Lau’s competency hearing Tuesday

Eric Lau returns to state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelley’s courtroom on Tuesday to continue a hearing on his claims he’s unfit to stand trial on charges of murdering Jaimi Erlich, his neighbor at Lake Road Condominiums and a gym teacher the Richard P. O’Connor School in Ramapo.

The hearing continues at 11 a.m. with Dr. Michele Katz testifying about her findings that Lau is incompetent to stand trial and can’t assist in his own defense. At 2 p.m. Dr. Alan Tuckman will testify for the prosecution that he believes Lau is faking mental illness to avoid being tried.

Kelly will decide Lau’s competence after hearing testimony and from defense lawyer Bruce Klein and prosecutors Stephen Moore and Dominic Crispino. Lau has spent his courttime being silent and staring down at the defense table, his body siff.

The murder count carries a prison sentence of 15 to 25 years.

Upper left: Eric Lau

Upper right: Jami Erlich

Lawyer charged with stealing from clients rearrested for theft

A Westchester County real estate lawyer (left) who was charged in August with stealing more than $80,000 from a client is now accused of stealing $120,000 from two other clients.

Bruce Mogavero, 54, of Eastchester was rearrested and arraigned in Yonkers City Court today on two additional felony counts of second-degree grand larceny, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Mogavero, whose office is on Xavier Drive in Yonkers, is accused of stealing $50,000 from an escrow account of a client he was representing in a divorce. The money came from a $455,000 check from a home sale in Tuckahoe that was supposed to stay in the escrow account until the divorce was settled. The theft allegedly happened between August 2008 and this April.

Mogavero is also accused of stealing $70,000 from Wells Fargo bank, which had hired him as a settlement attorney for its bank branch in Bronxville, sometime between June 3 and August 19.

Earlier this year, Mogavero was indicted for allegedly stealing $82,700 from a client who was selling an apartment in Yonkers. Prosecutors say he stole the money between March 1 and July 1 while representing a man selling his apartment at 485 Bronx River Road.

Mogavero was released without bail following his arraignment this morning and is due back in court Jan. 12. He faces up to 15 years in state prison if convicted.

Pagli expected to plead guilty in slaying of her daughter

Stacey Pagli (left) plans to admit in court that she strangled her teenage daughter at Manhattanville College in February, her lawyer said at her latest court appearance today.

“We anticipate a disposition in this matter,” said Allan Focarile of the Westchester Legal Aid Society.

Pagli, 38, is being held without bail on a second-degree murder charge. There was no word on if she would plead guilty to that charge or to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter. It was also uncertain what the sentencing recommendation would be should she enter a guilty plea.

She will return to court on Jan. 11. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea is presiding over the case.

She is accused of strangling 18-year-old Marissa Pagli on Feb. 22 in the family’s on-campus apartment in Purchase. Her estranged husband, John Pagli, a college maintenance supervisor, found his daughter’s body and his unconscious wife in their second-floor apartment in an apparent suicide attempt.

John Pagli was in the courtroom gallery today, as he has been for nearly ever one of his wife’s appearances. He exchanged a long glance with his wife, who made eye contact with him while her attorney was discussing the case with the judge and prosecutors. When she looked away, he began to shake and left the courtroom in tears as she was returned to the courthouse’s holding cell.

Assistant District Attorney Timothy Ward, who is prosecuting the case, said he recently received a report from Dr. Angela Hegarty, a psychiatric expert for the District Attorney’s Office, who interviewed Pagli. He will turn over the report to Focarile, who hired his own psycholigists to examine his client.

Authorities say Pagli, 38, returned home after dropping off her 3-year-old daughter, Gianna, at day care Feb. 22 and began arguing with Marissa, a Manhattanville freshman. She strangled her daughter, authorities said, then tried killing herself first by cutting her wrist and then by hanging herself with a belt on a doorknob. In court papers, Pagli told police that she strangled her daughter because she was disrespectful and rude. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she told police. “She pushed my last button.”

