2011 In Review: A Stormy Year Of Death, Crime, Corruption And TV

Ah, the New Year. When auld aquaintances be forgot. In 2011, they’re forgotten because they’re either in prison, dead, taken off television or simply blown away by hurricane-strength winds.

It has been one heckuva year. After looking through our archives for 2011 and studying the analytics to see which stories were the most read, one thing is undeniable: it was not a particularly positive year for Sheepshead Bay. Our biggest stories fell into five categories: violent crime, political corruption, scams and schemes, bad weather and, horror of horrors, Russian Dolls.

Keep reading for the roundup of Sheepshead Bites’ biggest stories in 2011.

Violent Crime On The Rise

Maksim Gelman, suspect in stabbing of Aleksandr Kuznetsov
Maksim Gelman

Just about every person we questioned about 2011’s biggest story said the same thing: the murderous rampage of Maksim Gelman.

On February 11, around 5:30 a.m., I woke up to phone call after phone call from local tipsters telling me of a brutal murder on Emmons Avenue and East 27th Street. All that was known was a 54-year-old man was stabbed to death, and a 20-something-year-old man was seen driving away from the location. Sheepshead Bites was the first to report on the incident.

None but the sickest of minds could imagine what would happen next. The 20-something-year-old turned out to be Maksim Gelman, who managed to dodge police for more than 11 hours. In that time, he went to the home of Yelena Bulchenko, who he had supposedly become obsessed with, killed her mother and set up camp until Yelena came home. He then stabbed her to death, bringing the death count to three. He led police on a 17-hour chase, resurfacing occasionally to stab, maim and carjack anyone who got in his way. It wasn’t until the next morning – 28 hours after the first murder – that he was captured in Manhattan. We spent the day cobbling together news sources, roaming the streets, talking to police officers and documenting the NYPD’s Level 1 Mobilization that brought a seemingly endless parade of police cars from across the city into our neighborhood.

A memorial in front of Yelena Bulchenko's home the day after Gelman killer her and her mother.

The Gelman story didn’t end there, though his violence did. In the weeks that followed he made several statements to police, boasting of his deeds and indicating insanity. Finally, in November, he pleaded guilty to murdering four people and wounding four others.

That was just the first in what would be many instances of violent crime in the area. Sheepshead Bites took a hard look at violent crime rates in the 61st Precinct, noting that just four months into the year we were already seeing the deadliest year in a decade.

Though local leaders insisted the Gelman-fueled crime spike was an anomaly, the response just doesn’t stack up. The latest Compstat report from the precinct shows the rest of the year saw a steep uptick in violent crimes including murder, rape and felonious assault. Even if we remove Gelman’s victims from the equation, it remains one of the most violent years our community has ever seen.

And the stories are there to prove it. Sheepshead Bites was among the first or only to report on the numerous vicious attacks that rattled our community. Among those stories:

Tysha Jones was a junior at Norman Thomas High School and lived in a Harlem apartment with her mother, Cynthia, her brother and sister, according to friends.
Tysha Jones, taken hours before she was shot to death on Brighton Beach

And that’s not even all the violent crimes we’ve reported on in the past 12 months…

Severe Weather Conditions

Boxing Day Blizzard 2010

Last year kicked off with most New Yorkers still muttering about the devastating Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010. If you live under a rock, that was the one that dumped two feet of snow on Sheepshead Bay and caught the city with its pants down. The entire city was paralyzed – except Mayor Bloomberg’s block – and nearly a week went by before some Sheepshead Bay streets were cleared.

But that was 2010. In 2011, the city was still struggling to cope. Investigations were launched. Emergency plans were drawn up. And just weeks into the New Year, the city government got to show how competent it was when it launched a full-scale response to, well, a lesser-than snowstorm. They still didn’t pass muster.

But enough of the snow. Spring sprang by without incident, but then a hot, sweaty summer rolled in. June brought some record-breaking temperatures, and the city opened up public cooling centers and urged residents to care for neighbors. But, perhaps, what really made us cool down were the torrential rains that flooded basements.

Once we dried off, we got all shook up. Literally. By an earthquake. A freakin’ earthquake in New York City. And, here in Sheepshead Bay, that little Virginia-based quake had residents partying like no tomorrow. Oh, and buildings reporting damage. And, um, tattoos.

And then Irene knocked at our door. Hurricane Irene was poised to be the big one – a Category 1 Hurricane poised to make landfall in Southern Brooklyn, forcing storm surges to flood everything the Brooklyn coastline and lower Manhattan. The city ordered evacuation, but we noticed they totally forgot about Plumb Beach. After our report, the city made last minute arrangements to protect the shoreline from further flooding. Meanwhile, as the storm rolled in, we set up a live feed to allow readers to watch the mayhem from the comfort of their bunkers. In the end it mostly turned out to be a wash, though some areas around Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach did see flooding, and people lost power to downed trees.

