Two killers, a mayor and a dangler: an unusual day in Westchester courts

It’s going to be an interesting morning in the local judicial system on Tuesday: a county judge will hand down sentences in two high-profile homicide cases, while the ex-White Plains mayor will be in a nearby courtroom to answer probation violation charges, at the same time as the Tappan Zee bridge dangler will appear in Greenburgh Town Court.

First, the sentencings:

Francisco Acevedo (left) will be sentenced in the murders of three women in south Yonkers over a seven-year period starting in 1989. Acevedo had sex with each of them before strangling them, posing their nude bodies to face upward and fleeing the scene. Acevedo was caught after he submitted DNA in a bid to get early release from prison on a drunken driving conviction. Westchester Judge Barbara Zambelli, who has a reputation for tough sentences, may give him three consecutive prison terms of 25 to life, for a total of 75 to life.

Whatever the sentence, I expect it will be an emotional closure for the families of the women and for John T. Geiss, the dogged Yonkers detective who pursued the cold case for years.

Zambelli also will be sentencing ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right), who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the unintentional (but criminally reckless) shooting of his friend, Andre Everett. This is a sentencing with wide options: Pileggi could get as little as probation or as much as 15 years in state prison; it’s completely Zambelli’s call. She could rule down the middle: 4 to 7 years or perhaps 7 to 10. Pileggi’s family vowed to launch a massive letter-writing campaign begging the judge for leniency. The question is, did Everett’s family do the same, urging Zambelli to go the other way?

Down the hall from Zambelli’s court, ex-Mayor Adam Bradley (left) will appear before acting state Supreme Court Justice Susan Cacace on charges that he violated a stay-away order by calling his estranged wife, Fumiko, late last year. Bradley swears he repeatedly “pocket dialed” her by accident. Bradley had to post $10,000 bail for his smartphone snafu. We’ll see what, if anything, happens in the latest twist of this ongoing domestic violence case.

 

Finally, disgruntled Rockland County resident Michael Davitt (right) will be in Greenburgh Town Court on charges related to his November publicity stunt in which he dangled mid-span from the Tappan Zee Bridge. Davitt, an ex-county employee, is facing several misdemeanors and violations. He worked for the county for more than 27 years before being was suspended in 2008, and then became a fixture at county Legislature meetings, claiming corruption in government. No word on if or when a plea deal is coming., but I’d be surprised if this case goes to trial. My guess is that he’ll plead guilty to one or more of the charges and get a conditional discharge, with a fine, of course.

Want legal ethics advice? There’s an app for that

The New York State Bar Association has introduced a mobile app that gives judges, lawyers, law students and the public at large instant answers to legal ethics questions on their smartphones.

The app contains more than 900 searchable ethics opinions, dating back to 1964, on legal issues in categories from acceptance of employment to zoning board issues. Decisions can be searched by keyword, category or opinion number.

“Ethics questions can arise in many different contexts. The NYSBA Mobile Ethics App will allow judges, lawyers and others to access the opinions of the Association’s Professional Ethics Committee on the spot from the convenience of their mobile devices,” Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III said in a statement. “The State Bar is pleased to provide this service to its members and the legal community.”

This is the Bar’s latest foray into making the law accessible online. Last year, it launched the eLAP website, a secure portal for accessing lawyer assistance information and services. The Bar also improved its website’s search engine and offered its members discount subscriptions to Clio, a cloud-based practice management system designed for solo practitioners and small law firms.

The Ethics app is available on Apple’s App Store, the Android Market, BlackBerry’s App World and on the state bar website at www.nysba.org/ethicsapp.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association,  founded in 1876, is the largest voluntary bar association in the nation.

Guilty plea in parking lot payroll scam at Westchester Medical Center

A Queens man who managed private parking lots at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla admitted today that he bilked his employer out of more than $75,000 over a two-year period.

James Lozada, 36, pleaded guilty at his arraignment in Westchester County court to a reduced felony charge of third-degree grand larceny. He was ordered to pay $75,860 in restitution and remains free on $50,000 bail.

