Already home to our share of notorious crooks and killers, Long Island stole a few more national headlines this year while local police earned their salaries cleaning up the mess. Hundreds of heroin-related arrests and gang violence flare ups aside, here are 2009’s most infamous:
10. It seemed four times is the charm for John Gotti Jr. after he was acquitted again in December by a federal jury of drug trafficking and murder conspiracy charges. The Oyster Bay Cove resident, who says he quit the mob in the 1990s, is avoiding the fate of his father, the head of the Gambino crime family who was dubbed the Teflon Don until he was eventually convicted and died in prison. Junior’s trail became a spectacle with numerous vitriolic courtroom outbursts. Prosecutors indicated they will not try Gotti again.
9. The case of the Lawrence teen accused of setting a fire in February to become a hero has taken many twists. Caleb Lacey, 19, was charged with four counts of second-degree murder after a mother and her three children died in the fire, which Lacey allegedly set and then responded to as a probationary volunteer firefighter. Nassau police had a videotaped confession—the first time they had filmed a homicide confession under a new policy—which was thrown out in court because of sound quality issues. The trail has yet to begin.
8. LI was just beginning to digest the impact of the Bernard Madoff scandal when Nicholas Cosmo was arrested in January for allegedly orchestrating a nearly $400 million Ponzi scheme at his Hauppauge-based company, Agape World, Inc. Not that anyone should have been surprised, considering Cosmo was previously convicted of fraud and many of his staffers were convicts.
7. If 18-year-old Danmel Ndonye were actually tied up and gang raped in a Hofstra University dormitory bathroom as she claimed, five young men would still be in jail and the Hempstead campus would be less crowded after scared students started transferring. Instead, Ndonye is undergoing mental health treatment, must fulfill 250 hours of community service and will be remembered as “deeply troubled,” as Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice referred to her when she announced the plea agreement in September. All involved appear eager to put this case behind them.
6. The biggest coincidence of the year is this: During the early morning hours of Oct. 27 an off-duty New York City Police officer in Elmont shot a man who Nassau police said tried to carjack the officer at knifepoint. The suspect was arrested later at a hospital. Then, about an hour and a half later, an off-duty Nassau police officer shot and killed a man who Suffolk police said was trying to rob the officer in Bay Shore, about 30 miles away from the earlier police shooting.
5. It is bad enough when our criminals prey on fellow Long Islanders, but when Kevin Cohen allegedly scammed couples nationwide who were desperate to adopt babies, he didn’t do the region’s image any favors. The 41-year-old Roslyn attorney is accused of ripping off more than a dozen couples in what has been described as a “Ponzi-like” scheme where he promised babies that didn’t exist and paid prior victim’s refunds by recruiting new would-be parents.
4. If this guy had succeeded, he’d be No. 1 on this list. The most high-profile criminal this year is 26-year-old Bryant Neal Vinas of Patchogue, who pleaded guilty in January to federal charges of conspiring to kill Americans, supporting Al Qaida and being trained by the terrorists credited with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Vinas is cooperating with authorities, sharing details of a plot to bomb the Long Island Rail Road.
3. The allegations against Sharon McDonough are as shocking as they are bizarre. The 43-year-old, whose son turned her in, is accused of forcing her seven children to help her torture and kill 42 dogs and other animals that investigators found buried in the backyard of her Selden home last month. Neighbors continue to wonder if their missing pets were among the remains.
2. Some crimes simply boggle the mind. Such was the case when William Parente killed his wife, two daughters and himself inside a hotel room near Baltimore in April. Investigators reportedly believe the tax attorney committed the unthinkable act because his clients asked him to return millions of dollars they invested with him but the checks he issued them bounced, although no official motive has been announced. Friends and family who knew the Garden City family continue to try to make sense of the horrific murder-suicide.
1. It was undoubtedly the most heart-wrenching story of 2009. Mystery still surrounds the deaths of Diane Schuler, her daughter, her three nieces and three men in a sport utility vehicle that she crashed into head-on while driving her minivan the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway in July. Her 5-year-old son miraculously survived the crash. Although an autopsy found the West Babylon mom was drunk and high on marijuana at the time, her husband, Daniel, disputes the findings. The Bastardi family, who had two relatives in the second vehicle, is now suing Schuler. No criminal charges were filed.