Broken elevators make residents prisoners in their own homes

Lilla Sproul, an 80-year-old great grandmother, has lived in the same fifth-floor apartment at 2205 Davidson Ave. in The Bronx for almost 40 years. Now she can never leave, a prisoner of the building’s dangerous and broken elevators.

“I’m sick with arthritis. I hardly can move. The elevator is needed,” she said. “I have to go to the doctor.”

The six-story property has racked up 58 unresolved elevator violations, making it the worst of the city’s elevator offenders, as identified by the Buildings Department based on violations, complaints, field inspections and maintenance reports.

More than half of the elevators identified as top offenders are out of service. At least two haven’t worked for more than 10 years.

Vanessa Rae, 20, who lives on the top floor of the Davidson building, said the elevator once dropped to the basement with another resident inside. She has gotten stuck many times, and has had to wrench the door open to escape.

“Maybe it’s good that it doesn’t work” now, she said.

While the building’s owner, a woman named Bert Mandeville, could not be reached, her husband acknowledged that the elevator is a “big problem.” He blamed the mistreatment on a legal battle with the building’s managing agent, who he says is collecting rent but not paying any bills and not making repairs. He said the issue is currently in court.

But Sproul thinks the city should do more if the landlord is unwilling or unable.

“They should bring in some tougher laws or something,” the retired home attendant said. “[The city] and the landlord . . . should get together.”

On New Year’s Eve, Stephen Hewett-Brown was crushed to death in an elevator known by residents as a “death trap” at 131 Broome St. on the Lower East Side. That building has five unresolved elevator violations issued since 2014, including one issued the day after the fatal horror, according to DOB records.

A Lower East Side building, 129 Ridge St., continues to be one of the city’s worst elevator offenders, with 50 unresolved violations. The elevator has not worked in more than 14 years.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and it hasn’t worked,” said one resident at 657 Crotona Park North, in the Tremont area of The Bronx.

It had been so long since the elevator last worked that its door is bolted shut and painted over, with only the word “elevator” written in sharpie to indicate where it had once been.

The building has 42 unresolved elevator violations, including one that dates back to 1988, according to Buildings Department records.

At the end of 2015, there were 28 buildings in the city with five or more Class-1 violations, those considered immediately hazardous, DOB records show.

“A new law that takes effect this summer will provide the city with enhanced enforcement tools to help fix longstanding elevator problems,” an agency spokesperson said.

Advertisements

Scalpers make hundreds off ‘free’ Shakespeare in the Park tickets

To be free or not to be free?

There is no question — tickets to the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park are supposed to be gratis, but that’s not stopping scalpers from selling them for upwards of $400.

“Give me $25. It’s a good deal,” said one man boldly selling tickets outside the Delacorte Theater to “Cymbeline,” which runs through Aug. 23. “Hey, look, the meaning of life is to enjoy it.”

The prices can be 15 times that, observers said, when the production is one of the Bard’s better-known plays performed by Hollywood stars such as Meryl Streep.

Illicit sellers also congregate on Craigslist, despite a 2010 agreement to remove ads selling free Shakespeare in the Park tickets.

Lines for the tickets begin to form when the park opens at 6 a.m., with some devoted theater-goers even camping outside overnight.

Scalpers defend their operation, saying they wait in line for hours, providing a service for those without the time or inclination to wait for tickets themselves.

When a Delacorte employee was asked by The Post about the scalping, he said, “They are free. If anyone offers to sell them to you, call the [police].”

The NYPD did not return messages seeking comment on the enforcement of anti-scalping laws.

This article originally appeared in the New York Post on August 16, 2015.

Obama gives standing ovation during Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’

By Stephanie Pagones, Kevin Fasick and Amber Jamieson

President Obama gave a standing ovation to another Washington bigwig Saturday — Alexander Hamilton.

The president attended “Hamilton” at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre with daughters Malia and Sasha, clapping, smiling and looking like the tourist in chief throughout the award-winning show.

Obama’s entrance just before the matinee curtain sent loud gasps through the darkened house.

“Mr. President!” audience members called out, cellphone cameras flashing, as he and his entourage were ushered by flashlight to their aisle seats near the stage.

“God bless Obama!” one called out.

Composer and librettist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, which is still in previews, is a hip-hop-infused retelling of the life and death of Hamilton, America’s founding banker in chief — who also happened to found The New York Post in 1801.

It’s a story the president himself might relate to.

In the opening number, Aaron Burr — played by Leslie Odom Jr. — raps urgently:

“The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father/Got a lot farther/by workin’ a lot harder/by being a lot smarter/by bein’ a self-starter.”

The president’s presence was not announced on stage, but gave added resonance to the show.

