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03/30/13 12:33pm
03/30/2013 12:33 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO  |  The Dunkin’ Donuts in Shirley that three men from Riverhead allegedly robbed March 20.

Four Riverhead men have been arrested in relation to armed robberies in Mastic and Shirley in recent weeks, Suffolk County police said.

One of the men is only being charged in one of the two incidents, Suffolk County police said.

Robert Singleton, 25, Justin Braunskill, 25 and Tyrone Booker, 21, all of Riverhead, are facing first-degree armed robbery charges for a 10 p.m. holdup at a Dunkin’ Donuts on William Floyd Bypass in Shirley on Feb. 24, police said.

Those three men are also facing charges in another armed robbery that happened March 20 in Mastic, police said.

That armed robbery occurred at a Valero gas station on Montauk Highway, and all three men, along with a fourth man, identified by police as Trayrone Booker, 19, of Riverhead, are facing second-degree robbery charges for that incident, police said.

All four suspects were arrested on Montgomery Avenue in Mastic on the night of the second robbery, police said.

In the first incident, at Dunkin’ Donuts, one of suspects produced a handgun, demanded money and the group fled the area, police said.

In the second incident at the Valero, the suspects also displayed a handgun and demanded money and cigarettes, police said.

All four men were arraigned in Suffolk County District court on different dates after March 20, according to online documents.

Workers at both locations declined to comment.

It also was not clear why the three suspects were charged with first-degree robbery — a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a five-year mandatory minimum for someone with no criminal record — in the first alleged incident, and second-degree robbery in the second case.

Second-degree robbery, a class C felony according to NYS Penal Law, carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence if convicted.

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02/15/13 2:14pm
02/15/2013 2:14 PM
Drive-by shooting suspects

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTOS | Eric Baldwin Jr., Jasmine Parsons and Jeffrey Despeine.

A mother sobbed in court as she watched her 21-year-old son, wearing a green jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him, appear before a Riverhead judge Friday to answer to felony gun charges.

Her son, Jeffrey Despeines of Centereach, is one of four people accused of shooting up a Third Street house that was filled with adults and two small children Wednesday night.

A woman who identified herself as a close friend of another suspect, Jasmine Parsons, also sat in the audience.

“She’s a good person. She’s loving. She has a job,” the woman told a reporter. “She just got caught up in the wrong situation with the wrong people.”

Three of the four suspects, Mr. Despeines; Ms. Parsons, 19, of Mastic; and Eric Baldwin Jr., 18, of Bellport; appeared in Town Justice Court for continued arraignment proceedings Friday, a day after bail was initially set for them Thursday.

The fourth suspect, Jordan Harrell, 18, of Medford will be back in court Tuesday.

The three suspects were not required to enter a plea on their felony charges. A Suffolk County grand jury will be reviewing the case Tuesday, Feb. 19, prosecutors said.

Mr. Baldwin pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors said Mr. Despeines was the shooter in the drive-by, allegedly firing seven rounds into the two-family house. He was charged with second- and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree reckless endangerment, all felonies.

His bail, originally set at $250,000 cash or $750,000 bond on Thursday, was modified to $100,000 cash or $250,000 bond Friday after a lawyer argued on his behalf.

The court-appointed attorney, Carl Irace of East Hampton, said Mr. Despeines has no prior criminal record.

“He has a very concerned family, and a impeccable work record,” Mr. Irace told a reporter after court.

Mr. Baldwin was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony, for his alleged involvement in the shooting, along with the misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon charge because police say they found brass knuckles on him.

His lawyer told the judge Mr. Baldwin has “strong ties to the community” and works full-time at a thrift store

Mr. Baldwin was held on $100,000 cash bail or $500,000 bond. Justice Smith modified his bond to $200,000, leaving cash bail set at $100,000.

Assistant district attorney William Nash had argued the bail amounts set Thursday should stay in place, due to the charges’ “serious nature,” adding also that some of the suspects are believed to have gang affiliations.

