LI restaurateur, Nassau contracts scrutinized

Newsday reporting and an investigative series examined Long Island restaurateur Harendra Singh’s connections to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay officials, as well as Nassau County contracting practices.

Nassau contracting practices

Newsday’s reporting revealed that Nassau County’s specialty contracts often do not go to the lowest bidders, and that the county gave hundreds of no-bid contracts valued just dollars below a key threshold.

Skelos government wiretaps shed light on corruption case.

I’m going to control everything.

– Former state Sen. Dean Skelos

Former state Sen. Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted on corruption charges earlier this month – automatically ending the 30-year Senate career of one of the most powerful men in New York politics. Government wiretaps used in the case reveal candid conversations between Skelos and his son – conversations that display a growing level of confidence about their political and business dealings. Watch News 12 Long Island’s report – The Skelos Tapes – reported by Rich Barrabi below. Scroll down after the video for a selection of audio clips from the government wiretaps.

PLEASE NOTE: The audio files and transcripts contain explicit language.


Skelos Tapes

12/17/2014

Adam suggests to his boss that he will be able to convince county lawmakers how to spend funding in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. We’re going to tell them what to spend it on. -Adam Skelos.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Glenn Rink


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

12/17/2014

Adam and Dean Skelos voice their frustration over Governor Cuomo’s unwillingness to lift the state’s fracking ban. Dean Skelos says he will challenge Cuomo in the next gubernatorial election as a result.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Sen. Dean Skelos


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12/19/2014

Adam provides a status update to his supervisor regarding a project within Nassau County. Adam suggests that Nassau county executive Ed Mangano doesn’t understand the project.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

12/22/2014

Dean Skelos describes new Senate power sharing agreement to his son Adam. Adam encourages his father to read “The Art of War.”

Participants: Adam Skelos, Sen. Dean Skelos


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12/22/2014

Adam Skelos has a heated conversation with Demetrios Raptis, the head of an organization that represents Diner owners.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Demetrios Raptis


READ THE TRANSCRIPT


12/31/2014

Adam tells his supervisor that Nassau County and executive Ed Mangano are “burning bridges” by failing to act quickly regarding payment for a project.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


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1/3/2015

Sen. Dean Skelos arranges to discuss “the other situation” with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Somebody feels like they’re just getting jerked around for the last 2 years. -Dean Skelos

Participants: Sen. Dean Skelos, Ed Mangano


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1/3/2015

Senator Skelos tells his son that he “spoke to that guy.” Adam Skelos says, “that guy doesn’t understand what I even do.”

Participants: Adam Skelos, Sen. Dean Skelos


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1/5/2015

Adam tells his supervisor about meeting with his father and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano at a wake. Let’s get some money.-Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


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1/8/2015

Sen. Martins pitches an idea to Sen. Skelos regarding a plan to “take credit” for water quality improvements.

Participants: Sen. Dean Skelos, Sen. Jack Martins


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1/15/2015

Adam and Dean talk about Adam’s past problems, and how they don’t want AbTech to find out about them. I’m hesitant to talk to you on this cellphone. -Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Dean Skelos


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1/28/2015

Sen. Martin tells Sen. Skelos that “people in this are going to go absolutely nuts” regarding Nassau county’s plan to install billboards along the Long Island Expressway.

Participants: Sen. Dean Skelos, Sen. Jack Martins


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1/28/2015

“It’s unbelievable with these guys. They can’t seem to find their own way,” Sen. Marcellino tells Sen. Skelos regarding Nassau county’s plan to install billboards along the Long Island Expressway. The Senators express frustration with the fact that county lawmakers did not provide them with a “heads up.”

Participants: Sen. Dean Skelos, Sen. Carl Marcellino


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1/29/2015

Senator Skelos and Senator Martins talk about Nassau county’s failed attempts to find new streams of revenue. “They have nothing,” Sen. Martins says.

Participants: Sen. Dean Skelos, Sen. Jack Martins


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2/4/2015

Adam tells his supervisor that, “communication’s really hard.” He described having to use FaceTime to contact his wife rather than a conventional phone call. I basically have to FaceTime her because FaceTime doesn’t show up on a phone bill. -Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


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2/10/2015

Adam tells his father to communicate him with via FaceTime, rather than a conventional phone call. “Can you see me?,” Dean asks. No, no, no, Dad, just hang up the phone. -Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Sen. Dean Skelos


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2/24/2015

Adam tells his father that he doesn’t work with a particular individual anymore. Right now we are in dangerous times, Adam.-Dean Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Sen. Dean Skelos


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

2/26/2015

Adam tells his supervisor that Nassau county executive Ed Mangano is going to meet with Governor Cuomo to push for legislation that they are hoping will pass.

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

3/10/2015

Adam tells his supervisor that he is going to meet with Nassau county executive Ed Mangano. I’m going to stop in and see Ed and give him a copy as well and tell him exactly what we need him to do.-Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Bjornulf White


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

3/25/2015

Adam speaks with one of his father’s staffers. He expresses frustration over his inability to speak with his father through normal channels because of the impending investigation. I’m beating my (expletive) head against the wall right now.-Adam Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Mike Avella


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3/28/2015

Adam tells his father he is “freaking out.” Dad is here to help.-Dean Skelos

Participants: Adam Skelos, Dean Skelos


READ THE TRANSCRIPT

2015 in review

Billy Joel closed down the Nassau Coliseum, while a horse for the ages captured the first Triple Crown in decades at Belmont Park. Two of the state’s top political leaders, including Long Island’s Dean Skelos, were convicted and lost their seats. And a 91-year-old high school graduate made us proud. 2015 has been a nonstop year. Here’s what we’ll remember.

