Gov. Cuomo signs DNA expansion bill, now law

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation requiring anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor to give their DNA to New York state.

The law makes New York the first state in the country with what’s called an “all crimes” DNA database.

Before today, people convicted of a felony and one of 36 misdemeanors – about half the crimes in the state — had to give a sample of their DNA for the DNA Databank. While civil liberties groups have questioned the measure, law-enforcement groups from around the state have championed it.

“This is a great step forward for all New Yorkers,” Westchester County Janet DiFiore said in a statement today. “The all-crimes DNA Database will enhance public safety for every New Yorker across the State. By requiring virtually every person convicted of a felony and a penal law misdemeanor to provide a DNA sample upon conviction, we will use science to convict the guilty as well as exonerate the innocent.”

People convicted of drunken driving misdemeanors, which are covered by the state’s traffic law, would not have to give their DNA to the state. The legislation also includes an exception for marijuana possession, a Class B misdemeanor, as long as there were no prior convictions.

The compromise bill also expands defendants’ access to DNA testing and comparison before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, and for post-conviction discovery to prove innocence.

New York launched its DNA Databank in 1996. It has been used for more than 2,900 convictions, according to the governor’s office. DNA samples have exonerated 27 people and helped clear many others early on in investigations.

The New York Civil Liberties Union denounced the legislation in a statement last week.

“It will have a negligible impact on enhancing public safety but increase significantly the likelihood for inefficiency, error and abuse in the collection and handling of forensic DNA,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU’s legislative director. “This unprecedented expansion once again does nothing to address the increasingly apparent inadequacies of the state’s regulatory oversight of police crime labs, nor does it establish rigorous statewide standards regarding collection, handling and analysis of DNA evidence to catch or prevent error and ensure the integrity of the databank.

The law takes effect Oct. 12.

Cara Matthews of Gannett’s Albany Bureau contributed to this post.

Closing arguments in shooting ambush of Yonkers family

UPDATE: Shooting suspects Charles Parsley and Kasaun White have been convicted of all charges in the case.

Someone wanted Sandra Hackley-Cornielle dead, but no one is saying who, or why.

What Westchester County prosecutors did say today in their closing arguments was that Charles Parsley and Kasaun White worked together with a third man on a mission to kill the 36-year-old mother of two, and in the process shot her husband and their 12-year-old daughter two years ago.

Prosecutors suggested the men were acting on the behest of someone who put a hit on Hackley-Cornielle (left). They mentioned a suspicious visit she had weeks earlier when two men, posing as police, came to her home asking about her husband’s ex-wife. She did not let them in.

The encounter led to the repair of the apartment building’s security camera, which prosecutors said filmed White and Parsley entering the building and leaving in a hurry. White’s lawyer, Mayo Bartlett, said the man on the tape was not their clients, and Parsley’s lawyer said his client may have been in Yonkers that day but had nothing to do with the shootings.

Parsley and White, cousins from Long Island, are alleged to have staked out the family’s apartment at 1159 Yonkers Ave. on April 21, 2010, waiting for Hackley-Cornielle to come home from her marketing job in New Hyde Park, Long Island.

That evening, a man wearing what looked like a UPS uniform buzzed their apartment, saying he said he had a package that Sandra had to sign for. When Rafael Cornielle opened the door, he was ambushed. His wife was shot five times and died almost instantly. He was shot three times and lived. Their elder daughter was shot once in the leg, while their younger daughter was unharmed.

A motive for the slaying was never discussed during the trial; in fact, the defense for each man argued that the lack of a motive was one reason why their clients were innocent.

The jury will be charged and begin deliberations today. Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli told them they would have lunch brought to them and may have to stay as late as 6 p.m.

White (above, left) and Parsley (right) face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

A third defendant, English Thomas, who allegedly drove the two friends to and from the crime scene and provided the box that the shooter used as a prop, is due to be tried at a later date.

Desk of the DA: beware the phone scam

This month’s message from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore focuses on some recent phone scams targeting senior citizens:

Police in Mount Pleasant and New Castle have recently received reports of a series of calls to elderly residents with urgent requests for money. In one instance, a caller told a grandfather that his grandson had been in an accident in Mexico and needed $2500 wired immediately. The grandfather sent the money, and then sent another $2500 when he received a second call, but it was all a hoax. In another case, a caller claimed a grandchild was in jail in Bolivia and urgently needed $4500 for bail. The grandfather got in touch with his grandson and realized this was a scam before sending the money.

