Queens Man Arrested in Conspiracy to Kill Immigrants for Insurance Money
A Queens man was arrested yesterday in what federal prosecutors said was a conspiracy to take out life insurance policies on Guyanese immigrants and then have them killed to collect the proceeds. According to the complaint filed yesterday, the conspirators killed at least two people and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Investigators said they were examining numerous other deaths of Guyanese in New York and that more charges could follow.
The man arrested yesterday, Ronald Mallay, 57, was identified by prosecutors as an accomplice of Richard James, an insurance agent in Richmond Hill, Queens, who was arrested in June.
Both men are originally from Guyana, and Mr. James is known among Guyanese in New York as a producer of television programs for a Guyanese cable channel.
The complaint said that Mr. James wrote policies on each of the men who were killed and that he, Mr. Mallay and others collected the proceeds. It was not clear yesterday whether the victims knew about the insurance policies.
Mr. Mallay did not enter any plea yesterday and was held for a bail hearing that is scheduled Friday. His lawyer did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment.
A lawyer for Mr. James, Steven Zissou, said yesterday that his client was innocent and would be vindicated. The charge facing Mr. James, conspiring to travel and use the mail to commit murder, could lead to the death penalty.
In their complaint, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said investigators worked with at least two informants, who were not named. In a conversation between Mr. Mallay and one of the informants that was tape-recorded by investigators in September, the informant told Mr. Mallay he was interested in killing someone for a fee as part of the insurance scheme, the prosecutors said.
Quoting from the transcripts, the complaint said the informant asked Mr. Mallay: "What's the best way to get rid of someone? Remember you told me accidents were better." According to the complaint, Mr. Mallay answered: "Accidents are better. Harder to trace."
The papers filed yesterday concerned a killing in Queens in 1998 and one in Guyana in 1999. The charges said Mr. Mallay took the other informant to Smokey Oval, a park in Richmond Hill, in 1997 or 1998 to point out a victim, who appeared to be drunk.
The informant backed out, the authorities said, but the man the two men observed, Basdeo Somaipersaud, was found dead in the park on Jan. 23, 1998, the complaint said. The cause of death was listed as ingestion of alcohol and drugs.
The second victim, Hardeo Sewnanan, was killed in June 1999 in Port Mourant, Guyana, according to the prosecutors. The cause of his death was listed as ingestion of alcohol and ammonia.
The prosecutors said one of the two informants was paid $11,000 to kill the man in Port Mourant, but did not carry it out. The complaint said Mr. Mallay told the other informant that a cousin of Mr. Malley killed the man by poisoning him.
The case began with an anonymous call to MetLife Insurance Company saying an insurance agent in Queens was involved in a conspiracy to kill people after writing policies for them.
After an investigation, the complaint said, the insurance company concluded that the rate of death claims of people insured under policies brokered by Mr. James was 318 percent higher than expected "and that a large number of the deaths were violent" or involved "unusual circumstances."