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April 23, 2008

'Case of a Check-Cashing Corpse Is Dismissed'


Above, the headline of Christine Hauser's article in today's New York Times about the curious case of one Virgilio Cintron, whose two best friends pushed him in a wheelchair into the Pay-O-Matic check-cashing store in New York City on January 8 of this year.

Long story short: NYPD detective Travis Rapp, eating lunch at a nearby restaurant, noticed a commotion and saw Cintron's feet bouncing on the sidewalk and thought to himself, "Well, this is a dead guy."

He then arrested Cintron's two "enablers," who were charged with forgery and larceny for attempting to cash Cintron's $355 Social Security check.

Here's the story of why those charges were dismissed yesterday by Judge Evelyn Laporte of the Manhattan Criminal Court.

    Case of a Check-Cashing Corpse Is Dismissed

    That Virgilio Cintron was dead that day is not in doubt. But no one can say precisely when he died, and that is why his friends have gone free.

    Was Mr. Cintron breathing when his buddies, James P. O’Hare and David Daloia, pushed him in a chair to the Pay-O-Matic check-cashing store in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan on Jan. 8? That’s what they said. Never mind that in a detective’s judgment, he was unresponsive, flopped around unsteadily in the chair, and appeared to show early signs of rigor mortis.

    The police said those clues indicated that Mr. Cintron, 66, had died earlier that day, and that Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Daloia had wheeled their friend’s stiffening corpse to the office in a bold, if poorly thought-out, scheme to cash his $355 Social Security check.

    The medical examiner performed an autopsy on Jan. 9 and determined that he had been dead, of complications of Parkinson’s disease, for less than 24 hours, an assistant district attorney, Courtney Groves, said on Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court. But the medical examiner could not state the time of death with certainty, Ms. Groves conceded.

    Since prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cintron had died before leaving the apartment en route to Pay-O-Matic, Judge Evelyn Laporte dismissed the forgery and larceny charges against Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Daloia.

    They were free, ending a gritty and macabre Hell’s Kitchen tale of three longtime friends who relied on each other in many ways to get out of fixes and to survive the streets.

    Mr. Daloia and Mr. O’Hare returned to the apartment at 436 West 52nd Street where they had last cared for Mr. Cintron. They said again that they thought their friend had been alive. “If the medical examiner couldn’t tell his time of death, and they are the professionals, then how could we?” Mr. Daloia asked, standing on the stoop of his building.

    He said he picked up Mr. Cintron off the couch a few weeks before his death and carried him to the same check-cashing store, where he was able to wave at the attendant. But he hadn’t been taking his medication, and his condition was getting worse.

    “What did we do? We didn’t do anything, except what we normally do,” Mr. Daloia said.

    Mr. O’Hare, who had lived with Mr. Cintron for seven years and said he was his primary caregiver, said he felt particularly bad. He said the landlord of Mr. Cintron’s building was trying to have him evicted. “Maybe I feel like I should have done more,” he said. “I could have done more to help him with the medication. I loved the guy. I miss him.”

    Mr. O’Hare’s lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, said, “We have said from the beginning that James and David did not know that their very good friend was dead when they went to the check-cashing facility.”

    “All charges were dismissed, the record has been sealed and it is the end of a very sad story,” he said.

    On Jan. 8, Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Daloia dressed Mr. Cintron in his apartment, carried him downstairs and propped him up in a computer chair on wheels. Then they pulled and dragged the chair east to the Pay-O-Matic at 763 Ninth Avenue near 52nd.

    The spectacle drew a crowd. A detective at a nearby restaurant looked up from lunch and noticed Mr. Cintron’s feet bouncing off the edge of the sidewalk.

    “Well, this is a dead guy,” the detective, Travis Rapp, recalled thinking to himself. He confronted them.

    “Oh my God, my friend is gone?” they said, Detective Rapp recalled later that day. Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Daloia have said there was nothing unusual about what they did.

    For a long time before Mr. Cintron died, the three of them depended on one another, they and their lawyers have said. They pooled money, nursed one another through sickness and shared food and the shelter of the small apartment where Mr. Cintron had grown up and where he and Mr. O’Hare lived.

    The friends said Mr. Cintron had been ill for some time from Parkinson’s disease, weak, at times unresponsive and unable to care for himself. That Tuesday morning was no different, they said.

    “They have grown old together,” Mr. Daloia’s lawyer, Allan P. Haber, said of the three, adding, “The friendship doesn’t end if one of them is needy.”

    Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Daloia were arrested on charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument, second-degree forgery and attempted petty larceny. They were also accused of violating a section of public health law that requires that a body be buried or incinerated “within a reasonable time after death.”

April 23, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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