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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2005

Brandle Meadows begins permit process

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The town’s zoning board heard preliminary plans last Wednesday for Jeff Thomas’s proposed senior-housing complex on Brandle Road.

The complex, to be called Brandle Meadows, will now be examined by town-designated Boswell Engineering before the zoning board discusses it further.

Several residents spoke in favor of the project and two raised concerns about how it will impact their water supply.

Thomas has other hurdles to overcome with his project, such as the resolution of a conflict between the village of Altamont — which promised him water — and the couple that agreed to sell their land, with wells, to the village.

Supported project

The senior-housing complex will be on 14.6 acres on rural Brandle Road, near the Altamont fairgrounds and Altamont Elementary School. Thomas purchased the land from the Altamont Fair, for $250,000.

Francis Bossolini, Thomas’s civil engineer, told the zoning board last Wednesday that Brandle Meadows will have 72 living units in eight buildings, the maximum allowed by the zoning law. The buildings will be designed to have a "Victorian feel," Bossolini said.

The project will include several detached garage buildings with 72 parking spaces. It will also have a gathering center, a swimming pool, walking trails, and a community garden area.

Over 60 percent of the area will be kept as green space. This undeveloped land will be owned by a homeowners’ association and kept forever wild, Bossolini said.

Brandle Meadows will not generate much traffic since most senior citizens are retired, he said.

Four elderly residents, including former Altamont Mayor Paul DeSarbo, told the board they support the project.

"I believe in this very much for our seniors," DeSarbo said. "...I’m very much in support of this project."

Town Supervisor Kenneth Runion had said earlier that the town’s granting Thomas a re-zone for his project was strongly based on DeSarbo’s promise last year of village water for the project. DeSarbo was then ousted in the November election.

Arnold Rothstein, the outgoing board co-president of Community Caregivers, said he supports the project not only because it is a good one, but for "self interest."

Thomas had earlier promised the not-for-profit organization a large office in his housing complex. Community Caregivers recruits volunteers who, among other good deeds, assist elderly residents with such chores as shopping, cleaning, and going to medical appointments.

Conflict and concerns

Michael and Nancy Trumpler own land on rural Brandle Road outside the village where Altamont drilled and found water. The Trumplers signed a contract last year agreeing to sell about five acres, with the wells, to the village.

A few months later, the Guilderland Town Board re-zoned land on Brandle Road, just outside the village, for Thomas to build a senior housing complex.

Thomas’s plans at the time — to develop his 14.6 acres with 80 housing units — represented a tenfold density increase over what would have been allowed in an agricultural district. The town board approved the re-zone last July at the same meeting it also approved a moratorium on building in the rural western part of Guilderland.

The village promised Thomas water then, even though it had a moratorium on granting water outside village limits. The commitment was made over the objections of the village-hired engineer and the superintendent of public works.

The Trumplers were upset because earlier they had to scale back plans for a place for Nancy Trumpler’s elderly mother to live because the town restricted building in an agricultural district. They also said they had been told that the wells on their land would be used only for water in the village, not for an outside developer, and they had procedural concerns.

In March, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court to have a judge decide whether the village’s contract for the five-acre site is legal and binding; they sought no money from the village.

The village responded by filing counterclaims, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, against the Trumplers. E. Guy Roemer, the village’s attorney, told The Enterprise earlier that the counterclaims were to enforce the contract and for damages due to the delay and increased costs to the village.

Roemer is being paid $125 per hour to defend the village against the Trumplers’ suit. The village board last month authorized up to $10,000 for the litigation costs.

In June, Thomas sued the Trumplers for $17 million, over what he called the "tortuous interference" with his plans to build a senior-housing project. His lawyer said the suit was not over money; Thomas just wanted the Trumplers to drop their suit.

The Trumplers’ lawyer, Michael Englert, said Thomas filed the lawsuit for "retaliation against to seek direction on the option agreement," which he believes is invalid.

Last month, the village came before the zoning board with its proposal to pump water from two wells on the property it purchased from the Trumplers.

Some Brandle Road residents said at that meeting that, since the village has done exploratory drilling, they’ve had problems with dirty water.