Ms. Parsons’ waived her right to appear in court Friday, said her attorney, Daniel Barker of Riverhead, saying he wanted the opportunity to speak with Ms. Parsons in private first.

He did not ask for a bail modification.

Although all four suspects appeared in court Thursday, authorities had not yet found lawyers to represent all of them during the initial proceedings.

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11/09/12 4:30pm
11/09/2012 4:30 PM
Superstorm Sandy, Riverhead Fire Department Mastic Shirley, Long Island

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | RFD hurricane relief donations organizer Amanda Starks (right) gets help from volunteers (from left) Jared Polak, 12, and Girls Scouts Troop 1159 members Renee Mott, Nicole Levasseur and Kristal Dewey at Riverhead fire headquarters Friday evening.

Riverhead firefighters are leading relief efforts in Mastic and Shirley, areas that were hit hard by superstorm Sandy.

Residents of the two South Shore hamlets have been somewhat neglected, as most relief efforts are focusing on Long Beach, Queens and elsewhere, fire officials said.

Donations being collected at Riverhead fire headquarters on Roanoke Avenue were mostly trickling in from local residents, said fire district manager Frank Darrow, but he has received calls from Connecticut, upstate New York and even California from groups wanting to make large donations.

Amanda Starks, wife of volunteer Charlie Starks, has been organizing the relief efforts for RFD.

She’s been arriving at the Riverhead firehouse each evening at 6 p.m. with a crew of 10 to 15 volunteers to sort through donations.

“Tonight we are supposed to have the Girls Scouts and [Riverhead High School] cheerleaders helping out,” she said Friday. “I’m very happy with the outcome, the support of folks, and Jamesport Fire Department using RFD as a hub for donations. It is really good to see that so much good can come out of this event when you see a mass amount of people who want to help it overshadows the negativity.”

Mr. Darrow said he’s also received many calls from LIPA workers, asking if Riverhead firefighters could put up out-of-town utility workers in the Roanoke Avenue firehouse. Some workers can’t find hotel rooms to stay in, and many have been sleeping in their trucks or tents.

The RFD has rooms on the second floor with cots and blankets set up. He said that they may get as many as 30 workers staying there Friday night.

Riverhead firefighter Scott Robertson picked up donations at the firehouse and Our Lady of the Shrine in Manorville Friday morning using a flatbed truck from his family’s business, Scotty’s D & E Tire Service on East Main Street.

He dropped the donations off later at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Mastic Beach.

“They are thankful for what they are getting, but they are overwhelmed by the citizens coming in to get what they need,” Mr. Robertson said. “They did stress that they are tight on space and they don’t need any more clothing. They need non-perishable food, cleaning supplies, bleach to clean the mold, industrial garbage bags, tools, hammers, brooms, and mops.

“They are also looking for pet food, kitty litter and other supplies to take care of their pets.”

On Saturday Riverhead Fire Department volunteers will be out in fire trucks at Waldbaum’s and Lowe’s and other retailers to collect donations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Roanoke Avenue firehouse will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday to collect donations with Riverhead High School cheerleaders and others volunteering to do sorting. Firefighters and their families will then prepare dinner for all the volunteers.

Ms. Starks said that WalMart donated a $200 gift card to the cause, but she wasn’t sure yet if it would be used for donations or to buy Christmas gifts for children those who lost possessions in Hurricane Sandy.

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08/29/12 8:00am
08/29/2012 8:00 AM

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | JABS founder Jill Schroeder at a Zumbathon fundraiser in Southold last year. Ms. Schroeder is currently leading Shape magazine’s poll to determine America’s most inspirational Zumba instructor.

Hundreds of East End Zumba fanatics have concentrated their motions over the past couple weeks to just their hands, repeating one specific maneuver over and over for hours on end.

No, they aren’t participating in marathon exercise sessions. These women are pounding their fingers on keyboards, voting in a national online contest to support their favorite instructor.

So far, it’s working. As of Monday afternoon, three Eastern Suffolk County Zumba instructors were in the top 10 of Shape magazine’s “Inspirational Zumba Instructor Search” after just 12 days of voting.

