Liu recovers $1.2 mil for cheated workers

On the historic anniversary of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Comptroller John Liu announced a victory for immigrant workers in New York City.
After what he called a long investigation, Mascon Restoration, a College Point-based construction company operating in four Manhattan sites under a Department of Housing Preservation and Development contract, was ordered to pay a $1.2 million settlement for unpaid wages and benefits to its workers.
The company pled guilty to a felony charge for falsifying salary documents and failing to pay prevailing wages. It must also pay $75,000 to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for the cost of the investigation and prosecution, and $243,880 to the state Labor Department for underpayment of unemployment insurance.
Except for $107,120 of the $1.2 million settlement, which is owed to the city for a civil penalty, the rest of the money is available for other workers who file claims of unfair wages.
At a press conference announcing the settlement last Thursday, Liu stressed that workers are covered under state labor laws regardless of their citizenship status.
“We know that immigrants are often afraid to talk with government officials, but it is important that we get the word out,” Liu said, adding that 46 percent of the city’s workforce is foreign-born. “We are encouraging these workers to come forward and claim their unpaid wages.
“The intimidation or exploitation of workers, immigrant or otherwise, will not be tolerated,” he said.
According to Liu’s office, workers at Mascon were paid $60 to $70 a day, although most were entitled to $150 a day plus benefits, and those working on high beams were owed $700 a day plus benefits.
The investigation was launched after three workers at a Mascon construction site acquired a publication from the comptroller’s office educating them on appropriate wages for their work, and requesting that those being mistreated come forward.
A representative from Liu’s office said employers are asked to post the publication around their work sites, but most do not.
One worker, who chose to go by the name Lanssay, immigrated from West Africa in 1989, and was available for an interview off-camera, through an English translator.
Lanssay, who worked in demolition at a Mascon site, said he received the flyer from the comptroller’s office, “and at that time they were given information and proof that they were not paid a proper salary that was by law what they should be paid.”
He and two other workers summoned the bravery to file a claim with the comptroller’s office when they heard that they could be paid the money they were owed, Lanssay said through the translator.
When he asked his employer to pay him the prevailing wage, his boss refused, the worker said.
“It happened in other places before, but they were not given the opportunity to give the proof and get compensation,” the translator said, when Lanssay was asked if he was exploited by previous employers. “That’s why they’re here.”
According to Liu’s office, after six years the money from the $1.2 million that is not claimed by workers will be put in the city’s general fund.
Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn said that in addition to encouraging exploited workers, legal and illegal, to come forward, the settlement should send a message to employers across the city.
“I hope it reverberates to everyone who is hiring [from the] immigrant population and think that they can exploit them without anything happening to them,” Williams said. “Let it be known that we are watching and we’re going to use whatever tools we have under our belt to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

To file a wage claim with the comptroller’s office, call (212) 669-4443. All calls are confidential.