Altamont Mayor James Gaughan told The Enterprise last week that, when concerns were first raised, "I asked the engineers to look at bench-marking and monitoring."

Gaughan writes in the Enterprise opinion pages this week that "in-house findings" have shown no evident connection between problems with private wells on Brandle Road and the village well-drilling. He would like the village to hire an independent testing lab for analysis and to provide a follow-up study.

At last month’s meeting, the zoning board hired a town-designated engineer to study the effects that new village wells have on the quality and quantity of neighbors’ wells.

The village’s proposal still needs planning board approval as well.

Dan and Christine Capuano, Nancy Trumpler’s brother and sister-in-law, spoke at the last zoning board meeting and this one. The Capuanos live on land near the project site.

"I’m not against senior housing...but we need to know these folks will not have their wells go dry," Dan Capuano said of he and his neighbors on Brandle Road.

Chairman Bryan Clenahan assured Capuano that the water issue will be resolved. Perhaps not in this application, he said, but in the village’s proposal.

Thomas’s proposed senior complex is for residents age 55 and over, Capuano went on. Many of these people are still active, he said. The project will cause additional traffic on quiet Brandle Road, he said.

The board then designated an engineer to study several areas of the plan, including traffic.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Granted a variance to Bruce Gottlieb, of 412 Pinkster Lane, to allow a fence in his front yard, on a corner lot;

— Granted a special-use permit to Adrian Uribe, of 6212 Foundry Road, to construct an in-ground pool within 30 feet of a creek;

— Granted a variance and a special-use permit to Adirondack Tire, of 1610 Western Ave., to use a building as a retail tire and repair shop; and

— Granted a variance to R&T Contractors, of 2089 Old State Road, to build a garage in a side yard.

Birds trapped
A risk to human health

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Birds trapped in stores and malls with high ceilings are a common problem. It is not good for the bird, said Ward Stone, and it is dangerous to humans because the birds often carry diseases and defecate in open areas.

The state wildlife pathologist told The Enterprise this week that stores or malls must take action to remove trapped birds from their property. But, he said, preventing the birds from getting in is the key to solving the problem.

Kristen Hoffman, of Guilderland, said she was sad when she saw a bird hovering near a window in the food court at Crossgates Mall. The bird was staring at another bird that sat on a ledge on the other side of the glass, she said.

Hoffman e-mailed mall management several times, asking if it will try to trap the bird safely and remove it from the mall. She wrote the Enterprise editor this week because the mall has not yet responded to her; she’s looking for answers.

A representative of Crossgates Mall did not return several phone calls from The Enterprise this week.

Hoffman first saw the bird a month ago, in the mall’s food court, on the second floor, she said. She thinks it was a sparrow, she said. At times, she said, she saw another bird, possibly its mate, outside the mall looking through the glass. When that bird would fly away, the inside bird would "go nuts," Hoffman said.

Hoffman is not a bird expert, but she cares for animals, she said. She wrote to mall management several times and offered to trap the bird herself.

Asked how she’d do this, she said she’d buy a humane trap at Home Depot. She would bring it to the mall and try to catch the bird, she said.

"Widespread problem"

Birds, often house sparrows, can live for months in a store or mall, Stone said.

"In some stores, they get in and live there and nest," he said. "It’s a common thing."

Large home-improvement stores, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, have open garden areas connected to the stores. Birds are attracted to these areas because often they look like "a natural area," Stone said, with sunlight, plants, and water.

These areas often have automatic doors that are frequently open because of the high number of customers passing back and forth. Birds fly through when the doors are open, Stone said.

A spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation told The Enterprise that birds can even activate the motion sensors on the doors by flying past.

At Crossgates Mall or other stores, Stone said, birds may fly in because of popcorn or bread dropped on the floor.

"Crossgates probably has little coconut trees or something in the hallways," Stone said. In the mall, he said, where it is open with two floors and high ceilings, "There are lots of places for birds to fly around."

Stores usually hire a pest-control business to periodically remove trapped birds, Stone said. Most stores keep records on this, he said.

The mall should do what it can to remove trapped birds, Stone said.

