Tag Archives: Middle Village

Man suspected in fourth Queens bank robbery


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Video courtesy of NYPD

A man who police say robbed three Queens banks late last year is suspected of returning to one of those banks to continue his crime spree.

The suspect entered the Astoria Bank at 75-25 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village on Wednesday about 11:35 a.m., passed a note and demanded money, police said. The teller handed over the cash and the man fled eastbound on Metropolitan Avenue with about $8,300.

Cops believe the same suspect robbed the same bank, at the same time, on Dec. 30, taking off with $7,400.

The suspect is also wanted in two other bank robberies, including one just down the street.

On Nov. 24, he is accused of robbing a Capital One Bank at 74-11 Metropolitan Ave., near 75th Street in Middle Village, just after 3 p.m. After entering the bank, the suspect passed a demand note and fled on foot with about $750.

He also robbed a Capital One Bank, at 70-01 Forest Ave., near 70th Avenue, in Ridgewood on Dec. 9 about 11:30 a.m., police said. The suspect fled the bank on foot with $2,617.

Police have released a video of the suspect from the Feb. 4 robbery and describe him as black, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and 190 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Van driver arrested in deadly Middle Village hit-and-run


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

HandcuffsPrintsHC1010_L_300_C_Y2-624x468

Updated 2:58 p.m.

A driver has been charged in a fatal hit-and-run after he struck a California man in Middle Village Tuesday night, causing him to fall into the path of another vehicle, authorities said.

Kamil Gorski, 36, was standing on the double yellow lines separating the westbound and eastbound lanes of traffic of Metropolitan Avenue near 62nd Street just before 8 p.m. when he was killed, authorities said.

A Ford van driving eastbound down Metropolitan hit Gorski, causing him to fall into the westbound lane of Metropolitan Avenue, where he was struck by a sedan, police said. The sedan’s driver remained at the scene and was not injured, but the van fled.

Gorski, a resident of San Marcos, Calif., was taken to Elmhurst Hospital where he died.

The van’s driver, Raul Reyes, 53, was later located at his Bushwick, Brooklyn home, where he admitted that he knew he struck something with his driver’s side view mirror, according to the district attorney’s office. But he thought that had clipped the side mirror of a small truck driving in the opposite direction and decided to keep going.

Reyes was arraigned Wednesday night on a charge of leaving the scene of an accident without reporting serious physical injury, and was ordered held on $30,000 bond. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

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Middle Village street to be named after sanitation worker who died in line of duty


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of DSNY; THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Steven Frosch, the sanitation worker who tragically lost his life in June, will never be forgotten in Middle Village now that a street is being named in his honor.

At the end of January, the City Council unanimously voted and approved to rename 67th Drive between 78th and 79th streets after Frosch in memory of his sacrifice and for all of the work he did for the city. He worked with the Department of Sanitation for 15 years and also previously served as a member of both the NYPD and FDNY.

“Steven was a devoted family man who gave himself to our community and loved his wife, Bina, and their four children with all of his heart,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who represents Middle Village and Maspeth in the City Council. “His tragic death should serve as a reminder to all of us about the very real risks our uniformed workers take each single day in the service of everyday New Yorkers. Throughout his life, Steven truly personified New York’s finest, bravest and strongest, and he deserves to be recognized and remembered by our city.”

Frosch, 43, was working on a street sweeper when another sanitation worker accidentally hit him with another street sweeper and pinned him between the two large vehicles.

Police found Frosch unconscious and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Frosch was honored once before in November of last year at the sanitation garage located in Maspeth. The Queens West 5A garage was renamed in his memory, as he used to be deployed out of it.

“I am pleased that 67th Drive between 78th Street and 79th Street in Middle Village will be renamed to honor fallen sanitation worker Steven Frosch, who died in the line of duty last year,” said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. “This meaningful act demonstrates to the Frosch family what Steven meant to this city and to the Department of Sanitation that he served so well.”

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Suspect wanted in Middle Village, Ridgewood bank robberies


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of NYPD

Police are looking for a man who they say robbed three Queens banks, including two on the same block.

The first robbery occurred inside a Capital One Bank at 74-11 Metropolitan Ave., near 75th Street in Middle Village, just after 3 p.m. on Nov. 24, cops said. After entering the bank, the suspect passed a demand note and fled on foot with about $750.

