This is Part XII in a Series.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, February 10, 2009, Danbury Police responded to a report of an unresponsive person near the Padanaram Reservoir in Danbury, Connecticut. Police discovered the body of a light-skinned Latino male in his late thirties with two bullet holes in his chest. The body was later identified as that of Edward Rivera of the Bronx.
The area was isolated, had no lighting and would have been pitch black at night. Rivera’s shirt and jacket rode high, one of his sneakers was about nine feet from his body, consistent with being carried or dragged to the spot where his body was found. Rivera’s blood stained baseball hat was found approximately 163 feet to the southeast. Police determined that the body had been driven to a location on Padanaram near Mountain Laurel Lane, thrown over a guardrail then dragged down a steep embankment where it was placed behind an outcropping of trees near the pump house at the Padanaram Reservoir.
Rivera had been shot twice in the chest at close range. There was no sign of a struggle. He was not expecting to be shot. He died quickly.
Months of investigation by the Danbury Police Department along with local, state and federal law enforcement would eventually result in the arrest of two men for the kidnapping, murder and robbery of Edward Rivera.
Investigators learned that less than 40 hours before his body was found in the Connecticut woods, Rivera had exited his apartment building in the Bronx carrying two duffel bags stuffed with 68 pounds of marijuana valued at more than $175,000. He got into the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee driven by two men who had come to see him about a drug deal. He was dead two minutes later.
Andrew Zayac was a star soccer player from Scarsdale, NY. His father was a popular soccer coach in Scarsdale. His mother was a beloved, long-time secretary at Greenacres, a public elementary school in Scarsdale. Zayac graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1998 after starring on the school’s soccer team. Two years later, Westchester County Police arrested him along with two associates for possession of more than 1,000 ecstasy pills. Zayac continued to deal drugs until he was arrested for the murder of Edward Rivera eleven years later.
In the car with Zayac the night of the murder was Heriberto Gonzalez, a co-worker of Zayac at an electrical contractor business in Connecticut.
After a lengthy investigation, Zayac and Gonzalez were indicted. On December 16, 2010, a Connecticut grand jury returned an eleven-count Second Superseding Indictment charging the defendants Zayac and Gonzalez with Kidnaping Resulting in Death and Causing Death Through the Use of a Firearm—Premeditated Murder, Causing Death Through the Use of a Firearm—Felony Murder, Interference with Commerce by Robbery, Use of a Firearm During and In Relation to a Narcotics Trafficking Offense, Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana, Conspiracy to Use or Possess a Firearm in Furtherance of Crimes of Violence and a Narcotics Trafficking Offense, Destruction or Concealment of Evidence in Federal Investigation (three counts), and Conspiracy to Destroy/Conceal Evidence in a Federal Investigation.
Prior to trial, the district court granted the defendants’ motions to sever so there were two separate trials.
In June 2011, a jury convicted Gonzalez on Counts Five and Eight through Eleven. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Zayac went to trial the following month. On July 22, 2011, the jury convicted Zayac on Counts One (kidnaping), Three (felony murder), Four (Hobbs Act), Five (possession with intent to distribute marijuana), Seven (conspiracy to use/possess firearm in furtherance of violent felony/drug trafficking crime), Eight (destruction/concealment of evidence), Nine (same), Ten (same) and Eleven (conspiracy to destroy/conceal evidence). A verdict of not guilty was returned on Count Two (first degree murder). No verdict was returned on Count Six (use or possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime) because the district court instructed that if a guilty verdict was returned on Count Two or Count Three, the jury should not deliberate on Count Six.
On November 22, 2011, Zayac was sentenced to life imprisonment by federal Judge Janet C. Hall. Today he is serving out his term as a federal prisoner at the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.
Zayac had at least two significant connections to New Rochelle, one with a direct connection to the New Rochelle Board of Education and another with an indirect connection.
Louis Apicella is a painter for the New Rochelle Board of Education. Apicella is often heard around the school district making all manner of violent threats against whomever he feels wronged him that day. I know this from direct personal experience because he threatened me and my wife while we were parked outside the A&P at the Quaker Ridge Shopping Center (he later publicly apologized for frightening my wife). Since those threats were made, on seven separate occasions, I have had to patch or replace tires on my car because nails had been driven deep into the tires, in two cases, large nails were hammered into the sidewalls of the tires. Eggs and other debris have been thrown at my house. I believe that Louis Apicella was involved in this, possibly with Little Jimmy Bonanno. RickyRat is a pseudonymous account on Talk of the Sound created by Louis Apicella which he shared with others including Little Jimmy and his father Big Jimmy Bonanno. I believe Apicella used the RickyRat account to make various threats against me including his describing having followed me as I drove along Webster Avenue late at night with his car lights turned off while I was investigating the misappropriation of a district vehicle on my way home from a SEPTA “We Are One” dinner on Davenport Neck in 2012.
