Friends of Victims Still Feel the Loss
By Darius Dixon
February 2, 2010
It was a brisk May evening in lower Manhattan when Halil Korkmaz decided to take his new motorcycle out for a spin. He recently purchased a new Honda CBR 900 styled with red paint. At the time, Korkmaz, a Turkish immigrant, was the maître d’ at Downtown, the SoHo incarnation of a high-end Italian restaurant chain. Friends and co-workers recalled that he was “fanatical about motorcycles.”
Korkmaz, 39, was charging east along Houston Street around 10 p.m. when he stopped for a red light at Chrystie Street on Saturday, May 17, 1997. Nothing was particularly out of the ordinary that evening. Then, according to witnesses who later testified in court, a man wearing a helmet dismounted the rear of a friend’s Ninja motorcycle idling beside Korkmaz, and approached him. “Give me the bike,” commanded the figure. Korkmaz did not respond from behind his own visored helmet. Korkmaz’s high-end motorcycle was priced around $9,800 at the time, according to the manufacturer who acknowledged that it likely sold for much more.
The next demand was more emphatic and, as witnesses would later testify, colored “with a few adjectives.” Finally summoning the nerve to respond, Korkmaz replied: “No.” A moment later there was a loud bang. Korkmaz slumped forward on his motorcycle. He had been shot in the chest once at point blank range. The bullet struck his heart, aorta and a lung according to autopsy reports.
Korkmaz was shoved off his motorcycle and left to bleed-out on the asphalt of Houston Street. The killer then sped away on his new ride, running over Korkmaz’s ankle in the getaway. Bystanders rushed to Korkmaz’s aid, a former nurse and a lifeguard among them, but there was not much anyone could do.
He was pronounced dead after being rushed to Bellevue Hospital a mile and a half away.
Fausto Gonzalez, a Bronx resident, was born on February 26, 1971. His arrest record started when he was just 19 years old. Although the murder of Halil Korkmaz happened in 1997, Gonzalez was not charged with the shooting death until 2006. The case eventually went to trial in late 2008 and Gonzalez was sentenced on November 28 the same year. Throughout the 1990s, Gonzalez was said to have been a member of a motorcycle- and auto-theft ring, said court documents. He and other motorcycle enthusiasts stole and stored vehicles in different garages throughout the Bronx, according to the documents, and operated from a pizzeria named Cubano in Claremont.
What amounted to a random act of violence on a public street was almost standard operating procedure for Gonzalez. So many victims of Gonzalez had been shot while they waited at a traffic light that the Manhattan district attorney’s office labeled the tactic his “signature fashion.” By the time he was charged in New York, Gonzalez was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after a jury in federal court in Connecticut convicted him of murder-for-hire charges.
The Connecticut trial took place in the fall of 2004 when it was alleged that a drug dealer paid Gonzalez $6,000 to kill the leader of the Savage Nomads street gang, Theodore “Teddy” Casiano, in 1996. After Gonzalez’s conviction, prosecutors worked to have him considered for death row status, something the jury eventually withheld. At the time of his conviction, Connecticut had only sent one person to death since 1960.
“He missed it [the death penalty] by a whisper,” said a source close to Gonzalez’s 2008 trial in New York Supreme Court who was not authorized to comment and therefore asked not to be identified. The source said Gonzalez was “a pleasant-faced little man,” but one “that could handle a gun as well as any police officer.” “It’s hard to imagine a more efficient killer,” the source continued, “It was a dead case. Everybody in the world testified against this guy.” Twenty-two witnesses, not including police officers or medical personnel testified against Gonzalez.
One of Gonzalez’s attorneys, David Perlmutter described his former client, in a phone interview, as very cooperative and “fine to get along with.” “He was the ideal client in that sense,” added Perlmutter, who retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico a month after Gonzalez’s New York murder conviction. “If you were going to central casting [to look] for a ‘murderer’ who killed six people, you wouldn’t pick Fausto,” said Perlmutter, describing Gonzalez, who was just 5’ 3” tall. But, he said, the prosecution brought in an “articulate” witness who helped run the car theft ring and made a simple but compelling statement to the court: “Fausto was fine to get along with—unless you crossed him.”
Among friends and colleagues, Korkmaz, who sometimes went by the name Alex Pierce, was known as a kind, quiet person, though not particularly outgoing. Paolo Secondo, 54, a friend and co-worker of the victim recalled how stunned everyone was by the murder. Secondo, an Italian immigrant from Genoa, owns a couple of SoHo restaurants on West Broadway and works in a snug basement office with 3 or 4 staffers at Ristorante Barolo.
Neither Secondo nor any of Korkmaz’s former colleagues at Barolo had heard of Gonzalez, or knew he had been convicted so recently for the murder of their friend more than a decade ago. As he read the year-old story about Gonzalez’s conviction and sentencing published in the New York Daily News, Secondo muttered, “No s—t.” “They caught the guy that shot Halil,” Secondo said to almost everyone who walked into the grey office cramped with filing cabinets and stacks of paper.
