Monsey Couple Accused of Welfare Fraud Dumps Lawyers

Days after being arrested, a Monsey couple has dumped the two lawyers hired to defend them against charges of welfare fraud and fraudulently obtaining federal rent subsidies to live in their house that’s appraised at $1.4 million.

John Edwards and David Goldstein – two of the county’s most prominent defense lawyers – got the heave-ho from Nathan and Mindy Misky prior to an appearance last night in Haverstraw Justice Court.

Edwards and Goldstein said they were not given a reason for their dismissal after appearing initially in court and helping the couple make $50,000 bail each following their arrest Tuesday morning on one count each of third-degree grand larceny and third-degree welfare fraud.

The couple was not represented by counsel last night. Justice John Grant adjourned the case until Aug. 13 after prosecutor Gary Lee Heavner told him that an investigation was continuing and a grand jury would not hear the case today, as planned.

The Rockland District Attorney’s Office has accused the couple of stealing $26,000 in federal Section 8 housing benefits between February, 2006 and April, 2007. The couple, who have 12 children, are accused of placing ownership of their mansion – six bedrooms and three baths – under a holding couple and then applying for rental vouchers as the tenants.

Prosecutors also accused them of fraudulently obtaining more than $49,000 in food stamps and Medicaid benefits through the Rockland Social Services Department between April, 2006 and February, 2008.

They also are accuses of providing false financial information to obtain benefits, including not reporting bank accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars and failing to report ownership in multiple properties valued at several millions dollars in Rockland and Sullivan counties., DA Thomas Zugibe has said.

The couple could face federal charges since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General is working with Rockland prosecutors fraud issues involving
HUD programs.

Murderer Belton Brims Loses Appeal

Murderer Belton Brims has lost a bid to vacate his New York prison sentence of 75 years to life for killing Arnold and Elaine Sohn in 1980 and escaping from the then-delapidated county jail in New City.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett denied Brims’ bid for a new hearing, siding with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office’s position that the former Spring Valley man’s contentions lacked merit.

The couple’s daughter, Sheryl Sohn, set up a robbery to repay a drug debt to Brims, a Spring Valley thug and drug dealer known as Panama. Sohn left a door unlocked to her family’s Jill Lane home so Brims could enter and steal $30,000 in heirlooms and jewelry. Sohn had her eye on her grandmother’s heirloom ring.

The Sohns came home unexpectedly early from a holiday party on Dec. 29, 1980. Brims and James Sheffield beat them and drowned Elaine Sohn in the bath tub.

Sheryl Sohn served 26 years of a sentence of 25 years to life for her role in the murder of her parents, being paroled in December 2006.

Brims, now 55, not the first member of his family to be imprisoned, also robbed a gas station in New Jersey. His New Jersey sentence could end between December 2009 and April 2018.

When released, he goes straight to New York to serve 50 years to life for the double murder of the Sohns and 25 years for escaping from the county jail. He escaped from the jail by sawing off the bars and made his way to Selma, Ala., where poiice captured him.

In court papers filed in state Supreme Court in Rockland, Brims argued his New York sentences should run concurrent to his New Jersey sentence because he began serving his New York jail term first.

Brims also claimed his escape conviction should be vacated because he was only “on loan” to New York for the murder trial during his New Jersey sentence, so his escape was technically from New Jersey custody.

Bartlett agreed with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office that Brims’ arguments were meritless. She denied his motion for a new hearing.

Prosecutors argued Brims sseparate convictions in New York and New Jersey should run consecutively, as originally ordered by the judge.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, Brims can’t become eligible for parole until 2055 for the murder and escape convictions.

Sheffield is working off a 52-year sentence for the double murder. He fled the night of the Sohn killings, and later talked his way out of police custody in New Jersey and Toronto. He was eventually captured in California and returned to Rockland.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said today that Brims will never be released from prison.

“This important victory will keep Mr. Brims behind bars, where he belongs, for the rest of his life,” Zugibe said.

Bedford judge collides with ethics board

If you got a traffic ticket in Bedford for speeding or not wearing your seat belt in 2006 and 2007, you may have gotten gouged by the town court.

My colleague Sean Gorman wrote this story today about a Bedford judge over-fining bad drivers and getting admonished for it by the state’s judicial ethics commission. Bedford, one of the busiest town traffic courts in the state, was handing out $51 to $200 fines for seat-belt violations; the maximum fine was $50. Other drivers were hit with $200 and $300 fines for speeding, when the maximum fine was $150.

The judge apologized, saying he didn’t know there were limits to traffic fines. But the town’s coffers got an extra $11,000 as a result, all of which must be paid back.

Happiest sentencing ever

Criminal sentencings are usually a somber affair, accompanied by frowns and scowls from defendants and frustrated tears from family members and friends.

Today was a little different.

A young woman named Jessica Bonacci was thrilled — thrilled! — to receive five years’ probation for third-degree robbery, a felony that’s punishable by up to 7 years in state prison. The 22-year-old from Peekskill thanked the judge, pumped her handcuffed fists behind her and beamed a smile back to her mother sitting in the front row, who threw her arms around another woman in sheer joy.

“I know you have the love and support of your family,” state Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea said. “Hopefully, this has been a lesson for you.”

Here’s the back story: Bonacci was accused of setting up robbery victims, tag-team style, with an accomplice, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. One would distract the victim, while the other snuck up and attacked the victim, stealing whatever was available — money, cell phones, and so on.

Bonacci was arrested Feb. 27, 2008 when, prosecutors allege, she and the accomplice pulled this scheme at an Ossining shopping center. She used the victim’s company van as a getaway car, but she didn’t get far.