Louis Apicella has been, for many years, described to me as a drug dealer and loan shark. I have been told that Apicella sells drugs to people working in the district and has done so on school grounds. I have been told the drugs he sells are controlled substances like cocaine, marijuana and pills including ecstasy. Apicella has been described to me as a degenerate gambler who runs illegal poker games in Harrison and has taken trips to Las Vegas on district time with the connivance of Anthony Paganico, his direct supervisor. Over the years his various activities have been connected to Anthony Rigos (formerly of Aramark) and Scott Empara and, through Empara to Empara’s girlfriend, a teacher at Webster School. There may be others.
These sources have told me that over the years Louis Apicella often partnered with Andrew Zayac on drug deals and that when Zayac was investigated in the Riviera kidnapping/murder case, Zayac’s phone records were pulled and found to include multiple calls to/from Louis Apicella.
I am told that Apicella has other nefarious connections, among them Vincent “Vinnie Limo” Zarcone manager of the Sound Shore Fishing Club on Union Avenue in New Rochelle. I am told that Apicella does, or at least used to, hang out with Zarcone at this West End social club including while on district time. The Sound Shore Fishing Club was owned for years by Frank Fiumara, a made member of the Gambino crime family who was arrested and convicted on gambling charges in 1990 while serving under John Gotti. Fiumara “gave” the club to Zarcone which greatly upset Jimmy Bonanno, Fiumara’s nephew. Bonanno sought to get control of the Sound Shore Fishing Club but failed. In 2004, the Westchester Organized Crime Task Force broke up a $12 million sports betting ring involving Zarcone who was arrested and later convicted on a charge of Promoting Gambling in the First Degree. He was sentenced to 5 years probation. During this period, Bonanno opened up his own social club on Union Avenue. Bonanno’s social club ran afoul of the West End Task Force, the New Rochelle Building Bureau, then-Schools Superintendent Linda Kelly and the mafia. Bonanno was observed by members of the West End Task Force moving furniture stolen from the school district into his social club. This was reported to Linda Kelly who, rather than press charges against Bonanno as she was ending her career simply called Bonanno and told him to return what he stole. Bonanno also received a visit from men believed to be tied to organized crime who told him he had to shut the club down. Bonanno objected but was effectively shut down by the City of New Rochelle Building Bureau so the decision was made for him.
Four years later, Zarcone made national headlines when he was confronted by two men at the Sound Shore Fishing Club on June 7th, 2009. Zarcone owed money. As one man held Zarcone in a bear hug, the other man chopped off his hand with a meat cleaver. A New Rochelle police officer pulled the two men over a short distance way and arrested them after he noticed they were soaked in blood. The officer found a meat cleaver in a coffee can on the floor of the car. The pair were arrested and convicted on multiple counts of assault, menacing and weapons possession.
Detective Daniel Trompetta of the Danbury Police Department led the investigation and testified in both the Zayac and Gonzalez cases.
I spoke with Trompetta who recalled that letters were sent to people whose phone numbers showed up in Zayac and Gonzalez’ phone records but he could not recall who got those letters — the case was 6 years ago. He offered to review what he described as a rather thick file and see if he could locate any information related to Apicella. I will update this story here if he is able to locate any information on Apicella in the files.
I sought additional records from the U.S. Attorney regarding Apicella in the the Zayac trial but was told such records were unavailable to the public. Thomas Carson, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut told me there was no public information available on Apicella.
Another Zayac associate from New Rochelle is Stephanie DiBuono who was, at the time of the murder, his girlfriend.
Stephanie DiBuono was, at the time of the murder, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx. Her mother is Laura DiBuono, a payroll clerk for the New Rochelle Board of Education. Stephanie DiBuono was an active participant in some of the crimes that took place around the time of the murder including filing a false police report, filing a false insurance claim and storing a large amount of marijuana in her car. She could have been charged as an accessory after-the-fact but instead agreed to testify against her boyfriend, Andrew Zayac and his partner Heriberto Gonzalez Gonzalez.
