Monday, January 28, 2008

Brushes with Gangland, Part I

Sometimes, it’s like a dead body just falls from the sky. The deceased has no connection to the community, no regional identity and no real reason for leaving his or her decaying remains in a spot hundreds of miles away from anything familiar. Yes, sometimes it’s as if a corpse simply drops from the heavens into. And sometimes, that body just happens to drop in your backyard.

Such was the case for authorities in Saratoga Springs one late December, after two men walked into the Sheraton of Broadway and only one walked out. He vanished into the Adirondack cold with what authorities would later estimate to be $125,000 worth of weed. In his wake, he left behind a body, two well-placed bullets and a mystery that was the Spa City’s only unsolved homicide this century.

It is believed that Kevin Arkenau Jr. was sleeping in a room rented on the third floor when two bullets fired from a silenced pistol pierced his temple and eye. One of the hotel’s maintenance workers made the grisly discovery the following afternoon, hours after his killer had already created an enduring mystery and then vanished into the night.

“In a way, it was as if a body dropped out of the sky,” Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy told the Times Union last week. “We had a body but not all the pieces of the puzzle.”

One of those pieces is Roger Aletras, a man also identified by the state Department of Corrections as “Roger Knox.” Federal grand jurors in Vermont pinned a a capital murder charge on Aletras among others returned last month in a five-count indictment. Authorities describe the 36-year-old Bronx native as a career criminal who spent time in and out of the clink for a wide variety of crimes. What they don’t describe him as is a reputed federal informant-gone-wild with ties to the Bonanno and Genovese crime families, as well as loose connections with others.

Aletras didn’t stay free for very long after Arkenau’s death. Police arrested him less than two months later on charges of possessing a pistol -not the one used in the killing -as a convicted felon. In 2005, he was sentenced to serve 19 years in prison for the crime, despite heart-felt pleas by his family and attorney for the judge to show leniency; all contained in a document signed by and on the letter head of Stacey Richman.

“This is not a man beyond redemption,” she wrote in the June 2005 filing. “Mr. Aletras had despite his transgressions made great progress...he had a solid home, a son and an intact family unit for the first time in his life; he was on the right path.”

For those who don’t know Richman, the daughter of Murray “Don’t Worry” Richman, she started out as a Los Angeles entertainment attorney and has represented celebrity criminal cases for both Ivana Trump and Jon Voigt. When she moved east to Manhattan, she defended high-profile cases such as rappers DMX and Ja Rule, among others in the hip-hop world. But Richman’s clients extend beyond uber-wealthy celebrities. She’s made quite a name for herself defending people like Leonard Minuto Jr., a close associate of the Gambino familiy; and Anthony DiSimone, the son of reputed mobster Salvatore “Sally Bows” DiSimone.

So it’s a bit peculiar to see Richman’s name and signature on Aletras’ sentencing document, especially when he’s described by Capital Region media as someone “who spent much of his adult life in prison on burglary charges.” That is, until the next name comes up.

In the filing, Michelle Spirito lauds Aletras’ work ethic and his devotion to his her daughter, who some media outlets have referred to as his “common-law wife,” even though there is no such thing as common law marriage in New York. She also indicates the man has “become like a son” to her and that he showed selflessness when he was released from prison. What she doesn’t mention is anything about her own husband, John “Johnny Joe” Spirito, a Bonanno family soldier who outgoing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft decided against prosecuting under penalty of death for the the gangland-style killing of Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia in 1999.

Sciascia was a powerful international heroin trafficker and capo in the Bonnano family. He was reportedly managing the drug trafficking between the Montreal Mafia and New York’s Cosa Nostra until he made an off comment about a fellow capo’s coke habit. In March 1999, he was found unceremoniously dumped in a Bronx neighborhood with three bullets in his head. Investigators later determined the hit was ordered by then family boss, Joseph “Big Joe” Massino, because he thought Sciascia was undermining his leadership of the family. Big Joe narrowly avoided the death penalty himself until defecting in 2005.

