Friday, April 01, 2016

Five Members Of Albany-Area Home Repair "Crime Family" Get Multi-Year Prison Sentences For Targeting, Fleecing Nearly A Dozen Elderly Homeowners Out Of $42K; Prosecutors Invoke "Hate Crimes" Statute To Enhance Penalties; Victims Feared Losing Their Independence If Family Members Found Out About Ripoffs

In Albany, New York, the Albany Times-Union reports:
  • One by one, they pleaded for leniency. They blamed their addictions and abusive childhoods. One begged not to be sentenced to die behind bars. Another wept about the baby she hardly knows. One by one Friday, acting state Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough sent them to prison anyway.

    Their 18-month crime spree bilked nearly a dozen frail victims in Albany, Colonie and Bethlehem out of tens of thousands of dollars for shoddy or non-existent home repairs — a scam prosecuted as a hate crime against the elderly.

    The victims included a 90-year-old woman with Alzheimer's, a developmentally disabled man and Korean War veteran mourning the loss of his wife.

    McDonough blasted the five co-conspirators as a "crime family" and seconded a detective's description of them as army ants who targeted the most vulnerable and used them "like an ATM machine."

    "I don't want to die in no prison. I don't think I've got six months to go," pleaded John Risto, 61,stooped heavily as he sat on his wheeled walker before the judge. "I'm just begging the Lord," Risto said, his voice ghostly and aided by an oxygen canister. "I'd get down on my hands and knees right now, but I wouldn't be able to get back up."

    McDonough said he hoped Risto would survive his sentence but noted his victims were just as frail when he and his fellow scammers preyed on them. "Perhaps it's one of life's cruel ironies that you seem to be in an extremely vulnerable position now," McDonough said before sentencing him to one-to-three-years for felony conspiracy as a hate crime, slightly less than the maximum allowed by his plea bargain.

    Comparatively, Risto got off light.

    Henry Hicks of Albany, who authorities called a career felon and a central figure in the scheme, was sentenced to 8-to-16 years despite what Assistant District Attorney Jessica Blain-Lewis described as his extensive cooperation with investigators. Hicks, 59, was the first to plead guilty but wound up with the stiffest punishment.(1)
    Jessica Paradiso sobbed when she spoke of her three children, including one born just before she was arrested. "I just want to go home to my baby," the 28-year-old Schenectady woman said. "I don't even know him."

    McDonough – invoking Dante's "Inferno," the first part of a 14th-century epic poem that describes a circle of Hell occupied by those who commit fraud — chastised Paradiso for thinking only of herself and failing to once mention her victims during her plea for leniency.

    He gave her 6-to-12 years, the maximum under her plea. ("Paradiso" is the name of the third part of the poem.) Blain-Lewis said Paradiso was recorded on phone calls from jail arranging to have checks forged to funnel money into her commissary account.

    McDonough prodded Paradiso's boyfriend and father of three of her children, Brian Barr, 37, of Schenectady to publicly acknowledge he targeted the elderly because they were so vulnerable before branding him a "villain" and a "scoundrel" and sentencing him to the maximum 71/2-to-15 years under his plea to grand larceny and conspiracy.

    Barr's mother got the maximum too. "I'm very sorry about what happened to the people in this case," said Susan Barr, 58, of Altamont, who will serve 2-to-4 years for conspiracy. "I wouldn't want it to happen to me."

    The defendants must also pay $42,000 in restitution.

    A sixth defendant, John Waterson of Albany, faces between 3 1/2 and 7 years in prison at sentencing next month. He pleaded guilty to grand larceny but without the hate crime provision. Charges are pending against Frank Chrysler of Watervliet, said Cecilia Walsh, a spokeswoman for District Attorney David Soares.

    Under state law, a hate crime is one in which the perpetrators target their victims because of their race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation and carries enhanced penalties.

    Blain-Lewis said some victims not only feared losing their money but also their independence.

    "We had victims say to us point blank that they did not want to tell anyone what happened for fear that their family would remove them from their home
    ," she said.
For the story, see 5 scammers get prison for hate crimes against elderly in Albany County (Five from 'crime family' go to prison in hate crime case).
(1) Apparently, the 'general rule' that the defendant who wins the 'race to the prosecutor's office' to cooperate against/snitch on his co-conspirators gets the best plea deal did not apply to this career criminal in this case. See generally, United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2000) (Wiseman, J., concurring):
  • "When a conspiracy is exposed by an arrest or execution of search warrants, soon-to-be defendants know that the first one to "belly up" and tell what he knows receives the best deal. The pressure is to bargain and bargain early, even if an indictment has not been filed.

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