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Looking back on the top 12 stories of 2012

Jan. 2, 2013
<b>Courtney Llewellyn and Jack Villamaino cut their cake at an impromptu wedding in a photo posted on Llewellyn's Facebook page. District Attorney Mark Mastroianni described the wedding as a "sham" and an effort to prevent Llewellyn from testifying against Villamaino in the voter fraud case in which the two were indicted.</b><br>Reminder Publications file photo

Courtney Llewellyn and Jack Villamaino cut their cake at an impromptu wedding in a photo posted on Llewellyn's Facebook page. District Attorney Mark Mastroianni described the wedding as a "sham" and an effort to prevent Llewellyn from testifying against Villamaino in the voter fraud case in which the two were indicted.
Reminder Publications file photo

By G. Michael Dobbs and Chris Maza


Springfield Police Officer Kevin Ambrose murdered

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Police Officer Kevin Ambrose was laid to rest at Hillcrest Park Cemetery on Parker Street after a funeral service at St. Catherine of Siena Church on June 8 after he was killed in the line of duty while reporting to a domestic violence situation on June 4. Ambrose, who wore badge No. 7, served with the Springfield Police Department for 36 years after two years as a cadet.

Ambrose was responding to a 911 call from Charlene Mitchell, a resident of the Lawton Arms Apartments on Lawton Street, who said she was in fear of her life following a dispute with Shawn Bryan, her ex-boyfriend and father of her 1-year-old child.

Ambrose, who was alone, escorted them to her apartment to allow Bryan to retrieve his belongings. When the apartment door was opened, Bryan pushed Mitchell in, slammed the door, and then fired a handgun through it, striking Ambrose. Bryan then opened the door, shot Ambrose again, and then shot Mitchell, wounding her. He then went to his car where he committed suicide with a gunshot to the chest.

Ambrose's death marked the first time a Springfield police officer had been killed in the line of duty since 1985 when Officer Alain J. Beauregard and Officer Michael J. Schiavina were shot and killed. In total, 16 Springfield police officers have fallen in the line of duty.

Villamaino, Llewellyn charged in voter fraud scheme

EAST LONGMEADOW — Former East Longmeadow Selectman Enrico "Jack" Villamaino and town employee Courtney Llewellyn were arrested and charged in connection with a voter fraud scheme that District Attorney Mark Mastroianni alleged took place during Villamaino's bid for the Republican nomination for state representative of the Second Hampden District.

According to the charges, the two changed the voter registration status of more than 280 East Longmeadow residents from Democrat to unenrolled and took out absentee ballots in their name in order to illegally cast ballots in Villamaino's favor.

After each was originally being charged with nine counts of illegal absentee voting, one count of interfering with election officials, one count of larceny under $250 and one count of attempt to unlawfully vote, the two were recently indicted on additional charges. Villamaino was charged with 26 more counts, including forgery, perjury, illegal absentee voting and two separate conspiracy charges. Llewellyn was indicted on 46 new similar counts.

The two are due back in court for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 10, 2013.

Ameristar pulls out of casino bid

SPRINGFIELD — On the site of the former Westinghouse plant and potential new building site for a Springfield casino, Ameristar Casinos Inc. CEO and Director Gordon Kanofsky unveiled a proposal for a $910 million development that would sit between Page Boulevard and Interstate 291.

Kanofsky told members of public, local business owners and city officials that on the 40-acre property, Ameristar would build a 150,000 square foot casino featuring 3,300 slot machines and 110 table games, a hotel with 500 luxury hotel rooms and 50 suites and valet and self-parking for 4,300 vehicles.

It would also feature a nightclub, swimming pools, a spa, meeting and entertainment space and on-site childcare.

Troy Stremming, senior vice president of Government Relations and Public Affairs, said that the company chose Springfield for several reasons, but most specifically because of its economic potential.