Zayac’s lawyers filed an appeal of his conviction in the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. The appeal was decided this past summer. On August 27, 2014, the judgement in the lower court was affirmed.
The decision handed down by the United States Court of Appeals provides an excellent summary of the case which requires only minor editing so I am here presenting that summary with some minor edits and notes:
Shortly after 11:30 p.m., on Sunday, February 8, 2009, Andrew Zayac and Heriberto Gonzalez pulled up in front of the apartment building of Zayac’s Bronx drug supplier, Edward Rivera. Zayac was driving a Jeep Cherokee owned by Stephanie DiBuono. Rivera then made the fatal mistake of getting into the back seat. At some point after the Jeep drove off, Rivera was shot two times from close range. He died quickly.
The conspirators drove 60 miles north, to Padanaram Reservoir, a secluded area in Danbury, Connecticut. There, down a steep embankment, they dumped Rivera’s 232-pound, lifeless body behind an outcropping of trees. He was not found until Tuesday.
Having disposed of Rivera’s body, Zayac and Gonzalez hid the stolen marijuana at Stephanie DiBuono’s home at 5 Ronalds Avenue in Sycamore Park, a house owned by Laura DiBuono, the payroll clerk for the New Rochelle Board of Education, The house is several houses down the block from 24 Ronalds Avenue, a house where Jimmy Bonanno and his ex-wife Carol Bonanno raised their children including Little Jimmy. All three Bonannos work for the New Rochelle Board of Education. Carol Bonanno and Laura DiBuono were close friends.
Zayac and Gonzalez then drove to an industrial area in the Bronx where they torched DiBuono’s Jeep a few minutes past 4:00 a.m. Both men were burned while attempting to burn DiBuono’s jeep.
Zayac later moved the stolen marijuana from DiBuono’s house to his bedroom in his parents’ home in Scarsdale, New York.
After investigators searched Zayac’s bedroom and recovered the marijuana stolen from Rivera, Zayac made four separate statements to police. He lied in all of those statements.
After a six-day trial conducted in July 2011, a jury convicted Zayac of kidnapping, robbery, possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, use of a firearm to kidnap, rob, and murder Rivera, use of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and concealment and destruction of evidence, including Rivera’s body and the Jeep. The jury acquitted Zayac of first degree murder.
Zayac and Gonzalez met in 2000, when they began working together. They were employed by Robert Schweit, a custodian in the Scarsdale school system who also ran a small, general maintenance business. Zayac and Gonzalez — Schweit’s only two employees — worked together for approximately three years. They were co-workers and friends, maintaining their relationship for nine years. Between January 31 and February 9, 2009, Zayac and Gonzalez contacted one another 30 times via telephone. Schweit operated his maintenance company from his home in New Fairfield, Connecticut, which was approximately 4 miles from where Rivera’s body was dumped. Schweit provided directions to his house to both Zayac and Gonzalez. The directions took them past Padanaram Reservoir.
In addition to doing maintenance work for Schweit, Zayac and Gonzalez burned a car for him as part of an insurance fraud in 2003. Schweit approached Gonzalez to burn the car because he knew that Gonzalez had burned a car for Zayac previously.
Rivera was a marijuana dealer who supplied marijuana to Zayac. Rivera used two phones, one for family and friends, and a second phone (“the work phone”), which was used primarily to arrange drug transactions.
Similarly, Zayac had two phones, one listed in his mother’s name, which he used to call family and friends, and a second phone, subscribed to “Frank Hill,” which Zayac used to communicate exclusively with Rivera (“the 3500 phone”). The 3500 phone was in contact with Rivera’s work phone 228 times between December 2, 2008 and February 8, 2009.
In the days before his murder, Rivera told his close friend and marijuana-dealing associate, Muzafer Etemi, that he planned to do a drug deal. Specifically, Rivera received 68 pounds of marijuana from Canada approximately three or four days before his murder. He kept the marijuana in his apartment, where Etemi was staying at the time. The marijuana was packaged in one pound bags and contained in a few duffel bags.
Rivera told Etemi that he had a deal to sell the marijuana for $2600/pound to two buyers from the Westchester area. Rivera mentioned that his customers did not want Rivera to “bring any Albanians”—a reference to Etemi and his associates. Etemi cautioned Rivera to be careful because the price the buyers were willing to pay was too high. Rivera assured Etemi that he knew the customers and trusted them.
