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01 Thursday

Sentenced to Life For Ax Killing

Quietly insisting ''I did not do that,'' Rita Gluzman was sentenced today to life in prison for killing her husband, Yakov, a prominent microbiologist, with an ax after he told her he was divorcing her for another woman.

Mrs. Gluzman, a Soviet emigre once so devoted to her husband that she went on an 18-day hunger strike to help him get out of the Soviet Union, was the first person sentenced for a killing under a 1994 Federal law that makes it a crime to cross state lines to injure a spouse or intimate partner.

Many in the Federal courtroom here were mindful of the oddity that the law, which is part of the Violence Against Women Act and is aimed principally at abusive husbands, claimed a woman as one of its first convicts. At least two men have also been sentenced under the law, but those cases did not involve homicide.

The sentence itself did not come as a surprise, because the sentencing guidelines mandate life imprisonment for harm resulting in death.

But the solemn half-hour sentencing was filled with drama. Mrs. Gluzman's 26-year-old son, Ilan, was in the courtroom and watched as his mother was dispatched to prison for life for conspiring to kill and dismember his father. He did not speak, but he had already sent a note to the judge asking for leniency.

Dr. Yakov Gluzman's parents, Chaim and Sophia Gluzman, remained in Israel to attend a niece's bat mitzvah, but their presence was felt in a letter to the judge read by a prosecutor, Cathy Seibel, in a courtroom filled with friends and colleagues of the victim.

''For 25 years she gradually demolished him emotionally and in the 26th year she dismembered him physically,'' the letter said. ''By her evil act Rita has ruined the life of her son, whom she left fatherless, and marked him with the stigma of a mother convicted for murder.

''After we raised Yakov to be a good man and a world-renowned scientist who devoted his life to research and to the benefit of humanity, she suddenly took him away from us,'' the letter went on.

Mrs. Gluzman, 48, who as an American had acquired a taste for minks and BMW's, sat tensely as the letter was read. When she spoke in her own behalf she was brief.

''Your honor, I did not do not do that and still say that in front of the world,'' she said.

But Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. had already pronounced sentence and lectured Mrs. Gluzman.

''None of us can ever know what transpired between you and your husband,'' the judge said. ''The only thing we know is that nothing that occurred can possibly justify what you did to him. You are a woman of considerable courage, capacity and accomplishment. For whatever reason, you allowed yourself to disintegrate around the relationship and the pain that grew out of it.''

Mrs. Gluzman's one victory today was that Judge Parker recommended that she be sent to the medium-security women's prison in Danbury, Conn., rather than to a maximum-security prison farther away, as Ms. Seibel and her co-prosecutor, Deirdre M. Daly, had urged.

After the sentence, Mrs. Gluzman's sister, Marianna Rabinovitch, her mother, Pola Shapiro, and her son, Ilan, walked out of the courtroom with their arms locked. ''The family is behind her,'' Mrs. Rabinovitch said. ''We will be always. She did and built many things in her life that should not be forgotten.''

Mrs. Gluzman's lawyer, Lawrence Hochheiser, said she would challenge the constitutionality of the domestic violence law because it is premised on Federal authority over interstate commerce. Crossing state lines to commit a crime, he argued, has nothing to do with commerce.

Yakov Gluzman, 49, a Ukrainian native, was famed among cancer researchers for his work with viruses. At his death, he was director of microbiology at Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River, N.Y., and was planning to move to Israel to join a bacteriologist he was in love with.

At Mrs. Gluzman's trial, the chief witness was her cousin, Vladimir Zelenin, who was indebted to Mrs. Gluzman as a new emigre desperate for work and legal residency. He told how Mrs. Gluzman plotted the slaying, taking him to a store to buy an ax and to a market to buy garbage bags for disposing of the body.

He described how on April 6, 1996, he and Mrs. Gluzman, who lived in Upper Saddle River, N.J., ambushed Mr. Gluzman in his Pearl River apartment and repeatedly whacked him across the head with two axes. While she swabbed the floor of blood, he cut up the body in the bathtub.

