Sex crime trial continues with new judge in Rockland

The sex abuse trial for South Nyack resident Todd Retallack has restarted – with a new judge.

Rockland County Court Judge William K. Nelson became ill and the trial came to a stop for more than a week.

The 9th Judicial District sent in a pinch-hitting judge, Barry Warhit of Westchester County Court.

Warhit had some homework to do before he reopened the trial – reading the transcripts of the opening statements and trial testimony.

The witnesses included the young girl who claims to have been molested. The girl’s mother also testified, as did Retallack’s daughter, a friend of the young girl. They were cross-examined by Retallack’s lawyer, Daniel Bertolino

Retallack, 49, once married with children, was charged after a six-month investigation with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. The felony abuse count involves accusations of improper sexual contact with a child younger than 11.

Ramapo judge disposes of case from 1996

Cases in town and village courts can be unique

And disposing of cases can be slow. In Ramapo, for example, cases can move at a snail’s place.

On Tuesday, Justice Alan Simon dealt with a case dating to 1996. Simon only got elected to the Ramapo bench in November 2011, so he had inherited this case.

The case concerned a shoplifting charge against Melissa England. Police accused her of stealing $193.39 from a supermarket no longer open. “A lot of cookies,” Simon said.

England is now living in Tennessee. She apparently had failed many years ago to appear in court in the charge. Attorney Terry Ryan of Suffern appeared in court.

Simon closed the case by dismissing the charge in the interest of justice at Ryan’s suggestion. The prosecutor, Jason Rosenwasser, agreed.

“I no longer found this socially or criminally significant,” Simon said in dismissing the case.

Ryan provided some good news by telling the judge that England “is OK now.”

Simon responded, “I am glad to hear that.”

South Nyack man faces sex abuse trial involving young girl

Todd Retallack, 49, of South Nyack went on trial today in Rockland County Court in New City on felony charges of sex abuse involving a girl under the age of 11.

The final two jurors were chosen to the 11-member panel, with several alternates. The prosecution then gave its opening statement to the jury, followed by the defense lawyers.

Testimony opened with the little girl’s mother taking the stand before the jury and Judge William K. Nelson. The girl is expected to testify for the prosecution.

Following a six-month investigation, Retallack, once married with children, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. The felony abuse count involves accusations of improper sexual contact with a child younger than 11, according to the state penal law.

South Nyack-Grand View police arrested Retallack in May 2011 after the girl’s father went to the police about six months earlier. Retallack knew the family.

The trial continues on Monday at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

Contractors admit to not paying prevailing wages; fines

An Orange County married couple who own a construction company pleaded guilty today in Rockland County Court to defrauding $190,000 in pay and benefits from their employees who worked three municipal sewer jobs in Rockland.

After admitting the knowingly refused to pay state mandated prevailing wages, Diane and Kenneth Deaver and their Schenley Construction Inc. must pay restitution of $638,000 in underpayments to workers, forfeit two vehicles and pay $55,0000 in forfeiture to the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.

As part of their plea to second-degree grand larceny, the Deavers will be barred from bidding or performing public work in New York state for five years.


Guilty plea in West Haverstraw townhouse explosion case

After weeks of negotiations, a Westchester County man pleaded guilty today in Rockland County Court in New City to overseeing the construction work that caused a natural gas leak and explosion that destroyed a West Haverstraw townhouse and nearly killed two volunteer firefighters and two utility company workers.

Fidel Padilla, 53, of 97 Croton Avenue, Cortlandt Manor, and his company, FGC Communications of the same address pleaded guilty before County Court Judge Charles Apotheker.

Padilla pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree reckless endangerment while his company pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree assault.

Apotheker scheduled sentencing for July 27.


Court news: Aviles sentencing Tuesday; grand jury in cop shooting

Aviles facing 15 years in his baby’s death

Michael Aviles, 43, of Haverstraw faces a maximum of 15 years in prison Tuesday for causing the death of his 5-month-old daughter, whose skull and ribs were fractured during a torturous beating inside her home while under the care of her parents.

Aviles was convicted by County Court Judge William K. Nelson in January of second-degree manslaughter, a felony count finding that he involuntarily caused the death of Michelle Aviles in January 2010. Nelson also acquitted Aviles and the baby’s mother, Lissette Capellan, of second-degree murder.

Attorney Hollis Griffin, argued during the non-jury trial that Aviles was too drunk to remember what happened, but made some statements implying he dropped the baby or harmed her.

Capellan claimed through her lawyer, David Goldstein, that Aviles killed the baby and she slept through whatever he did, though they claim to have found the baby unresponsive more than 2 hours before arriving at Nyack Hospital.

Aviles faces 3 1/2 to 15 years, with prosecutor Stephen Moore expected to ask  Nelson for the maximum sentence.

Photo at right: Michael Aviles being arrested in January 2010

Gilles shooting case

A Rockland grand jury began hearing evidence today in the shooting death of Spring Valley resident Herve Gilles by a village police officer during an early morning fight in a parking lot outside a bar December.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe has said a grand jury will hear the evidence from three separate investigations into Gilles’s death.

An initial police investigation found the shooting justified because Roper acted in self-defense as Gilles went after officer John Roper, took the officer’s nightstick and had bitten the officer.

Gilles, 48, who came to Spring Valley from Haiti in 1984, had a history of mental health issues and being combative and loud with the police and others when he was off his medication or drunk. Police responded to a security guard from El Buen Gusto at 11 Furman Ave. reporting an emotionally disturbed man was creating a disturbance.