Battle over fluoride returns

The dispute over fluoride will continue for another year, with Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. hosting a day of activities at City Hall on May 15 to announce the introduction of legislation to ban adding the chemical to the city’s drinking water.
Fluoride was added to the city’s drinking water at a level between .7 and 1.2 milligrams per liter In 1962. A state law was passed in recent years, however, that gave local jurisdictions in New York the ability to decide whether to keep the chemical.
In January 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended lowering the levels of fluoride in drinking water closer to .7, as it was reported that two in five children in America show signs of fluorosis, which involves mild to moderate white spots on their teeth.
Vallone, who represents Astoria, said he is introducing legislation to ban fluoride because the city should not self-medicate its residents.
He recommended those who are concerned about fluoride poisoning purchase water filters for their faucets.
“I have serious questions with using the water supply to force-medicate,” Vallone said in a recent interview. “What’s next, once you set this precedent that the government can decide what’s good for you?
“Maybe they’ll decide we’re not happy enough, let’s put some Xanex in the water,” he said, referring to an anti-anxiety prescription medication.
However, Vallone’s good friend Councilman James Gennaro, who represents Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens, disagrees with his proposal.
After singing Vallone’s praises for being an environmental, public safety and animal rights activist, Gennaro said his Western Queens colleague is misguided by false science.
Lobbyists against fluoride “engage in a lot of scare tactics that are scientifically baseless,” Gennaro said, adding that “water fluoridation is one of the top 10 health advances of the 20th Century.”
However, Gennaro said city residents should not ask advice regarding fluoride from elected officials, but rather from medical professionals whom they trust.
New York City spends roughly $25 million per year adding fluoride to its water, according to the Department of Health.
In addition, according to a 1990 published study “Fluoride: Benefits and Risks of Exposure,” the chemical can be harmful to kidney patients, diabetics and those with fluoride hyper-sensitivity, even at levels deemed safe by the CDC.
But Gennaro said such findings are not backed by actual science.
Dr. Mark Wolff, associate dean of pre-doctoral education and chair and professor at the Department of Cariology, the study of decay, and Comprehensive Care at New York University, agreed that the use of fluoride is one of the largest public health victories for children and the elderly, who are most susceptible to tooth decay. He added that it therefore also has a monetary benefit in public health.
“There’s a laundry list of ‘what if’s’,” Wolff said, stating that fluoride has been blamed for numerous health problems, including the growth of tumors and the development of autism. “Every study has come back and said there’s just no evidence of risk to the public.
“What we do know is that children, geriatrics,” and other at-risk populations, “all reduce the number of cavities they’re going to get because they drink fluoridated water.”
However, he agreed that the CDC lowered its recommended fluoride dose because of the rise in fluorosis among children, which occurs because they consume fluoride from other substances, including toothpaste.
But Wolff said fluorisis is a greater risk for residents in southern states, where they consume more water due to the heat.
In summation, as a medical professional, Wolff said the benefits he’s seen from fluoride in drinking water in reducing tooth decay are massive.
“If we take fluoride out of the water in New York City, dentists will be busier in the next decade,” he said.
To further the discussion, Vallone will host a rally on the steps of City Hall at 11 a.m. on May 15.
Later in the day, at 1 p.m., he will announce a proclamation honoring P.S. 122 teacher Rebecca Victoros for her efforts in leading her students through scientific research projects in her program Project Citizen.
Recently, students in Project Citizen studied the effects of fluoride in drinking water, and will stand with Vallone when he announces his legislation at City Hall, a representative from his office said.

Project buzzing to boost local economies

Chase Emmons has a dream to build New York City’s largest commercial apiary, comprised of roughly two million bees that are genetically suited to endure New York City’s diverse climate.
Emmons is chief beekeeper and director of business development at Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm that recently expanded from its Long Island City location to a space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the apiary will be kept.
The apiary will consist of 30 hives with roughly 50,000 bees per hive.
“Over the next two years we want to cross-breed bees that show themselves to be successful in the Yard and ultimately end up with a strain of bees that are really well-suited to the New York City environment,” Emmons said.
To fund the program, Emmons launched an online Kickstarter campaign, where he must raise $20,000 by Thursday, April 19, at 4 p.m. to receive the money pledged.
In return, Emmons said the apiary will have numerous benefits for New York City residents.
In addition to adding 50 pounds of honey per hive every season to the city’s local produce market, residents will be able to purchase their own genetically equipped Brooklyn Grange Bees, keep their own hives, and sell their own honey.
Local honey sells in the city for about $40 a pound, Emmons said.
Currently, city beekeepers purchase their bees from southern states. The bees are shipped in lunch-box sized containers through regular mail, which weakens them, at roughly $100 a box.
“There will be a new New York City local product, which can then be sold amongst New Yorkers,” Emmons said. “People can create their own little businesses with New York City bees.”
In addition to boosting the local economy, the apiary will be educational, with a pay-it-forward internship program the Grange launched in recent weeks.
In the program, interns will work with the bees until the season ends, near the end of September, when they will receive a batch of their own bees in exchange for committing to training new interns the next summer.
Twelve interns were chosen for this summer’s program, with a leftover waiting list of 50 from about 175 original applicants.
To give those on the waiting list a chance to participate, the Grange will host group-activity days throughout the summer.
“We want to involve as many of them as we can,” Emmons said.
The project also has an artistic element, as it is common to decorate hives so bees can recognize their homes.
“Bees navigate very visually like we do,” Emmons explained. “They can drift between hives and you don’t necessarily want that.”
To help the bees, the Grange is working with Visionaire magazine to bring in professional artists, including local urbanites and others flying in from as far as Brazil, to decorate the hives.
To celebrate, Visionaire will also host a black tie event at the Grange later in the summer, Emmons said.

For more information on the Grange, visit, or to donate visit the Kickstarter page .

