White Plains court celebrates drug rehab graduation

We’re back from vacation here at Completely Legal with some news out of local courts in Westchester:

The City Court of White Plains will host a graduation party on Tuesday, Aug. 26 for people who have successfully completed the rehabilitation program offered through the White Plains Treatment Court. The guest speaker will be William Marshall, the executive director of Hawthorne House, a halfway house in White Plains for men in recovery.

The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the city court at 77 South Lexington Ave. and will “celebrate the sobriety and the accomplishments of our participants,” according to the invitation.

Ex-casino worker eludes jail time for rigging contests

An ex-manager at Empire City Casino will serve no jail time for rigging promotional cash giveaways for kickbacks at the racetrack casino.

Donna Cronin had agreed on March 2 to serve six months in jail as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence. But a judge this morning sentneced her to serve 250 hours of community service during her five-year probation and repay the $100,000 she stole. She also must undergo random drug testing and, if ordered by probation, psychological counseling.

“Go out of here and see what you can do to get a job,” acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Moles told Cronin, who is unemployed.

Molea said he was swayed by numerous “sincere and compelling” letters from Cronin’s friends and family urging him to not send her to jail. The letters, he said, told of a childhood so chaotic that the judge credited her and her sisters for surviving it.

Cronin, who now lives in Staten Island, apologized to the judge for her actions and was hugged by family members and friends after the sentencing. Two of her supporters wept with relief when they learned she would not be going to jail.

Cronin, a former Yonkers resident, was the casino’s promotions manager and was accused of orchestrating the scam from Dec. 21, 2006, through Aug. 19, 2008. She was arrested with former promotions coordinators Alicia Murray of the Bronx and Terence Osborne of Yonkers. All three entered guilty pleas.

Cronin pleaded to felony charges of second- and fourth-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud. The top charge against her involved some 75 incidents of larceny, prosecutors said.

Murray, 32, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28. She agreed to serve five years of probation, with eight weekends in the county jail, for stealing $30,688. Osborne, 25, is serving five years’ probation and was ordered to repay $16,049.

According to prosecutors, the three ran a scam to let friends and relatives win promotional contests from December 2006 through August 2008. They told the selected “winners” to be at certain slot machines in the casino while the drawings were held.

They would then rig the contests so the chosen few would win cash, electronic equipment, hotel stays and Broadway tickets. On many of these occasions, the workers got kickbacks — mostly in cash, it was alleged. Players not in on the scheme had no chance of winning the prizes, prosecutors said.

The rigged contests never compromised the casino’s video slot machines, authorities said.

After the investigation began, the New York Lottery ordered Empire City to bring in a consultant to review internal controls and management practices, Lottery director Gordon Medenica said. A consulting firm for the gambling industry monitored Empire City’s major promotional drawings starting Jan. 1, 2009, and reported its findings to state Lottery officials. Medenica said Empire City implemented every recommendation made by the consulting firm.

Accused human trafficker, sex abuser Yannai to be arraigned

Just got word from the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office that Pound Ridge author Joseph Yannai is going to be released from the hospital this afternoon and then moved to federal court in Brooklyn where he will be arraigned on charges connected to his alleged practice of luring young women to the U.S. from foreign countries and then sexually abusing them in his home. Yannai was charged by the feds on Tuesday. That came more than a year after he was arrested on similar charges by the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn said that Yannai is not going to be represented by Scarsdale lawyer John Pappalardo in the federal case. He will be represented at the arraignment, which likely won’t take place until after 4 p.m., by a lawyer from the Federal Defender’s office.

Yannai, 66, faces a possible life sentence if he’s convicted. The feds also want to seize the $700,000 home of the man who wrote a book about famous chefs.

Couple apologizes for role in mortgage fraud

A Tarrytown couple apologized in court today, moments before they were sentenced to state prison for their roles in what a judge described as “sham real estate transactions” that cost four Westchester families their homes.

