Timelines 3/25/15

Monsey energy company sued for deceptive practices
An energy company based in Monsey became the target of a class action lawsuit by customers who argued the group used a bait-and-switch to bring in new customers before jacking up rates.
HIKO Energy is facing the suit in White Plains federal court from over 100 customers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Ohio, Illinois and Maryland. Plaintiffs are claiming that HIKO convinced customers to abandon larger energy companies with promises of lower rates, but dramatically increase their own once the new arrivals had settled into a contract.
According to one plaintiff, her rates dropped 1 to 7 percent in the first six months of her time with HIKO, but surged upward after that, reaching as high as seventy percent more than her initial utility expenses. HIKO countered its contracts stipulate energy rates are variable and dependent on market conditions and that the suit does not reflect most customers’ experiences.

Day petitions state for East Ramapo oversight
County Executive Ed Day travelled to Albany this week with East Ramapo activists to discuss with state lawmakers a proposed bill to assign a state fiscal monitor to the beleaguered East Ramapo School District.
Day met for an hour with a host of high-level Albany officials including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Nassau County Senator and Education Committee Chair John Flanagan and Orannge County’s State Senator Bill Larkin. Together with representatives of the East Ramapo community and his son Chris Day, the group spoke about possible oversight in a closed-door session.
Though Skelos had previously indicated he would not support the law, which was introduced last month by Rockland’s state-level reps, Day reported he was confident his side had been heard.
Reception to the proposal has been mixed but largely supportive in Rockland. County Legislator Aron Wieder has taken a strong stance against the bill, which he argues would disenfranchise school board voters, though the vast majority of legislators have come out in support of oversight.

Albertus Magnus principal condemns students’ basketball chant
Joseph Troy, who serves as principal and president of Albertus Magnus High School, issued an apology on behalf of the school for a chant by unidentified Albertus students directed at the daughter of a former basketball coach.
The incident involved a group of students at a game who taunted Jamesville-DeWitt student and Red Rams player Jamie Boeheim. The students chanted “Where’s the cheater?” at Boeheim, an apparent reference to her father and Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim who was suspended by the NCAA and had 106 wins stripped from him for misconduct.
In response, Troy issued an apology to Jamie Boeheim and Jamesville-DeWitt principal Paul Gasparini stating the behavior was “not indicative of our student body” and held an assembly at his own school on Monday to discuss the matter.
While no Albertus students have been identified and disciplinary actions have not yet been decided upon, Troy stated he would hand out lighter punishments if those responsible voluntarily came forward.

Spring Valley contractor pleads guilty to insurance fraud
A private contractor in Spring Valley pled guilty on Friday to felony insurance fraud for failing to cover his employees’ workers compensation.
Kujtim “Tim” Kukaj, who owns and operates RAR Renovations, Inc., admitted to failing to pay for worker’s compensation coverage for 25 of his employees while they worked on a luxury condominium project in New York City. According to condominium developers with American Development Group, they were unaware that Kukaj was not paying out because he had submitted fradulent documentation.
According to prosecutors, Kukaj also lied to the Workers’ Compensation Board about the number of people he employed. Ultimately, he avoided $47,000 in coverage fees, an amount he will likely be required to pay as restitution.
Sentencing for Kukaj has been set for June 23.

Two hurt in TOR bus crash
A collision between a TOR bus and a car near Rockland Community College left two passengers with minor injuries on Friday.
The accident occurred while the bus was heading from Route 59 to Suffern, just a quarter mile south of RCC on College Road. After a car abruptly stopped to turn into a driveway, a chain reaction was set in motion which ended with the bus rear ending a car.
At the time, the bus was carrying 10 passengers. Two of the passengers sustained minor injuries and were brought to Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment while a second bus arrived at the scene and picked up the rest.

Police suspend investigation of UVA rape story
Citing a lack of evidence to confirm a crime had occurred, police in Charlottesville, Virginia have announced they are suspending a case involving the brutal gang rape of an unnamed University of Virginia student.
The incident broke into the public spotlight when the student, known only as “Jackie,” was cited as a source in a Rolling Stone article detailing the crime and an alleged cover-up by UVA. However, after discrepancies were found in the story, Jackie admitted some details might have been mistaken and Rolling Stone published a retraction.
When the case was made public, police investigated Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where the rape allegedly occurred. Though Police Chief Timothy Longo left open the possibility that something might have happened, he stated there was “no substantive basis” for a case against any alleged assailant.
The case has not been completely closed, as Longo has left room for any potential leads which might emerge in the future.