The next morning, a police officer saw Mr. Zelenin disposing of the body in the Passaic River in East Rutherford, N.J. Mrs. Gluzman was caught six days later in a bungalow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, where her husband had once worked. She had four stolen license plates and travel brochures.

The authorities brought Federal charges of domestic violence, rather than state charges of murder, because there was almost no physical evidence at the murder scene to corroborate Mr. Zelenin's account. Federal charges do not require corroboration. A jury found Mrs. Gluzman guilty on Jan. 30.

The crime has shattered many lives, most hauntingly that of the Gluzmans' son, Ilan. He has taken over his mother's electroplating business in East Rutherford, working with his aunt, Mrs. Rabinovitch.

''His life is devastated,'' said his lawyer, Robert L. Ellis.

14 Tuesday

Woman Coolly Plotted To Kill Spouse

Rita Gluzman calmly shopped for murder weapons at Home Depot, picking out an ax and a hacksaw, her cousin testified today. He said she coolly stopped at Grand Union for garbage bags to use in disposing of her husband's dismembered body.

And she cleaned up after the murder in stony silence, he said.

But when her cousin lighted up a cigarette after the brutal slaying, Mrs. Gluzman blew up in anger, he said: ''Rita began to scream, 'No smoking should be allowed here!' ''

The cousin, Vladimir Zelenin, 40, is testifying against Mrs. Gluzman, 47, in hope of receiving a reduced sentence for his part in the murder of Dr. Yakov Gluzman, a noted cancer researcher who was killed April 6 in his apartment in Pearl River, Rockland County.

Prosecutors contend that Mrs. Gluzman, a Russian immigrant who fought to get her husband out of the Soviet Union in the 1970's, decided to kill Dr. Gluzman rather than face a divorce. Mrs. Gluzman, of Upper Saddle River, N.J., is on trial in Federal District Court here on charges of crossing state lines to commit spousal abuse; if convicted, she faces life in prison without parole.

Her lawyers have said that Mr. Zelenin committed the killing on his own and that he is lying about Mrs. Gluzman's role. He has pleaded guilty to several charges, including second-degree murder, and faces a possible life sentence without parole.

Mr. Zelenin spoke matter-of-factly about the crime in his testimony today. He said that he and Mrs. Gluzman had shopped at a Home Depot store for an ax and a hacksaw. ''We discussed that we were going to do it together and for this we will need some other instruments, and we decided to take a hammer and a knife.''

When the prosecutor, Cathy Seibel, held up a kitchen knife with its point broken off and asked Mr. Zelenin if it was the knife that broke off in Mr. Gluzman's body as he cut it into more than 60 pieces, Rita Gluzman appeared to faint in her chair.

Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. quickly dismissed the jury for lunch. With the jury out of the room, Mrs. Gluzman came to and began sobbing loudly. Dr. Gluzman's mother, Sonya, who traveled from Israel to attend the trial, yelled across the courtroom in Russian, ''You weren't crying when you killed him.''

Before the lunch break, Mr. Zelenin, speaking through a Russian interpreter, described how he and Mrs. Gluzman had waited, each with an ax, in Dr. Gluzman's darkened apartment for him to come home.

''When Yakov came in, we jumped at him,'' Mr. Zelenin said. ''I hit him with the ax to the head. I hit him twice. I cannot say whether it was simultaneous or who hit first.'' He said that he did not know how many times Mrs. Gluzman struck her husband with her ax, but that ''one of the blows went through my hand.''

Mr. Zelenin said that afterward, while he was smoking in the bathroom, Mrs. Gluzman screamed, ''He is breathing!'' He added: ''I went and looked. Nothing could save Yakov. I went back to the bathroom.''

Mr. Zelenin worked as a lab technician at the electroplating company that Mrs. Gluzman owned with her husband. The company, E.C.I. Technology, of East Rutherford, N.J., provided him with a car and an apartment. Mr. Zelenin testified on Thursday that he took part in the murder because Mrs. Gluzman convinced him that if Dr. Gluzman got the divorce he had been seeking, she would lose control of the company and he would lose his job, his car and his home and would have to return to Russia.

