<![CDATA[NBC New York - Crime and Courts]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcnewyork.com/feature/crime-and-courts http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/4NY_Horizontal.jpg NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.comen-usFri, 27 May 2016 10:13:59 -0400Fri, 27 May 2016 10:13:59 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Suspect in Brutal Chair Attack in NYC Eatery Convicted]]> Wed, 25 May 2016 16:34:58 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Bayna-Lehkiem+El-Amin+copy.jpg

A New York City man captured on video smashing a wooden chair over the heads of two men inside a Dallas BBQ restaurant last year has been convicted in the attack, prosecutors say.

A state Supreme Court jury found Bayna-Lekheim El-Amin of the Bronx guilty of first-degree attempted assault and second-degree assault, the Manhattan district attorney's office said Wednesday. 

Video of the May 2015 attack inside Dallas BBQ in Chelsea shows El-Amin flinging a chair over his head, then smashing it on the skulls of two men he had gotten into an argument with. Horrified bystanders scream as he walks calmly out the door. 

The attack was so brutal that bystanders said they were afraid to confront the assailant. 

"He had just stomped on someone's head and hit someone on the head with a hard chair," the man who put the video on YouTube told NBC 4 New York at the time. "The last thing anyone wanted to do was get involved." 

Prosecutors said the 25-year-old victim was knocked unconscious and the 32-year-old victim collapsed onto a nearby chair. Both men suffered head, back and neck pain. 

El-Amin turned himself in to police about a month after the attack.

The victims, who are gay, told media outlets at the time that El-Amin, who has also identified himself as gay, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at them. El-Amin's lawyer previously said his client was attacked first. 

But District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a press release announcing the verdict, "There was no justification for this brutal attack." 

El-Amin is expected to be sentenced June 14. 

<![CDATA[2 Charged in 2015 Overdose Death of NY Dermatologist]]> Wed, 25 May 2016 19:21:10 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kiersten+cerveny.jpg

The producer of an HBO series and another man are facing federal narcotics charges in the drug overdose death of a Long Island dermatologist who was found unconscious in the vestibule of a Manhattan apartment complex last fall, according to a criminal complaint.

Marc Henry Johnson, who was a producer on an HBO series called "The Deuce," and James Holder were arrested at their homes in Manhattan Wednesday by a team of Drug Enforcement Administration, NYPD and New York State Police investigators, sources said.

Their arrests come eight months after the death of Dr. Kiersten Cerveny, a Manhasset dermatologist who was found in the vestibule of Holder's apartment building on West 16th Street in Chelsea on Oct. 4.

Sources have previously said Cerveny and Johnson were in a relationship at the time of her death.

According to the complaint, Johnson, 51, met Cerveny and another individual at a bar on the Lower East Side after texting about meeting Holder, 60, for "a pickup." While at the bar, he allegedly told Cerveny, who had been using cocaine before he arrived, he had more of the drug and offered to share it with her and the other person. 

Later that night, Cerveny and Johnson left the bar together in a taxi and went to Holder's apartment, according to the complaint. They went upstairs and weren't seen again for hours. 

The complaint alleges that Holder and Johnson emerged four hours later and dragged the unconscious Cerveny along the hallway to the first-floor vestibule. Holder left afterward and Johnson called 911.

Johnson allegedly refused to give the dispatcher his identity and didn't say what had happened to the 38-year-old. He left after paramedics got to the scene, according to the complaint. 

Emergency medical technicians attempted to resuscitate Cerveny as they loaded her into the ambulance and took her to the Lenox Health emergency room in Greenwich Village. She died at the hospital.

Medical examiners ruled her death resulted from acute cocaine and alcohol intoxication. 

According to the complaint, Holder -- who went by the nickname "Pepsi" -- had allegedly sold drugs out of his apartment since about 2013. He generally sold "hundreds," bags of cocaine costing $100, the complaint says.

"We believe Mr. Holder has been selling drugs in this city for a long time," said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. 

According to multiple media reports, Johnson stepped away from "The Deuce" after Cerveny's death. The show's executive producer, "The Wire" creator David Simon, called the death a "greivous tragedy."

"As evidence has yet to be presented it would be irresponsible to say more at this point," he said. 

Cerveny, originally from Washington Township in Gloucester County, New Jersey, had been an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, according to a Dec. 12, 2009 announcement of her marriage to Andrew Cerveny Jr., also a dermatologist, in The New York Times. She graduated magna cum laude from Duke University and earned her medical degree at Tulane University.

She met her husband in 2004 while both were residents at the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans. They had three children together. 

Information about whether the men had obtained attorneys who could comment on the charges wasn't immediately available. 

Photo Credit: NBCNewYork.com/Facebook
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<![CDATA[Exclusive: NYPD Hatchet Attack Survivors Talk to News 4]]> Thu, 07 May 2015 17:51:22 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WNBC_000000007039683_1200x675_440437827788.jpg The four officers who were attacked in Queens last October speak exclusively to News 4's Jonathan Dienst.]]> <![CDATA[NYC Man Accused of Trying to Join ISIS]]> Tue, 24 May 2016 22:45:24 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EXCLUSIVE+ISIS+ARREST+PHOTOS+WITH+WATERMARK+052416+-+01000819_W.jpg

A Bronx man was arrested early Tuesday after he allegedly tried to join ISIS and later helped an undercover informant who he thought was trying to join the terrorist organization, according to a criminal complaint.

Sajmir Alimehmeti, 22, was arrested in the Bronx by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Alimehmeti is charged today with actions that show a clear intention to support a terrorist organization that is hell-bent on murder and mayhem," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

According to the complaint, he tried to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS on two occassions in 2014 but was blocked each time by British authorities. Then, this year, he allegedly tried to help an undercover informant who claimed to be attempting to join the organization. 

