Police question Willets Point biz tenants’ leader

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Willets Point tenant business leader Arturo Olaya said he was held by police for several hours last Thursday after painting over City Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s (D-East Elmhurst) name on a truck previously used for his political campaign.

Olaya, whose relationship with Monserrate soured after the councilman struck a deal with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to support a proposed redevelopment of Willets Point, said he was asked to report to the 110th Precinct as members of his group were meeting with the councilman, a former police officer, in Manhattan.

“I called Monserrate’s people and said, ‘Listen, I have to go to prison, they say there are charges being pressed for painting the truck,’ ” he said. “[Monserrate] said, ‘tell Arturo don’t go. I’m going to call over there and get this worked out.’ When I called the police, they said nobody called me and I’m expecting you here, so I went.”

Police contacted Olaya, the president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, after NY1 broadcast a video showing Olaya using red paint to cover Monserrate’s name on a flatbed truck often used by his campaign. He said auto workers at Willets Point had done thousands of dollars of work on the truck, including replacing the transmission, and that Monserrate had said they could use the truck for their campaign against Bloomberg’s redevelopment project.

“But he wouldn’t let us,” Olaya said. “Two, three times. We say we’re going to take that truck out and he says, ‘Arturo, you can’t take that truck out, you need to bring it back here right now.’ So on the day of the vote, we brought it back and I made the mistake of painting over his name in red.”

NY1 broadcast footage of Olaya painting over Monserrate’s name on the day of the City Council vote on Willets Point — one day after the councilman had agreed to support the project after negotiating a deal to boost the affordable housing component in the city’s plan.

Monserrate’s chief of staff, Julissa Ferreras, said Monserrate does not own the truck, although she would not say who did, and neither Monserrate nor the driver of the truck pressed charges over Olaya’s actions.

“Hiram never asked to have charges pressed,” she said. “The councilman definitely did not want to press charges or has [not] pressed charges. It was totally the precinct’s call. I guess if they see that a crime has been committed — and I think it was obviously the NY1 video — then they have to act.”

Olaya said he was held in an interrogation room at the 110th Precinct for several hours last Thursday after police asked him to speak about the incident with the truck.

“The police stood me in the room. They said, ‘Listen, we have to talk about what happened with Monserrate.’ ‘I’m not going to talk until I have a lawyer.’ They said, ‘Well, you’re going to get arrested,’ ” Olaya said.

Ultimately, Olaya said no charges were filed against him and he was released after having his fingerprints and photograph taken. Olaya said after he asked for an attorney, the officers said they were holding him based on two previously unpaid tickets.  Olaya said the officers never showed him the tickets, but eventually released him when they confirmed they had, in fact, been paid.

“They knew these two tickets have already been paid,” Olaya said. “That is the most horrible thing. We cannot have these kind of policemen. We pay their salaries. They cannot be doing these kind of things.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.


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