Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Father's Day Fire Claims Fourth Victim

Brooklyn Man Charged in Apartment Building Burglaries

Murdered Dentist's Daughter to Visit Jailed Mother

Katz Swears in 112th Pct Community Council Members

Father's Day Fire Claims Fourth Victim

aSuspicious Fire Still Under Investigation

By Conor Greene

The fatal fire at a 69th Street apartment has now killed four people, and investigators are looking into whether it started after a woman doused her ex-boyfriend with a flammable liquid.

Three members of one family were killed in the fire, which broke out in the early morning hours on Sunday in the three-story apartment building at 69th Street and Metropolitan Avenue. Last Thursday, a fourth person, 31-year-old William Salazar was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Four other, including Agnes Bermudez, 48, who is described as Salazar’s ex-boyfriend, were injured in the fire.

It was deemed suspicious by arson investigators almost immediately after it was brought under control, based up on a liquid pattern found near the second floor apartment’s door. Witnesses reported hearing Bermudez yelling, “Just kill me!” before the fire broke out, a claim that investigators are still looking into.

Investigators have been unable to speak with Bermudez, a former stock trader, due to her condition at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. As the fire engulfed the building, which houses a deli on the ground floor, Bermudez and Salazar came running out engulfed in flames, according to witnesses who helped douse them with bottles of water.

Killed in the fire were family members who lived in the third-floor apartment above Salazar: Heriberto Garcia-Vera, 68, his wife, Flor Sandoval, 48, and their son Felipe Garcia Vera, 20. All three died of smoke inhalation and burns; Sandoval and her son were pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital Center, while Garcia-Vera died at the scene. Another of the couple’s sons, 22-year-old Daniel Garcia, survived the blaze.

Authorities on Monday determined the cause of the fire to be arson, meaning the deaths are now classified as homicides. Sandoval, a native of Colombia, was a makeup artist who boasted an impressive list of film and television credits, including work on the critically-acclaimed 2004 movie Maria Full of Grace, which told the story of a young woman’s trip to New York as a drug mule.

Authorities are now looking into whether Bermudez, who suffered burns over half her body, accidentally also doused herself with the flammable liquid, which may have been used by Salazar in his work as a carpet cleaner. Investigators are trying to determine if she instead meant to commit a murder-suicide. The two had reportedly broken up after dating for several years and were still on good terms.

It is unclear whether investigators were able to discuss the events leading up fire with Salazar before he passed away last week. While one published report stated that Salazar revealed to investigators as he was dying that Bermudez had doused him with the flammable liquid, another quoted the NYPD’s chief spokesman as saying that investigators never got the chance to interview him.

After the fire began, witnesses watched in horror as several people jumped from apartment windows in a desperate effort to escape the flames. Under New York City building codes, the apartment house was not required to have fire escapes or sprinkler systems, leaving some residents unable to get out due to where the fire began.

The Forum Newsgroup/photo by PATRICIA ADAMS

Brooklyn Man Charged in Apartment Building Burglaries

By Conor Greene

A Brooklyn man has been charged in a string of residential break-ins around Forest Hills and Rego Park that had left many neighborhood residents nervous, especially those living in ground floor apartments.

Jamal Williams, 25, of East New York was arrested Friday night by detectives from the 112th Precinct and arraigned the following morning on charges he broke into four apartment buildings in the neighborhood between Queens Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway, announced authorities.

Williams, of 584 Logan Street, was ordered held on $175,000 bail by Queens Criminal Court Judge Barry Kron. He is due back in court on July 3 and faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted. He is being held on four separate complaints charging him with multiple counts of burglary, larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

“The defendant is accused of being a one man crime wave and brazenly climbing through first floor apartment windows sometimes even when the homeowners were sleeping,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “One inside the apartments, he would allegedly steal whatever he could fine and then flee.” Williams’ “ultimate undoing,” according to Brown, “was when he was caught by surveillance cameras at one apartment house and at an ATM machine [at the Washington Mutual Bank] where he was trying to use a debit card” stolen in one of the burglaries.