On Dec. 9, at about 11:30 a.m., the same man robbed another Capital One Bank, at 70-01 Forest Ave., near 70th Avenue, in Ridgewood, police said. The suspect fled the bank on foot with $2,617.

The same man returned to Middle Village on Dec. 30 to rob a bank just down the street from the site of the Nov. 24 robbery. According to police, the man entered the Astoria Bank at 75-25 Metropolitan Ave. at about 11:30 a.m., passed a demand note and fled on foot with about $7,400.

Police described the suspect as black, 30 to 35 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and with a medium build. He was last seen wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and a black knit hat.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Glendale man arrested after allegedly talking about killing cops


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

Updated Dec. 29, 9:37 a.m.

BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO 

A Glendale man has been arrested on weapons charges after he was overheard saying that the officers murdered in last weekend’s shooting should have been white and he wanted to kill cops, authorities said.

A witness called police about 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday, informing them that while inside the TD Bank at 79-55 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village he had overheard a man having a cell phone conversation about killing cops before Christmas, and having firearms at his home. According to the Queens district attorney’s office, the witness also overheard the man say that during last weekend’s shooting, white officers should have been killed instead.

The suspect left the bank before cops arrived, but they were able to locate him entering a vehicle near 66-26 Metropolitan Ave., police said. They followed the car, and pulled it over at Metropolitan Avenue and Rentar Plaza for having dark tinted windows.

When the man got out of the car, police spotted a small plastic bag containing marijuana in the front seat and a metal pipe, authorities said.

The witness from the bank identified the car’s occupant as the person he overheard, and police placed the man, 38-year-old Elvin Payamps of Glendale, under arrest, according to authorities.

During a search of Payamps’ home, police recovered metal knuckles, a loaded pistol, a shotgun with a defaced serial number, ammunition and two bulletproof vests, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. One of the vests was labeled as being from the Brooklyn Detention Complex.

After his arrest, according to the district attorney, Payamps admitted to saying that the two officers shot and killed in Brooklyn last weekend should have been white instead of Hispanic and Asian, if the shooter wanted to send a message.

“Today, there will be a wake for one of the two officers brutally gunned down last weekend in Brooklyn,” Brown said on Friday. “We will not under any circumstances tolerate violence against anyone in our community, especially not against police officers who tirelessly protect and serve all of us.”

Payamps was arraigned Thursday night in Queens Criminal Court on two charges of criminal possession of a weapon, aggravated harassment, unlawful use of police uniformed emblem and unlawful possession of marijuana, authorities said. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Bail was set at $500,000 and Payamps’ next court date is on Jan. 7.

In an interview with the New York Post on Saturday, Payamps said that the alleged threats were misconstrued and his words were “free speech.”

“Whatever happened to free speech? I was only saying an opinion,” Payamps told the paper.

He said that he believes the witness, identified by the Post as an ex-NYPD officer, “twisted” his words and should be “prosecuted for lying.”

Payamps said he meant no harm by what he said, supports the police, and even planned on taking his 13-year-old son to slain Officer Rafael Ramos’ funeral, according to the Post.

At least six people have been arrested in the last week in connection to threats against the NYPD, reports said.

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Two Queens Chase banks robbed within six hours: cops


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of NYPD

A pair of Chase Bank branches in neighboring Ridgewood and Middle Village were robbed on the same day, police said.

The first Chase branch, at 70-01 Forest Ave. in Ridgewood, was hit at about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, cops said. After entering the bank, the suspect passed a note demanding money, and he took $2,617 in cash before fleeing.

Another Chase location, at 74-07 Eliot Ave. in Middle Village, was robbed just before 5 p.m. the same day, according to police. The suspect, armed with a gun, entered the bank and passed a note demanding cash from the teller. The teller then handed $8,825 in cash over to the suspect.

Authorities describe the suspect in the Ridgewood robbery as a black man, 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a medium complexion and medium build. He was wearing a black bubble coat and a gray hoodie.

The suspect in the Middle Village robbery is described as a black man, 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, with a medium complexion and medium build. He was wearing a gray ski cap, dark sunglasses, a gray coat and a multicolored scarf.

Police are still investigating whether the two robberies are connected.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Coalition funds growing to combat ‘warehousing’ of homeless in Glendale


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo by Jeff Stone

Though donations have slowed down in recent weeks, the Glendale/Middle Village Coalition is continuing to raise money to pay for its legal battle to block a proposed homeless shelter.

