10 of the strangest stories from the Hudson Valley in 2012
THE TIGER WHISPERER
David Villalobos wanted to be "one with the tiger." That's what the Mahopac man told incredulous police detectives after his death-defying stunt in late September, when he leaped from a monorail car at the Bronx Zoo's Wild Asia exhibit and landed -- on all fours -- in a tiger den, where he encountered 400-pound Siberian tiger named Bashuta. Villalobos suffered broken bones and flesh-rending bites, but apparently had no regrets: "Everybody in life makes choices," he told cops. Perhaps the police felt tiger bites were punishment enough, because they let Villalobos off easy with a single charge of misdemeanor trespassing.
OPUS DEI EXTORTION PLOT
When the heir to an oil fortune walked into his Mount Kisco computer repair shop with a virus-infected PC, prosecutors say, Chappaqua's Vickram Bedi saw green. Bedi not only cleaned the virus off his client's machine, he warned him about a plot to ruin his life. The computer virus, he said, was planted by Polish priests affiliated with the secretive Catholic organization Opus Dei, prosecutors say. Bedi also claimed he was affiliated with the CIA. The victim bought the story, and from 2004 to 2010, Bedi charged the victim $20 million to "protect" him from the imagined plot, and lost another $12.5 million of the victim's money in bad investments, according to prosecutors.
LET THEM EAT GOOSE
Animal rights activists didn't take kindly to Westchester County's plan to eradicate geese and process the dead animals into meat for the homeless. After the county killed some 500 geese from the Sprain Lake Golf Course and sent them upstate for processing, activists successfully lobbied for more "humane" ways of dispersing out-of-control geese -- including a lithium ion-powered, orange foam monster called the Goosinator, which uses polycarbonate-coated foam floats to glide over water and land, terrorizing the birds into fleeing.
LYING DOWN WITH THE DOG
Tenants at Rye's Colony Cooperative Apartments suspected someone was entering their home when they were gone, so they wired the apartment with nanny cams. They were in for a shock when they reviewed the footage, which showed 41-year-old superintendent Kujtim Nicaj "engaged in multiple sex acts" with their dog, Westchester County prosecutors said. Nicaj, who initially maintained his innocence with a series of vehement denials through his lawyer, eventually took a plea deal, and in October he pleaded guilty to felony burglary and sexual misconduct.
MLB SEX CHANGE
A bored MLB employee had some fun at the expense of Derek Jeter, Bill Murray and a few million baseball fans in August, when he posted a series of hilarious -- and sometimes offensive -- messages on the official Facebook pages of the Yankees, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, among others. Murray, a longtime Cubs fan, was dismissed with a single vulgarity, while a message on the Yankee page informed fans that Jeter "will miss the rest of the reason with sexual reassignment surgery. He promises to come back stronger than ever in 2013 as Minnie Mantlez." The messages weren't intended to go public, and were scrubbed by Facebook within a few minutes.
Most people buy a turkey for their annual Thanksgiving feast, but NYPD Officer Gilberto Valle wanted a more exotic dish. Valle, who was accused of stalking would-be victims, told an Internet friend he wanted to abduct and kill a woman for use as "girl meat," prosecutors alleged. The real reason to give thanks? Valle's plans were foiled by detectives, and the would-be cannibal was stopped before he could harm any of his potential victims.
SPRAY TAN DEFENSE
When former Rockland County resident Adam Kaufman was arrested and accused of murdering his wife, Lena, his lawyer initially claimed a violent allergic reaction to tanning spray was the real cause of death. Dubbed the "spray tan defense" by the media, the claim made headlines, but Kaufman's lawyer eventually abandoned the theory. After compelling testimony by forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden -- and support from Lena's family, who believed Kaufman did not commit the crime -- Kaufman was acquitted in June.
THE MONROE MADAM
Somewhere, the high-profile former clients of admitted madam Anna Gristina are hoping the Monroe mom changes her mind about sharing her little black book with Dr. Phil. Gristina's case came to prominence earlier this year, when she was stuck at Riker's Island for months thanks to a judge who set bail at $2 million. Things were eventually sorted out, and Gristina pleaded guilty to a felony count of promoting prostitution. But the 44-year-old Orange County mom, who appeared on Dr. Phil's TV show earlier this year, vowed she'll return to the show and name her clients, who are rumored to include a well-known former athlete and an NFL executive.
MODERN KITTY GENOVESE
A Port Chester man trained cameras on the street in front of his home because he was tired of people stumbling home from a nearby bar, tossing beer cans in his yard and urinating on his property. The cameras caught plenty of that behavior -- but they also captured hours of footage from a night in May, when a man passed out drunk on the sidewalk and was robbed, repeatedly, by passersby. Most of the thieves who rifled through Sergio Palacios' pockets were eventually tracked down and arrested by cops, but the community was horrified at the apparent indifference of the dozens who passed Palacios by without helping.
MURDER OF AN HEIR
Narcy Novack's outbursts became more frequent, more disturbing and more dramatic during the course of her trial, where she was accused of orchestrating the murder of her millionaire husband, Ben Novack Jr. By the end, she tried desperately to manipulate public opinion, including going against the advice of her attorneys and talking to News12 from jail. In early May, she floated her wildest theory -- that her husband was never murdered, and was watching the murder trial with detachment from afar. It was a switch from her previous claims that her daughter was the murderer, but it didn't change the outcome of the trial. Novack was sentenced to life in prison earlier in December.