The criminal complaint accuses him of climbing through a first floor apartment window at 67-12 Yellowstone Boulevard just after midnight on May 25 and stealing a flat-screen television, a Bulova watch and North Face jacket. Two days later, he allegedly entered a first floor apartment at 65-10 108th Street while its occupant was sleeping and made off with a purse containing credit and debit cards and five dollars.

A third criminal complaint charges Williams with entering the first-floor apartment window at 66-40 108th Street on June 2 and stealing a Toshiba laptop computer. On the evening of June 18, he allegedly climbed through the ground floor apartment at 102-30 67th Avenue and fleeing with a Rolex watch, diamond engagement ring, an I-Pod, cellular phone, a gold necklace and several credit and debit cards.

All four buildings are within several blocks of each other, in a neighborhood characterized by mid-level apartment buildings near Yellowstone Boulevard. The alleged burglar was taken into custody after the doorman at the first building targeted realized he saw Williams in the lobby earlier that day, said Brown. That suspicion was confirmed by a review of the building’s surveillance footage, and photographs taken at a Washington Mutual Bank ATM several blocks from the second burglary shows Williams attempting to use a bank debit card taken from that break in, according to the charges.

At the time of his arrest, Williams allegedly admitted that he had entered the apartments thorough the windows and told detectives he sold the television taken from the first burglary to a Jamaica pawnshop for $150 and the laptop for $200. He also admitted to selling the Rolex watch taken in the fourth burglary to an individual in Brooklyn. Brown noted that other break-ins in the area are being investigated to see if there are any links to the ones already connected to Williams. Police originally suspected two men were working together, but now have said Williams acted alone. Bank Robbery Suspect Arrested

The arrest of Williams was not the 112th Precinct’s only high-profile collar in the past few weeks. At last Wednesday’s meeting of the precinct’s Community Council, Captain Christopher Tamola announced that his daytime Anti-Crime Unit arrested a suspect in connection with the robbery of a local Commerce Bank. The suspect entered the bank at about and passed a note to a teller demanding money, according to the captain. An employee was able to hit the alarm, and a witness got a description of the perpetrator and his getaway vehicle.

As officers canvassed the area, they learned that the car was registered to a neighborhood in south Queens. They arrested the suspect after tracking him down to the address listed for the vehicle, said Tamola. “It was great work by the sergeant and his troops,” said Captain Tamola, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct. “The Commerce is a very wide open bank, and we see this happening more and more often.” He added that the suspect still had an ink stain still on him when officers tracked him down from a dye pack that exploded in the bag of money. “That made it pretty easy to catch him,” said Tamola, who noted that branch has been held up three times in the past three months.

Murdered Dentist's Daughter to Visit Jailed Mother

Mother Held in Rikers Since Being Charged

By Conor Greene

The woman accused of having her ex-husband murdered will be allowed to have her daughter, who witnessed the shooting, visit her while she sits in jail awaiting trial, a judge decided last week.

Michelle Malakov, whose father Daniel was shot in broad daylight at Annadale Playground last October, will reportedly be allowed to visit her mother, Mazoltuv Borukhova, who sits in a cell in Rikers Island waiting for her trial to begin this fall.

Queens Family Court Judge Linda Tally had denied a similar request after Borukhova was arrested in February in connection with the shooting, instead allowing weekly 15-minute phone calls between the mother and daughter. The judge will now allow the girl to visit her mother, but it is not known how often the visits will take place. Michelle was initially placed in foster care after her father was murdered, and has been living with her paternal uncle, Gavril Malakov, for the past three months.

Borukhova was charged with paying her uncle by marriage, Mikhail Mallayev, $19,800 to shoot her ex-husband, who had just won custody of then four-year-old Michelle. Daniel Malakov was shot three times in the chest on a Sunday morning as he was dropping the girl off to visit her mother. Police arrested Mallayev after matching his fingerprints to a homemade silencer found at the scene.

