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.

Westchester County Courthouse back to business after quake

Today’s afternoon earthquake prompted a brief evacuation of the Westchester County Courthouse, (left) where
lawyers, judges, probation officers, court officers and others made a hasty exit and were told to step away from the 19-story court building while they waited for permission to re-enter.

“It felt like the building was swaying,” said Tracy Everson, spokeswoman for the county District Attorney’s office, which is on the fifth floor of the courthouse at 111 Martin Luther  King Jr. Blvd. “There was some rattling of file cabinets, then the fire alarm went off. Everybody got out — and fast. It was scary.”

The county courthouse was among hundreds of government buildings on the East Coast to be evacuated during the 5.9 magnitude earthquake. The 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building.

The tremors, which originated in Virginia, shook much of Washington, D.C., and was felt as far north as Rhode Island, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where President Barack Obama is vacationing.

The earthquake had no effect on New York City subways, Metro-North Railroad or other systems operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, agency spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. But Amtrak passengers should expect delays due to trains running at reduced speeds between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, part of its Northeast Corridor, which extends through New York City to Boston.

Liberty, JFK and LaGuardia International Airports were all shut down briefly as control towers were evacuated, delaying flights.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Life without parole for killer of pregnant woman

Emotional day at the Westchester County Courthouse today, as Kasem Cunningham (left) is sentenced for fatally stabbing a pregnant woman 65 times during a home invasion.

Half the courtroom was filled with family, friends and supporters of victim Denisha McDuffy, who was two months pregnant when she was murdered. Cunningham offered no explanation for the brutal attack, but told county probation officers interviewing him for a pre-sentencing report that he was angry with his girlfriend who he suspected of cheating on him, and took out his anger on McDuffy.

The victim’s family, as well as prosecutors, urged the judge to give Cunningham the maximum sentence — life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. The judge, who had considered a 25-to-life sentence after Cunningham pleaded guilty, handed down the harsher sentence after reading reports from a psychologist and social worker, hearing victim impact statements from the woman’s family, and listening to Cunningham himself.

The deliberate, intentional and brutal actions of this defendant began as a burglary and ended with the senseless and tragic death of an innocent young woman,” District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a written statement. “Now this man will, rightfully, spend the rest of his life in prison. Excellent police work, analysis of the forensic evidence by the lab and the work of the Assistant District Attorneys assigned to this case brought this defendant to justice. He will now serve the maximum sentence which hopefully will provide a measure of comfort to the victim’s family.”

Retired architect indicted, accused of tossing toxic chemicals

A retired architect from Croton-on-Hudson has been indicted on an environmental charge because he threw out toxic chemicals that badly injured a village sanitation worker, authorities say.

Paul Ingvoldstad, 68, (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court today on a felony charge of second-degree endangering the public health, safety or the environment. He remains free on $2,500 bail.

According to the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, Ingvoldstad called the public works department in early July to pick up some items, and put out drafting printers with six, one-gallon containers of ammonium hydroxide in front of his home on Old Post Road South.

The village’s public works department took the printers but left the containers of ammonium hydroxide on the curb, which were added to some household trash several days later, on July 7.

When a sanitation worker picked up the trash and threw it in the garbage truck, the ammonium hydroxide containers burst, releasing the ammonia fumes.

Three public works employees were exposed, and one, a 46-year-old man, was knocked unconsciousness for more than an hour, prosecutors said. He also suffered burning, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and extreme sensitivity to light from the fumes. The worker has since recovered.

Police have said the box containing the gallon chemical jugs was not marked as containing hazardous materials.

Ingvolstad was arrested in September 2010 on the environmental charge, as well as second-degree reckless endangerment and third-degree assault, both misdemeanors. He rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors in December and was indicted last week.

He is due back in court on Aug. 4 and faces up to seven years in state prison if convicted.

Daughter killer to be sentenced tomorrow


Stacey Pagli (left) will be sentenced to 20 years in prison tomorrow, April 5, for killing her 18-year-old daughter during an argument in the family’s Manhattanville College apartment last year.

Pagli, 39, was allowed to plead guilty last month to first-degree manslaughter, after psychiatrists for the prosecution and the defense  concluded she was under an “extreme emotional disturbance” when she strangled Marissa Pagli on the Purchase campus.

She originally was charged with second-degeree murder.

Pagli’s lawyer has said she is currently taking medication for depression. Her family history includes mental illness and several suicides.

Pagli attempted suicide after killing her daughter, and had at least one suicide attempt at the Westchester County jail, where she has been held since her arrest.

She will be eligible for parole in 2028, when her remaining daughter will be in her early 20s.

Lawyers to rally against plans to cap malpractice damages

Trial lawyers are planning to rally tomorrow at the Westchester County Courthouse to oppose a state budget plan that would limit medical malpractice damages to $250,000.

The lawyer want lawmakers to remove the malpractice “cap” because it does not take into consideration the severity of the victim’s injuries.
State lawmakers are set to vote on the budget on April 1.

