The Putnam Examiner

A Look Back on the Year it Was in Putnam County

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January: To no real shock to anyone who knows Putnam politics, the start of the New Year resulted in friction between the county Legislature as it mulled who the new chairperson would be. Three different legislators were nominated for the position, but when all was said and done, it was District 5’s Carl Albano who got the nod, beating out Dini LoBue and Roger Gross. The final verdict was only determined in a 5-3 vote after former Kent councilman Lou Tartaro was selected to sit on the legislature to fill in for the rest of Rich Othmer’s term, who is now Kent highway superintendent. Speaking of Tartaro, controversy surrounded his appointment to the legislature from a faction of Kent residents who complained he shouldn’t be getting another elected position after he was booted from his town board seat the previous November. After the Legislature reorganize itself, it still had to deal with the fallout from Preserve Putnam breakings its lease to operate Tilly Foster Farm in Southeast. On the last day of January, the operations of the historic farm came to a halt and the rest of the winter and spring, community members could not partake in any farm activates. In rather disturbing news, a police chief from a Westchester County town was arrested as part of child porn charges. Mahopac resident Brian Fanelli was arrested last Thursday for allegedly downloading and possessing child pornography. Fanelli was the police chief for Mount Pleasant. After he returned home from bail, he apparently attempted suicide and was rushed to Putnam Hospital Center. Finally, Dennis Sant, longtime county clerk, announced he would not be seeking re-election and retire at the end of the year. Sant has been in the spotlight for denying The Journal News’ request for the names of every permit holder in Putnam.

The first county executive, David Bruen, pictured here with Robert Kennedy, died on Feb 1.
The first county executive, David Bruen, pictured here with Robert Kennedy, died on Feb 1.

February: From beginning to end, the month was marred with tragedy. The first county executive and only Democrat to be the head of Putnam, David Bruen, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 84. Bruen, who lived in Southeast until his death, served for two terms in office when the county went from a Board of Supervisors to a county executive and 9-member legislature. Democrats and Republicans alike mourned his death. His deputy county executive Regina Morini described him as a “gentleman” whose “first love” was Putnam County. Putnam also lost a man committed to public service, though he was never elected to an official seat. Mahopac resident Peter Creegan, who was a notable union leader, died after falling off his roof. Creegan was involved in the Tappan Zee project and union workers taking on the project. The line of mourners at his wake couldn’t say enough about the upstanding citizen. “A guy that you could count on for just about anything,” Mahopac resident Marc Pekowsky said. On February 21, the Mahopac school community was dealt a terrible loss, when Mahopac graduate David Diachenko crashed his BMW into the side of Mahopac high school, dying from injuries sustained from the impact. He was only 18-years-old.

March: Controversy exploded in Mahopac after eight students were suspended for posting racist tweets on social media stemming from a Mahopac-Mount Vernon basketball game at the Westchester County Center. Some of the hateful tweets included: “Tough loss boys (Mahopac), but at least we can talk to our dads about #Vernon” and “Anyone else thinking: Where does Mount Vernon get the money to even have sports team.” Former Mahopac head coach Kevin Downes, who is black, stepped down from his position and is now coaching at Yorktown High School. On not coaching at Mahopac anymore, Downes said at the time, “I’d like to think the kids will miss me as much as I’ll miss them.” Well-known restaurateur Ariano Zaimi was able to avoid a conviction of rape after a jury was deadlocked and a mistrial was called. Zaimi was on trial for third degree rape, criminal sexual act and unlawfully dealing with a minor. He was found not guilty of unlawfully dealing with a minor and a verdict could not be reached on the other two counts. On the west side of Putnam, Cold Spring elected two new trustees, putting an end to a heated election season in the quint village. Michael Bowman and Cathryn Fadde were elected over former trustee Matt Francisco and Donald MacDonald.