How much, if any, time Lozada serves behind bars will depend (as it usually does) on how much he can pay back before his sentencing on April 9. If he pays back the full amount, he will serve five years of probation with no jail time. If he pays back half of it, he will serve five years’ probation with four months of weekends in jail. If he pays back nothing, he goes to state prison for 1 to 3 years.

He was facing up to seven years in state prison had he been convicted at trial of third-degree grand larceny, and up to 15 years wif convicted of second-degree grand larceny, the original charge.

Lozada, an ex-regional manager for Healthcare Parking Systems of America, started submitting phony payroll information in February 2009, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. He used the names of past employees to get the company to cut fradulent paychecks, and then deposited the checks into his own bank account, as well as the account of his girlfriend.

His attorney, Raymond Cash, declined to comment without his client’s approval.

This week in Westchester courts: January 3-6

The end of the December holidays means court is back in earnest with several cases of interest on the docket this week:

1. Pretrial hearings begin Wednesday for Brian Roach and Daniel Sanchez, who are facing life in prison in the slayings of two men, one a local gang leader, and the shootings of four others in a Yonkers apartment in 2010.

Roach, 21, of Yonkers (far left) and Sanchez, 23, of Brooklyn (left), have been indicted on charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery, burglary and weapon possession. Their trial could start as early as next week.

The pair is accused of breaking into an apartment in Cromwell Towers on Locust Hill Avenue on July 7, 2010 for a robbery and killing 21-year-old Kasheem Little, the leader of the Strip Boyz gang known as “Killa Kash” as well as 23-year-old Carlton McLeod.  A 5-year-old boy, a 17-year-old girl and two men, ages 33 and 56, were all shot but survived.

Police are still searching for a third suspect, 23-year-old Ronnell Jones. Police said Jones has been dressing like a woman to avoid arrest.

2. Two men accused of grand larceny are set to make court appearances this week. Former parking lot manager James Lozada of Queens is scheduled to be arraigned by Superior Court Information on Wednesday while Frank Degrasse, a disbarred lawyer from South Salem, is to be sentenced on Thursday.

Lozada, 36, who managed a parking lot at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, is accused of keeping past employees names on the payroll from February 2009 to February 2011 so he could cash their paychecks and deposit others into his girlfriend’s bank account, according to the county District Attorney’s office.

Degrasse, who is a former New York City police detective, pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to first-degree scheme to defraud, a charge punishable by 1 to 4 years in prison. The plea covered the entire 31-count indictment that he was facing, which included charges of second-degree grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, criminal possession of a forged instrument, identity theft and falsifying business records, all felonies.

3. The convicted sex offender known as “Dr. Hunter” is due to make another pretrial court appearance on Thursday.

Lawrence Bottone, 53, (left) is accused of torturing five young minority men in a phony security-training program and faces numerous charges of assault, unlawful imprisonment and criminal impersonation.

Prosecutors say Bottone, from Stamford, Conn., brutalized men in their late teens and early 20s with broom handles, chains and pins in an elaborate scheme in which he posed as a security force trainer in Westchester.  He is being held on $250,000 bail and faces decades in prison if convicted.

White Plains law firm named “go-to” firm in 2012

Goldberg Segalla LLP, a law firm with offices in White Plains and around the tri-state area, has been named a 2012 “go-to” firm by ALM, which publishes several law magazines and legal guides.

Go-To firms were chosen after ALM researchers asked general counsel at the top 500 companies which outside law firms they turn to for help.  ALM also researched court dockets and securities filings, as well as leading legal and business publications, including The American Lawyer.  The “go-to” firms will be published in ALM’s annual guide, “In-House Law Departments at the Top 500 Companies.”

This is the second media honor for Goldberg Segalla.  In 2010, the National Law Journal included Goldberg Segalla among 20 firms on its “Midsize Hot List.”

Goldberg Segalla, founded in 2001, employs more than 120 lawyers at offices in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, New York, White Plains and Long Island; Princeton, N.J.; Philadelphia, Pa. and Hartford, Conn.  The firm specializes in catastrophic personal injury, products liability, fire and arson, drug and medical device, commercial and business litigation, insurance coverage, intellectual property, construction defect, labor and employment, trucking and transportation and municipal liability.