The complaint alleges that Alimehmeti first traveled to the United Kingdom in October of 2014 in an attempt to continue on to the Middle East but was denied entry to the country when British authorities at Manchester Airport found nunchucks and camouflage clothing in his luggage.

He tried again that December, according to the complaint, and was again stopped in the United Kingdom after British authorities at Heathrow Airport in London found images of ISIS and improvised explosive devices on his cellphone.

"As alleged, Alimehmeti continued his quest to support ISIL’s deadly terrorist agenda, after being denied entry into Europe with a bag full of military gear," said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. "When he returned home, to the Bronx, he allegedly turned to helping others join the terrorist organization as he built his own arsenal of weapons."

Alerted by UK authorities, the FBI went to work, introducing Alimehmeti to undercover law enforcement informants who posed as ISIS recruits interested in traveling to Syria, according to court papers.

A year after the second attempt, Alimehmeti tried to get a new passport and claimed he had lost his old one, according to the complaint. But he allegedly told undercover agents that he already had $2,500 to travel to Syria but needed to get a new passport in a different name because his had rejection stamps from the United Kingdom and was "already in the system."

Late last year and earlier this year, Alimehmeti began communicating with undercover agents, according to the complaint. When meeting with the agents, the man allegedly expressed interest in joining ISIS, telling one who he thought was set to head overseas, "I'm ready f---ing go with you, man...You know I would... I'm done with this place."

He then bought that informant a phone to be used overseas and allegedly talked about "apps" that would encrypt his communications. He also bought two informants boots to use while fighting with ISIS at a sporting-goods store in Manhattan. The complaint also alleges that Alimehmeti also took one of the agents to John F. Kennedy Airport so the agent could fly to join ISIS.

According to the complaint, Alimehmeti played two ISIS-produced music videos that depicted prisoners being beheaded for the undercover agents. He allegedly told the agents that the videos helped him stay motivated while exercising.

Photos from the complaint show him posing in his Bronx apartment with what appears to be an ISIS flag. He also allegedly bought knives, steel-knuckled gloves, a pocket chainsaw, handcuffs and masks, and had MP3 files containing lectures by former al-Qaida official Anwar al-Awlaki.

The court papers said Alimehmeti told the undercover contacts he and his brother "had our own plan" to travel from Albania to Syria but that his brother had been arrested in Albania.

In a footnote, the FBI said in court papers that Alimehmeti's brother was arrested on weapons and assault charges in Albania last August.

At his initial court appearance Tuesday, Alimehmeti, who's also facing fraud-related charges, remained silent and stared at his feet as his team of public defense lawyers asked the judge to set bail at $200,000.

Defense lawyers Sylvie Levine and Sabrina Shroff insisted that Alimehmeti wasn't being charged for criminal action, but instead "conversation that was consistently prompted by undercover law enforcement."

But prosecutor Brendan Quigley said Alimehmeti's "repeated support for ISIS shows that he's both a flight risk and a risk to the safety of the public." 

He also pointed to Alimehmeti's past arrests dating back to 2010, including robbery, assault, forcible touching and public lewdness. Alimehmeti has served probation and a year in jail for the crimes. 

The judge, Gabriel Gorenstein, acknowledged the defense attorneys' claims that Alimehmeti was being charged without ever acting on his intentions, but said that “those aren’t the charges,” and that his willingness to join and support a known terror organization was enough to keep him locked away.

Alimehmeti is scheduled to appear again in court on June 7. 

More than a half dozen individuals have been arrested since mid-2015 by the task force in New York and New Jersey on similar charges.

The investigation was conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, comprised largely of FBI agents and NYPD detectives, and the NYPD's Intelligence Division.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 NY
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<![CDATA[FBI's Newest K-9 Sniffs Out Digital Evidence]]> Tue, 24 May 2016 17:18:11 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fbi+puppy.jpg

One of the newest members of the FBI has a decidedly low-tech method of sniffing out digital evidence: she uses her nose.

Iris, an 18-month-old Labrador retriever, is the FBI's first electronic-detection K-9 and can sniff out just about any electronic device that stores memory —regardless of how well a criminal has hidden it.

Iris graduated from a program pioneered by the Connecticut State Police last month and is one of just a handful of dogs trained to detect a chemical used to cool memory chips on electronics.

"She went into four weeks of imprinting class with them, where they basically just had her every day and imprinted her on the scent," said her handler, FBI Agent Jeffrey Calandra. "That chemical is unique to thumb drives, hard drives, really anything that’s electronic that can store memory."

Now, just about anytime she's brought to a scene to sniff out the chemical, she alerts her handler in a way similar to bomb and drug dogs. 

"She’s a passive alert dog so when she finds the device she’ll sit and then she’s fed," said Calanda.

After there is enough probable cause for the FBI to obtain a search warrant, Iris is used to search specific locations for electronic devices. Iris’ unique cyber-sniffing ability can be used in a wide range of investigations, including counter intelligence, counter terrorism and child pornography.

"We encounter subjects of our investigations who are very clever and they will do their best to hide electronic devices in the most unique places," said Michael Brodack, assistant special agent in charge of the Newark FBI office.

Some subjects will store incriminating evidence and thumb drives in places that may not even be thought of as electronic devices.

"You can find thumb drives in earrings, cuff links, pens, you name it," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Philip Frigm. "They are very small and are getting smaller so it’s very difficult for a human who is in the process of conducting a search warrant to find some of those devices."

Other agencies have used dogs trained to detect the chemical successfully. Most notably, a black Lab named Bear sniffed out a hidden thumb drive containing child porn belonging to former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

Broadack said "the sky is the limit" with Iris. 

"It will make our jobs a little bit easier and it’ll ensure that we find all of the pieces of evidence that we need to find," he said.

When the work day is over, Iris is just a regular dog living with her FBI handler and his family.              

