Kung Fu grandmaster guilty of all charges in Westchester court

After a little more than two days of deliberations, a jury found Frank DeMaria guilty of nine charges that he directed four young girls to touch his genitals at his former martial arts studio in Croton on Hudson.

DeMaria,one of the highest-ranking martial arts experts in the country, has vehemently denied that he ever had any of his students to touch him inappropriately, including the hundreds of children he has taught in the past 50 years. He called the allegations “disgusting.” His family and supporters backed him up, as did two former students who said they never saw him sexually abuse anyone in his classes.

But his reputation was not enough to counter the testimony of the girls, who are now between 9 and 13 years old, nor the testimony of a male student who said he saw DeMaria abuse an 8-year-old girl in December 2010 and January 2011. Another male student backed up the January 2011 allegation.

DeMaria faces up to 7 years in prison when he’s sentenced on May 8, but he also could be sentenced to probation. In either case, he will likely have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

 

FBI agent at center of Quinoy storm still on-duty

FBI Special Agent Catherine Pena was found by a federal judge to have destroyed evidence in the criminal civil rights case of Sleepy Hollow Det. Jose Quinoy. Judge Kenneth Karas also found that Pena tried to cover up the destruction or replacement of a disc containing recordings made by Officer Michael Hayes, the Sleepy Hollow cop who cooperated with the FBI in its investigation. Then, Karas found after pre-trial hearings, that Pena lied about it on the witness stand. Pena refused to testify at Quinoy’s criminal trial. Her lawyer informed Karas that if forced onto the stand by a subpoena from Quinoy’s lawyer, Andrew Quinn, Pena would take thew Fifth Amendment.

The jury acquitted Quinoy of two counts — one civil rights charge and witness tampering — and deadlocked on another civil rights charge. Quinoy came within one holdout juror vote on one count of beating the entire indictment. The lawyer for the man who Quinoy allegedly assaulted on Oct. 17, 2006, after he was already in handcuffs blamed Pena for the verdict and the deadlocked count.

But despite all this, Pena is still working in the FBI’s New York office. FBI Spokesman James Margolin said this morning, “She is still an FBI agent assigned to the New York office.”

But Margolin declined to comment when asked if she was under any disciplinary review.

At the end of pre-trial hearings that delved into the missing disc, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Dunne said federal prosecutors and the FBI were looking into Pena’s actions.

Oil dumper: Castro’s out, Quinn is in

Accused oil spilling contractor Anthony Castrella has hired a big gun to help him stay out of jail.

Acclaimed Westchester defense lawyer Andrew Quinn is now representing Castrella and his company, Cast Construction, which spilled hundreds of gallons of heating oil in Harrison in 2007. Quinn, a seasoned trial lawyer, appeared with Casterella today before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary.

Castrella was being represented by the firm of Gallo, Feinstein and Naishtut, who assigned Tony Castro to be of counsel to the case. Castro, as you may know, is running for Westchester County District Attorney in a Democratic primary against DA Janet DiFiore. When asked about the switch, Castro said he was “only covering” Casterella’s defense on behalf of the firm and that the firm, not him personally, was relieved of the case.

Quinn has the unenviable task of arguing the case before a judge who recently gave Casterella an ultimatum: go to jail for six months or go to trial on criminal environmental charges.

Neary was unhappy that after many months, Casterella had yet to pay the full $75,000 fine that was part of his plea of guilty to felony endangering public health or the environment. If he had paid the fine in full, he would be out on five years’ probation.

Now, he’s paying Quinn instead and facing up to four years in prison.

Casterella is accused of rupturing an oil line during a property renovation at 57 Kenilworth Road in December 2007. The rip caused more than 200 gallons of heating oil to seep into a neighbor’s property, the groundwater and a quarter-acre of town wetlands. Prosecutors said Casterella made no effort to clean up the mess.

Casterella is facing the felony environmental charge as well as misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records and criminal mischief. He could be fined $150,000 if convicted.

Quinn is well-known around these parts as a legal eagle, having gotten two cops off the hook in high-profile cases. One was ex-Mount Kisco officer George Bubaris, who was charged with manslaughter in the 2007 death of drunken immigrant Rene Javier Perez. The other was Yonkers officer Wayne Simoes, who was facing federal civil rights charges for allegedly body-slamming Irma Marquez at a bar. Currently, he is defending a Sleepy Hollow police officer accused of violating the rights of two civilians during separate incidents.

Simoesus Interruptus

OK, it’s not a legal term. But it should be after yesterday.

With all the activity surrounding the breaking terrorism case in the Brieant Courthouse yesterday, I was only able to pop in and out of the Wayne Simoes trial for a few minutes. Here’s what I caught: The prosecution rested after finishing up with Yonkers cop Todd Mendelson. Interestingly, Mendelson did not draw the same glares from some of the assembled throng of Yonkers cops that his partner John Liberatore did after he testified for the prosecution earlier this week.

