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How Long Island colleges stack up

U.S. News & World Report, in its 2019 “Best Colleges” rankings, examined data from about 1,800 universities and colleges nationwide.

The rankings are devised from hundreds of data points, including up to 16 measures of academic quality, according to U.S. News. They include data on students’ social mobility and emphasize outcomes. This year, school acceptance rates were dropped from the factors used in determining the rankings.

The U.S. News rankings first were released in 1983. Through the years, they have received mixed reviews from administrators at colleges and universities.

Here are the top finishers among Long Island’s public and private four-year colleges ranked in the report. Not all of the Island’s institutions were ranked.

National Universities

No. 80 Stony Brook University (with five others)

No. 140 Hofstra University (with six others)

No. 147 Adelphi University (with four others)

Regional Universities (North)

No. 25 Molloy College (with two others)

No. 50 New York Institute of Technology (with two others)

No. 62 St. Joseph’s College (with four others)

No. 120 LIU Post (with two others)

Regional Colleges (North)

No. 3 U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

No. 19 Farmingdale State College (with one other)

Top Public, National Universities

No. 32 Stony Brook University (with three others)

Top Public, Regional Colleges North

No. 2 U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

No. 9 Farmingdale State College (with one other)

Best Value, National Universities

No. 77 Hofstra University

No. 86 Adelphi University (with one other)

No. 118 Stony Brook University

Born on Sept. 11, 2001: ‘A bright spot on such a sad day’

It was one of the happiest days of their lives and also one of immense suffering.

Even 17 years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, families with children born on Sept. 11, 2001, look back with conflicting emotions.

Andrew Robinson of Long Beach remembers holding tight to his miracle — a baby girl born four weeks early who bore an uncanny resemblance to his sister, who was working at the World Trade Center complex that day.

“Things became jumbled, mentally,” Robinson said. “You have thoughts of death and birth and what it could all mean for her.”

Other families, too, had relatives whose safety they feared for, and most say they felt guilt that they had something to celebrate when others had lost so much. All of them described the flicker of hope the newborns gave communities in mourning on that dark day.

Some of the children say they’ve grown accustomed to the sound of bagpipes and the reading of the victims’ names, like a soundtrack played on their birthdays. They try and celebrate like any of their peers would, but in their 17 years have learned that the day will never be just about them.

“You learn that there are a lot of people that are going to be grieving and you just learn to respect that,” Casey McLehose said of her Sept. 11 birthday.

“It was like half a celebration until we actually knew [my sister] was safe.”
Skyla Robinson, 16, who was born Sept. 11, 2001, stands with her mother, Linda Robinson and her dad, Andrew Robinson, both of Long Beach, in their home in Long Beach

Linda, Skyla and Andrew Robinson at their Long Beach home on Sept. 4. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Skyla Robinson, 12:07 a.m.

Born to Linda and Andrew Robinson of Long Beach

After his daughter was born, one of the first calls Andrew made was to his sister, Wendy. He rang her up at 1 a.m. and she stayed on the phone with him, deciding then that she’d go to work late that morning at 5 World Trade Center.

Wendy Robinson saw the first plane strike the north tower just as she stepped out of the Chambers Street subway stop. Andrew and Linda, both 37 at the time, watched it happen on a TV in their hospital room as their baby, Skyla, slept in the nursery down the hall. They wouldn’t learn Wendy was safe until hours later.

“We were trying to celebrate the birth, but my sister was missing,” Andrew said. “It was like half a celebration until we actually knew she was safe.”

Linda still refers to Skyla as their “sunshine on a cloudy day,” a lyric from the Temptations tune she used to sing to her daughter as a child.

“That’s what she was to us,” she said. “A reason to be happy on that day.”

Skyla said she learned from an early age that her birthday would never be just about her. She’s tried to be respectful of others, and has asked friends not to present her with balloons or birthday grams on the day.

“I only started to really comprehend the significance of it in the ninth grade,” she said. “Once I started to understand, I knew that this was gonna be with me my whole life.”

“Life didn’t stop and wait for us.”
Jacqueline and Randy Martin, with daughter Sarah. Danielle Silverman

Jacqueline, Sarah and Randy Martin at their Levittown home on Sept. 4. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Sarah Martin, 10:27 a.m.

Born to Jacqueline and Randy Martin of Levittown

Sarah Martin’s birthday still makes her feel uneasy. Growing up, she’d ask her parents to let her stay home from school and until recently has shied away from learning more about the event. It always upset her to watch the reading of the names or documentaries on the terrorist attacks in class.

“It’s a really hard mix there,” she said. “So many people died, and I was born.”

For her family, that difficult mix of emotions began when the first tower was hit. Sarah’s grandmother, Carole Maguire, was in 5 World Trade Center at the time. It would be several hours before the family knew she was safe.

Randy Martin was in the waiting room at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. He watched the attacks live on television and as he tried to call his mother his body began to feel numb, the color left his face and his 6-foot-5-inch frame crumpled.

It was just minutes before his wife, Jacqueline, was scheduled to have her C-section. Randy, then 33, had to be revived with smelling salts while Sarah, his third child, was delivered.

“It was my time,” said Jacqueline, also 33 at the time. “We had to do it right then and there. Life didn’t stop and wait for us.”

As Randy held his newborn, he vacillated between joy and fear.

The phone lines were jammed for hours after the attacks and he couldn’t reach his mother. Though he tried to be focused on the birth of the baby, his mind kept wandering to Ground Zero.

“A lot of it was a blur to me,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening to our country.”

On her 16th birthday, Sarah opened a letter her grandparents had written to her about everything that had happened the day she was born. That same year she decided to visit the Sept. 11 memorial for the first time.

Sarah Martin still gets upset on the day, for what it could have cost her family, but not like she used to.

“He was a bright spot.”
Feature story about children born on 9/11. Daniel and Tricia Shay's son, Danny Shay, was born on 9/11/01. They live in Holtsville, Aug. 30, 2018.L-R Emma Shay holds a baby picture of Danny, father Daniel Shay, Danny Shay, with his birth announcement and mother Tricia Shay.

From left, Emma, Dan, Danny and Tricia Shay at their Holtsville home on Aug. 30. Emma holds her brother’s baby picture, and Danny holds his own birth announcement from Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Danny Shay, 8:42 p.m.

Born to Tricia and Dan Shay of Holtsville

The day after having their first child, Tricia and Dan Shay tried to quarantine themselves in their hospital room. They wanted to let themselves feel excited as new parents, and that meant a media blackout and a little distance from the grief that gripped the country.

But they were soon flooded with guilt.

“It was a very weird feeling,” Dan said. “We were so happy, but at the same time the whole world felt like it was mourning.”

Dan, 34 at the time, was working in human resources for a development company in midtown Manhattan when his wife, then 31, went into labor with their son three weeks early.

Tricia called her husband as soon as she realized she was ready to deliver. “I think it’s happening,” she told him.

Dan didn’t know what she was talking about. When his wife called he was sitting on the floor of a packed Long Island Rail Road car to Ronkonkoma with hundreds of commuters fleeing the city.

“It was a long and scary day in a lot of ways,” he said. “It didn’t dawn on me she was talking about Danny.”

Over time Danny’s birth served as a “bright spot” for their family and friends, Tricia said. For years, Tricia said she received emails from co-workers about how the birth had helped lift their spirits.

Two months after he was born, Danny’s aunt gave him a copy of Life magazine that had on its cover a first responder beside an American flag. Taped inside, she left a note that read in part: “Your birthday represents the promise of a new tomorrow in a time that is darker than any we’ve ever seen.”

Danny read the note for the first time last month, stunned that the fact of his existence had done so much to inspire his aunt.

“It makes you think how you can be such a bright spot on such a sad day,” Danny said. “It’s really cool.”

“We were all dealing with the horror of what happened and the beauty of what happened on that day.”
Linda and Greg McLehose and their daughter Casey spoke to Newsday at their Bayport home, August 28, 2018. Linda went into labor on 9/10/01 and was medicated through most of the night. She remembers coming to the next morning, right after the second plane hit. Their daughter, Casey, now 17, was born later that night.

Greg, Linda and Casey McLehose at their Bayport home on Aug. 28. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Casey McLehose, 10:26 p.m.

Born to Greg and Linda McLehose of Bayport

Groggy from medication and hours of induced labor, Linda awoke on the morning of Sept. 11 in her hospital bed and watched on a small television as a jet collided with the south tower.

She was stunned when her husband, Greg, who had been closely following coverage of the attacks, briefed her on what he knew.

Half an hour later, when they watched coverage of a plane crashing into the Pentagon, Linda, who was 29 at the time, said the fear began to set in.

“I remember feeling very, very scared, and just uncertain of the direction of the country and what it meant to bring a child into the world at this time,” she said.

She also had to contend with the difficult delivery of her first child, which lasted 40 hours and ended in a C-section. When they finally brought Casey home they found their happiness diluted by the national tragedy which had affected many of the first responders in their community.

Linda remembers holding Casey in their living room and watching a line of firetrucks slowly pass down their street, memorializing a neighbor who had died responding to the attacks. The sadness seemed inescapable, she said.

“We were all dealing with the horror of what happened and the beauty of what happened on that day,” she said.

It was a hard thing to explain to a child, the somber mood that fell over the nation every year on her daughter’s birthday, Linda said. Now that Casey is older, she said she’s tried to celebrate her birthday like any other teenager, but she had to come to terms with the circumstances.

“I understood it wasn’t my fault, but I really felt a little bad about it at first,” she said.

From Casey McLehose's baby book. Photo by Danielle Silverman

A page from Casey McLehose’s baby book. Photo Credit: McLehose family

Until debt do us part: The cost of a Long Island wedding

I take thee to be my wedded spouse — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until debt do us part.

Does that last line sound unfamiliar? Welcome to the world of Long Island wedding planning.

Long Island ranks third nationally for highest average wedding costs, behind Manhattan and North/Central New Jersey, according to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study, which includes surveys of 13,000 couples who got married in 2017.

The total cost of a Long Island wedding, excluding a honeymoon, was $61,113 on average, nearly twice the national average of $33,391, according to the study.

“Being in New York, most people will spend more money on their wedding than a [house] down payment on Long Island,” said Christina DiPasquale, manager at Village Bridal and Boutique in Babylon. “We do everything bigger and better in New York.”

Compared with the rest of the country, Long Island couples were most likely to have black tie weddings and were among the top spenders for wedding dresses, according to The Knot.

As couples and vendors prepare for September, the most popular wedding month of the year, Newsday spoke with a group of local wedding experts to explain the costs of a dream wedding on Long Island.

All prices included are averages, according to The Knot survey.

Wedding costs on Long Island

The venue


The single greatest expense for any wedding typically is the venue. Couples nationally told The Knot they spent about half their budget on reception venues last year. At an average price tag of $27,685, Long Island couples spend more on their reception venue than some spend on their entire wedding.

The competition for wedding dates here is fierce and it’s not just other Long Island couples competing. Wedding planner Sonal J. Shah is based in Manhattan and specializes in South Asian and multicultural wedding. She said many New York City brides come to her dreaming of a Long Island venue with a waterfront view.

“It’s supply and demand,” Shah said.

Venues might have multiple weddings in a day, especially on Saturdays in the summer. Fall is also a popular time to get married, with 30 percent of weddings nationally taking place in September and October, according to The Knot.

Many local wedding venues are popular enough they can offer lists of experienced vendors, on-site catering and all-inclusive packages, planners said.

Cultural traditions can also play a significant role in the cost. For example, Shah said South Asian weddings usually have more guests than average and multiple days of events, adding to the venue budget.

Some couples save money by choosing a less-inclusive venue or even having a backyard wedding. But Kristina Spiropoulos, owner of Northern Lights Events in Huntington, said those cost money, too, for tents, catering and more.

Having a ceremony at a separate location will add an average $1,672 to the total, and transportation to the reception costs around $1,400, according to The Knot.

Wedding costs on Long Island

The dress


From beading to alterations, bridal gowns require an enormous amount of labor, said DiPasquale, manager at Village Bridal in Babylon. But the price of that labor isn’t always obvious.

Brides “come in and they have an idea, but they don’t think beyond the dress,” DiPasquale said.

The average Long Island bride in The Knot survey spends $2,347 — topped only by Manhattan — compared with the national average of $1,509 for a bridal gown.

Modern brides are gravitating more toward less expensive styles, such as flowy bohemian dresses, DiPasquale said.

Still, the final cost of a gown is in the alterations budget, DiPasquale said. Few dresses are completely ready to go, and many brides choose to add sleeves, straps, a belt or, of course, a veil.

“There’s four to eight layers on a wedding gown and each one has to be hemmed, for example,” DiPasquale said. “When we have to take in something that’s beaded, you have to open up a side seam and the whole thing has to be re-beaded, so that’s hours of work.”

Wedding costs on Long Island

The ring


For most couples, it all starts with the ring.

Long Island couples surveyed by The Knot said they spent an average of $9,500 on the engagement ring in 2017, nearly twice the national average.

Couples spend on average 3.5 months searching for the right ring, looking at more than two dozen rings in the process, according to a separate 2017 Knot survey of 14,000 couples across the country.

Of those surveyed, 45 percent went with a custom ring. As for the rock on that ring, about half chose a round cut diamond around 1.2 carats.