104th Precinct Blotter (4/2/12-4/8/12)

Monday, Apr. 2

Felix Rosario was arrested at 1859 Madison Street for petit larceny by Officer Gianesses.
Jesus Muniz was arrested at Palmetto Street and Cypress Avenue for robbery by Detective Webb.
Christopher Barbara was arrested at 2012 Harman Street for criminal contempt by Officer Gomez.
Victor Ortiz was arrested at 64-28 Madison Street for criminal contempt by Officer Gomez.
Saul Irizarry was arrested at Madison Street and Fresh Pond Road for assault by Detective Spagnola.
Ivan Delgado was arrested at 54-38 60th Road for criminal contempt by Officer Berke.
Sigfredo Davila was arrested at 69th Street and Myrtle Avenue for disorderly conduct by Officer Rogers.
Akim Martin was arrested at Eldert Street and Wyckoff Avenue for unlicensed operation of a vehicle by Officer Day.

Tuesday, Apr. 3

Ralph Taylor was arrested at 82-15 Eliot Avenue for burglary by Detective Geis.
Arthur Winnicki was arrested at 201 Butler Avenue for assault by Detective Spignola.
Marie Citak was arrested at 68-27 62nd Street for criminal contempt by Officer Gomez.
Edward Black was arrested at 1642 Madison Street for forgery by Detective Chichory.

Wednesday, Apr. 4

Martine Vasco was arrested at 84-31 62nd Drive for criminal mischief by Detective Lundy.
Gustavo Taveras was arrested at Palmetto Street and Cypress Avenue for robbery by Detective Webb.
Denard Cartagena was arrested at 70-20 66th Street for assault by Officer Gomez.
Carl Esposito was arrested at 66-56 Forest Avenue for criminal contempt by Detective Geis.
David Rodrguez was arrested at 70-12 67th Place for aggravated harassment by Detective Ebron.
Tiana Scott was arrested at 66-26 Metropolitan Avenue for petit larceny by Officer Dilan.
Cezar Davca was arrested at Cornelia Street and Woodward Avenue for disorderly conduct by Officer Wright.
Maria Ortega was arrested at 853 Wyckoff Avenue for reckless endangerment by Officer Peart.
Christopher Leone was arrested at 69-18 79th Street for assault by Officer Aviles.
Matthew Burd was arrested at 69-32 Myrtle Avenue for criminal trespassing by Officer Sowden.

Thursday, Apr. 5

Jav Baginski was arrested at 61-17 Gates Avenue for criminal contempt by Officer Skorzewski.
Lydia Rodriguez was arrested at 66-26 Metropolitan Avenue for petit larceny by Officer Florio.
Jonathan Acosta was arrested at 62-76 60th Place for criminal possession of a forged instrument by Officer Christian.
Jose Melendez was arrested at Grandview Avenue and Stanhope Street for reckless endangerment by Officer Rodriguez.
Leonro Diolata was arrested at Grand Avenue and the Long Island Expressway for assault by Officer Jackson.

Friday, Apr. 6

Robert Drellana was arrested at 62nd Drive and Woodhaven Boulevard for driving while intoxicated by Officer Shariff.
Chris Jones was arrested at Juniper Boulevard South and 69th Lane for criminal possession of a weapon by Officer Ock.
Lucia Morales was arrested at 66-26 Metropolitan Avenue for criminal possession of stolen property by Officer Mendez.
Kevin May was arrested at 68-02 Myrtle Avenue for petit larceny by Officer Jackson.
Lee Cohen was arrested at 71-05 67th Place for criminal contempt by Officer Bazata.
Daniel Majewski was arrested at 60-17 56th Road for criminal trespassing by Officer Inga.
Steven Santiago was arrested at 1724 Putnam Avenue for assault by Officer Winter.
Adam Almodovar was arrested at Caldwell Avenue and 81st Street for assault by Officer Aviles.

Saturday, Apr. 7

Juan Cruz was arrested at 281 Saint Nicholas for criminal mischief by Officer Mays.
Robert Wittmer was arrested at Fresh Pond Road and 60th Drive for driving while intoxicated by Officer Krokondelas.
Eric Ramos was arrested at 74-17 Grand Avenue for criminal possession of stolen property by Officer Kerne.
Nabil Salameh was arrested at 69th Place and Central Avenue for aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle by Officer Mendoza.

Sunday, Apr. 8

Alfredo Rosa was arrested at 75-02 62nd Street for criminal mischief by Officer Toor.
Marcelo Sucuzhamay was arrested at 16-33A Hancock Street for assault by Officer Collins.
Edwin Garcia was arrested at 16-24 Hancock Street for assault by Officer Rogers.
Paul Sanabria was arrested at 63-11 83rd Street for assault by Officer Tudor.

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