The Suffolk County district attorney's office has paid its key witness in the killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant more than $9,000 for living expenses since November 2008, according to a letter from the DA's office that outlines the payments.
The monthly payments to Angel Loja, who was with Marcelo Lucero on the night he was fatally stabbed, were referred to in a March 15 letter from prosecutors to William Keahon of Hauppauge, the attorney for defendant Jeffrey Conroy.
Newsday reporters saw the letter Friday. The district attorney's office, which said it has provided such assistance in some other cases, confirmed its contents.
The letter, citing the state's code of civil practice, says Loja has received "monetary assistance from our office . . . to aid in the recovery of lost wages as a result of being a victim and witness to this crime. The money was provided in monthly payments . . . $615 for the months November 2008 through November 2009. Beginning in December 2009, monthly payments were made . . . of $400 and have been made through the present."
Robert Clifford, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota, said Friday, "Angel Loja is a crime victim who may not have been financially able to stay in this jurisdiction" without assistance.
"The money was provided for basic living expenses to enable him to remain here and provide testimony at trial," Clifford said.
Keahon said "It is what it is" and declined further comment.
Several legal experts said Friday that it was unusual for a district attorney's office to pay expenses for a witness or victim unless the person had sustained injuries and could not work.
"Unless there's some type of psychological injury, then I would say that it's unusual for the DA's office to pay these expenses for such a period of time," said Jim Cohen, a criminal law professor at Fordham Law School.Loja was "hit pretty hard" but not seriously wounded on the night of Nov. 8, 2008, said the Rev. Allan Ramirez, pastor of Brookville Reformed Church. That's when prosecutors say a group of teenagers attacked him and Lucero near the Patchogue train station and Lucero was stabbed.
The pastor said he arranged for the payments because Loja wanted to return to his native Ecuador after Lucero's death.
Ramirez said his church funnels the money from the district attorney's office to Loja. The monthly payments were reduced in December when Loja started working occasional jobs, Ramirez said.
"I have always encouraged him to find steady work, but obviously that is very, very difficult," he said.