Sitting atop the poll at No. 1 is Cutchogue resident Jill Schroeder, who’s blowing away the competition with 206,712 votes. The next closest is one of Ms. Schroeder’s former employees, Christine Locrotondo of Manorville, who has received 186,606 votes.

The winning instructor will be eligible to be featured on shape.com and in Shape magazine. Shape is also taking into consideration testimonials from clients.

“The community’s support has been amazing,” said Ms. Schroeder, owner of JABS, a fitness studio she opened on Pike Street in Mattituck last year. “It just goes to show you how much heart I put into this business.”

Fellow JABS instructor Carol Leonard of Southold is in eighth place with 13,370 votes.

Ms. Schroeder said she first became interested in Zumba five years ago after taking a class in Nassau County, which she said was the closest studio that offered the Latin dance exercise at the time.

“I fell in love with it right then and there and decided to jump the gun and become a licensed instructor,” Ms. Schroeder said.

Created in Cali, Colombia during the mid-90s by aerobics instructor Alberto “Beto” Perez, the fitness program is an international sensation. To become an instructor, one must be licensed by Zumba Fitness, the organization that holds the trademark on the program.

Since voting in the Shape competition began Aug. 15, Ms. Schroeder said her students have spent as much time on the computer as they have in the studio. Her clients are even bringing their laptops and voting together in groups before and after class.

Ms. Schroeder said she has also gotten the word out by telling her clients about the contest in her business’ weekly email newsletter and on her Facebook profile.

Ms. Locrotondo, who now teaches Zumba at Leg Works Dance in Mastic, said she learned about the contest after one of her clients sent her a Facebook invite to an event called “Vote for Chrissy.”

“After that, it just got huge,” Ms. Locrotondo said.

Her supporters have even hosted “vote-a-thon parties,” in which they get together and vote until the morning hours.

“I never thought so many people would want something as good as this for me,” Ms. Locrotondo said. “I feel very lucky.”

But the contest hasn’t been all fun and games.

A third party wrote on Shape’s Facebook page, accusing instructors in the top 10 of using software to send automatic votes electronically, something both Ms. Schroeder and Ms. Locrotondo deny.

Ms. Locrotondo said her placement at the top of the leaderboard — both her and Ms. Schroeder have held the No. 1 spot at times in the competition — is the result of her friends, family and clients voting multiple times. She said she believes other instructors and their supporters didn’t realize individuals could vote multiple times when the contest began.

In an effort to allow others to catch up to her, Ms. Locrotondo asked her supporters to suspend their campaign for roughly 36 hours at one point last week.

“I don’t want to win if people think I didn’t win the right way,” she said. “We decided, let’s tell the world you can multi-click to vote and give them time to catch up.”

Still, she and Ms. Schroeder are far ahead of third-place contender Tiffany Callaghan of Melbourne, Fla., whose 74,987 votes have her more than 130,000 votes off the pace.

Ms. Locrotondo and Ms. Schroeder say the fact that they know each other has made the competition both fun and fierce.

“When people are voting for something it’s usually because they are passionate about it,’ Ms. Schroeder said. “In this case, the Zumba instructors on this poll have inspired many individuals whose passion drives them to vote. What I take from this, as a trainer, is that we have done our job in creating excitement for Zumba, and more importantly, for fitness.”

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08/07/12 10:30am
08/07/2012 10:30 AM

A Mastic man gave police a false name — before handing over a real ID card — after being pulled over for an equipment violation and ending up with a slew of other charges in Flanders, Southampton Town police said.

Aquilino Flores, 21, of Hoover Court in Mastic was initially stopped on Flanders Road about 2:30 a.m. Sunday for not having a plate lamp on his car. At the time, he told the officer that he had no ID and gave a false name and date of birth, police said. But then he gave the officer his wallet, which contained a Mexican ID card with his real identity, according to police, who then charged him with false personation.

Mr. Flores told police he lied about his name because he didn’t have a license, police said.

In addition to the false personation charge, he also was charged with unlicensed operation, distorted visibility, second- and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, circumventing an interlock device and consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle, according to police.