“The hurt I caused people … I realize I’ve done wrong,” said a choked-up Hubert “Phil” Hall, who with his wife Doreen Swenson will serve two to six years in prison for helping to set up the phony mortgages.

The couple had agreed to serve the prison term when they pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud, both felonies. They are among a group of eight — including four lawyers — who prosecutors say worked together to swindle vulnerable people in Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Cortlandt and Mount Vernon who were about to lose their homes.

The suspects are accused of promising the homeowners that they would help save the homes, but instead left them with nothing. At their court appearance, Swenson and Hall, both 61, each paid criminal restitution of $36,290. A civil suit against them and the other defendants is pending.

“I’m just sorry I caused any harm to anyone,” Swenson said in court. “I never meant to do so.”

Four suspects in the alleged mortgage scheme are fighting charges that they cost four families their homes and swindled two mortgage lenders out of $1.4 million. Lawyers Eileen Potash of Queens, Mildred Didio of Manhattan and Frank Corigliano of Newtown, Conn. and Amerigo DiPietro of Brewster, who owned Interstate Monetary Concepts in Briarcliff Manor, are scheduled to go to trial later this month.

Meanwhile, two other defendants have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.

Lawyer David Reback of Rye Brook pleaded to four counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count each of conspiracy and scheme to defraud. He will be sentenced Oct. 8 and will serve either a year at the Westchester County jail ore one to three years in state prison, depending on how much money he can pay back, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Wilma Shkreli of Westwood, N.J., also known as Wilma Gecay, is to be sentenced Aug. 31 to five years’ probation after pleading guilty to second-degree grand larceny. She allegedly posed an an investor.

Prosecutors said the three-year scam went like this:

The group found their victims through notices of public auction or foreclosure. They reached out to them and gained their trust, saying they could transfer their deed to an investor, who would hold the title for 12 to 24 months so they could save money and reclaim their home.

But once the “investor” took title, phony checks were presented to the lenders for much higher amounts than what the straw buyer paid for the home. Those checks allowed the group’s members to get inflated mortgages, which they used to pay off the original mortgage and keep the remainder for themselves.

With the homes stripped of their equity, the former owners had nothing.

Pre-trial hearings for the four-defendant trial are scheduled to begin Aug. 9. Defense lawyers for the for real estate attorneys have said their clients were paid a standard rate of $750 to $1,500 for each closing and didn’t make any extra money on the alleged scheme.

Ex-Nationwide Insurance manager admits to theft

An ex-manager for Nationwide Insurance admitted today to stealing nearly $300,000 from the company during his six years in the Elmsford branch.

Robert Wirchansky of Yonkers pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court to a four-count felony indictment charging him with second-degree grand larceny and forgery.

He told investigators from Nationwide and the that he stole the money to pay for his wife’s medical bills after she was hurt in a car crash, according to court papers.

Prosecutors said Wirchansky, 49, stole the money between November 2000 and January 2006. The indictment accused him of writing out a $10,000 check from Nationwide to Gerard Werchewski, a $9,000 check to Helen Woshensky, and a $9,000 check to Edward Brown. Wirchansky changed the names on checks to reflect variations of his own name, then deposited the money into his personal account.

The fraud was discovered after Wirchansky had left the company. He made $60,000 a year when he started at Nationwide and $75,000 when he left, according to the court papers.

Wirchansky agreed to repay $296,808 and serve 6 months in the Westchester County jail in Valhalla as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence. He must repay at least $165,000 before his sentencing date of Oct. 28. If he fails to do so, he could be sent to state prison for 1 to 3 years, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Elderly killer sentenced in wife’s “mercy” slaying

Paul Weinstein said nothing this morning as a Westchester County judge sentenced him to eight years in state prison for what he told police was a mercy killing of his elderly wife in their New Rochelle home last year.

Weinstein, 78, had agreed to the sentence when he pleaded guilty in June to first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Helen Weinstein on Sept. 23.

