Each of these stories was collected from today's regional news section of the New York Post.
By DAN MANGAN
March 3, 2004 — SOMERVILLE, N.J. — Ex-NBA star Jayson Williams and pals downed more than $1,500 worth of lobster tails, chicken, and booze the night he fatally shot a limo driver, a restaurateur said yesterday.
Williams’ $1,613.55 tab at the Mountain View Chalet on Feb. 14, 2002, included $25 cigars that were soaked in Johnnie Walker Blue scotch shots at $30 a pop.
They ordered two Remy cognacs, costing $60 apiece, and four bottles of white wine.
In all, Williams blew $559.05 on food and $627.25 on alcohol for his party of 11 adults and two kids, said Dimos Fokas, owner of the Asbury, N.J., eatery.
The balance was from taxes and a $356 tip for the waitress, Fokas said in Somerset County Court, where Williams is on trial for manslaughter for accidentally shooting limo driver Costas “Gus” Christofi at his mansion.
But the bill was a bargain — it didn’t include at least 10 of the jaw-dropping 15 Captain Morgan rum-and-Cokes quaffed by a Williams buddy, who was remembered by a waitress both for his capacity and for being “annoying.”
Williams, 36, himself stuck to Chardonnay, scotch, and sambuca before leaving his local haunt at 2 a.m., witnesses have said. But the waitress yesterday testified he did not appear drunk or disorderly.
“He’s a good customer,” said Fokas, adding that the ex-N.J. Nets star over the years had brought “quite a bit” of business to the Mountain View Chalet. Foukas said Williams’ running tab was sent monthly to his accountant’s office for settlement.
The shooting came less than an hour after Williams and his guests left the restaurant, where Christofi, 55, had a $21.95 swordfish and coffee, which were put on Williams’ tab.
And Williams’ lawyer elicited testimony showing that more than $400 of the steep bar bill came from $190 for cigars, $120 for two cognacs, and $90 for three Johnnie Walkers, which presumably were not drunk if all were used for cigar-dunking.
Waitress Margaret DeMatteo said Williams was “always generous” in his tipping, leaving at least 25 percent of a bill.
DeMatteo said that after the Globetrotters showed up at the restaurant that night, “everybody was laughing a lot,” but she did not know how much booze Williams or anyone else drank. She did say that she knew the Globetrotters would want more than the few lobster tails they initially had ordered “because there weren’t a lot to them, because they were huge people.”
In all, seven lobster tails appeared on the bill — for a total of $291.65 — as did a surf-and-turf with an extra lobster tail, costing $53.95.
The big bill was shown to jurors after a scientist testified that Williams still had alcohol — but no drugs — in his system even several hours after he accidentally shot Christofi.
The scientist who did his blood and urine screenings was not allowed to reveal that Williams tested above the .10 limit for being drunk, which suggests that he was quite intoxicated when he wielded the gun in Christofi’s direction hours before. Christofi had been hired to drive guests, including four Harlem Globetrotters, that night.
HEART RIPPED OUT
By LARRY CELONA, ALISHA BERGER and KATE SHEEHY
March 3, 2004 — A young single mom who dreamed of becoming a nurse was brutally stabbed to death yesterday by her insanely jealous beau — who then tore out her heart and dumped it next to her carved-up corpse, cops said.
Relatives of Betzaida “Becky” Madera, 20, of The Bronx said she had just split up with her longtime boyfriend and the father of her baby, Wilfredo Lopez, 25 — rebuffing his desperate pleas to get back together as recently as Monday.
That apparently sent Lopez into a deadly frenzy.
“He always told her, ‘If you leave me, I’m going to kill you,’ “ said Donna James, one of Madera’s shaken neighbors.
Police found Lopez ranting in Crotona Park at around 1 p.m. yesterday after his frantic aunt called 911 to say she had discovered a suicide note from him and that he had a gun. Lopez was charged with second degree murder and weapons possession.
When officers found the wild-eyed man, he had blood on his hands and was saying cryptically, “Take care of my baby,” police sources said.
Asked if he was worried about his “wife,” Lopez said, “No. I hurt her,” the sources said.
Cops rushed to Madera’s family’s apartment at 2033 Valentine Ave. in the Tremont section, broke down the door and found her bloody corpse -clothed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers — on the dining room floor.
She had gaping chest and throat wounds, police said. Laying beside her was what looked like her heart and, perhaps, vocal cords, cops said. One doctor at the scene thought he recognized a liver.
Two large, blood-covered kitchen knives were later found in the bathroom.
The violence apparently began in a back bedroom and moved to the dining room, near the entrance, spraying blood over the walls and floor.
Lopez’s 9mm gun was found in bushes at the park, and cops speculated he may have tried to kill himself but the weapon jammed, the sources said.
His note said he was sorry for what he had done.
Madera’s friends and relatives said that while they didn’t necessarily like Lopez, a loner who was once arrested for trying to sell drugs, he was a dedicated dad to the couple’s son, 18-month-old Damien, and had not been violent with Madera before.
But he was growing increasingly insecure, and repeatedly begged her to marry him, but she always refused, those close to her said.
One of the victim’s cousins, who identified herself only as Nancy, said Lopez tried to convince her to act as a go-between for the couple Saturday to get them back together.
Nancy said she told Lopez, “Just let her [Madera] go . . . let her breathe.
“I said, ‘Don’t think of doing anything stupid,’ “ Nancy said.
“The SOB is going to pay for her death,” the woman said.
“My uncle [Madera’s father] loved him like a son. My family gave him food. My family gave him a job. And this is how he pays us back?”
Madera’s family said the young couple had taken a walk in the park with Damien Monday in a failed last-ditch attempt to save their troubled relationship.