Utah brings back firing squads for executions
Firing squads, a classic but largely discontinued form of capital punishment, will see new use in the State of Utah, which re-authorized its use this week.
On Monday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill which authorizes the use of firing squads if drugs required for lethal injection, the most common method of execution in the state, are unavailable. According to representatives with the Governor’s office, the method would only be used as a last resort.
Firing squads were banned in Utah in 2004 and its last use was in 2010, before the law came into effect. However, lethal injection drugs have become increasingly difficult to proffer as European manufacturers have ceased sales to the U.S. in an attempt to avoid their use in executions.
Lethal injection might also be subject to American legal censure as well. Though they were deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008, their constitutionality is once again under review by the top court.

Alzheimer’s patients less likely to be informed of their disease
Doctors are less likely to inform their patients they have Alzheimer’s disease due to a reluctance to inflict emotional distress, according to a nonprofit’s report.
The Alzheimer’s Association, which announced its findings on Tuesday, pointed to statistics which indicate 45 percent the people who have the disease have been diagnosed, as compared to other diseases like cancer, which has a rate of 93 percent. They argue the gap in diagnoses is largely due to doctors who are often reluctant to break the news to patients that they have the devastating disease.
Doctors also seem to be reluctant from a medical standpoint. According to the report, primary care physicians often avoid diagnoses of such a serious disease because they do not have the time or proper diagnostic tools to form a conclusion on a slow-acting, degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.

Plane crashes in French Alps, 150 feared dead
A German jet with 150 passengers crashed in the French Alps for as-yet unknown reasons on Tuesday.
The Airbus A320, which was marked as Flight 9525 as it traveled from Barcelona, Spain to Dusselorf, Germany, went down sometime after it disappeared from radar screens at 10:53 a.m., scattering debris across the countryside and presumably killing all passengers. Among those killed were two infants and 16 German 10th-graders returning from a field trip. Two Americans were also on board.
Cleanup crews have already retrieved the black box, which was damaged in the crash. Investigators have announced they do not believe the incident was an act of terrorism and are working under the assumption that it was a technical failure or some other accident.
Though jet-owner Lufthansa is known for high safety standards, the jet model involved in the crash has a checkered history. The A320 is widely known as a popular commercial jet, but has also been involved in over a dozen fatal accidents since 1988.

Massachusetts school walks back on decision to re-name “American Pride” dance
A school dance became an object of national attention when school officials changed the name from the “American Pride” dance to the “National Pride” dance in an effort to be more inclusive. Lexington High School’s administration opted to make the change to reflect the school’s cultural diversity, which triggered an immediate backlash from students and parents. After mounting pressure, the school opted to change the name back.
Given a strong sense of national pride among area residents, the reaction was no surprise. The area is well-known for being the site of the 1775 Battle of Lexington, which with the Battle of Concord was one of two of the first military engagements in the Revolutionary War.

New York ranks third in number of hate groups
A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed New York State has a unique and troubling issue: It is the third most popular home for hate groups in the country.
The report places New York below California and Florida and ties it with New Jersey. According to the SPLC, there are 44 known hate groups in New York, most of which are centered in upstate regions.
The groups include typical brands of supremacists such as white nationalists, neo-Nazi gangs and branches of the Ku Klux Klan, but also include black separatists such as the Nation of Islam, anti-Muslim groups and fringe religious movements with bigoted undertones.
Though exact membership counts are more difficult to assess than group counts, the number of hate groups is known to be on the decline. Within the past year, the number of groups slid from 939 to 784, the lowest figure recorded since 2005.

DREAM Act, other education proposals unlikely to be included in state budget
The controversial DREAM Act, which would provide state tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants, might not make it into the final version of New York’s 2015-2016 budget.
According to lawmakers speaking to the New York Daily News, the Act is one of several proposals likely to be scrapped from the final budget. A proposed investment tax credit for private education, a higher charter school cap and beefed up mayoral power over city schools are also likely to be left on the chopping block.
The DREAM Act provoked a strong reaction from Republicans when it was introduced, threatening passage of the budget when it was tacked on in a fashion many saw as inextricable from the language of the state’s financial plan. However, the issues are likely to re-emerge after budget season as their own independent proposals.

TSA union head renews calls for armed agents
In response to a machete attack on a Transportation Security Administration employee in New Orleans, the head of the union representing TSA officers has reiterated the group’s position that it favors an armed force.
American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox responded to the incident by stating TSA agents were placed in harm’s way frequently enough to warrant weapons. The weapons would be handed out to a specially-trained law enforcement branch of the agency rather than all agents.
“We are sickened by the mindlessness and ferocity of this attack on TSA officers,” Cox said in a release. “TSOs go to work every day to keep our nation safe from violent individuals who look to inflict harm on the flying public. All too often, TSOs become the targets of violence themselves, both verbal and physical.”
The statement was prompted by an attack against airport personnel by Richard White, 63, who attacked agents at Louis Armstrong International Airport with wasp spray and swung a machete before police gunned him down.