Tag Archives: District Attorney Richard Brown

Brooklyn man collared in Queens church burglaries


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

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A Brooklyn man has been arrested for a series of burglaries in several Queens churches.

David Spencer, 34 is charged with breaking into four churches and attempting to break into a fifth over the course of a week earlier this month.

District Attorney Richard Brown said Spencer is accused of being a “one-man crime wave and brazenly breaking into churches and helping himself to whatever he could find of value.”

During Spencer’s alleged series of thefts, he stole more than $7,000 worth of items, including a movie projector, a sound-system amplifier, computer equipment and musical instruments. When he allegedly attempted to break into his fifth target, he damaged several doors, all according to the criminal complaint.

Spencer’s spree lasted from Wednesday, July 10 to the following Wednesday, July 17, hitting United Apostolic Lighthouse Church on Springfield Boulevard, Redemption Holy Tabernacle Church on the Van Wyck Expressway, Rehoboth House of Praise on Farmers Boulevard and Grace Moravian Church on 137th Avenue.

Spencer allegedly snagged a $3,000 keyboard from United Apostolic Lighthouse Church and another $1,500 keyboard from the Harvest Revival Baptist Church. He then allegedly provided photo identification and pawned both instruments at a Brooklyn Guitar Center.

He also took a flat-screen television, a computer keyboard and a laptop from other locations. Fingerprints found on the keyboard and church windows matched those of Spencer’s, authorities said.

The Redemption Holy Tabernacle Church allegedly acquired video footage of Spencer attempting to enter the front door. Later, the church caretaker discovered damage to the church’s front and side doors.

Spencer is charged with burglary, attempted burglary, criminal mischief and grand larceny. He was ordered held on a $40,000 bail and will return to court on Friday, August 2. If convicted, Spencer faces up to seven years in prison.

The Grace Moravian Church declined to comment on the incident, and other parishes could not be reached as of press time.

 

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Queens gun buyback nets nearly 30 weapons


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYPD

D’aja Robinson’s life was taken at the age of 14 by a stray bullet. Her Jamaica community responded by hosting a gun buyback event in an effort to get weapons off the street.

On Saturday, the NYPD, district attorney and borough president put on the event at the New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Residents who came and turned in a weapon — no questions asked — received a $200 bank card in return.

Twenty-nine weapons were recovered, including 17 revolvers, eight semi-automatics, one rifle and three others, including BB guns and starter guns, police said.

“It is a commendable endeavor that Borough President [Helen] Marshall, District Attorney [Richard] Brown and the NYPD coordinated the gun buyback program in memory of the late D’aja Robinson,” said Councilmember Ruben Wills.

“Success will be ours the day we will no longer have to hold a gun buyback program.”

 

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Queens elementary school teacher convicted of sexually abusing students


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

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A Queens elementary school teacher who allegedly used his classroom time to prey on students has been found guilty of sexually abusing five of his former pupils.

“The defendant stands convicted of being a sexual predator who made going to school a living nightmare for the five young students,” said District Attorney Richard Brown, announcing the verdict.

In addition to sexual abuse, Simon Watts, 41, was found guilty of sexual conduct against a child, forcible touching and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up 35 years in prison.

According to trial testimony, said Brown, the crimes took place while Watts was working as a third- and fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 15 Jackie Robinson in Springfield Gardens between September 2007 and March 2010.

During that time, he abused four females and one male, ranging between eight and 10 years old.

 

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St. Albans couple pleads guilty to sex trafficking


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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BY LUKE TABET

A St. Albans couple accused of imprisoning two young women and forcing them to work as prostitutes has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking.

“These guilty pleas ensure a conviction and enable the troubled young victims in the case to move on with their lives,” said District Attorney Richard Brown.

