BROOKLYN - His work of a lifetime crumbling in the face of a botched criminal prosecution that allowed the only person jailed for the 1990 murder of Rabbi Chatzkel Werzberger, Hy”d, to go free, the detective who pushed through the conviction is defending himself in a series of media interviews.
Louis Scarcella, a decorated cop who was involved in more than 300 murder probes during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s, said that he used unconventional means to solve crimes, but they were all true.
“I’m standing up for myself because it’s the truthful thing to do,” Scarcella, a tough-talking retired cop from Bensonhurst, said.
That did not stop Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes from asking the Conviction Integrity Unit, a new division designed to review cases that may have been mishandled, from reviewing all 50 or so convictions in which Scarcella had a hand.
Scarcella reportedly intimidated witnesses in getting a conviction for David Ranta in the killing of Rabbi Werzberger, the beloved shamash of Khal Yeitev Lev of Satmar in Williamsburg. But he told the New York Post that Ranta’s release in March meant that a killer is free on the streets of New York.
He said that Alan Bloom, a thief who conspired to steal $250,000 in gems from a Williamsburg courier who lived in an adjacent Clymer Street apartment building to Rabbi Werzberger, was the first to finger Ranta in the murder.
Scarcella said that Ranta had asked Bloom, who knew Ranta only as “David from Kensington,” to steal a car and drive with him to the home of Chaim Weinberger, a jeweler who was planning to drive early morning to the airport.
Bloom said he had dropped Ranta off in front of Weinberger’s house. Ranta followed Weinberger, who was carrying the jewels in an attaché case, out of his apartment, and prepared to attack him as he started his car.
But Weinberger, sensing what was afoot, put the car into reverse and pressed his foot on the pedal. Bruised and searching for Bloom, who was supposed to have double parked nearby, Ranta panicked.
“He couldn’t find the getaway car — he was looking both ways — so he ran across the street where this rabbi[’s car] was idling,” Scarcella said. “Bloom said Ranta pulled him out of the car and shot him twice.”
Scarcella knew Bloom, and used him to get to Ranta. But not knowing Ranta’s last name — Bloom knew him as “David from Kensington” — the two of them drove around Williamsburg. Bloom suddenly spied an acquaintance of Ranta’s.
“I jumped out and said, ‘I’m looking for a guy named David,’ and I gave her my card. She said, ‘You mean David who killed that rabbi?’” Scarcella said.
Bloom then picked out Ranta from among thousands of mug shots, passed a polygraph test and described the killing in detail. Scarcella said that when he found Ranta, he immediately confessed.
“I said, ‘You come from 66th Street. I come from 66th Street. We’re both Italian. Why don’t you tell me the truth?’” Scarcella said. “So he says, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I was there. I was involved in the robbery. Things went bad. I left when the shots were fired. I didn’t shoot the guy.’”
Scarcella said that Barry Schreiber, the prosecutor, “was ecstatic” that Ranta had admitted to being at the scene. “He said it was a very compelling statement.”
An eyewitness, Menachem Lieberman, who currently lives in Montreal, also picked out Ranta from a lineup.
Although Ranta later denied admitting he was at the scene, his statement was used at trial. With the addition of other evidence, he was convicted and spent 23 years in prison. He was freed two months ago after Lieberman told Ranta’s trial lawyer he “had uncertainty and discomfort” about his identification of Ranta.
Lieberman later gave a statement recounting that a detective — not Scarcella — had told him to “pick the one with the big nose” — Ranta — out of a police lineup.
The Werzberger family believed all along that Ranta was a fall guy for the real murderer.
But Scarcella said that he has no doubt that Ranta was the killer.
“David is guilty of felony murder,” he said. “He is not this innocent guy. He confessed. And he knows he gave me that statement.”