In his cross-examination, which began this afternoon, Mrs. Gluzman's lawyer, Lawrence Hochheiser, got Mr. Zelenin to admit that he lied to United States immigration authorities several years ago when he told them that his wife had been killed, his son injured and his own life threatened in anti-Semitic attacks in the former Soviet Union. Based on those statements, Mr. Zelenin received political asylum and was allowed to remain in the United States.

''You stood face to face with a professional interviewer and told that person lies, falsehoods, inaccuracies and misrepresentations?'' Mr. Hochheiser asked.

23 Tuesday

Influx of Russian Gangsters Troubles FBI

On Jan. 12, Mr. Korataev, 44, was attending a private Russian New Year's Eve party in the Cafe Arbat on Brighton Beach Avenue. At 3 A.M., he stepped outside with another man, who pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot Mr. Korataev fatally in the head.

Several passers-by told the police that the killer returned to the restaurant and a few minutes later left with a woman. About 100 people at the party were questioned that night, but none provided a clue to the gunman's identity or motive. Most of the partygoers gave names and addresses in the Boston area that were fictitious, Detective Mackey said.

"Everyone had amnesia," the detective added. "Oleg had a reputation of being a brutal enforcer -- a collector of debts -- and he had connections to gangs in Russia and in Toronto."

On March 23, the body of Yanik Magasayev, 22, who had been shot four times, was dumped under a mound of plastic garbage bags in a wooded area on Bay 52d Street near Shore Parkway. Detectives said that Mr. Magasayev had been arrested on a burglary charge last year and that he was under investigation for suspected extortions of emigre merchants in Brooklyn and Queens. Gunned Down On a Moscow Street

On June 16, Alexandre Graber and two other men were gunned down on a Moscow sidewalk by two killers who roared off in waiting cars. Mr. Graber, 38, had lived for the last year in the Brighton Beach area, and detectives said he was a secret partner in a Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach.

A Moscow newspaper called Today reported in June that Russian police officials said that Mr. Graber had been associated with several organized-crime groups and that he frequently visited Russia to resolve conflicts among gangsters. F.B.I. agents said that Mr. Graber's murder appeared to be related to his activities in this country.

Shortly before twilight on July 11, Naum Raichel left the Winter Garden Restaurant, which he is constructing on the boardwalk at Brighton Sixth Street. Two men blocked his way and one of them shot him three times in the chest, the police said.

Mr. Raichel was convicted in 1987 in Federal District Court in Brooklyn of extorting $20,000 from two insurance salesmen as protection payoffs. He served four years in prison and was on probation at the time of the shooting.

The same day Mr. Raichel was wounded, his brother, Simeon, who lives in Brooklyn, was severely beaten in Berlin. "We doubt that those two attacks were mere coincidence," said a detective, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Investigators cite the case of Boris Nayfeld, 46, as an example of the evolution of Russian emigre criminals from local to international status. He immigrated to the country in the late 1970's as a religious refugee. In 1980, Mr. Nayfeld was arrested in Nassau County on a grand larceny charge, pleaded guilty to petty larceny and was placed on probation.

He again attracted attention in May 1985 when Evsei Agron was fatally shot in the vestibule of his Kensington apartment building. The police identified Mr. Agron as the leader of a gang of emigre extortionists and Mr. Nayfeld as his bodyguard and chauffeur. Mr. Nayfeld, detectives said, later worked as a bodyguard for Marat Balagula, a Russian immigrant who was convicted in 1991 of a $360,000 credit card fraud.

Mr. Nayfeld was arrested in January by narcotics agents as he was about to be driven from his $450,000 home in Egbertville, S.I., to Kennedy International Airport for a flight to Brussels.

A Federal indictment in Manhattan accused him of heading a ring that smuggled hundreds of pounds of heroin from Thailand through Poland into New York. He has pleaded not guilty to narcotics trafficking charges and is to be tried in October.

Louis Cardinali and Joseph Massima, Drug Enforcement Administration agents who worked on the case, said in an interview that Mr. Nayfeld's group sold the heroin to three men linked to Mafia crime families in New York. They declined to identify the families.

"The Russians are into narcotics for the long haul," Mr. Massima said. "They don't just have a foot in the door; they are in the house."