"It quickly became apparent to us that Springfield was the right location," he said. "This is where the population base is. This is where the majority of the workforce is located. But most importantly, this is the area that really has the greatest need for economic development in Western Massachusetts."

Ameristar later dropped out of contention in Springfield for a casino license as did Hard Rock, which couldn't close on a site. By the year's end only two casino developers were left standing in the city: MGM  Resorts International and Penn National Gaming.

Driscoll announces resignation from the Board of Selectmen

EAST LONGMEADOW — After more than a decade on the Board of Selectmen, James Driscoll announced in July his intentions to resign in September, citing time conflicts with his new position as the national sales manager for Secure Bill Pay, a company based in Minneapolis, Minn. However, when Villamaino abruptly resigned from the board on Aug. 22 amidst the voter fraud investigation, he announced he would remain until such time as stability could be returned to the board.

On Sept. 11, Driscoll and Selectman Paul Federici agreed the town would host a special election to fill both Villamaino's seat, which carries a term that expires in 2014, and Driscoll's seat, with a term that expires in 2013.

Peter Punderson defeated Angela Thorpe by 12 votes for Driscoll's seat after the two advanced past Joseph Townshend and Nicholas Chiusano in a preliminary election. Shortly after the election, Thorpe announced she would request a recount. Debra Boronski defeated write-in candidate Bryan Doe for Villamaino's seat.

Business owners challenge new entertainment license

SPRINGFIELD — One entertainment business owner is challenging the conception the city's downtown entertainment district is out of control with crime issues.

Paul Ramesh, the owner of three nightclubs on Worthington Street — Kush, Glo and Shadow — explained to Reminder Publications that during the period of Dec. 2, 2011 to Feb. 2 there were 902 arrests in the city, according to police records.

Of those arrests, only 127 were in Sector E — the police designation for the area that includes the Metro Center, the South End and part of Maple High Six Corners — and of those 127 only 21 arrests were "bar-related."

Three of those 21 arrests didn't happen in Worthington Street area, but at the Basketball Hall of Fame complex, which is considered part of the entertainment district, Ramesh noted.

Public safety concerns in downtown Springfield motivated Mayor Domenic Sarno to change all entertainment licenses to 1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m. in an effort to move bar patrons out of the Entertainment District earlier to make it safer. Bars and restaurants had to apply for a 2 a.m. license.

Thorpe sets course for multiple races

EAST LONGMEADOW — Former East Longmeadow School Committee member Angela Thorpe announced her intentions to run for seats on both the School Committee against incumbent Joseph Cabrera, Deirdre Mailloux, Susan DeGrave and Robert Richardson and the Board of Selectmen against incumbent Paul Federici in the town's annual election in April.

While Town Clerk Thomas Florence determined that the dual candidacies were legal, Thorpe ultimately lost both races, losing to Mailloux for School Committee after being one of the two top voter-getters in a preliminary election and to Federici, who now serves as the chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Civil Service calls practices into question

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Civil Service Commission slapped former selectmen Driscoll and Villamaino in connection with an appeal filed by now Sgt. Daniel Bruno after he was passed over for a sergeant's position by the selectmen in 2011 by a 2-1 vote.

Civil Service Commissioner Christopher Bowman determined that Selectmen Driscoll and Villamaino violated civil service laws during the interview and selection process and "engaged in a post-hoc effort to create non-selection reasons that did not exist" to deny Bruno the promotion.

Because of his findings, Bowman placed restrictions on the Board of Selectmen regarding the promotion of sergeants that would take effect on March 9, unless the town and Bruno reached an agreement prior to that date. Bruno was promoted to sergeant at a March 8 Board of Selectmen's meeting and was officially sworn in on April 3.

Longmeadow searches for new Town Manager

LONGMEADOW — Former Longmeadow Town Manager Robin Crosbie announced in October 2011 that she would not seek a renewal of her contract, which expired on June 30 in order to pursue other employment opportunities, which she eventually found in Ipswich.

