Tag Archives: Department of Investigation

City to deploy ‘shelter repair squad’ to fix homeless shelter issues


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Five city agencies are coming together to investigate and solve the issues faced at over 500 homeless shelters throughout the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the city will deploying hundreds of “special SWAT teams” — made up of employees from the FDNY, Department of Buildings, Department of Homeless Services, Department of Health and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development — to accelerate the process of repairs at homeless shelters all over New York City.

“These SWAT teams are necessary because we aren’t dealing with a problem that just started in the last year or two, we’re dealing with a problem that is decades old and has gotten worse for several reasons,” de Blasio said. “This city has seen a homelessness crisis that in the last decade went from a very troubling level to an absolutely unacceptable level.”

According to the mayor, 56,000 people are currently living in shelters, and although that number is down from 59,000 people a few months ago, there is still much more to be done.

The implementation of the inter-agency shelter repair squad comes after de Blasio received a report from the Department of Investigation two months ago that put forth the unhealthy conditions at the city shelters. The DOI found 25 shelters that required immediate attention, and those have since had almost all violations addressed.

One of those shelters included the Corona Family Residence, where de Blasio made the announcement Monday afternoon. This facility had violations such as smoke detector problems and rodent infestations.

The squads will go out to individual shelters, identify the problems and solutions to them, then reach out to various departments and agencies that could find the resources to correct the conditions. Typical violations — such as broken or missing smoke detectors — will be expected to be fixed within a seven-day period after being identified. Some of the more complicated capital repairs will begin in about 30 days with a plan of completion within the calendar year.

Along with the squad, there will also be an accountability system put into place where members of the public will be able to track the city’s progress through online scorecards.

“Every effort is being made to reduce the number of health and safety violations within DHS shelters, and the creation of the shelter repair squad will provide immeasurable support to us in these efforts,” DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said. “This engagement is truly reflective of our city’s collective responsibility, serving our most vulnerable New Yorkers. These measures will indeed help DHS to overcome the many years of neglect that our city shelter system has been subjected to.”

Last week, de Blasio also announced that in the city’s 2016 $78.3 billion budget $100 million will go toward homeless prevention and assistance, including rental support, anti-eviction and legal services, and more. The budget will also include $4.7 million to expand the number of shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth by another 100, while enhancing mental health services.

For Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who attended the Monday announcement, the issues residents have to live with at these homeless shelters hit close to his heart because his family once lived in a shelter. Van Bramer said that many of the issues the families are facing are the same as those his family faced years ago.

“Every family that comes to [a] shelter is in a state of crisis in one way or another, but the fact that they found shelter means that they are on the path to recovery, like my family. So going to [a] shelter is the first step, in many cases, to making it out of [the] shelter,” Van Bramer said. “But when you get to that shelter, it should be a place where any New Yorker could live because it’s about dignity and it’s about knowing that you matter, your lives matter, your children matter.”

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FDNY firefighter made fake 911 calls to steal money


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

FDNY firefighter Joseph Keene pulled the false alarm, making phony calls to various firehouses. Once firefighters responded to the call, Keene crept into the fire stations and made off with others’ cash, according to a report released by the Department of Investigation (DOI).

The investigation shows that Keene, through a series of thefts, made several false 9-1-1 calls which initiated an FDNY response so that he could enter various firehouses and steal money from firefighters’ personal belongings.

Keene was reportedly interviewed last week and admitted to his crimes to the DOI.

In one incident in early June, a 9-1-1 call was made reporting a gas odor at Jamaica Avenue and Little Neck Parkway. Local Engine 251 responded to the area, but the call was determined unfounded. While the firetruck was out, Keene entered the firehouse and stole roughly $1,200.

During the investigation, video surveillance found an individual who appeared to be Keene exiting a car and entering the firehouse after the Engine Company had left. The car the individual traveled in was one similar to Keene’s.

Keene later admitted it was him in the video.

The investigation reports Keene having stolen over $2,000 from different firehouses throughout Queens County and Richmond County, in Staten Island.

Keene was charged Friday by the District Attorney with falsely reporting an incident, grand larceny and burglary, all felonies, as well as petit larceny. The Richmond County District Attorney will separately charge Keene as appropriate.

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Queens GOP big wig involved in ‘shakedown’


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

A Board of Elections (BOE) employee trying to make a quick buck has instead found himself in hot water.

The BOE has suspended Stephen Graves – who is also a top official in the Queens Republican Party – after he was allegedly caught on tape soliciting a $25,000 “finder’s fee” from a company competing for a multi-million dollar contract in 2009.

According to published reports, Graves, who is the first vice chairman of the Queens GOP, requested money from Dominion Voting Systems – a Denver-based company – while it was contending against Nebraska’s Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) for a $65 million contract to sell the city its first electronic voting machines. The Department of Investigation (DOI) reportedly provided information to the BOE regarding Graves’ actions.

Both the BOE and DOI declined to comment, as the investigation is ongoing.

Graves allegedly wanted the fee in return for recommending a particular lobbyist to Dominion.

Dominion denied Graves’ request, however, and the contract went to ES&S.

Attempts to reach Graves were unsuccessful, but reports claimed he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights while being questioned by DOI.

Dominion officials reportedly filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and submitted their recorded conversations with Graves. The matter has now been brought to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, according to the accounts.

Attempts to reach Dominion went unreturned as of press time.

Graves, who also was the GOP candidate for Congress against Gary Ackerman in 2004, has reportedly been a systems analyst at the BOE since 2007.

Phil Ragusa, chair of the Queens Republican GOP, would not comment on the charges, but called Graves “absolutely honest” in his work.

“His work was always exemplary for the Queens County Republican Party,” Ragusa said.

Republican Councilmember Eric Ulrich admitted he was not surprised by the news, and expressed disapproval of both Graves’ actions and Ragusa’s stance.

“I was appalled, but not shocked, by the revelations about Queens GOP Vice-Chair Stephen Graves and his shameful attempt to ‘shakedown’ a vendor trying to sell the city new voting machines,” Ulrich said. “For Phil Ragusa, as head of the county organization, to defend Graves as ‘honest’ even after Graves refused to cooperate fully with the DOI is a slap in the face to the rank and file members of the Republican Party.”