Audience members laughed when the character portraying George Washington noted that he “cannot be everywhere at once, people!”

They laughed again when the character playing Thomas Jefferson boasted, “I can change that, because I’m the president.”

Miranda hadn’t been scheduled to perform in the Saturday matinee, so he instead watched from a seat in the orchestra. Miranda had performed the show’s opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” for the president and first lady six years ago, at the first White House Poetry Jam.

Obama left with a wave to his fellow theater-goers, and without taking reporters’ questions — including whether he will now veto the Treasury Department’s decision to remove Hamilton’s likeness from the $10 bill.

Earlier Saturday, the president’s same entourage — the girls and two of their pals, plus his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her husband — visited Central Park, strolling near the ballfields south of Sheep Meadow.

Just before the show, they lunched with friends at the trendy Upland in Gramercy Park.

The group and attendant security and staff zipped through the city in a motorcade of more than 30 vehicles.

Michelle sat out the visit to NYC, letting her husband enjoy some quality time with the girls.

Additional reporting by Laura Italiano.

This article was originally published in the New York Post on July 19, 2015.

Four sex scandals rock one hanky-panky high school

By Susan Edelman, Aaron Short and Stephanie Pagones

It’s not clear how much reading, writing and arithmetic is going on at James Madison High School in Brooklyn — but it definitely has sex ed covered.

A special-ed teacher at the school allegedly had carnal relations with a student every day for two months — the fifth teacher accused of sexual misconduct in recent years.

Robert Cain seduced a girl in his Participation in Government class, and then engaged in daily sex with the teen in his office and a sixth-floor room before taking her to a hotel where he photographed their session, Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools Richard Condon alleges in a newly released report obtained by The Post.

That makes five teachers in six years involved in sordid scandals at the Sheepshead Bay school, which counts Sen. Chuck Schumer among its alumni.

Two language teachers had an alleged lesbian tryst in a classroom in 2009. The same year, a female social studies instructor allegedly wooed a teen. In 2012, a female English teacher was charged with statutory rape after having sex with a 16-year-old boy in her office.

The Condon report recounts the latest scandal as follows.

Cain, 38, who is married with two children, met his victim in his class in September 2013. ​He joked with the girl, chatted about class work and family, teased her and complemented her clothes and looks, the report says.​

He then spoke about his young daughter, his “ongoing divorce, and his lack of sex.” The student told probers she liked Cain and “did not want to see him depressed.”

During class that November, the report says, Cain walked around to the girl’s desk and whispered in her ear, “I have inappropriate feelings for you.”

After class, the girl went to Cain’s office to ask what he meant. In response, the report says, Cain locked his office door, approached the girl from behind and groped her breasts. The girl said she was “nervous, surprised and shocked,” but that she let Cain fondle her.

The “excited” pair then went to a room on the sixth floor where they had sex, the report says, explaining Cain told the girl no one should know what they were doing or they could both get in trouble.

After that, the girl cut her fifth-period class every day to go to Cain’s office. There, he would chase other kids out, close the door and make out with his pet. They had sexual intercourse in a “daily routine for two months,” the report says.

In December 2013, the girl asked Cain if they could spend a day together outside school, she told probers. He picked her up and drove to a Comfort Inn in Brooklyn. In room 307, the report says, they had sex and Cain took photos on his cellphone.

After Christmas break, the student saw other girls in Cain’s office and got jealous. She “believed she was in love with Cain and felt something special with him,” the report says. When the girl heard rumors that Cain was dating a female teacher, she sent him an e-mail advising him to leave her alone. He did not reply, which meant, to the girl, that Cain did not care, she told probers.

A complaint was lodged against Cain in February 2014.

Interviewed by investigators with his lawyer present, Cain denied he had any sexual relationship with the girl or sex with her anywhere in the school. He described the girl as “aggressive,” the report says.

Cain also denied he took the student to the Comfort Inn.

Investigators then showed Cain his $250 hotel credit-card receipt — and security video showing him walking into the hotel and upstairs with the girl.

First quiet, and then upset, he is quoted as saying: “So what if I took [the student], it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m not a tenured teacher, and I won’t get a job teaching anywhere. I might as well resign.”

Cain, who made $61,395 in 2014, quit effective last July 1. ​The student’s age at the time is unclear, but no criminal charges were filed.​ The age of consent in New York is 17​.

Condon sent his report to the Department of Education last September and released it to The Post last week.

Reached outside his Staten Island home, Cain at first claimed his name was Jack Kerns. Handed a copy of the Condon report, Cain said, “I can tell you that if that was me, and I’m not confirming that, most of the information on that sheet of paper, um, is not factual.”

Pressed, he said, “No comment.”

