Murder of Stamford man was motivated by $ 600 debt

STAMFORD – Police believe a 20-year-old man from New York City shot dead a city resident in December for an unpaid debt of $ 600, according to an arrest warrant.

And they praised the detectives and officers who tracked down what happened before and after the night Jeffery Vanech was shot for their work while explaining the intricacies of modern detection.

Ernest Rosario, 20, was arrested following a brief scuffle with a patrol officer near Stamford station on September 16.

It was accused of murder, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of a large capacity magazine, obstructing the police, possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with the intention of selling and operating a drug factory.

He was held on $ 2.5 million bail for the murder charge and an additional $ 250,000 for the other charges. His next court date is Thursday. Rosario does not have a listed lawyer.

Stamford officer Nick Spinella writes in the arrest warrant that Rosario, also known as “Bronx” and “Wheez”, was “a drug / gun dealer” and “a friend / partner “of Vanech, a 49-year-old man. old who was beaten down on December 7, 2020, in the southern district of the city.

Vanech would loan Rosario, who lives in the Bronx, his mother’s vehicle, or drive it to and from town in exchange for “money and / or drugs to fuel his habit,” according to the warrant.

But the arrangement described between Rosario and Vanech reportedly deteriorated in the months leading up to the 49-year-old’s homicide, Spinella wrote.

The warrant indicates that Vanech owed Rosario up to $ 600, and that Rosario was allegedly “having” him on that debt.

The night before he was killed, Vanech was allegedly attacked by four of Rosario’s friends outside a South End bodega, according to the warrant. During the attack, Vanech lost his keys, phone and wallet, according to the warrant.

“(A) person in the South End told him (Vanech) that he had better relax because the night before they were looking to kill him. This person told him that someone had a gun and that they were trying to get him away from the bodega, ”Spinella wrote in the warrant.

The incident was not reported to police at the time.

The next day, Vanech returned to the area where he was attacked in search of his belongings, the warrant says. It was during this trip that Vanech was shot and killed, police said.

Shortly after 5:20 p.m. on December 7, police intervened at the corner of Henry and Cedar streets, where they found a man later identified as Vanech with multiple gunshot wounds outside the driver’s side of his car. Vanech was taken to hospital where he died.

As part of their investigation, officers raided the home of Freddie Hicks, a town man who lived nearby, police said.

During a search of Hicks’ home, police recovered a black fanny pack containing a gun, a social service card belonging to Vanech, a long gray cell phone charger and a small bag of crack cocaine.

The gun recovered from the bag was later confirmed to be the weapon used in Vanech’s murder, police said.

Hicks has been charged with criminal possession of a firearm, obstructing second-degree prosecutions and tampering with evidence, all felonies. He is still being held in lieu of $ 500,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court on October 4.

According to the warrant, hours before being killed, Vanech told a family member that he “was afraid and wanted to leave his mother’s house” because he felt he was being chased by Rosario and Rosario knew where Vanech lived.

Cell phone data obtained via a search warrant later determined that Rosario was “in close proximity” to where Vanech was shot and killed at the time of the homicide, according to the warrant.

Based on the data from the cell phone and the relationship between Rosario and Vanech, detectives began to view Rosario as a “person of interest,” police said.

What followed was a “long and complicated investigation,” according to Captain Richard Conklin, commander of the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Stamford.

“It was a really cutting edge investigation by our investigators,” Conklin said.

Investigators ultimately used cell phone data, social media data, homeland security information, forensic analysis and surveillance footage to build a case against Rosario, Conklin said.

Investigators tracked down Rosario’s Facebook accounts, one that was deleted on December 8 – a day after Vanech’s homicide – and a second that began weeks later at Christmas, Conklin said.

Conversations obtained through a search warrant show Rosario asking a friend for “a favor” less than 90 minutes before Vanech was shot.

Then, starting about 90 minutes after the Vanech attack, Rosario’s Facebook account searched for the name “Jeff Vanech” eight times – all before police publicly confirmed that Vanech had been shot and killed, according to the report. the mandate. His search history also included two searches for the name “Freddie Hicks” during this period.

Based on cell tower data obtained via a search warrant, police determined that in the six months leading up to the homicide, Rosario had spent an average of around 20 days per month in Stamford.

This “long and established pattern of behavior”, however, changed on December 7, the day Vanech was killed, according to the warrant.

December 7 was the last time Rosario was in Stamford, according to phone data and confidential sources from the Stamford Narcotics and Organized Crime unit, according to the warrant.

Investigators also noted that as of December 9, Rosario stopped using cell service or the service provided by cell phone towers, and instead started using Wi-Fi to communicate, according to the warrant.

A search warrant for Rosario’s iPhone and all of his iCloud information also showed the 20-year-old sold his phone the day after Vanech’s murder.

“Investigators believe this was a clear effort by Rosario to prevent his phone and any evidence it contains from being confiscated by law enforcement,” the warrant said.

Surveillance footage from a Metro-North Railroad train shows Rosario two hours before the shooting as he heads to Connecticut from New York City all wearing dark clothing, similar to clothing eyewitnesses described as carrying the gunman , and carrying a fanny pack compatible with the bag they later found in Hicks’ residence.

In the footage, Rosario is also seen using a non-standard length phone charger similar to a lanyard that was also found in the fanny pack obtained from Hicks, according to the warrant.

Information obtained through the Department of Homeland Security also shows that two days after Vanech’s death, Rosario purchased a plane ticket from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Rosario’s altered lifestyle, changes in how cell phones are used, efforts to prevent the seizure of evidence, and travel outside of the continental United States” all indicate Rosario’s “guilt consciousness.” , writes Spinella in the mandate.

A forensic analysis of the murder weapon found DNA on its trigger that is “at least 1.8 billion times more likely” to come from Rosario and an unknown individual than if it came from two unknown individuals, writes Spinella in the warrant.

Last week, Conklin congratulated the Major Crime Unit C Squad, including the sergeants. Jennifer Lynch, Will Garay and Chris Dicarlo and officers Michael Longo, Charlie Williams, Luis Velez, Michael Spinosa, Leo Brace, Luis Vidal and Spinella for their contribution to the arrest of Rosario.

“The department hopes this arrest will help the Vanech family achieve an end and a sense of justice for the tragedy they have endured,” Conklin said.

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