Guyanese in New York arrested over plot to kill for insurance proceeds
Stabroek News
September 5, 2002

Related Links: Articles on stuff
Letters Menu Archival Menu

A Guyanese immigrant in Richmond Hill, Queens, has been arrested by US federal agents on charges stemming from an alleged plot to kill insured persons in order to collect benefits on their death.

According to the online newspaper yesterday, Richard James, a well-known insurance agent in the Queens Guyanese community has been accused of participating in the killing of two men - one in January 1998 in a Queens park in New York and another here in Port Mourant, Corentyne.

The news report said that according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Ronald Mallay, 57, was charged with conspiring in a murder plot involving victims who had been insured through a broker who was allegedly part of the scheme. Mallay and others reportedly then collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance proceeds, according to the complaint.

Reports said further that the life insurance policies were allegedly procured through James, described in the complaint as an “insurance account representative working, among other things, in the Guyanese community for several insurance companies” since around 1991.

The federal investigation reportedly found that Hardeo Sewnanan had died in Port Mourant, Guyana from ingestion of alcohol and ammonia. James was the agent and Mallay the beneficiary on at least two policies written on Sewnanan’s life, according to the complaint.

James, held since his arrest by federal agents in June, also produced a Guyanese cultural programme featured on cable television.

According to the complaint, MetLife, one of the companies for which James wrote insurance, had received an anonymous tip alleging that the accused was involved in a conspiracy to kill insured people for the proceeds.

Newsday quoted the complaint as stating that MetLife then analyzed policies written by James and reportedly 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.”

According to a federal official who requested anonymity, they expect to have a large number of victims and because murder for hire is alleged, the case could involve the federal death penalty, Newsday said.

A MetLife spokesman said company officials could not comment on Tuesday night.

Bayside attorney Steve Zissou who is representing James said his client denies the charge and expects to prove his innocence at the trial, Newsday reported.

Investigators are reported to have said that the probe is ongoing and focusing on several other people in the Guyanese community, although only James and Mallay have been charged.

While James earned a living as an insurance agent on Liberty Avenue, the Guyanese immigrant was better known as host of a family show featuring music and dancing from Indian movies and local performers.

James produced the cable programme, “Aap Ke Liye,” or “For You,” which appeared in a popular time slot on Sunday afternoons on ITV, which features South Asian programming, until just over a year ago when ITV management reshuffled its programming.

As news of the arrest of James circulated throughout the Richmond Hill community on Tuesday, many people who knew him said they were shocked. Some are reported to have said that he exhibited a tough, aggressive attitude but few thought he was capable of plotting the crimes of which he is accused, Newsday said.

Manhattan consultant, Glenn S. Daily, who specialises in life insurance and annuities said that buying life insurance on other people without their knowledge is not very difficult, at least for a criminal, but collecting a benefit on the insured person’s death, however, is more difficult.

Most policies name relatives as beneficiaries, but Daily said it is not unusual for a non-relative such as a business partner to be named. Normally, however, someone buying a policy must show an “insurable interest” in the well-being of the person insured, usually by virtue of marriage, a blood relationship or economic factors. Daily is quoted as saying that “presumably, it’s going to raise suspicions if (the insurance company) gets a death claim shortly after the policy is issued, especially if it’s a big amount.”