Friday, February 15, 2008

Craigslist scams targeting renters desperate for affordable apartments

The apartment sounded too good to be true.

A fully furnished two-bedroom with a balcony in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, going for $950 instead of the $2,200 it would normally fetch because of the tenant's sudden job transfer.

The catch: You have to take it sight unseen - and send a security deposit.

The bogus rental was even more of a steal than unsuspecting would-be tenants thought, part of a growing number of scams cooked up to profit from gullible people desperate for affordable housing in the city, according to Internet fraud and security expert Craig Solomon.

"It is becoming more common because New York apartments have become such a hot commodity," said Solomon. "People are so desperate that they aren't always thinking clearly."

This particular listing on, the go-to site for frazzled city dwellers, featured appealing photos and a quick response to inquiries from a scam artist who used the alias "JoAnn Rinaggio" and a tale about being transferred to North Carolina.

"I will like to tell you that we are doing this based on trust and I would like you to trust me as I trust you. ... You can see the beautiful apartment in the pictures, but not in person yet," she writes, asking prospective tenants to wire a $550 security deposit and promising a return envelope with the apartment keys.

According to Solomon, "countless" victims fell for this ruse, sent money, never heard back from "Rinaggio" and learned the hard way that the address for the dream apartment, 8235 Fourth Ave., also was bogus.

Documents obtained by the Daily News show the phony name was used by a convicted serial rubber-check writer, JoAnne Smith, who was convicted nine times between 1986 and 2004 for fake checks totaling $20,000.

"Craigslist is made to sell local, and whenever anyone from out of state is involved, red flags should immediately go up," said Solomon. "Avoiding the scam is simple. Try to always do business face-to-face, and never, ever, wire money anywhere."

This is also the advice posted under "avoiding scams and fraud" by Craigslist on its Web site, which urges users not to wire money, give out personal financial information or respond to any offers requiring you to provide escrow money.

"Know that only a scammer will 'guarantee' your transaction," Craigslist warns.

Beth Ann Bovino, a senior economist at Standard & Poor's, found herself caught up in such a scam when someone posted her address and photos of it as a bargain rental.

"Rents are higher and people are in real need of an affordable place to live," said Bovino. "It is sad to say, but these kinds of scams appeal to desperation and greed."

"People need to remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Smiles, big appetites at restaurant owned by Gambino informant's wife


Monday, February 11th 2008, 4:00 AM

The only sign of mobsters Sunday at the Staten Island restaurant owned by Trisha Vollaro, the wife of mob rat Joseph Vollaro, were the photos on the walls.

A mug of Robert De Niro, who played Al Capone and a young Vito Corleone, was prominently displayed next to one of Joe Gannascoli, who played the gay "Sopranos" mobster.

Customers of Docks Seafood Pasta in Tottenville seemed more interested in the chicken parmigiana and zuppa di clams than the proprietor's link to the downfall of the Gambino crime family.

Murals depicted a peaceful Italian fishing village, but behind the scenes, federal authorities contend, Joseph Vollaro has left the Gambinos crashed on the rocks.

Just days after the feds revealed Vollaro was the informer who helped build the case against the top bosses of the Gambinos, it was business as usual at Docks.

At least 100 people showed up for a baby girl's christening, ordering 16-ounce New York strip steaks and fillet of sole.

A copy of Sunday's Daily News with Vollaro and his wife, Trisha, on the front page sat folded near the bar. Several customers inquired about the welfare of Trisha Vollaro, who is pregnant with twins. Her trucking company owner hubby vanished on her last week, likely into the witness protection program. Her family told The News she knew nothing of her husband's mob ties.

The Vollaro drama did little to dampen the spirits at Docks last night as the place bustled with the sound and laughter of 17 babies and toddlers on hand for the party.

Subway platform collapse puts teen on tracks; MTA still hasn't fixed it


Monday, February 11th 2008, 4:00 AM

Avi Katz, with mom, Rena, says Q platform crumbled under his feet.
A Borough Park teen said a subway platform crumbled under his feet and sent him sprawling in front of an oncoming train - but the MTA still hasn't fixed the problem.