Zayac left Stephanie DiBuono’s house at 5 Ronalds Avenue on Sunday evening, February 8, 2009, telling her he was going to get marijuana. He was wearing sweat pants and did not appear to be carrying any money. He took the blue Jeep that was registered in Stephanie DiBuono’s name.
At 10:40 p.m., Zayac used his personal phone to call Gonzalez. Cell site information shows that both Zayac’s personal phone and Gonzalez’s phone were near Gonzalez’s residence, 1788 Lacombe Avenue, Bronx, New York. Zayac then turned his personal phone off. A few minutes later, at 10:55 p.m., Zayac used the 3500 number to call Rivera’s work
Stephanie DiBuono’s phone records show that she made approximately 30 calls to Zayac’s personal phone between midnight and 2:02 a.m. None of these calls registered on Zayac’s phone records because his phone was powered off. Zayac’s 3500 phone was still near Gonzalez’s residence.
Less than an hour later, at 11:42 p.m., Zayac’s 3500 phone was in contact with Rivera’s work phone for the last time. As Rivera and Zayac spoke, Rivera walked from his building carrying the duffel bags of marijuana. Zayac and Gonzalez were in the Jeep parked in front of Rivera’s building. Rivera placed the bags in the rear of Zayac’s Jeep and got in the back seat.
Rivera was shot two times from close range. The bullets, which were not recovered, exited his body and left holes in the framework of the Jeep’s backseat.
Rivera weighed 232 pounds. His body was dumped behind an outcropping of trees near the Padanaram Reservoir in Danbury, Connecticut. The area was isolated, had no lighting and was pitch black at night. A guardrail separated the road from a steep embankment. Rivera’s shirt and jacket rode high, one of his sneakers was about nine feet from his body, consistent with being carried or dragged the spot. Rivera’s blood stained baseball hat was found approximately 163 feet to the southeast.
At 2:33 a.m., Gonzalez called his residence. At 2:34 a.m, Zayac used Gonzalez’s phone to call his girlfriend, Stephanie DiBuono. During these phone calls, Gonzalez’s phone used cell towers near DiBuono’s New Rochelle residence at 5 Ronalds Avenue. Zayac told DiBuono that he would be home soon. DiBuono then heard her Cadillac doors being unlocked. However, Zayac did not come into the house. DiBuono learned several hours later, when Zayac did return home, that Zayac had placed the marijuana in her car.
Having dumped Rivera’s body and secured the stolen marijuana, Zayac and Gonzalez drove to Gonzalez’s home to get a second car. Zayac placed some personal effects, including his Carhartt jacket, in Gonzalez’s car.
A security video from Pullman Sibling Fuel, 1108 Zerega Avenue, Bronx, New York, shows that at approximately 4:09 a.m., the Jeep was set on fire. Zayac and Gonzalez were badly burned while setting fire to the Jeep.
Phone records document that at 4:09 a.m. and 4:20 a.m, Gonzalez was in contact with his home phone. Zayac then used Gonzalez’s phone to call DiBuono at 4:39 a.m., 5:21 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. During this final conversation, Zayac told DiBuono that he was with Gonzalez and coming home soon. These calls were all made near Gonzalez’s residence.
Gonzalez, a former EMT, treated Zayac for his burns, gave him a change of clothes and drove him home.
Zayac arrived at DiBuono’s house at about 6:00 a.m. He was wearing new clothes — shorts, tee-shirt and sandals. His ear, face and legs were badly burned. Zayac told DiBuono that he had torched the Jeep because it was getting old and giving him problems.
DiBuono was an elementary school teacher, and had to go to work Monday morning. Before going to work, however, she went to CVS and bought some pain medication and bandages for Zayac. She kept the marijuana in her car and drove to work. After work, she purchased several laundry bags, and Zayac transferred the marijuana from the duffel bags to the laundry bags.
Zayac instructed DiBuono to report that the Jeep, which was titled in her name, had been stolen. DiBuono complied, filing a false report with the New Rochelle Police Department and making a false claim with her insurance company on February 10, 2009 that her Jeep was stolen on February 8, 2009. In making these false reports, DiBuono followed Zayac’s instructions and falsely identified him as “Kevin Hill.”
Zayac initially stored the marijuana in DiBuono’s residence, but within a few days he moved it to his parents’ house, where he had a bedroom in the attic. Zayac put Rivera’s duffel bags in DiBuono’s brother’s car.