“He’s a jealous person,” said her cousin Peter Rodriguez. “He just couldn’t handle it.”
Cops said yesterday morning that Lopez, who lives across the street from Madera’s family, came over to help walk her nephew to school.
The pair argued on the way, leaving Madera in tears.
When they got home, they dropped their baby off at a sitter’s, police said.
They then returned to the apartment she shares with her parents and sister, and she was never seen alive again.
James said she saw Lopez coming down the stairs yesterday morning and “he had sweat pouring down his face.
“He always wanted to be around her,” she said. “It was him and her, him and her.”
Madera’s friends called her a loving mom who worked as a medical assistant and wanted to become a nurse.
“She was beautiful inside and out,” uncle Alex Rodriguez said.
HIT-RUN MANSLAUGHTER RAP
March 3, 2004 — A Queens man who cops say mowed down an aspiring teacher in a hit-and-run on Park Avenue in January has had the charge against him upped to second-degree manslaughter.
Gurpreet Orberoi, 26, had been charged with criminally negligent homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The new charge carries a maximum of 15 years behind bars, and came after a grand jury heard testimony from an expert who estimated that Orberoi was going as fast as 100 mph at the time of the Jan. 10 incident at East 96th Street, sources said.
Prosecutors said victim Peter Hornbeck was dragged for a block by the speeding Chevrolet Suburban. Prosecutors said Orberoi ditched the car on East 100th Street and fled to Atlantic City.
EMPIRE STATE SLAY SUIT TOSSED
March 3, 2004 — A state appeals court yesterday threw out a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the victims of a shooting rampage at the Empire State Buildiing, ruling the skyscraper had adequate security at the time of the attack.
The suit stemmed from the Feb. 23, 1997, incident in which a Palestinian man, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, walked onto the 86th floor observation deck, pulled a gun and began firing into a crowd.
The hail of gunfire left tourist Christoffer Burmeister dead and six others injured. The gunman then killed himself. The lawyers for the victims had argued the attack could have been prevented had metal detectors been in place in the building entrances.
The appeals-court ruling noted the 102-story landmark had “significant” safety precautions in place, including a closed-circuit surveillance system, bag checks and a large security force.
‘TIME’ BANDITS IN 400G HEIST
By JAMIE SCHRAM, LARRY CELONA and AMIT SRIVASTAVA
March 3, 2004 — Sledgehammer-wielding robbers brutally assaulted a security guard at an exclusive Swiss watch store in Midtown yesterday before making off with a glittering haul worth $400,000.
In a brazen daylight heist, the thieves snatched watches and jewelry at Audemars Piguet at 40 E. 57th St.
Although just 10 pieces were grabbed, the robbers struck gold.
Sources said the most expensive watch taken was worth $140,000, with others priced in the tens of thousands.
The six robbers, one hiding a sledgehammer, walked into the store around midday.
They praised the store’s own-brand watches and mentioned their popularity with leading rappers.
But then chaos erupted.
The men, in their 20s and 30s, repeatedly punched the store’s security guard, smashed glass cases with the hammer, and scooped out their loot before fleeing.
Sources say the guard, a retired cop in his 50s, was armed — but his gun was wrested from him as he struggled with his assailants.
He escaped serious injury and was taken to New York Hospital, where he is in stable condition.
Police would not say how many people were in the store at the time, but no one else was injured.
Audemars Piguet spokesman Paul Lerner refused to confirm the value of the items taken but said the most costly watches, generally crusted with diamonds and other precious gems, retail for some $750,000; none sells for less than $5,000.
The secretive Swiss firm would not comment further. It even instructed employees at the store not to speak to the media.
“I can confirm only that a robbery took place and that my client is cooperating with police,” Lerner said.
The store has surveillance cameras and police are examining the footage.
Workers at nearby stores said they had previously beefed up security.
“People have come in here and tried to snatch bags,” said a security guard at Prada, across the street from Audemars Piguet.
“That’s why we installed locks on the doors.”
The guard said suspicious-looking customers are now locked out.
Anyone with information on the watch heist is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.
SON OF MOM IN FATAL COP RAID NABBED
By LARRY CELONA
March 3, 2004 — The son of the 57-year-old Harlem woman who suffered a fatal heart attack after cops busted down her door in a drug raid gone awry has been arrested on a drug charge, police said yesterday.
Ned Manuel blurted out to detectives interrogating him at his arrest Feb. 25, “The cops killed my mother.”
He was referring to the incident in which Alberta Spruill died after a narcotics raid at her apartment on West 143rd Street last May, when cops knocked down her door and tossed a flash grenade inside.
The city agreed to pay $1.6 million to Spruill’s family after it was determined the officers had the wrong house. She was the only person there at the time.
When he was arrested, Manuel, 36, gave the address of his mother’s apartment as his own, cops said. He had also given the same address to cops when he was arrested previously, before his mother’s death, police sources said.
Manuel was busted after a car in which he was riding was stopped at Seventh Avenue and 138th Street at around 9 p.m. and he began acting fidgety in the back, cops said.
He reached to put something under the floor — which police said they later determined was a bag of cocaine.
He also had some of the drug on him, police said.
Manuel was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance.
TAX HELPER IN REFUND BUST
March 3, 2004 — A Clifton, N.J., tax preparer was charged with filing nearly 2,000 fraudulent state tax returns that sought more than $708,000 in refunds, authorities said yesterday.
Rosa Castro, 48, a self-employed tax preparer, was charged with using real and fictitious names and Social Security numbers to obtain returns for herself, family members and friends.
Castro faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine if convicted. She did not immediately respond to a telephone message left at her home.