The group has raised $70,000 for a fund to pay for legal fees in its lawsuit against the city on the proposed Glendale homeless shelter.

“We want to make it clear that we are not against helping homeless people,” said Dawn Scala, a member of the coalition. “We are against the warehousing of them in large facilities.”

Over 445 different people and groups have made donations to the community coalition. It was something that Brian Dooley, treasurer of the coalition, was proud of because of his concern with how the city handles the homeless.

“We should all be very proud of this number,” said Dooley.

Sal Crifasi, president of the coalition, said that donations have been coming in less and less over the past few weeks, but he remains optimistic that they will reach their goal of $130,000 as he believes the slow-down in donations of late is because of the holiday season.

“We used to get about 15 checks a day coming into the office, now we are getting two or three,” Crifasi said. “But every donation counts.”

Crifasi said most of the donations are coming from Glendale residents. But he wants to branch out into Middle Village as he believes the homeless shelter will affect that neighborhood just as much as, if not more than, Glendale.

At this point, the coalition has spent $15,000 on the Article 78 filed against the city, which was an appeal against the Environmental Assessment the city did on the land. They will have to spend another $15,000 on this first action, which will leave them with about $40,000 to work with, Dooley said.

The coalition’s members feel that the city did not take a “hard look” at the area in order to determine the impact of a homeless shelter at the site. They want a full Environmental Impact Study done.

“This is a bad spot and a bad idea,” said Fred Haller, a member of the coalition who is also a lawyer. “This has been a great effort by all the groups in the neighborhood. Legal fees are expensive and we are raising a lot of money.”

The city has until Dec. 12 to answer the Article 78 filed against them. Haller said that the coalition, along with their attorney, are discussing further lawsuits they could bring on city, state and federal levels.

“[The proposed shelter] is not the right answer for helping these people,” Dooley said. “We have a lot more fighting to do.”

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Thanksgiving food drive benefits veterans in Queens


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Eric Ulrich's office

Elected officials and veteran organizations are giving thanks this Thanksgiving by serving those who have served the country.

In Queens, Councilman Eric Ulrich, chair of the veterans committee, opened his doors to collect goods for a food drive for veterans that has been taking place citywide since Nov. 10.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #32, located in Whitestone, joined the councilman in helping those less fortunate who’ve served the country. They have donated hundreds of dollars’ worth of food to the drive and have done their own collection for veteran food pantries and kitchens.

“If you served our country in any shape or form and need help we want to do so,” said Paul Narson, president of the chapter.

All of the food that has been collected by the chapter will be given to Ulrich to then distribute as part of the food drive. Most of the food collected by the organization has been donated from its 252 members in Queens, said Narson.

Moreover, the chapter has also donated 16 turkeys to food pantries around Middle Village and Glendale.

It’s the least they can do for those brave men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect America’s freedom, noted Narson, who has been a member of the chapter for 25 years.

“We try to do all sorts of things for veterans,” he said. “We help out whenever we can.”

Close to 30 percent of New York City’s veterans and their families rely on emergency food to get by, according to the New York City Food Bank.

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$63K raised in fight against proposed Glendale homeless shelter


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo by Jeff Stone

The Glendale/Middle Village Coalition is making strides in their effort to combat the city on the proposed Cooper Avenue homeless shelter.

The coalition announced that they have now raised just $300 shy of $63,000 as of Nov. 4 for a legal fund. This money will go toward a lawsuit against the city as the coalition believes the agencies did not go through the proper steps to check how adding a homeless shelter to the neighborhood would affect it.

“People are giving what they can, which is great,” said Brain Dooley, a member of the coalition. “I think in another three or four months we can get to our goal.”

Out of the nearly $63,000 raised, about $15,000 has been allocated toward the coalition’s first legal step, filing an Article 78, which is an appeal to the Environmental Assessment the city did of the land. The coalition instead wants the city to do a full Environmental Impact study.

As the coalition moves on, they are looking to raise at least another $65,000, which they believe will get them through the full legal process against the city.

Dooley reiterated multiple times that the group was not against helping homeless people in the city.

“We are not against giving homeless people housing,” Dooley said. “We are against the warehousing of 125 families in homeless shelters.”