Gonzalez came to Zayac’s parents’ house shortly after the murder. Zayac brought Gonzalez up to his room; DiBuono was present. Gonzalez also was suffering from bad burns, which he showed to DiBuono. She commented, in a friendly manner, that Zayac and Gonzalez were “crazy” for having burned the Jeep. Gonzalez and Zayac responded casually, essentially saying, “yeah, we know.”
Gonzalez returned a bag containing some of Zayac’s property from the Jeep. DiBuono characterized the visit as awkward, as neither man said much. Zayac walked Gonzalez out of the house. Zayac did not issue any warnings to DiBuono or say anything about the visit.
Minutes after midnight, on March 1, 2009, law enforcement authorities searched the bedroom Zayac maintained at his parents’ Scarsdale home. Zayac and DiBuono were present. The investigators removed the paneling to the wall near Zayac’s bed and discovered three large bags that contained over 60 pounds of marijuana. The investigators also seized burn treatment items and medical records documenting that Zayac consulted a plastic surgeon on February 12 and 19, 2009. Zayac agreed to speak with investigators, who took him to the local police station.
Zayac spoke to law enforcement on four separate occasions:
March 1, 2009: While searching Zayac’s bedroom, investigators issued Miranda warnings to Zayac, and these warnings were repeated at the police department. The investigators told Zayac that they had recovered the Jeep in the Bronx, which DiBuono had reported stolen. Zayac immediately said that DiBuono had nothing to do with reporting Jeep stolen; that she was just doing what he told her to do. Zayac initially denied knowing Rivera. When the agents pressed, he acknowledged that he had known Rivera since the summer of 2008. Zayac said that he had bought marijuana from Rivera in the past, on one occasion buying 100 pounds from Rivera. Zayac initially told investigators he had not seen Rivera for a while. The investigators told Zayac that a witness reported seeing Rivera getting into a blue Jeep on a recent Sunday night. Zayac responded that he had been negotiating a 70-pound marijuana transaction for several days and that he had gone to the Bronx to buy the marijuana from Rivera that night. He stated that he drove to the building alone. He had $100,000 in a book bag. He pulled in front of Rivera’s apartment. Rivera came out with the marijuana, got in the driver’s side rear seat of the Jeep and they drove off. Zayac said that because Rivera trusted him, there was no need to count the money. Zayac stated that he drove to the Bronx River Parkway, went one exit, completed the drug deal, and returned to Rivera’s neighborhood, dropping him off about a block or so past his residence. The investigators confronted Zayac with information that they had discovered a bullet hole in the rear seat of the Jeep. Zayac got very quiet, responding, “I don’t know anything about that.” Zayac then discussed the burning of his Jeep. He said that after completing the $100,000 drug transaction with Rivera, he decided to burn his Jeep because it gave him trouble. Zayac denied that he burned the vehicle for insurance purposes, explaining that it was worth only a few thousand dollars. Because he would need a ride back to the Westchester area, as well as a means to transport the 70 pounds of marijuana he had just purchased, Zayac called his friend “Pablo” (Gonzalez), who lived in the Bronx. Pablo agreed to help burn the Jeep. They met near Zerega Avenue and burned the Jeep. The investigators also questioned Zayac about his phone records. Zayac denied any association with the 3500 phone, but he said that he turned off his personal cell phone that Sunday night. Zayac stated that after burning the Jeep, as he was getting a ride home, he used Pablo’s phone to call DiBuono. The investigators confronted Zayac, telling him that Gonzalez’s phone was used to call DiBuono at 2:30 a.m., nearly 90 minutes before the Jeep was burned. Zayac did not respond. At the end of the interview, the investigators told Zayac that they had uncovered a large quantity of marijuana from behind the wall in his bedroom. Zayac denied that this was the marijuana he purchased from Rivera. He stated that he had already gotten rid of Rivera’s marijuana. Zayac did not offer any further explanation. Zayac, who still had burns on his face and arms, told the investigators that he and Pablo burned themselves while torching the Jeep. Zayac told the investigators that Pablo lived in the Bronx and drove a black 1990 Mercedes with Florida plates. He explained that he and Pablo worked together in construction. The investigators understood that Pablo was Gonzalez’s nickname. Zayac also told the investigators that he had spoken to Rivera late Monday (February 9, 2009), which, of course, was impossible because Rivera was already dead.