"She loves to play, she has a great personality but when it’s time to work, she loves to work — she gets fed when she works," said Calandra.

The Newark FBI will make Iris available to other FBI offices and law enforcement agencies to assist in cases where electronic devices are used and may go unseen without her skills.

"Electronics are a part of everyone’s daily lives and they are everywhere,” said Frigm. "Expectations are that she is going to be very busy in the near future."

<![CDATA[Woman's Body Found After Kin Is Charged With Murder: Sources]]> Tue, 17 May 2016 14:30:50 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/missing-woman-dead-double-inset-0517.jpg

The body of a missing 69-year-old Bronx woman was found in Manhattan, several days after her nephew was charged with murder in the case, law enforcement sources say. 

It's not clear where in Manhattan the body of Patricia Myers was found. She had been last seen May 4 at her apartment on Grand Concourse near East 169th Street.

Her nephew, Andros Topping, was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in her death on May 6. 

Topping allegedly told police he had been living with the woman when she disappeared. Authorities also said at the time that he fought with officers who asked him to come to a precinct for questioning. 

Multiple blood spatters were found in the apartment, sources said in early May.

On Tuesday, sources added that detectives found video of the suspect leaving their apartment with a duffel bag. A second video captured him toting the bag over the Macombs Dam Bridge. 

He had recently contacted another family member and said he had done something wrong, sources said earlier this month. But it's not entirely clear if the comment was in reference to his aunt's disappearance.

Myers had heart disease and COPD, a lung disease, and uses an oxygen tank, according to police. There was a sign on her apartment door warning that an oxygen tank was in use there.

Attorney information for Topping wasn't available.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York / Provided to NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Dean Skelos' Nephew Accused of Grabbing Reporter, Tossing Phone]]> Thu, 12 May 2016 18:48:28 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dean-skelos-nephew-0512.jpg

Dean Skelos' nephew is facing assault charges after he was accused of grabbing a reporter's wrist and tossing her cellphone after the former New York senate leader was sentenced on federal corruption charges.

Basil Skelos, 27, was arrested on third-degree assault charges Thursday after the hearing for Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos in Manhattan, according to the NYPD. 

The arrest comes after he was caught on camera approaching Daily News reporter Victoria Bekiempis as she and other members of the media interviewed someone on a street corner outside a federal courtroom Thursday morning.

He can be seen grabbing Bekiempis' phone and tossing it as she yells "Hey, give me my phone back!" His other hand can be seen on the woman's wrist. 

Cameramen and reporters then follow after the man as he silently down the sidewalk.

Bekiempis follows after and can be heard shouting, "This guy assaulted me. He grabbed my wrist and threw my phone."

"I think that guy should be stopped," says another person, as a third says, "We all have it on camera!"

Basil Skelos walks silently for several more feet and is heckled by photographers and cameramen before NYPD officers approach. 

A man with the former senator's nephew then tells the officer "they were pushing and harassing us" and alleges that members of the media punched them in the face. 

Bekiempis again accuses Basil Skelos of assaulting her.

He then replies, "I didn't assault anybody. I didn't grab your wrist. I grabbed the phone after my family was pushed and punched in the face."

He adds, "that is not right," and the man with him says "you have the right to remain silent."

The exchange continues for a moment before officers takes him inside a building.

Later, Bekiempis tweeted that the former senator's nephew yelled at her inside the courthouse while police took her information.

Attorneys for Dean Skelos and representatives for the family declined to comment on the incident Thursday. Attorney information for Basil Skelos wasn't immediately available.

The Daily News declined to comment on the attack Thursday afternoon, but the newspaper reported on the attack online

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA['Lazy Eye,' 'Fat Sal' Charged in NY Crime Family Takedown: Docs]]> Thu, 12 May 2016 15:20:53 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/police-tape-shutterstock_5628043315.jpg

More than a dozen members and associates of the Genovese crime family were arrested early Thursday on federal criminal charges, sources told NBC 4 New York.

Seventeen defendants, with nicknames like "Grandpa," "Lazy Eye," "Fat Sal" and "Birdie," were named in an eight-count indictment accusing them of racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, operating an illegal gambling business and illegal use of firearms.

The suspects charged Thursday allegedly ran an illegal gambling operation, made murder threats and conspired to commit murder to futher the illegal operation, the indictment alleges.

The alleged mobsters known as Grandpa, Baldy and Fat Sal conspired together to kill someone in 2014, the indictment states. They did so, according to the charges, to be welcomed into the Genovese family and to increase their positions in the ranks of the operation. 

Defendants known as Fat Sal, Lazy Eye, Grandpa, Zeus and others also allegedly ran a large-scale illegal bookmaking and sports betting operation, the indictment states. The gambling operation raked in more than $2,000 a day, the suit says. 

Sources said 14 of the suspects were arrested Thursday as FBI agents, NYPD detectives and Nassau County police conducted raids in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx and Nassau County. 

Those arrested were expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan later Thursday.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Man Who Tried to Help Organize ISIS 'Army' Gets 15 Years]]> Tue, 10 May 2016 19:41:03 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sadeeh+terror+plot.jpg

A New Jersey man who tried to help organize a "small army" of ISIS fighters in the Garden State and New York was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years behind bars. 

Alaa Saadeh was part of a group of men who were trying to support the ISIS terror group, prosecutors said. Saadeh admitted he gave money and credit cards to other members of the group to try to help them travel to Syria. He and others in the group watched ISIS propaganda including beheadings and other killings by the terror group. His brother, Nader Saadeh, was among the group charged in the scheme. 

Saadeh pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS in Newark federal court before Judge Sarah Wigenton. In addition to the 15 year sentence Tuesday, Judge Susan Wife imposed lifetime supervised release for when Saadeh completes his sentence.