12 Friday

New York Cabs Gouged Riders Out of Millions

About 3,000 New York City taxi drivers routinely overcharged riders over two years by surreptitiously fixing their meters to charge rates that would normally apply only to trips outside the five boroughs, according to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The drivers’ scheme, the commission said, involved 1.8 million rides and cost passengers an average of $4 to $5 extra per trip. The drivers, officials said, flipped switches on their meters that kicked in the higher rates, costing New York City riders a total of $8.3 million.

The 1.8 million fares represent a tiny fraction of a total 360 million trips over the 26-month period in question.

Agency officials said, however, that they were alarmed enough that they immediately ordered the companies that manufacture the meters to create a system to alert riders when the higher rates are being charged.

That is likely to be done through the digital screens facing the back seats of the cabs.

The commission said it began an inquiry after investigators, responding to a rider’s complaint, determined that a cab driver from Brooklyn, Wasim Khalid Cheema, had overcharged 574 passengers in just one month last year. Mr. Cheema’s license has been revoked. He could not be reached for comment.

The commission then used GPS data, collected in every cab, to review millions of trips in New York City and found a huge number in which the out-of-city rates had improperly been charged, officials said.

The investigators determined that 36,000 drivers improperly activated the higher rate at least once, and that about 3,000 drivers did it more than 100 times.

The higher rate, reserved for rides in Nassau and Westchester Counties, is 80 cents per one-fifth of a mile — twice the rate charged for rides in the five boroughs.

As described by officials, the fraud might rank as the biggest in the taxi industry’s history.

“We have not seen anything quite this pervasive,” said Matthew W. Daus, the taxi and limousine commissioner. “It’s very disturbing.”

The commission has turned over its probe to the city’s Department of Investigation.

“Some of these people could face serious charges,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Friday.

Applying the higher rate in New York City violates the commission’s rules. The penalty for it varies, from a fine of $200 to the mandatory revocation of a cab license, depending on how much was overcharged.

The taxi industry vigorously challenged the city’s findings, saying it was unimaginable that such a pervasive problem could be the result of deliberate fraud. The city said that 35,558 out of the city’s roughly 48,000 drivers had applied the higher rate.

22 Wednesday

Dozens of Cabbies Are Arrested in Fare Scheme

Dozens of taxi drivers were arrested and charged in Manhattan on Wednesday in a widespread overcharging scheme that involved activating a mechanism on the fare meter that triggered a higher rate.

The 59 drivers who were arrested stole more than $235,000 in overcharged fares on more than 77,000 rides, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said during a news conference at his office.

“Although the overcharged amount for each trip may only have been a few dollars, this kind of aggressive scam sends ripples of mistrust throughout our city,” Mr. Vance said. “No other American city depends so much on its taxi fleet.”

This case represents the largest takedown of taxi drivers the city has ever seen, the authorities said.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission found evidence that about 2,000 drivers charged the wrong rate, said David Yassky, head of the commission. Most of them have been dealt with through administrative proceedings resulting either in fines or license revocations, he said.

Mr. Vance said his office decided to criminally prosecute drivers who had done this at least 300 times.

The district attorney’s office and the commission investigated the case along with the city’s Department of Investigation.

“This criminal conduct struck a raw nerve with the public because a trip in a yellow taxicab is a quintessential New York experience for visitors to the city, and a needed means of transportation for many New Yorkers,” said Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of investigations.

Forty-five of the drivers arrested were charged with a felony of first-degree scheme to defraud, punishable by up to four years in prison. The remainder of those arrested were charged with a misdemeanor of petty larceny.

The authorities accused the drivers of charging riders with Rate Code 4 for trips that never left the city. That code, which doubles the rate, is supposed to be used only when a ride enters the suburbs, prosecutors said.

The city revealed the scheme in March, after a tip from a passenger led to the discovery that a driver had overcharged 574 passengers in one month last year.

The driver who charged the improper rate most often was Santiago Rossi, who did it 5,127 times, making $11,066.45 in overcharges, prosecutors said. Mfamara Camara made the most in overcharge fees: $15,502.30, according to prosecutors.