Long Island

Sports

Food

Entertainment

Newsday documentaries

Business

Lifestyle

Death of a Prisoner

January 23, 2013. Twenty-seven-year-old Jack Franqui, of Rocky Point, commits suicide inside of a holding cell at the Suffolk County Police Department’s seventh precinct in Shirley. A death that a grand jury would later describe as “preventable.” Did Jack Franqui die in jail because cops neglected him? News 12 Long Island’s Rich Barrabi takes a closer look at the case in the video below. Also scroll down for extended interviews with Franqui’s father and Suffolk County District Attorny Thomas Spota.

Gilgo – 5 Years Later

A grisly discovery along Ocean Parkway five years ago shattered hope for several families and left many unanswered questions. The killer hasn’t been arrested despite a major police investigation. Families of the deceased are waiting for answers, knowing that a serial killer is still out there.
News 12 Long Island’s Eileen Lehpamer examines the case, the victims and the investigation in ‘Gilgo – 5 Years Later.’

Click here for photos, background information and additional video in this joint News 12/Newsday investigative report.

The investigation started with the search for Shannan Gilbert, an escort who advertised her services on Craigslist. In December of 2010, a body was found along Ocean Parkway. Over the next year, 10 sets of human remains were found in the area. And though Gilbert’s body was found near Oak Beach, police have said her death is not connected to the others. Her mother disagrees.

Now, after five years of not speaking publicly about the case, Suffolk police announced the FBI is joining the investigation. The victims’ family members, including Gilbert’s, hope the FBI’s involvement will finally lead to a break in the case.

Complete Suffolk County police news conference from Dec. 10.

Jack Franqui jail suicide Day 2

John Burke entered Male Cell #3 at the Suffolk County Police Department’s Seventh Precinct in Shirley on the afternoon of Jan. 23, 2013. There are eight units on the cellblock, each one 6-foot-1 across by 7-foot-9 long and furnished only with a metal sink-toilet and a wooden bench.

Through the bars and up near the ceiling, surveillance cameras eyed each cell. A tinted plastic shell protected each camera, and in its reflection Burke could see another prisoner locked up two doors away in Male Cell #1.

“I’m sorry you got arrested for whatever you got arrested for,” said the other prisoner, who introduced himself as Jack. “I’m kind of glad you did though, because now I have some company.”

Over the next few hours, Burke, 35, and Jack Franqui were the only prisoners on the precinct cell bock, typically an overnight way station for recently arrested people awaiting arraignment the next morning.

The temperature outside was below freezing and cold enough inside that Burke could see his own breath. He ripped off a piece of his blanket and tossed it to Franqui, who had none of his own.

Franqui explained to Burke why he was there: He’d been unfairly targeted and roughed up by police, who wrongfully arrested him and accused him of things he’d never done — like ordering his dog to attack an officer.


Read Part 1

He was less than three months removed from a lengthy jail stint during which he had been attacked by inmates, left with stitches and resorted to protecting himself with a spoon sharpened to a point. As Franqui told Burke he couldn’t do any more time in jail, his friendly demeanor turned dark.

“I’m going to hang up,” he said.

Franqui began screaming that he was having chest pains and needed medical attention or he would be leaving his cell in a body bag. He banged his head against the cell walls and soaked himself in toilet water.

Police officers, who were 70 feet away in a separate part of the building, appeared in the cellblock on two occasions an hour apart, according to Burke. On the first visit, they denied Franqui’s request for medical attention, Burke said. On the second, they removed a T-shirt Franqui had fashioned into a noose and tied to the bars.

Burke said that after they had caught Franqui making a noose, he figured the officers would no longer ignore the clearly disturbed prisoner. “OK, they’ll do something now,” he said.

He was wrong. The officers never returned for Franqui, who grew even more despondent and made preparations for his death. He talked about his dog and his dad and gave Burke permission to go fishing on his family’s 12-foot motorboat. He repeated seven digits for Burke to remember — the phone number for Franqui’s father in Rocky Point — and had him recite the numbers back to ensure they’d been memorized.

Franqui asked Burke to tell his dad that his arrest was bogus and that he was sorry but couldn’t go back behind bars. He said to “please tell his dad that he loved him, and not to let him die in vain,” Burke later wrote in a sworn affidavit.

Then, after a short period of silence, Franqui uttered his last words: “That’s it.”


SCPD homicide detectives responded to the precinct shortly before 7 that night to investigate Jack Franqui’s suicide. A later homicide report identified five detectives as being a part of the investigation.

Among them were Charles Leser and Ronald Tavares, homicide veterans who have attracted legal scrutiny for their role in the alleged cover-up of a 2011 police shooting of unarmed cabdriver Thomas Moroughan in Huntington Station. They obtained from Moroughan a since-discredited statement that initially justified intoxicated off-duty Nassau County police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo’s decision to fire at Moroughan. At least one other homicide conviction has since been vacated because it hinged on Tavares’ detective work.

At the precinct, the homicide squad found the trio of officers who had been responsible for Franqui’s life.

Sgt. Kevin O’Reilly was the desk supervisor and the officer in charge of the precinct. He had worked the desk only once or twice before and had been promoted about two and a half weeks earlier. He had not yet completed the supervisory training required of every sergeant in the department.