Avi Katz, 14, said he was heading home from his Brooklyn yeshiva and standing on the outdoor Kings Highway station when he stepped onto the edge to look for the Q train. Suddenly, he tumbled to the tracks as the wooden platform cracked under his feet.

"The wood snapped and I fell on the tracks," Avi said yesterday at a news conference with his mother and Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).

"I was laying on the tracks and I was really scared," Avi said. "My yarmulke fell off and I didn't even care. I saw the train coming and all I could think was, 'Get up, get up - this isn't how I want to die.'"

The closest light bulb was burned out, he said, so no one could see him. He said he scrambled to safety seconds before a train barreled into the station and is too scared to ride the subway again.

"I'm still real sore and I can't run as fast as I used to" after the Jan. 29 incident, Avi said. "Every time I see a train pass by I think of me on the tracks."

Avi's mother, Rena Katz, said she complained to the token clerk, but the only change was a wooden plank nailed over the gaping hole. Now she said she is planning legal action against the MTA.

The MTA did not respond to requests for comments yesterday.

"Does someone have to die before something happens?" she said. "There is no excuse that this station is in such disrepair - my son could be dead."

Animal groomer faces a year in jail over beating of small Burmese cat


A sadistic Brooklyn pet groomer faces a year in prison on charges of beating a tiny Burmese cat - and handing her back to her owner in a blood-soaked plastic bag.

"We looked in the bag, and Nusha's entire face was covered in blood," said heartbroken pet owner Igor Kisil, 45. "Tears were coming from her eyes. I've never seen a cat do that."

Bechir Bejaoui, 23, of Bay Ridge, was charged with animal cruelty for abusing Nusha, a 3-pound cat, last summer. Bejaoui, who is awaiting trial next month, blamed the cat for being "bad," but a veterinarian said it was the worst case of animal abuse he's seen in 30 years.

"I have cats that have fallen out of very high windows that weren't this bad," said Dr. Roy Appel. "It was awful, just awful to see the cat suffering like it did."

The cat suffered severe trauma, internal injuries and hemorrhaging. She was in the hospital for two weeks and fought off two infections.

A spokesman for the pet grooming store said Thursday no one could remember the incident.

Nusha has recovered from her physical wounds, but is still skittish. "My Nusha just hasn't been the same trusting cat and probably never will be," Kisil said.

No skirting traffic rules, judge tells blind patient's husband

by Matthew Lysiak
daily news writer

Thursday, February 7th 2008, 4:00 AM

An elderly Brooklyn man slapped with a $115 parking ticket while picking up his blind wife from a dialysis clinic just got slapped again - this time by a judge, the Daily News has learned.

"These people are a nightmare," said Eugene Iannicelli, 84, who got the fine Dec. 19 after he couldn't find a parking spot near the Dyker Heights building where his wife Mary, 83, undergoes kidney dialysis. "Don't they have a heart?"

Just as Iannicelli double-parked near the center to escort his frail wife to the car, a traffic enforcement agent rolled up and wrote a summons.

The couple appealed the ticket, but Wednesday found out the city's bureaucracy could be just as cold as the heartless traffic agent.

City administrative law Judge Irwin Strum wrote that Iannicelli tried to "justify his conduct by reference to his wife's medical condition. ... While the moral obligation of a husband to an infirm wife is recognized, it is not a legal basis to excuse an individual's obligation to obey the New York Traffic Rules."

One good thing did come out of the Iannicellis' plight. City Councilman Vince Gentile (D-Bay Ridge) will today be joined by New Yorkers who read The News' story and plan to chip in to pay the fine.

"My office was flooded with calls from people, all strangers to the Iannicellis, but nonetheless outraged over how the city was treating an elderly couple trying their best to help each other through life," Gentile said.

Bay Ridge residents fuming over stench


Tuesday, February 5th 2008, 4:00 AM

The city emptied its sock drawer and now the whole neighborhood stinks.

