Saturday, August 10, 2013

City Loses Millions As Illegal Vendors Run Rampant In City Parks

Invisible  Babies. An illegal vendor (left) pours a Heineken into a plastic cup while the other two woman selling Corona beer await customers.  In Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (FMCP) women roam the 900 acre park selling alcohol from covered baby carriages, part of the park's vast network of illegal commerce that has been allowed to operate for years.  In FMCP there is not a single dedicated PEP officer for 900 acres despite a steady stream of unlicensed vendors in a park that also has one of the city's highest crime rates.      

"This has been going on for years," said a Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officer. "They (illegal vendors) know we have little man power and the agency doesn't care. Do you know how much the city loses throughout the city each year, millions." 

Legal vendors who are subject to city Health Department inspections and fees say the number of illegal vendors is growing and taking away their business.    

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge. 


By Geoffrey Croft

The city is losing millions of dollars in revenue annually from illegal vendors while the Bloomberg administration does little to combat the problem.

In Flushing Meadows Park it's a wild wild west, cat and mouse game as dozens of illegal vendors work openly in the 900 acre park.  Women pushing "invisible  babies" do brisk business selling alcohol from covered baby carriages, beer is hidden in sewers to avoid detection,  while others sell food, ice cream, drinks and snacks and toys.

In Ferry Point Park in the Bronx illegal vendors sell alcohol and food openly while men gamble on home made roulette tables under the cover of trees in the poorly maintained park.

<p>Men gamble on a roulette table under the cover of some trees at Ferry Point Park.</p>
Men gamble on a roulette table under the cover of trees at Ferry Point Park.

In Brighton Beach and Coney Island every few minutes men and woman push icee carts along the sand, while bootleggers hawk nutcrackers, a potent mix of hard liquor fruit juices, part of a vast underground but open net work of illegal vending on city park property. 
While at the same time some illegal vendors say the city doesn't provide adequate opportunities for new ones to vend legally in city parks. 

Licensed vendors say they can not compete. In Flushing Meadows Park alone ice cream truck concessionaires pay the Parks Department up to $ 32,000 annually in addition to Heath Department fees, liability Insurance, and in the case of Mr. Softee - a $ 3000 annual franchise fee,  on top of the  $  85,000 - $ 120,000 required to purchase the trucks.  

Mean while illegal vendors sell from make-shift home made push carts, baby carriages and bicycles that by-pass permits and insurance.  

Legal vendors also note that the Parks Department sets the prices they are allowed to charge while unlicensed ones are not under the same constraints.  Some legal ones have been forced to lower prices in order to try and compete.

Critics also point out that park patrons being allowed access to unlimited amounts of alcohal is a concern for getting behind wheel to drive home. 

Show Me The Money.  Jorje "Mario" Llubisaca, 41,  makes another illegal sale a few yards away from a licensed ice cream truck who is required to pay the Parks Department's Revenue Division $ 32,000 annually.   Law enforcement officials say they have confiscated up to four carts a day from Jorje who has operated brazenly in the open in Flushing Meadow's Corona Park for years and believe he may also be responsible for operating other illegal vendors in the park.   Sources say he keeps spare push-carts in a van parked in the park near the Queens Museum and has also used the alias, Manuel Angamarca.

 A steady stream of unlicensed vendors work the park.   Illegal vendors are a staple in many parks throughout the city. 

Illegal vendors take away revenue not only from owners but also from the workers who's salaries are often based on a percentage of what they sell.

Some vendors say they are under the constant threat of violence from illegal vendors while the city does little to protect them.   They say you are lucky if law enforcement occasionally conduct sweeps and confiscate illegal items but nothing is constant and certainly there is not a permanent uniform presence needed to deter this activity.   

Legal vendors say they constantly complain to the Parks Department's revenue division - who oversee the agency's vast array of concessionaires but their concerns fall on deaf ears.  They complain that the city refuses to protect them while being told there's nothing they can do because they don't have the resources to address the issues.

"Instead they laughingly tell us to take photos and call 311. What a joke," complained a long-time licensed vendor who has multiple park permits. 