Those trends mirror what Jeff Reizner, owner of From Italy With Love Jewelers in Westbury, has seen among his customers.

The average 1.5 carat diamond he sells runs around $10,000 without a setting.

“The most important thing is the diamond, so if people have a budget, we recommend putting your money into the diamond and less into the setting,” Reizner said.

Reizner said many of his younger customers forgo other wedding jewelry, like necklaces or earrings, but don’t skip the wedding bands. Those run about $2,000 total, he said.

But if you’re going to spend the money, why not on the jewelry?

“When people get married, they can spend up to $100,000 on the venue, the entertainment, for a couple hours and what do they leave with?” he said. “It’s memories, photos and jewelry, that’s it.”

Wedding costs on Long Island

Photo and video


Just as with nearly every other category, Long Islanders paid more for photos and video of their weddings than other areas of the country.

The Knot’s survey found the national average for photo services was $2,630 and $1,912 for video. But Long Islanders paid $4,379 and $2,617 on average, respectively.

It’s rare these days for Wantagh wedding photographer and videographer Charles Eames to see couples skip a wedding video.

With so many options for couples and high overhead costs and plenty of competition for vendors, photographers have had to adapt.

Eames started offering video services with photo packages about three years ago and found high demand for it. A typical package can range from $4,000 to $7,000 and will include two photographers, a drone, an online gallery and a drive with the photos and video, he said. Couples can also add an album or prints.

“Video picks up where the photos leave off,” he said. “People cry watching them. I’ve had customers who lose loved ones and they get to go back and relive their dance with their grandfather.”

Ultimately, with so much competition, couples can pick a photographer that best meets their budget and style, Eames said.

Wedding costs on Long Island

The cake


By The Knot’s numbers, Long Islanders spend about $548 on their wedding cakes, $8 more than the national average.

On Long Island, there’s a few ways to pick out a cake. Some venue wedding packages include food and a choice of cake from a small list of options, said Kristyne Kounas, co-owner of The Sweet Duchess custom cakes in East Meadow.

Couples can get more variety with a custom cake, but more options means more money. Kounas’ customers typically want something beyond vanilla and chocolate and can pay from $800 to $1,600 for a cake serving 150 guests.

Kounas designs, bakes and decorates the cakes herself after a consultation session with the couple. The Sweet Duchess offers unique flavors, like earl gray lavender with blueberry buttercream or orange cake soaked in triple sec with chocolate ganache.

Kounas said they do not charge more per flavor, but some ingredients can get pricey. They recently removed pistachio from the menu because it was no longer affordable, she said.

One big trend among recent orders is edible gold, Kounas said, a very expensive add-on. A four-tier cake with edible gold could run as much as $20 per serving, depending on how much gold is added. For comparison, that 150-person cake mentioned above would be $5-10 per serving.

“You are paying for something that’s not your everyday wedding cake. That’s why people like coming to places like us,” Kounas said.

Wedding costs on Long Island

Event planning


Planners on Long Island said couples must keep the budget in mind for this category. Families first need to set a guest list and a reasonable per-person cost, then figure out where the money will come from to meet that total, Shah said.

“That can be a difficult conversation to have early on because that’s not the romantic, fun part of wedding planning,” Shah said. “We have very realistic conversation with our brides. Even the wealthiest bride has a budget.”

According to The Knot’s numbers, couples on average paid for 41 percent of the wedding costs, relying mainly on parents for the rest. A 2015 Knot survey found 76 percent of couples went over budget and more than a third used credit cards to pay for wedding costs.

Even having a wedding planner is a luxury, Shah said. Long Islanders spent on average of $2,046 on event planning help, just above the national average, according to The Knot survey. Most planners offer packages that range from planning every aspect of the event to help on just the wedding day.

One planning tip that’s not worth it? Vendors and planners say couples should avoid falling into the trap of trying to match the kinds of weddings they see on Pinterest, bridal TV shows and even “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

“The TV shows, Pinterest, it has a huge role in a bride’s perception. The reality hits when you price out all the details,” said Carline Beaubrun, creative director and founder of Events by Carline in Garden City.

Instead, Beaubrun asks her clients to focus on what makes them unique as a couple. Their interests might mean they choose a more expensive band versus a D.J. But it could also mean they spend less on creative, personal centerpieces instead of large floral ones.

“Brides and grooms fight less about the expenses when there’s a reasoning behind it,” she said. “It becomes a better experience.”

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Solar panel leasing deals on LI plagued by consumer complaints

A white-hot market for leased solar energy systems has cooled off dramatically since 2016, in the wake of customer complaints about hard-sell tactics, rising bills, questionable installations and a lack of government oversight, a Newsday investigation found.

During the past decade, the environmental appeal of “going green” and reducing monthly electric bills has been promoted by state and federal governments, which enacted policies and subsidies that opened the door to a surge of solar panel sign-ups.

Today, Long Island is New York’s solar king, with more customers than any region in the state – nearly 40,000 home and small office rooftops at last count. More than $1.3 billion worth of residential solar panels have been installed in Nassau and especially Suffolk since 2000, a Newsday computer analysis of state and utility records shows.

These high-tech rooftop panels allow homes to draw electricity from the sun while displacing the utility’s need to draw power from conventional energy sources. And at a median cost of $35,000, these units have been offered by large companies, including SolarCity Corp., a subsidiary of Tesla Inc. run by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

But the arrival of no-money-down solar lease deals on Long Island also has brought a host of problems.

While the market grew at a steady pace from the first home solar system sales in 2000 with relatively few complaints, a move by LIPA in 2012 to allow solar lease companies to access its popular rebate led to a market explosion.

Hawking systems at shopping malls, Tupperware-styled parties and invitation-only dinners, the solar industry sometimes aimed its efforts at senior citizens and others with limited incomes who unwittingly got locked into long-term leasing agreements for “no money down,” often with add-on costs in the fine print.

‘We are paying more now than we did previously.’ -Edward Maccone, North Bellmore resident

In some cases, homes with newly installed panels were shaded by trees or other obstacles, making them poor candidates to derive sufficient power from the sun to lower their existing electric bill, some critics and customers charged.

“We are paying more now than we did previously,” before his SolarCity panels were installed, said Edward Maccone, 77, of North Bellmore. “I lost all faith in them after seeing the numbers” in his resulting electric bills.

In other cases, customers who signed 20- or 25-year deals for solar panels on their roofs have encountered complications selling or refinancing their homes. Homeowners say they were surprised to learn that little-known documents filed by the solar firms at county clerks’ offices listed them as “debtors,” complicating refinancings and attempts to sell their homes.

Critics, including consumer watchdogs, say solar customers, particularly elderly homeowners, were enticed by hard-sell tactics that didn’t pan out as promised, affecting the public perception of this fledgling industry, originally promoted by government with various tax incentives and rebates.

Word of no-cost solar deals spread rapidly across the Island until 2016 and last year, when the boom in leased and other systems saw a sharp drop-off. Along with fewer customer sign-ups, the solar leasing market suffered from changes in government tax credits and rebates, financial and legal problems faced by some key leasing companies, and the looming prospect of foreign tariffs.

On Long Island, new solar units dropped from a total of 11,444 in 2016 to 6,400 in 2017, a 44 percent decline, according to PSEG Long Island data. PSEG now expects about 6,600 solar connections this year, still far from the market’s peak two years ago. Nationally, for the first time ever, the top 10 states for solar installations, including New York, experienced a decline, experts say, as the rush for solar power has slowed.

“No question the number of complaints and legal cases against solar leasing is contributing to this drop-off” in installations both nationally and in New York, said Tyson Slocum, an energy expert with Public Citizen, a Washington-based watchdog group. “It’s part of the larger factors that are making solar leasing not as attractive financially as it was a few years ago.”

What determines if you’re a good candidate for solar?

1 1ShadingThe more coverage from trees, chimneys and neighboring buildings your system receives, the less electricity that will be generated. The solar company might recommend trimming back branches or cutting down trees. Source: Solar Energy Industries Association 2 2Orientation and pitch of your roof Typically, solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees, though other roofs may be suitable, too. North-facing roofs are viewed as the least optimal, because they do not receive direct sunlight. Sources: Department of Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association 3 3Size of your roof vs. energy consumptionDetermine if your house is large enough to accommodate a system that will support your energy usage based on the roof’s size and your current electric bills. Sources: Department of Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association 4 4GeographyLong Islanders are fortunate that both Nassau and Suffolk counties receive a good amount of daily sunlight hours, more than Westchester and upstate New York, but not quite what the sunniest parts of Arizona, New Mexico and California receive, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A solar professional can calculate the amount of sunlight expected to reach a planned system over the course of a year. Sources: North America Land Data Assimilation System via CDC WONDER, Solar Energy Industries Association 5 5Rainfall is a factorHomes located near the water may require higher levels of maintenance of solar panels, given ocean and bay breezes. If it doesn’t rain enough in a given year, you may have to have the panels cleaned.

Some industry officials say they believe the drop-off in installations is temporary and express confidence in solar’s lasting appeal. Encouraged by state and federal policies, Tesla’s SolarCity, Vivint Solar and other large firms have promoted themselves as the front line of a new wave of energy for Long Islanders — an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way for customers to get free of the local power company’s monopoly grip.

“Utility rates here are the highest in the country, which means the customers who get solar are going to get some of the biggest savings,” said Chance Allred, chief sales officer for Vivint Solar, which offers mostly long-term deals known as a Power Purchase Agreements.

With PPAs, customers pay for power based on a per kilowatt hour rate, while other lease deals usually rely on an fixed monthly fee.

But even solar advocates, pleased by the industry’s overall growth during the past decade, say they’ve heard complaints of high-pressure sales tactics by some firms and a lack of sufficient oversight to curb abuses.

“There are some bad apples in any industry and any successful industry attracts some scammers, so we have heard complaints from customers,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president for state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a nationwide trade group promoting solar since 1974. “Where there are mistakes by solar companies, we’re trying to come up with a procedure so that those mistakes aren’t repeated.”

Locally, Newsday found a growing number of complaints in various places ranging from the New York State attorney general to consumer agencies to hundreds of frustrated homeowners seeking help at their local county clerk office. Real-estate experts warn consumer complaints and other problems facing the solar leasing industry threaten to complicate future home sales.

    Among the issues identified in a six-month Newsday investigation:

  • Promises of “no money down” lease deals but little savings. Some consumers who signed up for “no money down” long-term lease agreements, especially senior citizens, say they have been surprised to find escalation clauses that often call for annual increases of up to 3 percent paid to the solar company, amounting to a hefty bill over the deal’s 20- or 25-year life span. These types of leasing deals have fueled the big boom in solar on Long Island during the past decade, often outpacing purchase of solar units.
  • Selling your home can be difficult because of solar leasing agreements. Thousands of Long Island homeowners with solar units on their roofs may find it difficult to sell or refinance their homes because of UCC-1s (Uniform Commercial Code documents) placed on them by solar installers. Solar companies say they don’t consider them liens. But local experts say the little-known financial documents — which list the solar companies as debtors for the value of the systems — can create legal hassles for homeowners, especially those looking to sell to another buyer or refinance their existing mortgage. More than half of the 5,400 UCC-1s filed in Suffolk last year were related to solar panel installations, officials said. Nassau lists nearly 1,000 UCC-1s filed by Vivint Solar alone in recent years, records show.
  • Some large solar installers serving Long Island have dropped out of the business or reported significant business problems. NRG Home Solar, the third-largest installer in New York, bowed out of the residential market in 2017 because of financial pressures. Also last year, Sungevity and Level Solar filed for bankruptcy and their customers were assumed by rivals. Long Island’s biggest installer, SolarCity, often criticized for its leasing agreements, faces criticisms on numerous fronts. The company agreed last September to pay a nearly $30 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which alleged it had inflated “thousands” of claims for federal grants designed to encourage renewable energy.
  • New York’s second-largest solar installer, Vivint Solar, faces fraud and racketeering allegations in New Mexico for allegedly illegal sales tactics designed to dupe the public. According to a lawsuit filed in March by that state’s attorney general, Vivint Solar overstated cost savings to thousands of customers with 20-year deals that will raise their solar bills by more than 72 percent. The suit charges Vivint Solar with bogus offers of a “free” solar system for no money down, a “trap” that hooked “multiple” consumers into paying more for energy, entangles consumers’ property rights and ensnares consumers with a 20-year contract. Vivint denies the charges.
  • Lack of industry oversight. Nationally, the Federal Trade Commission has received more than 2,500 complaints about large solar companies, and New York State’s attorney general says it is conducting a probe of an unspecified solar firm doing business in the state. The state Public Service Commission in October issued rules for oversight of solar installers along with other energy service companies, but the rules haven’t been adopted by LIPA, though a spokesman said they may be considered by year end. Critics say mandatory arbitration clauses found in many solar contracts prohibit consumers from suing for individual problems or complaining to local agencies. Instead, disputes are settled by an arbiter whose decisions are kept confidential.
  • Trouble on the horizon.Though many advocates tout solar’s bright future, the industry’s up-and-down experience so far on Long Island seems indicative of its national problems. Today, the solar residential market faces the steady decline of federal and state tax incentives that fueled its early growth, and a new tariff on imported solar panels ordered by President Donald Trump threatens to raise costs. Despite New York State’s goal of drawing 50 percent of all electrical power from renewable sources by year 2030, solar still exists in only 4 percent of Long Island homes.

