Why not start with great news? The year is almost over! In two weeks, 2020 will end. The Covid-19 vaccination rollout will continue. There’s good reason to think that 2021 won’t be as terrible as its predecessor!
This week’s Allegedly will be the last newsletter of 2020. We get that Christmas and New Year’s won’t be as Christmasy and New Yearsy, per being stuck at home and away from loved ones, but we all need some sort of break. For The Allegedly List, we’ve got updates on New York City cops’ handling of protests this summer and new developments in SDNY’s high-profile sex trafficking cases. For The Allegedly Original, Andrew Denney takes us to Downtown Brooklyn, where businesses that depend on courts contend with an uncertain future—and fears of collapse.
Thank you so much for reading Allegedly. We’ll see you again in 2021! And please subscribe, so we can keep providing you courts and crime news for years to come.
The Allegedly List
Ghislaine Maxwell is at risk of suffering the same fate as Princess Diana, one of her security officers actually claimed in court papers on Monday. The shocking statement arose in Maxwell’s latest request for release on $28.5 million bail; this security agent said that she was hiding from aggressive press, not the feds, in claiming that she was never on the lam and wouldn’t flee. The British socialite faces Manhattan Federal Court charges for her alleged involvement in ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking. Via SDNY filings
The NYPD’s “use of force and certain crowd control tactics to respond to the [George] Floyd protests produced excessive enforcement that contributed to heightened tensions,” a New York City Department of Investigation Report found. The analysis, released Friday morning, echoes numerous allegations that NYPD cops mishandled demonstrations and “often failed to discriminate” between lawful protesters and people engaged in unlawful activity. “Kettling, mass arrests, baton and pepper spray use, and other tactics—reflected a failure to calibrate an appropriate balance between valid public safety or officer safety interests and the rights of protesters to assemble and express their views.” Via Department of Investigation
Canadian fashion exec Peter J. Nygard was charged with racketeering, sex trafficking, and other related crimes related to an alleged “decades-long pattern of criminal conduct involving at least dozens of victims in the United States, the Bahamas, and Canada, among other locations.” The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, which announced Nygard’s indictment on Tuesday, alleged that he “controlled his victims through threats, false promises of modeling opportunities and other career advancement, financial support, and by other coercive means, including constant surveillance, restrictions of movement, and physical isolation.” Nygard was taken into custody on Dec. 14 in Winnipeg, by Canadian authorities at the U.S.’s request. Via SDNY
Brooklyn rapper Rowdy Rebel was released from New York state prison on Tuesday. Rowdy Rebel, real name Chad Marshall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and gun possession charges in September 2016, alongside Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda. Prosecutors claimed that both were part of the same East Flatbush gang, GS9, along with others busted in the same indictment; Bobby Shmurda, legal name Ackquille Pollard, lost his parole bid several months ago. Via Vulture
A New York state judge ordered President Donald Trump’s company to produce records relating to an estate that’s being probed by the New York Attorney General’s Office. “We will immediately move to ensure that the Trump Organization complies with the court’s order and submits records related to our investigation,” said state A.G. Letitia James following the judge’s decision. The docs might provide info about an easement at Trump’s sprawling Westchester property, which yielded a $21 million tax benefit. Via Washington Post
Lawyers and social workers from the Queens Defenders announced their intent to unionize on Wednesday. If their efforts are successful, they would join three other New York City indigent defense groups unionizing under the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, specifically ALAA-UAW Local 2325. By organizing, they hope to secure more transparency and diversity in the organization. Via Queens Daily Eagle.
Lucchese underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso died in federal lockup on Tuesday due to Covid-19 complications. Casso’s lawyers had recently pushed for his compassionate release as he languished in the hospital on a ventilator, but a judge and prosecutors deemed his crimes too awful to allow for compassion. Casso was hit with a 455-year prison sentence after copping to 11 counts of murder in aid of racketeering. Via New York Daily News
NYPD officers fatally shot a man after he started shooting around hundreds of people attending a Sunday Christmas concert at Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in Morningside Heights. NYPD Commissioner Dermot F. Shea told reporters that the gunman had firearms in each hand and started shooting from behind a pillar. Cops found two “semiautomatic guns,” as well as a bag stuffed with gasoline, knives, wire, rope, tape, and a Bible. Via New York Times
The Allegedly Original
Downtown Brooklyn Businesses Grapple with The Fate of Courts
By Andrew Denney
The Queen Marie Italian Restaurant is a Court Street mainstay, dishing out house-made mozzarella and staples like shrimp scampi for Downtown Brooklyn attorneys and judges since 1958—virtually an eternity for a New York City business.
General manager Mike Vitiello’s grandfather founded the Queen. Like his father and his uncle, who co-own the white-tablecloth restaurant, he was raised in the establishment, spending his summer vacations sweating it out in the kitchen, and seeing the neighborhood change over the years.
Even though Downtown Brooklyn gentrified, the Queen managed to survive. Clientele from the courts kept the restaurant busy—not dependent on the culinary whims of newcomers. The Queen could count on a packed house for dinner and repeat business from attorneys who became dedicated regulars.
“We knew these people like family,” said Vitiello, 29.
When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit New York this March, courthouses throughout the state suspended most of their in-person operations. Most court business moved online, meaning the overwhelming majority of participants started working from home. The streets that would usually be packed with court staff and other office workers fell silent. Businesses that depended on a steady flow of judges, jurors, and lawyers lost their customer bases. The Queen made the decision in April to temporarily close its doors for the health and safety of staff and clients, Vitiello said.