March 3, 2009: Zayac retained an attorney and met for a proffer session with investigators on March 3, 2009. At this meeting, Zayac stated that he was introduced to Rivera approximately a year earlier by a mutual friend who knew that both Rivera and Zayac were in the marijuana distribution business. Zayac stated that shortly after they met, Rivera said that he could supply up to 100 pounds of marijuana. Zayac stated that he and Rivera were interested in acting as middlemen, in essence brokering marijuana deals between dealers and buyers that they could find. Zayac felt they could make $10,000 per deal. Zayac stated that he had last seen Rivera a few weeks earlier. They were planning to consummate a 60-pound transaction. Zayac stated that he was acting as a middleman for Dana Lieberman, who would pay $100,000 for the marijuana. On the night of the deal, which Zayac thought was a Saturday, Lieberman delivered $100,000 to Zayac at DiBuono’s residence. Zayac called Rivera to advise that he was coming to the Bronx with the money. As Zayac walked to his Jeep, a man came from behind and ordered him to get in the Jeep and drive to the Bronx. The unknown man got into the back seat directly behind Zayac. When Zayac was close to Rivera’s apartment building, the unknown man instructed Zayac to pull over. The unknown man got into the front seat and Zayac saw that he had a small, nine millimeter hand gun. The unknown man then commanded Zayac to drive to Rivera’s building. When Zayac arrived at the building, Rivera came out with two large bags, which he placed in the back of the Jeep. Rivera got into the rear passenger seat and the unknown man told Zayac to drive north. Zayac stated that when he began driving, the unknown man looked back at Rivera, who said “Trey?” Trey then told Zayac to give him his identification. As they drove north on the Bronx River Parkway, Trey told Zayac to pull over and get out of the Jeep. Zayac was left on the side of the parkway. Zayac then called his friend Pablo – who the investigators understood to be a reference to Gonzalez – to pick him up. Zayac and Gonzalez went to Gonzalez’s house and smoked marijuana. Gonzalez then drove Zayac to DiBuono’s house. When they arrived at DiBuono’s house, Zayac saw his Jeep parked in front of DiBuono’s house. Zayac discovered that although Lieberman’s $100,000 was gone, the 60 pounds of marijuana was still in the back of the Jeep. He also saw blood in the back seat. Zayac assumed that somebody had been stabbed because there was not a lot of blood. Zayac stated that Gonzalez, who was once an EMT, looked into the Jeep. Gonzalez told Zayac to take the bags out of the Jeep. Zayac put the marijuana in DiBuono’s Cadillac, which was parked nearby. Zayac wanted to call the police, but Gonzalez suggested that they instead burn the Jeep. Zayac agreed to burn the Jeep, which they did on Zerega Avenue in the Bronx. At this juncture the investigators concluded the interview and explained to Zayac and his attorney that they were going to finish an interview that they had been conducting with Gonzalez.
Dana Lieberman is a property developer, manager and investor from Armonk, NY. On August 28, 2014, his house at 16 Hemlock Hollow Road was raided by federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security along with members of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force of Greenburgh and police from North Castle. Lieberman was arraigned in White Plains at the U.S. District for the Southern District of New York. According to news reports, agents seized a third of a pound of hydrated marijuana, a small amount of heroin, $135,000 in cash, ten cell phones and drug paraphernalia. Significantly, agents seized a drug ledger containing the names of various customers, as well as the amounts that they currently owed. Lieberman is suspected of being a part of a conspiracy in 2011 involving the shipment and distribution of 240 pounds of marijuana. The drugs were to be delivered by an aircraft heading towards Dutchess County. The aircraft was intercepted by federal agents so the drug deal did not take place. In 1999, Lieberman was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the Cayman Islands after he was caught bringing 48 tablets of ecstasy.
March 9, 2009: Zayac participated in a second proffer session on March 9, 2009. At the outset of the interview, Zayac apologized for previously lying to the investigators. He explained that he was afraid of Gonzalez. Zayac confirmed that he had a prior marijuana relationship with Rivera. With respect to the February deal, Zayac now stated that the deal was for 60 pounds at a cost of $140,000. Zayac said that he had saved the money from legitimate work and prior drug deals. He stated that he kept the cash in a shoebox in his parents’ house. During the interview, Zayac stated that his story about Trey was a lie. Zayac then stated that he arranged with Gonzalez to get a drink on Saturday, February 7, 2009. He explained that earlier in the day he met with Rivera and drove him downtown, where Rivera picked up duffel bags of marijuana. Although Rivera offered to let Zayac take the marijuana, Zayac declined because he did not bring his money. Instead, Zayac dropped Rivera at his apartment and returned to Westchester to retrieve his $140,000. Zayac called Gonzalez while returning to meet with Rivera. Gonzalez asked Zayac to pick him up early because Gonzalez had been in an argument with his girlfriend. Zayac told Gonzalez that he could not because he was going to complete a marijuana deal. When Gonzalez insisted that Zayac pick him up, Zayac relented. After picking up Gonzalez, Zayac went to Rivera’s apartment to complete the $140,000 trans-action.
