A Sea Cliff man who served more than 20 years in prison for murder is facing fraud and identity theft charges in a complex scheme to loot $1.2 million from the estate of a 77-year-old woman, according to court papers and sources familiar with the case.
John Derounian, 51, is also under federal investigation in the woman’s death last November, the sources said, but he has not been charged.
Derounian pleaded not guilty to four federal counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, at his arraignment Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
“Driven by greed, the defendant allegedly went to great lengths to perpetrate his fraudulent scheme to steal an elderly woman’s entire life-savings,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Robert L. Capers said in a statement.
“To devise a scheme to steal from the deceased is despicably morbid,” said Philip Bartlett, the head of the Postal Inspection Service in New York. “Mr. Derounian’s alleged crimes are unconscionable.”
Sources identified the victim, who appears in court documents as “Jane Doe,” as Marilyn Mosberg-Shapiro, a lawyer and a retired state administrative law judge.
Derounian’s attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said his client “vehemently denies that he had anything to do with the death” of Mosberg-Shapiro.
According to court papers, Derounian first called police to report finding Mosberg-Shapiro’s body in the apartment complex where they both lived.
He later submitted a forged will, claiming he was Mosberg-Shapiro’s sole heir, and had her body cremated, federal prosecutors and postal inspectors said in the papers. Derounian then proceeded to drain her accounts, and sell off properties she owned for nearly $1 million.
At the time of his arrest, he “made statements . . . admitting to the fraudulent scheme,” according to court papers.
The federal prosecutor in the case, Mark Misorek, declined to comment.
Derounian, also known as John Standley or John Stanley, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of Sea Cliff jeweler Joseph Bellissimo during a 1983 robbery at his store.
Bellissimo was stabbed 15 times, $30,000 worth of jewelry was stolen and the store was set on fire in an apparent attempt to conceal the crime, police said.
Derounian, 19 at the time, was accused of plotting the crime, which involved several accomplices. When he was sentenced in 1984, the judge called him “a miniature Charles Manson.”
He was released from prison in 2007, but is on lifetime parole, records show.
In outlining the alleged fraud scheme, officials said in court papers that Derounian called police on Nov. 12 and said he had found Mosberg-Shapiro’s body in the apartment building, owned by Derounian’s mother. Mosberg-Shapiro had moved there after her Glen Cove residence was damaged during superstorm Sandy, the sources said.
Griffin said the Nassau County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a “full investigation” into Mosberg-Shapiro’s death and “came to the specific conclusion that this death was one of natural causes.”
Derounian’s call to police occurred one day after a woman purporting to be Mosberg-Shapiro called Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, where she had accounts for more than 20 years, the papers said.
The caller authorized Derounian to be a user of the accounts and to change her address to Sea Cliff, the court papers said.
Between Nov. 15 and Nov. 19, 19 withdrawals were made from Mosberg-Shapiro’s accounts, totaling $9,697. Videos from seven of the withdrawals show Derounian making those withdrawals, the papers said.
On Jan. 6, a will purporting to be Mosberg-Shapiro’s was filed in Nassau County Probate Court, bequeathing her “entire estate to Derounian, less $30,000 in charitable donations.” A postal inspector compared the signature on the will to Mosberg-Shapiro’s driver’s license and “found the signatures to be dissimilar,” according to the court papers.
On Jan. 11, a woman called Morgan Stanley, purporting to be Mosberg-Shapiro, and requested that all the money in her accounts be dispersed, including $139,000 in an individual account and $102,000 in an IRA. The funds in her personal account — $139,000 — were sent in a check to the Sea Cliff address. The check was deposited in a TD Bank account, endorsed by Derounian and “the Estate” of Mosberg-Shapiro, the papers said.
On June 1, Derounian sold unspecified properties that Mosberg-Shapiro owned and received two bank checks for $949,000 and $22,000.
All of the money Derounian collected from Mosberg-Shapiro’s estate has been frozen, pending the outcome of the case. The indictment seeks forfeiture of the funds.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack ordered Derounian held without bond.