Suspect in mob boss hit flashes pro-Trump slogans on hand
By WAYNE PARRY
Tuesday, March 19
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — The man charged with killing the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family wrote pro-Donald Trump slogans on his hand and flashed them to journalists before a court hearing Monday.
Anthony Comello, 24, was arrested Saturday in New Jersey in the death of Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali last week in front of his Staten Island home.
While waiting for a court hearing to begin in Toms River, New Jersey, in which he agreed to be extradited to New York, Comello held up his left hand.
On it were scrawled pro-Trump slogans including “MAGA Forever,” an abbreviation of Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” It also read “United We Stand MAGA” and “Patriots In Charge.” In the center of his palm he had drawn a large circle. It was not immediately clear why he had done so.
Comello’s lawyer, Brian Neary, would not discuss the writing on his client’s hand, nor would he say whether Comello maintains his innocence. Asked by reporters after the hearing what was on Comello’s hand, Neary replied, “Handcuffs.”
He referred all other questions to Comello’s Manhattan lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, who said in an emailed statement his client has been placed in protective custody due to “serious threats” that had been made against him, but gave no details of them. Ocean County officials could not immediately be reached after hours on Monday.
“Mr. Comello’s family and friends simply cannot believe what they have been told,” Gottlieb said. “There is something very wrong here and we will get to the truth about what happened as quickly as possible.”
The statement did not address the writing on Comello’s hand, and a lawyer from Gottlieb’s firm declined to comment further Monday evening.
Comello sat with a slight smile in the jury box of the courtroom Monday afternoon as dozens of reporters and photographers filed into the room. When they were in place, Comello held up his left hand to display the writings as the click and whirr of camera lenses filled the room with sound.
During the hearing, Comello did not speak other than to say, “Yes, sir” to the judge to respond to several procedural questions.
Cali, 53, was shot to death last Wednesday by a gunman who may have crashed his truck into Cali’s car to lure him outside. Police said Cali was shot 10 times.
Federal prosecutors referred to Cali in court filings in 2014 as the underboss of the Mafia’s Gambino family, once one of the country’s most powerful crime organizations. News accounts since 2015 said Cali had ascended to the top spot, though he was never charged with leading the gang. His only mob-related conviction came a decade ago, when he was sentenced to 16 months in prison in an extortion scheme involving a failed attempt to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island. He was released in 2009 and hasn’t been in legal trouble since then.
Police have not yet said whether they believe Cali’s murder was a mob hit or whether he was killed for some other motive.
The last Mafia boss to be rubbed out in New York City was Gambino don “Big Paul” Castellano, who was assassinated in 1985.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Reputed Gambino crime boss shot to death in New York City
By MICHAEL R. SISAK and TOM HAYS
Friday, March 15
NEW YORK (AP) — The reputed boss of New York’s Gambino crime family was shot to death in front of his home by a gunman who may have staged a car accident to lure him outside, dying a virtual unknown compared with his swaggering 1980s-era predecessor, John Gotti.
Police said Thursday they were reviewing surveillance-camera video of the attack on Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, 53, who was gunned down Wednesday night at his red-brick colonial-style house in a quiet Staten Island neighborhood. The assailant sped off in a pickup truck, police said. No immediate arrests were made.
The motive for the attack was under investigation, police said. Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said it was still an open question whether it was a mob hit.
Aggressive federal prosecutions in the past 25 years decimated the ranks of New York’s five Mafia families. The cases resulted in long prison terms for their bosses — Gotti included — and encouraged their successors to keep a lower profile.
But the new generation still engages in old-school crimes — loansharking, gambling, extortion — that can make enemies and spark bloodshed.
Shea said there has been a slight uptick in alleged mob-related violence in New York within the last year. But he said it is too soon to say whether that had anything to do with Cali’s slaying.
The mobster emerged from his home around 9:15 p.m. after the gunman backed his pickup into Cali’s Cadillac SUV, damaging it, according to police. “With what we know at this point in time, it’s quite possible that was part of a plan,” Shea said.
Video showed the assailant pulling a 9 mm handgun and opening fire on Cali about a minute after they started talking, according to Shea. At least 12 shots were fired. After getting shot several times, Cali tried to crawl under his SUV to hide, Shea said.
Federal prosecutors referred to Cali in court filings in recent years as the underboss of the Mafia’s Gambino family, once one of the most powerful and feared crime organizations in the country. News accounts since 2015 said he had ascended to the top spot.