Bay Ridge residents - coping with a stomach-churning smell wafting from the site of a former sewer pipe project - are telling the city to take out its dirty laundry.

The stink has been hovering over a stretch of Fort Hamilton Parkway between Marine Ave. and 99th St.

The city responded by tossing nylon socks filled with pine-scented deodorizer into the catch basin.

But outraged locals said the scent of raw sewage is now worse than ever.

"The city's smelly socks obviously aren't working, and that situation is now beyond the point of unbearable," said Kadmel Choutie, 67, whose Fort Hamilton Parkway house sits directly in front of one of the wafting grates. "Our entire block is repulsed and everyone wants to know what is taking so long."

The odor first cropped up in the summer of 2006, after the completion of a $6.9 million city project to combine the underground sewer lines there, residents say.

A Daily News story spurred the city to toss a few more socks into the sewage, much to the chagrin of local officials.

"Whatever they are doing down there isn't working," said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann. "These people have waited long enough. I mean that smell is just gag-inducing."

Residents are nauseated - and confused.

"I can't figure out what the city is doing over here," said Patrick Walsh, 80, who has lived on the odorous street for 40 years. "They keep telling us that the smell is going to be getting better, but then it just keeps getting worse."

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Michael Saucier said the socks, which come in pine, cinnamon, vanilla and orange scents, were never intended to be a permanent fix, but just a stopgap until the agency can get to the root of the stench.

"I understand that this is a strong smell and I wish I had answers," said Saucier. "No one thinks the socks are the solution. They are just a temporary fix until we find the source of this odor."

Finding the source of a stench is always a matter of trial and error and the department is doing everything it can to sniff it out, according to Saucier.

"It is unusual that this much time has passed without us finding the source," he said.

"Believe me that we sympathize with these residents and are doing everything in our power to take care of this situation."

Jason Wilde, 30, who bought his condo a year before the stench arrived, said the odor has given him a case of buyer's remorse.

"I'm embarrassed to have people over to my house because they think I live in a sewer," said Wilde.

Station paint jobs on track for spring


Though it's not on NYC Transit's schedule for paint job, 14th St. stop on 1,2,3 line certainly could use one.
A stalled program to give subway stations across the city fresh coats of paint will be launched this spring, the Daily News has learned.

The $50 million stations painting program will begin in April with six stations getting brushwork, officials said. Another five stations will be spruced up later in the year, NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said.

"It's vital from our customers' point of view that we make our stations as attractive as we possibly can," Seaton said. "A well-done paint job goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal."

The News recently reported that NYC Transit's policy for the most part was to not paint a station until it had a total overhaul.

Only a limited number of stations are subject to major rehabilitation annually because of budget constraints, officials have said.

Top transit officials in 2006 announced plans for a decade-long program, initially funded with $50 million in surplus money, to paint every station in the system. That would equal about 46 stations a year, including some being done as part of larger station rehabilitation projects.

Seaton said that schedule has gone "out the window" because the paint jobs are more involved and costly than planners of the program estimated.

The early estimates didn't fully calculate such problems as the extra requirements of removing and disposing of lead paint, Seaton said.

NYC Transit will paint about 12 stations a year under the new program. An additional six or so will get the work each year after total overhauls.

"This station needs new paint," agreed Andrew Snyder, 32, a food co-op manager transferring at the Utica Ave., Brooklyn, station on the A and C lines Monday.

The Utica Ave. station is in the second batch of stations getting painted this year.

Eric Hause, 30, of Bushwick, said "paint would be nice" but he had a higher priority for the Utica Ave. stop. "Getting rid of the urine smell would be even better."

Stations scheduled for painting beginning in April are 77th St. (R line), Brooklyn; Grand Army Plaza (2,3), Brooklyn; Canal St. (J,M,Z), Manhattan; Spring St. (C,E), Manhattan; 135th St. (A,C), Manhattan, and 163rd St. (A,C) Manhattan.