Rivera came out of his building and put two bags of marijuana in the back of Zayac’s Jeep. Rivera was nonplussed by the presence of a second person in Zayac’s Jeep. Shortly after Rivera got in the Jeep, Gonzalez pulled what looked to be a small nine millimeter handgun. Gonzalez then threw a bag of zip ties at Rivera and told him to put them on his hands and feet. Rivera complied. After Zayac drove for about two minutes, Gonzalez shot Rivera. Zayac was able to maintain control of the car. As Zayac drove, Gonzalez told him, “Be happy it is not you.”
Gonzalez added, that he was “selling” the marijuana to Zayac — in other words, he would keep Zayac’s $140,000, but allow Zayac to keep the 60 pounds of marijuana. Zayac drove to DiBuono’s house. He told Gonzalez that he was not going to continue further. Zayac moved the marijuana to DiBuono’s Cadillac and then sat in the Cadillac. Gonzalez drove away in the Jeep with Rivera’s body. Gonzalez returned to DiBuono’s residence a few hours later. Zayac was still sitting in the Cadillac. Gonzalez told Zayac that they needed to burn the Jeep. Zayac then drove the Jeep to the Bronx, where Gonzalez burned it
Zayac stated that he sat on a curb as Gonzalez doused the Jeep in gasoline and lit it on fire. Zayac explained that an explosion caused flames to shoot out the vehicle. Both men were burned. They drove back to Gonzalez’s house, where Gonzalez provided medical treatment to Zayac.
The investigators pressed Zayac on whether he had been in Danbury the night of the murder. Zayac ultimately admitted that he had been lying, again out of fear of Gonzalez. Zayac stated that although he and Gonzalez had been in Danbury, Zayac did not assist in dumping the body. Rather, Zayac sat behind the steering wheel as Gonzalez singlehandedly moved the body down the embankment. Specifically, Zayac explained that Gonzalez propped Rivera’s body up in the back seat, pulled it from the Jeep, and dragged it over the guardrail and down the hill. Zayac stated that Gonzalez was down the hill with Rivera’s body for a few minutes. Zayac stated that the gun was in Gonzalez’s backpack, which was in the front seat next to Zayac. At the conclusion of the interview, Zayac told the investigators that about one week after the murder Gonzalez came to his house and told him to keep his mouth shut.
December 16, 2010: Zayac spoke to the investigators a fourth and final time on December 16, 2010. He was accompanied by four attorneys and was provided his Miranda warnings. In this version of the events surrounding Rivera’s murder, Zayac stated that he had arranged with Rivera to purchase between 50 and 70 pounds of marijuana, which Zayac would in turn deliver to Dana Lieberman. Zayac stated that at about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 8, Rivera called him and asked for a ride to New York City to pick up the marijuana. Zayac stated that he went to the Bronx, picked up Rivera and drove him to lower Manhattan to retrieve the marijuana. Because Zayac did not have Lieberman’s money, he took Rivera back to Rivera’s apartment and continued back to DiBuono’s house. At 10:30 p.m., Zayac left DiBuono’s house and went to his parents’ house to get $120,000 that he had stashed in a book bag. Zayac stated that earlier in the week he and Gonzalez had been discussing going to a deli in New York City. Zayac called Gonzalez and explained that he was on his way to pick up some marijuana, but that when he was done with the deal he would take Gonzalez to the deli. Gonzalez told Zayac that if Zayac was not going to come before the deal, he should not bother coming. Zayac agreed to pick up Gonzalez first. Gonzalez got into the Jeep and put a book bag in the back seat. Gonzalez told Zayac he had a change of clothes in the bag. Zayac intended to sell the marijuana to Dana Lieberman for between $2,750 and $2,800 a pound. As Zayac and Gonzalez waited for Rivera to come out of his building, a mutual friend, Jesse Sanchez walked past Zayac and, recognizing him, waved. Rivera came out and put the marijuana in the back of Jeep. Zayac planned to drive around the block, as he usually did, and return Rivera to his building. As Zayac was driving, Gonzalez brandished a small, black semi-automatic firearm. Gonzalez assured Zayac and Rivera that nobody would get hurt. When Rivera refused to bind himself with zip ties, Gonzalez shot him. The shooting startled and frightened Zayac, who screamed and cried. Gonzalez