Prospect Heights arsonist faces life in prison • Brooklyn Paper

Prospect Heights arsonist faces life in prison

The man accused of dousing a 73-year-old woman with gasoline and then lighting her on fire while she attempted to exit an elevator in her Prospect Heights apartment was charged with murder and arson on Monday — appearing horribly scared in court with the left side of his face blistered and burned, his upper lip swollen.

Jerome Isaac, 47, said nothing during the brief hearing in Brooklyn criminal court, where he was ordered held without bail in the death of Deloris Gillespie. His lawyer requested solitary confinement and medical attention for his client, but did not speak outside court.

Isaac often did odd jobs at Gillespie’s apartment and told police he set her on fire because she owed him $2,000, authorities have said.

He has no prior criminal record, but that does not mean he is not highly dangerous, Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub said.

“I know this is the defendant’s first offense, but the depravity of this particular single act is beyond my description,” he said.

Surveillance video from the elevator shows Isaac dressed somewhat like an exterminator, holding a canister sprayer, wearing white gloves and with a dust mask atop his head. The sprayer was full of gasoline, prosecutors said.

According to the criminal complaint, Isaac doused Gillespie with gasoline as she stood in the elevator, which had just opened to the fifth floor of her apartment building in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. She crouched and cowered, grocery bags draped over her arms.

Isaac pulled out a barbecue-style lighter, authorities said, and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle. He waited a few seconds as Gillespie huddled on the floor. Then he backed out of the elevator and tossed the flaming bottle in, authorities said.

Gillespie died of burns and smoke inhalation, according to the criminal complaint.

Isaac fled the building, then went around the corner and set his brother’s apartment door on fire, according to the complaint.

Visibly burned, Isaac then hid on a nearby rooftop in the winter cold for hours before he surrendered, reeking of gasoline, police said.

Isaac lived with Gillespie for about six months last year, but appeared to have moved out early this year, neighbor Jaime Holguin said.

Holguin, the manager of news development for The Associated Press, months later started seeing Isaac nearby on the street, looking disheveled and pushing a cart full of aluminum cans.

Gillespie’s funeral is planned for after Christmas, according to City Council member Letitia James, speaking on behalf of the family, which she said has requested privacy.

She had four children — one daughter and three sons, according to James — and regularly attended a Baptist church near her home.

Trucked into court

A thirty-one count indictment was levied against trucking company owners Vincent Fusella Jr. and Gerardo Fusella in Brooklyn federal court on Dec. 22, charging the brothers with crimes including embezzlement, mail fraud and tax charges.

As alleged in the indictment, between 2007 and 2009, the defendants used their trucking companies, Fusella Group L.L.C. and Alpine Investment Group, Inc. to embezzle more than $1,000,000 in union benefit fund payments and to stiff union workers who, among other things, trucked debris from the World Trade Center reconstruction site in Manhattan.

• During 2007 and 2008, the Fusella Group entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 282, in order to be eligible to enter certain valuable contracts. In violation of the agreement, and with the assistance of a union shop steward to whom the Fusellas allegedly paid bribes, the defendants hid their drivers’ true work hours to avoid paying the required hourly wages and benefit fund contributions.

• Beginning in 2008, the Fusellas began to conduct a substantial portion of their trucking business through Alpine Investment in order to embezzle funds from Local 282’s benefit funds, and succeeded in embezzling more than $1,000,000 in union benefit fund payments by 2009.

• In 2007, the Fusella Group received a contract to remove dirt and debris from the World Trade Center reconstruction site in lower Manhattan. This contract required that the defendants pay the hourly wage and benefit fund contributions specified in the agreement with Local 282. The Fusella Group failed to make these payments but submitted false certifications verifying that it had done so.

• The indictment charges that the defendants avoided paying social security and federal and state income tax contributions for employees by, among other things, falsely classifying truck driver-employees as independent contractors and by failing to report salary payments made to their office workers and mechanics. Instead, they claimed that the payments were deductible business expenses. As a result, the defendants are charged with failing to make more than $150,000 in employee social security contributions between 2007 and 2009.

Prosecutors say that the Fusella’s alleged crimes robbed union workers of their hard-earned retirement funds in an tumultuous economic climate.

“It is imperative that employers provide the wages and benefits to which their employees are legally entitled,” said United States Attorney Loretta Lynch. “America’s workers rely on their benefit funds to set aside hard earned dollars for an uncertain future. They rely on their employers to properly move monies into those accounts on their behalf, as required by law. As alleged, these defendants not only failed to pay their workers full pay and benefits, they failed to make the legally required security benefit contributions designed to provide security in retirement, and they also embezzled more than $1,000,000 from the Local’s benefit fund account.

If convicted, the defendants face maximum sentences ranging from 5 to 20 years of imprisonment on each count.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Whitman Knapp.

Brooklyn Paper reporters were unable to reach the Fusella’s lawyers for comment.

Reach reporter Thomas Tracy at ttracy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2525.

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