By Cary Shuman
Cottage Street resident Sladja Vukovic is hoping to build community spirit in her neighborhood with a new project called Buy Nothing.
Vujovic is the administrator of the Chelsea Facebook group for the worldwide program in which neighbors give and receive free items from each other such as clothes, household goods, furniture, bicycles – really, anything is on the list.
“Currently we have 32 members in Chelsea,” said Vukovic, who is a realtor in Boston. “There are Facebook groups in many cities and towns in Massachusetts.”
Vukovic is originally from Bosnia and came to the United States in 2008. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. She has lived in Chelsea since 2010. Her husband is former Chelsea High soccer star Vedran Vukovic, and they have a son, Banja.
The 31-year-old resident started the Buy Nothing group two months ago for residents in the southern half of Chelsea, spanning from Admiral’s Hill to Washington Avenue. She is looking for a resident to step forward and be the administrator for the northern half of Chelsea.
“Basically our goal is to give where you live,” said Vukovic. “If you have something that you want to give to someone or if you have something you want to lend – like a jacket – you post it on a Facebook page, and if anyone else needs it, they’re going to reply and take that item for free.”
The time period for giving and lending can vary from item to item.
“Let’s say I need to borrow something for a weekend, you can ask for it and someone can volunteer to give it you,” said Vukovic.
Buy Nothing can also provide free services such as lawn mowing, house painting, snow plowing, landscaping or even learning a new language. Vukovic speaks English, Serbian, and Spanish.
“You can’t advertise your business in the program, but if you have a service for free that you want to provide, you can do that,” she explained.
Vukovic is trying to increase the number of members in the Facebook group through marketing and personal contacts with her neighbors.
“Somerville has more than 500 members,” she said. “But they’ve been doing it longer than we have.”
The overall mission of the program, according to Vukovic, is to give items to neighbors and strengthen the bonds in the neighborhood.
“I was looking for groups on Facebook and the Buy Nothing project seemed like a great neighborhood-strengthening group,” she said. “I searched it Chelsea and found out that the city didn’t have it. So I became an administrator and here we have it.”
Vukovic is considering an appearance during the a City Council meeting to help publicize the group.
“My goal is for people to get know about this project,” she said. “I think it’s a great way for people who have something to give, to give it to someone else for free.”
(For more information, please go to Facebook and search for: buynothingchelseasouth,ma)
An MS-13 member pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 26, in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery.
The defendant admitted responsibility for murdering an innocent bystander, attempted murder of rival gang member and armed robbery.
The murder of the innocent bystander occurred in 2014 when the gang member shot at a rival gang member and missed, instantly killing a woman in her home who had simply looked out the front window. The woman was the mother of three children and was in refuge from a domestic violence situation.
Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo,” 24, a Honduran national formerly of Chelsea, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for Jan. 19, 2018. According to the terms of the plea agreement, the parties will jointly recommend a sentence of 27 years in prison.
Ramires was a member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha (ECS) clique, which operated in Chelsea and other parts of Massachusetts. On Oct. 18, 2014, Ramires and Bryan Galicia Barillas a/k/a “Chucky,” a fellow member of MS-13’s ECS clique, were walking the streets of Chelsea when they encountered a group of rival gang members. Ramires, who was armed, shot at one of the gang rivals and missed, killing a woman who was an innocent bystander who was looking out a nearby window of a room she shared with her three children. Barillas was also charged and previously pleaded guilty to, among other things, providing Ramires with the gun.
Ramires also accepted responsibility for his role in a March 28, 2014, attempted murder of a rival gang member in Chelsea, and an April 9, 2014, armed robbery in Chelsea.
After a three-year investigation, Ramires was one of 61 persons named in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization whose branches or “cliques” operate throughout the United States, including in Massachusetts.
Ramires is the 22nd defendant to plead guilty in this case and will subject to deportation upon the completion of his sentence. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The leader of MS-13’s East Boston Loco Salvatrucha clique was sentenced this week in federal court in Boston for RICO conspiracy involving an aggravated assault, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
Santos Portillo Andrade, a/k/a “Flaco,” 33, a Salvadoran national residing in Revere, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to 10 years in prison and four years of supervised release. He will also be subject to deportation hearings upon completion of his sentence. In June 2017, Portillo agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy, and admitted responsibility for an aggravated assault on an individual he believed was a rival gang member in Malden in December 2008. Portillo also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 500 grams or more of cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
After a three-year investigation, Portillo was one of 61 defendants named in a January 2016 superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. He is the 19th defendant to be sentenced in the case.