James Madison HS has a “Wall of Distinction” honoring famous alumni including Schumer, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, four Nobel Prize winners and Judge Judy.

It should add a Wall of Lust.

In November 2009, custodians discovered French and Spanish instructors Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito canoodling nearly naked in a darkened classroom at 8:50 p.m. One vixen was lying on the floor while the other woman was on her knees between her legs, an investigative report says. An assistant principal summoned to the scene found Brito buttoning her shirt and zipping up her boots.

Former school superintendent Linda Waite reported the women were drunk at the time.

Brito claimed she is a diabetic and that she was feeling ill. “Let’s go upstairs,” Mauro said, according to the report. “I have sugar and candy in my room.” Brito claimed she felt faint and that’s why she lay down on the floor.

The tenured teachers were terminated just over a year later, but a judge ruled the firing “too harsh.” Brito served a one-year suspension and will return to the school system in the fall, the DOE said, though it’s unclear where. Mauro’s case is still pending.

Social-studies instructor Allison Musacchio was yanked from the school in December 2009 for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. Investigators said Musacchio exchanged 200 texts with the boy. She was fired in 2010.

English teacher Erin Sayar was busted in May 2012 for statutory rape after having sex with a 16-year-old student. She allegedly gave pot to the boy, exchanged 3,856 text messages with him over seven days and had intercourse and oral sex at least eight times — sometimes in her office. She even picked him up from his home one night and they had sex in her SUV.

The student’s girlfriend discovered the affair and the boy admitted to the liaison. Sayar lost her teaching license, received 10 years’ probation and was tagged a Level 1 sex offender after copping a plea in August 2013.

This article was originally published in the New York Post on July 5, 2015.

Real estate broker uses celebs’ addresses to lure in customers

By Amber Jamieson, Stephanie Pagones and Angel Chevrestt

Celebrity homes — including Vogue chief Anna Wintour’s plush Greenwich Village address and film director Darren Aronofsky’s East Village town house — are being used in an apparent real estate scam.

In a classic bait-and-switch, online ads promise cheap apartments at the storied addresses, but prospective renters are steered to less fancy digs.

When Post reporters posing as prospective tenants answered the ads last week on StreetEasy.com and Trulia.com, they were text-messaged back by unnamed real estate salespeople. But each time the reporters tried to see the advertised apartments, they were met with excuses — they’re not available for viewing or they’re suddenly off the market.

They were then shown far less fashionable flats, and were ushered to the offices of St. Marks Place Realty at 36 St. Marks Place.

The firm’s sole licensed broker said his name was Jordan Marshall, although the firm operates under a license issued to Marshall C. Jordan.

Dressed in a cheap suit, he launched into a high-pressure spiel: A just-viewed East Third Street apartment was listed by a major brokerage, and the rival firm was holding an open house that very afternoon. If the clients paid a $100 application fee on the spot and filled out a form, “We can stop them from renting it . . . This way we don’t lose it.”

He said his broker fee would be 11 percent of a year’s rent — or $4,150 — which he claimed was 4 percentage points lower than his rivals’ rate.

His ad never mentions Wintour by name but lists her exact address on tony Sullivan Street, where she has owned a four-story town house since 1992. The ad says the “very large 2 bedroom apartment with hardwood floors and high ceilings” goes for just $2,400 a month.

“This is a false listing,” a Wintour spokeswoman told The Post.

Aronofsky, the acclaimed director of “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream,” bought his plush East 11th Street town house for $3.4 million in 2005. The online ad cites his exact address to hawk a four-bedroom for just $5,600. The director would not comment, but sources confirmed he is not renting his home.

Instead of being taken to the posh pads, the reporters were led to modest apartments. Of the 18 listed online by St. Marks Place Realty, 14 were tied to George and Michael Lavian, brothers who own dozens of downtown buildings. The Lavians did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“I’ve known them for a long time,” said Stephan Laboccetta, a Realtor who has worked with the Lavians. “If they knew that’s what they [the scammers] were doing, they wouldn’t be happy.”

The man claiming to be Jordan Marshall dodged Post questions.

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” he repeatedly said. “I’ve got to go to work.”

This article was originally posted in the New York Post on July 12, 2015. 

Empty homes owned by NYC still not fixed

Kathleen Gittens-Baptiste has been living next to an abandoned New York City Housing Authority-owned house for years. Photo: Angel Chevrestt, J.C. Rice
Kathleen Gittens-Baptiste has been living next to an abandoned New York City Housing Authority-owned house for years.
Photo: Angel Chevrestt, J.C. Rice

Kathleen Gittens-Baptiste last week stood in front of the ramshackle, empty house she has lived next door to for more than 15 years.