The desk officers working under O’Reilly were George Oliva, who had been stationed at that desk about fifteen times, and Joseph Simeone, who had been stashed there for more than a decade after superiors deemed him “less than adequate” as a police officer. Simeone had health problems that limited him to light duty status and barred him from contact with prisoners.

When the officers found Franqui hanging in his cell wearing only white socks and camouflage underwear, O’Reilly told the detectives, the prisoner had no pulse and was “purple, blotchy and cold.” O’Reilly declared Franqui “gone” and in an effort to preserve the crime scene, had stopped Oliva from untying Franqui and attempting to resuscitate him.

A state investigatory commission would later call O’Reilly’s decision to make no effort to save Franqui’s life a failure worthy of disciplinary action.

The detectives also spoke with Burke. The Brooklyn resident had been locked up that day on charges that he’d attempted to arrange to have sex with a 10-year-old girl by offering her mother $4,500 — a background that would typically make for an imperfect witness. But Burke ultimately testified under oath about Franqui’s death at least three times, including before a special grand jury, and the critical elements of his account have not been challenged. In fact, Burke’s story has been corroborated by evidence and the testimony of several police officers.

Burke also told his story with the belief that he would be backed by the perfect witness: The surveillance cameras trained on the cells.

“Again, the tape will show it all,” Burke said.

11Front DeskOfficers Joseph Simeone and George Oliva manned the front desk at the time of the suicide. Directly behind their desk was that of supervisor on duty, Sgt. Kevin O’Reilly.22Video MonitorsThe front desk has 16 video monitors showing footage of the cell blocks where prisoners are kept. Though an intercom was installed, during Franqui’s death the sound was muted and the officer’s television audio was turned up.
33Male holding cellsThe male holding cells where Franqui was locked up are situated 70 feet from the front desk.

44Male Cell 1Franqui was locked in Male Cell 1 at 2:25 p.m. 55Male Cell 2Sex offender John Burke was locked in Male Cell 3 roughly an hour after Franqui was locked up. 66Video camera on Franqui’s cellAccording to Burke, he and Franqui could see each other through reflections in a security camera encasement. 77Video camera on Burke’s cellBurke testified that as Franqui hung from a pair of jeans, Burke faced a camera, pointed toward Franqui’s cell, and screamed for help.


The homicide detectives would find, however, that the surveillance cameras at the precinct did not record any footage. The lack of a video record made Burke’s account vital to ascertaining what occurred.

Though Burke’s story would be echoed by officers when they testified under oath before a special grand jury, a homicide report filed a month after Franqui’s suicide presented a more sanitized version of what happened.

Burke repeatedly referred to Franqui making his T-shirt into a “noose,” and that officers advised Franqui to “stop doing stupid [expletive]” as they removed the shirt from the bars. Burke said Franqui’s request for medical attention was denied by an officer who said, “If we bring you to the hospital, we’ll just end up bringing you back here.”

In sworn testimony, Burke said Franqui repeatedly threatened to kill himself. “And he just kept on saying — like he was screaming to them, ‘If you don’t get me medical attention, I’m going to leave here in a body bag,’ ” Burke said. “I mean, he screamed that.”

The homicide report noted Burke’s claim that Franqui was ignored when he asked an officer for medical assistance. But the detectives did not report that Burke said the fellow prisoner was yelling suicidal threats for the guards to hear, only that he “mentioned” to Burke “that he was going to hang himself.”

The report shows O’Reilly told homicide detectives that Franqui tied his T-shirt to the bars in “an apparent attempt to obscure the vision of the surveillance camera,” not to make a noose, as Burke insisted.

When Franqui finally hung himself with his jeans and could be heard gasping for breath, Burke told the detectives he screamed for officers to come help until he realized it was a futile effort.

“It got to the point where I just gave up and I was just standing there just in shock,” Burke later testified. “Like I could hear his bones cracking and stuff, you know.”

There’s no way to know at what point Franqui still could have been saved. But at least three times that year, Suffolk County precinct officers noticed prisoners attempting to hang themselves with shirts tied to holding cell bars and reached them in time to rescue them. Burke, however, said it took roughly five to 10 minutes for officers to arrive — too late to save Franqui, as O’Reilly decided.

The homicide detectives learned how Burke’s screams could have gone unheard. Oliva acknowledged that the volume on a television they were watching made it “difficult to overhear sounds from the cellblock.”

In addition, detectives discovered that an intercom system installed to transmit sound from the cellblock to the precinct desk had been switched off, according to a grand jury report. The homicide squad’s own report, however, states that the intercom system was “operational and at a low volume setting.”

There were other key facts not found in the homicide report that would prove central to the grand jury investigation.

On the night of Franqui’s suicide, Det. Tavares obtained and reviewed phone recordings to and from the precinct. The homicide report does not note that the phone calls contained evidence that Simeone had withheld information from his supervisor, and then later from detectives, concerning yet another incident earlier in the day, when Franqui’s blanket was confiscated after he tied it to the bars of his cell.

The homicide squad also did not report that an inspection log showed that Simeone, who was responsible for checking on prisoners during that shift, did not make those checks as required.

In his own interview with the detectives, Simeone said “at no time did the prisoner indicate that he needed medical attention or that he was a threat to himself.”

Despite the evidence to the contrary, the police department’s public statements mirrored Simeone’s description of events. Then-homicide commander Det. Lt. John “Jack” Fitzpatrick, who signed his unit’s report detailing their investigation of the suicide, described Franqui as calm and at ease with officers before unexpectedly taking his own life.