"Birds can possibly carry bacteria, salmonella, and then defecate," he said. This is dangerous to humans, especially in areas where food is sold, he said.

"It would be to the advantage of the store to have a system to get rid of birds," Stone said.

A few years ago in Saratoga County, a large store put poison out for trapped birds to ingest, Stone said. The store owner was probably frustrated because the birds were defecating on merchandise and pecking at things, he said.

After the poison was gone, dead birds were dropping from the ceiling and someone reported this, he said.

Stone was called in to test the dead birds and found they had been poisoned, he said. That store was fined, he said, because killing birds like this is illegal.

However, a DEC spokesperson added, poison is allowed through a certified applicator.

Stone said birds should be humanely trapped and released back into the wild. Asked if this can be done without professionals, Stone said sometimes store owners shut off all the lights, shine a bright flashlight on the birds, and catch them with nets.

The number-one way a store or mall can solve its trapped-bird problem is prevention, Stone said. Someone must evaluate how the birds are getting in, he said.

At Crossgates Mall, he said, perhaps there is a hole somewhere or an open loading dock where the birds are entering. Measures can be taken to see that these areas are sealed, he said.

Scam artist sentenced to 12 years

By Nicole Fay Barr

A New Jersey man — who acted as president of a phony dental insurance company and bilked many organizations, including the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, out of thousands of dollars — was sentenced to four to 12 years in state prison Tuesday.

He was also sentenced to pay $1.3 million in restitution.

From 1999 to 2003, investigators say, Leonard J. Friscia, 47, was part of the largest organized-crime case ever to be prosecuted in upstate New York.

District Attorney David Soares said in a statement this week that those who rob individuals through fraudulent businesses will continue to receive lengthy prison sentences.

"This office makes no distinction between blue collar and white collar criminals," Soares said.

Friscia and two others pleaded guilty in September to scamming hundreds of clients, spanning six states. The company took customers’ premiums without paying out on claims, an investigator said in September.

Fortunately for the Guilderland chamber, however, it terminated contracts with the fake company last year, after seeing red flags, Jane Schramm, director of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, told The Enterprise earlier.

The fake company paid all of Guilderland’s claims, she said. Investigators explained later that the company paid some claims to keep its scam going.

"It blew my mind," Schramm said last year of hearing the company was fake. "I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. The company first appeared more than legitimate."

She concluded, "I was happy we canceled our relationship with them when we did. We were one of the lucky ones."

The Guilderland Chamber of Commerce now uses Guardian dental insurance, which is a "highly-rated, excellent program," Schramm said. "We’ve never had an issue with them."

Phony operation

Friscia’s accomplices, Josephine Giaquinto, 37, and Ivan C. Westbrook, 33, both of New Jersey, are to be sentenced later. In September, they both pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, a crime that falls under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Their guilty plea was part of a bargain worked out by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. They were charged with one count of enterprise corruption, a felony, which includes the crimes grand larceny, insurance fraud, criminal possession of stolen property, falsifying business records, offering false instruments for filing, and violation of state insurance laws.

The insurance premiums that were paid from May 1, 1999 to Aug. 1, 2003 totaled $1.33 million, Bill Andrews, an assistant district attorney for Albany County, said in September. The district attorney’s office created the Aug. 1 ending date, he said, because it realized that clients were still paying for insurance and the fraudulent company needed to be shut down.

"We made arrangements for all the victim companies to find alternative dental insurance," Andrews said.

"There are a number of dentists, a number of individuals who have paid out of pocket or have been stiffed by these people," he continued. "The first restitution we can get will be to making those out-of-pocket payments first."

According to Andrews, for two-and-a-half years, Friscia, Giaquinto, Westbrook, and probably others ran a business first called Preferred Dental and later called Advanced Benefit Solutions.

Giaquinto was the treasurer and director of customer service; Westbrook was the vice president, secretary, and director of sales and marketing; and Friscia was the president and director of business development, Andrews said.

Together, the trio coaxed individuals and businesses into signing fraudulent insurance contracts and took premium payments, Andrews said.