Solar’s big boom on Long Island

Solar power has been around for decades. The scientific roots date back to Albert Einstein, who won a Nobel Prize in physics for identifying the photoelectric effect of sunlight, and America’s space program, which equipped spacecraft with solar cells. But generally solar wasn’t commercially viable until the late 1990s, when the sky-high price of panels dropped dramatically.

For most customers today, “photovoltaic systems” on their roofs create electricity from glossy rectangular panels that absorb and convert the sun’s rays. This homemade wattage can be either used by the owners directly, or traded for credit with their utilities, who add the solar power to their grids serving other customers.

On Long Island, solar power started to take off around 2000, spurred by generous Long Island Power Authority rebates and other state and federal incentives favoring environmentally clean energy. Only two units were purchased that year, and another 13 the following year, records show. By 2010, about 1,000 units were purchased on Long Island annually.

In the early years, experts say, generally affluent homeowners bought solar systems, with price tags ranging from $30,000 to well over $50,000, depending on the size and power potential of the unit. A Newsday analysis of solar installations with state incentives since 2000 shows that many units in the early days were placed on rooftops in places such as East Hampton, Southampton, Dix Hills and Gardiners Island.

Local contractors who installed these systems touted them as capable of paying for themselves in seven years — and they often did. Tax credits for buying solar units could be taken off homeowner’s income tax bills. Many found the idea appealing — like having your own power plant on the roof. These state incentive records for Long Island — which reflect about two-thirds of the entire residential marketplace in Nassau and Suffolk — provide specific locales and prices on installed units.

“Back then, it was ‘early adopters,’ as I would call them — folks who believed in the environment and had the ability to pay for a system,” recalls Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewables for PSEG Long Island, who witnessed solar’s initial growth. LIPA rebates were “fairly generous because they needed to be in order to stimulate the market.”

One of those satisfied solar customers was Harry Kubetz, a 65-year-old business executive whose ranch house in Northport was fitted with a large system purchased in 2005. The total $81,000 price tag eventually cost him about $27,250 out-of-pocket, after he received various federal and state tax credits and utility rebates, he estimated. The solar panels reduced his annual electric bill by half, he said, but that wasn’t his main motivation.

“I didn’t do solar to reduce my bill but because I felt it was the right thing to do environmentally, in being responsibile,” Kubetz said. “I’m really happy I did it.”

By 2012, the doors for solar were flung wide open on Long Island. Federal income tax credits already provided a 30 percent credit for the cost of a system. But that year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended to the leasing market the same tax credit of up to $5,000 to help finance residential projects that purchasers already enjoyed. Utilities were directed by state regulators to buy excess power created by solar units. And significantly, LIPA provided a boost by extending to leased systems rebates valued at thousands of dollar per customer. As part of these deals, customers signed over their rebates to these leasing companies.

Solar installations peaked on Long Island in 2016

Data from PSEG show the number rose to 11,444 and then dropped the following year.

Cuomo pushed for New York State to become a leader in solar power. Nationally, it now ranks 10th in total installations. “As the federal government abdicates its responsibility to address climate change — at the expense of our environment and economy — New York is leading the nation in advancing a clean energy future,” Cuomo proclaimed last year.

By 2014, some of the nation’s biggest solar firms — including SolarCity and Vivint Solar — had arrived on Long Island with a big marketing push. Some were represented by well-known political names. For example, NRG Home Solar’s parent company hired the lobbying firm headed by former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato to promote its solar business with state lawmakers.

But the biggest change was in the type of Long Island customers signing up for solar. Along with wealthy homeowners buying their panels, many Long Islanders of more modest means agreed to long-term leases or similar power purchase agreements, or PPAs, touted by large national firms that made solar affordable to them as never before.

“On top of the savings that they [consumers] get from cheaper energy, there’s also a tax benefit for them that really incentivizes them to go solar,” explains Vivint Solar’s Allred, watching his workers install solar panels in Islip Terrace. “So we really appreciate the policy makers here. We feel that they’ve given solar a tail wind.”

Sunrun, another national firm offering primarily 20-year lease deals, says many customers are concerned with the reliability of Long Island’s electric grid. The desire for an alternative method of energy is particularly strong “because of how hard Sandy hit” in 2012, said Chris McClellan, regional director for East Coast sales.

Following a national trend, New York’s big solar boom occurred in 2014-15, with Suffolk and Nassau accounting for nearly a third of all installations statewide. While solar units continued to be purchased in wealthier neighborhoods, lease-like solar deals were now found in more modest-income communities such as Lindenhurst, West Babylon, North Babylon, Brentwood and Bay Shore, records show.

However, the terms of these new deals were more complicated than some customers realized. Under these “no money down” leases and PPAs, solar companies owned and operated the rooftop units, collected federal tax credits, and sold the power to the cooperating homeowners. Many of these deals included “escalator” clauses, calling for annual hikes of up to 3 percent. And the solar bill came atop of the regular monthly PSEG bills homeowners still received, particularly apparent during months when there was not enough sunlight for the solar panels to pay for themselves.

‘Often the target customer who is ripe for abuse is somebody who is retired, has a fixed income, and who is taken in by the promise of a constant electric bill.’ -Daniel Stevens, executive director of Campaign for Accountability

Many of the leasing sign-ups started with a knock on the door, a telephone solicitation or salespeople pushing the benefits of solar at local shopping centers. Seniors in retirement communities or living on fixed incomes were particularly susceptible to the clarion call of saving money while being “green” with a nonpolluting power source, critics say. Too often, these older customers were poor candidates for solar and wound up disappointed in the results.

“I’ve seen solar panels being sold to seniors that had 20-year leases and they didn’t even generate enough electricity because the size of the roof wasn’t big enough,” said attorney Sean Walter, a former Riverhead Town supervisor who now practices elder law. “If you can catch some of the seniors in internet scams and phone scams, think about how vulnerable the seniors are when you’re going door-to-door.”

Nationally, Campaign for Accountability, a Washington-based group critical of solar, has tracked a sharp rise in company complaints by consumers in the past five years. “Often the target customer who is ripe for abuse is somebody who is retired, has a fixed income, and who is taken in by the promise of a constant electric bill,” said its executive director, Daniel Stevens. “The individual will wind up being charged more for their electric costs than they were before they installed solar panels. It’s one of the clearest ways that these companies mislead customers.”

Similar complaints of misleading, hard-sell “no money down” tactics are reflected in the fraud and racketeering lawsuit brought by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas against Vivint Solar, a prominent player in Long Island’s market. He said Vivint Solar’s sales force assured New Mexico consumers of cost savings of up to 40 percent compared with their prior utility rates “when, in fact, they will likely pay more.”

“Vivint goes to great lengths to advertise that it will design, install and maintain a solar system for a consumer’s home ‘for free,'” said Balderas in court papers filed in March. “Vivint’s ‘free’ trap, in truth, is not free at all; rather it hooks consumers into paying more for energy.”

Vivint Solar denied the New Mexico allegations and said it offers customers “the opportunity to adopt clean, renewable energy while always adhering to the highest ethical sales standards.”

When Vivint Solar arrived on Long Island in 2012, said Allred, the chief sales officer, the company went door-to-door in neighborhoods to build up its clientele, but now relies mostly on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. Allred says he hasn’t seen any drop-off in new installations, as reflected in state numbers, and rejects the idea that enthusiasm has waned for solar because of the industry’s tactics.

“We have a big customer base that is really happy,” Allred said. “If a customer calls in and they have a concern, we take care of them and we make it right. We take care of them. That’s how we get our referrals and grow our business.”

But for many customers on Long Island, the once-glowing promise of solar energy has not been so easy.

Longtime residents in long-term leases

Mort and Marilyn Kinzelberg, a senior couple in their 80s who live in Commack, first heard about the benefits of leasing from a SolarCity salesman inside a Huntington mall. The Kinzelbergs liked the idea of “going green” by getting solar energy panels put on their roof. But they were particularly enticed by the promise of lowering their electric bills.

Not willing to buy a solar system outright, the retired couple signed a 20-year lease and hoped for the best outcome. Under their agreement, the Kinzelbergs say, they expected to save as much as $1,000 a year.

A former electrical engineer, Mort liked the idea of drawing power from shiny black solar panels on his roof rather than from a local utility plant. “There’s no effect on the environment — I’m conscious of that,” he explained. “I was told it would save me a lot of money.”

‘There’s a certain amount of sentiment I have for this tree, so I was not going to cut it down under any circumstances.’ -Mort Kinzelberg, Commack resident

But there was a hitch. A giant tree in their backyard, draped over the roof like an outstretched umbrella, threatened to block the sun. The Kinzelbergs said they didn’t want to cut down the tree, attached to the second-floor porch of their two-story home.

“There’s a certain amount of sentiment I have for this tree, so I was not going to cut it down under any circumstances,” Mort said. “And he [the SolarCity rep] said the amount effect of this [tree] would be minimal and not to worry about it.””

But the solar savings were not as much as the Kinzelbergs expected. Indeed, some months they even paid more to SolarCity than they used to pay with their old bills to the utility company. “They [SolarCity] were not honest with me and didn’t save me as much money as they said they would,” Mort said. After they signed their contract, they also realized it contained a 2.9 percent annual hike in their leasing fee.

“Over 20 years, it comes to quite a bit that they are benefiting from,” said Marilyn with a rueful smile. “We’re not stupid and we should have gone through it more. But we believed the salesman. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it [the contract terms], it’s a good deal.’ We’re seniors — we don’t think that far ahead.”

Tesla officials, who now oversee SolarCity’s assets on Long Island, declined to be interviewed.

But Jonathan Lane, the lead solar instructor at Farmingdale State College, who examined the Kinzelberg home, said the elderly couple should have been told they were a poor candidate for solar – especially since they were unwilling to cut backyard trees overhanging the south portion of their roof.

“It kills the performance,” said Lane about the trees casting shadows over the solar panels. “The amount of energy generated by the system will be reduced by half and the amount of money collected by the customers will be reduced by approximately half.”

Lane, who installs solar systems privately, says only about 60 percent of Long Island’s 1.1 million residences and businesses are good candidates for solar. He says the rest have some obstacle – such as trees or limited roof space – that keeps solar panels from being a wise choice. Yet, he said, large, aggressive solar leasing firms too often sign up customers despite these obvious warning signs.

“Unfortunately it gives the whole industry a black eye,” Lane said. “There is a lot of profit-potential in the industry and some people are a lot more concerned with taking the profits from customers … than with delivering on promises made.”

Green-energy advocates emphasize that the many solar transactions, particularly those with established, reputable companies, are positive, and that most customers are happy with their systems.

‘My system paid for itself in a few years; it’s paid off and it’s still cranking.’ Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island

Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a green-energy advocacy group, was among the first LIPA customers to have a solar system put on the roof of his East Hampton home in 2002. “My system paid for itself in a few years; it’s paid off and it’s still cranking,” he said.

With rare exception, he said, complaints about the early systems were few. But that changed in 2013. “Of course, it became a totally different thing when the lease companies came in. At that point everybody could sign a lease and we know what happened.”

Raacke’s group was often consulted by customers who were contemplating solar, and he began to recognize a pattern. “One thing I was always surprised by was when people sent me their proposals from leasing companies, they [the leasing companies] were often inflating the assumed LIPA annual rate increase,” and tying an annual adjustment clause in their leases to that expected increase. The problem was that LIPA’s actual rate was frozen for many of those lease years and has moved only marginally since. “The numbers just weren’t real-world figures,” Raacke said. “In one case I saw 5 percent annual increase every year. That misrepresented the potential benefit to the customer. It was deceptive sales practices.”

Raacke said by any measure, “A leasing deal is a complex deal for the average customer to understand and get into. And I think a lot of people signed agreements they didn’t understand and that’s a problem. We always told people they should definitely compare a leased option to an owned, and don’t sign on the dotted line until they got multiple proposals.”

He and others were concerned when leases grew to upward of 75 percent of sales on Long Island. “They used very aggressive sales tactics, they went door to door and now we know what happened. From a customer perspective it was so attractive: no money down, get solar installed, but it’s like the Mercedes in the driveway. It looks good …”

He said Renewable Energy Long Island has gotten complaints or calls or emails from people who had “orphan systems from installers who went out of business. It’s very difficult to get someone else to fix. Many installers don’t want to deal with it because they’re taking on a problem they didn’t want to have. Shoddy installations.”

Maccone, who lives with his family in a North Bellmore home, is another senior who says he’s stuck with a long-term, under-performing solar deal. Maccone first considered solar when a telephone saleswoman called his home interrupting dinner. He remembers the saleswoman had the same first name as his daughter.

Speaking with the aid of a oxygen tank, Maccone said he didn’t think he could afford solar. He said the estimated pricetag of nearly $30,000 to buy a unit for his house was always too exorbitant for his family’s finances. The retiree said solar only became affordable because of a promise of no money down under the leasing agreement he signed in 2014.

Maccone said SolarCity promised big savings when it installed panels on the house where his family has lived since the 1950s. But that reduction in electricity costs never happened, he said.

SolarCity officials, now part of Tesla, declined to be interviewed.

Maccone used to pay about $450 a month to the utility company, but now he said he pays on average about $300 monthly for electricity and another $175 a month for a leasing fee.

