Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lawsuit Brought Against Roosevelt Island Operating Corp, RIOC President Shelton Haynes & General Counsel Gretchen Robinson By Fired RIOC Employees - Allegations Include Corruption, Misconduct, Fraud, Negligence, Cover Up and Workplace Retaliation For Whistleblower Complaints

On February 14, 2023, former Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) employees Erica Spencer-El, Amy Smith and Jessica Cerrone commenced a lawsuit against RIOC, RIOC President Shelton Haynes, RIOC General Counsel Gretchen Robinson and others

 alleging (Verified Complaint para 1 page 2):

... an action for illegal workplace retaliation caused by Defendants against Plaintiffs for their whistleblower complaints made to report corruption, misconduct, and violations of law made internally and later externally to the New York State Office of Inspector General and to the New York State Office of the State Comptroller. As a direct result of Plaintiffs’ good-faith whistleblower complaints each of the three Plaintiffs were improperly and impermissibly subjective to a hostile work environment before ultimately being terminated from RIOC in violation of, inter alia, New York Labor Law § 740... 

Allegations contained in the Verified Complaint included:

... 16. Specifically, the three plaintiffs in this action observed an increasingly reckless pattern of corruption, unethical conduct, and dangerous behavior coming from RIOC’s leadership group and which peaked in the period of time when government mandated shutdowns due to COVID-19 began to lift in mid-2020....

... 17. Smith and Cerone, for their part, noticed operational concerns regarding the COVID-19 Rapid testing site on Roosevelt Island that opened in January 2021 known as Swift Emergency (“Swift”)....

... 19. Due to the Swift testing site receiving continuing special exemptions and priority treatment from RIOC leadership and the lack of response received from internal complaints about the issue, Smith and Spencer-EL’s concerns about violations of law grew, and, on or about March 4, 2021, Spencer-EL formally submitted reports to the New York State Office of Inspector General and the New York State Comptroller’s Office reflecting Plaintiffs’ legitimate concerns.

20. Spencer-EL’s March 4, 2021, reports centered around RIOC’s fraudulent purchasing activities related to COVID-19, and, in particular, Hayne’s and RIOC leadership’s push for non-compliance with certain laws, rules and regulations concerning directives and actions being handed out regarding the Swift testing site....

... 23. In addition to the numerous internal complaints made to and ignored by Defendants by the Plaintiffs regarding policies and directives concerning the Swift Site and the Sportspark pool drowning, Smith also anonymously reported her concerns to the New York State Office of the Inspector General.

24. In her report to the Inspector General, Smith i) outlined her previous concerns with the COVID-19 testing site, ii) explained that she saw video footage of the Sportspark downing and that the drowning was a result of negligence arising under Haynes and Jackson’s supervision and direction, and iii) expressed how she was asked to operate in a way that was aiding in nefarious matters, covering up wrong-doings, or having to feel bullied and harassed into supporting improper conduct and/or misconduct being perpetrated by leadership or the “Executive Team.”...

... 119. In her report to the Inspector General, Smith outlined her concerns with the COVID-19 testing site, as well as the drowning at Sportspark Pool. Furthermore, Smith also specifically named Jackson, Robinson, and Sharpe, explaining that she felt that Haynes was engaged in fraud with the testing site and that the drowning was a direct result of negligence under Haynes and Jackson’s supervision and direction. Smith also expressed how she was asked to operate in a way that was aiding in nefarious matters, covering up wrong-doings, or having to feel bullied and harassed into supporting improper conduct and/or misconduct being perpetrated by the “executive team"....

Earlier today, I asked RIOC President Shelton Haynes and Communications Vice President Akeem Jamal:

Does RIOC have any comment on the "Whistleblower" lawsuit brought by former RIOC employees Erica Spencer-El, Amy Smith and Jessica Cerrone?

Specifically, does RIOC have any comment on the allegations regarding:
  • The alleged cover up of the Sportspark drowning incident, including instructions to RIOC employees not to put anything in writing about the incident?
  • The  special treatment received by Swift Emergency in setting up the Roosevelt Island Covid Test site and the undisclosed personal relationship between the Swift owner and Shelton Haynes
  • the employees were fired by RIOC as retaliation for their complaints to the NY State Inspector General.
  • any other comment you wish to make on the subject.
 I plan on publishing an article about the lawsuit today so please let me know if you will comment.

There has been no response from RIOC.

Read the entire Verified Complaint.


Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

RIVAA Gallery Artists Collaborating With Cornell Tech Students Remaking The City Class To Envision Future Look Of Roosevelt Island Architecture

I asked RIVAA Gallery:

Can you tell me more about the virtual reality project with Cornell Tech?