According to the investigation, said Brown, after posing as a customer, defendant Hikeem L. Green, 39, solicited services from the victims before taking custody of them and bringing them back to where he lived with girlfriend, co-defendant Darcell Marshall, 22. The two women, ages 19 and 20, were imprisoned in the couple’s Springfield Boulevard home from October until December of 2012. Green told them he was a pimp and must now work for him as prostitutes.

Green took photos of them victims and posted them on backpage.com, an adult website directory, and advertised them as prostitutes whose services were for hire. Several men responded to the ads and the victims were forced to meet with the men and engage in sexual acts for money which was then turned over to Green and Marshall.

According to the district attorney, a state legislation that took effect on November 1, 2007 created the sex trafficking charge, a class B felony. The legislation requires those convicted of sex trafficking to register with the state. It also provides assistance to victims such as temporary housing, health services and drug addiction treatment.

Brown also said that since the statute was enacted, eleven defendants have been convicted of sex trafficking charges.

Barbara Sheehan loses appeal on gun possession conviction


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Barbara Sheehan, the woman acquitted of fatally shooting her husband inside their Howard Beach home, has lost her appeal of a criminal weapons conviction related to the same case, District Attorney Richard Brown announced Wednesday.

In its decision, the court upheld her sentence of five years in prison followed by two-and-a-half years probation for the gun possession charge.

“The case has now been remitted to the trial court to arrange for Ms. Sheehan’s surrender and the execution of sentence,” Brown said in a statement.

She previously faced up to 15 years behind bars for the murder of her husband Raymond, a retired NYPD sergeant.

Sheehan, accused of shooting her husband 11 times in February 2008, testified during the trial that she was a domestic abuse victim for almost two decades and claimed she shot him in self-defense.

 

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Three charged with kidnapping, holding Queens man for month in $3M ransom attempt


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO

Three men have been arrested for kidnapping a man off a Jackson Heights street in broad daylight and holding him in a warehouse for a month in a $3 million ransom attempt, the district attorney’s office said Wednesday.

Christian Acuna, 35, of Corona, Dennis Alves, 32, of East Elmhurst, and Eduardo Moncayo, 38, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, are currently awaiting arraignment on kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment charges. If convicted, each of the men could face up to 25 years to life in prison.

According to the charges, on April 18, Moncayo approached the victim, 52-year-old Pedro Portugal, on Roosevelt Avenue and showed him what appeared to be an NYPD badge.

Moncayo and an unapprehended man then allegedly grabbed Portugal and forced him into a vehicle.

He was driven to a Long Island City warehouse where he was bound, beaten and burnt with acid by a group of unknown men over a 32-day period.

The men told Portugal that they knew he had property in the United States, and he was ordered to call his mother and brother in Ecuador and ask for $3 million in ransom.

Portugal’s ordeal came to an end May 20 when police rescued him from inside the warehouse.

“Nobody said anything,” said Flavio Camposano, worker at Sign Zone, one of the businesses working out of the warehouse on 43rd Avenue, where Portugal was allegedly held captive. “Everything was regular.”

According to Camposano, a man shouted asking for help through an open window on the third floor of the warehouse on Monday and then at around 3 p.m. police swarmed the area.

Local business owners at 88-06 Roosevelt Avenue said Portugal worked as an accountant on the second floor of the building.

“I was surprised to hear what happened because it was in the middle of the day,” said a worker at Cholula Bakery who wished to remain anonymous and who saw Portugal get his breakfast at the shop every day. “There were so many people on the street. It’s so great he was found.”

Sergio Ruiz, owner of a deli at 88-04 Roosevelt Avenue, has known Portugal for the past 13 years and said the surveillance camera from his store shows Portugal leaving the building calmly the day of the kidnapping. Ruiz believes that if he was approached by men identifying themselves as cops he would have been in the same situation.

“At the moment someone just reacts and just does it,” said Ruiz.

Pedro Portugal, a 52-year-old man from Woodside, was allegedly kidnapped outside this Jackson Heights location on April 18 and held for ransom for 32 days.

