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Saving lives of Ecuadoran infants brings honors to National Police Defense Foundation chief

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ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: A highly-decorated former federal agent who once smashed international drug cartels and now heads worldwide mercy missions was honored at the Ecuadoran consulate in Manhattan for bringing critically ill infants to the U.S. for life-saving surgeries.

Joseph Occhipinti with his award
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“One of the things that touched my heart was the victimization of children, kidnapping babies from foreign countries, selling them on the black market,” Joseph Occhipinti told those gathered Tuesday night at the Ecuadoran consulate near the U.N.

Occhipinti’s non-profit National Police Defense Foundation “will fly anywhere in the world for a critically ill baby for a life-saving operation,” he said, to sustained applause from the audience and others on the dais.

The majority of the NPDF’s m ercy missions have been to Ecuador, whose tense relations with the U.S. were further strained earlier this year when WikiLeaks published a diplomatic cable alleging widespread police corruption under President Rafael Correa.

Ecuador asked the American ambassador who wrote the cable to leave, and the U.S. responded by declaring the Ecuadoran ambassador persona non grata .

Correa has close ties to his powerful counterpart in oil-rich Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, a man the U.S. views as a threat to stability in the region.

Against this backdrop, Occhipinti – who lives in Manalapan – has worked with Ecuadoran Consul Jorge López Amaya to protect the Latin American country’s nationals throughout the world.

Occhipinti’s foundation ( ) is primarily dedicated to providing medical and legal support services to law enforcement officers in a dozen countries, including Ecuador.

But it also operates “Operation Kids,” which distributes free fingerprint kits to parents, posts rewards for missing children and runs the medical-care missions. Prominent officials in the U.S. and around the world have praised the humanitarian program.

Occhipinti was honored for that work Tuesday night, during a ceremony sponsored by the New York chapter of the National Confederation of Journalists from Ecuador ( La Confederación Nacional de Periodistas del Ecuador, Capítulo New York ). Others honored included Ecuadoran Assemblywoman Blanca Ortiz, who represents nationals in the U.S. and Canada.

Assemblywoman Blanca Ortiz (l.), Judge Carmen Velasquez

She was introduced by Queens Civil Court Judge Carmen Velasquez, the first Ecuadorian-American to ascend to the bench in the U.S. and co-chair of the Judicial Council of the Hispanic National Bar Association.

“Many of our citizens are exiles,” Ortiz said, “but they have become heroes of our homeland, and we must recognize them.”

The event also featured a poetry reading, the national anthems of both countries and a female singer who serenaded the audience with Latin standards, including “Besame Mucho.”

Also on hand were Ecuadoran delegate José Zhanay, C.N.P.E.N.Y. President Gilberto Crespo and the organization’s secretary, Rafael Rodríguez.

Introducing Occhipinti, Lopez noted that nine children “without economic resources … have had the opportunity to be operated on here in the United States,” thanks to “the good heart and the great humanitarian aid” of the NPDF.

Afterward, Occhipinti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he remains dedicated to helping low-income families from other countries obtain instant “humanitarian visas” so they can receive the medical immediate medical care “necessary to save their lives.”

He considers himself blessed by “the good will of the hospitals, doctors and donors” who have footed the bill for the missions, the treatment and other expenses. This “gives each one of these children a chance to enjoy a normal life,” Occhipinti said.

“The people of Ecuador are a loving people,” he said. “I will continue to show my commitment to protect our children and to protect the rights of Ecuadoran nationals in the United States and abroad.”

Maria Carolina Santos , 28, came from Colombia to the U.S. with her twin sister in 1999, hoping the millenium would bring a better life and the means to help support their family. She has held a variety of jobs — as a translator, in a motorcycle shop and with after-school programs in her local school district, to name a few. She taught herself English and obtained a visa without help. She is now pursuing a degree in Multi-Lingual Media at Lehman College in the Bronx.

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