In the years following Korkmaz’s death, many of those who knew him were so desperate to understand why such a senseless murder would take place that wild conspiracy theories started brewing to rationalize their friend’s death. “We thought perhaps he was involved with drugs or something, even though we knew he was a regular guy,” said Secondo. He said he went to the intersection of Houston and Chrystie, where Korkmaz was shot, soon after the incident in order to track down anyone who might have seen what happened that night. “In the 90s, at that time, it was a semi-strange area,” said Secondo. “You know, now there’s a Whole Foods and all that.”
Another associate at Ristorante Barolo, Humberto Paez, 54, said it was not the first time someone made off with one of Korkmaz’s motorcycles. Two or three years before his murder, said Paez, he and Korkmaz were about to share a bottle of wine at I Tre Merli, a restaurant where Korkmaz worked, when they noticed a man sitting alone at one of the restaurant’s outdoor tables. The very next moment, “this guy, he jumped over the rail and got on the bike and pulled out a screwdriver,” said Paez, half jokingly, half in disbelief. “And then, he had another motorcycle stolen at some other time.” Secondo turned his chair around, tilted back and looked up at Paez, eyebrows crawling together: “And the next time, they killed him for it.”
Upset about the news coverage the murder of Halil Korkmaz produced the next day in local newspapers, an associate of Gonzalez told him he had “f—ked up” because “[t]hese people have money and they’re going to pursue this.” According to the witness, Gonzalez responded: “Well, if he didn’t, you know, resist me, [if] he would have just gave me the bike, I wouldn’t have had to have shot him.”
Two years later Gonzalez was involved in a scheme more premeditated, resulting in the death of another innocent man. On the morning of August 9, 1999 the employees of Marcia Pharmacy on East 106th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., were trying to figure out who would take the store’s receipts to the Chase Manhattan Bank on the corner. A simple five-minute walk. On this particular Monday morning it was Richard Fedor’s turn. The 55-year old pharmacist grabbed the cash-filled sack and began his stroll just before 10:30 a.m. The deposit that day was approximately $40,000.
Gonzalez and three accomplices, who had received a tip from a bank employee, were waiting in an empty lot across the street for Fedor to emerge. Testimony from one of Gonzalez’s accomplices said the men had been staked out for a half hour, and were preparing to leave, when Fedor finally emerged from the pharmacy. A man identified only as “Mike” in the court documents had recruited Gonzalez, Ricardo Ruiz and Javier Arroyo, two other members of their alleged auto-theft ring to take part in the stick-up.
After spying Fedor from across the street, “Mike” hopped off of Ruiz’s parked motorcycle, ran through four lanes of traffic and tried to wrestle the money from the pharmacist in front a Met Foods supermarket, Ruiz later testified. The sound of a “firecracker” startled two of the supermarket’s cashiers who then looked through the store window to see the two men struggling on the busy East Harlem street.
“Mike” eventually pulled out a gun and knocked Fedor to the ground, grabbed the bag of money and ran back to Ruiz, waiting on his motorcycle on the other side of the street. As Fedor picked himself up off the sidewalk Arroyo got off of his motorcycle, which he shared with Gonzalez, and shot Fedor before speeding eastward, according to the testimony of multiple witnesses.
The autopsy report showed that Fedor had been shot twice. The fatal bullet entered through his lower back, pierced his intestines, kidney, pancreas and liver before striking his heart. The second bullet was recovered from Fedor’s right arm. The medical examiner also testified that several “blunt impact” injuries were found on Fedor’s face, throat and arm.
An ambulance rushed him to Metropolitan Hospital on 1st Ave. at 99th Street, eight blocks away, where Fedor was pronounced dead.
“A customer ran in and said ‘Richie just got shot’,” Vincent Postiglione, 79, recalled in December 2009, as he gestured at the entrance of Marcia Pharmacy. That was how he found out that his friend of 47 years was gunned down less than 150 feet away. Postiglione was the owner of the pharmacy at the time of Fedor’s murder, and had known him since the victim was 8 years old. Although no longer the owner, Postiglione still works at the pharmacy twice a week and he is the only one left from the time of the murder. The emotional wounds, though ten years old now, seemed quite fresh for him. “He was like son, my brother. He was my right arm,” said Postiglione, standing in the waiting area of the pharmacy. Adding, “A better person—God could not have made.”
In contrast with the chain store, Duane Reade, just across the street, Marcia, one of the few locally owned pharmacies left in New York City, has remained dedicated to the medical needs of their community. Instead of hosting aisles of pretzels and Gatorade, roughly half of Marcia’s floor space is reserved to shelve and organize prescription and over-the-counter medications while the other half is an open-space waiting area.
Postiglione said that one of the robbers called out Fedor’s name—“Hey Richie”—to make sure they had the right guy before attacking. But still he insisted, “it could’ve been anyone of us. It could’ve been me.” After the customer announced that Fedor had been shot, Postiglione and one of his employees, Silva Garcia, hurried to help their friend and colleague as he lay helpless on the sidewalk.