There were also other factors in the fine print. As an older person who gets around with a respirator, Maccone said he was surprised to learn he’d be responsible for maintaining the heavy solar panels up on his roof, keeping them free of snow and leaves. Without luck, Maccone complained to government agencies and the Better Business Bureau. “There are no oversight people for solar as far as I know,” said Maccone. “They couldn’t help at all. It wasn’t in their jurisdiction.”

Little government oversight for solar

In New York, solar panel installation companies experienced their largest period of growth between 2014 and 2016 as an industry without oversight of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

‘The solar industry, to my knowledge, is not a regulated industry and they can sell to whomever chooses to purchase their product.’ -Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewables for PSEG Long Island

Even though they are connected to the region’s overall power grid and local utilities are required to buy excess power produced by homeowners, the state has only recently undertaken efforts to rein them in. For the past several years, the Cuomo administration has pushed new initiatives promoting solar power, but state regulators refrained from fielding complaints or reviewing the services provided by solar firms.

“The solar industry, to my knowledge, is not a regulated industry and they can sell to whomever chooses to purchase their product,” explained Voltz of PSEG Long Island in an interview earlier this year. “It’s not our position as an electric utility to determine whether the government should have greater regulation or a complaint bureau. It’s just not our role.”

The Public Service Commission in October adopted rules for oversight of energy service companies that for the first time included solar panel installers, but because LIPA isn’t subject to PSC jurisdiction, the rules don’t apply to Long Island. Nevertheless, the commission “anticipates” LIPA will adopt the rules in the future. LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said the authority’s staff has “reviewed PSC’s consumer protection standards and plans to bring a resolution to the LIPA board of trustees by year’s end.”

The New York Attorney General’s Office told Newsday it has received 48 complaints statewide since 2016 from upset solar unit owners and is reviewing the actions of one particular solar company that it would not identify. “Our investigation remains ongoing and we encourage any impacted New Yorkers to contact our office,” the spokesperson said earlier this month.

“Distributed energy providers, such as solar panel installers, are instrumental in helping build a cleaner, more resilient electric grid,” PSC spokesman James Denn said in a statement. “However, while we encourage these companies to grow in New York, we will also ensure that consumers are protected from fraud and dishonest marketing. Under our recently enacted rules, consumers will be protected.”It’s unclear why the agency didn’t adopt the new rules until this year.

Across the nation, critics say, customers with solar problems are similarly at a loss about whom to complain to — other than the solar firms themselves.

“Because state utility commissions do not regulate the leasing contracts, consumers may find themselves in a regulatory-protection limbo should a dispute arise,” explains Public Citizen’s Slocum. The solar leasing company “in effect becomes the utility for the consumer,” he said.

Slocum said seniors and other consumers are often surprised by the fine print in solar contracts calling for mandatory arbitration, eliminating the chance to file a lawsuit for alleged wrongdoing, or to file class-action suits to help defray litigation costs. “They are poorly equipped to deal with these companies because they are denied the ability to go to court,” Slocum said.

Instead of pleading their case before a judge, Slocum said, these consumers usually are strapped by contract terms that “require use of a company-friendly arbitration process that advantages the solar leasing company and leaves the consumer unable to appeal.”His group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to ban mandatory arbitration and to allow solar customers to go to court if necessary.

On Long Island, Newsday found consumer watchdogs rarely investigate or even receive solar complaints. Responding to a Newsday Freedom of Information Law request last year, Suffolk’s Department of Consumer Affairs reported eight complaints from 2014 to 2016. Most were marked “satisfied after mediation” or unresolved by some factual dispute. Nassau said they didn’t receive any complaints. Local officials said they didn’t know if solar contracts, which often require mandatory arbitration, had affected the number of complaints they received.

But on Long Island, there’s one place receiving plenty of inquiries from upset solar homeowners – the county clerk’s office. And the problem usually involves a little document known as a UCC-1. Most homeowners had no idea that these documents had been filed by their solar companies, listing them as “debtors,” until they tried to sell or refinance their home.

“We get daily calls with reference to UCC statements in regards to solar panels,” said Christopher Como, Suffolk County special deputy county clerk. “On a daily basis people inquiring where it came from, what do I have to do to dispose it? Just trying to get information about it. And those are usually people who are making some type of financial change or looking to sell.”

In the past four years, 23,525 UCC statements were filed in Suffolk alone, the majority reflecting the big upsurge in sun-powered renewable energy during the past decade. In Nassau, the number of UCC-1s filed nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016, officials said. One firm alone, Vivint Solar, had nearly 1,000 UCC-1s filed in Nassau in recent years, records show.

Solar companies say they file these certificates as a way of protecting their ownership of the “fixtures” installed on the roofs of their customers. But they can cause unforeseen hassles for solar homeowners.

Just ask Barry Geller. He said the UCC on the solar system attached to his West Hempstead house created a nightmare when he tried to refinance.

Battle of the rooftops

Geller said he was attracted to leased solar power when he saw a TV ad for a company called NRG Home Solar, which promoted itself during the Super Bowl. Its slick Hollywood production values and futuristic message were impressive.

“Enough sunlight hits Earth every hour to power everything on it for an entire year…,” said one of the company’s commercials, over images of the sun and houses equipped with solar panels. “…All you have to do is let it in.”

Geller said this commercial for NRG Home Solar spurred him to look into leasing panels from the company.

Geller decided to let it in, in October 2014. “We were watching the Super Bowl and there was NRG solar,” he remembered. “I figured if they can afford that they must be in business for a while.”

But various complications left the system installed but not hooked up for a year. And while NRG gave him $800 to remove a tree in his front yard, the total cost for the job was $2,000, and he had to pay the balance himself.

Geller said he’s been dissatisfied to learn that his system is only saving him around $50 a month on his electric bill, and that in some months, the bill is even higher than it was prior to his having the solar installed.

But his biggest nightmare came when he tried to refinance his home to do some costly remodeling.

‘If they told me they were going to put a lien on my house for solar, I would have told them to take their panels and put them somewhere else.’ -Barry Geller, West Hempstead resident

“The day after we hired contractors, we went to the bank to refinance, because the mortgage was just about paid,” he said. “And [a bank official] gave me a call back and said they can’t finish the refi because there’s a lien on my home. And I said, who has a lien on my home? We didn’t owe anybody anything. And he said, ‘The solar company.'”

That left the Gellers stunned. “I said, Really, a lien?” He’d worked with three different sales people from NRG, he said, and the “only thing they didn’t tell me was that they were going to put a lien on my house.” He suspects why they may have left it out. “If they told me they were going to put a lien on my house for solar, I would have told them to take their panels and put them somewhere else.”

The UCC problem was compounded by the fact that the Gellers had already hired contractors to rebuild their house, so they couldn’t wait for the delayed refinancing to go through. Instead, they put tens of thousands of dollars on their personal credit cards to pay for contractors and materials.

“We maxed out our charge cards waiting to close, because now the title company lawyers and the bank lawyers were discussing with them to get a paper to take this lien off temporarily and put it right back on after we close, which I asked them not to, but it’s on.”

Geller’s stress level only increased when NRG announced in February of 2017 that it was exiting the home solar market on Long Island. “I think they came on the island, they got what they wanted … and left. They don’t care.”

NRG declined to comment.

Geller said he’s been told he can permanently remove the lien on his house – if he pays the full value of the solar system, which he said is $32,000. But as far as he’s concerned the system is worth only $12,000, given his estimated savings of only $50 a month.

Five tips for avoiding solar pitfalls

  • Don’t rely on the promises of just one solar company to make a decision. Get a variety of price quotes and talk to people who have bought and leased their systems.
  • Read the fine print. Often, the most controversial elements of solar leasing agreements are buried in there, and some customers say salespeople either didn’t mention or breezed past them. Consider having a lawyer review the document before you sign.
  • Ask about escalator clauses. These can increase the cost of your system by hundreds of dollars a year if your contract allows the company to adjust them upward by as much as 3 percent annually.
  • Make sure your house is right for solar. If your rooftop isn’t facing south, and there are trees and other obstructions that block out the sun all or part of the day, your home may not be a good candidate. Check out the NY Solar Map website to get an initial indication of your home’s appropriateness for solar.
  • Once you’ve narrowed the list of solar companies, do some research to find out whether others have filed complaints against them, they’ve had financial troubles or have been sued. Check the Better Business Bureau’s website, which allows you to search by company, as well as other online review sites, and contact your county’s consumer protection bureau to see if complaints have been logged.

    Sources: Federal Trade Commission, NY attorney general

Geller said he didn’t realize how much trouble the UCC could cause. “There’s so many pages they sent me time after time after time with new contracts. I read it. I saw something that said UCC. I never heard of it. I didn’t know what it was. I actually thought it was something that they did. Not a lien on my house.”

Nationally, critics like the New Mexico attorney general say UCCs have created unexpected headaches for solar homeowners around the country. Potential buyers, mortgage companies, title searchers and their attorneys may balk at purchasing property with UCCs attached to them, they say.

Solar firms contend that UCCs are not liens and say they cooperate with homeowners who want to sell their homes. “We are aware that lenders prefer not to see anything on the title so it’s common practice for us to release the UCC-1 fixture filing for financing purposes and re-file later,” said Solar City on its website, with a team dedicated to this task.

But this fine-print distinction may be enough to scare away potential home buyers. “I can see an average consumer being confused by that language,” said real estate law expert Peter Marullo of the Uniondale-based firm Ruskin Moscou. “People get caught up on whether it’s a lien on the house or on the [solar] fixture. But bottom-line, as a buyer, you have to realize that you’re going to be taking over these lease payments.”

‘We do see that there is a potential disaster looming for home buyers who are stepping into these transactions not aware that there are potential leases.’ -Susan Hamblen, owner-broker at Exit Realty Achieve

While leasing companies say UCC filings can be temporarily lifted for refinancing transactions, new owners of a home with a leased system must either qualify for and assume the lease, or the seller must buy it outright.

Real estate agents are bracing.

“We do see that there is a potential disaster looming for home buyers who are stepping into these transactions not aware that there are potential leases,” said Susan Hamblen, owner-broker at Exit Realty Achieve in Smithtown, who, like other firms, now requires her agents receive extensive solar training to navigate the complex transactions.

Walter, the former Riverhead supervisor and a real estate lawyer, said he’s had at least three clients in the past year who’ve had a home closing set back by a solar contract. “The solar lease is a debt,” said Walter. “The solar companies are not telling people that if you are not planning to live in their homes for 20 years, it becomes a drain.”

Despite claims to the contrary, Walter said solar leases most definitely encumber homeowners with financial liens against their homes. “It’s absolutely a lien,” he said. “They [leasing companies] file a UCC and a financing document in the clerk’s office.” In one case, Walter said, a client actually had a second mortgage on his home tied only to the solar panels and installation costs.

More broadly, Walter said, the contracts give the solar companies all the leverage.

“They are putting a lien on the solar panels,” he said. “They can come up on your roof and take back their solar panels.”

With a solar lien attached to a home, a new buyer of that home has to be creditworthy to assume the lease — if they want it at all. If not, the seller has to make an accommodation in the price, or buy the system outright and essentially give it away as part of the sale.

“You have to be creditworthy in the solar company’s book in order for the lease to be transferred,” Walter said. And your credit score can actually be lowered by the amount of cost tied to the solar lease. “You can borrow less money” with a UCC solar lease on your credit record, he said. In one case, a client paid around $20,000 for the solar system that didn’t increase the value of the home proportionately when he sold it. “He’s basically gifting these solar panels” to the new owner, who gets a free electric system and a zero energy bill, Walter said.

Real estate agent Hamblen said she’s become so aware of the pitfalls of lease or power-purchase agreement transactions that she now trains and certifies all her agents on solar’s potential impacts

“Leases have potential increases as well as very faulty guarantees in some circumstances,” she said. “The buyer really has no knowledge of what they’re getting into, what they’re signing up for. Unfortunately, we’re also finding that some of the vendors in the field, the real-estate attorneys, the mortgage people, are not yet brought up to speed with the things in solar. So we’re trying to educate buyers.” She’s also conducting educational programs for the attorneys, mortgage managers and even other Realtors, she said.

Sunny or cloudy days ahead for solar?

Overall, experts offer a number of reasons for the recent drop-off in solar panel installations on Long Island — and what it might mean for the future.

Some point to state and federal incentives — such as rebates and tax write-offs that fueled the industry’s rapid rise earlier in this decade — that are now on the decline. A national study for the trade group SEIA found solar installations in 2017 fell 30 percent from the year before and predicts sign-ups will be lower through 2022 because of new tariffs on imported panels and changing tax laws.

Another reason for the dropoff is that Long Island’s largest installer, Solar City, is moving away from lease deals for solar panels toward cash sales and loans, and promoting a full solar roof model considered more profitable.

The overall market decline in Solar City’s panel installations in recent years is compounded by the departure of other large solar companies that once competed in the Long Island market. Word-of-mouth among solar customers with long-terms leases — angry about such controversial issues as “escalator clauses,” UCCs and other factors in the fine print — has also taken its toll.

But looking toward the future, some like PSEG’s Voltz say Long Island’s once booming solar market has plateaued rather than fizzled, reflected in a slight upturn expected this year. “We think it’s been a healthy market,” he said. “It maybe got a little overheated for a couple of years from many leasing companies — that’s just my perspective.”