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Father and son indicted for framing alleged attempted murder victim for robbery, sexual assault


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

A Brooklyn man accused of attempted murder tried to turn the tables on his victim last year with the aid of his teen son, and is now facing up to seven years in prison.

Hipolito Rodriguez, 38, and his son, Jordan Rodriguez, 19 were indicted on Tuesday for allegedly trying to implicate the victim for armed robbery and sexual assault, announced District Attorney Richard Brown.

Joshua Robles, the man the pair falsely accused, spent almost eight months in prison as a result of their scheme.

“The victim is now a free man and it is the defendants who now face the prospect of spending a lengthy time behind bars,” said Brown.

The indictment alleges Rodriguez and his son paid a woman to tell police that Robles, whom Hipolito Rodriguez had been charged with trying to kill, robbed her at gunpoint and sexually abused her, said the district attorney.

The woman claimed the assault and robbery took place in Ridgewood near Cypress and Greene avenues.

Believing the woman, police arreested Nobles  for robbery, sexual abuse and forcible touching on August 29, 2012.

After an investigation determined Robles was falsely accused, he was released in April.

Hipolito Rodriguez was arraigned yesterday on the indictment charging him with perjury, bribing a witness, tampering with a witness, intimidating a victim or witness, unlawful imprisonment, falsely reporting an incident and conspiracy.

Jordan Rodriguez is still being sought.

 

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MTA worker busted for staging robbery at Queens subway station


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola

A MTA worker and her male accomplice have been arrested for stealing $4,000 in a staged robbery at a Queens subway station, announced District Attorney Richard Brown.

Tracy King, 48, of Queens, and Anthony Brown, 42, of Brooklyn, have been charged with grand larceny, defrauding the government and falsely reporting an incident.

As part of the duo’s alleged scheme, King claimed she was a victim of the Saturday, May 11 holdup at the 7 train station at 111th Street in Corona.

According to the charges, said the district attorney, King initially claimed that around 11:00 a.m. she was in the station’s break room when a man with a black revolver and stun gun came in, pointed them at her, and duct taped her hands and mouth. He then removed the keys to the ticket booth and took approximately $4,000 from inside of it.

Fellow MTA employees later found King duct taped inside the break room, and King was taken to a police local precinct to file a report.

But following an investigation, cops no longer believed King was the victim, but had instead agreed to split the stolen money with the robber.

Brown told police that King asked if he wanted to make some money and told him to come to the station on Saturday, said the district attorney.  She also told him to tie her up with the duct tape so cops would believe the robbery was real.

If convicted, King and Brown face up to seven years in prison.

 

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10 Queens, Brooklyn men busted in connection to auto theft ring


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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Ten men were arrested in connection with an auto theft ring with the intention to resell the stolen cars, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

The defendants, all from Brooklyn or Queens, have been charged with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, unauthorized use of a vehicle and conspiracy.

According to the indictment, the men stole close to a dozen vehicles between the dates of Dec. 5, 2011 and Feb. 27, 2012. The majority of the vehicles were stolen from various car dealerships as they were being unloaded off a transportation truck. One car is believed to have been stolen from a private individual.

Brown said the bust of this theft ring is a part of his ongoing efforts to reduce the number of auto robberies in the borough.

“Since I took office in 1991 – when an astounding 50,000 cars a year were reported stolen in Queens – the incidence of auto theft has dropped to fewer than 3,000 cars a year being reported stolen in Queens,” he said. “Operations like the one being announced today in conjunction with the New York State Police are effective measures to ward off auto theft.”

-BY ANTHONY O’REILLY

 

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Man accused of sexually assaulting Queens woman arrested at JFK with stun gun


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY ANTHONY O’REILLY

A 23-year old Greek national was arrested on charges of sexual assaulting a Queens woman, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced.

The defendant, Promdromos Vasilopoulos, of Athens, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport while trying to board a plane to London. Vasilopoulos was found with a stun gun, which the Queens DA believes was used during the attack.