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Popular Middle Village ‘Halloween House’ possessed for 10 years


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Every Halloween there are traffic jams with people from around Queens waiting to get a glimpse and take pictures of Patrick Kenniff’s house in Middle Village.

And on the sidewalk an estimated 500 little trick-or-treaters line up for hours to view — and nowadays take selfies with — his horrifying home, known as the “Halloween House” by many in the neighborhood.

Kenniff, a musician who goes by the name “Swan,” started decorating his house on 75th Street near 68th Road for Halloween 10 years ago with a simple pumpkin head prop with an orange dress-like body. But ever since, he obsessively continued to add new decorations every year until there are now more than 100 decorations possessing the residence like a zombie parade. Viewing the house has become an annual attraction for families in the neighborhood and around the borough.

“I don’t know what it does for the neighborhood, but [my daughter] loves it, and now it’s like a tradition to come here and see it,” said Elizabeth Wilson, who comes by each year to see the “Halloween House.” “It’s nice to see at least someone cares about the holiday.”

A REAL-LIFE ADDAMS FAMILY

For other families, Christmas or Thanksgiving may be the most special days of the year, but that isn’t the case for this real-life “Addams Family.”

Halloween is Kenniff’s favorite holiday. He usually dresses in all black with shades and his ringtone is the theme song from the horror-movie “Halloween.” When he was younger, he celebrated the holiday with his 10 siblings, and after his first year of decorating his house he continued each year to pass on the spirit of Halloween to his daughter, Skye.

Skye, 9, loves to watch horror movies such as the “Child’s Play” series and builds her own scary decorations. Her mother said it would be “cool” if she found a career in that field, such as being a director of make-up design for shows like “The Walking Dead.”

Even Skye’s grandmother looks forward to Halloween each year, because every Saturday a week before the holiday they throw a massive, backyard party for nearly 50 family members.

Basement- Family with Chucky

SETUP AND COSTS

Many people just put spider webs and pumpkins outside their houses or apartments for Halloween, but Kenniff goes above and beyond because it makes him feel good.

“It’s therapeutic for me,” Kenniff said. “Some people take Prozac, I have Halloween.”

It takes him approximately two weeks to set up the “Halloween House,” putting up a few decorations each day. The transformation takes so long that he sometimes has started in September.

Although Kenniff has more than 100 decorations and figures, he can’t give an exact figure, because he lost count. And during the year the props, dolls, figures and lights are stored behind the house, after another two-week process of “breaking down.”

Kenniff spends a lot of money on Halloween, but he finds ways to cut costs as well. He estimated that his decoration collection is worth “thousands of dollars.” Some, such as one of the giant cats, which was $200, he bought more cheaply by waiting until after Halloween when stores slash prices. He also makes some of them himself.

He uses energy-efficient lights and only puts them on only for a couple hours a day as the special day draws near. His electric bill is only about $50 more, he said.

But what really kills him for Halloween is batteries, because many of the decorations and props need them. So, he said, he spends about $150 on batteries alone.

Finally, he buys hundreds of pieces of candy for the inevitable flock of children that will pass by his house for the holidays. But the money isn’t an issue for him, because just seeing the excited children enjoying Halloween with his house puts a smile on his face.

“It makes me feel like all this was worth it,” Kenniff said.

OUTSIDE IS SCARY, BUT STAY AWAY FROM THE BASEMENT

Even Kenniff’s family is amazed by his “Halloween House.”

His front yard is littered with dozens of creepy creatures, included the Headless Horseman, a Shrek doll, various moving witches, wizards and bloodied figures, and this year a ginormous, inflatable Frankenstein sits on the house along with two 20-foot black cats, blended all together with orange lighting.

It’s a terrifying sight for many children, but those who are easily spooked should stay away from the basement.

Kenniff’s basement is a bonafide haunted house. It’s dark and filled with dreadful screams from glowing ghosts, ghouls and goblins blanketed in spider webs and surrounded by recognizable figures such as Scream, Chucky, and Michael Myers from “Halloween,” which is his favorite prop.

One neighbor even suggested he started charging the hundreds of kids that line up to see it every year. But he keeps it open for free for everyone to enjoy.

“The year before last year, the line was so insane to go down there, I said, ‘You should charge a buck’ and he was like ‘I can’t do that,’” said Teresa Hinkler, who lives next door. “I mean hundreds of hundreds of people come and he’s got to be like a doorman, because he can only let so many people in at a time. So he really gives his time to Halloween day.”

