Tuesday, May 24, 2005
By KIBRET MARKOS
A Glen Rock woman whose daughter was slain two years ago during a trip to India was awarded $4 million in punitive damages Monday.
A judge in Hackensack had already awarded $4 million in compensatory damages less than two weeks ago to Madeleine Swiderski, ruling that Pragnesh Desai was liable for the wrongful death of her daughter, Leona Swiderski, 33.
Leona Swiderski's body was found in 2003 near a highway in India. Desai, her fiancé, was charged with the murder but quickly acquitted. He is detained in India while a higher court hears an appeal of the acquittal.
He is also fighting extradition to the United States, where federal authorities have charged him with conspiracy to commit murder.
Prosecutors in Newark say Desai killed Swiderski after taking out a $1 million insurance policy on her life. They first charged him with wire fraud but upgraded that to murder conspiracy, which carries a life sentence.
Madeleine Swiderski obtained a civil verdict against him May 13 after a brief hearing in Superior Court in Hackensack.
Desai's lawyer, Miles Feinstein, said his client is not defending himself in the wrongful-death case because evidence presented there could be used in the criminal case.
Swiderski's lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold, said she was satisfied with the award but added, "I feel there is a lot of work ahead of me getting that money for the family."
Desai owns a restaurant in Manhattan and a 7-Eleven store in Cliffside Park, Arnold said.