Postiglione described Fedor as a very religious man who was dedicated to family and community. “He helped others, that’s just the type a guy he was,” said Postiglione. Aside from the time he spent earning a pharmacology degree from Fordham University, in the Bronx, Postiglione said, Fedor spent the bulk of his time in East Harlem. Even when he and his parents moved out of LaGuardia Memorial House on East 116th Street to Bayside, Queens in 1974, still, Fedor continued to work at Marcia.
Toward the end of his life, Fedor cared for his ailing father, Stoddard, who was 83 when his son was killed. Stoddard was diabetic and died about five years later. Fedor never married though he did have two brothers. Postiglione, having known all three since they were children, said that they “couldn’t be more different,” while pinching his thumb and forefinger to demonstrate how much they had in common. He said that one of the brothers “only worried about the money” they would get from Fedor’s death.
After Fedor’s death, Postiglione learned his friend had been making trips to ill, impaired and elderly members of the community who had difficulty physically getting to the pharmacy. He delivered medicine and advice to the needy at no extra charge.
Postiglione kept copies of any related news stories about Fedor’s death and stiff offers them to people who inquire about what happened to his friend. He also testified at Gonzalez’s trial in November 2008 and said that upon seeing Gonzalez in the courtroom: “I wanted to jump the bench.” But more painful, Postiglione said, was “to see those pictures of Richie in the morgue” presented as evidence for the trial.
Less than three years after Fedor’s murder, Javier Arroyo, one of the robbers involved in Fedor’s murder was killed. On April 17, 2002, Arroyo died after a major motorcycle accident on the Cross Bronx Expressway, according to the records of the New York City Medical Examiners Office. As someone who followed Gonzalez’s case very closely, Postiglione knew about that too, saying Arroyo got his comeuppance. “Yeah,” said Postiglione, nodding as he spoke, “God took care of him right away.”
In the years following Fedor’s death, Postiglione, with the help of Eulalia “Marie” Dickson, a long-time member of the East Harlem community board, pressed to have East 106th Street renamed in Fedor’s honor. The renaming of streets in New York City is a fairly routine procedure involving the local city councilperson’s office, and usually the community board. Streets have been dedicated all over the city, to a myriad of influential New York City-related figures and groups.
Not long after they gathered the necessary signatures to have the renaming issue evaluated by the community board, Dickson died in early 2007. Without another community board member enlisted to help, Postiglione was at a loss for what to do next and the process stalled. “When Tito Puente died, they renamed the street [East 110th Street] right away,” said Postiglione, “what do you have to be over here.”
Community board 11’s Community Associate, Norma Ojeda, 59, said she remembered the petition well. However, she admitted, because the community board’s management offices had moved a year and a half ago, the file was tucked away among their tremendous store of unpacked paperwork. In order to keep the process moving, she said, the file would have to be found and Postiglione “would have to do the follow-up.” She added that she lived on the block where Fedor was killed and although she did not know him well she described him as “a very peaceful man.”.
Fausto Gonzalez was eventually convicted of six murders in New York Supreme Court in November of 2008. All of the crimes took place in New York City during the late 1990s. And, ultimately, several former associates of Gonzalez testified against him. Although he was already serving a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, for his federal conviction in Connecticut, Gonzalez was sentenced to two more identical terms for first-degree murder. For the remaining four murders, for which Gonzalez was convicted in the second degree, he received four separate sentences of 25 years to life. At the time of his sentencing, the New York Daily News reported that Supreme Court Judge Daniel P. FitzGerald did not mince words with Gonzalez.
“I saw not a twinge of regret or any decent human emotion during the trial,” said FitzGerald. Upon sentencing, Gonzalez’s attorneys requested that he serve his sentences concurrently, a motion that was subsequently rejected. FitzGerald ordered that Gonzalez serve each of his six sentences consecutively to emphasize the lives of each of his victims: “Something that never crossed your mind,” said FitzGerald. Gonzalez received a life sentence for the murder of Korkmaz, the SoHo restaurant maître d’, and 25 years to life for his involvement in the murder of Fedor.
Three of the six murders Gonzalez was eventually convicted of were considered contract killings similar to the murder of the Connecticut gang leader. Also, like the Connecticut murder, four of the New York murders were committed while the victims were stopped at a red light, according to court records. In the first of the killings, which happened in 1996, Gonzalez allegedly killed Jose Munoz because he suspected Munoz of stealing a motorcycle from him. Three of the next four murders were done at the behest—and payment—of two different drug dealers.
Gonzalez is currently serving out his multiple prison terms in the Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. Attica lies about 40 miles from Buffalo, NY and the Canadian border.
Behind the busy counter at Marcia Pharmacy, perched on a shelf about 7 feet high, where no customer could possibly see it, is a 6×8 photograph of Fedor in a gold-colored frame. “I keep it there for luck,” Postiglione said looking up at his friend. It was taken when Fedor was around 35 or 36 years old, about 20 years before his death, recalled Postiglione. The photo is a bit blurry but you can make out a half-smile behind Fedor’s black-framed glasses and short dark-brown hair. “That won’t be taken down as long as I’m working here.”