Desk of the DA: Credit card scams

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s monthly message for December involves credit card “skimming,” or using illegal devices to read your credit card number:

As Westchester County’s chief law enforcement officer, I want to share with you my concern about an emerging trend here in our county and across the country known as “skimming.” This form of electronic theft involves the planting of illegal card reading devices and hidden cameras in and around ATMs to capture account information and PINs from unsuspecting customers. Bank personnel and members of law enforcement are carefully monitoring this crime trend to identify and arrest offenders and protect individuals’ finances. Particularly in this busy holiday shopping season, it is also important to raise public awareness of this issue.

Skimming is one of the new techniques criminals have developed to cash in on or steal your personal financial information. A specialized law enforcement task force, including members of my office, the Westchester County Police and nearly a dozen local police departments across our county, is working alongside the U.S. Secret Service to investigate instances where skimming has occurred. In the last 14 months, eight individuals in Westchester have been arrested on charges related to illegal skimming with devices discovered at banks in Yorktown Heights, Yonkers, Bronxville, Greenburgh, Tarrytown and Rye Brook.

The skimming method used by thieves at ATMs involves placing a skimmer, an illegal card-reading device that looks like the authentic reader, on top of an actual card-reading slot at an ATM. In addition, thieves may place a concealed, pinhole-sized camera nearby, in order to record the cardholder’s PIN. In stores and restaurants, skimming devices have also been used by dishonest employees to capture credit card account information when they swipe customers’ credit cards to pay for a bill. When skimming devices are used, customers usually go about their business, unaware that they have provided information to thieves. The thieves retrieve the recorded information and create counterfeit cards. Using the stolen account and PIN information, the thieves can “cash out” an account or fraudulently charge purchases to the credit card.

Some experts believe that skimming is costing banks across the country millions of dollars in losses. For victims, knowing that thieves have gained access to their personal financial information is very unsettling. Skimming devices may be difficult to detect, but I urge you to keep these important safety measures in mind when you are using your credit, debit or ATM card:

Check for any sign of tampering with the slot where you insert your card. Look at the area above and around the ATM for any sign of a concealed camera. As you punch in your PIN, use your hand to cover the keypad so that a hidden camera is unable to capture it. Never share your PIN or allow someone to punch in your PIN for you. Check your bank and credit card statements frequently and report any suspicious charges or activity to your financial institution immediately

Victim speaks out in $20 million grifter case

It’s actually a spokesman of the victim in the $20 million fraud case involving Katonah pianist and composer Roger Davidson, who prosecutors say was bilked out of $20 million by Chappaqua grifters Vickram Bedi and Helga Ingvarsdottir over a six-year period through an elaborate scheme of lies and nefarious story lines involving international intrigue.

Davidson’s new spokesman, Christopher Cooper, responded today to counterallegations that Bedi made after his arraignment Tuesday that he never deceived Davidson, who is heir to an oil fortune, and that Davidson concocted the plots involving foreign nationals hacking into his computer out of paranoia. Cooper, in essence, said Bedi’s version was bunk.

“Roger Davidson has a single priority: to ensure that Vickram Bedi is held responsible for their crimes he committed and is punished to the extent that the law allows. The Davidson’s family maintains their faith that the truthful accounting of the events surrounding this case  will emerge in the only venue that matters: a court of law.”

Davidson also has a civil case against Bedi that’s pending before acting state Supreme Court Justice Gerald Loehr.  Bedi’s criminal case is before county Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Two guilty pleas in fatal beating of Yonkers man, brother of mayoral aide

Two men today agreed to serve time in state prison for the fatal beating of Robert Lopez, the brother of Yonkers mayoral aide Lorraine Lopez, outside of a Yonkers bar in May.

