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Hempstead Settles In Former Shelter Volunteer Lawsuit

Animal advocacy group to campaign for shelter privatization

The road less traveled is definitely one that has been trodden for the last two years by Diane Madden, Lucille DeFina and Frances Lucivero-Pelletier. Whether or not the end is in sight remains to be seen, but an official ruling that came down may be a sign of things to come.

A lawsuit by the former Hempstead Animal Shelter volunteers came to a head on Tuesday, Jan. 9, when a settlement was reached in a federal district court in Central Islip. The Town of Hempstead offered a $150,000 settlement to the three women.

The animal lovers filed suit in December 2010 against Supervisor Kate Murray and seven employees, claiming their first amendment rights were violated after whistle blowing alleged animal abuse at the Wantagh facility. The shelter has been accused of financial mismanagement and has been investigated by top governmental administration, including Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

DiNapoli’s audit did not confirm any animal mistreatment, but did reveal that the town improperly accounted for and reported the shelter’s financial activities in “the town-outside-village fund, resulting in town-outside-village taxpayers being overcharged approximately $12.7 million over the last five years.” The audit also reported a $3.37 million decrease in the 2013 shelter budget. It operated on an $8.8 million tab in 2012.

According to the judgment, DeFina will be awarded $36,460, Madden will receive $36,456 while Lucivero-Pelletier will get $8,750. The town will also cover attorney fees of $68,334 paid to Steven A. Morelli.

Madden stated the money will go towards turning the advocacy group Hope for Hempstead Shelter into a nonprofit organization. The group plans to spearhead a campaign to privatize the shelter.

Hope for Hempstead was founded on Dec. 23, 2010. The group Facebook page has tallied more than 3,000 likes.

“We finally, after two years, have a reason to celebrate,” Madden said outside the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola. “We’re very happy, very excited.”

DeFina, who along with the other two advocates has been a fixture at community rallies, town board meetings and animal rights events. She called the judgment a huge development in the three-year battle.

“We stood firm and said ‘we have to deal with this,’ because if we didn’t, I don’t think we could have lived with ourselves,” DeFina stated. “This has restored my faith in the justice system. I’m am so thankful.”

Hempstead Communications Director Mike Deery reiterated reports of investigations by outside entities found no reported animal neglect.

“The township is satisfied that the settlement of a legal case involving the shelter indicates no wrongdoing on the part of the plaintiffs or the town,” Deery said in a statement. “Indeed, reviews of the shelter have found no mistreatment or neglect of animals. On the contrary, the Humane Society of the United States recently honored shelter officials for the superlative care they provided to animals who fell victim to Hurricane Sandy.”

Trial proceedings were expected to start on Feb. 6 prior to the settlement.

“This is a big day for these ladies, for the community of Hempstead,” Morelli said. “They stood toe-to-toe with the town. They fought through this lawsuit. They were ready to go to trial. They were ready to have the world hear what they had to say. This has been a long fight.”

News

Drivers—get ready to slow down. Nassau County is currently in the process of installing school zone speed cameras in an effort to enhance safety by encouraging drivers to travel with caution, as well as support law enforcement efforts to crack down on violators and prevent accidents caused by speeding.

Nassau County officials say Sewanhaka High School will receive a camera on Covert Avenue, which spans the eastern stretch of the property. Tulip Avenue runs in front of the high school and was also considered. Cameras could begin operation in September.

The Village of New Hyde Park finished its Operation Main Street project just in time, because the town’s eligibility for federal funds is shrinking, officials announced last week.

“The qualifications revolve around money,” trustee Donald Barbieri said. “Like how much income is being earned by people in the area. I guess as seniors move on, you can’t buy an [expensive home] and it changed the demographic, shrinking our eligible area.”


Sports

New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d’Arnaud brightened the day for some patients at Cohen Children’s Medical Center last week in New Hyde Park, posing for pictures and handing out gifts and autographs. The players hung out with the kids in the afternoon, playing video games and answering questions.

They also found the time to make the rounds, stopping by bedsides to spread some cheer. Mr. Met also joined the tour and was a big hit with the children, who peppered him with questions about everything from his four-fingered hand to the whereabouts of the missing Mrs. Met.

The Sewanhaka Indians football team has a season of change in store.

The Indians have moved up from Conference III to Conference II, due to an increase in enrollment, and are set to face teams that they have never seen before, according to head coach George Kasimatis.

“It is hard to gauge where we will be in this conference,” he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty as where we fit in.”


Calendar

Library Board Meeting

Thursday, Aug. 28

Welcome Reception

Wednesday, Sept. 3

Herricks School Meeting

Thursday, Sept. 4



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
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The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
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Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
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