A new role for Judge Zambelli today

Westchester Judge Barbara Zambelli (left) has overseen some of the most brutal murder trials in the county. In the last five years, she was the judge for Carlos Perez-Olivo and Werner Lippe, both convicted of killing their wives; for Anne Trovato, who fatally stabbed and beat her mother; and for Robert Sepe, who beat his live-in girlfriend to death with a baseball bat.

But today, Zambelli, an Eastchester resident, will be presiding over much a more pleasant occasion. She will be one of three judges performing gay marriages at Town Hall in Greenburgh, which opens at noon for couples to get licenses. She will join state Supreme Court Justice Mary Smith and Greenburgh Town Justice Arlene Gordon-Oliver in what promises to be a festive atmosphere in Town Hall.

Although Zambelli has a reputation as being a no-nonsense judge (“Oh, come on!” is a phrase she uses with overzealous attorneys), her willingness to give up part of her Sunday to be a wedding officiant may stem from her former role in social justice. She was the executive director of Mount Vernon’s Commission of Human Rights from 1978 to 1980, and worked with Mount Vernon police, Victims Assistance Services and the District Attorney’s Office to create an advocacy program for women who were victims of violence.

We’ll be covering the first day of legalized gay marriage in New York from Greenburgh Town Hall, so check back with LoHud.com for photos and stories.

Problems in Greenburgh Town Court

Another state audit has found fault with the Greenburgh Town Court over its inability to keep track of its bail money and other problems.

State auditors, who studied the court in 2009, blamed the two senior town justices, Doris Friedman and Sandra Forster, as well as the entire town board for their lack of oversight.

If you’d like to read the entire report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, click here.

Queens man indicted, accused of rigging Chase ATMs

A Romanian immigrant is accused of setting up surveillance cameras and card skimmers at automated teller machines in Greenburgh and Rye Brook to steal bank account information from customers at JPMorgan Chase bank branches.

A Westchester County grand jury today indicted Razvan Apostol, a 31-year-old living in Queens, on eight felony counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of unlawful possession of a skimmer device, a misdemeanor, according to the county District Attorney’s office.

Rye Brook police and the U.S. Secret Service arrested Apostol on Aug. 26 at the Rye Ridge Shopping Center, where authorities found a skimmer by the key card entrance device and a camera over one of the ATMs at the Chase bank branch.

When he was arrested, Apostol had eight countertfeit $100 bills in his car — the forged instruments for which he was indicted — and was carrying a skimming device, which records personal information from the magnetic strip of credit and debit cards.

Nine days earlier, on Aug. 17, a customer at the Chase branch at 353 N. Central Ave. told bank security that there was an additional camera above the ATM there. Apostol was identified through the bank’s surveillance video, according to the District Attorney’s office.

Apostol is being held without bail waiting arraignment at the county jail in Valhalla. He is due in Greenburgh Town Court on Friday to answer a felony charge of eavesdropping, related to the illegal camera found at the Central Avenue ATM.

Landscaper pleads guilty in beating, stabbing death in Hartsdale

A 21-year-old landscaper admitted in court today that he murdered a 44-year-old hotel manager in his Hartsdale condominium, after claiming the victim made unwanted sexual advances after inviting him out for a drink.

Alejandro Macias Barajas (left) pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and possession of stolen property in the beating and stabbing death of Leonid “Lenny” Eylinkrig nearly a year ago.

Prosecutors said Macias Barajas killed Eylinkrig between 8 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 12, stole the victim’s credit cards and cell phone from the apartment and fled in Eylinkrig’s car.

Macias Barajas, a Mexican immigrant who was here on a legal visa, agreed to serve 22 years to life in state prison as part of his plea in Westchester County Court. He faced a life sentence without parole had he been convicted at trial.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea said he would sentence Macias Barajas  on  Nov. 16.

According to court records, Macias Barajas told Greenburgh detectives that he agreed to meet Eylinkrig for a drink and went to his apartment at the High Point condos on Sept. 12. He said that when  Eylinkrig came onto him, he punched him and beat him unconscious with a beer mug. He then stabbed him in the chest with a metal pick, according to police statements.

Eylinkrig, a Ukranian immigrant, was the director of services at the La Guardia Airport Marriott amd taught business, computers and management at New York City College of Technology.

His body was discovered by police the afternoon of Sept. 13 after his mother was concerned that he had never picked her up for Rosh Hashana services that morning and wasn’t answering his phone.

It was the second homicide that weekend in Greenburgh. The previous morning, owner Anthony Fizzinoglia was found shot to death in the office of his Lukoil gas station on Tarrytown Road. That murder remains unsolved.

Detectives had been working around-the-clock on the first killing when they learned of the second. Within 10 hours, they tracked down Barajas through cell-phone records and discovered Eylinkrig’s car behind 8 East Hartsdale Ave., where Barajas lived. They took him to Greenburgh police headquarters, where he gave a statement.

Sentencing delayed for Greenburgh feces thrower

showimg.aspConvicted sex offender and (you read that right) feces thrower Eugene Feeney got a bit of a break today, as a judge postponed sentencing him for a brutal attack on his ex-girlfriend earlier this year.

