Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ridgewood Man Sentenced for '06 Murder


VICTIM SHOT OUTSIDE WOODSIDE STRIP CLUB

By Conor Greene

A Ridgewood man has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the murder and attempted murder of two men outside a Woodside strip-club more than two years ago.

Victor Gavalo, 26, of 1816 Stephens Street was sentenced last Friday by Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman. He was convicted last month of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon following a week-long jury trial.

Gavalo was convicted of exiting a minivan he was sitting in on October 1, 2006 outside Club Phenomenon at 62-43 30th Avenue, which is located adjacent to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in an industrial section of Woodside. Gavalo walked in front of a Honda and began shooting into the front windshield and passenger side window.

Ernesto Salgado, 22, of Sunnyside was killed after being struck at least once in the chest, while driver Tony Morales, 24, of Woodhaven was critically wounded. Gavalo then fled from the scene in the minivan. The incident occurred after the victims had left the Fantasia nightclub, which is located in the same building as Club Phenomenon.

“The defendant, having been convicted of the cold blooded shooting of two young men as they sat defenseless inside a parked car, has forfeited his right to live in society,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown following the sentencing. “The lengthy prison term imposed today is right and just.”

Gavalo, who is unemployed, had faced as much as 50 years to life in prison. He was arrested and charged in the shootings about three months after the incident.

Salgado marked the third person to be fatally shot outside the club in a three-year period, and the eighth shooting victim there overall. In December 2006, the Club Phenomenon and Fantasia were shut down in accordance with the city’s nuisance abatement law following five-month investigation by the District Attorney’s office.

Over the course of a year, undercover officers made nearly three dozen arrests there for offenses including gun possession, drug sales and prostitution. That year, the club’s owners paid $15,000 in fines stemming from nearly two dozen citations for infractions such as noise complaints and disorderly conduct. “Far from being the ‘gentlemen’s club’ it presumes to be, the club has long been a hotbed for drugs, prostitution and gunplay and the subject of numerous complaints,” said Brown after the building was padlocked.

However, the club reopened for business last month, during the same week in which Gavalo was convicted for the shooting. A billboard on top of the building visible from the adjacent expressway advertises the reopening of Perfection Upscale Gentlemen’s Club.

Assistant District Attorney Karen Ross of the DA’s Homicide Trials Bureau prosecuted the state’s case against Gavalo. “I hope the victims’ families find some closure in knowing the person responsible for shooting their loved ones has now been held accountable for his actions and will probably spend the rest of his natural life in prison,” said Brown following last month’s guilty verdict.

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