“There was no indication he was suicidal,” Fitzpatrick said in a Newsday article published the morning after Franqui’s death.

Fitzpatrick retired last year and declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing litigation.

Timeline of events

Jan. 2013: Franqui suicideJan. 2013: Franqui suicide March 2013: Burke released from prisonMarch 2013: Burke released from prison January 2014: Grand jury convenedJanuary 2014: Grand jury convened See how it happened


The only civilian eyewitness who could contradict the homicide commander’s account spent the next two months in Suffolk County jail cells.

Burke was released on March 22, 2013, after pleading guilty to charges that included a felony for disseminating indecent material to minors. He received a sentence of time served and immediately upon his release searched online for news about Franqui’s suicide.

He found the Newsday article containing what he called Fitzpatrick’s “ridiculous” characterization of Franqui’s calm demeanor before the suicide. “I was angered by that,” Burke said in sworn testimony.

On the day he was set free, Burke dialed the phone number Franqui had asked him to memorize. When Franqui’s father — who also goes by Jack — answered, Burke told him what happened and that “the reports in the news were false.”

Franqui’s family had received no information from law enforcement officials about the suicide other than what Fitzpatrick had said to the media. Burke told Franqui’s father, “I will be there to support you because your son seemed like a nice guy.”

“I got to know him for a couple hours,” Burke later testified. “And I just felt like what happened wasn’t right.”

After speaking with Burke, Franqui’s father hired Mineola attorney Anthony Grandinette. In a recent interview, Grandinette called the suicide in police custody the result of officers’ “catastrophic failure to follow their own rules and regulations” and criticized the homicide squad’s findings, which were “directly opposite” of what the evidence showed.

“That is not by mistake,” Grandinette said. “That is by design and it’s nothing short of fraud and corruption.”

In April 2013, Jack Franqui’s estate filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against Suffolk County and its police department. The claim alleged that Suffolk officers violated Franqui’s civil rights when they falsely detained him, used excessive force during the arrest, ignored his suicidal actions and pleas for medical attention, and then covered up their failings.

“He would still be here today if we had people behind that desk who were willing to serve and protect,” Franqui’s father said. “They lied about it and hid the fact that they didn’t do their job.”


As Franqui’s family moved ahead with their lawsuit, a state commission that oversees correctional institutions criticized Suffolk County’s district attorney’s office and police department for mishandling a case similar to that of Franqui.

The state Commission of Correction found in a report released June 2013 that District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office had been negligent in failing to criminally investigate the homicide of Daniel McDonnell, a carpenter with mental and physical health problems who died in a 2011 struggle with officers at the First Precinct. Suffolk County ultimately paid $2.25 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by McDonnell’s family.

The commission found that officers conducted prisoner checks via security monitors rather than making required visits to the cellblock, ignored McDonnell’s screams for medical attention and failed to place him under one-on-one supervision despite his agitated state.

The commission report states that homicide detectives performed a “cursory and incomplete” investigation into the circumstances of McDonnell’s death, including the use of excessive force by officers.

The commission also determined the police department had “failed to conduct a comprehensive internal investigation” into McDonnell’s “preventable” death, the medical examiner’s office “failed to adequately identify and examine the blunt force injuries” to his body and Spota’s office “failed to conduct any investigation” of the death in custody even after it had been ruled a homicide.

Spota, in a defiant response written on June 27, 2013, called the commission’s report “baseless and inaccurate.”

Meanwhile, nearly six months had passed since Franqui’s death, and Spota’s office had not convened a grand jury to investigate the incident.


Franqui’s family filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Central Islip in late October 2013. In January 2014 — nearly a year after Franqui’s death — Spota convened a special grand jury to investigate the matter.

Pace Law School professor and former Manhattan prosecutor Bennett Gershman said it’s highly unusual for a district attorney to allow so much time to elapse before opening a grand jury probe.

“It’s incomprehensible that they would wait so long, especially if you’re talking about events that rely on people’s memories,” Gershman said.

Peter Davis, a recently retired professor at Touro Law Center who previously probed police misconduct as special counsel to a Suffolk County Legislature committee, agreed that the lag before convening the grand jury was unusual.

“The general rule is that a delay is bad for the district attorney’s case and good for criminal defendants,” Davis said. “You don’t want a delay if you can avoid it.”

During the nine-month special grand jury session, prosecutors called 24 witnesses and presented 45 exhibits of evidence, much of it materials that homicide investigators had access to on the night of the suicide.

The brunt of the blame would fall on Simeone, whose contentious history with the department is contained in a separate civil court case that was not noted in the grand jury report.

Simeone unsuccessfully sued the SCPD in 2000, claiming that he had been rejected for promotion to sergeant due to discrimination on the basis of disability and age.

The department countered that the rejection was based largely on a deputy inspector’s evaluation depicting Simeone as interested only in “the arena of future retirement planning.”

The evaluation stated that Simeone’s “performance began to deteriorate in 1988,” his seventh year on the job. In years since, a supervisor reported problems motivating Simeone, who “purportedly incurred a back injury” when he fell out of his chair at a police precinct in 1996. A year later, Simeone had a heart attack and was placed on permanent limited duty.

The deputy inspector’s evaluation concluded that the officer “seems to be lacking those qualities we expect of potential supervisors,” including “interest in one’s career, needs of the public, development of subordinates and attainment of Department goals and objectives.”