responded by telling Zayac he should be glad he too had not been shot. Gonzalez told Zayac that if he drove to Scarsdale, Gonzalez would burn the Jeep and the dead body right in front of Zayac’s parents’ house. Gonzalez told Zayac to drive to Danbury because they would dump the body near Rob Schweit’s house. Zayac got lost. But Gonzalez directed him where to go, eventually instructing Zayac to pull over on a secluded road next to the Padanaram Reservoir. Gonzalez tried to pull Rivera’s dead body out of the Jeep by himself. Zayac refused to help. When Gonzalez threatened to burn the car on the spot with the body in it, Zayac relented. Together, they got the body out of the car and dropped it over the guardrail. Zayac closed the Jeep’s doors and got back into the driver’s seat. Gonzalez rolled the body down the hill by himself. Zayac sat alone in the Jeep with the gun and marijuana for a few minutes. When Gonzalez returned to the Jeep, Zayac drove to DiBuono’s house. Zayac put the marijuana in a shed next to her house. They then drove to Gonzalez’s house in the Bronx. Zayac told the investigators that he continued to attempt to resist Gonzalez’s directives. Specifically, Zayac told Gonzalez that he would not participate in the burning of the Jeep other than to drive Gonzalez to the location. Gonzalez took the $120,000 into his house. Zayac removed some personal effects from the Jeep and put them in Gonzalez’s Mercedes Benz. Zayac followed Gonzalez to a gas station. Zayac remained in his Jeep while Gonzalez parked his car and walked across a divided highway to purchase a container that he filled with gasoline before crossing the divided highway again. Zayac then followed Gonzalez to the area where Gonzalez burned the vehicle. Initially, Zayac sat in Gonzalez’s car while Gonzalez prepared to burn the Jeep. But a moment before Gonzalez ignited the Jeep on fire, Zayac recalled he had spare set of keys in the Jeep. As Zayac reached into the Jeep to retrieve the spare keys, Gonzalez dropped the match that ignited a huge conflagration. Gonzalez ducked, and the flames rushed past him and burned Zayac. Gonzalez treated Zayac for his burns and gave him new clothes. Zayac used Gonzalez’s phone throughout the evening – at approximately 2:30 a.m. and then again at 4:39 a.m. and 5:21 a.m. – to call DiBuono.
Because Zayac did not testify at trial, the record rested on the four pre-trial statements he made to law enforcement, as introduced by the government through the testimony of Danbury Police Detective Daniel Trompetta and Agent DEA Special Agent Rodney George. Zayac’s four internally inconsistent statements were a poor attempt to provide an account of events that absolved him of all culpability and, as time passed, to fit the facts the police were uncovering. Nevertheless, the court construed Zayac’s statements in a light most favorable to the defendant.
Neither the police nor the court found Zayac’s various stories credible. The court concluded that the evidence established that Zayac planned with Gonzalez to set up, kidnap, rob and kill Edward Rivera and then dispose of his body in a remote area before setting fire to the Jeep that contained the forensic evidence of the crime. Phone records show that Zayac and Gonzalez were in continuous contact on the day and evening of the murder. Zayac used a separate phone to contact Rivera, setting him up by agreeing to pay an above-market price. Rivera was not surprised by Zayac bringing a second person to the deal. Zayac kept the stolen marijuana, worth more than $100,000, and the defendants worked together throughout the evening and morning of Rivera’s murder to complete the crimes and destroy evidence. Rather than report the crimes, Zayac had his girlfriend falsely report the Jeep stolen. And Zayac repeatedly lied to authorities, often incredibly and always trying to fit his ac-count to the facts that the investigators were un-covering.
This was such a fascinating story about the Andrew Zayac case, that I wanted to recount the whole thing for its own sake but also to give readers a sense of the sort of people that work for the New Rochelle Board of Education. As I have said many times, the vast majority of district employees are good, honest, hard-working people but there are others that are involved in some very bad stuff — and they are quite often connected to some extremely bad people that are weight drug-dealers, kidnappers, murderers and mafia soldiers.