"I apologize to everybody… I feel like I let my family down, my brother down, myself down," he said. "These people (ISIS) are not who they claim they are. They are making it worse for Muslim people."

The 24-year-old Saadeh added, "I have no one to blame but myself. The government says I could have done something to prevent this and they are right. I could have done more.  I don't want anything to do with this group I want to apologize again."

Wife said she didn't know if Saadeh's apology was sincere.

"If you are sincere and truly disavowing ISIS you will choose a different path," she said. 

Saadeh has no criminal history. At the hearing Tuesday he admitted he smoked a lot of marijuana before becoming radicalized and took his friends at their word when they talked about Islam. 

Prosecutors said that Saadeh lied to the FBI when he was questioned and destroyed evidence that connected his brother to his scheme. They also said he let the other members of the New Jersey cell meet at his apartment. 

"He could have stopped it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Judson Welle. "Instead, he planned it, facilitated it and agreed to help cover it up."

Saadeh was the second man to plead guilty in connection with this New Jersey cell. In September, Samuel Topaz admitted he wanted to join ISIS. His lawyer said if members of the group had failed to get to Syria or Iraq on their own, they had discussed an alternate plan of buying guns inside the US and targeting the White House and other landmarks for an attack.

Officials have said the parents of Alaa and Nader Saadeh were deported more than a decade ago in connection with an alleged credit card fraud case. The Saadeh children were allowed to stay with custodians in New Jersey because they were US citizens, officials said.

<![CDATA[Partner of Cop Killed in 2014 Fire Testifies in Teen's Trial]]> Mon, 25 Apr 2016 23:17:58 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marcell+dockery+coney+island+fire.jpg

An NYPD officer who was injured in a blaze sparked by a teen who set a mattress on fire in 2014 testified in the 16-year-old's murder trial Monday, describing her final moments with her partner who succumbed to smoke while trying to get people out of the burning building.

Rosa Rodriguez testified in the murder trial for Marcell Dockery, who allegedly confessed to setting a mattress on fire at a Coney Island apartment building on April 6, 2014.

A resulting blaze killed Rodriguez's partner, Dennis Guerra, and left her barely able to talk. During the trial Monday, she spoke in whispers as she described grabbing Guerra's shoulders as they looked for an exit.

Rodriguez and Guerra were both overcome by the smoke after they took an elevator to the 13th floor of the building on Surf Avenue to help residents get out.

"Can't breathe! Can't breathe!" Guerra's voice was heard in his call to dispatch. 

His family sobbed as they listened to the recordings during the trial. 

Guerra was pronounced dead shortly after the blaze; Rodriguez was in a coma for 44 days and had permanent voice and lung damage.


Dockery allegedly admitted to police that he lit the mattress on fire because he was bored and was charged with murder.

"He killed a heroic police officer, he disabled another heroic police officer," said PBA President Pat Lynch, who was at the trial. "And it broke the hearts of those family members and those police officers sitting in that courtroom."

His attorney, Jesse Young, has said that Dockery was coerced into giving oral and written confessions.

Young said it will be up to Dockery to decide if he wants to take the stand during the trial. 

Listen to the audio and video played in Dockery's trial above

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Man Gets 12 Years in Prison for Death of Transgender Woman]]> Tue, 19 Apr 2016 14:34:53 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/islan+nettles+death.jpg

A man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2013 death of a transgender woman will spend 12 years in prison.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. says James Dixon was sentenced Tuesday in the death of 21-year-old Islan Nettles. Prosecutors had recommended a 17-year sentence.

The victim was one of three transgender women who encountered a group of about seven young men on a Harlem street on Aug. 17, 2013.

Dixon flirted with Nettles before realizing she was transgender. Then he punched her in the face; she fell and her head hit the pavement.

He hit her some more before running away. She died five days later

<![CDATA[Driver Pleads Guilty in Crash That Killed NYPD Detective]]> Mon, 18 Apr 2016 16:30:19 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nypd+detective+killed+wrong+way+crash.jpg

A 21-year-old man who drove the wrong way on a Westchester highway while drunk and high, hitting and killing an NYPD detective on his way to work, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges, prosecutors say.

Efren Moreano of Yonkers had a blood alcohol level of .16 percent and marijuana in his system when he drove his Honda Civic sedan onto the southbound side of the Sprain Brook Parkway at about 4 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2015, prosecutors said. 

He barreled down the highway at about 105 mph for about two miles, forcing drivers to swerve to avoid him, some off the road, authorities said. 

Mofreano then hit NYPD detective Paul Duncan's Honda Pilot head-on, killing him instantly. Duncan had been on his way to work at a police precinct in Queens, and was about two miles into his commute when he was struck, authorities said. 

The crash backed up traffic on the highway for hours. Duncan's wife was among the drivers stuck in the traffic as she tried to take their 13-year-old daughter to school in New York City.

She told NBC 4 New York at the time it took her two hours to get to the city that morning and didn't know the traffic was from the wreck that killed her husband of more than 20 years. 

Mofreano had to be extricated from his vehicle, and rescuers smelled alcohol and marijuana on him, prosecutors said. Toxicology tests later confirmed he was intoxicated and high. 

Mofreano pleaded guilty Monday to felony charges of second-degree manslaughter, first-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors said. 

He faces a minimum of 1 to 3 years in prison to a maximum of 5 to 15 years when he's sentenced on June 1, prosecutors say. Mofreano remains behind bars.  

Duncan's widow, Rechelle Duncan, said the two were high school sweethearts married for more than 20 years. Paul had been planning to retire from the NYPD that year. 

"He was thoughtful, he was disciplined. He made really good dinners," Rechelle Duncan said of her husband. "He thought he was funny, a sharp dresser, a really good dad."

Duncan has been described as an advocate for higher education. 