Among the business’s victims, Andrews said, were the Bethlehem and Latham chambers of commerce — each bilked of $50,000; the United States Federation of Small Businesses in Schenectady — bilked of $50,000; and the Capital Board of Realtors in Colonie — bilked of $3,000.

"Once a sham contract was entered between the defendants and other groups or individuals, premium payments were collected and deposited into several accounts," court documents state. "All three defendants received premium checks and wrote checks, gave orders, fielded complaints relating to the denial of insurance coverage, wrote partial payment checks to dentists, solicited business..."

Individuals were also hired to act as a complaint answering service, the document states, where the same individual would identify himself as multiple people.


As Andrews and county investigators dug deeper into the case, they decided to involve United States postal inspectors, Andrews said.

The postal inspectors did a "mail cover," Andrews said, which "helps identify where money is going to and where information is coming and going to."

Through this mail investigation, it was discovered that the fraudulent company "had collected millions of dollars in insurance premiums from all sorts of individuals, groups, and associations," Andrews said.

"Specifically in the upstate New York area, there are 447 individual people who paid into this scam," Andrews said.

Further into the investigation, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, then under Paul Clyne, made "staged calls," Andrews said, where investigators would call the company, pretending to be interested in buying insurance.

The investigators got the suspects on tape saying they were licensed insurers, which they weren’t, Andrews said.

The investigators also went to the "dummy storefront" Friscia, Giaquinto, and Westbrook had set up and took photographs, Andrews said.

Next, Andrews and three investigators went to the Queens County District Attorney’s racketeering division, because they do a lot of organized crime cases, he said.

This was "the first case like this in upstate New York," he added.

Later, he said, it was discovered that the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Jersey had gotten a complaint and began its own investigation of Giaquinto, Westbrook, and Friscia.

The FBI and Albany County District Attorney’s Office then began working together, Andrews said. The trio not only were working in New York and New Jersey, but in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida, and Pennsylvania, Andrews said.

The United States Attorney’s Office was prosecuting the case, he said, and it was agreed that Albany County would "portion up" parts of the case with the federal government, Andrews said. That is, Albany County would prosecute crimes committed in the eight New York counties.

Proud of Albany County’s work in these arrests, Andrews, in a September interview, credited then-District Attorney Clyne.

"We couldn’t have gone forward without his guidance in this," he said in September, the day before Clyne lost the Democratic primary for re-election to a second term to Soares, formerly an assistant district attorney. Soares then won the November election.

Community Caregivers has new leaders

By Nicole Fay Barr

Community Caregivers is heading into a new era where younger professionals are taking on leadership roles, said Judith McKinnon, executive director of the not-for-profit agency.

"We’re starting to be pretty intentional about bringing on board people that have professional connections to the community," she said. "It’s been a natural evolution."

The agency harnesses the energy and skills of volunteers to provide free services for Albany County residents in need. For example, a volunteer may drive an elderly person to a medical appointment or help an ailing young mother with child care.

The Caregivers was originally based in Altamont and is now located at 300 Mill Rose Court, off Route 155 in Guilderland.

As part of the changing atmosphere, Community Caregivers now has a new president, vice president, and two new members on its board of directors.

Joseph E. Purcell, of Guilderland, took over as new president of Community Caregivers on July 1.

"He’ll be a valuable asset to the organization," McKinnon said of Purcell.

Purcell has been a member of the organization’s board of directors for years. Before retiring, he was the executive deputy director of the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Before that, Purcell served as a teacher, supervisor, counselor, curriculum and instruction administrator, and principal for the Guilderland School District.

"We’re looking forward to having his expertise as a school administrator..." McKinnon said.

Guilderland resident Robert A. Kent is the new vice president of Community Caregivers. He is an associate attorney with the law firm of Pinsky & Skandalis, where he specializes in government affairs and administrative law.

"Rob is well connected in the community and brings with him his professional contacts," McKinnon said.

Also, two new members have joined the Caregivers’ board of directors. Cheryl Canavan, of Guilderland, is a sales representative with Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Christopher J. Cassidy, of Slingerlands, is senior vice president of investments with the Private Client Group of Wachovia Securities.

"We’re ushering in a new era in board governance as we recruit younger people and working people," McKinnon concluded.

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