Portillo was the leader of the East Boston Loco Salvatrucha clique of MS-13. According to court documents, MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization whose branches or “cliques” operate throughout the United States, including Massachusetts. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence against rival gang members to gain promotions and maintain membership and discipline within the group. Specifically, MS-13 members are required to attack and murder rival gang members whenever possible.
The City of Chelsea is pleased to announce that it was awarded a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice to support community safety improvements.
Chelsea’s grant is just one of eight funded projects nationwide made in this fall’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program. The grant leverages community, business, non-profit and city investments in support of greater public safety managed collaboratively through the Chelsea Thrives initiative.
Since mid-2014, when Chelsea Thrives was launched, community leaders have met on a regular basis to align resources in support of greater public safety. Led by an Executive Council with regular participation by 20 civic, business, and municipal leaders, Chelsea Thrives seeks to reduce crime by 30 percent over 10 years and to improve our community’s perception of safety. Since the initiative began, 1,500 residents and 70 institutions have participated, drawing from local and regional government and non- profit agencies and our area’s businesses. Key areas of focus are youth safety, coordination of services to prevent trauma and violence, infrastructure improvements in support of safety, and greater community engagement in support of a safe community.
“Unfortunately Chelsea has historically faced persistent crime problems,” reports City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “Chelsea Thrives had just started to focus on safety when I started my position as City Manager. Safety is a critical component of a vibrant community, every bit as important as quality and affordable homes, good jobs, and high performing schools. Chelsea is making progress with steady reductions in crime year over year since 2013. The support of US Department of Justice will bring us one step closer to our goal of a safe and thriving community.”
The grant’s timeline and activities are designed to dovetail with the City’s Downtown Initiative to create a more welcoming downtown experience. The first phase of the Downtown Initiative is now underway. The Re-Imagining Broadway participatory planning started in January 2017 with construction to occur in 2018-2019. Design goals for the city’s downtown infrastructure investments include improvements to pedestrian safety, public transportation hubs, and traffic flow and deterrence of crime and loitering. The resources made available through the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant will further leverage the value of this significant infrastructure investment by providing complementary policing, community revitalization, and social service supports.
In the first year of the grant, a criminologist from the University of Massachusetts Lowell will work with CPD and Chelsea Thrives partners to better understand Chelsea’s crime patterns and locations. With that information in hand, the researchers and community partners will identify appropriate community-based interventions to address crime hot-spots. Included in the grant’s planning phase is a review of ideas proposed by the Chelsea Thrives partners in the grant application, including supports for:
- The Chamber of Commerce to promote the city’s façade improvement loan program plus technical assistance made available to downtown business and property owners to access and utilize the loans;
- Downtown festivals and community activities based out of Bellingham and Chelsea Squares;
- A Roca-led youth work crew to assist with the festivals and downtown improvement projects;
- Downtown area safety walks and beautification activities managed by The Neighborhood Developers; and
- Emergency assistance funds for use by the Chelsea Hub, managed by The Chelsea Collaborative.
“Receiving the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant award is a testament to the hard work of all of the community leaders and institutions that have dedicated time and energy to the collective work of Chelsea Thrives partnership over the last three years,” says Melissa Walsh, who leads Chelsea Thrives as part of her position at The Neighborhood Developers (TND). “This grant award will bring valuable resources to the City and other community partners in order to continue to make progress on addressing the social drivers of crime and making Chelsea a safer place for all.”
The new Department of Justice grant is the second $1 million investment secured on behalf of Chelsea Thrives from the US Department of Justice. The Safe and Secure Grant has just finished its one-year planning phase and will soon begin implementation to build community capacity for youth opportunity and safety. The Safe and Secure grant responds to the high volume of young people who have recently come to Chelsea from Central America who have experienced harrowing and traumatic journeys. Chelsea Public Schools, CPD, MGH Chelsea Health Care Center, The Chelsea Collaborative, The Neighborhood Developers, and Roca are collaborating to deliver trauma informed care, Overcoming Violence training for all 7th graders, trauma training at Lesley University for CPS teachers, case management and social service supports for at-risk youth, and parent leadership training.
The Chelsea Thrives Executive Council includes representatives from many city departments, residents, businesses and non-profits, including the City Manager, CPD’s Community Services Division, Chelsea Public Schools, People’s AME Church, Bunker Hill Community College, Chelsea Chamber, the Chelsea Collaborative, the Community Enhancement Team, East Cambridge Savings Bank, GreenRoots, Metro Credit Union, MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, Phoenix Charter Academy, Roca, and The Neighborhood Developers. Monthly meetings are open to all who are able to regularly attend. For information on how to join, contact Melissa Walsh at The Neighborhood Developers at MWalsh@tndinc.org.
