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Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 4 — Taxi terror, BMW thefts, a body rub joint

Eight BMWs were stolen from BMW of Darien in August, a feat some say was perpetrated by an organized crime network. (Darien Times/Kristen Riolo)

It was a year of unprecedented crimes and court cases for this little town 40 miles north of New York City.

The story that made international headlines involved a Morgan Stanley banker accused of stiffing and stabbing a Queens cab driver after getting a ride from Manhattan to Darien. William Bryan Jennings also faced a hate crime charge, although all charges were dropped in October when the prosecution decided it should have also charged the cab driver, Mohammad Ammar, with abduction.

Competing facts hovered over the case since Jennings came forward two weeks after the incident, and press reports from around the world weighed in on what some were billing as a rich, white Wall Street banker versus a poor, Egyptian cab driver.

To some, the decision not to move forward with the trial exacerbated that notion. On trial day, prosecuting attorney Steven Weiss told the court that Darien Police had initially asked his office whether they should pursue charges against Ammar and Jennings, as Ammar admitted to having taken Jennings from his home, which constituted unlawful restraint, Weiss said. The police were told to only charge Jennings.

Weiss based his decision to drop the case on a single incident — Ammar had Jennings’ knife for months before giving it to police in May. Police never searched Ammar for the knife, but it wouldn’t have mattered because he didn’t find the knife until much later, according to Ammar’s lawyer, Hassan Ahmad, who added that Ammar didn’t immediately hand over the evidence because he was scared and unfamiliar with the judicial system.

Ahmad claims that Weiss’s rationale was “disingenuous” and that if he were telling the truth, the case should have been dropped in May when the knife surfaced, rather than dropped months later in October.

Outside of the courtroom, police are still scratching their heads over one of the most costly and intricate car thefts in Connecticut history — the theft of eight BMW’s from the manufacturer’s Darien dealership. The grand total of the theft came in at half a million dollars, and inspired The Darien Times to publish a series on car thefts.

Retired FBI agent and former LAPD cop Frank Scafidi told The Times that whoever committed the caper was well prepared. Scafidi said it appeared that the culprits set the alarm off several times, and waited for the alarm company to consider the alarms the result of a malfunction. When the alarm company failed to show up to an alarm, that’s when the thieves sprang into action.

Another popular talk-of-the town incident involved a Post Road massage parlor that was busted for prostitution. A police officer found an online ad for a massage parlor that included code words for sex acts. Police staked out the joint, and even checked the garbage for evidence.

An undercover informant eventually went to the massage parlor and engaged in sexual activity on three occasions over two visits. The Darien Times published a story examining a potential connection to the sex trafficking trade, which involves women being forced into prostitution. The police have denied any possible connection.

Earlier in the year, a Holmes School janitor resigned after a teacher claimed he grabbed her and broke her wrist. Robert Munro, a native Darienite and volunteer firefighter, was granted accelerated rehabilitation in September. The school district’s own investigation concluded that the allegations against Munro were “unsubstantiated,” but police and the victim, Kathleen Verna, decided to pursue the charges.

Over the summer, a young Brazilian man whose work visa had expired made headlines after he was arrested for placing a tiny camera in the unisex bathroom at the Noroton Heights Subway. Marco Dias was recently sentenced to a year in prison, and the deportation process is also in the works.

The annual Turkey Bowl game against New Canaan brought the third consecutive incident that made The Times’ headlines in three years. This time, a group of young Darien men entered the New Canaan football team’s locker room, stole equipment and urinated on someone’s personal belongings.

Sons of former First Selectwoman Evonne Klein were among the five arrested for the incident.

There was a car accident on Dorchester Road involving a New Canaan hockey player, and neighbors on that street told The Times that these athletes continuously run over trees on the property as they race each other down the street. This time, the driver crashed into a tree, although no injuries were reported. It’s also unclear whether this accident was a result of a race, but police said speeding was in factor in the crash.

Police also used a controversial automatic license plate reader to help catch those responsible for 17 vehicle burglaries and two home burglaries. The men charged had driven past a police patrol car on the night the incidents took place. License plate readers automatically scan hundreds of vehicles a day in Darien. Police have been using the reader in town for three years.

Unlocked cars continue to be targets in town for opportunistic thieves. In addition the 17 vehicle break-ins mentioned above, nine unlocked cars were burglarized in early June. Five cars were burglarized in November, and one car was stolen after it was left unlocked with the keys inside.

Police have also made numerous arrests for credit card fraud and identity theft. Turkish citizen Ahmet Cilek was arrested for his alleged role in ripping off more than 250 bank accounts of more than $336,000 after he and others placed tiny cameras on ATM machines to record user information. Residents from the Bronx and Queens were arrested for trying to take money from someone’s HSBC bank account. Four Brooklyn residents were found with several fake hundred-dollar bills after trying to buy booze from Leary’s Liquors with the fake cash. Another Bronx man was arrested for using Darien identities to purchase $7,000 in computers. A FedEx driver helped police catch him. Norwalk man Eric Christian was arrested for stealing his brother’s identity.

Elderly residents continue to be targeted by con artists. At least two elderly Darienites were scammed by thieves in Peru — one lost $12,500 and another $2,400, when the scammers pretended to be a grandson in trouble. Norwalk health care aide Farrah Baker was arrested for stealing nearly $27,000 from her elderly patient.

With 2012 in the rearview mirror, many cases remain unsolved, including the 1981 murder of police Officer Kenneth Bateman. But even that case remained in headlines this year, when Hartford man Jeffrey Romanchuck was arrested for falsifying evidence in that case.

ddesroches@darientimes.com

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