The unnamed victim is a former girlfriend of Vasilopoulos. According to District Attorney Richard Brown, Vasilopoulos made approximately 200 calls to the victim, during a one-week period, in which he said she would pay for breaking up with him.

“The facts alleged in this case chronicle a frightening ordeal of mental, physical and sexual violence,” Brown said. “Hopefully, the young woman who was brutally victimized will rest easier in knowing that her alleged rapist has been brought to justice and will be vigorously prosecuted.”

According to Brown, Vasilopoulos knocked on the door of the woman’s residence and jolted her with a stun gun on her neck and stomach.

Vasilopoulos reportedly then proceeded to attack and sexually assault the woman.

The woman was treated at a local hospital for her injuries.

Vasilopoulos is being charged with one criminal complaint with predatory sexual assault, first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, strangulation and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and in a second complaint with second-degree aggravated harassment and second-degree harassment. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.

 

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Mother of slain National Guardsman vows justice despite grand jury ruling


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Facebook

Even after the verdict was final, Cecilia Reyes vowed her son would get justice.

Reyes, the mother of Noel Polanco, the 22-year-old National Guardsman who was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway on October 4, was outraged by the court’s ruling that her son’s killer would not be tried.

On February 14, after five weeks of deliberations, a Queens grand jury determined criminal charges would not be filed against Hassan Hamdy, the NYPD officer who fatally shot Polanco. In a statement, District Attorney Richard A. Brown indicated he would not provide the reason behind the grand jury’s decision and called Polanco’s death “a tragedy.”
Regardless of the ruling, Reyes remained determined to ensure her son, who aspired to become a police officer, did not die in vain.

Joined by Polanco’s sister Amanda, Reyes addressed the grand jury’s ruling at the National Action Network’s (NAN) Harlem headquarters on February 16. NAN founder the Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy at Polanco’s funeral and has remained invested in the case.

“I’m very upset. I’m very, very angry at the justice system,” said Reyes. “I’m angry. I’m hurt. They didn’t do the justice that they needed to do for my son. But I’m not giving up. I’m continuing on and I’m going to fight with every being in my life.”

Polanco was pulled over when he was spotted driving erratically in his black 2012 Honda Fit, weaving between lanes and speeding on the Grand Central Parkway before allegedly cutting off an unmarked police vehicle. Hamdy allegedly fired the single shot that killed Polanco when he told him to put his hands on the steering wheel and Polanco reached under the seat. Testimony from two eye witnesses driving with Polanco, Diane DeFerrari, a bartender and Polanco’s neighbor, and Vanessa Rodriguez, an off-duty police officer, persisted with the claim that Polanco followed orders from the officer.

No weapon was discovered in Polanco’s car.

“My son had no weapon and yet the officer gets away with this,” said Reyes. “If it was to be someone else in the street, right away they would prosecute this kid – this officer was still a murderer, no matter what.”

According to reports, the family intends to pursue the case in civil court.

 

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No criminal charges to be filed in Grand Central Parkway shooting death of Army reservist


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Facebook

A Queens grand jury concluded Thursday that there will be no criminal charges filed in connection to the death of Army reservist Noel Polanco who was shot by a police officer on the Grand Central Parkway last fall, said District Attorney Richard Brown.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly requested the grand jury investigation just days after the 22-year-old was killed during a seemingly routine traffic stop.

According to the NYPD,  around 5:15 a.m. on October 4, 2012, officers in two unmarked vehicles spotted a Honda driving erratically, weaving between lanes and speeding on the Grand Central Parkway. The car allegedly tailgated another vehicle before cutting between the unmarked police cars. The officers signaled for the Honda to pull over near the exit for LaGuardia Airport. Police approached the vehicle and one of the officers, Hassan Hamdy, fired a single round into Polanco’s abdomen. He was taken to New York Hospital Queens where he was pronounced dead at 5:50 a.m.

