From Amazon to Jeffrey Epstein: The highlights of 2019

Leonard Greene, New York Daily News
·4 min read

In a year dominated by impeachment and political upheaval, it is easy to forget that 2019 was packed to the gills with news on other fronts.

From the conviction of an international drug kingpin to the shocking apparent suicide of a jailed fallen financier, 2019 was a year filled with dizzying developments at home and abroad.

Even before President Trump became the third U.S. president to be brought to trial by the House of Representatives, he began the year in a bitter battle with congressional Democrats that resulted in the longest government shutdown in American history.

The resulting compromise that ended the 35-day shutdown did not include any funding for Trump’s coveted border wall with Mexico.

Trump had been arguing about the drugs that come into America through Mexico and the southern border. So it was only fitting that weeks later, on Feb. 12, a federal jury in New York convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on charges that included engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, international distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, and use of firearms.

He was later sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Some called it a crime that a deal between Amazon and New York politicians fell through. On Valentines Day, after months of promises and controversy, a planned new headquarters creating 25,000 jobs in Long Island City, Queens ended abruptly. The deal was also expected to provide $30 billion in tax revenue after nearly $3 billion in promised tax breaks to one of the world’s richest, most powerful companies.

In March, local officials were faced with a measles outbreak that resulted in a state of emergency being called in Rockland County, where a ban went into effect prohibiting unvaccinated children from public gatherings.

That month also saw legislators pass a budget deal that approved a congestion pricing plan that would institute a traffic-reducing toll on motorists entering Midtown Manhattan below 60th Street. The plan is expected to raise more than $1 billion a year for the city’s ailing public transit.

Entertainers grabbed many of the news headlines in 2019. Among them were actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who were accused in April of paying bribes for their children to attend some of the country's most prestigious universities.

Huffman, a former “Desperate Housewives” star, served 11 days in prison and did community service on the federal offense. Loughlin pleaded not guilty, and is awaiting trial.

Much of April’s news was overshadowed by a horrific fire at the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The catastrophic fire engulfed the 850-year-old structure, destroying its iconic spire and roof.

At home, the year was bad for bicyclists. By July, more than two dozen cyclists had died on city streets compared to 10 in all of 2018. Mayo de Blasio ordered the NYPD to crack down on dangerous drivers over the summer after the surge in cyclist deaths, which had soared to 29 as of Sunday.

The summer also saw the beginning of the end for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on charges that he operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls.

Epstein, 66, was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges before being found unresponsive in his Metropolitan Correctional Center cell in August. He died later in the hospital, and authorities ruled his death a suicide.

August also saw the long-awaited firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose banned chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner during a 2014 arrest in Staten Island.

“None of us can take back our decisions, especially when they lead to the death of another human being,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill. “It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”

Mass killings, meanwhile, hit an all-time high in 2019, according to the Associated Press. In all, there were 41 mass killings, defined as when four or more people are killed excluding the perpetrator. Of those, 33 were mass shootings. More than 210 people were killed.

The year was poised to end on a violent note. On Dec. 10, a man and a woman armed with rifles shot and killed three people at a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, N.J. after murdering a police detective nearby, officials said.

More than two weeks later, five people were stabbed at a Chanukah celebration at the home of a Rockland County rabbi, one in a string of anti-Semitic attacks across the region.

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