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Murder mystery: Who shot penny-stock promoters?


Kathleen Hopkins

Solve this case Do you have information about the double murders? Contact the FBI at (212) 384-1000 or the Monmouth County Crimestoppers hotline at 1-800-671-4400. Crimestoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
COLTS NECK – In this wealthy community of horse farms and stately homes, an ornate statue atop a Grecian fountain stands as a silent witness to the dark secrets of the sprawling mansion behind it.
If the statue could talk, it might solve a mystery that has baffled a cadre of investigators for 15 years: who executed two penny stock promoters, gangland style, in the largely unfurnished home behind the black-and-gold, wrought-iron gates?
A decade-and-a-half has passed since Albert Alain Chalem and Maier Lehmann were found bullet-riddled and facedown in pools of their own blood on the marble floor of the dining room of the white, brick colonial on Bluebell Road, in a community that has boasted residents like Bruce Springsteen and Queen Latifah.
Although authorities still have not established the identity of the men's killer or killers, they have uncovered a tangled web of the victims' shady financial deals that could have provided more than enough motive for vengeance.
But despite the recent anniversary of the crimes on Oct. 25, 1999, details about the investigation into the homicides are almost as mysterious as the killings themselves.
The FBI's Newark and New York offices are involved in the case, as is the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. Officials with the Prosecutor's Office won't comment because they say it is an active investigation. The FBI didn't say much more.
"The FBI cannot comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation," Special Agent Barbara Woodruff of the FBI's Newark office said in response to a media inquiry. "Under limited circumstances, like this one, we can acknowledge an investigation is open, but do not provide any details of the investigation."
What is known is that two of Chalem's friends were planning to spend the night at the Bluebell Road mansion and had been in frequent phone contact with him on Oct. 25, 1999. But when the two friends couldn't reach Chalem after 8:30 p.m., they went to the mansion about 1 a.m. the next day and made the grisly discovery, John Kaye, Monmouth County prosecutor at the time, said in the aftermath of the killings.
The 41-year-old Chalem, who lived in the mansion owned by his girlfriend's father, had been shot once in the chest and five times in the head and neck, authorities said at the time. Lehmann, 37, a married father of five from Woodmere, New York, was shot once in the leg and three times in the head, they said.
Both were laying facedown on the marble floor of the dining room, near a long table scattered with piles of paperwork, Kaye said. Inches away from the right hands of both of the dead men were their cellular telephones, which kept ringing after they were dead, Kaye revealed then. The victims most likely knew their killers, as there were no signs of forced entry, he has said.
"We believed from the beginning it had all the earmarks of a mob-related hit," Kaye said in a recent telephone interview.
But what appeared to be crucial evidence at the scene turned out to be unfruitful, Kaye explained.
"One of the things that intrigued detectives were drops of blood that went up the semi-spiral staircase," Kaye said in the recent interview.
"Everyone had the impression the drops of blood were coming off a weapon the killer had used, and now the killer was going upstairs to look for another victim," he said.
Investigators later learned it was one of Chalem's two English bulldogs, to whom he was deeply attached, that got its nose in a pool of blood and left the bloody trail, Kaye said.
The two bulldogs, named Sophia and Spikey, were found in Chalem's bedroom, unharmed.
Absent from the home at the time of the murders was Chalem's girlfriend, Kimberly Scarola, and her 13-year-old son. Both had left for Florida shortly before the murders, and Chalem had planned to meet them there, authorities said.
Earlier that summer, Chalem, Scarola and the teenager moved into the mansion that Scarola's father had purchased months earlier for $1.1 million. Authorities noted after the killings that, oddly, the expensive home had hardly any furnishings in it.
Both Scarola and Lehmann's widow, Tamara, were ruled out as suspects, authorities said.
But the investigation had plenty of other directions to go in, as the dead men's questionable business dealings spanned the globe.
Chalem and Lehmann were partners in a website registered in Panama and managed out of Budapest, Hungary, that falsely hyped high-risk, low-priced stocks that the pair would dump at a profit once their prices had been manipulated. Both men already were known to investigators probing shady investment deals. And Chalem was linked to organized crime in published reports after their deaths.
Chalem had worked at A.S. Goldmen, a defunct brokerage house that at one time received its mail at a commercial gym, Body by Boris in Red Bank. Earlier in 1999, the brokerage was charged in a Manhattan grand jury indictment with bilking investors out of almost $100 million, but Chalem was not among the 33 people who were charged.