Wind knocks construction worker off 13th-story Brooklyn scaffold


Thursday, January 31st 2008, 4:00 AM

Apowerful wind gustsent a Brooklyn scaffold worker plunging 13 stories to his death Wednesday, authorities said.

Jose Palacios, 43, a big-hearted father who sent money to his wife and daughter in Mexico, was installing stucco at the top of a Clinton Ave. building when the wind knocked over his scaffold. He fell 130 feet to the ground below, witnesses said.

"He was just a screaming blur," said laborer Ben Tee, 49, who was working a few floors down. "To pick a man up and throw him that far is unbelievable."

Another worker escaped with minor injuries when he fell to a landing one floor below just after 10 a.m. A third laborer cheated death when he managed to grab onto a roof bulkhead.

Ricardo Uribe was working on the seventh floor when he heard a "big whoosh" and a crash below. He rushed to help Palacios but found him motionless.

"This is a just a huge tragedy," said Uribe, 35. "That wind was like a whirlwind."

Forecasters said winds gusted up to 39 mphWednesday morning as a winter storm moved north of the city. Buildings Department officials said they issue warning advisories to contractors when forecasters warn of winds over 30 mph.

"This huge gust just tipped the scaffolding right over," said FDNY Chief Joe Woznic.

Buildings Department spokeswoman Kate Lindquist said investigators were looking into whether the scaffold - a type that is installed on the rooftop, instead of suspended from the side of the building - was adequately secured.

Inspectors issued a stop-work order at the site. A condo complex with a glass facade is being built on the property.

Palacios' relatives remembered him as a good father who sent money home every week to his wife, Virginia.

He lived with his niece and doted on her children, and loved chatting on the computer with his teenage daughter, Veronica. "He was very sweet," said Jasmine Solis, 28, Palacios' niece.

Palacios had been working construction jobs in New York for about three years. He planned to move back to Mexico at the end of the year. His body will be sent home for burial, his loved ones said.

The fatal accident was the city's second death plunge in the past two weeks. A worker died Jan. 14 when a floor collapsed at Donald Trump's 42story tower in SoHo.

Amid calls for better safeguards, the city plans to release new construction guidelines next week. At least 43 people died while working construction in the city in 2006, the deadliest year in at least a decade, the most recent federal statistics show. The toll was up 87% from 2005, when 23 people died.

Bay Ridge vets battle Health Dept.


Wednesday, January 30th 2008, 4:00 AM

They survived World War II and Korea, but now a group of veterans are making a stand against another formidable foe - the Health Department.

Battle lines have been drawn between a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Bay Ridge, and Health Department agents who the soldiers say are trigger happy when it comes to citations.

"I faced some frightening fascists in my time, but I've never seen anything like this," said Angel Rios, a 79-year-old Korean War vet and post commander. "We served our country with honor - and now this city is spitting in our faces."

The call to arms came after the agency issued more than $4,000 in tickets and forced the vets to expel their beloved feline mascot, Baby, in a series of violations issued over the last 11 months that ranged from not displaying a "smoking permitted" sign to not having a Food Protection Certificate.

The post paid the fines, and members even attended a series of classes to gain certification on proper food handling, but they now say they want the Health Department off their backs and out of their club - permanently.

"They are coming into our home and telling us that ice is a food and that our little kitten is a hazard," said Rios. "Do they go into kitchens and ask people if they know how to use the automatic ice makers on their refrigerators?"

The veterans argued that they did not need the certificate because the 300-member post doesn't have a kitchen and only operates the ice machine for its bar, but the city remained adamant that ice is a food.

"While the establishment may not serve food to the public from a kitchen, ice does constitute food under the health code, because it is something that someone consumes," said Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Sara Markt. "Ice machines have been implicated in foodborne-illness outbreaks elsewhere in the country."

The agency also cited other concerns involved in serving drinks, such as sanitizing glasses, but added that some of the smoking violations were "in the process of being withdrawn."

The news came as little consolation to the vets.

