Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tankleff case may be tip of the iceberg

The notorious criminal case of Martin Tankleff, the Belle Terre teenager convicted in 1990 of murdering his parents early in the morning on Sept. 7, 1988, ended without real resolution last December, when the state attorney general announced he would not seek a new trial of Mr. Tankleff.

His conviction had been tossed out in 2007 by a state appellate court after nearly 20 years of maneuvering by a team of believers who never gave up hope that justice would be served.
But the attorney general’s investigation and report did not exonerate Tankleff. It simply found that while there was “some evidence” that the youth committed the crimes, it was too old to form the basis of a new prosecution.

Marty Tankleff won his freedom. But justice was not served. The killer or killers of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff walked away.

A recently released book about the investigation and prosecution of the Tankleff case portrays the Suffolk County criminal justice system — police, prosecutors and judges alike — as a corrupt good ol’ boys network far more interested in protecting each other’s hides than pursuing truth and justice.

“A Criminal Injustice: A True Crime, a False Confession and the Fight to Free Marty Tankleff,” was co-authored by the private investigator who devoted seven years of his life to digging for the truth of the Tankleff murders (remunerated with a $5,000 retainer paid by Tankleff’s pro bono law firm). The book provides eye-popping details about what the investigator, Jay Salpeter, a retired NYC police detective, found — and how the Suffolk DA and the court went out of their way to disregard or bury it all, or worse.

“They are still hunkering down,” his co-author Rick Firstman told me Tuesday, about the posture of law enforcement officials regarding the Tankleff case and new disclosures made in the book.

And with good reason, according to the details laid out in “A Criminal Injustice.” It’s a gripping, can’t-put-it-down read.

The Tankleff case is a gripping, can’t-stop-thinking-about-it kind of case.

Lonnie Soury, a Manahattan-based PR man and part-time Southold resident, who said he became obsessed with Marty’s cause, said “people got infected with Tankleff” because “there was an undercurrent in Suffolk County that this kid got a raw deal.”

There’s the confession coaxed from a traumatized kid with lies by a detective who may have had his own business relationship with the murder victim’s estranged business partner, whom many believe was involved in the crime. Then the same detective becomes partners in a bar with the defendant’s half-sister, who bankrolls their business venture — Digger O’Dell’s in Riverhead — with the inheritance she got because her brother was convicted.

The detective, James McCready, denied under oath that he knew Tankleff’s business partner, Jerry Steuerman, the self-proclaimed “bagel king” of Long Island; he denied he even knew of him.

A “crucial” witness whose testimony at a post-trial hearing in 2004 linked McCready to Steuerman was Lenny Lubrano, now proprietor of Lenny’s Restaurant in Jamesport. Lenny had a wholesale business in the 1980s and bought bagels from Steuerman. He saw the two men together at the store. Later, when he owned a pizzeria in Rocky Point, McCready would come in and buy lunch for his crews — he had a thriving construction business “on the side.” McCready told Lenny he was doing construction work for Steuerman. This was long before the murders. After Lenny heard that Steuerman and McCready were involved in the Tank­leff case and that they denied knowing each other, he came forward.

Greg Blass of Jamesport, an attorney in private practice in Riverhead during the 1980s (he was also then a member of the County Legislature), represented Seymour Tankleff in several business transactions. Seymour usually brought Marty along with him to meetings with the lawyer — he was “grooming” Marty to take over his business. Blass told me he was supposed to meet with Tankleff the day of the crime.

“I had absolutely no doubt that Marty did not do a thing like that,” Blass said. A subdued youth who had a loving relationship with his father, “he was not capable of it.”

Blass remembers Tankleff asking him to review some promissory notes he was planning to foreclose on. He believes they were from Steuerman and that Steuerman knew Tankleff was going to call them in. “Seymour told me he had spoken to him,” Blass said, “and suspected there were going to be some difficulties.”

That may be the understatement of a lifetime.

Copyright 2009 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.


Anonymous said...

Denise Civiletti did a masterful job of "capturing" the shockingly sad story of Suffolk County law enformcent's complicity in the framing of Marty Tankleff. But the successive DAs, prosecutors,and McCready-type police officials are not alone in sharing the disgrace of Tankleff. As the book, A Criminal Injustice, so eloquently outlines, there were many to blame for this tragedy, not the least of which was the Long Island media establishment, elected offcials, civic leaders and other influencers who buried their collective heads in the sand, complicit in the wrongnful conviction of an innocent man.