 


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Star of Queens: Ed Shusterich, president, Pullis Farm Cemetery Historical Landmark


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

_2Ed Shusterich

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Ed Shusterich is the founder and president of Pullis Farm Cemetery Historical Landmark, a nonprofit organization that handles the upkeep of the Pullis Cemetery in Juniper Valley Park, Middle Village. Shusterich founded the association in 1993 to transform the decrepit site into a beautiful garden, firmly believing “we could do better than what we have.” Over the years, he planted trees and other foliage on the barren wasteland and even built a utility house. He believes that it is part of the culture and heritage of the community and it is the community’s civic duty to improve it. Most of the volunteers involved in the project are above 50 years of age. Shusterich said that one of the unintended benefits of the project is that it also helps senior citizens connect with each other. On Oct. 18, his organization is holding a drive, calling volunteers of all ages to plant more flowers in the park.

BACKGROUND: Shusterich was born to Slovenian immigrants in Brooklyn but moved to Queens more than 50 years ago. He was in the army for two years during the Korean Conflict before working in the private sector. He lives in Middle Village.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting funding and support from local elected officials is the biggest challenge,” said Shusterich. “They support us but it takes time. Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. has been a great supporter.”

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Shusterich recalled, “I had a flag pole installed in 2003. It cost us $17,000. On the occasion I dedicated the flag pole and the plaque to the heroes and victims of 9/11. I invited the fire department, veterans and the general public to the installation.”

INSPIRATION: “Self-inspiration,” laughed Shusterich. “I am a self-starter.”

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Suspect wanted in Queens mini-mart armed robberies


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

Cops are looking for a suspect who held up two gas station mini-marts in Queens this month.

The first robbery occurred at a Mobil gas station on Elliot Avenue, near 69th Street in Middle Village on Oct. 4. Police said the suspect entered the station’s mini-mart at about 7:35 p.m., brandished a gun and demanded money from a store employee. The suspect then fled with $800.

Three days later, the same suspect allegedly robbed a CITGO mini-mart on 101st Avenue near Rockaway Boulevard at gunpoint. An employee at the Ozone Park business handed over the cash and the suspect left with $3,000 around 10:00 p.m.

Police have released a photo of the suspect from the Oct. 4 robbery.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Serial Queens bank robber strikes again: cops


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the NYPD

Police are searching for a suspect wanted in eight bank robberies and two attempted heists around Queens over the past two years.

The latest incident occurred on Saturday at approximately 2:50 p.m. at a Chase Bank on Grand Avenue in Maspeth, cops said. During the robbery, the suspect passed a demand note while displaying a firearm. The suspect left with $5,170.

A previous incident happened on Aug. 30 at 12:40 p.m. when the suspect entered The Dimes Savings Bank, located at 77-23 27th Ave. in Flushing, while similarly passing a demand note to a bank teller and displaying a firearm. He walked away with $1,300.

The other robberies, which date back to July 2012, took place in the Kew GardensLong Island CityAstoriaEast Elmhurst and Middle Village areas of the borough, officials said. In the suspect’s most successful theft, on Dec. 12, 2012 at a Chase Bank at 77-01 31st Ave., he fled with $12,400, cops said.

Police describe the suspect as Hispanic, 30 to 35 years old, 6 feet tall and 200 pounds.

Authorities have released a photo of the suspect from the July 22 attempted robbery and a June 7 robbery at a Chase Bank at 77-01 31st Ave.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Group against proposed Glendale homeless shelter hosts first meeting


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Hundreds of residents came out Wednesday evening to the first meeting of the Glendale/ Middle Village Coalition, a group formed to combat a proposed homeless shelter in a former warehouse on Cooper Avenue.

The meeting at Christ the King High School was held to inform locals of the group’s plans for action against the shelter and to show them the ways they can help the cause, organizers said.

“We want to prevent the warehousing of the homeless,” Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association, said.  “We are asking residents for help.”

The Glendale/ Middle Village Coalition has raised more than $30,000, which it intends to use to challenge a declaration by the city that said a homeless shelter would have no adverse effect on the community.

“[The city] just went through the motions,” Chris Murray, the coalition’s lawyer, said. “If we win, the city will have to go back and do an Environmental Impact Statement. This could then take them up to three years to complete and will prolong the process.”