A Westchester grand jury handed Bonacci a 12-count indictment that included felony charges of robbery, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and misdemeanor assault. She got a break from prosecutors and was allowed to plead guilty to the one robbery count if she served probation for five years and paid back the $2,500 she stole, plus court fees.

Bonacci’s legal problems are not over yet. After being released on her own recognizance for the February 2008 robbery, she was arrested for a March 5, 2009 robbery in Peekskill, as was her alleged accomplice, Tony Perez. Both were charged with first-degree robbery for allegedly stealing a wallet out of a man’s pocket and have been in the Westchester County Jail since that arrest.

Bonacci is to appear before Westchester County Judge Susan Capeci on the second felony robbery charge next week. She has yet to take a plea in the second robbery case, but the DA’s office says she’s not expected to serve any prison time.

No wonder she was so happy.

Bronx judge to defendants: dress right!

Apparently, a Bronx judge has had it with the super-casual attire that accused criminals are wearing to court these days. The judge berated a defense lawyer for letting his client dress sloppily and sent the sister of another defendant scrambling for dress pants and a button-down shirt.

Click here to read the post on Gothamist, which has a link to the original Daily News story.

New lawyer in hand-chopping case

Accused hand chopper Christopher Calise got a new attorney today — Christopher McClure, best known as the lawyer for convicted wife killer (and ex-neighbor of Bill and Hillary Clinton) Carlos Perez-Olivo, now serving 25 to life for murder.

Calise, 44, of Yonkers  is charged with first-degree assault for allegedly trying to chop off the hand of a New Rochelle man who owed him (or his employer) $50,000. He is being held on $200,000 bail.

The Legal Aid Society of Westchester, which took Calise’s case, asked to be relieved as counsel, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. McClure stepped in as assigned counsel … over the objections of Calise, who wanted Legal Aid to stay on until he hired a private attorney.

Westchester County Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen told Calise that it wasn’t a good idea not to have a lawyer in his situation, even for a few days, so McClure was brought in, perhaps only on a short term basis.

Calise’s alleged accomplice, Michael Mann of Fort Lee, N.J. is also facing assault charges in the attack. You can read the grizzly details by clicking here.

More endorsements for DiFiore

Westchester County’s Democratic Congressional reps came out in support of incumbent District Attorney Janet DiFiore this morning.

Here’s some of what they said, according to the press release from DiFiore’s campaign:

* U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison): “Janet has been a champion for public safety and fairness and integrity in the justice system. She and I have worked together to protect many of the most vulnerable in our community, including children and victims of domestic violence. Her skills and experiences as a prosecutor, judge, community leader, and advocate have made Janet DFiore an effective DA.”

* U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx):  “Janet DiFiore’s background as a judge, as Assistant District Attorney, and now as District Attorney has given her experience and ability to continue in that high office where she has served with distinction. She has been industrious and innovative, has promoted public safety, fairness in prosecutions, and has upheld the integrity of the office.”

* U.S. Rep. John Hall (D-Dover Plains): “She has a proven record of accomplishments such as creating a task force to investigate mortgage fraud, prosecuting environmental crimes, internet crimes, and violent felonies. I know the communities I represent are safer because of her actions.”

Mount Vernon’s judicial hopefuls

In Mount Vernon, the Westchester municipality with the most murders this year (and last), three women are trying to make an impact on the criminal justice system by running for city court judge.

The candidates are sitting Judge Helen Blackwood, city defense lawyer Tamika Coverdale and city deputy corporation counsel Nichelle Johnson.

All three women will run in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary. Blackwood, who had been Mount Vernon’s Corporation Counsel, was appointed to the bench in January to replace retired judge Brenda Dowery-Rodriquez.

Regardless of the outcome, Johnson’s name will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot because she secured the Conservative and Independent lines.

Good luck to all!

Legal sisterhood in Westchester

More than two dozen young women who aspire to be attorneys are visiting the Westchester County Courthouse this afternoon to meet with professional women who might someday become their mentors.

The legal field trip is part of the first annual Summer Justice Academy at Pace Law School, sponsored by the New York chapter of the National Association of Women Judges.

The 25 young ladies live in what Pace described as “underserved” school districts, attending high schools in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and two Catholic schools in the Bronx.

The timing of the academy coincides with the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court candidate Sonia Sotomayor.

The summer academy offers the young ladies college prep-level law courses and leadership training from judges, law school professors and legal practitioners.

Among the professional women who will speak with the would-be lawyers are Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore Pace Law School Dean Michelle S. Simon, Westchester Women’s Bar Association President Debra Scalise and state Supreme Court Justices Judith Gische and La Tia W. Martin.

The week-long academy ends Friday.

Probation Officer Week Across the State, Rockland

This week is honor your probation officer in Rockland County. Well, if you’re lucky enough not to have such a close relationship with a probation officer, then join the county executive in honoring the work done by probation officers.

The Rockland County Probation Department is taking part in New York State’s Probation, Parole & Community Supervision Week from July 19 to 25, according to a news release from the Rockland County Executive’s Office.

The objective is to recognize the work that probation, parole and community supervision professionals do for public safety and to make our communities a safer place to live.

In that regard, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef issued a Proclamation designating the week from July 19th-25th Probation, Parole & Community Supervision Week in Rockland County.

“We thank the staff in the Probation Department for their continuous hard work and vigilance in making our community a safer place to live,” Vanderhoef said in the news release. ”We also recognize other community corrections professionals here in Rockland and throughout the region for their efforts.”

The Probation Department, under the direction of Director Jacqueline Stormes, also will have an employee recognition day, as well as other events throughout the week, to show appreciation for staff members.