The Putnam Examiner

Putnam County’s 2016 Year in Review

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated for clarity. 


The Town of Patterson was rocked with a fire department scandal when it was revealed that the Patterson Volunteer Fire Department was missing more than $1 million. The town board confirmed the rumors that a probe was underway… Speaking of Patterson, the legislator that represents the town, Ginny Nacerino, was named the Putnam County Legislature’s new chairperson. She is only the third woman to ever hold the position. Legislator Joe Castellano was named vice- chairman…Bombastic New York State Assemblyman Steve Katz announced his retirement from the state legislature, keeping to his vow to leave after three terms. The Republican, a harsh critic of Governor Andrew Cuomo, was always one for his fiery outspokenness…The start of a tumultuous year in county government began when the entire Industrial Development Agency board, led by past chairman Richard Ruchala, resigned in protest over the lack of support from the county…A countywide police merger study meant to examine if it were cost effective to combine all law enforcement agencies in the county into one police force was put to a halt. A graduate student was undertaking the study, but it was scrapped after the Town of Carmel, which originally asked for a merger study, requested the study come to an end. Carmel Supervisor Ken Schmitt said at the time, “What we did not agree with was the style of study that was being conducted.”


Scandal engulfed the Putnam County Visitor’s Bureau, and specifically Libby Pataki, the wife of former NY governor George Pataki. Pataki, a Garrison resident and now-former director of the visitor’s bureau faced an investigation from the New York State Attorney General’s Office for setting up a second mirror foundation, Putnam Tourism and raking in more than $100,000 from Putnam Tourism for her own income over the span of two years on top of her taxpayer funded salary, according to The Journal News, which broke the story. It was also reported that neither the Visitor’s Bureau nor Putnam Tourism had functioning board of directors, which could violate non-profit laws. Pataki was defiant in the immediate aftermath, calling The Journal News report “an inaccurate representation.” That wasn’t enough for lawmakers like Roger Gross to call for her resignation, but others like County Executive MaryEllen Odell defended her…Former superintendent for the Brewster school district Tim Conway announced his retirement at the end of the school year after leading the school system for three years…In likely one of the wildest crimes of the year, a former county highway department employee working on the Tilly Foster Farm renovation allegedly shot a nail gun at a fellow coworker and almost hit him in the head. Santino Pietrosanti was arrested on misdemeanor charges, but all charges were later dismissed. He resigned from his job…Former consumer affairs director Jean Noel pled guilty to stealing money in cash payments made to the county department. She pled guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned from her job as part of the plea deal.


A first term state senator, Terrence Murphy, faced swirling questions when it was revealed his family restaurant in Yorktown, which he was co-owner of, had not paid taxes since 2013. Murphy’s Restaurant owed $117,000 in back taxes. Murphy claimed he had no knowledge of the unpaid taxes and his brother Pat ran the day-to-day operations. Murphy also faced heat for not disclosing other corporations he had financial stakes in on state ethics forms. Later this year, his family paid back the taxes, including the penalties and all of his ethics forms were corrected…Libby Pataki, after a month of fighting accusations against the two non-profits she ran, resigned, though never admitted wrongdoing. She hasn’t faced criminal charges or violations over the scandal… Outgoing Legislator Roger Gross announced he would not run for his legislative 6 seat after holding it for five years…Cold Spring elected residents Steve Voloto and Lynn Miller to the village board, defeating Barney Molloy. The two were supported by Mayor Dave Merandy…The former trainer of ex-district attorney Adam Levy filed a lawsuit against the county sheriff’s office after he was falsely arrested for the rape of a teen. Alexandru Hossu, who was found not guilty at trial, filed the $45 million lawsuit claiming the sheriff’s office only went after him because of his relationship with Levy. Levy and Sheriff Don Smith are longtime political enemies…Anthony DiPippo, who was accused of raping and killing a 12-year-old girl in 1994 and convicted twice for the crimes, got his conviction overturned.


After the Town of Putnam Valley waited for years, money was finally earmarked for construction of the Pudding Street overpass over the Taconic Parkway. State Senator Sue Serino announced the funding as part of the state budget deal reached. A total of $24.7 million has been set aside for the project and it’s expected to begin in a few years…Putnam Democrats fell into hot water when it was revealed the county committee was connected to “willful and flagrant” violations of campaign finance laws tied to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to a state board of elections official. The investigation is ongoing, though at the time former Democratic chairman Ken Harper said there was no intent to evade individual campaign finance limits.


A gown policy enacted by the Carmel school system drew regional attention when it was decided that all gowns would be blue, instead of the usual white for girls and blue for boys. While several reasons were listed for the change, the one that stuck out was to be considerate to gender equality issues and “a single gown assists in addressing these concerns.” Superintendent Andy Irvin defended the move, imploring residents to understand students that are gender fluid and how this policy would help them…An arson conviction was overturned when Bill Haughey was exonerated of the charges. He spent almost a decade in prison before he was freed with the help of first year District Attorney Bob Tendy. Haughey was originally arrested in 2007 for setting a small fire inside Smalley’s Inn. The restaurant owner, Anthony Porto Jr. maintains Haughey committed the crime. Haughey would later file lawsuits against the state, county, and Carmel for his false imprisonment…All school budgets passed easily in all six districts in the county…The Brewster Village board approved its Urban Renewal Plan in hopes of revitalizing the village, though some residents were wary of the plan during the process leading up to the vote.


