Man jailed in Bedford Hills burglary, $3M extortion bid
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A Queens man was indicted Thursday on charges of invading the home of a Bedford Hills family in May and trying to extort $3 million.
Bartek Zajkowski, 22, is accused of tying up the husband and shooting the wife with a BB gun before sending letters threatening to harm their children if they didn't deposit $1 million for each child into a Netherlands bank account.
Zajkowski, who was ordered held without bond Thursday, was charged by federal prosecutors with attempted extortion and attempted robbery in the May 5 siege on the well-to-do family, which he allegedly followed up by torching the family's barn two days later.
"One can only imagine the utter terror felt by the victims of this alleged home invasion, robbery and extortion scheme," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Zajkowski faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
Bedford police have identified the Broad Brook Road couple as Leonardo and Lara Lebrun.
The FBI's criminal complaint does not name them. Zajkowski had worked for a contractor at the house in 2010.
According to the criminal complaint filed by Manhattan federal prosecutors Thursday, Zajkowski was dressed entirely in black, with a black mask covering his face, when he sneaked onto the family's Bedford Hills estate on May 5 and surprised the husband while he was near the garage.
Zajkowski is accused of then forcing the man to empty his pockets of cash and credit cards. At gunpoint, the husband admitted to Zajkowski that he kept valuable paintings and gold and silver bullion inside the home. Zajkowski forced Leonardo Lebrun to the ground, duct-taped his mouth and bound his hands and feet with plastic ties.
Inside the couple's home, the criminal complain contends, Zajkowski grabbed the wife and, during a violent struggle, shot her in the stomach with a BB gun. Zajkowski then allegedly wrapped duct tape around her head and bound her feet with the plastic ties. Somehow, she managed to free herself and trigger the house alarm, prompting Zajkowski to flee, the complaint says.
On May 7, the couple's barn was destroyed by fire.
A week later, the couple received the first of two letters, both littered with misspellings, in which the writer threatened to harm their three children if they didn't comply with the $3 million demand.
The return address read "Cant C Mee" and gave the address of the Bedford Police Department.
"I know where you live, what you do, how you and entire family of yours looks like, everything I need to know," it read. "... If you want your KIDS to be SAFE, YOU will pay one million $ for each one, 3 kids = 3 million $. It can be 3 payments of 1 million each on the account you receive. Faster you pay all of it, faster I will be gone."
The letter gave the family until May 19 to pay.
"Your wife mess with me," the letter stated. "She should let me do my thing. For that she can consider her horses very lucky that they didn't fry in that barn. Imagine running horses on fire."
The author hinted that he was at the house watching the barn burn until firefighters arrived. "It take them 30 minuts to get there and deal with barn," he wrote. "Made me wait 30 minutes to see them in action and still didn't find me."
After sending the money, the couple were supposed to take out a craigslist advertisement for the sale of a motorcycle.
"Make fake post that you are selling motorcycle," the letter read. "Subtitle of the post, '2000 Harley Davidson fat bob 4 quick sale."
The letter concluded with a frightening warning: "Your boy comes from school at 4 pm he walk from rode to the house by himself with big black book bag wich is all most bigger then him. Looks like nice kid. Like I said to you I dont like mess with kids but what need to be done has to be done."
Included with the note was an account number for a Netherlands bank as well as pictures of the couple's children taken from the husband's wallet.
A second letter arrived three days later. "Don't be stupid get you own mind to the game and stop listing those stupid left over cops," it read, before threatening the children's lives again.
Working with Dutch police, FBI agents found an unidentified alleged co-conspirator whose name was on a piece of paper Zajkowski is accused of including with the number for the Netherlands bank account. The co-conspirator admitted he had partnered in the scheme with Zajkowski's mother, who controlled a bank account in the Netherlands, the complaint said.
A break in the case came on Sept. 17, 2011, when, according to the complaint, during an attempted break-in at a Ridgefield, Conn., home Zajkowski allegedly dropped a bag with plastic ties, a BB gun and duct tape that matched those used in the Bedford Hills home invasion. Fingerprints on the bag linked him to the attempted break-in.
In both cases, Zajkowski had worked at the homes for a contractor, the complaint said.
Zajkowski was arrested in June in connection with the Connecticut burglary. During a search of his Queens apartment, police found laptop computers that included detailed maps leading to the Bedford Hills estate.
And Zajkowski allegedly didn't stop writing letters after he being locked up in June. On July 14, he allegedly wrote a letter to Leonardo Lebrun asking him to visit him in jail.
During a jailhouse interview with the FBI last month, Zajkowski said that the Bedford Hills woman should have complied with his demands because he had a gun.
"Zajkowski states that he would think about it again first before doing it," FBI Special Agent Brendan Kenney wrote.
Asked what he intended to gain, "Zajkowski rhetorically asked me if I thought he would commit the home invasion to simply get (the husband's) wallet," Kenney wrote.
Kenney noted that among the expensive paintings in the Bedford Hill estate was one by Cornelis Springer, a 19th century Dutch painter whose painting the couple purchased through an auction house in the Netherlands.