-With Tim Healy

The Politics of Corruption on Long Island

Criminal cases against 10 politicians and public officials

Over the past few years, prosecutors have charged Long Island politicians and public officials with crimes ranging from tax evasion to bribery. Some of these cases resulted in convictions, while others are ongoing. Follow Newsday’s latest coverage on the most prominent cases here.

(Last updated: Aug. 8, 2018)

The County Executive

Edward Mangano

Charges: Conspiracy to commit federal program bribery; federal program bribery; conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud; honest services wire fraud; extortion; conspiracy to obstruct justice

Edward Mangano, Nassau’s county executive, was indicted in October 2016 and accused by federal prosecutors of receiving “bribes and kickbacks” from businessman Harendra Singh, who has pleaded guilty to providing them. Mangano’s wife, Linda, was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements involving “work she claimed to have performed” in an alleged no-show job from Singh, according to the indictment and prosecutors. Both Manganos pleaded not guilty. A judge on May 31 declared a mistrial in both their cases and their retrial is set for October. Federal prosecutors filed a new indictment against the Manganos in August, adding details of statements to investigators by Linda that prosecutors allege are lies. The Manganos pleaded not guilty to the indictment at an arraignment.

More Stories

The District Attorney

Thomas Spota

Charges:Conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; accessory after the fact to the deprivation of John Doe’s civil rights

Thomas Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, was indicted in October 2017 on federal charges that he was involved in a cover-up of ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s 2012 assault of a suspect. U.S. attorneys say Spota, along with longtime aide Christopher McPartland, intimidated and pressured witnesses not to cooperate with federal investigators in order to protect Burke. Spota pleaded not guilty to the charges. A day after his plea, he announced he would leave the office he has held since 2002. His last day in office was Nov. 10, 2017.

More Stories

The Town Supervisor

John Venditto

State charges: Corrupt use of position or authority; official misconduct; conspiracy; defrauding the government

John Venditto, Oyster Bay supervisor, was indicted on federal corruption charges in October 2016. Venditto pleaded not guilty and resigned in January. His trial started on March 12, 2018. In June 2017, the Nassau DA indicted Venditto, who prosecutors said was involved in a real-estate deal and orchestrating a hiring. Venditto pleaded not guilty. A superseding federal indictment was announced Nov. 21 adding 21 charges involving allegations of securities fraud. Venditto was acquitted of all federal charges on May 24. He still faces state charges.

More Stories

The Councilman

Edward Ambrosino

Charges: Wire fraud; tax evasion; making and subscribing false corporate tax returns; failure to file return

Edward Ambrosino, a Hempstead Town Board councilman, was indicted in March 2017 and accused of failing to pay more than $250,000 in federal taxes on income, much of which federal prosecutors said came from jobs performed for Nassau County. Prosecutors said Ambrosino, a lawyer, siphoned off money for two years to a company he incorporated and underreported his earnings. In the week following Ambrosino’s arrest, the county Industrial Development Agency and Local Economic Assistance Corp. dropped him as one of their attorneys. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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The Police Chief

James Burke

Convicted of: Deprivation of civil rights; conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice

James Burke, the Suffolk County Police Department’s former top uniformed officer, was indicted in December 2015 and charged by federal prosecutors with orchestrating an elaborate scheme to conceal his own crime. Burke, who was named Suffolk police chief in 2012, beat a handcuffed prisoner who had been charged with stealing a duffel bag from Burke’s police-issued vehicle, officials said. Burke pleaded guilty in February 2016 to conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and violating the victim’s civil rights and was sentenced in November 2016 to 46 months in prison. Burke has filed papers to appeal his sentence.

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The State Senator

Dean Skelos

Charges: Conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right; conspiracy to commit honest services fraud; extortion under color of official right; solicitation of bribes and gratuities

Dean Skelos, former Republican State Senate majority leader, was convicted in December 2015 of using his power to help his son, Adam, get jobs and payments from businesses. Federal prosecutors said the senator pressured three companies to give jobs, fees and benefits worth $300,000 to Adam, doing favors in Albany for the companies in return. He also intervened with Nassau County to help one of them on a contract, prosecutors said. His son was indicted on the same charges. In May 2016, Skelos was sentenced to 5 years, and his son was sentenced to 6½. In September 2017, an appeals court overturned the convictions. They were retried in the summer of 2018, and a federal jury convicted them on eight counts of conspiracy, extortion and bribery.

The Conservative party leader

Edward Walsh

Convicted of: Converts to own use property of another; fraud by wire, radio or television

Edward Walsh, then a lieutenant in the county sheriff’s office, golfed, gambled and politicked on the county’s dime, federal prosecutors said, while at the helm of Suffolk County’s Conservative Party. Walsh pleaded not guilty in March 2015 but was convicted in March 2016 for illegally collecting more than $200,000 in pay and overtime pay he didn’t earn. His conviction sparked a battle over leadership within the party he once led. In June 2017, Walsh was sentenced to 2 years in prison and was ordered to make $245,811.21 in restitution and forfeit an additional $245,811.21.

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The Town Commissioner

Frederick Ippolito

Federal charges: Attempt to evade or defeat tax

State charges: Money laundering; defrauding the government; official misconduct; bribe receiving; receiving reward for official misconduct; theft of services.

Frederick Ippolito, an Oyster Bay town official, pleaded guilty in January 2016 to a federal tax evasion charge in connection with $2 million in outside consulting fees he received while working as the town’s planning and development commissioner. He resigned two days after his plea. He was sentenced in September 2016 to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $550,000 in restitution. Ippolito died in prison in June 2017. On Dec. 12, 2017, a federal appellate court vacated the conviction because he died while appealing his conviction. In June 2017, Ippolito was charged by Nassau County prosecutors; a judge ended that case in September 2017.

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The Town Democratic leader

Gerard Terry

Convicted of: Felony tax fraud (state), tax evasion (federal)

Charges: Tax fraud (state); tax evasion (federal)

Gerard Terry, the former North Hempstead Democratic Party leader, was charged in April and August 2016 with tax fraud after Nassau prosecutors said he compiled more than $1.4 million in tax debts while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in government work. He also was charged federally in February 2017 and pleaded not guilty. He resigned or was terminated from multiple public positions. In September 2017, Terry pleaded guilty in Nassau County to fourth-degree felony tax fraud. Terry pleaded guilty in October 2017 in federal court to tax evasion. He was sentenced on May 29 to serve three years in prison on the federal charges. On June 4, he was sentenced to 6 months in the state case.

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The District Attorney’s Aide

Christopher McPartland

Charges: Conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; accessory after the fact to the deprivation of John Doe’s civil rights

Christopher McPartland, one of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s chief aides, who ran the office’s political corruption unit, was indicted along with Spota in October 2017 on federal charges related to allegations the two were involved in a cover-up of ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s assault of a suspect. McPartland pleaded not guilty to the charges. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said McPartland since has been reassigned “to duties unrelated to his former responsibilities.”

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Producer: Heather Doyle

Designer: James Stewart

Photo credits: James Carbone, Charles Eckert, Ed Betz and Howard Schnapp

The Politics of Corruption: Ed Mangano

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano

Edward Mangano

Charges: Conspiracy to commit federal program bribery; federal program bribery; conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud; honest services wire fraud; extortion; conspiracy to obstruct justice

Edward Mangano, Nassau’s county executive, was indicted in October 2016 and accused by federal prosecutors of receiving “bribes and kickbacks” from businessman Harendra Singh, who has pleaded guilty to providing them. Mangano’s wife, Linda, was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements involving “work she claimed to have performed” in an alleged no-show job from Singh, according to the indictment and prosecutors. Both Manganos pleaded not guilty. A judge on May 31 declared a mistrial in both their cases and their retrial is set for October. Federal prosecutors filed a new indictment against the Manganos in August, adding details of statements to investigators by Linda that prosecutors allege are lies. The Manganos pleaded not guilty to the indictment at an arraignment.