There wasn’t much of an opportunity for supporters and attorneys for Plaza Mexico Restaurant to speak or give their side of the story at last week’s License Commission meeting – a meeting that aimed to discuss taking away the restaurant’s licenses – but the attorney this week spoke out about the evidence presented and said the case was a “reach.”
The License Commission began a hearing into Plaza Mexico at its meeting on May 5, but a lengthy police presentation using videos and focusing on reports going back to 2013 took up most all of the three-hour meeting. That meeting was continued, and a follow up has been scheduled for this Tuesday, May 19.
Plaza Mexico attorney Sam Vitali of Lynn said he plans to mount a vigorous defense of the video evidence and also provide numerous supporters and witnesses to testify.
Police are aiming to strip the restaurant of its licenses, saying that it has impeded investigations and should have been more aware and vigilant concerning drug dealing going on in the restaurant.
“What we saw on the tapes is a very serious matter, but it’s not a question of whether it’s a pattern of activity over a period of time,” said Vitali. “It’s people who got arrested for distributing drugs, who made serious attempts of disposing of those drugs. They were not dealing drugs right out there in the open. It’s not like a drug dealer was going around in the open and you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know…The tapes don’t show that. The police have speculation and opinion, but not fact.”
Tapes shown at the May 5 meeting detailed a one-hour snippet of events on Dec. 23, 2013 where one man who was convicted of drug dealing, and another man who has been charged but not convicted, are seen allegedly hanging out in the restaurant. They never really ordered much in the way of food or drink, but did go to the bathroom several times and are seen on camera going out to the back parking lot to allegedly deal drugs on several occasions.
At the same time, another man parked in a car in the parking lot was also dealing drugs and was arrested by happenstance on the same night when police came in to inspect the club’s licenses.
Police said the manager and bar maid, both of whom are seen on the video playing pool or cleaning up, should have been aware of the criminal activity. They point to licensing rules that state anyone going outside frequently or to the bathroom frequently should be flagged by management.
Vitali said the claims are unrealistic.
“They have come to this conclusion after an 18-month investigation that included watching 16 hours of tape from 16 different cameras,” said Vitali. “With the benefit of hindsight and having spent more than a year looking at the evidence, they were able to make these conclusions…Drug dealers don’t come in with a scarlet letter on them saying, ‘I’m on probation and I’ve got drugs on me.’ It’s an unrealistic expectation to me to have the employees act as police officers. They cooperated, gave information and provided tape. At the end of the day, the employees weren’t schooled in how to spot a drug transaction or didn’t see drug transactions. The rules and regulations don’t require a manager to act as a police officer.”
Vitali said he plans to cross examine several of the police officers at the May 19 meeting. He will also call the barmaid and the manager who are shown on the tape. Also, the head of the area neighborhood association will testify in favor of the Plaza Mexico ownership.
“I don’t think he would do that, representing all of those people, if he had any information to bring forward that showed the restaurant in a bad light,” said Vitali.
Finally, one large and looming question, is why the police decided to push right now to strip the licenses.
Police have said that an incident earlier this year where a juvenile was stabbed in the restaurant was the impetus, but Vitali said he has his doubts – and that case isn’t even being considered in the hearing due to an ongoing Grand Jury investigation.
“Why have they brought up all of these cases going so far back after such a long period of time?” he asked. “At the end of 2013, they approved their license without comment and at the end of 2014 they approved the license again. It seems to me it’s a little late to the dance to bring in an event that happened in 2013 and use it to say I’m improper.”
Campus sexual violence has been the subject of an intense national conversation recently, but that dialogue often lacks critical input from schools that are already taking steps to improve their campus climates. Colleges and universities, it’s time for you to lead on this issue.
So far, and with good reason, most of the attention has focused on schools that are under investigation for violating federal laws about sexual violence and on the survivors bravely sharing their stories and calling for action. Yet there are a number of schools that are working hard to address these challenges and to make real progress on this issue, and we need to hear from schools that are prioritizing prevention, response, and transparency and including students and survivors in all related initiatives on campus.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it’s a good time for schools to talk about how to meet their responsibilities to students. Rampant sexual violence creates a campus climate that is hostile to students, and students can’t learn when they aren’t safe. Because campus sexual assault happens everywhere, everyone benefits when schools worry less about public relations and more about making campuses safe. Part of the solution is for schools to create an environment where students feel comfortable reporting sexual violence.