The vast majority of Long Island residents knew something went terribly wrong in Marty's case and many closely followed his 18 year effort to gain his freedonm. Unfortunately it was those in power who either activley engaged in the frame up and cover up of the murders of his parents, or chose to walk away from the truth and thus enabled the guilty to continue to roam our community
to this very day.

Some day DA Tom Spota and even AG Andrew Cuomo, who have been engaged in this cover up for the most cynical of political reasons, will be exposed.

Anonymous said...

Many people who know of the Tankleff case only know about it through tv programs and the media that have touted Tankleff's innocence.

Marty Tankleff murdered his parents against a backdrop of the business problems Seymour Tankleff was having with Jerry Steuerman. The world was not a perfect place in 1988 when the Tankleffs were murdered. Life is not static. In the midst of the business and other troubles in the Tankleff home in 1988, Marty murdered his parents, and the dumb bagel guy has conveniently been made the scapegoat.

It's important to go back to trial testimony and newspaper accounts from the period, and try not to rewrite history for selfish reasons.

It's also important to ask yourself if you have a personal axe to grind against Suffolk County. Marty Tankleff is not innocent because you hold a grudge against the police or an elected official. Get honest with yourself.

Detective James McCready has been severely ridiculed and criticized about his handling of this case...
The SIC report states that Suffolk County did everything above board in this investigation.

McCready is not a perfect person, but I tell you, I think he was an excellent, seasoned investigator. President Abraham's best general was Ulysses S. Grant, an alcoholic, and it's been said that his drinking may have made him the great general that he was. Lincoln voiced the opinion that he wished he had more generals like Grant.

Ceil said...

Hi Denise....Actually, I was looking to post on your terrific column this week.
Lo and Behold! The Tankleff case.
This happened before my time here. My husband Frank lived in Rocky Point and remembers the case well.
I was mindly intersted when it hit the news recently, but now, that I am reading this post I have to read the book asap.
Whoa! If this young man is innocent and was set-up by the powers that be then an eye-popping, mind-blowing horiffic injustice has been served.
Scary huh?

Denise..Keep on keeping on......

Anonymous said...

McCready was at the card game the night of the murders. he knew what was going to happen. Who were the other people at the card game? Remember McCready controlled the crime scene and all reports form the beginning of the investigation, and he declared the crime solved within hours.

Anonymous said...

something needs to be done to help all these type of people severing FALSE time because of corrupt "law enforcers". it makes me utterly sick in the stomach to know that the ones who are behind this are still out and nothing is being done to bring the Tankleff's to justice. the people who are truly involved with this murder deserve a tragic finish at the end of the firing squad. including the corrupt morons who are a disgrace to humanity. how this yearns me to change this country. "land of the free" makes it seem like an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

What a peice of crap this Former Detective is. After seeing a repeat of a 48 hours on this case, i am so outraged that i was compelled to write this even at this late juncture. This Mcready is a POS and should rot in hell for what he did in this case and apparently others.

Alan Edwards said...

I am coming to this case after a watching a South African TV repeat which was made before Marty Tankleff's release from jail.

Much has been said about the protection given by the State Legislature to some of the prime movers in this case; the greatly suspect McCready and Steuerman and so on. However, I think there is one other person one should very closely at. Marty's half-sister who inherited and bankrolled McCready! What a hugely defensive and messed-up creature she appears to be. Circumstantial evidence alone would tend to cast anything she says in a rather ghastly light!

It seemed to me that at the bottom of this case there are obviously drugs involved, but, also, maybe a seasoning of good old-fashioned sex. And as with all cases of sex, drugs and rock'n roll, and this case it was poor old Marty who hit the rock and rolled!

Alan Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is but one of McReady's cases of injustice. After his retirement he was at an Irish bar in Rocky Point. He chased A young man who had taken a flag from the bar. He caught him and proceeded to beat the kid. A police car pulled up. McReady flashed a detectives Shield and told the officer he had it under controll. The officer failed to stopp the beating and left the scene. Even after retirement this guy was administering his brand of justice.

Anonymous said...

Dirty cop, skell sister...Justice will be served....Maybe in the form of a beer at that dump in riverhead the sister bankrools or in the form of a nice facial in her spa