Though Simeone called the evaluation “untruthful,” he acknowledged under oath that he had difficulty with such physical activity as walking through a mall, washing his car, vacuuming a rug or traversing a flight of stairs. A phone call to his desk at the precinct once aggravated him so badly that he suffered an angina attack and had to call his wife to take him home, Simeone testified.

“My batteries run low and then I have to rest,” Simeone said in a deposition for his lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed before trial. “After putting in an eight-hour day, I’m exhausted.”

Simeone’s limited duty status allowed him to carry a gun but not have any physical contact with suspects. Nevertheless, the department stationed him since 2000 at the Seventh Precinct front desk, where his duties included checking on prisoners in the cellblock.

Special grand jury testimony called into question whether Simeone had been making those checks. Simeone kept an activity log indicating that from 3 p.m. through 5 p.m. during Franqui’s time locked up, he had checked on him every half-hour, as required. However, the log showed no inspection until 5:40, when it is noted that Franqui’s T-shirt was confiscated.

The officer acknowledged during his special grand jury testimony that his log may have been inaccurate. “Simeone was reluctant to state during his testimony that the inspections were actually occurring at the recorded times,” a special grand jury report stated. “He admitted during his testimony that some of the inspections may not have occurred as written on the log.”

Though the homicide detectives did not note it in their report, their investigation uncovered recordings of two precinct phone calls in which Simeone could be heard speaking about a blanket that had also been confiscated from Franqui.

“He was tying the blanket,” Simeone said. “That’s why we don’t give them blankets. I don’t know why they give them blankets.” At another point he could be heard saying “tying a blanket . . . to the bars” and stating that “we took the blanket away from him.”

Simeone did not tell the homicide detectives about the blanket incident, which occurred before Burke was locked up in the cellblock. Simeone’s supervisor, O’Reilly, also said he had not been told about the blanket.

Simeone acknowledged to the grand jury that “anytime you see somebody doing something by the bars, that’s a red flag, you take a look.” But Simeone testified he did not believe confiscating Franqui’s blanket was a significant event of the sort that would merit action.

Sgt. O’Reilly disagreed, testifying before the special grand jury that if he had known about the blanket incident when officers later removed the T-shirt from Franqui’s cell, he would have put the prisoner under one-on-one supervision. “Franqui’s suicide would not have occurred and was preventable,” a special grand jury report stated.

The Commission on Correction, which completed its own report on Franqui’s death in September, agreed with the special grand jury’s findings but found that Simeone was not the only officer at fault. The commission also stated that O’Reilly’s failure to put Franqui under isolated supervision or send him to a hospital after the T-shirt incident was “a fatal mistake” that led to Franqui’s death.

Both Simeone and O’Reilly refused to answer questions when subpoenaed by the commission, invoking their Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves.

Attorney Brian J. Davis, who represents O’Reilly, defended his client’s actions on the day of Franqui’s death by noting his inexperience as a supervisor.

“There were certain things procedurally that he had never been trained in,” Davis said in a recent interview, adding that the lack of training was “not his fault.”


Pace Law Professor Gershman reviewed special grand jury reports and other documents detailing Franqui’s suicide at Newsday’s request. The former prosecutor said criminal charges against Simeone and other officers could have included conspiracy, official misconduct, filing a false instrument, tampering with evidence, obstructing governmental administration and perjury.

Retired Touro Professor Davis, who also reviewed the documents, said that the officers involved “certainly” could have been charged with some of those crimes, comparing the Franqui situation to the ongoing prosecution of Baltimore police officers blamed for prisoner Freddie Gray’s death in custody.

But the grand jurors in Franqui’s case did not have the option to indict either Simeone or O’Reilly, because both received from district attorney Spota what is known as “transactional immunity.” In New York, if a grand jury witness is allowed to testify without waiving the right to automatic immunity, the witness is shielded from prosecution in the case.

A special grand jury report justified the decision to allow Simeone and O’Reilly to receive immunity because their “testimony was key to determining what occurred” and “in order to learn the truth, prosecutors were forced to give up the ability to criminally prosecute any police officer.”

Gershman said with other willing witnesses — such as Burke and Officer Oliva, who agreed to waive his right to immunity before testifying — “you don’t have to give immunity to any of these officers.”

State criminal justice statistics show that Suffolk County prosecutors are normally unencumbered by the transactional immunity law and are among the most successful in the state during typical grand jury proceedings. Between 2008 and 2014, Spota’s office won over 314 indictments to each “no bill” – meaning a proceeding that ended without an indictment due to insufficient evidence – in grand juries stemming from felony arrests. The statewide average in the same kind of cases over that span was just over seventeen indictments to every no bill.

Spota has also blamed the transactional immunity law for his inability to prosecute police in the special grand jury convened to investigate the cabdriver shooting in Huntington Station by intoxicated off-duty Nassau Officer DiLeonardo. Spota claimed in that case that his prosecutors could not proceed at all for fear of granting immunity to other officers at the scene of the shooting who may have broken the law.

Gershman noted that Spota’s handling of transactional immunity in the DiLeonardo and Franqui cases were at odds. But “in both cases it appears he’s protecting the police,” Gershman said.


The special grand jury that investigated Franqui’s death released two reports, one calling for Simeone to be disciplined and the other proposing recommendations for widespread reform to prevent another tragedy.

Among the 19 recommendations, grand jurors in the Franqui case called for the formation of a county task force to investigate ways in which Suffolk police can improve “prisoner safety, security, humane treatment and medical treatment” for detainees.