According to Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for Diane DeFerrari, one of the vehicle’s passengers,  Polanco complied with the officer’s request to keep his hands visible.

“There’s no question that she [DeFerrari] saw the driver with his hands on the wheel when he was shot,” said Rubenstein.

-Reporting by Alexa Altman and Cristabelle Tumola 

 

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Queens duo accused of stealing $60K in unemployment benefits


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Unemployment is going to be the least concern for two Springfield Gardens residents who allegedly conned the state into awarding them over $60,000, according to the district attorney’s office.

Tasham Terrell Coleman and Nakia Bouyer are accused of collecting unemployment insurance benefits between May and December of 2012 by establishing a company with a dozen “ghost” employees, including Coleman and Bouyer and victims of identity theft. The company also allegedly reported false wages to tax authorities, and then used the stolen identities to file claims on behalf of their “employees” for fraudulent unemployment benefits.

“The defendants’ alleged actions erode a vital workplace protection that was created for the benefit of all workers,” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “In today’s tough economic climate, such benefits are a vital lifeline for many New Yorkers.”

Coleman and Bouyer’s “company,” Coleman Development Corporation, was first targeted in July 2012 when the Department of Labor’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) identified “unusual activity” on the group’s filed claims. The investigation discovered that Bouyer also allegedly stole nearly $4,000 in her own unemployment benefits, as she returned to work with Aramark Corporation.

“Those who falsely apply for and receive unemployment benefits cheat legitimately unemployed workers and increase insurance tax rates paid by employers,” said Brown.

Coleman and Bouyer were charged with grand larceny in the second degree, two counts of identity theft in the first degree and 10 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Bouyer was also charged separately with grand larceny in the third degree. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

 

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Queens subway pusher indicted, found fit to stand trial


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

subway pusher

The woman accused of shoving a 46-year-old man to his death at a Sunnyside subway platform last month has been indicted by a grand jury for second-degree murder as a hate crime and ruled mentally fit to stand trial, announced Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

At the time of her arrest, Erika Menendez, 31, allegedly told investigators that she pushed Corona resident Sunando Sen into the path of a No. 7 train at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station because she hates Hindus and Muslims and has been beating them up since 2001 when “they put down the twin towers.”

Witnesses said they saw Menendez muttering to herself before shoving Sen off the platform.

On Monday, the same day that she was indicted, it was also announced that, following a court-ordered psychiatric exam, Menendez had been deemed fit to stand trial.

Despite the ruling, Menendez’s lawyers are expected to argue that even though she is mentally fit enough to understand the charges against her, she wasn’t mentally sound when she committed the December 27 crime, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Menendez, who faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted, is scheduled to return to court on January 29.


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25 years for fatal shooting outside Richmond Hill bar


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

The Ozone Park man who fatally shot a 19-year-old nearly three years ago was sentenced on Tuesday, January 8 to 25 years to life in prison.

Miguel Viruet, 37, was convicted on second-degree charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon last month for the May, 5 2010 shooting of Christian O’Hara outside Scooby’s Bar on Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill.

“Today’s sentence is a measure of justice for an innocent young man whose life was tragically cut short,” said District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement. “It also underscores our need to be vigilant in keeping illegal guns off of the streets of our county and out of the hands of those intent on violently attacking others. Violence such as this will not be tolerated on the streets of Queens County.”

In his testimony, Viruet said he received a call just before 4 a.m. on May 5 from his brother who was outside the bar and said he was punched in the face. Viruet said he drove to the bar with two others and spoke to the bouncer, asking who punched his brother. The bouncer told Viruet that his brother was drunk, had been punched outside the bar and not allowed back in.

After driving away, Viruet walked back to the bar later and, from across the street, fired about nine shots at a crowd of people standing outside of the establishment. O’Hara was fatally hit in the lower torso.

 

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