The latest on the Mangano case

Aug. 8, 2018: Feds release new indictment against Edward, Linda Mangano July 26, 2018: Judge moves trial date of former Mangano aide to January June 17, 2018: Mangano paid attorney $900,000 from campaign fund June 28, 2018: Judge sets Oct. 9 as Mangano retrial date June 1, 2018: Prosecutors intend to retry Edward and Linda Mangano corruption case June 1, 2018: Foreman: Mangano jury was leaning toward acquittal May 31, 2018: Judge declares a mistrial in Edward and Linda Mangano corruption case May 31, 2018: Edward and Linda Mangano react with emotion after mistrial May 31, 2018: Power on Trial: After a wait, Mangano trial ends in a mistrial May 31, 2018: Editorial: Mangano-Venditto trial exposed a rotten political system May 30, 2018: Judge sends Mangano jury back to work after ‘deadlocked’ note May 30, 2018: Power on Trial: Mangano jury deliberations to enter Day 9 May 30, 2018: Mangano jury sends note to judge saying, ‘We are deadlocked’ May 30, 2018: Power on Trial: Jury restarts deliberations with a new member May 29, 2018: Mangano judge replaces juror who sent note; deliberations continue May 25, 2018: Mangano jurors leave for the holiday weekend without reaching a verdict May 25, 2018: Power on Trial: Jury deliberations will continue next week May 24, 2018: Respect for the solemn duty of a jury of one’s peers May 24, 2018: Venditto not guilty on all charges; jury deliberating Friday on Manganos May 23, 2018: Power on trial: A video show, and a lawyer returns May 23, 2018: Jurors in corruption trial ask to see footage of Mangano’s front door May 23, 2018: Power on trial: Who’s who in the Mangano-Venditto trial May 22, 2018: Jurors in Mangano-Venditto trial say they need ‘further instruction’ May 22, 2018: Power on Trial: When jurors disagree May 21, 2018: Jurors in political corruption case deliberate for second day May 19, 2018: Power on trial: The waiting game May 18, 2018: Jurors reach no verdict on 1st day of Mangano-Venditto deliberations May 18, 2018: At last — the jury deliberates in the Mangano-Venditto case May 17, 2018: Jurors in Mangano-Venditto corruption case to begin deliberations May 17, 2018: Power on trial: All eyes on the jury May 16, 2018: Judge: Former top aide to Edward Mangano goes on trial Sept. 17 May 16, 2018: Power on trial: Defense lawyers go after Harendra Singh May 16, 2018: Defense attorneys attack Singh’s credibility at Mangano-Venditto trial May 15, 2018: Mangano and Venditto ‘traded their office’ for money, prosecutor says in closings May 15, 2018: Power on Trial: Closing arguments May 15, 2018: Judge refuses to dismiss charges against Mangano, Venditto May 14, 2018: Power on Trial: ‘Time flies’ May 13, 2018: Feds could wrap case Monday in Mangano corruption trial May 12, 2018: Ed Mangano-John Venditto corruption trial attracts a crowd May 11, 2018: Power on trial: Financial footprints May 11, 2018: Judge rejects John Venditto lawyers’ mistrial request, court papers show May 11, 2018: Judge rejects John Venditto lawyers’ mistrial request, court papers show May 10, 2018: Power on trial: Two witnesses, two similar stories May 10, 2018: Contractor: I gave Mangano cash to help with problems May 10, 2018: Power on Trial: Analyst finds trouble in Oyster Bay May 9, 2018: Analyst: Town withheld info on Singh’s loans May 9, 2018: Financial advisers say they didn’t know about Singh loans May 8, 2018: Power on Trial: How much evidence is enough? May 7, 2018: Power on Trial: Some unexpected news May 7, 2018: Town of Oyster Bay masked $22 million deficit, witness testifies May 5, 2018: Nassau corruption trial: The tale of 329 Broadway May 3, 2018: FBI agent: Linda Mangano broke down in tears when subpoenaed for evidence May 3, 2018: Power on Trial: The signs of lying May 3, 2018: Records: Harendra Singh files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy May 3, 2018: Power on Trial: Of bribes and town salaries May 2, 2018: Genova testifies he was ‘in panic mode’ when he lied to prosecutors May 1, 2018: Genova testifies Singh’s perks ensured his problems were at the top of the pile May 1, 2018: Power on Trial: ‘Keys to the county’ April 30, 2018: Genova: Venditto was the force behind Singh’s contracts, loan guarantees April 30, 2018: Power on Trial: Genova describes how things work in Oyster Bay April 28, 2018: Mangano-Venditto trial: What’s the standard for guilt? April 26, 2018: Power on Trial: More witnesses testify about Linda Mangano April 26, 2018: Mangano witness: Company was ready to provide emergency Sandy meals April 25, 2018: Ex-restaurant manager for Singh testifies he didn’t see Linda Mangano at eatery April 25, 2018: Power on Trial: After blackout, a light moment in Mangano trial April 24, 2018: Power on Trial: Town knew it was backing Singh loans, witness says April 24, 2018: Mangano was force behind no-bid Sandy contract for Singh, witness testifies April 23, 2018: Power on Trial: Mangano, lender talked Coliseum financing, witness says April 23, 2018: Singh almost didn’t get superstorm Sandy food contract, witness says April 23, 2018: Former Nassau employees to testify in Mangano-Venditto trial April 21, 2018: Nassau corruption trial: Finding an end-around on loan guarantees April 20, 2018: Power on Trial: Sinnreich faces off with Mangano’s defense attorney April 20, 2018: Outside counsel testifies he cautioned Oyster Bay on ‘bogus’ proposal April 19, 2018: Witness testifies Mangano told others on Singh deal ‘Let’s get this thing done’ April 18, 2018: Power on Trial: Mangano urged Singh deal to be done, witness says April 17, 2018: Venditto, Genova viewed FBI probe as ‘rite of passage,’ Mei testifies April 17, 2018: Power on Trial: Mei says he feared for his job, pension April 17, 2018: Power on Trial: Mei says he feared for his job, pension April 16, 2018: Power on Trial: How the system works, according to Mei April 14, 2018: Nassau corruption trial: Wrangling over town loan guarantees April 14, 2018: Power on Trial: Seeking a solution for Singh’s financing April 12, 2018: Witness: Surprised seeing Mangano, Venditto at loan meeting April 12, 2018: Power on Trial: Judge in Mangano trial also presiding over Spota case April 12, 2018: Power on Trial: Judge in Mangano trial also presiding over Spota case April 11, 2018: Power on Trial: Lawyer has no ‘independent recollection’ April 11, 2018: VIPs ate for free at Singh’s venues, Mangano witness trial says April 10, 2018: Power on Trial: Installed flooring and backing for a loan April 10, 2018: Town of Oyster Bay ‘would be on the hook’ if Singh defaulted, witness testifies April 9, 2018: Power on Trial: New witnesses for the prosecution testify April 9, 2018: Montesano testifies he was pressured to hire Linda Mangano April 9, 2018: Montesano testifies he was pressured to hire Linda Mangano April 9, 2018: Power on Trial: New witnesses for the prosecution testify April 7, 2018: Nassau corruption trial: Parsing the meaning of truth and love April 5, 2018: Power on Trial: Mr. Singh, ‘you’re excused’ April 5, 2018: Harendra Singh ends testimony in Mangano’s trial April 4, 2018: Power on Trial: Just answer yes or no, Mr. Singh April 4, 2018: Singh: Oyster Bay ‘was willing to do whatever I wanted’ April 3, 2018: Power on Trial: Linda Mangano did some work April 3, 2018: Singh: I was unaware of Linda Mangano’s workload April 2, 2018: Power on Trial: Carman begins quizzing Singh April 2, 2018: Singh testifies he was ‘in denial’ at Mangano’s trial March 31, 2018: Power on Trial: Scenes from the Mangano trial March 31, 2018: Mangano defense attacks Singh March 29, 2018: Power on Trial: Mei wears a wire to talk to Singh March 29, 2018: Singh FBI wire: Ed Mangano did ‘nothing, nothing’ for me March 28, 2018: Singh: Edward Mangano paid for some of his own meals March 28, 2018: Power on Trial: Singh’s 7th day on the witness stand March 28, 2018: Ciolli: Did Mondello get discount on daughter’s wedding? March 27, 2018: Power on Trial: Scenes from an Italian restaurant March 27, 2018: Linda Mangano asked Singh not to bring gifts to parties, texts show March 26, 2018: Power on Trial: The defense attacks Singh’s credibility March 26, 2018: Singh details perks at Mangano’s corruption trial March 24, 2018: Power on Trial: A glimpse into a political rite of passage March 24, 2018: Singh, in his testimony, describes lavishing gifts on officials March 22, 2018: Singh testifies he gave Venditto, family countless free luxury rides March 22, 2018: Power on Trial: Singh, in testimony, drops a lot of names March 20, 2018: Singh: Mangano, VIPs got ‘special food’ for superstorm Sandy March 20, 2018: Power on Trial: Singh tells how he got a bread contract March 19, 2018: Power on Trial: Singh talks patronage, building an empire March 19, 2018: Singh testifies he hired Linda Mangano but expected no work from her March 17, 2018: Singh learned to make friends in Nassau politics March 16, 2018: Mangano, Venditto “circumvented” permit process, prosecutors allege March 16, 2018: Editorial: Don’t confuse political corruption with friendship March 15, 2018: Power on Trial: Harendra Singh takes the witness stand March 15, 2018: In Mangano, Singh said he saw a ‘connection’ to help his business March 14, 2018: Singh laundered money for Mangano, prosecutors allege March 14, 2018: Feds say Mangano ‘sold himself’; defense attacks Singh’s credibility March 14, 2018: Power on Trial: Low-show jobs and witness credibility March 13, 2018: Singh to play major role in trial of Manganos, Venditto March 12, 2018: Jury seated for Mangano-Venditto corruption trial March 12, 2018: Judge on Mangano case described as fair, ‘brilliant’ and tough March 12, 2018: Power on Trial: Jury is seated in Mangano trial March 11, 2018: Mangano-Venditto corruption trial kicks off March 10, 2018: How crises plagued Mangano’s two terms March 8, 2018: Judge: Mangano, Venditto trial on schedule March 6, 2018: Editorial: Another way to end culture of corruption in Nassau County March 5, 2018: Papers: Mangano, Venditto trial witness gets immunity to testify March 3, 2018: Editorial: Break up Long Island’s political game Feb. 28, 2018: Judge bars decisions on de Blasio in Mangano case Feb. 26, 2018: Editorial: Patrick Ryder needs to keep Nassau County police above politics Feb. 26, 2018: Brown: Corruption fight needs more than a gift ban Feb. 26, 2018: Laura Curran orders no-gift policy for employees involved in contracting Feb. 24, 2018: Court filing alleges Singh dealings with NYC mayor Feb. 22, 2018: Editorial: Details still to come in latest Nassau County corruption case Feb. 22, 2018: Former Mangano aide Rob Walker indicted on federal charges Feb. 19, 2018: Records: Figure in Mangano-Venditto case wore wire Feb. 10, 2018: Harendra Singh repeatedly sought City Hall’s help, documents show Feb. 9, 2018: Judge in Mangano corruption case rejects all defense motions Feb. 7, 2018: Mangano, Venditto schemed at meeting to guarantee loans, feds allege Feb. 8, 2018: Opinion: Stop the decline of the Nassau GOP Feb. 7, 2018: Jury selection date set for Mangano-Venditto trial Feb. 3, 2018: In Nassau corruption cases, the witness list begins to take shape Jan. 30, 2018: Claiming ‘selective prosecution,’ Mangano wants indictment dismissed Jan. 24, 2018: Singh admits bribing Mangano, Venditto, NYC official Jan. 17, 2018: Feds turn over documents, materials in Mangano-Venditto case Jan. 14, 2018: Lawyers for Manganos and Venditto file flurry of pretrial motions Dec. 5, 2017: Judge delays Edward Mangano, John Venditto trial for two months Nov. 30, 2017: John Venditto, Edward Mangano ask for delay in corruption case Nov. 21, 2017: John Venditto, ex-Oyster Bay town supervisor, charged by SEC Nov. 15, 2017: Scheme to help restaurateur began when Mangano took office, court filing says Nov. 15, 2017: Oyster Bay legal bills related to Singh cases top $3.3M Oct. 30, 2017: GOP and Dems clash on alleged plot to indict Edward Mangano Oct. 30, 2017: GOP and Dems clash on alleged plot to indict Edward Mangano Oct. 17, 2017: Editorial: Keep a spotlight on nepotism in Long Island government Oct. 14, 2017: Over 100 Nassau politicians also have family in government Sept. 27, 2017: Brown: Will Skelos’ overturned conviction affect Mangano, Venditto? Sept. 25, 2017: Brown: Nassau towns suddenly embrace ethics reform Sept. 6, 2017: Venditto court papers seek dismissal of corruption charges Aug. 30, 2017: Mangano’s wife to judge: Dismiss criminal case Aug. 26, 2017: Brown: Edward Mangano, officially a lame duck, plots his future Aug. 11, 2017: Curran outraises Maragos in primary for Nassau executive July 26, 2017: De Blasio addresses top aides’ help to indicted donor Singh July 22, 2017: Brown: Lawmakers in Nassau push anti-corruption reforms in election year July 19, 2017: Edward Mangano’s fundraising dwindles July 17, 2017: Edward Mangano loses shot at possible re-election bid July 16, 2017: Editorial: Business as usual for Nassau GOP Inc. July 13, 2017: Mangano won’t seek third term as Republican July 10, 2017: Town sues former concessionaire, attorneys July 5, 2017: Nassau GOP eyes Election Day with its anti-corruption stance May 20, 2017: Nassau investigations chief Donna Myrill touts independence May 18, 2017: Nassau GOP taps state Sen. Jack Martins as county exec candidate April 30, 2017: GOP bill would ban public corruption felons from county office April 29, 2017: Nassau GOP chairman recalls telling Mangano he was being dropped March 15, 2017: Despite indictment, Manganos plan women’s event March 1, 2017: Source: GOP searching for Nassau exec candidate Feb 22, 2017: Nassau DA wiretapped 3 former Oyster Bay officials, sources say Feb 20, 2017: Mangano, Nassau GOP lawmaker in unusual split Feb. 12, 2017: Indicted concessionaire owes Oyster Bay nearly $300,000 Feb. 10, 2017: Nassau grand jury probing Oyster Bay corruption, sources say Feb. 9, 2017: Brown: Charges against Mangano will hang over election season Feb. 8, 2017: Mangano won’t face trial before 2018 Feb. 8, 2017: Brown: Mangano says ‘I’m not going anywhere’ Jan. 10, 2017: Mangano unlikely to be renominated for county exec, sources say Jan. 4, 2017: Federal bribery trial for Harendra Singh indefinitely delayed Dec. 31, 2016: Mangano says he’s been taking care of business since indictment Oct. 24, 2016: Mangano took $17,007 pay raise despite ongoing budget cuts Oct. 24, 2016: Federal charges vs. Venditto will not impact town lawsuits, lawyer says Oct. 20, 2016: Brown: New reality for Mangano, John Venditto Oct. 20, 2016: Harendra Singh is businessman at center of probes Oct. 20, 2016: Mangano, Venditto arrested on corruption charges, Feds say Nov. 21, 2015: LI pols attended galas, raised funds for Singh charity Nov. 9, 2015: Mangano’s calendar: No appearances when he might be on vacation with Singh Oct. 24, 2015: Town OK’d Singh’s contracts despite late bills, documents show Sept. 22, 2015: Whistleblower says Nassau DA failed to act in 2013 on key documents Sept. 13: 2015: Singh boasted about Mangano, other officials, gave them free meals, employees say Aug. 22, 2015: Town helped Singh get $16M in private loans exposing taxpayers to liabilities Aug. 9, 2015: Singh, contractor arranged, paid for trips for Mangano, other officials June 30, 2015: Restaurateur Harendra Singh, involved in Oyster Bay lawsuits, has ties to Mangano, records show
Other LI officials charged with abuse of power

Summer hazards and how to avoid them

A firefighter cools down after battling a house fire in Huntington on Aug. 5. Credit: Steve Silverman

It’s the season for sun, fun, ice cream and … trauma.

That’s the warning given by doctors at a news conference at Nassau University Medical Center at the start of the summer.

The so-called “trauma season” brings heat-related cases to emergency rooms, and activities like boating and swimming come with their own hazards.

Here are some common hazards of the summer season and expert advice on how to avoid them:

Avoiding the dangers of flash flooding

On average, more people are killed by flooding than any other single severe weather event, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most deaths occur at night and when people are trapped in vehicles. NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer these tips for staying safe:

  • Do not drive onto a flooded roadway. The water depth may not be obvious or the roadway may no longer be intact under the water. Take caution driving on wet roads, too. You can easily hydroplane and lose control of your vehicle. Do not drive at all if not necessary. One foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away.
  • If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside. If water rises inside the vehicle, climb to the roof.
  • Do not walk, swim or play in flood water. Swiftly moving water can sweep you away and even 6 inches of flowing water can cause you to fall. Hazardous pollution in the water and electrocution due to fallen power lines are also concerns.
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. If you live in a flood zone, prepare yourself and your family to leave quickly.

🌊How to escape a riptide

Rip currents are “powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Swimmers who get caught in rip currents should not fight the water by trying to swim straight back to the beach because they can get easily fatigued and drown, officials. They must swim parallel to shore and then swim back to land at an angle.

Here’s a guide released by Atlantic Beach officials ahead of the July Fourth holiday:

How to stay safe on a boat

  • Boater education: Learn the rules and your responsibilities. Seventy percent of boating accidents occur due to operator error.
  • Check your vessel: Both the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons have certified vessel examiners who will perform a free vessel safety check. There are no consequences if a boat does not pass. You can sign up for an inspection here.
  • Wear life jackets: More than 80 percent of boating fatality victims might have survived had they worn life jackets.
  • Don’t drink while boating: One-third of recreational boating accidents that resulted in deaths involved the use of alcohol.
  • Paddlers have a safety responsibility too: Canoeing, kayaking, rafting and stand-up paddle boarding can come with their own hazards. Among other tips, the American Canoe Association recommend you understand the dangers of cold water and the “rules of the road.” Some busy waterways have “lanes of travel.” It’s recommended that paddlers stay close to the shore to avoid larger watercraft. If a motorized craft is causing a wake, turn your bow into the wave and don’t take the wake motion broadside. You are less likely to capsize that way.
  • File a “float plan” — a form that describes your vessel, passengers and planned navigation – with a reliable person on land. You can download one from the Coast Guard here.
  • Carbon monoxide prevention: To protect yourself and others, know where CO can accumulate in and around your boat. Maintain fresh air circulation at all times and run exhaust blowers whenever the generator is on. CO symptoms are similar to seasickness or intoxication – treat symptoms of seasickness as possible CO poisoning and get the person into fresh air immediately.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Gina Lieneck of Deer Park, whose 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed in a boating accident in 2005, spoke at a safety class in Bethpage on Sunday.

