Tuesday, May 9, 2006
By RICHARD COWEN
The families of two people killed during a quadruple homicide at a Paterson after-hours club in December served notice Monday that they intend to sue the federal government, claiming the slayings were the tragic result of a botched sting operation by the FBI.
The families of Tara Woods, 29, of West Paterson and Ralf "Rudy" Hernandez, 53, of Paterson are each seeking $75 million in damages, according to a pair of tort-claim notices filed Monday. The notices alert the federal government that the families are planning to file a lawsuit within six months.
The notices claim that the after-hours club, on the second floor of a warehouse on Railroad Avenue in Paterson, was "owned, operated, created, managed, supervised and funded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Rosemarie Arnold, the attorney for both families, said the FBI opened the club as part of a probe into street-gang activity in Paterson. The FBI worked with an informant, dubbed "Scorpio," who rented the warehouse space and acted as the club's manager, she said.
"I understand they set up this club as part of a sting operation," she said. "I heard they were trying to do something about the gang problem in Paterson."
Arnold said both families will seek damages for lost wages as well as for pain and suffering. Woods was a mother of two children ages 5 and 10. Hernandez, a father of two, was working as a subcontractor, installing fences.
Woods' sister, Linda Riscioni, said the FBI was responsible for the safety of all the patrons in the club. "But for the fact that there was no security in the bar, my sister would be alive today," she said.
The FBI continued to maintain its silence on Monday, as it has since the shootings. "The bureau has no comment on the matter," FBI spokesman Steven Siegel said.
It could not be learned Monday whether the families of the other two victims, Jesus Antonio Gonzalez, 31, of Paterson or Johnny Melendez, 41, of Newark, had filed notices of intent to sue.
The club had been open for several months above a machine shop on Railroad Avenue, an industrial area that is a few blocks from St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center. The club had a pool table and areas for shooting craps and playing cards, and usually began filling up after Paterson's bars closed at 3 a.m.
The day of the shooting, Woods, Melendez and Gonzalez arrived together from another bar around 1:30 a.m. Hernandez was by himself.
The gunman arrived around 4:30 a.m., accompanied by two other men, authorities said. The gunman shot each victim once in the head and fled. Police have said that the gunman had robbed the club patrons of up to $10,000, but Hernandez was found with $1,000 in his pocket.
The manager of the club escaped through a side door just as the shooting began. A state police dispatcher received a frantic 911 call reporting the shooting from a man who identified himself as working for the FBI. The Record later obtained a tape recording of the exchange.
In the days after the shooting, police arrested two men and charged them with murder. The alleged triggerman, David Baylor, 26, of Passaic, is charged with four counts of murder and is being held on $5 million bail at the Passaic County Jail. His alleged accomplice, Hamidullah Abdul Shabazz, 29, also of Passaic, is also charged with four counts of murder and is in the Passaic County Jail. His bail has been revoked.
A third suspect, Reginald "Khadafi" Barris, 24, was arrested in New York City on April 20. He is charged with four counts of murder and is being held at the Passaic County Jail on $1 million bail.
Arnold, of Fort Lee, has handled numerous high-profile cases recently.
She is involved in the case of Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old Alabama student who disappeared in Aruba after a night of partying. Arnold has represented Joran van der Sloot, the son of an Aruba judge and one of three men who were with the woman before she disappeared. Joran van der Sloot has not been charged in the case.
Closer to home, Arnold has represented residents of a Bergenfield apartment building destroyed by a gas-line explosion in December. The explosion killed three people.