While the Select Board initially agreed to use the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at University of Massachusetts Boston to recruit candidates for the position, the list provided yielded no results.

After a lengthy debate following the interview of four finalists, the Select Board first agreed to negotiate a contract with Thomas Guerino, the town administrator of Bourne, however, the two sides failed to reach an agreement. After a second set of interviews with another group of candidates from the Collins Center's list, the Select Board unanimously chose to negotiate with Bonnie Therrien, but she accepted another position before a contract agreement was reached.

The Select Board elected to name retired Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castilho the acting town manager. Del Castilho has been conducting a third search for a permanent replacement and hopes to have a list of finalists prepared for the selectmen by mid-January 2013.

Union Station renovation breaks ground

SPRINGFIELD — What has been a challenge and problem for a succession of Springfield mayors will now become an "economic engine" for the city.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood characterized the redevelopment of Union Station as a "jobs creator," not just in construction positions, but also in permanent jobs in and around the renovated train station.

The building has been closed since the mid-1970s and was taken by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority by eminent domain in 1988.

LaHood was in Springfield on July 23 to formally announce the allocation of more than $17 million in federal funding to underwrite the often spoken about and frequently delayed conversion of the building into an inter-modal transportation center.

"This is as good a use for taxpayer's dollars that you'll ever find in America," LaHood said.

Noting the decades the project has been under consideration, Congressman Richard Neal said, "We've been at this for a long time."

He then thanked Sen. John Kerry and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy for their support over the years in trying to make the redevelopment a reality.

In the fall, there was an official groundbreaking ceremony for the demolition of the former baggage building of Union Station, the first step in the renovation.

Longmeadow experiences confusing election season

LONGMEADOW — Former Select Board Vice Chair Christine Swanson resigned from the board on Jan. 3 due to here husband's relocation to Georgia, which prompted a citizen's petition to fill her seat. While the Select Board had hoped to operate as a four-member panel until the town's annual election in June when the terms of Robert Aseltine and Paul Santaniello were also up for election, by law, the town was compelled to host the petitioned election on May 15.

Richard Foster and Mark Borowsky both submitted nomination papers for both elections. Borowsky won the special election, however, by law, his name could not be removed from the ballot for the annual election. Had Borowsky been voted for in both elections, he would have had to choose which position he wished to hold and another special election would have been necessary to fill the vacant one.

Despite the confusion, Foster won the annual election, filling the seat of Aseltine, who did not run for re-election. Santaniello, now the board's chair, retained his seat.

New Minnechaug unveiled

WILBRAHAM — Completing a project that was nearly eight years in the making, the ribbon on the new Minnechaug Regional High School was officially cut on Sept. 22.

Favorable bidding conditions allowed the project to be completed at a cost of approximately $67.5 million, including construction of the pool and district office, which were not reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The initial Project Funding Agreement for the main school building was $78.9 million.

Students began taking classes in the new building, which features state-of-the art technology and building practices for optimal student learning and energy efficiency, on Aug. 29. The old Minnechaug building, located next to the new building, is currently being torn down.

Stebbins named to Gaming Commission

SPRINGFIELD — Bruce Stebbins' first day on the job as a member of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was April 2 and he sees his involvement in the process of establishing casino gambling in the Commonwealth as an opportunity for significant job growth.

He told Reminder Publications that casino gaming is "one of the biggest potential economic development opportunities to come along in a long time."

Stebbins, a former Springfield City Councilor, left his job as the business development administrator for Springfield on March 28. Previously, he had worked at the National Association of Manufacturers and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development and had served in the Administration of Gov. Bill Weld, and as associate director of political affairs in the White House under President George H.W. Bush.

Stebbins was named to the Commission on March 20 as one of the last two appointments, along with James F. McHugh, retired associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Stebbins said he had been "very happy" with his job development position with the city but was interested in the role of commissioner when he was contacted by a recruitment firm to consider applying for the position.

He explained his interview process included meetings with Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman.

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