James McGeechan, 29, (far left) and Benis Melendez, 22, (left) pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter at a pre-trial appearance in Westchester County Court. As part of the plea deal, McGeechan will serve 11 years in prison, while Melendez will serve five, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Lopez was beaten unconscious May 17 outside Sal’s bar and restaurant at 209 Nepperhan Ave. after he tried to diffuse a tense confrontation, prosecutors said. McGeechan and Melendez, accompanied by their girlfriends, returned to the bar at 4:30 a.m. after they had been asked earlier to leave. McGeechan began arguing with the bar manager and Lopez, a security guard who had just finished his shift at another establishment, stepped in and asked McGeechan to “just leave and go home.”

When Lopez walked out of the restaurant, he was beaten into a coma. He died 10 days later. Police arrested Melendez at the scene later that morning.  McGeechan was arrested three days later.

Both men will be formally sentenced on January 31. They had faced up to 25 years in prison had they been convicted at trial.

McGeechan’s former girlfriend, Nicole Ryan, who went with him to the bar that night, is facing charges of witness intimidation, a felony, and hindering prosecution, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors allege she threatened to kill a witness to the attack by pretending her hand was a gun and saying, “If you talk to police, you’re dead.” She is due in court on Dec. 15 and faces up to four years in prison if convicted of witness tampering.

“Charity Corps” to offer free legal advice to nonprofits

The New York State Bar Association and state Attorney General’s office announced today that they are teaming up to link volunteer attorneys with nonprofit organizations that need legal advice but can’t afford to hire lawyers.

Called the “Charity Corps,” the program will launch in 2012 and serve as many as 50 nonprofits in its first year, with organizations serving the needs of indigent people receiving top priority. Corps lawyers will offer nonprofits advice on issues such as board governance, fiduciary responsibilities, and nonprofit law compliance.

“New York’s attorneys stand ready to serve our important charitable sector – housing, shelter and youth programs, mental health and crisis intervention clinics, high school dropout prevention programs, relief and development assistance, civil rights organizations, veterans’ assistance groups and others – by helping them with their governance and legal compliance needs,” Bar Association president Vincent E. Doyle III said in a news release.

The pro bono lawyers who sign up for what has been named the “Charity Corps” will be trained by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, which supervises charitable organizations to protect donors and ensure donations are used properly. The Bar Association will administer the program and a committee chaired by Lesley Rosenthal, the VP general counsel and secretary of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, will oversee it.

“Nonprofits are vital to our local communities and state, and we are committed to ensuring that they continue their important work – especially at a time when their services are most in need,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in the same news release.

Nonprofits who want to be part of the program must apply by Dec. 31 at http://www.nysba.org/CharityCorps.

Scenes from the start of the Sheldene Campbell trial

More than three years after Sheldene Campbell (left) killed one woman and injured another in a hit-and-run rampage in White Plains, her murder and assault trial opened today in Westchester County Court.  County Judge Barbara Zambelli, who is a stickler for starting proceedings at 9:30 a.m. sharp, had to delay opening statements for nearly an hour because of a string of unforeseen circumstances.

First, defense lawyer Allan Laurence Brenner was a half-hour late because did not have an up-to-date attorney’s pass and had to wait in the long, long courthouse security line to enter. Zambelli admonished him but said she would ask court security to accept his expired pass. Then she apologized to Brenner for getting his first name wrong during in previous court proceedings, when she apparently referred to him by his middle name. She chided him and prosecutor Christine O’Connor for never correcting her. Brenner kidded that his name was unimportant to the case.

Then, the appointed jury foreman was dismissed after telling Zambelli that he questioned his own objectivity because two of his family members are retired law enforcement officers. A female juror took his place.

The panel for Campbell’s trial also has an unusual pair of jurors: a husband and wife team. The wife was called in separately and promised — as her husband did previously —that she would follow the judge’s orders to not talk about the case until deliberations began. Zambelli, who oversees a plethora of criminal trials every year, seeemed amazed that a married couple was picked for the same jury: “This is an all-time first for me,” she said.

By the time the jury entered, the courtroom was packed. Family and friends of the victims filled the front row on one side while prosecutors and spectators filled the rows behind them. The other side of the courtroom was packed with teenaged girls from Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, who were observing the proceedings as an assignment.

Campbell, who has been in jail since Oct. 29. 2008, is facing 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the top charge. Her trial will continue on Wednesday.