While vaccination efforts against COVID-19 are underway, the pandemic’s second wave has hit New York. The city’s courts, which had started to gradually reopen, have gone back into a defensive crouch reminiscent of this past spring, when the city came to a grinding halt as COVID-19 cases and deaths skyrocketed.
“The streets are desolate. It’s sad,” Vitiello said of the neighborhood. “It used to be vibrant, crowds of people rushing up and down.”
The future of the Queen—and many Downtown Brooklyn businesses—may depend on whether in-person court proceedings rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
“That’s in the thought process of whether we re-open at all,” Vitiello said. “You can only hang on for so many months.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore recently decreed that New York City courts would operate at 30 percent in-person capacity, and that appearances in courthouses elsewhere in the state would be capped at 40 percent.
DiFiore said Dec. 14 in her weekly address that courts have stayed busy in the virtual realm. In the two-week period ending on Dec. 11, New York judges and court staff held more than 52,800 proceedings and justices ruled on 4,666 motions.
“Our operating protocols have been updated to create a court environment where the new ‘normal’ is a virtual appearance and in-person appearances are rare,” DiFiore said.
“Filings may well increase at some point,” DiFiore continued in the address. “But the fact of the matter is that we are well-prepared to handle an increase thanks to the robust online platform and the many technology improvements that we’ve implemented to strengthen the quality and efficiency of our services—improvements that will become permanent features of the New York State courts when we return to conducting in-person appearances, hearings and trials.”
Elsewhere in New York City, businesses that thrive on activity generated by brick-and-mortar courts are fearful.
“We’re getting crushed,” Danny Mills, owner of Staten Island steakhouse Ruddy & Dean’s, told Allegedly.
The restaurant used to depend upon a steady flow of business from nearby courthouses, the New York City Police Department’s 120th Precinct, and tourists wandering in from the Staten Island Ferry dock. That foot traffic has all but vanished, Mills said.
Mills has kept Ruddy & Dean’s open for takeout throughout the pandemic, but said that it has lost more than half its business.
Other businesses in the borough’s St. George neighborhood—which the Staten Island Advance recently described as a “ghost town,” as far as commercial activity is concerned—have remained shuttered.
To be sure, the pandemic has hit small businesses of all stripes, regardless of their proximity to the halls of justice. According to a recent survey by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, half of the businesses surveyed in the borough couldn’t pay their rent in November.
But Downtown Brooklyn differs from many of the commercial corridors in the borough in that it depends more on courts and other government agencies for customers, said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, in a phone interview with Allegedly.
“The courthouses were such a large driver of commercial foot traffic in Downtown Brooklyn,” Peers said. “It’s clearly had an impact.”
There are four state courthouses located just blocks apart in Downtown Brooklyn and they are among the busiest venues in the state.
Additionally, the state’s Appellate Division, Second Department and U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York courthouses are located a short distance to the north in well-to-do Brooklyn Heights.
Some businesses there can still depend on local residents to prop them up. But the disappearance of customers from the legal community has delivered a punishing blow to area businesses.
“I have had business owners specifically tell me that the courts not being in session has had a pretty huge impact on them,” Kate Chura, executive director of the Montague St. Business Improvement District, told Allegedly.
The vacancy rate in the Montague Street business corridor, which hosted about 100 businesses, jumped from 6 percent to 20 percent during the pandemic, Chura said.
Among the businesses that have been affected by the drop in courthouse traffic are dry cleaners and vision care providers that marketed directly to government employees, she said.
Peers provided names of businesses near courthouses that closed their doors over the last several months.
For instance, the Metro Star cafe, located across the street from the Brooklyn Supreme Court building at 320 Jay Street and just a stone’s throw from the chamber’s Adams Street office, was a popular destination for court officers, court staff and litigants to grab a slice or cheap steam-table fare.
The cafe went dark in March and has since remained closed, Peers said.
Metro Star’s owner did not respond to Allegedly’s requests for comment as to his future plans for the business.
Park Plaza Restaurant, an American-style diner located across Cadman Plaza Park from the Eastern District courthouse, has been popular with jurors, high-profile defendants, and law-enforcement types since it opened its doors in 1983.
During federal trials for Gambino crime family boss John Gotti and other reputed high-profile members of La Cosa Nostra that were held in the 1990s and early 2000s, Park Plaza was a popular joint for purported wiseguys, cops, and even victims’ families.
Nick Likourentzos, co-owner of Park Plaza and son of founder Peter Linkourentzos, was high-school aged at the time and working in the restaurant.
The on-trial mobsters would often reserve the private backroom of the diner during lunch. They were coveted customers for Park Plaza’s waitstaff—it was not uncommon for wiseguys to drop a $100 tip for a $20 tab, he said, and they were always cordial.
Park Plaza is also a popular joint for the other side of the law, Likourentzos said, with cops and federal agents often packing its booths.
While it has lost business from courthouse closures, Likourentzos said patronage from Brooklyn Heights residents may help to keep it afloat, at least in the short term. But the future is still uncertain—and there’s still potential for things to “really go south” as COVID-19 infections and deaths surge and any prospect of economic stimulus from the federal government continues to stall in Congress.
“I feel like I don’t have any control of my future,” Likourentzos said. “It’s a very scary feeling.”