In her hands was a framed copy of a Post article from a year ago on how the New York City Housing Authority had neglected the eyesore — and dozens of other similar abandoned houses — for decades. The 60-year-old St. Albans resident hoped the story would be different a year later.

It’s not. The two-story colonial is still boarded up, padlocked, rotting and ignored.

“I’ll see you next year,” the woman said, giving in to the expectation that NYCHA will not keep its promise to rehab and utilize the home or give it to a non-profit that will.

“Last year it had been 15 years, so add one more,” Gittens-Baptiste continued. “They told me that they were going to fix it up and have someone that lives in NYCHA be able to purchase it.”

So are five similar NYCHA-owned homes in Queens that The Post visited in June 2014.

Maswood Ahmed, 66, who lives next to the rusted and weed-choked wreck of a home on 162nd Street, said complaints to city officials have fallen on deaf ears.

“Nothing is working,” Ahmed said. “There are too many mosquitoes, raccoons, rats.”

A neighbor of an abandoned Princeton Street home said she saw squatters making camp in the home only last week.

The city obtained the homes in the late 1970s from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After tenants moved or passed away, NYCHA kept the buildings empty.

Of the 232 single-family homes, 77 remain vacant. Yet more than 270,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for NYCHA housing.

And while one city authority neglects the homes, according to residents, other city agencies issue blizzards of tickets for littering and other offenses to the addresses.

Eileen Bryan, 64, called the city’s 311 hot line when she found old furniture had been dumped in front of an adjacent NYCHA house on 118th Road. She was told the city-owned house would be issued a ticket.

“So you’re gonna call the city and give the city a ticket?” Bryan explained in exasperation.

The city gives varying answers to neighbors who call about the ­NYCHA homes. When one neighbor complained to 311, she was told the home needed to be vacant for at least 10 years before something could be done. Another neighbor was told he could purchase them only in batches of six.

A NYCHA spokeswoman told The Post the agency does “not have the resources to repair and rebuild many of the . . . homes we inherited from HUD decades ago.”

But the agency wants to give the homes to nonprofits that specialize in rehabbing them for occupancy by low-income, first-time buyers.

Before it can do that, the spokeswoman said, the agency must first go through the lengthy process of completing environmental assessments and appraisals, and secure approval from HUD.

This article appeared in the New York Post on July 5, 2015.

Another school bars poor kids from carnival over $10 fee

By Stephanie Pagones and Susan Edelman

Only weeks after a Queens principal was bounced for barring students from a carnival for not paying a $10 entry fee, Staten Island’s Morris Intermediate School 61 has done the same — charging sixth-graders $10 for admission to a school fair.

Kids who couldn’t pay were denied entry to the festivities Wednesday and kept indoors, students and staff told The Post.

One of IS 61’s assistant principals initially denied that the school charged a fee but later said, “There was a charge, but no child was turned away.”

But several students said they or others were barred.

“I couldn’t go because I didn’t bring the money in time,” said one student, whose name is being withheld by The Post.

Her friend added, “I was sad because she’s my best friend and she couldn’t go.”

About 100 students — a quarter of IS 61’s 400 sixth-graders — missed the fun, a staffer estimated. Some were excluded because of bad behavior, but others didn’t pay or just stayed home.

“Many well-behaved kids did not go because they did not or could not pay,” the insider said.

The playground carnival featured games, hamburgers and slushies. It was billed as a reward for students who demonstrated good behavior and academics.

A dean said no qualified kid was barred if they confided that they could not afford the fee. The school let 35 students attend at no charge because they said they were unable to pay, he said.

Asked about those who might not have come forward, he said, “If they didn’t say anything to the school, I wouldn’t know.”

A teacher blasted that excuse.

“Kids are embarrassed,” the teacher said. “They don’t say anything.”

At Flushing’s PS 120, Principal Joan Monroe was reassigned June 12 after she barred nonpaying kids from a May 21 carnival.

The Department of Education later instructed all principals that children “may not be excluded from participating in fund-raising events during school hours.”

This was the first year IS 61 administrators charged a carnival fee, spurring complaints by parents and staff.

In the past, teachers organized a free carnival with games.

Its theme: “Carnival for all.”

IS 61 also charged sixth-graders $30 apiece for a field day two weeks ago. For that event, it rents a facility with basketball courts and a field. Food is provided.

“A lot of kids didn’t go to that because they can’t afford it,” the staffer said.

Where the money raised will be spent was unknown.

“That’s what we all wonder,” the insider said.

​Principal Susan Tronolone did not return several calls from The Post on Friday.​ The DOE said it was looking into the matter.

“We take this very seriously,” said DOE rep Devora Kaye.

This article was originally published in the New York Post on June 28, 2015.