• August 21, 2018
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Queens Chronicle

S’side ‘Nazi condo’ cases come to end

No convictions handed down to building manager or poster ripper

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2018 10:30 am | Updated: 12:46 pm, Thu Aug 16, 2018.

When police officers showed up to Jeff Orlick’s Jackson Heights apartment two days after the New Year, he was confused. He wondered what he had done and why he was being led toward squad cars in handcuffs. But as officers thanked him and called him a hero, Orlick turned to one with a question.

“Is this about the Nazi thing?” he asked. The officer confirmed that it was.

Months earlier on Aug. 28, Orlick made his way into a building at 47-55 39 Place in Sunnyside. He walked through a lobby display that featured posters of former U.S. presidents, the American flag, Martin Luther King Jr. and Uncle Sam. A poster of Adolf Hitler featuring a swastika — the despised emblem commonly used by the German Nazi Party — hung above two nearby doors, part of a display featuring the major belligerents of World War II.

Orlick then went to one of the adjacent apartments and asked whoever answered if the poster bothered them.

“They looked very scared and didn’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I took that as an OK.”

Orlick needed no further affirmation. He was upset of hearing of building manager Neal Milano’s antics on the news. He believed that residents should have taken more action against what he believed were intimidation tactics Milano used to spy on and threaten his tenants. So, he took action, tearing down the poster and throwing it in the trash.

“He knows it’s controversial” Orlick said of Milano. “He knows he can intimidate people ... I felt that it needed outside interference. I was afraid of bullies when I was in high school, but I can’t tolerate this for myself or anyone else.”

Orlick said that while he is as big of an advocate for freedom of speech and expression as anyone else, a swastika in a shared space crosses the line.

Orlick was arrested, interrogated and fingerprinted. He didn’t find out what he was being charged with until his fourth appearance in court. Orlick, who said he was in front of a judge for a grand total of 45 seconds over multiple days in court, was going to be charged with trespassing and petty larceny, both misdemeanors in New York. Ultimately, the judge offered him an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning Orlick’s charges will be dropped after six months if he avoids any further legal trouble.

“They offered me that because the courts are lenient,” Orlick said. “I don’t have a history of doing bad stuff. If we were to go to court, it would be long and drawn out and a waste of time.”

Milano believes there was nothing wrong with the displays. After reviewing security footage, Milano discovered that Orlick had torn down the poster while he was on vacation.

“It’s history. You can’t change history,” Milano told reporters earlier this summer, according to the New York Post. “There was a picture of Hitler and the Nazi flag next to a bigger picture of [Winston] Churchill and the British flag. It’s history. It’s World War II.”

Milano, 71, had been charged with seven counts of stalking, harassment and attempted assault. He was accused of harassing a tenant on multiple occasions from September 2016 to July 2017, of grabbing her and issuing a threat that he was “going to burn the building down.”

Jacob Laufer, a board attorney for Milano, did not respond to the Chronicle’s multiple attempts for an interview.

In June, Judge David Kirschner found Milano not guilty on all counts. According to Orlick, witnesses never showed up to Milano’s hearings, a possible reason for the acquittal.

In February, the building’s board of managers reached a settlement with the Commission on Human Rights to have Milano and two other board members step down. The condo board removed the posters and replaced them with signs informing residents of their rights.

Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) reiterated the thoughts of many residents in the building, saying that he asked the NYPD to investigate Milano’s actions as hate crimes.

Despite talking with Van Bramer’s office regarding his case, Orlick said that representatives never followed up with him and eventually said they did not want to get involved in an ongoing court case.

Laufer said earlier this year that the board approved the images displayed in the lobby as patriotic representations of American history and WWII.

“If you take one picture out of context, then perhaps you might have a misimpression,” Laufer said to PIX 11. “But if you look at the murals in totality, they venerate America’s victory in World War II. It’s just a matter of judgment and taste and how one reacts.”

An exception for hate speech — which many residents believed was displayed by Milano’s posters — is not present under the umbrella of the First Amendment. It’s protected, and as noted by the Supreme Court last year, it is one of the freedoms that the amendment constitutionally defends.

That reasoning relates to why Milano was arrested for alleged stalking and harassment against the resident, not for the displays he felt were clear and appropriate expressions of history.

Asked if he would have gone about the situation in a different way, Orlick said no. He added that the only change he would have made was finding a way to organize the residents to take the Nazi sign down themselves.

Following his arrest, Orlick created a GoFundMe page to help pay legal fees. He was $54 short of his $2,000 goal.

“I will not make one cent from this gofundme,” he wrote.

Orlick recently added some money of his own and donated it to the Hebrew Academy for Special Children, funds to assist in an upcoming camp.

Orlick doesn’t believe Milano is a racist or against others. He stated that had Milano not allegedly gone to measures to intimidate his residents, Orlick would have reconsidered going into the building to remove the poster in the first place.

“I don’t think that he hates Jews,” Orlick said. “I just think he’s an a--hole,”

He has no regrets, and neither does Milano. But after firsthand experiences with bullying and hatred in high school, Orlick said that he, like Milano, stood up for what he thought was right.

“It’s OK to get in trouble sometimes,” Orlick said. “Getting in trouble is not the worst thing in the world.”

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