Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recent Efforts to Get Some Answers from the Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office (Part I)

    My original post (September 2010) sets forth my major concerns about the unsatisfactory investigation into my brother Mark’s death following a suspicious truck fire.  As I indicated there, I have continued to try to get answers to many of the troubling issues. 

    In May 2010, I raised a number of questions in a meeting with current Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman.  I had previously discussed my concerns with her by telephone and e-mail.  When she was running for District Attorney in fall 2009, she agreed that not enough had been done in the investigation and referred specifically to the importance of checking the telephone records. 

    In late November 2009 shortly after her election, I sent the D.A.-elect copies of my letters to D.A. Sharkey, including the one of October 2008 outlining my major concerns and the relevant information I had learned.  Ms. Rieman replied by e-mail with the following: "I got your letter in the mail the other day and intend to do what I can when I get in office.  I cannot promise anything, but you deserve better and I will certainly do whatever I can.  I am thinking of asking that a special prosecutor (i.e. the Attorney General's office) be appointed to conduct an independent investigation.  I want to look at it first and consider which would be the best option."

    When I saw her in May 2010, however, D.A. Rieman had invited retired N.Y.S.P. Senior Investigator John Ensell, who was the immediate superior of the investigator in Mark’s case and now works part-time as an investigator in the District Attorney's office.  At this meeting, D.A. Rieman conveyed a very different attitude about the case and reversed her previously expressed intentions, with no warning and no explanation.  She now backed up virtually everything Mr. Ensell said justifying the original investigation.  I cannot discuss here all the questions I posed at that time, many of which referred to very sensitive issues.  This post, however, raises one specific point that came up at that meeting.  I later e-mailed some follow-up questions to D.A. Rieman, who replied that they were being referred to Mr. Ensell, with whom I subsequently had an exchange related to the issue at hand.

    As I mentioned in my original post of September 2010, when I brought up the issue of insurance money, Mr. Ensell insisted that the total amount was only $17,000.  Because he met with N.Y.S.P. Inv. Edward Kalfas and Sr. Inv. John Wolfe to discuss the case in September 2005, I asked Attorney Michael Kelly about that figure.  He replied that the New York State Police investigators had told him that they did not know how much insurance there actually was.  After receiving no response to the follow-up e-mail I sent in early July, I e-mailed Mr. Ensell in late December 2010, reiterating my question about this discrepancy, among other things.

    Mr. Ensell replied as follows: "As far as life insurance is concerned, I did have a contact during that time frame with an Investigator with the New York State Insurance Department.  His disclosure was that the Pavlock name did not stand out as name associated with any large amount of money concerning insurance.  As far as the $17,000 is concerned, that is a matter of the information that was supplied in the report."  The reply by Mr. Ensell thus maintains his statement about insurance at the meeting in May.  But, by the language he uses (e.g., "the Pavlock name did not stand out as name associated with any large amount"), Mr. Ensell's e-mail does not at all appear to settle the question of insurance money definitively.  It was reported to me that there is in fact no national insurance data base.  So, special effort is needed to confirm the existence of life insurance policies.
    At age fifty-three and in excellent health, my brother suffered an unnecessary and extremely brutal death, enduring unimaginably painful third-degree burns over almost his entire body.  A nephew who lived close enough to get to the Erie County Medical Center before my brother died said that Mark's condition was so horrific that he regretted going in to see him: my nephew could not forget the image of Mark's legs charred and his nose nearly burned off.  My brother did nothing to deserve a death like that.  The New York State Police admitted that they could not prove Mark's death was a suicide.  There was in fact no evidence of a suicide.  The police also could not produce any reasonable scenario by which that truck fire could have been an accident.  So what conclusion is left to be drawn?

    My concern about the insurance money was spurred by the dubious story my brother's then twenty-three year old daughter Christie told me about a suicide letter that she was keeping secret in order to protect the insurance money.  As I stated in my original post, I informed the New York State Police about this matter as soon as I found out who was investigating Mark's death and spoke about it directly to Inv. Kalfas.  I also offered, orally and in writing, to take a polygraph test in case they had any doubts about the veracity of my statements.  Inv. Kalfas declined to administer a polygraph test, saying, "I don't know what good it would do."  It is recorded in the police report that Inv. Kalfas asked Christie if she knew anything about a suicide letter, and she denied knowing anything about it.  The State Police investigator clearly did not press Mark's daughter at all about her claim to me of both a suicide letter and her motive for withholding it.

    My intention is not to accuse anyone of Mark's death but to question why more was not done in the investigation to find out how and why that truck fire really happened.  As Attorney Tony Tanke pointed out, in any thorough investigation into such a suspicious death, the authorities would look carefully at what happened with money, especially insurance policies.  This, of course, might reveal who would have been in a position to profit by my brother's death and in what amounts.  It was not fully explored.  More than one insurance agent has told me that it is not difficult to hide a life insurance policy, as there are many small companies out there.  No bank records were examined.  In addition, as I mentioned in my original post, no telephone records were checked.

    It is clear that significant money was spent not long after Mark's death.  Someone in the area informed me in 2008, for instance, that the house owned by my brother and his wife had been put up for sale with a company advertising it online.  In its description of the place, the ad stated: "Very nicely maintained ranch home that has been completely remodeled!"  Regrettably, the New York State Police did not probe deeply enough to "follow the money" received and spent after my brother's death.  Without exploring such a critical matter, it is difficult to fathom how any competent police or prosecutor could cease investigating, let alone reach any conclusion about the cause of Mark's death. 


  1. I'm kind of surprised by your brother's daughter's interest in the insurance money. When my father died the last thing any of us thought about was money of any kind.

  2. In fact, you did get an "unsatisfactory investigation." A U.S. lawyer once told me that in this country, you are entitled simply to an "investgation," not to a "good" or "satisfactory" or even a "competent" investigation. Now you are in a bind created by the inferior work of Kalfas and the stonewalling of the system (police and DA), which now wants to protect him. In England, you would have an automatic right to an enquiry by an independent Ombudsperson.

  3. To Anonymous of March 25, 6:20 p.m.:

    I was much more than "kind of surprised" at Mark's daughter Christie's expression of interest in insurance money. She made her claim about a suicide letter that she was concealing to protect the insurance money within six or seven hours of Mark's death. At that point, I couldn't even process the fact that my brother was gone and kept wondering what kind of pain he had suffered from those burns.

    Suicide seemed totally out of character for my brother, and Christie's explanation that Mark had been depressed over our mother's and father's deaths was simply not credible. I then had to wonder why she had brought up the subject of insurance money at all.

    I can relate to the way you responded after your father's death. When my own father died in 1995, I never once thought about insurance money, and my mother didn't bring up the subject. We were both grief-stricken. I just asked her if she had enough money to cover his funeral, and she assured me that she did.