RIVAA Gallery artist Laura Hussey answered:

Tapan Parikh’s class, Remaking the City is envisioning what the architecture on Roosevelt Island might look like in the future based on the population, location and cultural diversity of Roosevelt Island.

Students will work in teams and design and build a physical model of their designs. A virtual reality model for viewing will then be created.

Five RIVAA artists will interact with the teams at specific times during the semester to give advice on how the projects are progressing from an aesthetic point of view and to make suggestions. This will allow the possibility for the students to envision their designs from a very different, non technical perspective and give them ideas they might wish to incorporate. 

At the conclusion of the semester the students projects may be critiqued by RIVAA on a design basis and placed on display at RIVAA gallery.

You're Invited To Roosevelt Island Artist Salon Thursday February 16, Meet 2 Local Artists Who Approach Textile Arts From Different Points Of View

Roosevelt Island resident and artist Thom Heyer reports:

Hi Roosevelt Island Family & Community

I hope this finds you all well!

Just wanted to keep you in the loop of one of "The Island's" upcoming events at the Senior Center (546 Main Street). 

I'm continuing my community outreach series of salons sponsored by Humanities New York and Open Doors NYC.

On Thursday 2/16 we are hosting a short salon-style evening to meet two local artists that we're calling "The Subject is The Process".

Francene Benjamin (a Coler resident) and Ann Kronenberg (an instructor at the Senior Center) are two artists/writers who approach textile arts from very different points of view.

Please feel free to share our salon with any of your friends & colleagues.

Let's see where there might be points of commonality!

I look forward to seeing any of you who can make it

We hope to see you all who can make it on Thursday. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Sponsored Post - iDig2Learn Is Thrilled To Present Bellies, Bins & Beauty Upcoming Free February/March Events For All Ages - Eat More Food, Waste Less, Compost & Restore Beauty, RSVP With Keywords Now

Roosevelt Island resident and iDig2Learn Founder Chrisina Delfico reports:

Come show your Earth Love! 

iDig2Learn is thrilled to present the Bellies, Bins and Beauty 2023 freeevents. This initiative focuses on food, how to prepare and eat more of it and waste less. We will also take a deeper look at valuing the resources right before us, like food scraps which can be dropped off to become compost. We then use that nutrient-rich compost to restore the beauty of our neighborhood trees and flowers and even ourselves by growing edible food completing the cycle. It truly is a win-win. Thanks to all our guests who will share their knowledge, we can't wait to learn more and make new friends. All ages welcome.

Find a date or two that work for you, your friends and family and RSVP by emailing the event keyword(s) to for event confirmation and location. 

Please mention the number of people you hope to attend. Space is limited, RSVP to secure your spot. And don't worry if you can not make this round we will continue with more events soon.

This program is made possible due to the generous support via NYS Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright and administered through the Office of Children and Family Services

In August 2021, Anthony Longo gave a brief recap about the iDig2Learn Bellies, Bins and Beauty Initiative

and Ms Delfico added a bit more detail.

Visit the iDig2Learn website and Instagram Page for more info.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Mayor Eric Adams Reports On "Cannabis Justice For All" In Op Ed Submitted To NYC Community Media - "It Is Time For The Operation Of Illegal Cannabis Dispensaries To End" Says Mayor Adams

New York City Mayor Eric Adams submitted the op-ed article below to local NYC community media including Roosevelt Islander Online.

According to Mayor Eric Adams:

Community Op Ed: Cannabis Justice for All

Legalizing cannabis was a major step forward for equity and justice in our city. But legalization is about following the new laws, not a free pass to sell unregulated cannabis products.

Over the last few months, illegal cannabis retailers have taken advantage of decriminalization efforts, with unlicensed smoke shops popping up all over the city. This “Wild West” attempt to gain market share will not be tolerated. New York City has changed the laws, but we intend to enforce them — fairly, equitably, and thoroughly.

For many years, people of color in our communities were routinely targeted when it came to cannabis law enforcement. Cannabis criminalization was used to harass, arrest, and prosecute our brothers and sisters.

Advocates rightly pushed for an end to these practices, and fought hard to put racial equity at the center of New York's cannabis legalization efforts. Past convictions were automatically expunged or suppressed. People with past convictions for marijuana and their family members are being given priority for these licenses. 50 percent of licenses have been set aside for social and economic equity applicants.

An open and democratic process resulted in the progress so many wanted to see — an end to the “war on drugs” mentality, the establishment of a safe and sanctioned cannabis industry for adults, and a pathway to restorative justice for those who were unfairly prosecuted in the past.