<![CDATA[EXCLUSIVE: Unprecedented Look inside NYPD Compstat Meeting]]> Fri, 15 Apr 2016 22:33:14 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nypd+compstat+meeting+2.jpg

On a recent weekday morning, Inspector Carlos Valdez stood nervously behind a podium as more than 200 top NYPD cops grill him about a surge in robberies and burglaries in the 40th Precinct in the Bronx.

"Alright, Carlos, you know why you’re up there," Chief James O’Neill said. "A lot of things going on in the Four-o. Crime is definitely not headed in the right direction."

Valdez defended his work, and that of the detectives from the 40th precinct, who’re standing behind him.

"We’re up in robberies, assaults, burglaries and grand larcenies, but we’re also up in arrests for those index crimes," said Valdez, his voice cracking.

The brass doesn't let up.

"This is going on too long," snapped Commissioner Dermot Shea. "We need it fixed yesterday."

This was the exchange the I-Team witnessed in an unprecedented look at Compstat, a crime-fighting innovation that helped make New York City into America's safest big city. It requires police officers to not just question suspects, but each other. 

Compstat, a statistical system for tracking crime, was introduced by Commissioner Bill Bratton and Jack Maple in 1994, during Bratton’s first stint as head of the NYPD. Twenty-two years later, Bratton is once again the city's top cop, Compstat is still in use, and crime has fallen 75 percent -- a fact Bratton calls a "New York miracle." New York had 1,946 murders in 1993, or more than a five a day. It had 352 in 2015.

The system is based on tracking and stopping smaller crimes to stop bigger crimes, and to pinpoint hotspots where crimes are clustered. It has since been exported to other cities, like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where Bratton also served as chief of police.

The NYPD recently allowed the I-Team unprecedented access to one of its weekly Compstat meetings at One Police Plaza in downtown Manhattan. Television monitors displaying stats, graphs and maps line the walls, above long tables filled with high-ranking officers.

At one end of the room sat the bosses, lobbing the questions, and at the other was a podium, where precinct commanders like Valdez take turns trying to answer them.

Valdez was assigned to the 40th precinct several months ago to address a spike in crime. Valdez put out extra officers to streets with jumps in robberies. He also met with detectives about unsolved cases big and small – from murders to burglary patterns.

"Analyzing data, deploying resources and vigorous follow-up, that is Compstat," Valdez said. "In the end, crime prevention is really the goal."

While the I-Team was visiting and recording his team at work in the Bronx, someone shot a 20-year-old man to death nearby – right next to a playground, in the middle of the afternoon.

In a separate incident several weeks ago, two police officers were fired on. Burglaries soared 400 percent in just a month. Valdez opened his case book to reveal more than 100 crimes that needed solving.

At the Compstat meeting, the interrogators press Valdez for minute details of the precinct’s crime pattern, all the way down to how many smartphones have been reported stolen.

“I want to say it’s nine,” said Valdez.

“How many have we obtained and put an alarm on those phones?” asked Shea.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” answered a member of the Four-o team.

O’Neill told Valdez and his team they could do better. "If you have a robbery problem, everybody up at that podium needs to be tuned in. I’m not sure I’m hearing that."

Valdez wasn't the only precinct commander to get grilled, though. Next up was Fausto Pichardo of the 43rd Precinct, also in the Bronx. Pichardo's precinct had no homicides to report -- but O'Neill was quick to point out the area had the highest volume of robberies in the city.

"We took six robberies in sector Eddie," Pichardo responded. "We immediately deployed a dedicated uniformed robbery order on each single platoon."

O'Neill also brought up up people who missed parole meetings.

"I'm sure they're causing problems elsewhere," O'Neill said.

Afterward, O'Neill and other NYPD brass work out a prescription for the precinct -- to target repeat offenders even harder.

"The major takeaway is to follow through," Pichardo said.

Pichardo said commanders are constantly adjusting anti-crime strategies whether or not police headquarters is calling for answers.

 "The problem is if we have to go in and tell them what we our plan is going to be – we have already failed," he said.  "We put the plan in place two weeks ago when we saw the trend was going up."

 But after the meeting, O’Neill told the I-Team the point is not to embarrass anyone, but to ensure success. “We’re not looking to throw curveballs at people … [we] just want to make sure their whole operation is efficient.”

“I know Carlos will turn the Four-o around,” said O’Neill.

Bratton, meanwhile, said the point is to hold commanders accountable. But he also praised Bronx commanders for the overall reduction in violence.

“We have never had a two month period beginning of a year with so few shootings,” he said.

O'Neill said he thinks the rigorous public interrogation that precinct commanders endure helps make a difference in crime in the city.

"There is direct accountability," he said. "I think that’s the genius of Compstat."

<![CDATA[Kerik Ally Arrested in Assault on FBI Informant in NYC Hotel]]> Thu, 14 Apr 2016 12:29:22 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kerik+contractor+arrest.jpg

A construction executive with ties to disgraced ex-NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik was arrested Wednesday, months after he allegedly assaulted an FBI informant who exposed corruption involving Kerik inside a midtown hotel. 

Frank DiTommaso was charged with felony assault in the confrontation with Larry Ray at the Hudson Hotel on Sept. 17, police said. He was released on his own recognizance after a court hearing overnight.

Ray, who was once close friends with Kerik and DiTommaso, told NBC 4 New York he believes it was an act of revenge.

He said DiTommaso followed him to the Hudson Hotel and approached his table. Ray stood up to say hello and went to shake his hand, and that's when DiTomasso allegedly unleashed a flurry of punches at him.

“I was knocked out. He kept hitting me in the temple area repeatedly,” said Ray, who suffered head trauma in the assault.

Ray believes the attack was premeditated, payback for his providing information to local and federal prosecutors about Kerik’s corruption and his links to DiTommaso.