These are not rare or isolated cases. One frequently reported version of this scam involves a phone call that begins with a young caller saying “Hi, this is your favorite grandson”. The grandparent naturally responds with the grandson’s name, which the con artist then uses. The caller then tells the grandparent that he is in trouble overseas and needs money immediately, claiming either to have been in an accident, or to have lost his passport and wallet, or to have some other emergency. In these cases, when a caring grandparent wires money overseas, it is picked up immediately by the scammers and is not recoverable.

If you receive an urgent call asking for help for a family member overseas, be suspicious and make every attempt to find out whether the emergency is real before acting. Ask for the caller’s name and contact information. Make some calls and find out whether the story is true. Don’t be pressured by a caller who tells you that you must act immediately. Even if the caller’s account is true, there is no emergency so critical that you cannot take some time to verify the facts. And if you have been the victim of one of these scams, don’t blame yourself. These con artists are professional criminals who take advantage of a grandparent’s natural desire to help a grandchild.

As with all unsolicited phone calls, be cautious and do not provide any personal or financial information to the caller. Do not respond immediately to requests for donations or offers to sell you things. Instead, ask for the caller’s name, firm and contact information, and then decide whether to respond after you have had time to consider the call. Report any phone calls that you consider suspicious to your local police department.

Desk of the DA: Victims’ Services in Westchester

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s monthly message for February is about services offered to crime victims and their families in the county:

Crime can have serious physical, psychological, financial and other effects on victims. As District Attorney and a former judge, I know how frightening and overwhelming it can be for victims who, through no fault of their own, come into contact with the criminal justice system. This is why I consider the Victim’s Justice Center (VJC) of the District Attorney’s Office an essential part of our mission to provide support to crime victims and their families.

In 2010, over 7,300 members of the community received assistance, information and guidance at the VJC, which is located in the District Attorney’s Office in the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains. VJC services are free of charge. The multi-lingual staff provides information about victims’ rights, safety planning, and resources available to them.

The VJC offers counseling and therapy at its offices, as well as referrals for support groups for families of homicide victims and victims of rape, childhood sexual assault, incest and elder abuse. The staff of the VJC provides referrals to shelters or safe houses if appropriate, as well as referrals to other agencies for services tailored to victims’ needs and the type of crime. VJC counselors accompany victims and their families to criminal court proceedings and provide interpreters to assist with translation if necessary. VJC staff assist victims in preparing victim impact statements to be read in court at the time of sentencing of a convicted offender.

The VJC provides help with applications for financial assistance from the New York State Office of Victim Services to compensate victims for lost income, funeral expenses for victims of homicide, medical and counseling expenses and loss of essential personal property. The VJC connects victims and their families to New York’s Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) Program which provides prisoner status and release dates for convicted felony offenders in the state prison system.

At the District Attorney’s Office, we understand that victims of crimes, especially violent crimes, may lose their sense of personal safety and security. Taking the first steps by reporting the crime and seeking assistance can make a difference in moving forward. If you are a victim of a crime, contact your local police department to report it immediately. If you need help coping with the physical, psychological and financial impact of the crime, please contact the VJC for assistance.

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.


Man convicted of raping woman, beating her son

A 30-year-old Mount Vernon man was convicted today of raping his live-in ex-girlfriend and beating her 6-year-old son at least twice last year.

Michael E. Thompson Jr. (right) was found guilty of first-degree rape and three counts of second-degree assault, all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of menacing and child endangerment.

A Westchester County jury acquitted him of two counts of third-degree rape an an additional count of first-degree rape.

Prosecutors say Thompson, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs more than 300 pounds, punched the boy in the mouth, knocking out a tooth. They also allege he beat the boy with an electrical cord, poured rubbing alcohol over the open wounds and dunked his head into scalding water.

Thompson was accused of terrorizing the boy’s mother, who worked in a restaurant, threatening to kill her if she didn’t let him live in her apartment. She said Thompson beat and raped her to keep her under his control.

The woman told no one until Feb. 20, when prosecutors said she finally got the courage to go to the police. The defense claimed the woman’s accusations were revenge for Thompson cheating on her.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary set sentencing for Feb. 29. The rape conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in state prison, while each assault charges is punishable by up to seven years.

Flowing tears in Judge Zambelli’s court

It was the day of tear-filled emotional sentencings in the Westchester County courtroom of Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right) blubbered as he was sentenced to serve 3 to 9 years in state prison for unintentionally killing his friend in New Rochelle two years ago. Pileggi’s tears followed the sobs of Gail Everett, the mother of victim Andre Everett, who called Pileggi “evil” and swore never to forgive him. The prosecution asked for the maximum semtence: 15 years in prison. The defense asked for the minimum: time served with probation. Zambelli, as I predicted, split it down the middle, allowing Pileggi to apply for parole in a little more than two years.