Mendelson testified that he did not see Simoes throw Marquez to the ground of the restaurant and that Simoes seemed shaken up aftter the incident. But he also testified he didn’t see Simoes’ foot slip as the defense contends happened when he grabbed Irma Marquez inside La Fonda Restaurant. He said Marquez was loud and intoxicated but not a threat. He said he was too close to Simoes and Marquez to actually see what happened. But he said he saw no reason to take her to to the ground.

That was yesterday. Today, Simoes’ side called its video expert, the owner of La Fonda Restaurant, and a Yonkers emergency services cop.

Interestingly, the defense didn’t cross-examine either Julian Santos, the bar owner, or Chris Kowatch, the ESU cop. 

And Judge Kenneth Karas said he was expecting an objection from the prosecution when defense lawyer Andrew Quinn asked video expert Grant Fredericks if he thought Simoes threw or dropped Marquez. Fredericks said he dropped her. Prior to the trial, Karas had ruled that Fredericks wouldn’t be allowed to offer his interpretation of that, just what was happening in each of the 199 frames from the video of the incident .

But the prosecution didn’t object when Quinn asked Fredericks that question. Karas said after the jury left the room today that he expected an objection from the prosecution team of Anna Skotko, Cynthia Dunne, and Benjamin Torrance. But none came. Quinn said he asked because he felt the prosecution had opened the door with its cross-examination of Fredericks. The judge didn’t think so.

“I don’t know why you didn’t object,” the judge said to Skotko.

“It came out of left field,” Skotko said.

Tables Turned

By the time it’s done, the number of witnesses called at the Simoes trial will barely break double digits. The prime testimony for each side will be images from a video surveillance system at La Fonda Restaurant that captured the incident between Yonkers cop Wayne Simoes and Irma Marquez.

The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Skotko, has already shown the video six times in two days. It appears to show Simoes lifting Marquez up and then body-slamming her to the ground.

The defense is relying on 199 stills — essentially freeze-frame grabs — from the video to make its case that Simoes slipped on a wet floor and dropped Marquez. Simoes’ lawyer, Andrew Quinn has used many of the stills on cross-examination the first two days of the trial.

But Skotko turned the tables on Quinn yesterday morning, using Quinn’s best evidence to bolster the testimony of Yonkers cop John Liberatore who came under blistering cross-examination from Quinn about what he saw and when he turned away from the scene as it played out in front of him.

Liberatore said he was distracted at one point and looked out the door of the restaurant but turned back to see Simoes throw Marquez to the ground. At Marquez’s state criminal trial last year, he said he didn’t see what happened as Simoes tried to get Marquez away from her stricken niece, Anna Jacquez, who had been knocked unconscious in a barroom brawl. Quinn pointed out that Liberatore also didn’t tell Internal Affairs investigators that he saw Marquez slammed to the floor. Quinn got Liberatore to say “I confused myself” regarding his statement to Internal Affairs.

But Skotko calmly took Quinn’s stills on re-direct and used them to show the position of Liberatore’s head during the incident. The video stills appear to show Liberatore looking at Simoes and Marquez as he picks her up and then takes her to the ground.

The prosecution will rest tomorrow after calling one more witness, Liberatore’s partner, Todd Mendelson. That’ll be five witnesses total. Quinn said he intends to call five witness for the defense, with no decision yet made on whether Simoes will testify. The prosecution might call a rebuttal witness on Tuesday depending on what Quinn’s video expert says on the stand Friday.

The jury could begin its deliberations as early as Tuesday afternoon.

McKean’s fate now in jury’s hands

A Westchester jury is now deliberating the case of James McKean, a 41-year-old New Rochelle guy accused of trying to kidnap an 11-year-old girl at an Eastchester horse farm last summer. Click here to read more about the case.

The McKean trial ran into a few delays this week. Courts were closed for President’s Day on Monday, then first thing Tuesday morning, the fire alarm in the Westchester County Courthouse went off — again — and when everyone got back inside, Juror #12 asked to be let go, saying the trial was causing him financial hardship.

Judge Robert DiBella told the cash-strapped juror that he was sorry for the inconvenience, but that he made a sworn commitment to deliberate the case. Money problems, the judge said, does not disqualify you from jury duty, especially when you ask to be let go one day before closing arguments.

Right before closing arguments today, defense attorney Andrew Quinn stopped by and was chatting with McKean’s lawyer about … what I can only assume was lawyerly stuff. Quinn is a crack defense lawyer; I’ve personally witnessed two juries acquit his clients of all charges after different high-profile trials. One was the case of ex-Mount Kisco cop George Bubaris, found not guilty of causing the death of illegal immigrant Rene Perez; the other case of teenager Krystle Fernandez, acquitted of killing another teen girl in a knife fight in Cortlandt. If Quinn was giving him tips, you can bet they were good ones.

Whatever the jury’s decision, I’m predicting an emotional reaction. McKean’s parents have been fixtures in the courtroom, as have the girl’s family and supporters.

UPDATE: The jury split the verdict: acquitted of attempted kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment; convicted of child endangerment and trespassing. Sentencing set for May 15.