Penniless N.Y. Man Unaware of Alleged Insurance Plot to Kill Him

May 17, 2007

A Harlem vagrant ravaged by a lifetime of hard drinking testified this week that he was clueless about a purported plot by an insurance agent to take out more than $500,000 in fraudulent policies on his life before trying to have him killed.

One of the policies listed a fictional daughter — “Rafra” — as a beneficiary. The witness, John Narinesingh, scoffed when he heard the name.

“I would never give my daughter a stupid name like that,” Narinesingh, 57, said during often erratic testimony at a federal death penalty trial in Brooklyn.

The agent, Richard James, 46, and a co-defendant, Ronald Mallay, 61, have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill four down-and-out men in a Guyanese neighborhood in Queens and in Guyana in the 1990s.

The defendants insured the men without their knowledge, hired hitmen to either shoot or poison them, then collected hundreds of thousands in benefits, authorities said. One of the victims was a homeless alcoholic who was slipped a fatal dose of a sedative while in drunken stupor in a Queens park.

Prosecutors allege James planned a similar fate for Narinesingh — a frail, 110-pound immigrant from Trinidad who was known to hang out and drink on the streets of Harlem. Last week, jurors heard audiotape, recorded by a cooperator wearing a wire, in which prosecutors say James could be heard mocking the victim and offering a bribe to have him killed.

“Complete bum — if you look at him, you will laugh,” James says. “I will give you 25 grand.”

Narinesingh testified that he had met James once in passing before the insurance agent and another man twice stopped by to see him in 2002 at a set of benches in Harlem where he often drank. Prosecutors say the second man was the cooperator, who at the time was posing as a hitman as part of a sting.

When prosecutors showed Narinesingh three insurance policies with his name on them, he testified that his signature had been forged. A section valuing his assets at $250,000 also was false, he said.

“I didn’t have nothing,” he said.

Narinesingh’s testimony grew rocky when he was asked to point out James in the courtroom. He put on his glasses, climbed down from the witness stand and paced around before declaring, “Richard James is not here.” (He later identified James from a mug shot.)

The witness testified that he downs a pint of vodka a day, and initially indicated that he had been drinking Monday morning shortly before an investigator escorted him to court. On cross-examination, he reversed himself, insisting he hadn’t had a drink for at least a day.

“Do I look drunk to you?” he asked.

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