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Dominic Iannacone

Other Conviction Integrity Unit Exonerations
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On February 26, 2014, 39-year-old Christopher Senape, a professional poker player, burst out of the lobby of an apartment building near 78th Street and York Avenue, yelling that two strangers had just robbed him. He pointed to 30-year-old Dominic Iannacone, who was standing on the street, as one of the robbers.

When New York City Police Sgt. Richard Romance approached, Iannacone ran. However, he was quickly captured a few blocks away.

Senape told police that he had left his job, went to nearby ATM where he withdrew cash, and was walking on the street when a black man approached and asked if he knew of a Mexican restaurant in the area. A few moments later, Iannacone approached. He and the black man then dragged him into the lobby where they knocked him down, and stole $590 in cash and his iPhone.

Senape said that after the black man said, “Stay down or I’ll kill you,” he handed over his wallet and cell phone. The black man then got a call on his own cell phone and left the lobby. Senape said he started to talk to Iannacone and demanded that Iannacone return the iPhone. Iannacone then walked out of the lobby. Senape said he followed him outside and yelled that he had been robbed.

Police found a wad of cash on the street next to John Jay Park near east 77th Street and Cherokee Place. They gave it to Senape without photographing it or recording it in evidence. Senape would later claim he received $530, although the police officer who testified before a grand jury said the amount recovered was $330.

The police and prosecution ultimately concluded, based on Iannacone’s direction of flight, that he did not have the money or drop it there. After Senape gave his statement at the police station, he returned to the apartment building. He later came back to the station and handed over a folding knife, which he said he found in the lobby. The knife was sent to the police crime lab for DNA testing.

Prior to trial, Iannacone’s appointed defense attorney, Mark Scotto, got Senape’s bank records and learned that he had not gotten cash from an ATM on the day he said he was robbed. After Scotto informed the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecution confronted Senape and he changed his account.

Senape admitted he had lied. He said he was a professional poker player and the money was for a poker tournament the following day. He would later testify at Iannacone’s trial that he did not want to divulge details of his personal life and he didn’t think anyone would question his account.

On September 11, 2014, prosecutor Kristen Baraiola informed Scotto that DNA had been found on the knife. While it did not belong to Iannacone, it had been linked to someone else in the state DNA database.

Baraiola said the prosecution did not believe it was related to the robbery and that she would not be introducing the knife at trial. Based on that representation, the judge granted the prosecution’s request to conceal the identity of the person whose DNA was on the knife.

The following day, September 12, 2014, the prosecution showed a photographic lineup to Senape that included the photograph of Ray Faller—the man whose DNA was found on the knife. Senape identified Faller as the black man who had threatened to kill him. By that time, Faller was in prison on a drug possession conviction.

The prosecution then obtained Faller’s cell phone from his parole officer and saw that Iannacone had called Faller several times from Riker’s Island, where Iannacone was being held while awaiting trial. The prosecution obtained Iannacone’s cell phone records and discovered that he and Faller had numerous exchanges on the day of the crime. The prosecution then disclosed Faller’s identity and the phone records to Scotto.

Meanwhile, the prosecution arranged for Faller to be brought to Riker’s Island. It also obtained court orders to get his DNA to conduct a confirmatory test and to put him in a live line-up, but never followed through with either.

As the trial approached, Scotto reviewed Faller’s phone records. He discovered that in the 20 minutes before the robbery, Faller had exchanged 11 text messages and made one call to a cell phone number that was registered in a fictitious name and had the last four digits 2839. These prepaid, disposable phones are commonly known in the drug trade as “burner” phones.

Iannacone went to trial in New York County Supreme Court in February 2015. Senape admitted that he had lied about his activities on the day of the robbery, and said he did so because when “when you say poker player, it brings up bad imagery people have.” He said he “didn’t want to get into details” because he was “a private person.”

Senape said that on the day of the crime, he was preparing to go to Parx Casino in Pennsylvania the next day. He said he had won $32,000 in cash the previous month at a poker tournament, and that he kept three or four thousand in cash in his apartment. He said he was carrying about $570-$580 in cash to pay the entrance fee—called a buy-in—at the Parx Casino, and had left his apartment to run errands.

He said he went to a building where he had worked as a doorman to see if his W-2 form was ready. He said he went into a store to buy a belt, and then was attacked as he was going to get coffee before returning to his apartment. He identified Iannacone and Faller (from a photograph) as his attackers and said both were strangers.

On cross-examination, Senape admitted that despite his claim of being a private person, he had appeared on television and Internet media reports of poker tournaments. When the judge asked him about his best day of poker, Senape replied, “I have won a few. You can Google me.”