"They say deal with it. We send photos,  it does nothing.  Revenue (division) knows the problems.  We've asked for more enforcement but they blow you off.  You complain and they tell you there's nothing they can do they don't have the resources.   

But if you don't have their check postmarked by the first of the month, they have no problem assessing late fees,  they have the resources for that," the vendor said. 

"They (illegal vendors) take a nice bite out of what the City should be getting."

According to the Parks Department the revenue division is responsible for collecting more than $ 110 million dollars from approximately 500 concessions currently operating in parks.   

The division is headed by long-time Michael Bloomberg family friend Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth "Betsy" Smith. 

The lack of professionalism and accountability within the revenue division has long been an issue with concessionaires.  The division has also been the subject of several Comptroller audits.  

"We call them the invisible babies," said another vendor of the woman pushing covered baby carriages selling items.

"We joke - your babies must be suffocating under those heavy towels." 

Erick Soto - displaying a Parks Department permit to vend - operates a Mister Softee truck near the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. He says brazen illegal vendors cut into his business and other businesses.  Soto said there is little enforcement to keep the vendors away. He's been threatened,  spat on and even menaced with a knife by aggressive vendors peddling food from baby carriages and shopping carts.  

"My wife doesn't want me working here anymore," said Mr. Soto.  "She's afraid I won't come home one day." 

Erick Soto operates a Mister Softee truck near the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and says he's been threatened,  spat on and even menaced with a knife by an aggressive vendor peddling food from baby carriage near his truck.  He says brazen illegal vendors cut into his business and other businesses.  

"We are all suffering," Mr. Soto said, pointing out that there is little enforcement to keep the vendors, who pay no fees and avoid health inspections, away. 

"I don't know if I'll be back next year," he said.  "My wife doesn't want me working here anymore. She's afraid I won't come home one day." 

There is not a single dedicated Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officer permanently assigned to patrol 900 acres of FMCP, the largest park in Queens.  

This week as few as three PEP officers were available to patrol the entire borough of Queens. 

"We used to have 24 hour coverage and vendor details but under Bloomberg and Benepe they tried to dismantle enforcement,"  said Local 983 president Joe Puleo who represents PEP officers.

"It's totally out of control. We don't have the resources needed to deal with quality-of-life issues much less serious crime," he said.  

Two years ago concessionaires in FMCP said they received letters from the revenue division instructing them to suspend vending during the US. Open.

"It was outrageous, we have permits and they had the nerve to suspend working during the Open so they can make more money. Are you kidding," one vendor in the park commented. 

 "We did not comply.

 It's amazing they get away with this, there is no accountability "  

An unlicensed vendor makes another sale while the Ice cream truck in the background is required to pay the Parks Department's Revenue Division $ 32,000 annually for the right to sell in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Despite numerous complaints to the revenue division the agency refuses to protect the legal vendors from unlicensed ones who take away business and potential put the public's health at risk by allowing the sale of food without Health Department inspections or permits.   The legal vendors say they also fear for their lives after being threatened with violence.     

The revenue division is headed by by long-time Michael Bloomberg family friend Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth "Betsy" Smith.  

Sewage Drainage.  One of the many locations where Illegal vendors selling alcohol stash product as part of the cat-and-mouse game in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  The black bag was filled with ice when PEP officers pulled numerous beers from there last week.  

Jorje  Llubisaca passes two other illegal vendors selling mangos from baby carriages - part of the park's vast network of illegal vendors operating openly in the park. 

Beer bottle caps litter tree roots in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a common site in many parks.

NYPD in Central Park issuing a summons to an illegal vendor. Legal vendors say the selling of products by unlicenced ones is often overlooked by law enforcement. 

A vendor makes his way from Brighten to Coney Island Beach.

Vendors sell openly on the Coney island boardwalk and on the beach.

Three vendors within an ear shot work the beach. 

Coney Island. 

<p>Officers confiscated a cooler filled with beer.</p>

A confiscated cooler filled with beer from Ferry Point Park.  

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge. 

Read More:

New York Daily News - August 9, 2013 -  By Maya Guimaraes and Lisa L. Colangelo  

1 comment:

  1. The parks administration needs to be replaced.