examine the alleged crimes.

Congress cuts pension payouts to some retirees

The new federal spending bill is sure to upset some seniors with a provision that allows some multi-employer pension plans to cut benefits already being received by retirees.

Multi-employer plans were in danger already, according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The PBGC, which ran up a $42.4 billion deficit this year, up from an $8.3 billion deficit last year, argued about 1 million benefit plans were underfunded and petitioned for Congressional aid to make required fixes.

According to the PBGC, plans in critical status could be cut by a limited amount if they meet a series of legally-required criteria. The plans must be in a state where they would not be able to have enough money to pay 100 percent of benefits within the next 15 to 20 years.

Lists of potentially-impacted plans can be found by visiting www.dol.gov and searching for “2014 critical status notices.”

Driver charged with negligent homicide for fatal crash

A Spring Valley man was arrested and charged with negligent homicide for the death of his best friend in a 2013 car crash on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

Phylip M. Derival was charged after state police and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office concluded from an accident reconstruction that the 25-year old had acted criminally in his attempt to pass between two northbound cars in his 2007 Infiniti G37. Derival reportedly struck both cars before he hit a tree, killing his passenger and friend Justin Goings, 26.

The DA’s office plans to focus on reckless decision-making on the part of Derival when it makes its case. Toxicology reports showed Derival was sober at the time of the accident and no related charges are expected.

Derival turned himself in and was released without bail. His arraignment hearing is set for January 6.

Man arrested after driving car into crowds in France

A man with a history of mental instability and alleged pro-Islamist motives was arrested on Sunday after he drove a car into crowds in the French city of Dijon.

The 40-year old man allegedly yelled “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is Great,” while he rampaged around the city for about thirty minutes. He struck and injured 11 people, inflicting several injuries but no reported deaths. Witnesses reported the man said he was acting “for the children of Palestine.”

The man reportedly had a history of mental problems and relatively minor encounters with the police dating back 20 years. Though it is possible the man was inspired by recent pro-Islamic State attacks worldwide, it is believed the man acted alone.

The attack came only a day after another attack in Tours, France when a knife-wielding man suspected to have also been a radicalized Muslim attacked three police officers before he was gunned down.

East Ramapo initiates another special education case against the state

The East Ramapo School District filed a lawsuit against New York State on December 11 to fight a state determination that it is not in compliance with state special education law.

The suit is meant as a counter to a recent determination that the school requires intervention-including a possible fiscal monitor with veto power over the board-to come into compliance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The suit is also meant to avoid a state requirement that school officials submit applications for tuition reimbursements. The reimbursements help to pay for private school placements for special needs students, many of whom are members of the School District’s ultra-orthodox community which prefers private religious education over public schooling.

East Ramapo, which was criticized in fiscal monitor Hank Greenberg’s report for excessive legal spending, has also contracted attorney David Butler and his associates in the case. The legal services cost between $450 and $650 per hour.