🐕Pet safety in the heat, at the beach and in the water


  • If your dog is outside on a hot day, make sure he has a shady spot to rest. Doghouses are not good shelter during the summer as they can trap heat. You may want to fill a child’s wading pool with fresh water for your dog to cool off in.
  • Never leave your dog in a closed vehicle on a hot day. The temperature inside a car can rise to over 100 degrees in a matter of minutes.
  • Always provide plenty of cool, fresh water.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise on extremely hot days. Take walks in the early mornings or evenings, when the sun’s heat is less intense.
  • Try to avoid prolonged exposure to hot asphalt or sand, which can burn your dog’s paws.
  • Dogs that are brachycephalic (short-faced), such as Bulldogs, Boxers, Japanese Chins, and Pekingese, have an especially hard time in the heat because they do not pant as efficiently as longer-faced dogs. Keep your brachycephalic dog inside with air-conditioning.

    • Dogs, especially those with short hair, white fur, and pink skin, can sunburn. Limit your dog’s exposure during the day and apply sunblock to his ears and nose 30 minutes before going outside.
    • Check with a lifeguard for daily water conditions. Dogs are easy targets for sea lice and jellyfish.
    • Do not let your dog drink seawater; the salt will make him sick.
    • Most dogs enjoy swimming, but some cannot swim, and others may hate the water. Be conscious of your dog’s preferences and skills before trying to make him swim.
    • Never throw your dog into the water.
    • If swimming at the ocean, be careful of strong tides.
    • If you have your own pool, make sure your dog knows where the stairs or ladder are located. Be sure that pool covers are firmly in place; dogs have been known to slip in under openings in the covers and drown.
    • Never leave your dog unattended in water.

    For more summer dog tips, visit the AKC at

🎆Is there a safe way to handle fireworks?

All consumer fireworks, including firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles and even sparklers, are illegal in New York State. But that doesn’t mean they don’t find their way here.

To demonstrate the dangers of fireworks, emergency responders blew up a shed using 30 boxes of fireworks, firecrackers and mortars seized in June from a storage locker in Medford (see above). The raid led to the arrest of a Shirley man on charges of illegal storage of explosives and unlawfully dealing with fireworks.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported eight fireworks-related deaths in 2017, with victims ranging in age from 4 to 57. Fireworks also led to an estimated 12,900 emergency room visits nationwide — about two-thirds occurring around the July Fourth holiday, the commission said.

Suffolk Police Deputy Inspector Donald Raber also warned of the dangers of sparklers, which are prohibited in both counties.

“Sparklers can burn at over 2,000 degrees,” he said, leading potentially to second-degree burns to the fingers and face.

Long Islanders caught using a sparkler face a fine of up to $500. Anyone selling the devices could face 15 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Recommended safety tips

If you do find yourself around fireworks, the National Council on Fireworks Safety and the American Pyrotechnics Safety & Education Foundation offer some advice:

  • Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
  • Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  • A responsible adult should supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
  • Do not operate fireworks under the influence of alcohol.
  • Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks and keep spectators at a safe distance.
  • Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
  • Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them into metal or glass containers.
  • Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  • FAA regulations prohibit the possession and transportation of fireworks in your checked baggage or carry-on luggage.
  • Report illegal explosives, like M-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department.

🚗What to consider before your teen heads out

Be cautious of where your teen wants to drive and with whom. Car crashes are one of the biggest concerns as young drivers out of school hit the roads with friends in tow.

The National Safety Council, a nonprofit public safety organization, said in a news release that teen drivers increase their risk of getting in a motor vehicle accident by 44 percent by having a single young passenger. The risk of an accident increases as the number of teen passengers in the car increases, the organization said.

More than 2,800 teens were killed in motor-vehicle crashes in 2016, according to the National Safety Council’s research. More than 75 percent of parents are unaware that car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, the NSC found. Most fatal nighttime crashes involving teen drivers happen between 9 p.m. and midnight, so prom season is a particular concern and the council advised parents not to let kids drive themselves to the event.

The same goes for other summertime celebrations like graduations or graduation parties — especially when teens may be exposed to alcohol.

🏊Precautions for backyard pools

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4, according to Pool Safely, a national public education campaign that aims to reduce child drownings.

The campaign offers these tips to stay safe around pools:

  • Never leave a child unattended in or near water.
  • Teach children how to swim. There may be free or reduced-cost options at your local YMCA, USA Swimming chapter or Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Teach children to stay away from drains. Children’s hair, limbs, bathing suits or jewelry can get stuck in a drain or suction opening. Ensure all pools and spas have compliant drain covers and never enter a pool that has a loose, broken or missing drain cover.
  • Install proper barriers, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa. Teach children never to try to climb the barrier.
  • Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.

How a 3D printer works

In 2018, printing a document or photo is as simple as hitting a button and the finished product arrives in seconds. But what happens when you add an extra dimension?

Over the last several years, 3D printing has exploded and you’ll find specialized machines at libraries, universities or even your local office supply store. Still, 3D printers haven’t matched the ubiquity of their 2D cousins and an ongoing debate over legalizing 3D printed guns is bringing the technology to a new audience.

Additive manufacturing — 3D printing by another name — was invented in the 1980s and today, there are a variety of different methods and classes of printers. With the right machinery, you can build an object with just about any material, from ceramic to copper to resin, though plastic is the most common, especially at the consumer level.

At the most basic level, it’s similar to regular printing, just imagine the machine pouring plastic in vertical layers instead of ink in horizontal lines.

“The whole idea of additive manufacturing is that you put things down a layer at a time,” said Edward Currie, associate professor of engineering at Hofstra University. “When you build a house, you put down the foundation and then you start putting up the bricks and the walls.”

Making a 3D model

Unlike a traditional 2D printer, 3D printers require special files known as blueprints that specify the dimensions for a 3D object.

A process called “slicing” follows the blueprint and divides 3D drawings into the layers that the printer will trace out.

“The technical knowledge side of it is coming up with the drawings. That’s where the real work is,” Currie said. “It’s like when you print a word document, you just hit print. What’s the hard part? It’s creating the document, same thing.”

There are three ways to get a computer assisted design file.

You can draw the object yourself, using CAD software to create a 3D digital model, or you can use someone else’s blueprints. You can also replicate an existing item by using a laser and scanning software to create a blueprint.

Waiting for results

To create the object, you just hit print. It’s as simple as it sounds. The rest of the work is for the printer to do, Currie said.

The printer works like an oversized glue gun, eating up spools of plastic filament.

“We start with material that’s pretty thick, and you pass it through a heated nozzle and you force it to come out,” Currie said. “Out the other side comes something thinner than a human hair.”

The printer’s computer sees the object as a series of points on a plane, according to Makerbot, one of the leading manufacturers of 3D printers.

The printer’s nozzle moves between these points, depositing plastic on a printer tray along the way.

The time required for printing depends on what the user is creating. A night vision goggle frame Currie designed took 56 hours.

The time required will depend on the size of the object, the desired quality of the finish and how solid it is — tighter infill patterns take longer than loose ones, a smoother finish takes longer than a rough one.

All done

The final result may be a solid object or parts that need to be put together.

The quality of printers varies significantly, which is an important consideration, Currie said.

3D printers are available for as little as a few hundred dollars and as much as hundreds of thousands. If exact dimensions are important to you — such as if you’re printing several objects that need to fit together like a puzzle — you’ll need a machine that’s much more expensive. Cheaper printers also can’t produce as smooth of a finish.

On Thursday, printers in Currie’s lab hummed for several hours, slowly building the latest version of wound closure clips. Once finished, magnets are attached.

The clips can be attached to either side of an open wound and the magnets will hold the wound together. A whole set can be used to close a wound more precisely than traditional stitches.

And if anything is not quite right with the clip, Currie just starts over. Traditionally, he’d have to request a new piece from the machine shop, which could take days or weeks. That’s the beauty of 3D printing, he said.

Deciding what to print

It’s a useful tool for creating prototypes and building models, Currie said. Jay Leno famously uses a 3D printer to replicate unavailable parts for restored cars so the parts can be custom manufactured.

In Currie’s lab, they’ve created dozens if not hundreds of versions of magnetic clips that can be used to help close open wounds, and other objects.

But uses are limited. Not every item is suited to be made from plastic — it’s fine for a robotic arm gear or a toy, but not practical for items that need to withstand high pressure or temperature. For example, experts said 3D printed plastic guns — which prosecutors say are illegal in New York state — are only durable enough for one or a few shots depending on the model, before they fall apart.

Read more about 3D printed guns here.

Home remodeling nonprofit spends 296 days on family’s free renovation

Long Island contractors Gina Cantone-Centauro, left, her husband Vincent Centauro, right, and her brother Michael Cantone, take a selfie with the Tribble brothers after revealing their remodeled Wyandanch home on June 25. Photo credit: Danielle Silverman

Gina Cantone-Centauro, her brother, Michael Cantone, and her husband, Vincent Centauro, have been repairing and remodeling homes across the Island for more than a decade.

But for the past two years, the trio who run the Franklin Square-based home remodeling business Truly Unique Designs has been doing it for free.

“Families would call us to repair a bathroom, but when we’d get there, we’d find out that the need was actually far greater,” said Cantone-Centauro, 47, who explained the financial struggles of working-class people hit close to home for the couple, who at the time were taking care of two of their parents who were sick. “And we’re not referring to repairs of a frivolous or aesthetic nature, we’re talking living conditions. In those situations, Vinny and I would just make the decision to go ahead and fix whatever else needed repairing.”

And would always do so at no additional cost.

“Until finally, one morning I woke up,” Vincent Centauro, 39, said, “turned to Gina and said ‘Hey, I have an idea!’ and that’s when I told her about creating a nonprofit, and of course she and, later, Michael were both onboard.”

The Franklin Square couple then hired an attorney to help them navigate the process of creating Rescuing Families Inc., a nonprofit aimed at helping disabled and disadvantaged Long Islanders by providing free home repair and remodeling services. They sent an email blast about their new project to all their contacts and posted about it on Facebook.

“We wanted to test the waters and kind of put the word out about what we were trying to do,” Cantone-Centauro said.

She described what came next as “overwhelming.”

“It was like the floodgates had opened,” she said. “I must’ve gotten more than a hundred emails from people who were asking for help, and once I posted a formal application, I got about 400.”

The Rescuing Families Inc. application includes a background check that involves looking into the applicant’s criminal and financial history. The purpose is to eliminate homes set for short sale or foreclosure as well as applicants who are not seeking employment or who are unwilling to be treated for addiction.

But despite the volume of applicants, choosing that first family to help was, “considering the conditions this family was living in,” said Cantone-Centauro, “not hard at all. It was a unanimous decision.”

Tribbles in trouble

Karla Benavides has worked for three years as an independent broker, creating budgets and daily living plans for people with disabilities and whose work is overseen by state agencies like the New York Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

She was contacted in May 2016 by Bruce Tribble’s Medicaid service coordinator. About 30 years ago Tribble, 59, who has cerebral palsy, sustained a head injury that left him unable to walk. He now uses a motorized wheelchair.

Bruce Tribble’s Medicaid service coordinator, who is designated by the state to assist people with developmental disabilities by advocating for services they need, reached out to Benavides to coordinate an individualized plan that would help him maximize his independence.

“There was no way I could move on without trying to do something to help them.”
–Karla Benavides

Tribble was at the time living with his brother, John Tribble III, 58, in their deceased parents’ Wyandanch home.

“I took the case and visited the home,” Benavides said.

“It was a lot to take in. It was not livable,” she said. “There was no heat. No kitchen. They were living out of basically only one room, the living room. It was almost as if they were living in an abandoned home.”

Benavides said she was startled by the amount of debris in the home, the lack of space for the brothers to safely move around in and the fact that there was no running water.

Both Tribble parents were hoarders, John Tribble said. When they died, the brothers were on their own. John, stressed by the responsibility of taking care of his disabled brother, became distracted and was fired from his job. He too started to battle a hoarding addiction.

“John had made a contraption using a bucket so that Bruce could go to the bathroom because he couldn’t lift him from his wheelchair by himself,” Benavides said. “There was no way I could move on without trying to do something to help them.”

Benavides then learned about Rescuing Families and emailed Cantone-Centauro to tell her about the Tribbles. She urged John Tribble to apply, which he did.

And he sent pictures.

Route to rebuilding

Rescuing Families Inc. started working on the Tribble home in May 2017, almost a year after Benavides’ initial visit.

“Before we could start working on the renovation we had to cut through a lot of red tape,” said Cantone-Centauro. “We had to prove our intentions and our nonprofit status to several state organizations involved with Bruce’s care before we could even step foot in the house to as much as begin removing garbage.”

The impending renovation shed light on the Tribble brothers’ living situation and led Adult Protective Services to declare the property uninhabitable and to remove Bruce Tribble from the home in April 2017, Cantone-Centauro said.