The murder came after a bitter custody battle, and Borukhova insisted to investigators that she did not see the gunman. Police connected her to the murder after discovering that she had exchanged nearly 100 telephone calls with Mallayev, 50, of Georgia, in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Authorities alleged that Mallayev deposited the money into several different accounts in his name at banks throughout the city the day after murdering Malakov.

Both suspects have been held without bail since their arrests and are due back in Queens Criminal Court on September 3, when their attorneys are expected to argue various motions regarding evidence investigators have collected. Among that evidence is wiretapped conversations the defense will likely seek to have suppressed.

Throughout the process, members of both families have attended most of the court hearings, sitting on either side of the courtroom, separated by court officers. The two sides have exchanged stares, threatening hand motions and insults spoken in Russian.

Katz Swears Members in at 112th Precinct's Community Council Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month's meeting of the 112th Precinct's Community Council included a presentation honoring the Cops of the Month, and a swearing in ceremony led by Councilwoman Melinda Katz.

Members of the precinct’s anti-crime team were honored for turning down that a suspected drug dealer tried to offer them in exchange for letting him go, announced Captain Tamola. On June 3, the unit arrested a man for selling marijuana. While being taken into custody, the suspect asked the officers if they could “work this out” and offered them $2,000 cash to drop the charges.

The unit’s sergeant told the captain about the offer and said he got the perpertrator to repeat it on tape. The suspect was found to have $53,000 on him at the time, said Captain Tamola. “He really wanted to get out of it,” said Captain Tamola. “In this day and age, the officers showed tremendous, tremendous integrity... These are my crime fighters. They have to be smarter and know where crimes are being committed.”

Officer Demitrios Raptis was also honored this month after taking a disorderly person who stabbed him into custody. On June 6, Officer Raptis responded by himself to a report of a suspicious person hanging out in a park. Without waiting for backup, the officer approached the man, who turned suddenly and stabbed the officer in the chest.

“His vest stopped the knife from piercing his body,” said Tamola. Officer Raptis then chased and caught the suspect, who has been charged with attempted murder of a police officer. “Sometimes, it turns out they are a really bad criminal,” he said. “That is our biggest fear as a police officer.” After Raptis received his award, Tamola told him to change out of his dress uniform “and get back out on the street.”

Captain Tamola reported that the precinct has seen the largest drop in overall crime so far this year within the area covered by Borough Patrol Queens North, with a twenty percent decline. That ranks the 112th Precinct as the fourth best in the city in terms of overall crime decrease.

“I owe all that to the hard work of the men and women of the 112th,” he said, also crediting the framework left behind by former commanding officer, Captain Richard Napolitano, who is now commanding officer of the 110th Precinct in Elmhurst. He also thanked the residents who support the community council each month. “The people in this room are the ones helping us,” he said.

Councilwoman Melinda Katz and her newborn son Carter stopped by to help swear in the council’s executive board members. “Just so you know how dedicated I am to the 112th Precinct Community Council,” she said after arriving amidst a rainstorm. “I guess he should get used to it now,” she added about Carter’s public appearance. She joked that Carter was born six weeks early, at which point giving birth was “not on my schedule.”

She reported that after being born premature, the baby is doing great and now weighs seven pounds. Katz, who is eyeing a run for the city comptroller’s position when term limits force her out of the City Council next year, told the audience that she is in the middle of the budget process, which is due to be voted on June 26.

“Every year you hear the horror stories about cutting senior program, and cutting education,” she said. “It scares people, but the council is fighting for a lot of this stuff.”

She swore in the following board members to new terms: Heidi Harrison Chain, president, Alan Hackman, vice president, Gail Gordon, second vice president, Todd Reisman, treasurer, Renee Lobo, secretary, Karen Mongiello, sergeant at arms and William Engel, assistant secretary.