Gilles’s supporters don’t believe the officer needed to shoot Gilles, calling for the officer to be fired. A family lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said Gilles’ relatives would await the outcome of the grand jury but doesn’t believe the shooting of Gilles in the head was justifiable.

The law allows police officers to defend themselves and use all necessary force to make an arrest.

Lau pleads guilty to murdering Jami Erlich

Valley Cottage resident Eric Lau pleaded guilty this morning to murdering his neighbor Jami Erlich, a Ramapo elementary school gym teacher in November 2009.

Lau, 34, admitted he hid inside her Valley Cottage condominium, hit her across the head with a blunt object and slit her throat. Lau asked to make a statement about killing the 32-year-old Ramapo gym teacher rather than answer questions from the prosecutor. They both lived in Lake Road Condominiums.

Lau faces 22 years to life in prison for second-degree murder when sentenced June 22 by state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

Read more at Lau pleads.

Photo on left is Jami Erlich and, on the right, Eric Lau


Lau competency hearing in murder case continues

The prosecution of Eric Lau on charges of murdering his gym teacher-neighbor in November 2009 is going into reruns.

Close to 27 months after gym teacher Jamie Erlich was slashed to death inside her Lake Road condominium in Valley Cottage, the issue of whether her neighbor is competent to stand trial and help in his own defense is continuing before state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

The possibility exists for a second competency hearing. His next court appearance is Wednesday.

After a hearing last April , Kelly sent Lau to an upstate mental health institution for review. After several months,  two psychiatrists found Lau competent. He was later sent back to another state institution by Rockland County mental health officials at the jail.

Two more state psychiatrists recently found Lau competent and felt he was faking the symptons – a view taken by a pyschiatrist for the prosecution last April even  though a  county psychiatrist and psychologist found him incompetent.

The reports were filed with the court on Wednesday.

Lau’s lawyer, Bruce Klein, must decided whether to challenge the latest findings. A  defense psychiatrist will first review the reports and possibly talk with Lau. in the Rockland County jail in New City.

.A prosecution psychiatrists found Lau competent and faking his symptons. Lau doesn’t talk in court unless asked a direct question, standing or sitting hunched over stiffly and staring down or straight ahead.

Lau, who had a history of violence and mental health issues as a youth. Lau also is charged with twice assaulting jail corrections officers.

At right, photos of Eric Lau and Jami Erlich

Edward Brims trial on robbery, gun charges continues before Kelly

The prosecution is continuing to provide a jury with evidence and testimony in the robbery case against Edward Brims, charged with one gun-point robbery of the Ramapo convenience store Guzzles in Hillcrest on Oct. 12, 2010.

Prosecutor Richard Kennison Moran has offered the jury a video of the man leaving the business, as well as police testimony.

Today, Moran planned to provide testimony on the recovery of the gun, following up Friday with a DNA expert testifying that Brims’ DNA was supposedly  found on the weapon.

On Monday, the Guzzles clerk is scheduled to testify about being robbed and by whom.

What Brims lacks in a legal degree, he makes up with street legal training and self-confidence. At one point in January 2011, Brims told Kelly, a former Bronx prosecutor and veteran jurist, “Bring it on

Brims is representing himself in the robbery and faces a potential life sentence in prison if convicted, based upon his previous felony convictions. Ramapo police arrested Brims following a string of store robberies, but he was charged with just one.

Brims, 53, is charged with  first-degree attempted robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and assault. Attorney Martin Gotkin is  his adviser during the trial before state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland Courthouse in New City.

What Brims lacks in a legal degree, he’s made up for with  street legal knowledge from the streets and prison. He filed a legal papers in federal court concerning his arrest,  but the judge denied his motion.

He doesn’t lack confidence in the courtroom.

Last January, Brims told Kelly, “Bring it on, judge”  after arguing for nearly an hour that he is qualified and able to mount his own defense. Kelly attempted to convince him that as a career criminal with at least 20 arrests – including seven felony convictions – in New York he would be better off with a lawyer.

Brims responded he understood the seriousness of the charges, but added, “If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down defending myself.”

He told the judge that the charges were as “phony as phony can get,” and “I spent 23 years up in the mountains in jail.”

Brims also told  the judge the legal system is against him because he’s black and his cousin is Belton Lee Brims, who was convicted of the double murder of Arnold and Elaine Sohn in December 1980.  He’s also related to Jerry Lee Brims, convicted of killing Jerry Reed in a 2000 gunfight in Spring Valley.

When Moran asked for $500,000 bail, Brims responded. “That’s not bail, that’s a ransom.”

Photo upper right of Edward Brims


Thiells contractor gets jailed for five months

A Thiells home improvement contractor who ripped off a Nyack homeowner for $5,000 received a five-month jail sentenced and a $1,000 fine during an appearance in state Supreme Court in New City.

A jury convicted Jerry Cioffi in October  of stealing the money after not fulfilling his contract in April 2010 to contruct a sewer line at the Nyack home of his customer. Cioffi never applied for permits and didn’t do any work for the $5,000 downpayment on the $10,000 job.

The jury convicted Cioffi and his corporation, Cioffi Services, Inc., of a felony count each of third-degree grand larceny. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning a guilty pleas in October following the trial.

Justice William A. Kelly also sentenced Cioffi to five years probation on Wednesday.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said his office prosecuted Cioffi for grand larceny the New York State Lien Law. Zugibe’s office has used the law to crack down on fraudulent home improvement and other types of contractors.

The law mandates that contractors can only use the money for a home improvement or property contract on that specific project and must maintain separate ledgers for each job. By failing to provide an accounting of how the money had been used and by not returning the money upon the demand of the consumer, the contractor violated the laws, Zugibe said.

Read more on this case Friday at