According to the statements, she then used a belt to try to strangle herself but failed, as she did in an attempt to slash her wrist. She said she had left a note for her husband. She tried to kill herself again by tying socks around her neck in jail.

DiSimone sentencing: scenes from the courthouse

Emotionally devastated but passionately determined, the Balancio family of Yonkers shared their pain, grief and suffering in court today at the sentencing of Anthony DiSimone (left), who admitted to killing 21-year-old Louis Balancio  in a street brawl in Yonkers in 1994.

DiSimone, who served seven years in prison for the crime before his conviction was overturned due to evidence withholding, took a plea deal in which he would be sentenced to time served.   The family’s victim impact statements at the sentencing were heart-wrenching.

Parents Dorothy and Jeff Balancio came to the Westchester County Court with their 31-year-old son, Jeffrey, and many supporters. Dorothy Balancio’s wracking sobs filled the courtroom as her son and husband gave their victim’s impact statements. After she made her statement, tears ran down her face as she hugged her remaining son, Jeffrey, who said his brother’s slaying has left such a void that, when he gets married next October, he will have no best man.

Sitting next to Dorothy Balancio was Joanne Cicero, whose son, 17-year-old Paul Cicero, was killed in 1995 on a Bronx street by a reputed member of the Tanglewood Boys — the same mafia-related gang in which DiSimone was a reputed member. Cicero’s killer, John “Fat Face” Petrucelli, is serving a life sentence.

Outside the courthouse, where cameras were waiting, the Balancios said they were not surprised that DiSimone neither apologized nor made a statement in court. They shared their wish for a government registry of murderers – similar to the state’s registry of sex offenders – so people know when a convicted killer is living next to them.

The family then went to Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson to visit Louis’ grave site.

Cohen appointed to Appellate Court

State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey A. Cohen has been appointed to the Appellate Division, Gov. David Paterson’s office said today.

Cohen, 62, was elected last year to state Supreme Court. Prior to that, he had served two years as a Westchester County Court judge. Cohen is also a former Yorktown town justice, having served in that position from 1989 to 2006.

“I am proud to nominate such an accomplished and respected jurist to the Appellate Division,” Paterson said in a statement. “Justice Cohen’s experience and dedication on the bench will be a tremendous addition to the Appellate Division.”

The $144,000-a-year post does not require approval by the state Senate.

Political intrigue, personal tragedy in Westchester court

The political career of White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley was dealt a blow today when he was found guilty of domestic violence charges, convicted of attempted assault,  criminal contempt and harassment of his wife, Fumiko Bradley. Read more about the case and Bradley’s reaction here.

The courtroom was packed with media, attorneys and many interested onlookers. Bradley walked into court at 9:30 a.m. and sat in the gallery next to his private spokesman, Darren Grubb. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Susan Capeci allowed cameras in the courtroom — a rarity in Westchester County Court. But to avoid a dozen photographers and videographers in the jury box, the judge asked The Journal News to be the pool photographer and WABC7 to be the pool videographer.

The judge walked in at 9:40 a.m. She took about a minute to read her verdict. She convicted the mayor of two misdemeanors and three violations but acquitted him of three misdemeanor counts of assault and one of witness tampering. She offered no explanation of how she reached her decision.

By 9:45 a.m., the courtroom was cleared so Capeci could take other cases.

One floor above the Bradley proceeding, a personal tragedy was unfolding for two families. Westchester County Judge James Hubert sentenced 16-year-old Brain Sabia to seven years in prison for smashing into Irvington Police Officer Luigi Osso in April, nearly killing him with a stolen car. Osso, who requires round-the-clock care, came to court with his wife, personal nurse and a throng of supporters, including several Irvington officers. Sabia, who was prosecuted as an adult, apologized for putting so many people through “hell.” Osso didn’t speak, but his wife’s victim impact statement was heartbreaking. You can read about the court proceeding and case here.