"We are a fraternal organization of dues-paying members and shouldn't be subject to any of these inspections," said Rios. "We earned the right to be left alone and we have the battle scars to prove it."

Rios said he wants to cooperate with the city, but is just looking for a little recognition.

"Little do they know that there wouldn't be a Department of Health without these brave men who fought for this country," he said.

Bay Ridge rage as cell phone towers rise near school


Call it reading, writing and radiation.

Parents at Public School 185 in Bay Ridge are outraged that six cell phone towers were erected directly across the street from the school over a recent weekend.

"I'm scared of what we don't know," said Elizabeth Juliano, whose 5-year-old son attends the school. "Without evidence either way, we should err on the side of caution. This is just stupid."

Calls from concerned parents flooded the local community board only hours after the towers were erected.

"They installed them when no one was around in hopes of falling under the radar," said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann of the towers, which appeared on the rooftops at 8701 Ridge Blvd. "Within hours, my phone was ringing off the hook with angry parents afraid that radiation . . . was going to give their kids cancer."

Scientists have said health risks from cell phone towers are slight because of low radiation levels - but that hasn't stopped people from being wary.

This most recent uprising could radiate throughout the five boroughs as state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge) may push legislation that would ban tower installation within 500 feet of schools.

"I strongly denounce the installation of a cell phone tower directly across from PS 185 and am reviewing my options legislatively," Golden said.

Golden first introduced the legislation almost two years ago, after parents of St. Anselm's School fought the construction of a Sprint/Nextel tower to be placed atop a nearby building at 8300 Fourth Ave. St.

Anselm parents also didn't know the tower was coming until a crane showed up late one night.

The legislation failed but the accompanying public relations were successful in halting the construction. Golden said the new towers across from PS 185 - two of which are pointed directly at classrooms - may be the final straw.

But the science on cell towers shows that signals emitted are no more likely to cause cancer than a television set. That's because the type of radiation emitted from the towers, which is more like radio waves than X-rays, is harmless, said Verizon spokesman David Samberg.

"[The cell phone industry] has been around for over 20 years, and no one has ever found that these signals can hurt people," Samberg said. "As for notification, we work transparently with the building owner, and if they request that we speak to the community, we do so gladly."

Fatal hit-run suspect delivered to cops


Saturday, December 29th 2007, 4:00 AM

Four witnesses to a deadly hit-and-run crash in Brooklyn chased the cowardly driver for a block - then hauled him back to the scene in a cab, police said Friday.

Witnesses watched helplessly as the driver mowed down Francisco Guerrero, 73, while making an illegal U-turn at 52nd St. and Fourth Ave. in Sunset Park, cops said.

Lawrence Meyers, 38, who was dressed in a black suit and driving a blue minivan, attempted to flee the 3:30 p.m. crash, police said.

As he sped off, Meyers, who lived nearby, sideswiped a van driven by Chris Blake, 41, who began chasing the minivan. A gutsy city bus driver also helped, using the bus to corner the escaping minivan.

"[The bus driver] boxed him in from the front and I got him boxed in from behind," said Blake, of Bay Ridge. "He jumped out and tried to run. We grabbed him and held him. He slipped out of his jacket and two other guys grabbed him.

"I was glad we got the bastard. He killed a guy. He was meant to get caught. He deserves to go to jail."

The two good Samaritans piled into a cab with Meyers and returned to the scene, where cops arrested him.

Witness Efrain Santos, 26, who works with one of the brave men at Nuevo Estillo barbershop, said everyone in the shop was watching the drama unfold. "The taxi pulled out front. They put the cuffs on him and he looked real nervous," Santos said.

Early this morning, as he was led out of a police precinct, Meyers told reporters, "It was an accident. It was just an accident."

The victim, who lived nearby, died at Lutheran Medical Center, officials said.

"He's a nice guy. I can't believe that happened to him," said Daniel Feliciano, who owns a beer distributor company where Guerrero often redeemed empty cans and bottles.

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