In 2015, it was discovered that more than $5 million was missing from the Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department’s coffers and finally one man was found responsible. Former treasurer Michael Klein was arrested and indicted on one count of wire fraud and six counts of submitting false tax returns. He claims to be not guilty of the charges.


The law enforcement community was dealt a blow when James O’Neill, the founder of the local FOP, died suddenly. Friends and family remembered him as unselfish and a fierce advocate in the law enforcement community. He was 59-years-old…The Brewster school district tapped a new superintendent, hiring from within when the school board appointed assistant superintendent Dr. Valerie Henning to lead the school system…It appears Patterson Crossing would finally come to fruition after the Patterson planning board approved a gas station for the contentious development… Kent resident Bill Giles was honored with the 4-H service award…Bartender Michelle Margilaj of the Mahopac based restaurant Il Laghetto was awarded the Liberty Medal after she rescued a father and son when their kayak overturned in Lake Mahopac.


Former Fox News CEO and influential Garrison resident Roger Ailes pulled a $500,000 donation from the proposed senior center in Cold Spring after the county Legislature delayed signing a charitable donation agreement due to allegations of sexual harassment against Ailes. During a full legislative meeting for the ages, residents, many from Philipstown, packed the old county courthouse to demand legislators not put Ailes’ name on the facility, which was part of the agreement. They also attacked the lease soon to be approved by the legislature as a deal that was bad for county taxpayers. Once the legislature delayed approving the agreement, Ailes pulled his money the next day. Ailes and Fox News has faced lawsuits and paid out at least one settlement already as a result of the sexual harassment claims. The two newspapers owned by his wife, Beth, were sold later in the year to the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. The battle over Butterfield raged on later in the month during a Physical Services Committee meeting where lawmakers weighed the lease with developer Paul Guillaro for space at the development. Seniors from the area stressed they needed a new and improved center, while other taxpayers criticized the deal as too favorable to Guillaro. “I don’t care where you’re living in the county,” former Cold Spring trustee Stephanie Hawkins said. “If you’re paying property taxes this is a bad deal for you.”


The Butterfield saga continued into September, when the legislature in a 6-3 vote approved the Butterfield lease for 6,000 square feet of space. More than a hundred residents came out for the meeting, including supportive seniors, union workers, and many residents against the deal. A bond to pay for the renovations that Ailes would have mostly covered was also approved…The county lost the latest legal round against The Journal News over access to pistol permit records that the daily newspaper has demanded since 2012 and are appealing…Tilly Foster Educational Institute officially opened its doors to Northern Westchester-Putnam BOCES programs. More plans for the farm are underway.


Anthony DiPippo, who was accused of rape and murder 20 years ago and convicted twice for the crime, was found not guilty of his alleged crimes the third time around. “We are disappointed but respect the jury’s verdict,” Putnam District Attorney Bob Tendy said. The Barrett Hill housing proposal got the necessary approvals it needed from the Southeast town board in a 3-2 vote, including a zoning change, to move forward.


Former Patterson fire department treasurer Albert Melin agreed to plead guilty of stealing funds from the Patterson Volunteer Fire Department. More than $1 million was revealed missing earlier this year…In Brewster, the fire department erected a 9-11 Memorial Monument in honor of the late Glenn Bisogno, who died of related 9-11 illnesses using World Trade Center steel…In this year’s election, Republicans dominated in Putnam again, with state senators Terrence Murphy and Sue Serino earning reelection, newcomer Kevin Byrne clinching the assembly seat Steve Katz is leaving, and three Republicans grabbing county legislative seats. County Court Judge James Reitz also won reelection easily. As for Democrats, state Assemblywoman Sandy Galef won again and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney will return to Congress. The Putnam Valley Library’s referendum to increase taxes was shot down…Longtime undersheriff Peter Convery died suddenly after suffering a massive heart attack. Sheriff Don Smith summed it up best, “We’re all heartbroken.”


Mahopac resident Cullen Malzo, 19, was honored for incredible bravery and selflessness by NYS Sen. Terrene Murphy, receiving the Liberty Medal from the New York State Senate at a Carmel town board meeting. The previous month, Malzo jumped into the chilly waters of Lake Mahopac to save two 17-year-old girls who were trapped in an overturned car that skidded into the lake. “I really can’t even think of a situation where I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “That’s someone’s life and I just hope someone would do it for me.” Malzo has kept in touch with the two girls since the incident…Another Mahopac resident earned a great honor when high school senior Charlie Burt from Mahopac high school was awarded with the Heart of a Giant, presented by New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings. Burt, who was born without a left hand, was an all-league lineman this year and team captain. Jennings said during the ceremony Burt was a “man of character” and “inspirational story.”

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