August 15, 2007


Teacher pleads guilty to robbing bank



Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A former Rochester-area schoolteacher pleaded guilty Tuesday in Cortland County Court to robbing a Clinton Avenue branch bank with a loaded gun in February.
He is expected to receive between 5 and 12 1/2 years in state prison in exchange for his plea when he is sentenced Sept 28.
Michael Bohn, 41, of 232 Cobb Terrace Road, Rochester, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree grand larceny, all felonies, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
In exchange for his plea, Judge William Ames said he will not sentence Bohn to more than 12 1/2 years in prison. Depending on the pre-sentence report, Bohn could receive as few as five years in prison, he said.
“I certainly will consider less,” Ames told Bohn.
During the court appearance, Bohn admitted to entering the Tompkins Trust Co. branch at Clinton Avenue and Church Street on Feb. 1 with a loaded .44-magnum handgun. He said he forced the tellers to give him money, but he was unsure how much money he stole.
“The newspaper said it was around $16,000,” he said of the cash. “I hadn’t had time to count.”
City police, alerted by a passerby, caught Bohn coming out of the bank with the gun and the nearly $16,000 in cash in a blue Gap shopping bag and arrested him in the bank parking lot without incident.
District Attorney David Hartnett said at a hearing in March that Bohn had created an alibi by buying a ski ticket at a Rochester ski resort, and that he had tanks of water in his car to wash the money of traceable dye. Bohn also had a girlfriend in Canada and maps of Canada in his car, Hartnett said.
Bohn said Tuesday that he never pointed the gun at anyone while in the bank, but that he did threaten the tellers with it. He knew there was a child in the bank at the time of the robbery, which resulted in the endangering charge.
“I asked his father to hold him,” he said of the boy. “I held the gun up in the air but not pointing it at any people.”
Hartnett said he plans to recommend at Bohn’s sentencing that he serve the full 12 1/2 years. Bohn could have been sentenced to as many as 25 years for the robbery charge.
“If they can talk the court into something lower, then so be it,” Hartnett said of the deal.
Bohn originally was offered a similar deal to plead guilty to the same charges for a 12-year sentence but rejected the deal through his then-attorney Randolph Kruman, who was assigned through the Cortland County Public Defender’s Office.
Bohn changed attorneys in May, hiring Joel Daniels of Buffalo and Emil Rossi of Syracuse.
Hartnett said at the plea that he added the six months to the recommended sentence because the original offer was not accepted in a timely fashion.
At the time of his arrest, Bohn was employed as an elementary school teacher at Allendale Columbia, a private school in Pittsford, and was fired a short time later.
Bohn was indicted on the charges to which he pleaded guilty, along with two other counts of first-degree robbery. Those charges were dropped in exchanged for the plea.
Bohn is being held in the Cortland County Jail on $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.



Officials: No dredging needed

Sediment buildup does not pose problems during walk through dry creek bed.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Taking advantage of the chance to inspect practically dry creek beds, city, county and state officials scouted portions of Otter Creek and Dry Creek Tuesday afternoon.
Although dredging the streambeds has been suggested to alleviate problems with flooding in recent years, the accumulation of sediment did not appear to be a problem in most areas, state officials said.
Instead of dredging, the city hopes to use a weir and pond on the Cortland Waterworks property to help slow down the water in the case of major storms.
Tuesday’s inspection began at the section of Otter Creek that usually crosses under North Main Street but has been diverted to allow the replacement of the large culvert running under the road. With the creek dammed above the construction work, the portion downstream parallel to Willow Avenue was completely dry.
Privately owned pedestrian bridges cross over Otter Creek as it makes its way toward its confluence with the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River and the abutments jut out into the path of the creek, restricting the potential flow of water to a point narrower than the creek’s natural bank widths.
Some retention walls still line the creek, others have crumbled into the streambed along with chunks of concrete and cinder blocks; Japanese knotweeds line the banks and intrude into the creek.
City Department of Public Works Superintendent Chris Bistocchi pointed out that the root systems of the trees lining the creek are holding the banks together, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation officials said there did not appear to be major erosion along the banks in most spots.
The state officials, as well as county Soil and Water Conservation District Water Quality Specialist Pat Reidy, said there did not appear to be an accumulation of sediment along the creek bed. In fact, the gaps at the bottom of the crumbling retention walls — which are the responsibility of the owners of property along the creeks — indicate that Otter Creek continues to dig deeper into its bed.
Some work that could help alleviate flooding and would not require permits and heavy equipment, said DEC Permits Administrator Mike Barylski, would involve removing vegetation such as the knotweed and clearing some of the larger pieces of debris out of the creek bed.
Larry Lepak, an environmental engineer with the DEC, said state laws allow for the formation of an intermunicipal watershed maintenance organization that could regularly perform maintenance on the creek beds, and Bistocchi said he would look into the possibility.
The officials then headed over to nearby Arthur Avenue to examine a portion of Otter Creek that runs under the road. Just downstream from the bridge, a small shoal of sediment has accumulated and even begun to sprout vegetation.
Bistocchi said the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggested digging the shoal out after heavy flooding 2005, but that the neighboring property owner would not allow heavy equipment to operate on the yard next to the creek.
However, Reidy pointed out that a crew likely would be able to remove the obstruction without using heavy equipment.
The group moved on to the waterworks property to examine a weir that had been installed across Otter Creek by the DPW in May — the weir is a series of stacked concrete blocks that are braced against a bridge, with an opening a couple of feet wide and a foot tall at the bottom to allow a restricted flow of water to pass through.
As a result of the weir’s installation, Reidy said his calculations supported a 20-percent decrease in the volume of water passing through the waterworks property during a two-year storm event, and a 10 percent decrease during a five-year storm event.
But Bistocchi said the city could use more substantial protection during more statistically significant rain events, and he hopes a system of berms and piping would be able to allow for a much larger reservoir of floodwaters, contained within the boundaries of the waterworks.
The city and the county have commissioned a $20,000 study to determine the feasibility of constructing a detention pond nearby, across Route 281 in Cortlandville. Bistocchi hopes the weir and the possible larger system might be able to skirt the need to spend $3 million on a detention pond across the road.
The DEC officials said they were receptive to discussion on the matter.
Both Reidy and the DEC will prepare written reports in response to the creek walk through and submit them to the city, with further discussion on the next step to follow.