And if any further case need be made for Aletras’ ties to the mob, look no further than the next name listed in his pre-sentencing document. Michael DiStasio was among a group of suspected mobsters rounded up when the feds cracked open an illegal sports betting and numbers operation allegedly run by a Genovese family associate at Hunts Point in the Bronx.

On a side note, the man who will ultimately decide whether or not to seek the death penalty against Aletras is none other than U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The last time Aletras saw Mukasey was when the then-chief judge of the U.S. Court’s southern District of New York sentenced him to nearly two decades in the federal pen. Let’s just say Aletras might want to hire the elder Richman this go round.

Aletras himself has quite a colorful legal history, albeit one that appears devoid of capital crimes until now. As a teenager, he had the dubious honor of rolling with a crew that stole three cars in under three hours after a botched gun shop burglary in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of West Babylon on Long Island in 1989. It was the second time Aletras was busted for burglarizing the shop.

Aletras was handed a 5- to 10-year sentence in 1991, but was released on parole after two years. But he didn’t stay on the streets long. In fact, he was picked up two months later for criminal possession of a stolen property and was returned to prison in 1993. He’d remain there until being paroled in February 2002, just 10 months before Arkenau’s death.

Arkenau was no angel himself. Well-published accounts of his criminal history suggest he was a prolific drug trafficker with both national and international ties. By the time he was able to legally buy cigarettes, Arkenau was already moving pounds of weed across the mid-west. In the years leading up to his death, he was reputedly dealing more than marijuana and doing business with a powerful contingent of people. And in the end, he was writing checks his body couldn’t cash.

Editor’s note: this is the first installment of a two-part examination of the slaying of Kevin Arkenau and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the events between the Spa City and Burlington on Dec. 19, 2002.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have your facts seriously messed up. You should do some research before you print stories about people's lives. Try using google, it is more accurate than your botched up story.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

I've corrected several errors made in haste and strive for accuracy. Most of my research was done through newspapers following these transgressions. I've provided links where possible.

This is not to say that these sources themselves are accurate. For instance, I'm well aware of the Daily News' propensity for publishing fanciful stories. Regardless, the ins and outs of mob life are fairly difficult for any outsider to get a thorough grasp on(and I assure you I'm about as outside as they come). Let's just say this entry was written over the course of a weekend and not in a few hours. It's not a thesis on mob life, merely an example of how the city of Saratoga was affected by its bloody transgressions.

Needless to say, if you feel there is an inaccuracy or blatant falsehood, please do chime in. You can do it anonymously through comments(please specify if you'd like your comments posted or simply a correction made) or candidly through the e-mail link to the right.

Otherwise, I stand by the story and the facts contained therein; feel free to dispute them. I will provide more links and more information where I can.

Incidentally, if anyone is willing to host Richman's document so that I can link it here, please send me an e-mail. It's about 4 megs in size.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Many thanks to Ben Arnold over at (dis)utopia for hosting the Richman document.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I,m commenting on the kevin arkenau murder. First off, you and everyone else that won't let that event rest; i think your a piece of shit!!! You have know considerations for the family and friends of the lost loved ones. You report on kevin like you know him and clearly you don't. You right comments and say well I'm just a journalist but in my eyes I think your a fuckin vulturer and have nothing else better to do than stir up old events that hurt.; but you don't care because you got to put out a shitty blog to entertain you and your dull ass area that you report on. Yea he did some wrong things but without it you wouldn't have a job so what does that make you then; I'll tell ya PATHETIC SINCERLEY, SEAN RYAN ( HIS BROTHER)"

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen Sean, I was just blown away by this article. Having known Kevin and reading this article just had me floored. I can't imagine why the murder of a friend and family member would be the subject of such a sensationalist piece. I understand it was a big deal in your area but honestly, this isn't Goodfellas or Casino. This is perpetuating a myth created by District Attorneys and Law Enforcement to fight their "War on Drugs". For all we know Kevin was killed by a cop with a grudge and blamed this Roger guy.

9:43 PM  

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