Schools can also lead by understanding and complying with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prevents sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Unfortunately, under the scrutiny of the national spotlight, some schools have criticized or even blamed the law for problems on campus. But Title IX is not the reason schools mishandle campus sexual assaults. Smart schools recognize that it is their all-important guide for upholding students’ civil rights in campus proceedings and preventing future violence on campus. Title IX works, and it must be protected.
Title IX requires schools to have a role in addressing sexual violence because they are best equipped to provide accommodations such as class schedule or housing changes, critical pieces of the sexual assault response that survivors may need to be able to complete their education. Schools must also figure out in an administrative setting what occurred and then handle it according to their established codes of student conduct, anti-discrimination policies, and federal civil rights law.
These responsibilities under Title IX do not require schools to serve as police officers, prosecutors, or judges. Schools do not decide whether a felony or misdemeanor occurred for purposes of prosecution, and they cannot make plea agreements or impose criminal punishments. Those roles are, appropriately, left to the criminal justice system and can take place simultaneously if the survivor chooses to involve law enforcement. Title IX guidance clearly delineates between schools’ role and law enforcement’s role.
If school officials truly don’t see how these separate paths can work together, many helpful resources are available through the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice and online at notalone.gov.
The current national dialogue will be more productive if institutional leaders join the conversation — along with survivors, advocates, and policy makers — and help end the epidemic of campus sexual violence. Many schools are missing the chance not only to keep students safe but also to impress on students, faculty, prospective students, and parents that their institution is part of the solution. In the coming months, we expect to have the opportunity to highlight and learn from schools that are proactively addressing campus sexual assault and embracing Title IX. We look forward to hearing from them.
Lisa M. Maatz is Vice President for Government Relations at American Association of University Women
Former City Council President Paul Nowicki said officially this week that he will be submitting an application by the March 31 deadline to be considered for the city manager position.
“Absolutely,” he said on Monday. “As a life-long resident who still lives in Chelsea and a long-time public official here, I am very interested and excited about the opportunity and the process. I will be putting in an application for city manager of Chelsea by the March 31 deadline.”
Nowicki said he has always felt he would like to be the city manager of his hometown, and knew that he would be a part of the process once former City Manager Jay Ash announced he would leave late last year.
“It’s the opportunity that’s so exciting,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always thought about. Opportunity is everything and this is a special opportunity to give back to a community that my family has been part of since the early 1900s. I’m very excited and pumped up for the chance to participate in the process.”
Nowicki currently works at the Chelsea Housing Authority as a community engagement specialist, and has been there since 2011.
He served 16 years on the City Council, with four terms as Council President.
He was also a court officer for several years as well.
He noted that he has a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice.
Shannon Brandano displays
her signature pizza at Brandano’s
located at 21 Everett Ave.
Brandano’s has been a busy spot from May to October, serving up ice cream and slush to customers at the store on Revere Beach Parkway.
Former Chelsea resident Shannon (Antle) Brandano, owner, has now decided to take her store to the next level, adding pizza, specialty cakes, tiramisu, and homemade cannolis, ravioli, and manicotti to the menu.
It’s the pizza that has been attracting legions of new customers to Brandano’s which will now be open year round.
“My pizza is special because it took me two months to get it right,” said Brandano, who is also a practicing attorney.
Brandano said she uses “an Italian peel tomato, a fine milled dough, and three different cheeses, always with fresh basil, and thin crust” in her signature pizza recipe.
“I grew up cooking. I come from an Italian background and I grew up making my own dough and learning from my mother how to make pasta, homemade slush, and cheesecake, you name it. Family was very important and we always got together for big meals.”
Pizza at Brandano’s is $2 per slice, $9.99 for one classic whole cheese pizza. The store will have specials: one whole pizza for $7.99, two whole pizzas for $14.99. The store provides delivery service.
“We’re not your typical pizza store,” said Brandano. “We’re the familiar corner store where you can come in and get the homemade slush and pizza.”
Brandano is a graduate of UMass/Lowell with degrees in Political Science and Criminal Justice. She is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law and has a law practice in Malden.
Brandano said her husband, Michael, is the co-owner of the store and has been very supportive of the venture.
Shannon Brandano said the reaction to her fresh basil pizza has been overwhelming.
“It’s been unbelievable – people are saying to me, ‘Nobody makes pizza like this,’ or “It tastes just like the pizza I had back in the day.’ “I had a customer from Naples, Italy come in here and he said it tastes like it was from home. That’s when I knew we had something really special going on here.”