Community

Notable Stories of 2017

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Carmel Police Chief Mike Cazzari answers questions at a press conference during the murder investigation. Credits: Bob Dumas
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In March, homeowners showed up in droves at the Town Hall to protest the revaluation project. Credits: Bob Dumas
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An aerial view of where the town would like to build a park (circled in red) along Route 6N Credits: File
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MAHOPAC, N.Y.-Another year has come and gone in Mahopac and it’s time to look back on 2017 and recap the most noteworthy stories of the past 12 months. Being memorable doesn’t necessarily mean a joyous occasion; this past year did have some heartbreaking moments. However, it was also a year of new ideas, and a year of change. So, in no particular order, here are the Top 10 notable stories from 2017:

Mahopac woman murdered in home

Mahopac was stunned when a 75-year-old woman was found murdered in her home on April 27. Police Chief Mike Cazzari said first responders discovered the body of Perla Gatchalian in her residence after they were called by a family member.

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Police said during the course of the investigation they developed leads that brought them to the Westchester County hamlet of West Harrison where they determined that Gatchalian was killed by her daughter’s 69-year-old father-in-law, Filippo Buffone. Cazzari said that family finances were the motive for the homicide. Buffone took his own life five days later in the parking lot of a business near his home.

Klein gets six years-plus for FD embezzlement

Michael Klein, the former Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) treasurer who stole more than $5.7 million from the department’s treasury, pleaded guilty in March and was later sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 77 months in federal prison.

Klein pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud; six counts of subscribing to false tax returns; one count of obstructing the grand jury’s investigation; and one count of making false statements to the United States attorney. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel ordered Klein to forfeit $5,675,360 in ill-gotten gains, as well as various assets, including his residence in Palm City, Fla.

Chamber CEO charged with larceny

In March, Erin Meagher, the CEO/executive director of the Greater Mahopac/Carmel Chamber of Commerce was charged with felony fourth-degree grand larceny for using a chamber debit card for personal purchases and then altering receipts to disguise the transactions.

Meagher initially contended the charges were part of a smear tactic due to her political affiliation and her youth and she said would be vindicated. However, in June she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor petit larceny, admitting in an allocution statement that she used the debit card for unauthorized personal purchases that amounted to nearly $3,000. She was sentenced to probation and ordered to make restitution.

Property revaluation causes revolt

The town of Carmel completed its first townwide property revaluation in 20 years and the results left some homeowners stunned and angry when they saw their tax bills more than double. Throughout the month of March, the Town Hall meeting room overflowed with angry residents who came to protest what they considered an untenable hike in their taxes as a result of the revaluation.

However, despite the revolt, the new assessments were added to the tax rolls in April and property owners took the established methods available to have them lowered.

School chief’s contract not renewed

In July, Mahopac School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Creedon announced that he would step down from his post at the end of the 2017-18 school year after the Board of Education opted not to renew his contract.

Creedon signed a three-year deal in 2015, and will complete the terms of that agreement. Asked whether a contract extension had ever been discussed with the school board, he said, “It was discussed, but I don’t want to go into that.”

The school board completed its search for a new superintendent in December and will introduce the person after the first of the year.

Beloved middle school principal resigns

MMS principal Vince DiGrandi resigned his post in July to become principal at North Salem’s combined middle school/high school.

The move shocked the community and left district officials scrambling to find a replacement. DiGrandi was a Mahopac native and a graduate of the MHS Class of 1989. He came to the Mahopac School District in 2013 after serving as principal of Fishkill Plains Elementary School in Dutchess County. He said he took the North Salem job because he thought it was the best thing for his career and his family.

In August, Carmel High School graduate Tom Cozzocrea was hired to take DiGrandi’s place.

Plans for new community center completed

With all the necessary permits secured, a plan to build a $10 million community center at Sycamore Park was turned over to the Town Board in November, which now must figure out how to pay for it.

The project includes an 18,000-square-foot community center building; a 15,000-square-foot maintenance building; new parking facilities; improved entrances and exits and improved stormwater systems. Town officials say all the necessary permits have been secured—they just need to decide how to fund the project.

Barile, McDonough win Town Board election

Newcomer Michael Barile and incumbent Suzi McDonough were elected to the Carmel Town Board on Nov. 7.

Barile was the top vote-getter with 5,118 votes (37.3 percent). McDonough garnered 4,583 votes (33.4 percent). Democratic challenger Judie Mirra finished a distant third with 2,567 votes (18.7 percent).

McDonough had not received the GOP nomination but got on the primary ballot by garnering enough names on a petition and ended up winning and earning a GOP slot in the general election. Incumbent Councilman Frank Lombardi, who received the GOP nomination at the party caucus, lost the primary to McDonough, but ran on the Independence and Reform party lines in the general election. He finished fourth with 1,402 votes (10.2 percent).

Town buys land for new park

In November, the Town Board took the first step to begin a project that will create a new lakefront park, along with municipal parking in the Mahopac business district on Lake Mahopac on Route 6N.

The board agreed to a deal with developer Frank Cotaj to purchase a parcel of land formerly known as Swan Cove—currently the site of eight rundown abandoned bungalows—for $1 million. The sale is contingent upon a subsequent purchase of neighboring land from Tompkins Mahopac Bank, including where the Chamber of Commerce building is currently situated.

O’Keefe gets year in jail for fatal DWI crash

Former Carmel police officer and Town Board member Richard O’Keefe was sentenced to a year in jail and revocation of his license after he reached a plea deal with prosecutors and copped to criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony for the part he played in a fatal car accident on Route 6 in Mahopac.

The collision reconstruction report revealed that the primary cause of the collision was the vehicle driven by Anna Estrada failed to yield the right of way to O’Keefe’s vehicle; however, contributing factors were the speed at which O’Keefe was traveling and the fact that he was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol. A State Police investigation revealed that O’Keefe, also a former Mahopac School Board member, was driving at an excessive rate of speed when his vehicle collided with Estrada’s Jeep Patriot. The collision resulted in the death of Frances Ghelarducci, a Somers teacher’s aide, who was seated in the rear of the Jeep.

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