Last of 8 accused home swindlers convicted

The last defendant in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud case that officials say swindled four Westchester County families out of their homes was convicted of theft, fraud and conspiracy today.

A jury found Mildred Didio of Manhattan (left) guilty of four counts of second-degree grand larceny and one count each of first-degree scheme to defraud and fourth-degree conspiracy. All the charges are felonies.

She faces a maximum of 15 years in state prison when she is sentenced on Jan. 25. She also could be sentenced to a minimum of five years’ probation.

Prosecutors said Didio was involved in a group of eight who stripped homes from families in Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Cortlandt and Mount Vernon; and scammed two mortgage lenders out of $1.4 million. All were arrested in 2009.

The group told victims, who they found through notices of public auction and foreclosure, that they could transfer their deeds to an investor, who would hold the titles while they saved money to reclaim their home.

But once the “investor” took title, the group’s members got inflated mortgages, which they used to pay off the original mortgage and kept the remainder for themselves. The former owners have filed lawsuits to try to reclaim their losses.

Didio, 46, represented the straw buyers or acted as a settlement agents for the lenders, according to prosecutors.

Hubert “Phil” Hall, a former editor at a precursor to The Journal News, and his wife, Doreen Swenson, are serving two to six years in prison after pleading guilty to grand larceny and fraud. Prosecutors said the Tarrytown couple helped set up the phony mortgages.

David Reback, an attorney from Rye Brook, and Amerigo DiPietro of Brewster, who owned Interstate Monetary Concepts in Briarcliff Manor, pleaded guilty to their roles in the scam. Prosecutors said they were the principal players. They  were sentenced to a year in jail.

Eileen Potash of Queens was convicted at trial of fourth-degree conspiracy but acquitted of grand larceny and fraud charges. She is serving five years’ probation.

Wilma Shkreli of Westwood, N.J., who posed an an investor, is to be sentenced Nov. 22 after pleading guilty to grand larceny.

This was Didio’s second trial for her role in the scam. Her first ended in a hung jury. Frank Corigliano, a lawyer from Newtown, Conn., was acquitted of all charges by the jury that convicted Potash and was hung on Didio.

Mount Vernon convict indicted for stabbing of ex-girlfriend

An “infatuated” ex-boyfriend with a criminal record has been indicted on attempted murder and three other felonies in the stabbing of a woman outside of her Mount Vernon church last month.

Jonathan Green of Mount Vernon (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court today on charges of second-degree attempted murder, second degree assault, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree stalking, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. He pleaded not guilty.

Green, 38, is accused of attacking a 53-year-old White Plains woman on Aug. 3 as she walked out of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church on South Eighth Avenue in Mount Vernon.

Prosecutors allege Green stabbed the woman multiple times and ran off, leaving the knife blade in her back near the shoulder. She was treated at Jacobi Medical Center for her injuries.

Police found Green two days later and took him into custody without a struggle. He was charged, police said, after he made statements incriminating himself in the attack.

Green and the woman used to date, police said, but she broke off the relationship in June. In the days before and following the attack, prosecutors said, Green left threatening phone messages on her cell phone. Mount Vernon police said the woman had reported domestic violence incidents about Green before the attack.

Detective Lt. Vincent Manzione said Green “was definitely infatuated with her.”

Green, a porter for a Mount Vernon business, has an extensive criminal history, which included six convictions, two for felonies, one a violent felony, and three misdemeanor charges from 1993 to 2008, Mount Vernon police said. The violent felony conviction was for second-degree assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon.

He is being held without bail at the county jail in Valhalla. He is due back in court on Oct. 11 and faces up to 25 years in state prison if convicted.

Staff writer Will David contributed to this report.

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 for photos and stories.

Man arraigned in train station beating

A 50-year-old Mount Vernon man is being held without bail on charges that he beat a man with a trash can at the White Plains train station after stealing his cell phone.