The prison term for Weinstein, who has been in jail for more than 10 months, could end up a life sentence for the frail ex-pharmacist.

In court papers, Weinstein told police that his wife, also in her 70s, was “starting to lose it” and that the shooting was a mercy killing. Later, he told authorities that an argument with his wife “set him off.”

He used a World War II-era Walther handgun to shoot his wife as she lay in bed in their 12th-floor apartment at a senior citizen housing complex at 35 Maple Ave. He called 911 to report what had happened and, after a brief standoff with police, surrendered.

He tried suffocating her with a pillow and, when that failed, took the 9 mm handgun from the bedroom closet, loaded it and hid it under a kitchen towel so his wife wouldn’t be alarmed.

The gun fired on the second try.

Weinstein told detectives he apologized to his slain wife, called police and then got into his bathtub and tried shooting himself in the head several times, but the gun would not fire.

Prosecutor Christine O’Connor said the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office has said Weinstein’s age and poor health were considered when reducing the second-degree murder charge to first-degree manslaughter. O’Connor also said the couple’s daughter had asked her office for leniency.

Weinstein, a licensed pharmacist for 54 years and a former supervisor at R&R Pharmacy in Mamaroneck, was represented by Allan Focarile of the Westchester Legal Aid Society.

Yonkers brothers plead guilty to gun charges

A 32-year-old man and his 22-year-old brother each agreed to serve 10 years in state prison today after admitting in Westchester County Court to selling illegal guns, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Gustavo Rivera and his younger brother, Anthony Rivera, both of 185 Valentine Lane, Yonkers, pleaded guilty to several counts each of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Gustavo Rivera also pleaded to one count of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.

The brothers, working together, sold three loaded weapons to an undercover Yonkers police officer on two different occasions between January 16 and March 3, the District Attorney’s office said. Anthony Rivera allegedly sold a shotgun and an assault rifle to the same officer.

When Yonkers police arrested Anthony Rivera on April 21, he had a semi-automatic handgun on him, the DA’s office said.

The Riveras are being held without bail in the county jail in Valhalla. Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli set a sentencing date of September 21.

The Yonkers Police Department, the FBI Gang Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Westchester District Attorney’s Office investigated the gun sales. Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Luzio and Patrick Moore prosecuted the case.

UPDATE: City of Yonkers Police Commissioner Edmund Hartnett had this to say in a statement today:
“This successful undercover investigation is one of the many ways that the Yonkers Police Department is working to get illegal guns off the streets of Yonkers.  The Yonkers Police Street Crime Unit continues to put themselves in harm’s way by arresting violent criminals such as Anthony and Gustavo Rivera.  Special thanks to the undercover officer who made numerous firearms purchases in this investigation.”

Man sentenced to 5 years for abusing woman who refused sex

Ramel Jones will spend the next five years in state prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a New Rochelle woman who refused to have sex with him last year.

Jones, 30, was sentenced this morning in Westchester County Court after pleading guilty to third-degree aggravated sexual abuse, a felony, for the Sept. 21 incident.

Police said Jones, who used to live in Mount Vernon, made romantic advances on the woman on Sept. 21 after spending the weekend in her third-floor apartment. When the woman refused Jones’ advances, he tied her up and took her 2-year-old daughter to a nearby store.

The woman got free and and locked the apartment door. Jones then tried to get in through a fire escape window. But it was the wrong apartment. In the effort, he cut himself.

Seeing a man on the fire escape, a witness called police. Then a mailman called 911 after hearing a woman screaming out a window that Jones had taken her child.

Jones was found within 20 minutes at Sound Shore Medical Center getting his cuts treated. Mother and daughter were safely reunited.

Jones was facing a 12-count indictment that included charges of menacing, unlawful imprisonment, child endangerment, assault, burglary and contempt. His guilty plea satisfied the entire indictment. He must serve five years’ post-release supervision after his prison term.

He is under court order to have no contact whatsoever with the mother and child.