April: Alexandru Hossu, a friend of District Attorney Adam Levy, was found not guilty on all charges stemming from an accused rape, putting an end to an arrest and trial that kicked Putnam into overdrive and exposed a deep rift between Levy and Sheriff Don Smith. Hossu was accused of violently raping a 13-year-old girl, but the jury believed him to be innocent. One juror even said the accuser was a “liar.” Levy recused himself and the case was handled by the Westchester DA’s office. Though not officially involved in the case, Levy paid for part of Hossu’s defense fund and his brother-in-law eventually took over the case. Right before Easter, Putnam lost an irreplaceable figure in the name of county historian Denis Castelli. Castelli, a fixture in the Putnam community was mourned by countless Putnam resident and even elected officials, past and present, from MaryEllen Odell to Nan Hayworth. As friend and Brewster resident Jack Gress noted, “(Putnam County) won’t be able to replace Denis Castelli.” The month came to a close when Sheriff Don Smith sued District Attorney Adam Levy for defamation for a sum of $5 million because Levy was quoted in a newspaper article stating Smith was in declining mental health. “What I have seen is a steady decline in Don’s mental health. He is clearly delusional…absolutely paranoid,” Levy said in the article. “This guy literally believes that if you disagree with him on any subject that you must be corrupt.” Levy at the time, had already filed a $5 million lawsuit against the sheriff for defamation.

May: After months of speculation about his future plans, outgoing state Senator Greg Ball announced he was leaving public office rather than run for senate again or the county executive seat in Putnam. That meant current County Executive MaryEllen Odell would avoid a Republican primary. Reports came out that Ball had been investigated for campaign funds misuse by the now defunct Moreland Commission, but he claimed that had nothing to do with his decision. Ball, who yearned for the public’s attention, seemed content with his decision. “All options are open,” Ball said at the time. “Everything at this point in life is gravy now because I’ve accomplished much more than I ever should have in my opinion.” More embarrassment came to Mahopac when former school board president Ray Cote was caught calling a district parent a “chubby-wubby” while talking to another school board member. Cote pulled out of the school board election. Elected instead was community member Brian Mahoney, who resigned this fall after he made a try at the open superintendent seat. Speaking of the Mahopac superintendent position, the only reason it doesn’t have a permanent placeholder is because John Kopicki, a superintendent from a Pennsylvania school district withdrew his name after getting the job. He cited personal reasons for not coming to the district. While Mahopac lost its incoming superintendent, Brewster found one among its own ranks when the Brewster Board of Education named Tim Conway permanent school chief.

June: Another school system in Putnam tabbed a new school leader, when the Putnam Valley Board of Education inked Fran Wills to a three-year contract after she spent the year as an interim. School board president Jeanine Rufo praised Wills, former Briarcliff school superintendent, stating, “There is nothing that really ruffles her or is unexpected. She’s coming with a real expertise.” Mahopac also landed a superintendent on an interim basis in the form of Brian Monahan, who had years as serving as a school chef for different districts in the region. In the highest profile wedding this year, Congressman and Cold Spring resident Sean Patrick Maloney married his partner Randy Florke. The wedding later came under attack by Republican challenger Nan Hayworth for the use of an unauthorized drone that capture video of the event. By this time it’s without a doubt Mahopac had a tough school year, but unimaginable tragedy struck when 8th grader Jenna Nolan died after drowning in Lake Mahopac. Nolan was 14-years-old and leaves behind her parents Michael and Cathy, older sister Abigail and younger brother John.

July: Tilly Foster Farm finally reopened after Preserve Putnam stopped operating it and the county was back in charge. It opened to much pomp and circumstance when the controversial Tilly Foster Country Fair was held over the 4th of July weekend. At a physical services committee meeting later that month, after finances revealed overtime costs would put the overall excursion in the red, screaming and shouting ensued over the merit of the carnival. While this next piece of news didn’t actually take place in Putnam, it was very well connected to the region when a cold case murder was finally cracked. After 19 years, an arrest was made in the double homicide of a mother and daughter. Robert Honsch, a former Brewster resident, was arrested for the 1995 murders of his daughter Elizabeth and his former wife Marcia. On Sep. 28 1995, the body of Elizabeth Honsch was found behind a plaza in New Britain, CT, in which she was wrapped in trash bags and sleeping bags. Then on Oct. 6, 1995, a hiker in a Massachusetts state park discovered the body of Marcia Honsch. Both bodies, that were unidentified at the time, died after suffering a gunshot wound to the head. Three police agencies worked together to rework the cold case, which finally led them to Robert Honsch, who will stand trial this year.