Legal cannabis is expected to be a $1.3 billion industry that will create thousands of jobs and generate approximately $40 million per year in tax revenue for our city. And 40 percent of the tax revenues from legal cannabis will be invested back in the communities that were most harmed by prohibition.

We have a moral obligation to make sure that the people who were adversely affected by marijuan criminalization get their fair share of this emerging market. That’s part of the mission of the new CannabisNYC Office. This is a city agency that will make New Yorkers aware of opportunities to participate in this industry, promote equity, and help applicants navigate the licensing process.

In the last month, the first licensed cannabis dispensaries in our city have opened for business. One is owned by a not-for-profit that supports people living with H.I.V. and A.I.D.S., the other by a formerly incarcerated entrepreneur who received priority for a license because he is one of countless Black men who was harmed by the drug war in the 1990s.

But these legitimate businesses are facing stiff competition from shops that are not following the rules. Instead of respect for the law, what we have seen recently is the proliferation of storefronts across New York City, selling unlicensed, unregulated untaxed cannabis products.

Those who flout the cannabis tax laws and regulations are robbing the very communities that are finally on the cusp of benefiting from a just and equitable system.

We cannot allow that. We’re not going to take two steps back by letting illegal smoke shops take over this emerging market, especially when so many of them are selling unlawful and unlicensed products that could seriously harm consumers.

It is time for the operation of illegal cannabis dispensaries to end.

Sheriff Miranda and our partners at the N.Y.P.D. recently took direct action to counter this trend. Over a two-week enforcement blitz, the Sheriff's Office issued 566 violations and seized $4.1 million worth of product at 53 locations.

And this week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sent letters to approximately 400 unlicensed smoke shops in Manhattan. The letters state that the city will commence legal eviction proceedings against commercial tenants who are engaged in illegal business activity. That includes the unlicensed sale of cannabis, the sale of untaxed cigarettes, and the sale of adulterated products. If owners and landlords fail to initiate timely eviction proceedings against these commercial tenants, the Sheriff's Office will take over and pursue eviction proceedings. 

While we are not ruling out criminal prosecutions for tax evasion, money laundering, or the sale of cannabis to minors, the focus of this initiative at this time is civil enforcement. We want to give New York's legal cannabis market a chance to thrive — and deliver on the vision of safety, equity and justice that advocates fought for so long. 

CBS New York reported on Mayor Adams' and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's efforts to stop illegal cannabis shops

and here's the full February 7 announcement of their strategy.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Long Time Roosevelt Island Resident And RIVAA Gallery Member Artist Rachel Garrick Passed Away At 93 Years Of Age, Celebration Of Her Life February 13 At RIVAA Gallery -Condolences To Her Family, Friends And Colleagues

According to the Roosevelt Island RIVAA Gallery:

It is with great sadness that the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association announces the passing of our beloved RIVAA member and longtime Roosevelt Island resident, Rachel Garrick. Rachel passed away in Florida on February 8,2023 at the age of 93. Her family was by her side at the time of her death. 

Rachel’s gentle nature and cheerful disposition will be missed by all who knew her. Rachel was a RIVAA member from its early years. She considered the gallery her second home. 
In honor of her wishes, a memorial celebrating her life is being held by her daughters at RIVAA gallery (527 Main St., Roosevelt Island) on Monday, February 13, 2023 at 5PM.

Rachel Garrick's obituary is here.

Rachel Garrick reported on the RIVAA Gallery web page: 

My interest in art began in the 5th grade with an orange crayon when I copied Ruben’s “The Head of a Boy.” I was given the opportunity to create several murals for the classroom wall in my Bronx, NY school. In high school, I got involved with stage and fashion art.

I went on to study oil painting with Isaac Soyer and Eleanor Lust along with anatomy, drafting and the mechanics of commercial art. Later in life my education continued at the Art Students’ League and joined several art organizations, which allowed me to attend the World Conference on Women in Beijing, China as a female artist. I have also designed some pamphlets and menus for clients.

My involvement with RIVAA gallery has given me the freedom to branch out into other painting mediums and I have rediscovered my childhood interest in water colors and pastels. Portraits and capturing people’s expressions has remained my main desire,  

but I have also developed a love for painting horses and depicting the strength in their bodies contrasting with their beauty as they run. 

My travels through the beautiful shores of southern California and lovely countryside in Italy has also inspired landscape work such as ROW OF TREES IN MONTECATINI (watercolor, 7 x 10), where I depict the trees as towering, mighty and elegant, creating shadows of darkness among the pastel colors of the city in the rain.

Condolences to Rachel Garrick's family, friends and colleagues.