The previous year, Lehmann paid $630,000 to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that he illegally helped to manipulate the stock of a small company that cheated unsuspecting investors out of $12 million.
The murders, which occurred at a time when authorities were turning their attention to mob connections in the volatile world of penny stocks, led to speculation that the victims were cooperating with investigators and were killed to be silenced or punished, or that they had ties to American or Russian organized crime.
A Business Week article in December of 1999, citing unnamed sources, said Chalem was a key link between the penny stock trade and organized crime. The article said Chalem was a close associate of Philip C. Abramo, a reputed capo in the Newark-based DeCavalcante crime family who at the time was implicated in a stock fraud case.
The Huffington Post reported in 2011 that Chalem had been partners in a Key West, Florida, scuba-diving business with Brooklyn mobster Alphonse Persico, who is serving life in prison for the 1999 rubout of an underboss. That article said the DeCavalcante crime family was suspected in the Colts Neck slayings early on.
Police cars (above) are among the vehicles in the driveway of the Bluebell Road, Colts Neck, home where two penny stock promoters were murdered 15 years ago. Investigators (below, left) carry files and computer parts from the home. On the day of his funeral, mourners (below, right) place the casket of Maier Lehmann — one of the murder victims — in a hearse. (Photo: Asbury Park Press file photos )
Court documents have revealed that investigators also were looking at the pair's links to Russian gangsters.
A sealed court ruling of an associate of the victims indicated that prosecutors believed Chalem's and Lehmann's lives were threatened by several Russian emigres, and that their associate also feared for his life.
Prosecutors brought the associate, Joe T. Logan Jr. of Clifton, before a grand jury investigating the homicides in 2000, but Logan, believed to be the last person to see Chalem and Lehmann alive, refused to answer questions. The grand jury record was sealed, but it made its way into the public record during Logan's divorce proceeding in 2004.
Logan gained limited notoriety in the late 1990s when he promised, but failed, to save the bankrupt Newark-based Kiwi International Airlines. He was not a suspect in the murders, but he was at the Bluebell Road mansion that morning, and later that evening he placed six calls to the house, authorities have said.
The questions prosecutors wanted Logan to answer before the grand jury revealed that two Russian émigré brothers named Boris and Michael Vax had at some point visited Logan to talk to him about Chalem, and that at one point months before the murders, Chalem had punched Logan in the face, possibly because Logan cost the Vax brothers money in a stock deal but blamed the loss on Chalem, authorities have said.
Both Vax brothers had served federal prison sentences for roles in a scheme to defraud the government of gasoline taxes. Michael Vax also had been charged with homicide in Brooklyn in 1986, but the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said it did not have any records of the case. Last year, Michael Vax was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan in a so-called "pump and dump" penny stock scheme.
One of the reasons prosecutors wanted to question Logan was to try to find out who left a message on Chalem's answering machine around the time of the murders, saying, "Call me back — emergency." They also wanted to ask him about the identities of the Russian emigres who had threatened to kill Chalem and Lehman at a meeting also attended by Logan, Allen Barry Witz, and at least one other person.
Witz, a Beverly Hills lawyer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark in 2004 to manipulating the stock of a company that Chalem and Lehmann were promoting on their website at the time they were killed.
The FBI's Woodruff said the agency's Newark office has focused primarily on the fraudulent activities that came to light as a result of the homicide case, while the New York office is focused more on the killings themselves.
Richard M. Frankel, special agent in charge of the FBI's criminal division in New York, urges anyone with information on the murders of Chalem and Lehmann to call the division at (212) 384-1000.
The Monmouth County Crimestoppers program has posted a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the case. Tips can be made anonymously on the Crimestoppers hotline: 1-800-671-4400.
Meanwhile, former prosecutor Kaye believes someone in trouble with the law could be the person who will solve the mystery of what happened 15 years ago behind the black-and-gold, wrought-iron gates on Bluebell Road.
"It's a matter of sooner or later, somebody is going to get jammed up somehow, and they'll tell you everything you want to know in order to get a break," Kaye said.
Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202; Khopkins@app.com
Solve this case
Do you have information about the double murders? Contact the FBI at 212-384-1000 or the Monmouth County Crimestoppers hotline at 1-800-671-4400. Crimestoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment