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The Newsday newspaper of New York said in a page one report yesterday that details of the investigation surfaced Tuesday with the arrest of a Guyanese immigrant from Richmond Hill on charges he participated in the killing of two men - one in January 1998 in a Queens park and another in Port Mourant, Guyana, in June 1999.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday, Ronald Mallay, 57, was charged with conspiring in a murder plot involving victims who had been insured through a broker who was part of the scheme. Mallay and others then collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance proceeds, according to the complaint, the newspaper said.
The life insurance policies were procured, federal officials said, through Richard James, described in the complaint as an "insurance account representative working, among other things, in the Guyanese community for several insurance companies" since about 1991, Newsday reported.
James, held since his arrest by federal agents in June, also is a producer of a Guyanese cultural programme featured on cable television, it said.
Steve Zissou, a Bayside attorney representing James, told the newspaper his client denies the charge and expects to prove his innocence at trial.
It said that according to the complaint, MetLife, one of the companies for which James wrote insurance, had received an anonymous tip suggesting James was involved in a conspiracy to kill insured people for the proceeds.
The company analysed policies written by James and found that "the rate of death claims of individuals insured under policies written by James was approximately 318 percent higher than expected or by chance and that a large number of the deaths were violent or under unusual circumstances," the complaint stated, Newsday said.
"[We] expect to have a large number of victims," said a federal official who asked not to be named. Because murder for hire is alleged, the case could involve the federal death penalty, the official told the newspaper.
A MetLife spokesman Tuesday night said company officials could not comment.
Investigators said the investigation is ongoing and focusing on several other people in the Guyanese community.
For the moment, only Mallay and James have been charged.
Mallay, who was arrested at his wife's home in Richmond Hill, was held without bail after appearing in court Tuesday.
One of the deaths listed in the complaint filed against Mallay was that of Basdeo Somaipersaud, who was found dead in Smokey Park in Queens on Jan. 23, 1998. While the cause of death was attributed to alcohol and drugs, a confidential informant told authorities that Mallay gave him $5,000 to kill a "drunk" in the park, the complaint stated, according to Newsday.
"The informant refused to participate in the scheme and returned the money, the complaint said. James was the agent on at least two insurance policies written on Somaipersaud's life and he received some of the proceeds, the complaint stated", the newspaper added.
Mallay also allegedly asked the informant if he knew anyone who could kill someone in Guyana for insurance proceeds and was referred to another cooperating witness in that country, investigators told the newspaper. It said Mallay paid the second witness $11,000 for the murder but that witness also declined to carry out the killing, the complaint stated. Mallay later told an informant that his cousins killed the victim by poisoning him, the complaint said.
Investigators discovered that Hardeo Sewnanan died in Port Mourant, Guyana, in June 1999 from ingestion of alcohol and ammonia. James was the agent and Mallay the beneficiary on at least two policies written on Sewnanan's life, the complaint said.
It was unclear if the victims knew their lives had been insured, one law enforcement source said.
Newsday said the complaint stated that about $80,000 was paid out on Somaipersaud's policies to James and a girlfriend of James and others.
About $300,000 was paid out on Sewnanan's policies, one investigator told the newspaper.