Senape admitted that if he planned to go to the casino later, there was no reason to carry his buy-in money when he ran his errands. He admitted that he had not suffered a scratch or a bruise, despite claiming he was taken to the ground during an intense struggle. He also denied possessing a burner phone ending in 2839.

Confronted by his statement to the grand jury that he worked “in real estate,” Senape said he considered his 13-years as a doorman as being “part of the real estate industry.” He then told the jury he was a licensed real estate broker.

Sgt. Romance testified that he saw Iannacone leave the vestibule of the apartment building, followed by Senape. When he heard Senape shout, “This guy took my stuff,” he approached Iannacone, who then fled.

During closing arguments, Scotto told the jury that Senape knew Faller and that they planned to meet to conduct some sort of illicit business—perhaps to buy something from Faller or because he owed Faller money. Scotto ridiculed Senape’s account that he took his poker buy-in money with him on his errands even though he wasn’t leaving until the next day.

“That would be like having your bags packed to catch an early flight in the morning, and then running out to grab something to eat, and taking your luggage with you,” Scotto declared. “This is a man who knows he is running an errand that’s going to take 20, 30 minutes tops… He needed the money, and it wasn’t for coffee, and it wasn’t for a belt.”

The defense contended that Iannacone knew Faller and merely accompanied him to meet with Senape. When the transaction between Faller and Senape did not go as Senape planned, Faller took his money and left. Senape then falsely claimed he had been robbed.

The prosecution discounted that suggestion, noting that Senape testified that he did not know Faller and had never before met him. The prosecution argued that Faller had discarded the money when he fled after getting a call from another associate, who was acting as a lookout and spotted the police officer strolling by.

On March 3, 2015, the jury convicted Iannacone of second-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 7½ years in prison.

The case was assigned to attorney David Crow at the Legal Aid Society. Jared Levine, an attorney at the law firm of Crowell & Moring, also agreed to work pro bono on the case. A re-investigation determined that in fact Senape was the owner of the burner phone.

A review of the calls and texts made from the burner phone showed that at 7:30 a.m. on the day after the robbery—the day that Senape claimed he was going to the Parx Casino in Pennsylvania—a call was made to the casino’s toll free number.

The records also showed that in the 12 hours after the robbery, the burner phone exchanged 19 separate texts and phone calls with a number linked to Robert Bogdani. By monitoring social media, the defense attorneys determined that Bogdani was a lifelong friend of Senape.

The defense lawyers discovered that Senape never was a licensed real estate broker as he claimed at the trial. The defense also located Senape’s profile on LinkedIn, a professional networking web site, in which he never mentioned his doorman job. He did claim, however, to have “owned and operated a cleaning and maintenance service that catered to private practice medical facilities in Manhattan from 2003 to 2008,” as well as working as an investor and consultant in a business that provided “short term capital to restaurants and nightlife establishments” from 2004 to 2013. He further claimed to be a managing partner of a company with a “portfolio” that included numerous restaurants, a nightclub, a “Game Theory Focused Poker Training” company, and an event planning service.

A detailed review of Senape’s bank records showed he had more than $100,000 in a savings account and maintained a $475 monthly lease on a BMW.

In July 2017, Iannacone’s lawyers filed a motion seeking to vacate his conviction. “The new evidence proves that Senape exchanged 11 text messages and one phone call with Faller immediately preceding the incident in question, and that his story about being the victim of a random street robbery, a story that he repeated at trial as the basis for Iannacone’s conviction, was a fiction,” the motion said.

The motion also said that “taken together, Senape’s serial fabrications about his professional life, his substantial cash holdings, and his use of a burner phone registered to a fictitious name are all consistent with the defense’s theory at trial. Senape was involved in illicit activities and had ample motive to give false testimony about what transpired on the day in question (just as he lied to police and prosecutors in the months preceding the trial).”

The motion further noted that the prosecution had never sought to prosecute Faller for the crime. The new evidence, the motion said, showed that the prosecution knew that if Faller was charged, he would have been able to “easily” disprove Senape’s claim that they were strangers. “Senape’s credibility would have collapsed” and the prosecution would have no viable case against either Faller or Iannacone, the motions aid.

The case was referred to the New York County District Attorney’s Office conviction integrity program, which re-investigated the case. On September 21, 2017, the prosecution consented to the conviction being vacated and Iannacone was released on bond. On February 13, 2018, the charge was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/15/2018
State:New York
County:New York
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Convicted:2015
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:7 years and 6 months
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:30
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No