Grandinette, the Franqui family’s attorney, said that he relayed to the district attorney’s office a request from Franqui’s father that he be involved in the proposed task force inspired by his son’s death. Grandinette said he received no response.

The report also recommended that the police department improve screening so that officers are aware of an arrestee’s past suicidal or psychiatric behavior; that precincts employ “detention attendants” to “maintain close physical observation of prisoners”; that light-duty officers like Simeone not be permitted to perform prisoner inspections; that supervisors be ranked higher than sergeant in order to be in charge of a precinct; and that each desk have more than two officers and a supervisor per shift.

And the special grand jury reports called for all precinct video cameras to record and be positioned to monitor the officers as well as the prisoners.

Special grand jury reports are public records under New York State law, and Spota has touted many of those reports on his office’s website. But in the matter of Franqui’s suicide, he did not have the report posted and made no public announcement that an investigation had occurred. Spota would not make himself available for an interview with Newsday, which first contacted his office about this story in September.

Former Touro Professor Davis said he found the lack of promotion of the grand jury’s findings troubling considering the high expense and public importance of grand jury proceedings.

“The recommendations then need to be communicated to the people involved and they should be published to the general public as well,” Davis said. “If they don’t do that, then I’m not quite sure what the point is.”

At least one lawmaker who would be central to implementing the recommended reforms said although she knew of Franqui’s suicide, she had “heard nothing” about a probe being convened to investigate it.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who is chair of the Suffolk County Public Safety Committee and whose district includes the Seventh Precinct, said she had not seen copies of the special grand jury reports until a Newsday reporter provided them in September.

“It’s a little disturbing when you call me about something and I don’t have that information,” Browning said.

The police department cited the ongoing litigation in denying Newsday an interview with any officials about the Franqui case, but said in an emailed statement that it “continues to implement and maintain the best police practices” in ensuring the safety of arrestees and had made changes in mental health screening, prisoner monitoring and training.

The grand jury reports also noted that some changes had already been implemented in the immediate wake of Franqui’s death. Steel doors to cellblocks are now operated by a key card that tracks which officer is checking on prisoners, and how often. And officers must now keep their precinct’s intercom in the “on” position so that a prisoner’s screams for help can be heard.

Although not requested by the grand jury, the officers’ television has been removed from the Seventh Precinct.


Court records show that Simeone was not interviewed by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau until July 2014, nearly a year and a half after Franqui’s suicide.

The records reveal that administrative charges were filed against at least three officers: Simeone, Sgt. O’Reilly, and Lt. John McHugh, who oversaw the previous shift and booked Franqui. The records do not specify the charges against the officers or whether any discipline was administered.

O’Reilly’s attorney, Davis, said that his client had not been disciplined and that he did not expect any discipline to be meted out until the conclusion of the civil action by Franqui’s family.

The special grand jury recommended Simeone’s “removal or disciplinary action as prescribed by law.” In January 2015, Spota wrote in a letter to then-SCPD Commissioner Edward Webber that it was his “recommendation and hope” that the department fire Simeone and implement the special grand jury’s recommendations “so that another tragedy is prevented.”

Simeone, who earned $168,344 in 2014, has not been fired in connection with Franqui’s death. He has been transferred to the police department’s Yaphank-based property bureau, where he is responsible for evidence.

Read Part 1

Gilgo Beach murders

On Dec. 11, 2010, a Suffolk police officer and cadaver dog were conducting a routine exercise and searching for a missing person, Shannan Gilbert, when they found a woman’s body several feet north of Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach.

Two days later, police found another.

And another.

And another.

By April 2011, authorities had found a total of 10 sets of remains in the area.

Gilbert’s body was found in December 2011. Though her disappearance prompted the initial search, police said Gilbert’s cause of death was undetermined and not tied to the other bodies.

The discovery of the initial four Gilgo Beach bodies sparked a massive inter-agency search that spanned several miles. FBI profilers based out of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the bureau’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico, Virginia assisted Suffolk police in coming up with a possible profile of the killer.

A law enforcement source who is familiar with the case but asked not to be identified said when Suffolk investigators met with them, the group theorized that the killer is perhaps a white male who has a family.

The investigation has endured as one of the most high-profile cases on Long Island and has been the subject of a novel, a true-crime thriller and a “48 Hours” investigation.

Still, it remains unsolved.

Authorities have released very few — if any — new details in the case in recent years, and the families of the women found there have grown frustrated with the lack of new information.

A day before the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the first body, police announced the FBI will take a more prominent role in the homicide investigation to take a “fresh look” at the case.

“Anniversaries create opportunities,” Deputy Police Commissioner Timothy Sini. “We’re here today because we think it’s important to let the public know we are doing everything we can to solve these murders.”

Complete coverage

Why is Gilgo so challenging?

Differing theories, rough terrain

It has been…

0 days

since the first body was found by Ocean Parkway at Gilgo Beach.

Rough terrain slows investigation

The weed- and garbage-choked terrain complicated police officers’ search for the victims.

Officers had to use ladder trucks to peer down over the area, dense with bramble and brush. With such limited visibility on foot, a searcher who was already having trouble finding a clear spot to place his boot would have to all but stumble on a body in order to discover it.

The area where the remains were found not only made it difficult for humans but frustrated the Suffolk Police Department’s cadaver dogs as well.