“I think it is revenge on Frank’s part for the court case, for sure,” said Ray.

DiTommaso -- whose construction firm was alleged to have provided $165,000 in free apartment renovations to Kerik -- was arrested Wednesday on felony assault charges. As he was led out of the Midtown North stationhouse in handcuffs, DiTommaso did not respond to NBC 4 New York when asked whether the attack was revenge on Ray for his cooperation.

Ray, who served as best man at Kerik's wedding, has a criminal past but said there are witnesses and hotel security camera video now in the hands of police that confirm the allegations. Police said that is why they moved forward with felony assault counts Wednesday.

During the investigation into Kerik's corruption case, DiTommaso was arrested on perjury charges but later cleared. Kerik pleaded guilty to felony state and federal charges in 2009, including tax fraud and lying to the White House, and served three years in prison. 

Spokesmen for the FBI and US Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment about the alleged attack on a past witness.

Former federal prosecutor Brad Simon said the case may be bigger than just an assault.

“If there is evidence that they were trying to intimidate this witness or punish him for giving testimony against Bernie Kerik, then I think it rises to the level of obstruction of justice or witness tampering, federal offenses,” Simon said.

Kerik, who was released from federal prison in May 2013 and now sometimes serves as a commentator on television, declined to comment about the case.

DiTommaso is expected to appear at 100 Centre Street overnight on the assault counts. He is expected to deny any wrongdoing.

Ray said DiTommaso deserves jail time.

“The right thing happens eventually most of the time," he said.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 NY]]>
<![CDATA[Juror in NYPD Stairwell Shooting to Face Judge]]> Tue, 12 Apr 2016 19:58:09 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/AP_685503470466-officerconvicted.jpg

A judge is set to determine whether to overturn the conviction of a former NYPD officer who accidentally shot and killed a man in a darkened housing complex stairwell because of a juror failed to disclose that his father had been convicted of manslaughter.

A judge must determine why juror Michael Vargas didn't tell court officials about his father's conviction before being seated on the trial for Peter Liang, the rookie cop who accidentally fired a bullet that ricocheted off of a wall in a Brooklyn housing project and fatally hit Akai Gurley. Liang is set to be sentenced on Thursday. 

Liang's attorneys filed a motion seeking a new trial after Vargas, 62, told newspapers that his father served time in prison on manslaughter charges. During the selection process, Vargas responded, "No, no," when asked if any close relatives had been convicted of a crime.

Liang's attorneys said in the motion that Vargas' family history made him "a stranger who sneaks into the jury room." They declined to comment on the case Tuesday. 

Legal analyst Michael Bachner, of Bachner and Associates, said that the whole case could be overturned because of Vargas, calling the juror's omission a "huge concern for the prosecution and the quest for justice."

"I think there is an extremely strong argument for (the judge to throw out the case)," Bachner said. 

Vargas declined to comment to NBC 4 New York on Tuesday, but he told the Daily News last week that the defense was "grasping at straws."

"Do they really think I (convinced) 11 other jurors to convict him?" he told the newspaper. "They must be out of their minds."

A spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement after the motion was filed that "Peter Liang received a fair trial and we will respond to the motion in court." The office didn't offer further comments on Tuesday.

Thompson has already recommended that Liang receive probation and six months of house arrest when he's sentenced later this month. Though the charge carries no requirement for prison time, Liang faced up to 15 years in prison. Liang was fired from the police force upon his conviction in February. 

Thompson said that while Liang acted recklessly, he didn't intend to kill the victim, Akai Gurley.

The rookie officer had been patrolling the public housing high-rise with his gun drawn in 2014 when he said a sudden sound startled him and he fired. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley, 28, on a lower floor.

At the trial, prosecutors argued that Liang should not have had his gun out. They also said he did nothing to help Gurley as he lie dying on the floor. Liang's attorney had argued that Gurley's death was tragic, but was not a crime.

A second officer who was present at the shooting scene was also fired from the force over allegations that he didn't do enough to help Gurley.

While the judge does not need to follow Thompson's proposal at Liang's sentencing proceeding next month, sentencing recommendations from prosecutors typically hold significant weight in most criminal cases.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Plea Deal Reached Amid Toxic Dumping Trial]]> Wed, 30 Mar 2016 17:15:10 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/li+toxins.jpg

Prosecutors on Long Island say they've reached a plea deal with the suspects in a series of toxic dumpings at several sites in Suffolk County. 

The six people were in the midst of a criminal trial in connection with dumping of toxic materials at a park, a veterans' housing development and a wetlands area in the same town. The trial was in its sixth week in Central Islip. 

Defendant Tom Datre Jr., 42, has pleaded guilty to four felony counts of endangering the environment for dumping at a Brentwood park, the Islandia veterans housing project and two other sites. In exchange, he will be sentenced to one to three years in prison. He had been facing up to seven years in jail and millions of dollars in fines if he were convicted of the top counts. 

He'll also be held responsible for the cost of cleanup at the sites. 

A partner of Datre, Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling, has also pleaded guilty to criminal counts for his role in dumping debris at Clemente Town Park in Brentwood and at the Route 111 site in Central Islip, and will face six months in jail. 

Criminal charges against Datre's father, Tom Datre Sr., have been dropped. 

But Datre Jr.'s family-run  business, the 5 Brothers Farming Corp., has pleaded guilty to four felony dumping charges and will face fines. Datre Jr. and his father own four family-operated companies. 

At Datre Jr.'s arraignment in December 2014, prosecutors called him the "mastermind" of the scheme, alleging he brought material from New York City to the sites and "contaminated our county."

His lawyer, Kevin Kearon, said at the time his client did nothing wrong intentionally. At worst, Kearon said, this was "a poorly managed project."

Prosecutors had alleged each of the defendants knew about the dumping but did nothing to stop it in a "greed-filled" plot to line their own pockets.

