On the afternoon of January 11, 1997, Raul Gonzalez drove a car containing his girlfriend, Janette Andruiolo, and two men, Rigoberto Gonzalez (“Rigo”) and his son, Rigoberto Gonzalez Jr. (“Rigo Jr.”), to a building at the intersection of west 192nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, New York.
Raul, who was not related to Rigo and his son, went into the building with Rigo while Rigo Jr. and Andruiolo remained in the car. At about 4:45 p.m., a man approached the car and displayed what appeared to be a gun inside of a paper sack. The man ordered Andruiolo and Rigo Jr. out of the car and drove away in the car with Andruiolo’s purse.
Police were called and Andruiolo gave a description of the robber. She said her purse, containing $700 from her just-cashed paycheck, was in the car. The following day, Andruiolo told a detective that the robber was Michael Vasquez. Although she did not know Vasquez (a fact which she hid from police), she identified him because her boyfriend, Raul, told her that Rigo had told him that Vasquez, 40, was the robber. Police pulled a booking photograph of Vasquez and, in February, prepared a photographic lineup. Andruiolo selected Vasquez’s photograph and subsequently identified him in a live lineup.
Vasquez, who had numerous prior arrests and convictions, was living in Florida but was in New York to see his parole officer. He was charged with one count of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree robbery.
Vasquez went on trial in New York County Supreme Court in September 1997. The prosecution acknowledged that the purpose of the visit to 192nd Street was a drug deal. Andruiolo testified that she was not aware of the reason for the stop or that her boyfriend, Raul, was involved in the drug trade. She said she broke up with him when she found out he was a drug dealer. Andruiolo identified Vasquez as the robber in court. The only other prosecution witnesses were two police detectives who testified to their interactions with Andruiolo at the lineups.
A jury convicted Vasquez of one count of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree robbery on October 7, 1997, and he was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Although Vasquez did not testify at his trial, he maintained that he was innocent and suspected he had been set up. While in New York, Vasquez was staying with Rigo who was engaged in the drug trade. Rigo Jr., a college student, lived with his father and occasionally helped out in his father’s drug business by serving as a driver or making collections and deliveries.
Shortly before the robbery, Vasquez ran into a man he had befriended while both were in prison for prior crimes, whom he knew only as “Chase.” Chase came up to the apartment where Rigo and Rigo Jr. lived, and had a conversation with Rigo that Vasquez did not hear. After Vasquez was arrested, he recalled the two men talking and came to believe that Chase was somehow involved in the robbery.
In 2011, about 14 years after his conviction, Vasquez was at the Coxsakie State Prison in New York. There, he once again ran into Chase, who had been imprisoned as a mandatory persistent felon for a string of burglaries. Vasquez learned that his real name was Alfred Charlemagne. When Charlemagne asked why Vasquez was in prison and learned it was for the 1997 robbery, Charlemagne said he was the robber and that Rigo had put him up to it.
In fact, Charlemagne said, the transaction was supposed to be a drug deal in which Raul brought $16,000 to purchase narcotics from Rigo. Charlemagne said that Raul and Rigo went inside the building and Rigo Jr. remained in the car to make sure Andruiolo remained calm during the robbery. The money was left in the car.
Charlemagne said he ordered them both out of the car and drove off. He said he later split the $16,000 with Rigo. In addition, he said he also took about $7,000 that was in the trunk of the car from Raul’s marijuana business. Because of the illicit nature of the transaction, Raul had never told police about the money in the car.
Vasquez then filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial and in December 2011, a hearing commenced in New York County Supreme Court. Rigo was dead, but Rigo Jr., Raul, Andruiolo, and Charlemagne testified.
Andruiolo testified that she was no longer sure of her identification and admitted that Raul gave her Vasquez’s name. She continued to deny she knew there was a drug transaction, but Raul testified that the $16,000 was in Andruiolo’s purse. Raul testified that he gave a description to Andruiolo so she could identify Vasquez.
During the hearing, Rigo Jr. testified that his father gave him $4,000—half of his father’s share of the $16,000—for his role in the heist. Rigo Jr. also testified that not long after the robbery, Raul figured out that he had been set up and came to Rigo Jr. with some friends and took Rigo Jr.’s share. Rigo Jr. also testified that Raul and his friends persuaded Rigo to return his share. Charlemagne said he refused to return any of the money he got in the robbery.
None of the men involved faced any charges from their involvement because the statute of limitations for robbery had run.
On June 13, 2012, New York County Supreme Court Judge Lewis Bart Stone granted Vasquez’s motion and vacated his convictions. Vasquez was released on bond on June 30, 2012. On December 21, 2012, the prosecution dismissed the charges.
In 2013, Vasquez filed a lawsuit in the New York Court of Claims seeking compensation from the City of New York. As of December 2013, the lawsuit was pending.
– Maurice Possley