August: This month centered on the ongoing battle between Putnam DA Adam Levy and Mahopac restaurateur Ariano Zaimi. Zaimi, who escaped conviction after a mistrial earlier in the year, filed a $130 million lawsuit against Levy, claiming his civil rights have been violated by his office. Other defendants include the Carmel Police and Putnam County. The suit states he is only being targeted because he is friendly with Sheriff Don Smith, who is described in the suit as the “arch nemesis” of Levy’s. Levy’s office later in the month had Zaimi’s criminal attorney, George Galgano indicted on several charges including bribing a witness and tampering with a witness, both concerning the first rape trial waged against Zaimi in which Galgano was the attorney.

September: As it seemed the entire calendar year, Mahopac once again was in the news after school buildings were locked down—on the first day of classes no less—when a fugitive was being sought in the immediate area. According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the fugitive, Xhem Hoti, 25, was wanted in New Jersey for an alleged grand larceny. Officers tried to pull Hoti over when they saw him driving on Myrtle Avenue, but he crashed his car into a fire hydrant and fled on foot. Eventually, Hoti surrendered and was arrested. While Putnam didn’t feature too many primary elections, there were a few to decide the Republican nomination for the general election in November. Yorktown councilman Terrence Murphy cruised past former assemblyman Bob Castelli to represent red in the 40th senate district. On the county level, incumbent Legislator Dini LoBue beat challenger Amy Sayegh and political newcomer Toni Addonizio defeated incumbent Legislator Lou Tartaro.

October: A month before the election, county executive MaryEllen Odell released the 2015 budget, proposing a 1.7 increase, which fell below the state mandated tax cap. The main focus of the $145.5 million budget was joining together with non-profits to fight the drug scourge in Putnam. After some debate and changes, the budget was adopted by the county Legislature. One unplanned expense the county will feel in 2015 is the fallout from the Jeffrey Deskovic case that the county lost. Deskovic, a Peekskill resident, was jailed for 16 years for rape and murder when he was just 16, only to be released after DNA evidence revealed he was not the killer. Putnam’s connection is the fact a former sheriff’s investigator, Dan Stephens, was found to fabricate evidence and coerced a false confession out of then a young Deskovic, as found by the jury. Putnam must pay $10 million to Deskovic.

November: Election Day 2014 in Putnam was simply Republican domination at almost every level of government. County Executive MaryEllen Odell reigned supreme, beating out Democrat and outgoing Legislator Sam Oliverio. At the county level on the legislature, Republicans Toni Addonizio and Bill Gouldman beat out Democratic challengers, and incumbent Republican Dini LoBue coasted to an easy win. In the county clerk race, first deputy clerk Michael Bartolotti fended off his Democratic challenger to replace Dennis Sant. At the state level, Terrence Murphy beat Justin Wagner in a mudslinging race and Dutchess County Legislator and Republican Sue Serino beat Democratic incumbent Terry Gipson. Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz kept his seat by topping Democrat Andrew Falk a second straight time. The only two democrats that were elected were Assemblywoman Sandy Galef who ran unopposed and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney who beat former congresswoman Nan Hayworth.

December: The month started off with a visit from controversial figure Commissioner of State Education Dr. John King when he observed classrooms at Putnam Valley Elementary School. About a week later, it was announced King would leave New York for a federal job. Over at the Brewster school district, voters passed a $38.9 bond resolution to improve school buildings and push the district into the 21st century. And in the Town of Southeast, the town board adopted the FEIS regarding the hotly debated Crossroads 312 project by a narrow 3-2 vote, pushing the project closer to fruition.


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