Three hours later,  Francisco Acevedo (left) was sentenced to life for the cold-case serial killings of three women in south Yonkers.  The daughter of one of the victims, who was three when her mother was killed, and the mother of the second victim sobbed as they railed against Acevedo, calling him a monster, an animal, and other insults.

Danielle Hodges of The Bronx, who is the sister of one of the victims, did not speak at the sentencing. After it was over, she said it brought closure. “My sister is finally free,” she said.

Acevedo’s sentencing was delayed because he had not been brought to the courthouse in time from Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, where he is serving a 1 to 3-year stint on a felony drunken driving conviction out of Suffolk County.

There were two other high-profile cases today that were both brief and unemotional. Ex-Mayor Adam Bradley’s ongoing domestic violence case was adjourned to March 5 while the case of Tappan Zee Bridge dangler Michael Davitt was postponed to Feb. 24 in Greenburgh Town Court.

Guilty plea in parking lot payroll scam at Westchester Medical Center

A Queens man who managed private parking lots at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla admitted today that he bilked his employer out of more than $75,000 over a two-year period.

James Lozada, 36, pleaded guilty at his arraignment in Westchester County court to a reduced felony charge of third-degree grand larceny. He was ordered to pay $75,860 in restitution and remains free on $50,000 bail.

How much, if any, time Lozada serves behind bars will depend (as it usually does) on how much he can pay back before his sentencing on April 9. If he pays back the full amount, he will serve five years of probation with no jail time. If he pays back half of it, he will serve five years’ probation with four months of weekends in jail. If he pays back nothing, he goes to state prison for 1 to 3 years.

He was facing up to seven years in state prison had he been convicted at trial of third-degree grand larceny, and up to 15 years wif convicted of second-degree grand larceny, the original charge.

Lozada, an ex-regional manager for Healthcare Parking Systems of America, started submitting phony payroll information in February 2009, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. He used the names of past employees to get the company to cut fradulent paychecks, and then deposited the checks into his own bank account, as well as the account of his girlfriend.

His attorney, Raymond Cash, declined to comment without his client’s approval.

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.

Desk of the DA: Credit card scams

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s monthly message for December involves credit card “skimming,” or using illegal devices to read your credit card number:

As Westchester County’s chief law enforcement officer, I want to share with you my concern about an emerging trend here in our county and across the country known as “skimming.” This form of electronic theft involves the planting of illegal card reading devices and hidden cameras in and around ATMs to capture account information and PINs from unsuspecting customers. Bank personnel and members of law enforcement are carefully monitoring this crime trend to identify and arrest offenders and protect individuals’ finances. Particularly in this busy holiday shopping season, it is also important to raise public awareness of this issue.

Skimming is one of the new techniques criminals have developed to cash in on or steal your personal financial information. A specialized law enforcement task force, including members of my office, the Westchester County Police and nearly a dozen local police departments across our county, is working alongside the U.S. Secret Service to investigate instances where skimming has occurred. In the last 14 months, eight individuals in Westchester have been arrested on charges related to illegal skimming with devices discovered at banks in Yorktown Heights, Yonkers, Bronxville, Greenburgh, Tarrytown and Rye Brook.

The skimming method used by thieves at ATMs involves placing a skimmer, an illegal card-reading device that looks like the authentic reader, on top of an actual card-reading slot at an ATM. In addition, thieves may place a concealed, pinhole-sized camera nearby, in order to record the cardholder’s PIN. In stores and restaurants, skimming devices have also been used by dishonest employees to capture credit card account information when they swipe customers’ credit cards to pay for a bill. When skimming devices are used, customers usually go about their business, unaware that they have provided information to thieves. The thieves retrieve the recorded information and create counterfeit cards. Using the stolen account and PIN information, the thieves can “cash out” an account or fraudulently charge purchases to the credit card.

Some experts believe that skimming is costing banks across the country millions of dollars in losses. For victims, knowing that thieves have gained access to their personal financial information is very unsettling. Skimming devices may be difficult to detect, but I urge you to keep these important safety measures in mind when you are using your credit, debit or ATM card:

Check for any sign of tampering with the slot where you insert your card. Look at the area above and around the ATM for any sign of a concealed camera. As you punch in your PIN, use your hand to cover the keypad so that a hidden camera is unable to capture it. Never share your PIN or allow someone to punch in your PIN for you. Check your bank and credit card statements frequently and report any suspicious charges or activity to your financial institution immediately