Homer judge moves Virgil case to Scott

Staff Reporter

HOMER —The case of a former Virgil man who was charged with trying to steal an audit from a town clerk in December will be moved out of Homer Town Court and into Scott Town Court at the request of the Homer Town Justice, according to County Court paperwork made public Monday.
Homer Town Justice Gary Shiffer filed the request to have the case moved out of his court on July 19, citing a long list of confrontations he has had since January with the defendant, Bill Allen, 57, formerly of Artemis Drive.
In the paperwork, Shiffer said he is unable to give Allen a fair trial based on Allen’s behavior in his courtroom, which he characterized as a “continued mockery of the legal system.”
“Mr. Allen’s attitude, behavior, conduct and demeanor have at times, been obnoxious, intimidating, aggravating, and outside the normal parameters of behavior to such extent that one does not know what to expect next,” Shiffer said in his request.
County Court Judge William F. Ames granted Shiffer’s request on Aug. 6, according to the paperwork. The County Clerk’s office would not release the paperwork until Monday.
Shiffer acknowledged in July that he was asking for the case to be moved, stating similar reasons given in his request, but declined to release the paperwork detailing the history of the case.
Shiffer chronicled the seven months of court appearances in his request, where he says Allen has been disruptive, refused to participate in legal proceedings and refused court appointed attorneys while also refusing to pay for an attorney or to represent himself.
“In his last court appearance on July 9, 2007, Mr. Allen was disruptive to the point of bordering upon Summary Criminal Contempt,” Shiffer said. “He refused to sign in, immediately attempted to go to a private area outside the view of the Court, and almost engaged in a physical altercation with the court security officer.”
Allen said Tuesday that he believes under the rules of the state Unified Court System Shiffer is banned from making such comments about a pending case. He said Shiffer’s comments are unethical and part of “a character assassination” that will make it unable for him to receive a fair trial anywhere.
“I’m not trying to pull his personal chain. I’m trying to make sure this goes through the correct procedures,” he said.
Allen also said he believes Shiffer made a procedural violation when he filed the motion because he and his attorney were not given notice of it.
“He should not have accepted an ex-parte communication,” Allen said of Ames, calling Ames’ decision to move the case based on Shiffer’s request “very unprofessional.”
Allen was originally charged with third-degree attempted robbery, a felony, on Dec. 15. The felony charges were later dismissed in Homer Town Court and amended to second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct charges, both violations.
Allen is accused of attempting to take an audit from Town Clerk Bonnie Hand while in the Virgil Town Hall, police said. Hand told police Allen dragged her down a hallway of the Town Hall during the altercation.
Allen said he never attempted to steal the document. He only wanted to view it privately without Hand annoying him, he said.
Allen and his court-appointed attorney, S. Francis Williams argued on July 9 that the case should be moved out of Homer and into Virgil because the felony charges were dismissed.
Williams argued that because the felony charges were baseless, the pending charges should be heard in Virgil because the Criminal Procedure Law requires that all violations be heard in the town where the infractions allegedly occurred.
The case was originally moved out of Virgil Town Court due to a conflict of interest with Virgil Town Justice George Saltsman.
Williams said Monday he has not been notified of Allen’s next appearance date in Scott Town Court.