Robert France (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court today on a nine-count felony indictment charging him with multiple counts of robbery and assault, as well as one count of criminal mischief.

According to the Westchester District Attorney’s office, France attacked a man at the White Plains Metro-North station on April 12. He approached the man at 2:50 a.m., took his cell-phone and began hitting him with a large garbage can.

The man’s lower leg was broken and required three screws. He also needed multiple stitches in his left hand, the DA’s office said.

France was arrested by MTA police. He was indicted on June 30 and faces up to 25 years in state prison if convicted on the top counts, which are first-degree robbery and first-degree assault. He is due back in court on Aug. 2.

Photo: Westchester County Department of Correction

Mount Vernon mom arraigned on manslaughter, strangulation charges

A 28-year-old Mount Vernon mother pleaded not guilty today to charges that she strangled her boyfriend in March and waited until the next day to call for help.

Tywana Kerr (left) was indicted last week on a charge of second-degree manslaughter and first-degree strangulation, both felonies, in the death of Anthony “Rickie” Lowery. The 43-year-old father of three was found on Kerr’s bed the morning of March 15.

According to court papers, Kerr told police that they had an argument about him spending the night. She said the argument turned physical and he collapsed to the floor. She then pulled him onto the bed and went to sleep. The next morning, Kerr said she called 911 after saying Lowery was unresponsive, the court papers stated.

She was arrested later that day.  Police said she admitted on video to choking Lowery.

Kerr, the mother of a 2- and a 4-year-old, is being held without bail. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Members of Lowery’s family have said the two had been dating for months and they were unaware of any domestic violence in the relationship. Lowery, who also lived in Mount Vernon, worked in construction and landscaping for local churches, according to his family. He has a son, 22, and two daughters, ages 12 and 13.

The strangulation charge is among three criminal charges that took effect in November to address the choking of victims. Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation is a misdemeanor, and first- and second-degree strangulation, are both felonies. Under prior law, someone could be choked nearly to death, but the attacker could go unpunished if there were no visible physical injuries. Now, an attacker can be charged after choking or suffocating someone, regardless of injury.

The new laws, targeted at domestic violence, has resulted in thousands of arrests in recent months, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Mount Vernon DPW supervisor indicted

A public works supervisor in Mount Vernon accused of lying about a sidewalk fix has been indicted on perjury and misconduct charges, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Ganga “Rudy” Persaud, 58, (left) was arraigned this morning in Westchester County Court on charges of first-degree perjury, a felony, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor. He allegedly lied as a witness in a civil lawsuit against Mount Vernon about taking $2,650 to fix a sidewalk for a homeowner.

The lawsuit stemmed from a pedestrian’s slip and fall in front of 245 Summit Ave. The injured pedestrian accused the city of negligence, recklessness and carelessness.

Persaud testified on Nov .9 that he never spoke with the owner of 245 Summit Ave. or received payment from her. But city officials discovered that Persaud had taken two checks for $1,000 and $1,650 from the homeowner, one payable to cash and the other payable to Persaud, the District Attorney’s Office said.

The home at 245 Summit Ave. is owned by Alice Seibert. In January, Seibert said Persaud had come to her home to inspect the sidewalk and told her it would have to be repaired. Seibert said she asked whether Persaud knew any contractors that did such repairs, and he suggested she get three price quotes for the job.

Seibert said she paid Persaud’s son to do the work.

Persaud earned $100,231 in base pay and $34,553 in overtime in 2009, according to the most recent city records obtained by The Journal News. In January, Mount Vernon had said Persaud was serving a 30-day suspension during an unspecified misconduct investigation.

In a statement, District Attorney Janet DiFiore said Persaud put his self interest ahead of the city of Mount Vernon by taking money from a homeowner to fix a sidewalk and then lying about it.

“Actions like those severely undermine the public’s confidence in government,” she said. “Public employees should not act with impunity; this defendant’s behavior is more than criminal, it is an affront to the taxpayers who expect honest services from the City’s workforce.”

