Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. I'm Irene Prestigiacomo. I am a property owner in Willets Point, Long Island, New York. I would first like to thank Carol LaGrasse and her husband Peter, for inviting us to speak to you today. Secondly, I would like to personally and publicly thank Robert LoScalzo for all of his hard and diligent work on behalf of Willets Point United.Without Robert, we wouldn't be here today.
And, last but not least, my thanks to Joe Ardizzone, who endlessly gives of his time and energy, financially and emotionally, in the fight to save his home and the property of all his neighbors. There are many stories of egregious abuse and harassment, violations of civil and constitutional rights of the landowners and tenants of Willets Point meted out by Mayor Bloomberg and his associates, simply to take our land and give it to Mr. Wilpon and the greediest of all developers: the Flushing Corona Willets Point Local Development Corp., and TDC, one of its members. But, today I would like to tell you about the latest method employed by the mayor and the New York City Police Department,which I feel is the worst abuse yet.
I would like to give you a little history here, since I feel it is pertinent to the story. My husband owned and operated Presti Auto Sales at Willets Point since the 1950's. I met him when I was taken there by a friend to buy my very first automobile. My friend said, and I quote, "This is probably the only HONEST used car salesman you will ever meet." He was right. I bought a 1965 Dodge Polara convertible.I loved that car! Four years later, Mr. Presti and I were married. When he passed away in 1990, I became the owner of Presti Auto Sales. I managed it for about two years, then rented it out to auto-related businesses and focused on raising our daughter, who was ten years old. A Sicilian, Irish, German child needs full and undivided attention!
From the time of my marriage in 1969 up to and including 2009 (that's about 42 years) I witnessed somewhere around four or five occasions where New York City police from the auto crime squad would come to Willets Point in one or two police vehicles.They would go directly to the businesses they had been investigating, present papers listing vehicles that were in question with their VIN numbers and, if they found cars that were stolen, they would impound the vehicles and of course the proprietor would go off to jail! Rightly so! I know all this because the officers and detectives from these units would stop in to my husband's shop and visit. They were friendly and there was a good rapport that prevailed between them, one of respect and trust. They knew who the bad guys were and they were the ones targeted.
Now we come to December 8th, 2010. I am about to drive down the street to my property to meet an insurance agent, and I am confronted by a vehicle blocking the street. A young man in civilian clothes,wearing a badge, approaches my vehicle, and, not nicely at all, demands me to "TURN AROUND and leave the area. It is closed!" I tell him I am a property owner and he yells at me, "ONLY BUSINESS OWNERS allowed." I again tell him I want to go to my property and he tells me I have to leave the area.
I subsequently found out that 75, maybe more, city vehicles were used to completely surround the core of Willets Point. No one was allowed in and no one was allowed out. Businesses were ransacked, employees were arrested, customers' cars towed away, and impounded! Private papers, personal, papers, licenses, etc., were taken and it took months to get things back. In the end, when inquired about, there were no proper warrants for inspection, with lists of stolen vehicles and VIN numbers to identify them. The police just confiscated anything and everything in their sight. There was not one stolen car found or criminal arrest made.
All those handcuffed were released upon arrival at the precinct. It is important to mention here that not one of the businesses raided were owned by, or under contract with the city! Those businesses owned or under contract with the city were completely ignored! YET, they are the same type of business that was raided! These raids were conceived and executed solely to harass, frighten, close down, and financially ruin as many businesses as they could. The costs to the owners were astronomical!! Towing fees, impound fees, lawyers' fees, court costs, (those arrested had to appear in court) violation fees, fines, etc., etc. Some businesses were forced to close by order of the city till they CURED the bogus violations, causing more financial loss and some remain closed today!
I guess they saw how productive their scheme proved to be so they DID IT AGAIN! on Sept. 17th 2011. Another police raid of Willets Point businesses. They brutally hand-cuffed employees and had them stand for hours in a holding area. Pleas by these people to loosen the plastic cuffs, which in some cases cut off circulation and cut into their wrists, fell on deaf ears. I saw the cuts and bruises on the wrist and arm of an employee of my tenant, H&S Auto Repair. MY GOD! THIS IS AMERICA, NOT THE GULAG! A Mayor and Greedy Developer are allowed to get away with this kind of assault on our civil, human, and constitutional rights!
They are so angry at Willets Point United for effectively stopping their Master Plan to take all our property.... as Robert has told you about their Phase 1 Development, that they are now using the New York City Police Department as their private GOON SQUAD! When the local precincts were called to complain about this latest raid, they replied they didn't know anything about it? It seems that a special task force from another borough, the Bronx, was formed especially for this raid! (The Bronx is the only borough of New York City on the mainland. The Borough of Queens, where Willets Point is located, is on the other side of the East River on Long Island. - Ed.)
My tenant now has to close for fifteen days as penalty for the violation of not having visible two (2) Consumer Affairs licenses (which he has, by the way) one (1) license for selling cars...one (1) license for selling parts... He does not sell cars, but in order to get an MV license in New York State it is mandatory to purchase both! His monetary fine was $1,500.00. He was also fined $200.00 per card...business cards...He had eighteen cards left in the box on his desk...The cards did not have both license numbers on them! This fine was deemed ridiculous and dismissed by the court when it was heard and within a very short time the dismissal was overturned! Mayor Bloomberg's money and ARM reach far beyond his duty as Mayor in his quest to fulfill his dream legacy.
I'm in the process of gathering the necessary information and facts to possibly file a lawsuit against the City of New York and Mayor Bloomberg. I've spoken to an attorney who knows all the pertinent data concerning the abuses and illegalities happening at Willets Point. He cites some of them as felonies! However, it takes a lot of time, money, and hard facts to pursue this course of action. The City of New York knows this and so they resort to these tactics because they have the power of their office, and your and my tax dollars at their disposal! They wear you down and drain you financially.
I know what I am now about to say is not politically correct, and even barred in some locales...but I'm going to risk it and say it publicly and proudly: THANK YOU GOD for the Property Rights Foundation of America, Carol and Peter...all of you here today and the many and various individuals, agencies, associations, etc., who spare no effort in the fight to end Eminent Domain Abuse in New York State!
I also have one more resource to help me in the fight to keep my property...That ten-year-old American, Sicilian, German, Irish child is now a thirty-year-old law school graduate waiting to hear the results of her Bar Exam! We will know sometime in November. It doesn't necessarily mean we will win, but it certainly levels the playing field.
Thank you again, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your kind attention and now I'd like to introduce Joe Ardizzone... the only resident of Willets Point, who should be enjoying the Golden Years, not fighting to save his home!