Prosecutors said testing found hazardous materials like the pesticide DDT, chlordane, arsenic, cobalt, lead, zinc and petroleum byproducts at all of the dump sites, including the six-acre Deer Park wetlands, adjacent to a creek in the Great South Bay watershed, a Brentwood park, a Central Islip lot and an Islandia neighborhood for war veterans. Asbestos was found at all sites but the veterans' home.

The original site was Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, where tens of thousands of tons of material were trucked in for a park improvement project. Then, the vacant lot on Route 111 was discovered and was "very similar in appearance" to what was found at the park, Spota said.

At the Islandia location, the homes were sold to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The project broke ground last year and veterans moved in early this year. The group that built the homes, Long Island Builders Institute, said the three sites were linked by the same contractor.

<![CDATA[ATM Skimming-Device Suspects Linked to 21 More Thefts: NYPD]]> Fri, 18 Mar 2016 17:26:15 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bank+skimming+device+suspects+more.jpg

The two men wanted for stealing bank information from ATM customers in Manhattan last fall have now been linked to an additional 21 incidents across the Upper East Side, and police are still looking for the suspects. 

Police first alerted the public about the two men in January: the alleged thieves attached skimming devices to an ATM at a CVS at 420 Fifth Ave. in midtown and a Bank of America at 21 E. 96th St. in Carnegie Hill last fall, then duplicated debit cards to withdraw money from the victims' accounts at banks in Queens, police said. 

The six thefts originally linked to the men took place from October through December, with the stolen amounts ranging from $980 to $1,640. 

Now police say the men are suspected of 21 more skimming-device thefts from last August through December. Several of the victims saw multiple withdrawals from or unauthorized transactions on their accounts.

The withdrawals ranged from $200 to over $1,100. 

The surveillance photos were taken from the Queens banks where the suspects made the withdrawals, police said. 

In Janury, Bank of America told NBC 4 New York it makes sure customers are notified of any unusual activitiy on their accounts. Customers aren't charged if their accounts are stolen, the bank said.

Experts have advised ATM customers to cover the keypad when entering their PIN codes and to jiggle the card reader to make sure there's no skimming device. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS. 

<![CDATA[NYC Martial Arts Instructor Arrested on Sex Abuse Charges]]> Tue, 15 Mar 2016 00:23:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/united+tae+kwon+do.jpg

A New York City martial arts instructor has been charged with sex abuse and forcible touching in his interactions with four girls in his classes at a Queens studio over the course of nearly a year, prosecutors say. 

The 26-year-old instructor at United Tae Kwon Doe in Corona is accused of inappropriately touching four of his students, two 12-year-olds and two 14-year-olds, multiple times between May 2015 through Feb. 26 of this year, the Queens District Attorney's office says. 

"As a martial arts instructor the defendant was supposed to train his students to protect themselves from unwanted advances," District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement Monday. "Instead he is accused of taking advantage of his teaching position to touch his students in inappopriate ways." 

Lorenzo Ramos of Elmhurst apporached each of the alleged victims individually, hugging them, picking them up or groping them, according to prosecutors. In one case, he allegedly rubbed himself against one of the 12-year-old girls, and in another, allegedly rubbed his hand up and down the side of the body of a 14-year-old girl. 

He also allegedly offered money to three of the girls, saying in one instance, "Don't say anything because both of us will be killed."

The girls began speaking to one another and voiced their concerns about Ramos to the owners of the martial arts studio, who fired him, authorities said. When Ramos was fired, one of the victims told her mother, who called police. 

Ramos was arraigned Friday on multiple counts of sexual abuse, forcible touching, sexual harassment, child endangerment and harassment. He's being held on $31,000 bail and is next scheduled to appear in court April 1. 

His attorney Edward Sapone said in a statement to NBC 4 New York that Ramos has been a karate instructor for seven years and has worked with hundreds of students of all ages. 

"His boss trusted him so much that when his when his boss added a location to the karate studio, he took Mr. Ramos with him." said Sapone. "Before this, he's never once been accused of impropriety. He vehemently maintains his innocence."

Parents at the school Monday had no idea of the allegations against Ramos. The school has promised to update parents on the situation. 

<![CDATA[Arrest in Elderly Woman's Stabbing Death in NJ]]> Sat, 12 Mar 2016 17:31:29 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/216*120/21216stabbed.jpg

A man has been arrested in the death of an elderly grandmother fatally stabbed in Jersey City last month, prosecutors say.

Jeffery Harley, 50, is charged with murder in connection with the death of 81-year-old Lucila Cardenas-Viejo, who was found with multiple stab wounds on Feb. 7 in her Lexington Avenue home, said Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez on Saturday.

Authorities had released surveillance video of a man knocking on her doors hours before she was found dead.

On Friday, NBC 4 New York exclusively captured police executing a search warrant at a home across from where Cardenas-Viejo lived. Earlier in the evening, neighbors said detectives arrested Harley, who lives there -- but police have not said if he is the man seen in the video.

Neighbors were skeptical.

"It's hard to believe. I can't believe that's the guy. The picture I saw in the video doesn't look like the person they arrested," said neighbor Benny Ortiz.

"I guess we see what happens when the evidence comes up, but I can't see that right now, I really can't," said Joseph Brown, another neighbor.

Harley was charged on Friday with murder and several counts of robbery, burglary and possession of a weapon. He was being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

Photo Credit: Hudson County Prosecutor's Office]]>
<![CDATA[NYPD Officers Shot on Patrol: It's a 'Miracle' We Survived]]> Thu, 03 Mar 2016 21:26:36 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/espeut+cruz+itv+2.jpg

The two NYPD officers shot at point-blank range while patrolling a Bronx housing project stairwell are speaking for the first time about the harrowing moments before and after the shooting in an exclusive interview with NBC 4 New York, saying it's a miracle they survived.