Persaud is due back in court on May 25, He is free on bail and has surrendered his passport. He faces up to seven years in state prison if convicted.

Driver gets probation for PCP-influenced crash

WHITE PLAINS — A man who struck a 23-year-old man with his car while driving high on PCP in Mount Vernon a year ago was sentenced to probation today and ordered to surrender his driver’s license.

Lawrence McDowdell, 42, was sentenced to time served with five years’ probation, following his guilty plea to second-degree vehicular assault, a felony, and driving while ability impaired, a misdemeanor.

McDowdell, a Mount Vernon resident, struck the man in front of 146 South 10th Ave. on April 13, 2010. The impact broke the victim’s leg in three places.

McDowdell also smashed into three parked cars before fleeing on foot shortly before 7 p.m. Police arrested him a short time later. He spent 9 days in jail.

In court, McDowdell apologized for his actions to Westchester County Judge James Hubert. His lawyer, Richard Portale, said McDowdell knew the family and reached out to them right away.

As part of his probation, McDowdell must stay off drugs. His driver’s license was revoked, and he now gets around on a bicycle, Portale said.

Maximum sentence for convicted accomplice in fatal robbery

A 28-year-old man who was convicted in a deadly robbery of a suspected Mount Vernon drug dealer two years ago has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Keith Wilkinson received the maximum sentence last week after being found guilty of murder, robbery, burglary, gun possession and assault, in the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Leaton Burke.

Westchester County prosecutors said Wilkinson was probably not the shooter but was equally guilty because he “acted in concert” with those who killed Burke and beat up his roommate. The shooter and the other attacker were never caught.

Burke was shot once in the head, execution style, at his home at 613 S. 10th Ave. on Jan. 27, 2009. Wilkinson was arrested a year later after police got a tip that he confessed to his role in the fatal robbery.

Wilkinson has maintained his innocence and said he had nothing to do with the robbery. No forensic evidence tied him to the crime scene, but several police officers said he confessed to participating in the crime.

Phony car buyer to serve 10 years in armed robbery

If Anthony Francis had been able to run as fast as his friend, maybe he wouldn’t be serving a 10-year prison stint for armed robbery.

Francis, a 22-year-old from the Bronx, was caught last year after, authorities say, he posed as a car buyer to rob an auto body shop on South Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon last year.

Once he and his friend got inside, Francis pulled out a loaded .40mm handgun and pointed it at an employee while his accomplice took $500 to $600 out of the victim’s pockets.

The accomplice got away, but Francis didn’t. He was tackled by the victim and his employees, who called police, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Westchester County Judge James Hubert sentenced Francis today to serve 10 years in prison. A jury had convicted him in December of first- and second-degree robbery, as well as second- and third-degree weapon possession.

Mount Vernon man acquitted in 2009 fatal shooting

A Mount Vernon man has been found not guilty in last year’s shooting death of a 30-year-old man but was convicted of having an illegal loaded firearm.

A Westchester County jury acquitted 27-year-old William Robinson on Monday of second-degree murder in the Sept. 16, 2009 slaying of Shawn Andre McGee in front of 20 E. Fourth St.

McGee was shot multiple times in broad daylight in front of the building and later died at Mount Vernon Hospital. Robinson was arrested in Yonkers after an intense manhunt involving police dogs, a helicopter and heavily armed police officers.

Robinson became the prime suspect because of evidence found at the scene and tips from Mount Vernon residents, Mount Vernon Police Commissioner David Chong said last year. Chong also said Robinson and McGee had an ongoing dispute.

The jury also acquitted Robinson of first-degree manslaughter but found him guilty of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16 by Westchester County Judge James W. Hubert., who presided over the three-week trial.

Robinson was represented by Allan Focarile, a veteran defense lawyer with the Westchester County Legal Aid Society. Assistant District Attorney Perry Perrone Michelle Lopez prosecuted the case.