“They don’t like getting smacked in the face with the bramble,” then-Suffolk Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone said in April 2011. “We learned from that that we can’t rely entirely on the dogs.”

Scattered remains found over time

Officers did not find all of the remains in one area. Police first discovered the remains of four women in December 2010.

Two victims’ torsos were found in Manorville in the early 2000s. Authorities later found one of the women’s head, hands and forearm and the other woman’s head, hands and right foot along Ocean Parkway in 2011.

A third woman’s legs were found on Fire Island in 1996 and her skull was located near Jones Beach on April 11, 2011.

DNA analysis was delayed at first as numerous tests were needed because the human remains were incomplete and potentially combined, Varrone said in May 2011.

And the longer the case goes unsolved, the harder it is for detectives to connect all the dots and find one, or more, killers.

“Time does complicate things,” Vernon Geberth, an expert homicide investigator retired from the NYPD, said in May 2011. “People’s memories fade, relationships fade and in this case you now have to get back to gals murdered… and find out who knew them and what other clues were there that might have been missed.”

Disagreement over the number of killers

Just before then-Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer left office in December 2011, he and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota presented contradictory theories at a legislative session about the number of serial killers in the Gilgo case.

Dormer reiterated his theory about a single serial killer and Spota openly criticized him, standing by his theory that there were at least three killers.

Dormer left the hearing before Spota spoke, and would not comment afterwards.

But days later, Spota had a lot to say about Dormer:

“Surely the homicide detectives and the prosecutors are going to be challenged by any decent… defense attorney,” he said. “That’s why we try to keep these theories to ourselves.”

After the hearing, newly elected Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he would move to quickly stabilize a police department that had become, “in some ways, dysfunctional.” He named Edward Webber, Suffolk police’s chief of support services, as interim police commissioner effective Jan. 1, 2012.

“If you have the most high-profile case the department has had to deal with in years, maybe ever, and the district attorney’s office and the police department are not effectively working together on that, what’s happening with all the other cases that don’t get any media attention, that are just below the surface, but affect real people?” Bellone said at the time.

At a December 2015 press conference, police would not address questions about serial killer theories.

Listen: Officials talk about conflicting theories

Richard Dormer Ex-Police Chief


Thomas Spota District Attorney


Steve Bellone County Executive


Who were the victims?

8 women, 1 man, 1 toddler

Ten sets of remains were found at Gilgo Beach between December 2010 and April 2011, including eight women, one man and one toddler.

Police and family have said the five women who were identified had worked as prostitutes.

The other three women, the man and toddler were never identified.


Melissa Barthelemy

Melissa Barthelemy, 24, worked as a hairdresser in Buffalo before moving to New York City in 2007, where she rented a basement apartment in the Bronx. She later advertised her services as an escort.

The western New York woman was last seen alive July 12, 2009, around the time her regular calls to family members abruptly ceased.

After her disappearance, an unidentified man police believe was involved in Barthelemy’s death, used her cell phone on six occasions to call her sister, a family friend told the media in 2011.

The suspect disparaged Melissa Barthelemy in those calls, at one point calling her “a whore,” a law enforcement source told Newsday.

Her body was the first found along Ocean Parkway on Dec. 11, 2010 during the search for Shannan Gilbert.

Melissa was wonderful, she was the light of my life. Barthelemy’s father, Mark Szpila


Megan Waterman

After dropping out of high school, Megan Waterman worked in delis and sandwich shops, her mother said. She met Akeem Cruz at a dance club in Portland, Maine, in the spring of 2009 and they dated.

A few months later, Megan began working as a prostitute, her mother said.

She was last seen leaving a Hauppauge hotel on June 6, 2010 after traveling to Long Island with boyfriend Cruz, who also acted as her pimp, police said.

Her body was among the three sets of remains found on Dec. 13, 2010.

Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, had a young daughter. Just days before her disappearance, Waterman said Cruz wanted her to stop working as a prostitute and the two would start a family, according to Waterman’s best friend.

Megan was a loving daughter… She would do anything. She’d give the last penny in her pocket to somebody if they wanted it. Lorraine Ela, Megan Waterman’s mother


Amber Lynn Costello

Amber Lynn Costello grew up quickly – marrying and divorcing twice by the time she was 27. She developed a drug habit early in life, according to her ex-husbands.

Costello grew up in North Carolina, in Rocky Point and Wilmington. She married her first husband Michael Wilhelm after they met at a local beach – a whirlwind romance, he said, that soured when he discovered her heroin addiction.

Sometime after she divorced her second husband, Don Costello, Amber Lynn Costello moved to Long Island. Her sister, Kimberly Overstreet, lived in Lindenhurst.

She was last seen alive on Sept. 2, 2010 in North Babylon, where she rented an apartment.

Her body was among those found on Dec. 13, 2010.

When her soul left this earth, mine shattered. I’m trying to pick up the pieces. Kimberly Overstreet, Costello’s older sister


Maureen Brainard-Barnes

Maureen Brainard-Barnes was named after her grandmother.

“She was very outgoing. She had so much energy,” said Sarah Marquis, a friend from Groton, Connecticut.

She grew up in Groton and attended Fitch High School.

Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Connecticut, was last seen alive in Manhattan on July 9, 2007, police said. Her family suspected she was dead when she didn’t show up for her brother’s funeral, friend Sarah Marquis said.

Brainard-Barnes had a young son, Dylan, Marquis said. She also had a daughter, Nicolette. The children lived with their fathers.