Convicted White Plains dentist gives up license after 7 month fight

After a bitter seven-month battle, Dr. Joanne Baker (left) quietly signed away her state dental license today and returned to jail for scamming her insurance company over three years.

Baker, whose appearances in Westchester County Court have leaned toward the dramatic, surrendered her license as a condition of her probation. County Judge Barbara Zambelli sentenced her on Nov. 16 to five years’ “shock” probation with the first six months spent at the county jail.

On Tuesday, Zambelli said Baker could reapply for her license if she successfully completes her probation sentence. If she does not, the revocation would be permanent.

Baker asked the judge if she would be able to complete her probation sentence in three years, noting that she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Zambelli told her not to get her hopes up about an early discharge, noting that her education had nothing to do with the situation.

“This is driven by how well you do on probation,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not smart.”

Baker, a 51-year-old Scarsdale resident, pleaded guilty in May to third-degree grand larceny and insurance fraud. Prosecutors said she ran a scam in which she sent phony bills to Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and created phony patient records from 2006 to 2009.

Baker had stopped the paperwork to revoke her dental licence and changed lawyers several times, causing delays in the case. She was sent to jail in September after refusing to meet with the county Probation Department for a pre-sentencing report, mandatory for all defendants upon conviction. She had been free on $10,000 bail before that.

She has repaid MetLife $8,920 and paid an additional $50,000 in what is known as a “stipulation of settlement.”

An interesting side note: the assistant district attorney in the Baker case, Brian Fitzgerald, also prosecuted another White Plains dentist – “parking rage” defendant Dr. William Moody, whose 2007 videotaped assault of a Buchanan woman became an Internet sensation. Feel free to add your own bad puns about Fitzgerald taking a bite out of crime.

Alleged Asian sex tour operator arrested

An online tour operator whose website advertises “unforgettable vacations” to “a single man’s paradise” in southeast Asia has been arrested on a prostitution charge.

Douglas Allen of Poughkeepsie  (left), the operator of Big Apple Oriental Tours was arraigned in White Plains City Court this morning on one count of third-degree promoting prostitution, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Allen, 66,  was arrested last week after chatting nearly four months with someone he thought was a customer but was in fact an investigator with the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

The investigator contacted Allen through Big Apple Oriental Tours, in August, saying he wanted to go overseas to have sex for money, according to the DA’s office. The undercover officer then met Allen several times to pay for the $2,500 trip, prosecutors said, and explained the trip like this:

The “customer” would fly from New York to Hong Kong, then to  Manilla in The Philippines. An escort would then bring him to Angeles City, an area about 40 miles north of Manilla that is known for strip clubs, where the escort would help the “customer” meet eligible women.

Allen allegedly told the undercover officer that he would have to negotiate with the women about what sex acts they would perform before they left the bar. Allen also is accused of telling the undercover officer that if he found a woman he like, he should keep her for the rest of his stay in The Philippines.

Allen’s website carries a disclaimer that says, “BAO Tours does not sell illegal sex tours we would never invite you to do something that runs any risk of you having any problems with the authorities while overseas on vacation.”

Allen was arrested on Dec. 3. He is due back in White Plains court on Friday. Allen was ordered to surrender his driver’s license and passport.

He was being held on $10,000 bail.

Accused Yonkers serial killer in court today

Alleged serial killer Francisco Acevedo had a brief court appearance in Westchester County Court today for a status update on his case. Acevedo is charged with  killing three women in Yonkers in 1989;1991 and 1996: Maria Ramos, Tawanda Hodges and Kimberly Moore.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea adjourned the case to Jan. 27. Even though Acevedo was in the courtroom for only a minute or so, Moore’s parents were in the gallery to show the judge support for their slain daughter.

My colleague Will David has written a gripping profile of Acevedo that the newspaper is planning to run on Monday, Dec. 6. David, who covers Yonkers police, spoke to Acevedo’s mother in Connecticut, contacted former employers and landlords and checked police reports. Apparently Acevedo, who is 41, has a history of assaulting women going back to when he was a teen. Check back here for a link to the story when it’s published.