How could a woman spend seven months in jail for a string of armed robberies that never happened?
Many people may be asking themselves that question after the Nassau County District Attorney’s office revealed that Seemona Sumasar, 35, had been improperly charged with robbery because a former boyfriend, Jerry Ramrattan, set her up. Mr. Ramrattan, 38, was apparently upset that Ms. Sumasar would not drop a rape complaint that she had filed against him, the authorities said.
It is no secret that people get falsely accused and convicted of crimes. But crimes that never took place?
Several prosecutors in the Nassau district attorney’s office spoke to Courthouse Confidential to break down just how they believe Mr. Ramrattan pulled off the frame-up.
From the giving of a partial license plate number to the planting of bullets, it was a shrewd scheme that led investigators right to Ms. Sumasar, the prosecutors said.
“I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything like this,” Sheryl Anania, the executive assistant district attorney, said. “It was a plan that was hatched almost a year ago — a lot of different reports and a lot of details. It’s really incredible.”
Predictably, Ms. Sumasar’s lawyer, Anthony Grandinette, had a different opinion of Mr. Ramrattan’s plan.
“The district attorney’s office has been suggesting that this was a master plot,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Grandinette as saying. “This was a relatively simple, straightforward thing to do. You get two people in an isolated area, they call 911, they make the whole thing up, there’s no corroboration.
“This didn’t take the work of a mastermind, nor did it take the work of a mastermind to unravel it, to put the pieces together.”
On March 2, a man named Terrell Lovell reported that he had been stopped by a dark Jeep Grand Cherokee in the town of Inwood and that a man and woman hopped out dressed in bullet-proof vests, gold shields and holding handguns, according to Jessica Cepriano, an assistant district attorney. Mr. Lovell said the woman was the aggressor, and described her has 5 feet 5 inches tall and Indian – a description that matched Ms. Sumasar, Ms. Cepriano said.
Mr. Lovell said they took cash and jewelry from him. He gave the police a partial New York license plate number, something that would be a key investigative tool, Ms. Cepriano said.
On May 19, the police got a call from Luz Johnson, who said that she also had been held up by a couple posing as police officers, Ms. Cepriano said. The alleged hold up occurred in the same area that Mr. Lovell reported his, Ms. Cepriano said. Ms. Johnson described the same vehicle but gave a full Florida plate number, Ms. Cepriano said. She also said she heard them call each other by name – Elvis and Sim.
Elvis was an old boyfriend of Ms. Sumasar’s, prosecutors said.
But what the authorities thought was a real break in the case came when they ran the full Florida plate number. The results showed that the day after the March 2 robbery, the title and plate for the Cherokee were transferred to Ms. Sumasar’s sister in Florida from Elvis. The partial plate that Mr. Lovell gave was a match to Elvis’s former plate number, Ms. Cepriano said.
“So it all was coming together,” Ms. Cepriano said.
The day after she claimed to be robbed, Ms. Johnson reported that someone tried to break into her car in Hackensack, N.J. (She had told the police that the robbers took some mail with her address on it and her spare keys.) She said they sped away in a Nissan Maxima and gave a full license plate number, Ms. Cepriano said.
It just so happened that that same day Hackensack police had chased a Nissan Maxima, but the prosecutors said they chalked that up to coincidence.
The plate number on the Maxima matched that a car owned by Ms. Sumasar’s current boyfriend, prosecutors said. So with Ms. Sumasar the common link between the three people whose license plate numbers had come up, and with her matching the description given by the victims, the police arrested her, prosecutors said.
“Jerry kind of had it set up so that the police would have to work to get the picture of Seemona,” said Mitch Benson, the chief of the Nassau district attorney’s Major Offense Bureau. “They didn’t put it in their lap. Since the police are putting this together, it makes it less likely that she was being framed.”
Before any of the alleged robberies were reported in Nassau, prosecutors said, there were others in Queens. The Nassau police tied them together as a pattern.
But the scheme unraveled when an informant came forward with information that Mr. Ramrattan had arranged the whole thing, prosecutors said. Telephone records they obtained showed that Mr. Ramrattan had been in contact with the supposed victims. Prosecutors brought Mr. Lovell and Ms. Johnson in for questioning, and both confessed that it was a setup, prosecutors said.
Both of them, along with Mr. Ramrattan, were arrested for the scheme. Ms. Sumasar was released from jail last week, after spending about seven months there because she could not make bail.
A third fake victim was arrested in Queens and is being prosecuted by the district attorney’s office there. In that case, prosecutors said, the man claimed that the robbers cocked the gun and a bullet fell out. Police recovered a bullet at the scene, prosecutors said.
Awards for Prosecutors
On Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association handed out its annual Thomas E. Dewey medals, which go to an outstanding prosecutor in each of the city’s five district attorney’s offices and the office of the special narcotics prosecutor.
The event, at which former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau gave the keynote address, provided a warm, jovial atmosphere. It is quite a contrast, people in the legal world say, to when the Henry L. Stimson medals are awarded to the city’s outstanding federal prosecutors.
The gay feeling in the air elicited quips from each of the recipients. Here are some of the best one-liners.
Peter D. Coddington of the Bronx: “There’s never going to be a TV show called, ‘Law and Order: The Appeals Unit,’” speaking about how appeals lawyers like himself do not always handle the most dramatic aspect of cases.
Mary D. Hughes of Brooklyn: Describing her career path, she said, “a nun, teacher, undercover agent, part-time actress and law school.”
Connie L. Fernandez of Manhattan, on the expectations attached to being appointed Manhattan’s third ever Latina assistant district attorney: “It was a good thing because No. 4 was Sonia Sotomayor.”
Kristen Kane of Queens: “No, you’re going to prosecute for seniors, you’re not a senior attorney,” quoting a supervisor who corrected her misunderstanding when she was told she would be a senior lawyer – they meant she would head up elder abuse cases.
Karen Schoenberg of Staten Island: After telling everyone that her mother, who died recently, would brag about her to everyone she saw, Ms. Schoenberg said that the people in heaven may not be resting in peace because “My mother is up there.”
Steven M. Goldstein of the special narcotics prosecutor’s office: “All of the stories we tell as district attorneys are second to none – not the first time, the second time, the third time, the fourth time.”
John Eligon and other court reporters for The New York Times take you inside the city’s halls of law every Friday. Have a tip? Send an e-mail message to [email protected].