The last Mafia boss to be rubbed out in New York City was Gambino don “Big Paul” Castellano, assassinated at Gotti’s direction while getting out of a black limousine outside a high-end Manhattan steakhouse in 1985. Gotti then took control of the family.
“We thought those days were over,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Cali’s slaying. “Very surprising, but I guess old habits die hard.”
Cali kept a much lower profile than Gotti and was killed in far less spectacular fashion than Castellano. He was shot on a tree-lined street in one of New York City’s less-glamorous outer boroughs, a short walk from ball fields, a country club and a day camp.
Gotti, with his expensive double-breasted suits and overcoats and silvery swept-back hair, became known as the Dapper Don, his smiling face all over the tabloids. As prosecutors tried and failed to bring him down, he came to be called the Teflon Don.
In 1992, Gotti was convicted in Castellano’s murder and a multitude of other crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison and died of cancer in 2002.
On Wednesday, hours before Cali was killed, the reputed boss and consigliere of the Bonanno crime family were acquitted in a Brooklyn racketeering and extortion case. In October, reputed Bonanno associate Sylvester Zottola was fatally shot while waiting for a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in the Bronx.
Also this week, prosecutors in Brooklyn announced a case against a Gambino associate accused of killing a suspected loanshark affiliated with the Lucchese crime family.
Last week, the longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, 85-year-old Carmine “the Snake” Persico, died at a North Carolina hospital near the federal prison where he had been serving what was effectively a life sentence. Persico was convicted in a 1986 case overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Cali’s only mob-related criminal conviction came a decade ago, when he pleaded guilty in an extortion scheme involving a failed attempt to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island. He was sentenced to 16 months behind bars and was released in 2009.
In that case, authorities intercepted conversations shedding light on his quiet underworld command. At a 2008 bail hearing, a prosecutor said Cali was seen “as a man of influence and power by organized crime members in Italy.”
Karen Matthews contributed to this report.
As New York probes business deals, Trump cries ‘HARASSERS’
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Wednesday, March 13
NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general has opened a civil investigation into President Donald Trump’s business dealings, acting after his former personal lawyer and fixer told Congress that he exaggerated his wealth to obtain loans. Trump tweeted an apparent response Tuesday night, decrying his home state and its governor as “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSERS.”
Attorney General Letitia James issued subpoenas Monday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank seeking records related to four Trump real estate projects and his failed 2014 bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, according to a person familiar with the inquiry.
The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The New York Times first reported the subpoenas.
Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Congress in late February that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank when he was trying to obtain financing to buy the Bills.
Cohen told a House committee it was common for Trump to overstate his wealth when dealing with the news media or banks and for him to understate it when it came time to pay his taxes.
“New York State and its Governor, Andrew Cuomo, are now proud members of the group of PRESIDENTIAL HARASSERS,” Trump tweeted. “No wonder people are fleeing the State in record numbers. The Witch Hunt continues!”
Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond.
Deutsche Bank said in a statement that it remains “committed to cooperating with authorized investigations.” Messages left with New Jersey-based Investors Bank and the Trump Organization were not immediately returned.
The subpoenas issued by the attorney general seek loan applications, as well as mortgages, credit lines and other documents related to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., buildings in Chicago and New York and a golf course in the Miami area.
Several Congressional committees have also requested documents from Deutsche Bank. California Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat and head of the House Financial Services Committee, said last week that the bank is cooperating.
Deutsche Bank has been one of the few major banks willing to regularly lend to Trump, whose past financial troubles scared off large New York banks. Trump’s company borrowed billions of dollars from the German bank over the years.
In May, five Democratic members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan asking the bank to turn in any records relating to Trump’s accounts and any ties to Russia. The bank refused, saying it had to respect legal requirements to keep client data private.
James, a Democrat newly elected to office, pledged to look into Trump’s business practices, saying after her victory last November that she’d be “shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings and every dealing.”
Trump has complained that James is waging a politically motivated vendetta against him. Her office is also overseeing a lawsuit against a Trump charitable foundation. James’ predecessors sued Trump over the operations of Trump University, his real estate school.
Previously, a different New York state agency, which regulates insurance companies, launched an inquiry into Cohen’s allegations that Trump also misled insurance companies about his financial worth.
Trump has said Cohen is lying to try to get out of a prison sentence for tax evasion, campaign finance violations, making false statements to banks and lying to Congress.
Follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
EPA sets long-term goals for Colorado mining Superfund site
By DAN ELLIOTT
Wednesday, March 13
DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced three long-term goals Wednesday for cleaning up the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site in southwestern Colorado.