The rest of the year, thankfully, was pretty quiet on the weather front, though our readers did spot some ominous clouds in the sky

Scams, Schemes & Porno Rings

MEDICARE_SUB
Valentina Kovalienko, one of the Brooklyn defendants in the July bust. (Source: AP via Wall Street Journal)

This was the year of the two largest Medicaid fraud busts in American history. Massive stories of national scope such as this should not seem so routine in our little corner of the country. And yet, they do, as both fraud busts included arrests in Southern Brooklyn, not to mention the several smaller busts for Medicaid, Medicare and various other schemes also made in the area.

The first big bust was announced in February, when 114 people were arrested in a nationwide sweep. The single largest bust within the sweep involved seven Russian immigrants that bilked taxpayers out of $57 million in a three-year scheme, involving three clinics in the Sheepshead Bay area.

The owners of Monica's were indicted for their role in a $3 million Medicare fraud plot.

It took only a five months for the government to break that record, when in July they arrested 91 — including 11 doctors, three nurses and 10 medical professionals. It was less people, sure, but it spanned across eight major cities, including Brooklyn, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami, and totaled a staggering $295 million in fraudulent billing practice, exceeding February’s wimpy $240 million crackdown.

That same month, in an unrelated case, federal agents swarmed two local pharmacies and charged their owners with operating a $3 million Medicare scheme. Sheepshead Bites was the first to break that story.

Fake stockbroker

It seems people aren’t learning their lesson. In November, the FBI arrested five individuals for conspiring to launder profits from defrauding Medicare at three local medical clinics. And, this month, authorities arrested a couple living in Brighton’s ritzy Oceana condos for illegally collecting Medicare.

But not everything is Medicaid/Medicare-related. The operator of a criminal ring with its hands in an international Holocaust survivors fund was sentenced to a year in prison. A Sheepshead Bay-based stockbroker was nabbed for bilking clients out of more than $200,000.

And don’t forget our scoop about the $7 million family-run prostitution and drug ring on Coney Island Avenue. That one made us proud…

Russian Dolls

Ah, Russian Dolls. You could say this is a 2010 story, since we were the first news outlet to report that the project was in the works back in February 2010. But, really, all the action happened this year.

It was the end of 2010 that Russian leaders began squabbling over whether this show was good for the Russian-speaking community or not. But things pretty much died down until July. That’s when the name was announced: “Russian Dolls,” a name synonymous with sex trafficking. How quaint.

After all the squabbling, it was more or less decided: this show wasn’t going to be any good for the community.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show
Michael and Marina Levitis

And then Sheepshead Bites revealed the planned commercial promoting the show. And then it was totally clear: nevermind the community;this wasn’t going to be any good… period.

American audiences agreed, apparently, as the network removed the show from its usual slot only halfway through the first season, then did a “burn” marathon at 8:00 a.m. in October. And, finally, the show was dead.

And let’s not forget our favorite thing about Russian Dolls. While everyone was still wondering what sort of show this was going to be, we figured it out pretty quickly. Sheepshead Bites broke the story that one of Russian Dolls’ central figures was Rasputin owner and confessed criminal Michael Levitis.

Which brings us to our next topic…

A Crooked, Greedy Politician and Some Weiner

Okay, it’s a little hard to tie these two together. The only thing they have in common is that they were both politicians who resigned for one nefarious reason or another.

Kruger's name was stripped from his district office just one day after he resigned.

In the case of State Senator Carl Kruger, it was a long, twisted saga. It first became clear that Kruger was going down last year, when his pal Levitis (See Russian Dolls, above), was recorded attempting to swindle some undercover FBI operatives into buying Kruger’s political support – which, he made clear, was for sale. That all fell through, though Levitis copped a plea deal and took a slap on the wrist.

The FBI wasn’t quite done with Kruger. They unveiled a five-count indictment in May, alleging Kruger took a stream of bribes totaling at least $1 million in return for official actions between 2006 and February 2011. Recorded conversations revealed an intimate relationship with Michael Turano, who Kruger apparently lived with, along with Turano’s brother and mother. The Turanos, prosecutors allege, funneled money through shell companies on behalf of Kruger and used it to finance a lavish lifestyle. After half a year of telling constituents he would be vindicated, Kruger finally pleaded guilty and resigned earlier this month.

Of course, though his corrupt deeds may have been worse, Kruger was largely overshadowed by the drama surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner. In “The Tweet seen round the world,” Weiner had a Twitter misfire in May that made a crotch-shot public. He lied about it. Then women began coming forward, saying they had sexy online correspondence with Weiner.

Not actually accused of any crime or violation of public trust, Weiner resigned in June amid heckling. New York’s 9th Congressional District fell to Republican Bob Turner in September.

All in all, was an action-packed year. Sure, we could look at Sheepshead Bites’ most viewed coverage and say, “Man, nothing good happened, just violent crime, scams, corruption and bad weather.” But we’re not going to do that. We prefer to see the good…

…Russian Dolls was canceled.

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