He was then placed in the care of Hauppauge-based nonprofit Home Injury Associates and now lives in a group home. Despite being crushed by the separation from his brother, John Tribble continued living in the home throughout the rebuilding process.

Cantone-Centauro, her husband and brother, along with about eight volunteers, worked on the Tribble home renovation for 296 days, collectively clocking in more than 1,000 volunteer hours.

Together they rid the house of 12 dump trucks’ worth of debris and garbage, removed hazardous wooden structures and contraptions John made to facilitate life for Bruce, removed the garage, which had been condemned, and gutted the inside of the house to make it wheelchair accessible.

“The home also had a leaky roof, so there was mold and severe water damage throughout the inside of the house,” Michael Cantone said.

Asking for help

The group went door to door asking other small-business owners to donate materials and time to complete the project. But Cantone said they were “turned down a lot.”

“It was frustrating,” Centauro said. “Some people said they would help us but didn’t. They either wouldn’t show up or would suddenly stop returning our calls.”

However, many businesses did step up, among them Cancos Tile, a Farmingville-based company that donated tile, countertops and sinks, and Green Art Plumbing, in Freeport, which donated plumbing fixtures.

V. Guinta & Son Roofing Co., based in Franklin Square, installed the roof, and students from the Electrical Training Center, in Copiague, rewired the house.

“For us, it meant long work hours at the home, less time dedicated to our business, late payments on our own mortgage . . . it was a bit stressful, but we got it done.”
–Gina Cantone-Centauro

“Once we met with Gina and learned about the work they were doing, we knew we wanted to help in any way we could,” said Bernadette White, co-owner of Cancos Tile. “We thought it was such a great cause.”

Sue Viscardi, 58, of New Hyde Park, met the Cantone-Centauros through mutual friends and has volunteered with Rescuing Families for about 18 months. She has mainly assisted the nonprofit with fundraising at its monthly yard sale, setting up and breaking down, and in the time leading up to each event, picking up and dropping off donations.

“What’s really struck me is how unaware Gina and Vinny are of how much they’re really helping people,” Viscardi said. “They like to say they’re doing it one home at a time, but it’s not true. A family who had just gotten out of Section 8 [housing] had moved to a new apartment but had nothing. The children were sleeping on pillows on the floor. They came to the yard sale and Gina gave them the couch they were looking to buy. I mean, she and Vinny practically furnished their place and delivered the items to them, too.”

Another volunteer, Mary Attianese, 58, of Valley Stream, said volunteering with Rescuing Families has given her an opportunity to give back despite not being financially well-off herself.

Along with a few other volunteers, Attianese spent about five nights cleaning and polishing items found in the debris inside the Tribble home.

Some of the items salvaged included dishes, pots and pans, artwork done by John and Bruce’s mother, and smaller things like Matchbox cars and Smurf figurines.

“Every night I came home drained, but fell asleep with a full heart,” Attianese said.

The Cantone-Centauros said they invested $110,000 of their own money to repair the property and that completing the renovation took “sheer determination and sacrifice.”

“Towards the end it was really tough. It was one big push by a small group of people,” Cantone-Centauro said. “For us, it meant long work hours at the home, less time dedicated to our business, late payments on our own mortgage … it was a bit stressful, but we got it done.”

The big reveal

When the long-awaited day of the big reveal finally came in late June, Rescuing Families invited the small-business owners and volunteers who helped along the way to attend.

But it’s safe to say that no guest was as special as Bruce Tribble. And no one present was as excited to see him as John was.

“It’s different for me because I lived it every step of the way,” John Tribble said. “What I’m really excited about is having my brother here and having him see everything. Yeah, having my brother here, that’s what’s special.”

It was easy to see by the constant smile on Bruce’s face and the way he doted on John that the feeling was mutual.

The nonprofit’s founders surprised Bruce, a big-time sports fan, with a New York Knicks-decorated room, a fully handicap-accessible bathroom and shower, living room area and outside ramp.

“Me? I had a dream about this,” Bruce Tribble said. “In my spirit, I helped John with the house. Me and John did the whole thing together. Right now, I’m happy.”

And though for now, Bruce Tribble is to continue living in the group home, he can visit the home whenever he likes.

“We can watch movies or go to church,” John Tribble said. “It’s just nice knowing he can come over again.”

As John Tribble moves forward with his new life, he continues to be mentored by Suffolk County Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis.

Through the Council of Thought and Action (COTA), a support group in Wyandanch for the formerly incarcerated that she founded 10 years ago, Mention-Lewis has helped John Tribble deal with some of his deep-rooted emotional issues. Since joining COTA, Tribble has gotten free job training, professional clothes for interviews and, eventually, work.

“John has said that Head Injury Associates is helping Bruce, Rescuing Families is rebuilding their home and that COTA is helping him rebuild himself,” Mention-Lewis said.

“But what this family [Gina, Vincent and Michael] has done, it goes above and beyond just the house,” she said. “What they’ve done is life-changing, it was the catalyst, the spark that got everything else going. Before this, John was surviving. They gave him an opportunity to live.”


When Gil Melograno met Gina Cantone-Centauro and her husband, Vincent Centauro, founders of the nonprofit organization Rescuing Families Inc., for the first time and began volunteering with them, he was already performing a service the couple described as “admirable.”

“Gil came to us in an odd capacity,” Cantone-Centauro said.

“He originally came to the house because he works with a disabled young man who wanted to volunteer, and then instead of leaving, decided to stay and consistently gave us his 110 percent commitment and support.”

Melograno, 51, of Smithtown, is a support staff member with Hauppauge-based Independent Support Services, a company that provides self-directed services and acts as the fiscal intermediary to people with developmental disabilities throughout New York State.

He’s been with the company for about five years and has worked with people with developmental disabilities for the past nine. Empowering people with disabilities to improve the quality of their own lives is his passion, Melograno said.

It was through his work with Chris Silverman, 31, of Bohemia, that Melograno became involved with the project. Melograno said he assists Silverman “with a range of daily living activities, including budgeting, cooking and preparing meals, job applications, if need be, and transportation to and from events and volunteer opportunities like the one with Gina and Vinny.”

Melograno said he dug right into the project the first day he drove Silverman to volunteer at the Rescuing Families’ job site in Wyandanch. And he stayed the course, volunteering alongside Silverman for the duration.

“Gil did not have to do any of the work he did,” Cantone-Centauro said. “He jumped in without knowing us, worked his butt off, and was on-site every other day, laying gravel, breaking concrete, and even took it upon himself to pay for and rent a jackhammer that we needed to get some work done.”

Melograno also helped with the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, picking up and dropping off donations that were then sold at a monthly yard sale at the Cantone-Centauro home in Franklin Square.

Cantone-Centauro and her husband said Melograno’s ability to motivate the crew to bounce back from long hours working on home renovations, with humor and genuine concern for others, made him a pleasure to be around.

Melograno often surprised the couple by bringing them food on days when they barely got a minute to break for lunch.

“He’s just so caring and selfless,” Cantone-Centauro said.

Melograno said he’s unsure that he’s deserving of such glowing adjectives, but he’s eager to dive into the next Rescuing Families project. “My chain saw is ready,” he said.


There are many opportunities for volunteers who would like to help Rescuing Families Inc. carry out its mission of providing free home renovating and remodeling services to people in need.

Volunteers can participate in such home-renovation activities as painting, cleaning and rebuilding alongside Rescuing Families staff; may assist in such fundraising efforts as picking up, dropping off and sorting items donated by the community to be sold at Rescuing Families’ monthly yard sales; participate in setting up and breaking down activities on yard-sale days; and participate in other charity fundraising events.

Volunteers must be at least 16, fill out an application given to them by nonprofit staff, and complete a one-hour on-site safety training before working on any project. Wearing rugged, closed-toe shoes, such as sneakers or work boots, is also required. Protective work gear, such as gloves, ear and eye protection, will be provided by staff and must be worn at the job site.

Construction experience is preferred but not required; “a willingness to work and a team spirit” are, said Gina Cantone-Centauro, a co-founder of the group.

FUNDRAISING ACTIVITIES will be held throughout the year and include:

-An all–you–can–eat “Barbeque Bash” on Aug. 4 at 1010 Lewiston St., Franklin Square. The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $20.

-Charity yard sales from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16 and Oct. 13 and 14 at 1010 Lewiston St., Franklin Square.

INFO Call Gina Cantone-Centauro at 516-697-9403 or send an email to or to Volunteer opportunities can also be found through the group’s Rescuing Families Volunteers public group on Facebook.


REBUILDING TOGETHER LONG ISLAND an affiliate of Rebuilding Together, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to repairing homes and revitalizing communities. The work now done by the group started in Midland, Texas, in 1973 and began with the simple act of neighbors helping neighbors. In 1988, Rebuilding Together opened its national office. The nonprofit now has 132 affiliates across the nation.

Volunteer opportunities include carpentry, electrical, painting and plumbing work. On-site training is provided for skilled and unskilled workers. Volunteers, who can perform home visits to assess the needs of selected families, are needed.

Contact: 631-777-7894;

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY SUFFOLK is an independently operated organization is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. The nonprofit organization works in nearly 1,400 communities across the United States and in about 70 countries. Its mission is to bring people together to build homes and communities. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage.

Volunteers age 16 and older can participate in the group’s year-round building efforts and help with framing, wallboard and floor installation, wall insulation, painting and landscaping.

Contact: Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk 631-422-4828, ext. 108; or visit and click on “Create New Account.”

LONG ISLAND VOLUNTEER CENTER For more volunteer information and opportunities, call 516-564-5482 or go to

The Politics of Corruption: Thomas Spota

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota

Thomas Spota

Charges:Conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; accessory after the fact to the deprivation of John Doe’s civil rights

Thomas Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, was indicted in October 2017 on federal charges that he was involved in a cover-up of ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s 2012 assault of a suspect. U.S. attorneys say Spota, along with longtime aide Christopher McPartland, intimidated and pressured witnesses not to cooperate with federal investigators in order to protect Burke. Spota pleaded not guilty to the charges. A day after his plea, he announced he would leave the office he has held since 2002. His last day in office was Nov. 10, 2017.

The latest on the Spota case

July 18, 2018: Editorial: Corruption trials demand reforms July 20, 2018: Feds close to turning over evidence in Spota case July 11, 2018: Ex-Spota aide McPartland gets legal defense fund July 2, 2018: Brown: Stay tuned. More corruption trials are to come April 12, 2018: Power on Trial: Judge in Mangano trial also presiding over Spota case April 12, 2018: Federal judge sets Spota trial date Jan. 26, 2018: Spota, former aide make brief court appearance in cover-up case Feb. 1, 2018: Suffolk agrees to settle Christopher Loeb’s lawsuit, officials say Jan. 26, 2018: Spota, former aide make brief court appearance in cover-up case Jan. 11, 2018: Spota paid $154,000 to defense from campaign fund Jan. 7, 2018: Former Thomas Spota aide hired by Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. Jan. 2, 2018: Editorial: Tough but clear path for Sini Dec. 23, 2017: Arc of Thomas Spota’s career marked by close relationship with police Dec. 1, 2017: Thomas Spota’s aide wants government to pay for current attorney Nov. 21, 2017: Records: Suffolk DA’s office bonuses totaled $3.25M since 2012 Nov. 15, 2017: Brown: Restore trust in Suffolk DA’s office — now, not later Nov. 13, 2017: Cuomo aide: No plans to appoint an interim DA in Suffolk Nov. 10, 2017: Tim Sini wants to discuss early appointment as Suffolk DA Nov. 8, 2017: Thomas Spota’s last day will be Friday, says DA’s office Nov. 8, 2017: Original charges against James Burke’s accuser dropped Nov. 8, 2017: Sini defeats Perini in Suffolk district attorney contest Nov. 3, 2017: Editorial: One way to fight election collusion on Long Island Oct. 28, 2017: Brown: Spota couldn’t continue as Suffolk DA Oct. 27, 2017: Rich Schaffer, Steve Bellone differ over Spota resignation Oct. 26, 2017: DA Thomas Spota ‘leaving my post’ after federal indictment Oct. 26, 2017: Burke, former chief at heart of Spota case, receives $145G pension Oct. 26, 2017: Spota’s decades-long relationship with Burke leads to indictment Oct. 25, 2017: Democratic lawmakers urge Thomas Spota to resign Oct. 25, 2017: Suffolk DA Thomas Spota, top aide indicted in cover-up Oct. 25, 2017: Spota, McPartland draw mix of onlookers to courtroom Oct. 25, 2017: District Attorney Thomas Spota’s contempt for the law Oct. 13, 2017: Suffolk DA Thomas Spota awards $2.7 million in staff bonuses, records show June 14, 2017: Brown: LI’s top cops: Looking ahead to possible changes May 12, 2017: Brown: Longtime Suffolk DA Thomas Spota will leave under a cloud May 12, 2017: Suffolk District Attorney Spota says he won’t seek re-election May 12, 2017: After 40 years in law enforcement, Spota calls it a career May 12, 2017: Timeline of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s career April 26, 2017: Attorneys: Christopher Loeb indictment should be thrown out Dec. 21, 2016: ‘Numerous’ cops pleaded guilty in James Burke cover-up, court papers say March 12, 2016: Brown: Edward Walsh trial may spotlight DA Thomas Spota
Other LI officials charged with abuse of power