The goals call for improving water quality in four sections of rivers and streams, stabilizing mine waste piles to keep more pollutants from leaching into waterways and preventing big releases of tainted water from mine shafts.
The Superfund site was established after the EPA inadvertently triggered a massive spill of 3 million gallons (11 billion liters) of wastewater from the Gold King Mine in 2015, tainting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with a yellow-orange plume carrying toxic metals. The Gold King is one of 48 mining-related sites included in the Superfund cleanup.
The goals are preliminary and could change, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s team leader for the Bonita Peak district. The EPA will develop more specific objectives later, she said.
The water quality cleanup target areas include portions of the Animas River, the South Fork of Mineral Creek and Upper Mineral Creek. The goal includes meeting or exceeding state water quality standards and improving the habitat for fish and other aquatic life, said Doug Benevento, EPA’s regional administrator based in Denver.
The EPA has already outlined techniques it could use to waste sites from bleeding more contaminants into rivers. They include stopping erosion of waste piles, blocking rain and snowmelt from seeping through them, removing waste rocks from stream banks, dredging sludge from settling ponds and capping waste rock piles that people camp or hike on.
Stopping future blowouts from mine shafts is the toughest of the three goals, Thomas said. The options include installing bulkheads or barriers inside the mines to block or regulate the drainage.
Wastewater sometimes pulses out of old mines, but it’s impossible to predict when, Thomas said. The bursts could be caused by tunnel collapses or other events, she said.
Benevento said the EPA compiled the goals after meetings with community members in the district, which lies north of Silverton. He said he’s confident the agency will have enough money to continue the work.
Opinion: Is It Safe to Drink American Water?
By Aubrey Menarndt
As Americans, we take our access to clean, potable drinking water for granted. However, disturbing new findings by the Environmental Protection Agency should make us leery when drinking what comes out of our taps.
In early February, the EPA released a study showing that the levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS, are prevalent in the U.S. water supply. PFAS compounds were used for decades to manufacture common items such as cleaning products, carpeting, Teflon cookware, microwave popcorn bags and waterproof attire. Scientists have found probable links between exposure to PFAS and heart disease, thyroid disease, hypertension and preeclampsia, ulcerative colitis, and kidney and testicular cancer.
The recent EPA report shows that PFAS were found in all 50 drinking water supplies that it tested — an alarming increase from a similar 2016 study that found PFAS in fewer than 3 percent of samples. Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group issued a report stating that up to 110 million Americans could be drinking contaminated water.
In addition to their prevalence, there is disagreement over what constitutes a safe level of PFAS in the drinking water supply. Congressional Democrats are currently investigating the Trump administration’s possible suppression of a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which revealed that PFAS are dangerous at a level significantly below the EPA’s current health advisory level. That the U.S. levels are too high should not come as a surprise — United States health advisory levels are nearly twice the amount that is acceptable in Europe.
Affected citizens have had some luck in suing companies for contamination and its resultant health effects — DuPont was forced to pay $671 million to people in West Virginia and Ohio, and 3M recently committed to an $850 million settlement for filtration and cleanup in Minnesota. Unfortunately, financial remuneration is little recompense for loss of health or life.
The EPA recently released its long-awaited management plan for addressing PFAS. Stakeholders have decried it as woefully inadequate — the Union of Concerned Scientists says that it doesn’t set a strong safety standard or make clear how the EPA will protect against future contamination” and both Democratic and Republican Congress members are pressing the EPA to provide more clarity on their plans.
Several states have taken matters into their own hands. California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont have set more rigorous standards than those of the federal government.
The Trump administration’s inaction on this dire public health issue evidences its continued prioritization of corporate profits over American citizens’ health and safety. Earlier this year, the administration limited the EPA’s regulation of potentially toxic chemicals. Rather than evaluating how these chemicals impact the air, ground or water, the Trump administration has mandated that the EPA only evaluate chemicals for harm through direct contact. As the New York Times explains, “The approach means that the improper disposal of chemicals — leading to the contamination of drinking water, for instance — will often not be a factor in deciding whether to restrict or ban them.”