But to continue the legal action the coalition asked locals to kick in money and for at least one resident on each block to become a “block captain,” who would keep neighbors informed and collect donation pledges.

By the end of the night, more than 70 people signed up to become block captains and more than 50 checks were collected, organizers said.

The coalition estimated that it will need about $100,000 more to fight the proposed shelter effectively.

Sal Cafasi, one of the originators of the coalition, said the group will continue to hold meetings and update residents.

The coalition has asked for the community’s continuing support throughout the process.

“This is a battle and we will win it,” Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said. “The neighborhood is united against this. We need [residents] to spread the word.”

The Department of Homeless Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Middle Village, local 10-year-old featured in soon-to-be-released movie


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos by Kelsey Bennett

Middle Village is ready for its close-up.

The neighborhood is the backdrop for a soon-to-be-released film focusing on an ex-mafia captain (“capo”) as he comes to grips with how his former life has changed after spending the last 20 years in federal prison. The movie also features a 10-year-old actress from the neighborhood, Olivia Panepinto, in her debut role.

Director, writer and producer David Rodriguez was inspired to make “Once Upon a Time in Queens” after seeing a program on the Investigation Discovery channel about an FBI agent who went undercover in the Gambino crime family in the Bronx. There was one member who was recently released from prison and came home to reclaim his old rackets, but most of the people from his former mob life were dead, in prison or informants.

“In his mind it was still the early 90s … where you could still survive in this world and be untouchable, and what he didn’t realize was that it was the opposite,” Rodriguez said.

In the film, Paul Sorvino plays Joseph Scoleri, who was sent away for racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. After his release, he goes to live at his Middle Village home, with his 43-year-old daughter Rita (Renee Props). In addition to leaving his gangster lifestyle behind and being forbidden to speak to former associates, Scoleri must reestablish his relationship with his daughter and come to terms with how she has been living her life.

He also becomes reacquainted with his neighbor Bobby DiBianco, played by Michael Rapaport, whom he last saw as a teenager.

Bobby now has a family of his own and runs his father’s deli, and agrees to help run errands for the ailing Scoleri. The character represents a progressive, professional lifestyle, instead of a wannabe gangster, according to Rodriguez.

“He speaks to [Scoleri] like nobody has ever spoken to him,” Rodriguez said. “That is another shocker to him.”

Part of Bobby’s family man image is his daughter Liv, played by Olivia.

Olivia

The current fifth-grader landed the part after three impressive auditions. She was so good that her part was changed from a boy to a girl.

“She really knocked it out of the park in the audition,” Rodriguez said. The part was also changed to make the film less male-centric and more heartfelt.

Olivia’s dream of acting started at two years old when she was watching TV and asked, “How can I be in the box?”

After a trip to Los Angeles where she visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame and asked her parents how she could “get one of those stars,” Olivia started taking acting lessons, and landed her first part in “Once Upon a Time in Queens.”

“It was like my dream come true,” she said. “It was even more cool that we shot it in my neighborhood.”

Filming was somewhat challenging, but mostly fun, Olivia said, especially when Sorvino would sing opera between takes.

The young actress has also appeared in a web show called “Mona in Manhattan” with her older sisters, Alessandra, 14, and Emmanuela, 12, and will be filming a movie with them in LA this January called “Marilyn Monroe Zombie Hunter.”

Olivia  during a scene at a Middle Village deli with actor Michael Rapaport (far right).

Olivia during a scene at a Middle Village deli with actor Michael Rapaport (far right).

Olivia’s father Ignazio was also involved in “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” receiving a co-executive producer credit for helping find most the locations for the film, which was mainly shot in Middle Village and Ridgewood. Some scenes were filmed at Juniper Valley Park and Village Gourmet on Eliot Avenue, a stand-in for Bobby’s deli.

Though the film was shown at several film festivals around the country last year, including the 2013 Austin Film Festival, its official premiere, with its new name, will take place this Wednesday in the East Village.

In February, Lionsgate purchased the movie, which was originally called “Last I Heard,” and renamed it “Once Upon a Time in Queens.”

It also will have a Los Angeles premiere on Thursday, which will be followed by a seven-day theatrical run in the city. On Nov. 11 it will be available on DVD, iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Rodriguez hopes audiences “see the film for what it is.”

“I don’t want people to see the movie and think it’s a mob movie,” he said. “It’s a slice of New York life.”

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