Westchester inmates, upset over ban on dental floss, sue for $500 million

NEW YORK— A group of Westchester County Jail inmates are suing the county for $500 million, claiming in a federal lawsuit that the jail’s refusal to let them use dental floss has ruined their teeth.

In a 25-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Santiago Gomez, 26, the lead plaintiff in the suit who is being held on a gun charge, chides his jailors for violating the prisoners’ civil rights by “not allowing inmates access to dental floss while being aware that failure to use causes cavities.”

“We feel that the Westchester County Department of Corrections is depriving inmates of the use of dental floss, which is causing us cavities,” Gomez told The Journal News/LoHud.com in a telephone interview today. “They recognize the importance of it, that you have to floss, in the regulation manual. They clearly state if you don’t floss you’re going to get cavities.”

Read the entire report here.

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.

White Plains dentist-scammer violates plea deal

Dr. Joanne Baker (left) is refusing to give up her state dental license, despite her agreeing to do so when she pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges in May.

The reversal has sent her plea deal into a tailspin and prompted a judge to keep her in jail until the matter is resolved.

Baker was scheduled for sentencing today on felony charges of third-degree grand larceny and insurance fraud. She is now due back in court on Nov. 16.

In court today, Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli ordered defense lawyer Peter Tilem and Assistant District Attorney Gwen Galef, chief of the economic crimes bureau, to write legal briefs on the consequences of backing out of a negotiated plea.

Zambelli had sent Baker to jail in September after she refused to meet with the county Department of Probati0n for a presentencing report, mandatory for all defendants upon conviction. She had been free on $10,000 bail before that.

Baker, a 51-year-old Scarsdale resident, had agreed to serve five years’ probation with 24 weekends in jail. She changed lawyers and tried withdrawing her guilty plea, but Zambelli denied her request.

Baker’s new attorney, Peter Tilem, said his client had signed a statement agreeing to give up her license, then later hired another lawyer to withdraw the paperwork. Tilem said Baker would accept suspension of her license while on probation but wants someday to practice dentistry again.

“She does not want to forfeit her license,” he said. “It’s something she worked very hard for.”

Baker was accused of running a two-year scam from her office at 1 Bryant Crescent in which she sent phony bills to Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and created phony patient records, then sent copies to the insurance firm, starting in September 2006.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, 18 patients came forward in 2008 to say Baker had billed MetLife for dental work she never provided. Baker was arrested Sept. 23, 2008.

After her arrest, prosecutors said, investigators found four additional patients who said Baker sent their insurance company, MetLife, phony bills between December 2008 and February 2009. She was accused of misleading MetLife and trying to prevent patients from reporting her. She was rearrested in April 2009.

At her court appearance today, she turned over a check made out to MetLife for $8,920 as well as a $50,000 check in what is known as a stipulation of settlement. She is being held without bail at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla.

Sam Israel’s sentencing date pushed back

Swindler Sam Israel III will have to wait until July 15 to be sentenced for faking his suicide and going on the lam for three weeks last year rather than reporting to prison to serve 20 years for orchestrating a $450 million hedge fund fraud.

Israel was scheduled to be sentenced June 24 by Judge Kenneth Karas. But his lawyers filed papers today asking for a postponement because they have to get Israel’s medical records from the Westchester County Jail to the U.S. probation officer who is writing up Israel’s pre-sentence report. That’s an involved process due to federal privacy law, attorney Barbara Trencher wrote. 

Israel’s medical history includes multiple back surgeries and painkiller addiction. It was his struggle with withdrawal symptoms related to his drug treatment that put off several times his efforts to plead guilty to fleeing.

His girlfriend, Debra Ryan, who pleaded guilty to helping him escape, is scheduled to be sentenced by Karas on Tuesday.

Postponements

Sentencings scheduled for this week in a couple of closely watched federal criminal cases have been pushed off due to the Simoes trial. Judge Kenneth Karas has moved the sentencing of Paul Cote from Thursday to Monday, June 1. Cote, a former Westchester County Jail corrections officer, was convicted of violating the civil rights of inmate Zoran Teodorovic when he stomped him into a coma on Oct. 10, 2000. Teodorovic died in Dember 2001.

Cote’s federal conviction was tossed out by the late Judge Charles Brieant after he was found guilty by a federal jury in White Plains. But a federal appeals court re-instated the conviction.

Karas also moved the sentencing of Debra Ryan from Friday to Tuesday, June 9. Ryan, 45, has admitted she helped her then-boyfriend Sam Israel flee the day he was supposed to begin a 20-year prison sentence for orchestrating a $450 million hedge fund fraud — a crime that set records for white collar crime in the pre-Madoff days. It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Israel and Co.’s thievery scam amounts to less than 1 percent of Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion financial fraud.