“This gathering is part of a collected effort by New York State attorneys to protect future victims of medical malpractice,” Scarsdale attorney Anthony Pirrotti, Jr. said in a statement. “Victims who no longer receive fair and equitable compensation from insurance companies will become more dependent on the state for support.”

The rally will be from 1 to 2 p.m.

Convicted mayor called for jury duty

Put this one in the “irony” file.

White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley, who declined to be tried by jury on domestic violence charges and was convicted instead at a bench trial, was called for jury duty today on the third floor of the Westchester County Courthouse.

Bradley should be well acquainted with the courthouse by now. He has made numerous appearances there since his arrest a year ago. It was where, after a lengthy trial, he was found guilty of attempted assault and criminal contempt of court, both misdemeanors, and three counts of harassment, a violation. It’s also the same building where his divorce proceedings are being held.

Today, Bradley was among more than two dozen other members of the public who were called for the murder retrial of Selwyn Days, a former Mount Vernon man accused of killing Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home health worker Betty Ramcharan in 1996. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

I’m guessing that Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit, who will preside over the Days trial, isn’t going to let him be on the jury.

Drunk driver, witness biter sentenced to state prison

WHITE PLAINS — A tearful Serena Walsh (left) apologized in court today for seriously hurting a Yonkers woman in a drunken-driving smash-up, in which she also bit a witness who tried to stop her from fleeing.

The apology came as a Westchester County judge sentenced Walsh, a 26-year-old New Rochelle resident, to two to six years in state prison for her behavior on the night of Sept. 28, 2009.

Walsh was driving drunk on Central Park Avenue when, police said, she ran two red lights and plowed into the driver’s side of a car near Underhill Street.

The 55-year-old driver was left unconscious, with injuries including a broken pelvis, arm and leg. Assistant District Attorney Nadine Nagler said the woman had to replace teeth that were knocked out in the crash.

“I want to apologize for what she had to go through,” Walsh said today, crying.

After the collision, police said, Walsh left her car, tossed her keys in the air and ran away, biting the arm of a witness who tried to stop her.

She later had a confrontation with Yonkers police when they found her at her boyfriend’s apartment. She began cursing at officers and tried to prevent them from leaving by sprawling on the hood of a cruiser, police said.

Walsh’s case went to trial in November, but she stopped it and pleaded guilty to felony charges of first-degree vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated and a misdemeanor charge of attempted assault.

Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit told Walsh today that her conduct that night put everyone on the road at risk.

“Your conduct … showed extreme selfishness,” he said.

DiSimone sentencing: scenes from the courthouse

Emotionally devastated but passionately determined, the Balancio family of Yonkers shared their pain, grief and suffering in court today at the sentencing of Anthony DiSimone (left), who admitted to killing 21-year-old Louis Balancio  in a street brawl in Yonkers in 1994.

DiSimone, who served seven years in prison for the crime before his conviction was overturned due to evidence withholding, took a plea deal in which he would be sentenced to time served.   The family’s victim impact statements at the sentencing were heart-wrenching.

Parents Dorothy and Jeff Balancio came to the Westchester County Court with their 31-year-old son, Jeffrey, and many supporters. Dorothy Balancio’s wracking sobs filled the courtroom as her son and husband gave their victim’s impact statements. After she made her statement, tears ran down her face as she hugged her remaining son, Jeffrey, who said his brother’s slaying has left such a void that, when he gets married next October, he will have no best man.

Sitting next to Dorothy Balancio was Joanne Cicero, whose son, 17-year-old Paul Cicero, was killed in 1995 on a Bronx street by a reputed member of the Tanglewood Boys — the same mafia-related gang in which DiSimone was a reputed member. Cicero’s killer, John “Fat Face” Petrucelli, is serving a life sentence.

Outside the courthouse, where cameras were waiting, the Balancios said they were not surprised that DiSimone neither apologized nor made a statement in court. They shared their wish for a government registry of murderers – similar to the state’s registry of sex offenders – so people know when a convicted killer is living next to them.

The family then went to Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson to visit Louis’ grave site.

1 morning, 3 sentencings in Westchester courts

Busy day in Westchester County court today. Not only did the defense opened its case in the domestic violence trial of White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley, but three high-profile felons were sentenced for crimes including murder, vehicular manslaughter, grand larceny and insurance fraud.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea carried out a disposition and sent Alejandro Macias Barajas to prison for 22 years in the beating and stabbing death of a Hartsdale man who he claimed made unwanted sexual advances toward him. The victim’s mother was in court and described her heartbreak over losing her only son.

Meanwhile, Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli ordered White Plains dentist Joanne Baker to jail for six months (she’ll get credit for the 10 weeks she’s been there) for bilking MetLife out of nearly $9,000 with phony patient bills. Her pre-sentencing statement was interesting. We’ll learn in two days if she’ll spent a few more months at the county jail or be sent to state prison.

Zambelli also sentenced drunken driver Louis Nardella to serve 2 to 6 years in state prison for a violent crash that killed 29-year-old Amy Taylor of New Rochelle. The victim’s twin sister, Jennifer Taylor, spoke in court and moved family members to tears. Even the prosecutor was choked up. We may be hearing of “Amy’s Law” after this.