Ronald Mallay doesn’t deny that in the 1990s he tried to make money by investing in life insurance policies taken out on fellow Guyanese immigrants in Queens, some of them his relatives.
His lawyer, Kenneth Kaplan, claims the practice of “wagering on life expectancy” was as common as trading stocks in a community plagued by poverty and alcoholism.
But authorities allege Mallay and a former insurance agent, Richard James, had a diabolic way of enhancing their investment: hiring hitmen to kill the insured and having phony beneficiaries launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.
Mallay, 61, and James, 46, went on trial in federal court this week after pleading not guilty in 2002 to conspiring to kill four down-and-out men in both Queens and Guyana. The victims were insured without their knowledge, then either shot or poisoned, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in opening statements.
The defendants in the death penalty case in Brooklyn treated their victims “like meat,” Capers said. “They put prices on their heads and when the time was right, killed them.”
James’ lawyer countered that the causes of the deaths were in dispute, and that the accused were framed by Guyanese immigrants who were persuaded to testify with promises of U.S. residency and leniency in their own criminal cases.
The witnesses “are nothing more than bought and paid for,” said the lawyer, Steve Zissou.
Prosecutors allege Mallay, an ex-postal worker, took out $400,000 in insurance on his brother-in-law before having him gunned down on a Queens street, one of two shooting deaths connected to the case. There also were two poisonings, including that of a homeless alcoholic, Basdeo Somaipersaud, who was injected with a fatal dose of a sedative while in drunken stupor in a park.
In the first day of testimony, jurors heard audiotape, recorded by a cooperator wearing a wire, in which prosecutors say James could be heard offering a bribe to knock off another homeless man.
“Complete bum _ if you look at him, you will laugh,” James says. “I will give you 25 grand.”
Zissou argued that at least two of the victims simply died unfortunate, premature deaths. He said Somaipersaud’s autopsy showed that he was in extremely poor health: “He had heart disease. He was ready to go.”
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