Complying with strong PFAS restrictions and disposal requirements will undoubtedly be costly to corporations. However, the government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens’ lives. We cannot allow unchecked corporate greed at this profound human cost. When we turn on our taps, we should trust that the water that flows from them is safe to drink.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Aubrey Menarndt is a security fellow with Truman National Security Project, Luce Scholar, and holds degrees from the University of Oxford and Smith College. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Wastewater is an asset – it contains nutrients, energy and precious metals, and scientists are learning how to recover them
March 19, 2019
Author: Yalin Li, Ph.D. Candidate/Research Assistant, Colorado School of Mines
Disclosure statement: Yalin Li does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Most people think as little as possible about the wastewater that is produced daily from their showers, bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers and toilets. But with the right techniques, it can become a valuable resource.
On average, every Americans uses about 60 gallons of water per day for purposes that include flushing toilets, showering and doing laundry. This figure can easily double if outdoor uses, such as watering lawns and filling swimming pools, are also included.
Most of the used water will eventually become wastewater that must be treated before it can be discharged into nature. And that treatment uses a lot of energy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, water and wastewater facilities account for more than a third of municipal energy budgets.
My research focuses on recovering resources from wastewater. This process is difficult because wastewater contains many different types of contaminants. But researchers in our fields are exploring many creative ways to make valuable products from them.
Energy from organic materials
Diehard wastewater engineers understand the value of wastewater, which they view as an asset rather than a waste. That’s why some of them call it “used water” instead, and refer to what most people call wastewater treatment plants as water resource recovery facilities.
In fact, wastewater can contain more than three times the amount of energy needed to treat it. One simple and mature technique for recovering part of this energy is anaerobic digestion, a natural process in which microorganisms feed on grease and other organic materials in wastewater and produce biogas, just as yeast can eat up barley and spit out beer. Biogas contains roughly 50 percent methane, which can be used as a renewable fuel for boilers, furnaces and heating systems or to turn turbines and generate electricity.
More advanced techniques, such as hydrothermal processes, take sewage sludge – the solids removed from wastewater during treatment – and convert it into biobased fuels that can be used to replace gasoline and diesel fuel. This process is currently at the demonstration stage.
In additional to sewage sludge, many researchers – including me – are very interested in microalgae. Microalgae are promising feedstocks for biofuels, and some of them can grow in wastewater. My colleagues and I have designed hydrothermal systems to turn wastewater-grown microalgae into biofuels. They are still being tested in the lab, but we hope to scale them up in the near future.
Mining nutrients from wastewater
Wastewater also contains nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which are essential elements that plants need to grow. In current wastewater treatment processes, we use energy to convert ammonia in the wastewater, which comes mostly from urine, into nitrogen gas. However, industries then use large quantities of natural gas to convert nitrogen gas back into ammonia, predominantly for producing fertilizer, through the Haber-Bosch process.
Clearly, it would be much more efficient to directly extract the ammonia from wastewater without converting it. One way is to use urine-diverting toilets, which already are commercially available, to separate urine from other sources of wastewater. Then the collected urine could be used as fertilizer after sanitizing it to remove pathogens.
Sanitized urine also contains other nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. The Rich Earth Institute, a Vermont-based nonprofit supported by federal agencies and foundations, is researching ways to turn human urine into fertilizer. The institute is testing harvested urine on real crops, and has found that it works effectively.
Using pasteurized urine as fertilizer reduces waste and resource extraction.
Alternatively, we can recover these nutrients as struvite, or magnesium ammonium phosphate, a mineral that contains magnesium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Struvite can naturally form during wastewater treatment processes, but tends to deposit in tanks and pipes and will damage the equipment if left unattended. By controlling the formation of struvite, it can be recovered in separate reactors.
Researchers have tested recovered struvite on crops in laboratories and achieved yields comparable to commercial fertilizers. The technique is still maturing, but companies are developing commercial versions for wastewater treatment plants.
Want more valuable stuff? Wastewater is literally a gold mine. It contains metals valued up to millions of U.S. dollars per year. These metals are often toxic to aquatic life, so they need to be removed. But conventional removal technologies require a lot of energy and produce toxic sludge.
Researchers are developing new ways to remove and reuse these metals, including membrane systems that can selectively remove precious metals from water and biosystems that use microorganisms to recover them. These techniques are at a very early stage and it is not clear yet whether they will make economic sense, but they have the potential to make wastewater more valuable.
In addition, wastewater is generally warmer than natural water supplies, especially in the winter, so it can serve as a heat source. This technique is well-established and is not limited to commercial scale. You can install drain-water heat recovery systems at home to lower your energy bill.
To me, this is just a beginning. With proper techniques, “wastewater” can offer us much more – and I very much look forward to the day when there is no “wastewater,” just “used water.”