Feeney, a 40-year-old Sleepy Hollow resident, was convicted at trial of raping, robbing and assaulting the woman when she broke up with him. He also was convicted of resisting arrest and obstruction for his excrement-spattered tirade when Greenburgh police arrested him.

Feeney’s lawyer, Ron Stokes, filed papers to set aside the verdict based on new evidence he found following the trial. He said a credit card receipt was discovered that he says contradicts testimony the woman gave at trial. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary gave prosecutors a few weeks to look over Stokes’ motion and file a response, and told both sides to be back in court on Jan. 6.

Prosecutors said when Feeney’s girlfriend tried to end their relationship inside her Armonk apartment on Jan. 10, he restrained and raped her. Two days later, while he was inside the apartment to retrieve his belongings, he stole a diamond ring. The next day, when the victim realized the theft and got into contact with Feeney, they agreed to meet in a public place where he was to return the ring, but Feeney demanded money instead. Another argument ensued and he began assaulting her.

He then drove her to a Greenburgh ATM, where she withdrew money and threw it on the ground to distract him so she could flee. But he grabbed her and tried forcing her to withdraw more money, prompting an eyewitness to call Greenburgh police.

Feeney put up a struggle when he was taken into custody, including kicking the back of a police cruiser, and had to be subdued with Taser gun. He was taken to the emergency room at Westchester Medical Center for treatment. While there, Feeney defecated, and a small plastic bag containing marijuana emerged, police said. He then began kicking the feces at police and nurses.

Say it with me now … ewwwww!

If the credit card receipt isn’t enough to throw out the verdict, Feeney will be sentenced as a predicate felon. He was arrested in Greenburgh in 2004 and pleaded guilty in 2005 to a felony charge of criminal sexual act. He served three years in prison before being discharged in December 2008.

In this latest conviction, Feeney faces five to 25 years for the top charge but could get consecutive sentences.

Behind the scenes at the Arroyo trial

I had a chance this afternoon to talk to the forewoman of the jury that convicted retired NYPD detective Jose Arroyo of drugging and raping — but not kidnapping — a woman at a Greenburgh motel. Click here to read the web update.

The forewoman’s name is Linda Blake, and she’s a 49-year-old Greenburgh resident who works as an administrator for a computer company.  This was her first trial, as it was for several other jurors, who deliberated yesterday afternoon and this morning before reaching their split verdict.

She said deliberations were “very, very intense” and that the panel was split at first between Arroyo’s guilt and innocence. But while each juror had an opinion about Arroyo, the victim, and the truthfulness (or not) of several witnesses, she said the verdict was made solely on the evidence presented at the trial.

The jury spent almost as much time reviewing the evidence as they did deliberating it. As jury forewoman, Blake sent out several notes on behalf of the panel, asking for read-backs of part of the victim’s testimony, medical testimony about the timeline of drug impact and the definition of second-degree kidnapping. They also repeatedly watched parts of a security video from Doyle’s Pub in the Bronx, where Arroyo met the victim and, prosecutors alleged, spiked her drink.

Blake said the jury could not tell from the evidence if the woman was so impaired that she could not consent to leave with Arroyo. The uncertainty stemmed from medical tesimony about how long Ambien needs to take effect and a witness who said the victim walked across the street after leaving the bar with Arroyo.

But she said there was no doubt that the drug had taken effect by the time they reached the motel, and that she was unable to consent to the sex or to being posed and photographed nude.

“We used the evidence, our experience and our common sense,” she said.

Westchester DA helps police tape interrogations

Seven police departments in Westchester will be getting money to record interviews with suspects and others in police custody.

The DA’s office got a grant from the New York State Bar Association to buy DVR equipment for the cops.

The grant, according to the DA’s office, will “enhance the overall investigative and prosecutorial processes” and “improve both the quality of police interviews and interrogations and protect the rights of the individuals being recorded.”

“Recording ensures the integrity of the fact-finding process by preserving accurately the entire course of an interrogation. The recording of statements will reduce false claims that incriminating admissions were made or obtained by coercion or intimidation. Additionally, it will protect the rights of the individual being interviewed and help to increase the accuracy of the criminal justice system,” the DA’s statement said.

Bedford, Croton, Greenburgh, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, Ossining village and Pelham police departments will get the grant money.

Westchester DA gets $500K to make an “impact”

New York State has handed a cool half-million dollars to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office to help them fight crime with some local police departments.

The money comes from Operation IMPACT, which stands for Integrated Municipal Police Anti-Crime Teams, and targets areas that have problems with violent crime. The District Attorney’s office will use the dough to hire three new prosecutors, a criminal investigator and a crime analyst.

Operation IMPACT is sending a total of $1.6 million to Westchester County, specifically for police departments in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains, New Rochelle and Greenburgh, as well as the county Departments of Probation and Public Safety.

Here’s the breakdown:
District Attorney – $511,342
Yonkers – $423,222
Mount Vernon – $363,530
Co. Dept. of Public Safety – $132,555
Co. Dept. of Probation – $99,821
White Plains – $24,750
New Rochelle – 20,071
Greenburgh – $20,000

To learn more about Operation IMPACT, click here