"I can’t believe I am sitting here today. It really is nothing short of a miracle," said Officer Patrick Espeut, who was shot in the face.

Espeut and his partner Diara Cruz, along with a third officer, were conducting a vertical patrol inside the Melrose Houses on Feb. 3 when they encountered the gunman and began questioning him. 

He fired in an instant.

"It all happened so fast,” said Espeut, 29. “The only images I remember were him pulling the gun and the flash of the muzzle going off.”

Espeut was hit in the face, the bullet traveling through his nose and then ricocheting off bone and exiting out the side of his skull -- without striking his brain.

Cruz, 24, was hit in the abdomen just below her bulletproof vest. She didn't even realize she'd been shot because she was busy trying to push a second civilian in the stairwell out of the line of fire.

When the firing stopped, Cruz said the man told her, "You know you are bleeding."

"That’s when I realized I had been shot," she said.

The officers had been patrolling the Melrose Hosues because of a string of recent nighttime robberies. In the stairwell, Cruz heard two men talking one flight up, and she and officer Espeut approached.

"I asked them for IDs. They were compliant," she said.

Malik Chavis was one of the two men drinking beer in the stairwell. His ID showed a different address, and he told the officers he was staying with his girlfriend in a 7th-floor apartment. The officers said they wanted to go with him to the apartment to verify he had a right to be in the building.

As they walked up the stairs, Cruz noticed Chavis’s hands were in his waistband.

"I noticed he was walking up the stairs funny. His hand was in the waistband so when we got to the top, I told him to remove his hands," Cruz said.

"At that moment, he fired," she said.

Espeut said he was knocked to the ground by the force of the first shot and he blacked out as Cruz radioed for help.

Meanwhile, Chavis, who had 12 prior arrests, fled to his girlfriend's apartment, where he fatally shot himself, shouting, "I just shot a cop, I'm not going back to jail," witnesses later told police.

Espeut quickly regained consciousness and noticed the blood pouring from his face and the side of his head.

"I remember keeping pressure on my head to limit the bleeding. I walked down the steps. I didn’t know what to think," Espeut said. "I didn’t want to die."

Then he saw his injured partner Cruz lying in the stairwell. Each officer became concerned seeing the bullet wounds the other had suffered.

"I did not know where she was shot but I was worried she could bleed out," Espeut said.

In the emergency room, they were next to each other for a short time but they told each other they would be OK.

"It’s amazing. It could have been bad," Cruz said. "We got lucky."

The two officers have been on the job two years. Cruz, a Bronx native, is the first in her family to become a police officer and is now pursuing a criminal justice degree at John Jay College. The day she was sworn in as an officer at Madison Square Garden was "a dream come true."

 "I always wanted to become a police officer for as long as I can remember," she said. "There was always something about wanting to help people." 

Espeut, who's originally from Putnam County and also serves in the military, said he joined the NYPD to try to make a difference.

"I'm a little older, I've had a lot of different jobs and I've always had the same problem where it's tough to care about certain jobs," he said. "I wanted a job where I would feel some sort of fulfillment at the end of the day, where I felt like I was doing something good with my life and for other people."

Espeut and Cruz began working together in the Bronx in August 2015. 

"There's a lot of crime, but there's also a lot of great people there and they need people to look out for them. So I consider myself lucky to have been placed in housing in the Bronx," he said. 

Both officers were released from the hospital, Espeut one day after the shooting. Cruz was released a week later. Espeut returned to the hospital to wheel his partner out as fellow officers cheered.

Recovery for both officers is ongoing. Cruz said she is getting stronger each day after the bullet tore through her midsection and the surgery that followed. Espeut still suffers from head pain, but he knows he is lucky the bullet did not hit any major artery or any part of his brain.

Even though it was a close call, both officers say they are eager to get back to work.

"I definitely believe there was some higher power there that night looking out for both of us. That’s the only explanation that the two of us can be sitting here talking to you as well as we are," Espeut said.

<![CDATA[Queens Mosque Instructor Arrested in Sex Abuse of Girl, 9: DA]]> Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:10:10 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/queens+mosque+sex+abuse+arrest.jpg

A sex abuse prevention workshop conducted at a New York City public school prompted a 9-year-old girl to report an alleged case of sex abuse by her religious instructor, resulting in the arrest of the 46-year-old man, prosecutors said. 

The suspect, an after-school instructor at the Masjid Abu Huraira Mosque in East Elmhurst, Queens, is accused of groping the girl on two different occasions while she was attending the program between November 2015 and February 2016, the Queens District Attorney's office said. 

He allegedly said to her, "You are a good girl," as he touched her, prosecutors said.

When a sex abuse prevention workshop using puppets was held at the girl's school, the girl told the workshop instructor what allegedly happened. 

After investigation, authorities arrested the suspect on sex abuse and child endangerment charges. He was awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 NY]]>
<![CDATA[Drone Hits Empire State Building: NYPD]]> Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:41:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drone+suspect+empire+state+building.jpg

A small drone crashed into the 40th floor of the Empire State Building Thursday night and then fell to a 35th floor landing, authorities said. 

Police said a New Jersey man was flying the drone in an attempt to take pictures and apparently lost control of the aircraft.

Investigators said Sean Nivin Riddle was arrested at the scene and is expected to face criminal charges. He was being questioned by officers at the Midtown South police precinct.

Right after the crash, Riddle apparently wrote on his own Twitter feed: “filming w/ drone, now its stuck on the empire state building....w/security.”

The crash brought a significant police and FBI response to the landmark at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street as a precaution. Investigators said that they do not believe the crash was intentional.

No one was hurt.

Riddle did not immediately respond to requests from NBC 4 New York seeking comment. 

Photo Credit: File.
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