She wasn’t found until Dec. 13, 2010 when police located her remains by Ocean Parkway.

Police believe the killer left her body in Gilgo Beach shortly after she disappeared.

Brainard-Barnes was trusting, ‘thinking she was kind of cool with everyone. That would be why… she could get hurt.’ friend Sarah Marquis


Jessica Taylor

Jessica Taylor came from a small town in upstate New York and was estranged from her family. She had been arrested on prostitution charges in Washington, Atlantic City and New York City.

She was just 20 years old, had a tattoo on her back, wore hoop earrings and had moved on to Washington, D.C., after her release from a Rikers Island jail. But then she returned.

On July 26, 2003, days after she was seen working as a prostitute on the streets near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, her nude torso was found in the woods in Manorville, near the Long Island Expressway.

A woman walking her dog came across Taylor’s butchered remains on a pile of branches.

Then on March 29, 2011, her head, hands and forearm were discovered in the brush along Ocean Parkway, about a mile east of where the original Gilgo bodies were found.


Unidentified man

An unidentified Asian male, 17 to 23 years old and 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with close-cropped hair was found just east of the original bodies on April 4, 2011.

Police said the man was missing top and bottom molars and a front upper tooth. He was dressed in women’s clothing and was dead five to 10 years, police said.


Unidentified woman

After an unidentified white woman’s torso was found in the woods in Manorville in 2000, police discovered her head, hands and right foot on April 4, 2011 near Cedar Beach.

Police say the woman — 18 to 35 years old, 5 feet, 2 inches tall, with straight, shoulder-length hair, high cheekbones and a prominent jawline — may have worked as a prostitute in New York City in late summer or fall of 2000.

Authorities think her killing may be related to that of Jessica Taylor.


Unidentified woman

An unidentified woman’s remains turned up 15 years and more than 20 miles apart along Ocean Parkway.

Her legs were found on Fire Island in 1996 and her skull was located near Jones Beach on April 11, 2011.


Unidentified woman and toddler

A female, non-Caucasian toddler thought to be 16 to 32 months old, who was found April 4, 2011 is a relative of another woman. A bag of that woman’s remains was found 7 miles away on April 11, 2011, near Jones Beach.

Police have said it is likely they were mother and child.

How does Shannan Gilbert fit into this?

The search that started it all

“The very last thing I said to her was: ‘I love you. Be safe,’ ” Shannan Gilbert’s mother, Mari Gilbert, said. “And, she said, ‘I am always safe, Mommy.’ And that was the last time we talked.”

Shannan Gilbert, who worked as a prostitute, was summoned via a Craigslist ad to the Oak Beach home of Joseph Brewer where she made a frantic early-morning 911 call, police say.

She then pounded on the door of Dr. C. Peter Hackett, the last person known to have seen Gilbert, 24, alive before she apparently ran into the nearby marsh on May 1, 2010 and vanished.

Neither Hackett nor Brewer are suspects in the Gilbert case.

Under mounting pressure from Gilbert’s family, the Jersey City woman’s disappearance launched the search that uncovered 10 sets of human remains between December 2010 and April 2011.

“I believe that Shannan had a destiny and God used her as a vessel to sacrifice her life so that others can be found,” Mari Gilbert said.

It was announced on Dec. 13, 2011 — a year to the day after the discovery of three sets of remains at Gilgo Beach — that Shannan Gilbert’s body had been found.

While her cause of death was undetermined, authorities have theorized that she accidentally drowned in the marsh.

They say her case is not connected to the deaths of the 10 other victims.

Mari Gilbert contests those conclusions. She’s been highly critical of the Suffolk County Police Department and even filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hackett, which was later mostly dismissed.

She says she’s still looking for answers today just like she was the day after her daughter went missing, and she has to balance that search with the rest of daily life, including her job and her other children.

“I feel like I’m frozen in time,” Mari Gilbert said. “I feel like I’m two different people.”

She says those two sides of her won’t be reconciled until there’s justice, and encourages anyone with information about the case to come forward.

“If anyone knows anything, you just gotta tell somebody,” Mari Gilbert said. “You have to tell someone.”

What happens next?

Change at the SCPD

While the future of the Gilgo Beach serial killings case is uncertain, the investigation will be the responsibility of a dramatically different Suffolk County Police Department.

James Burke resigned as Suffolk Chief of Department in October. He was indicted in December 2015 on federal charges of assaulting a handcuffed suspect and then conspiring to cover up the incident. The department also lost its commissioner, chief of detectives and two criminal intelligence officers to retirements and resignations.

The man poised to become the new police commissioner, Timothy Sini, is one of Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone’s assistant deputy county executives and a former federal prosecutor who specialized in cold case murders.

At a December 2015 press conference the day before the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the first body, Sini said the police department requested federal investigators “take a more active and prominent role.”

He declined to comment on specific details of the case or disclose any recent developments, but he said that the investigation into the murders remained active.

“As we approach the anniversary, on behalf of the Suffolk Police Department, I want to convey to loved ones and the families of the victims that we are dedicated to do whatever we can to solve this case,” Sini said. “Rest assured, this case remains active.”

But new information has been too slow to come for some of the family members of the Gilgo Beach victims.

Lorraine Ela, mother of Megan Waterman, says the police have not been responsive to her requests for updates on her daughter’s case in recent years.

“The answer is always, ‘Can’t tell you nothing. Can’t tell you nothing,’” she said. “We don’t want to hear ‘We can’t tell you nothing,’ anymore.”

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