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Suspect in Sutton Place Murder Ditched Ankle Monitor in Earlier Case: DA

By Noah Hurowitz | January 24, 2017 2:45pm
 James Rackover has been arrested at least eight times in Florida. NYPD police officers arrested him for the murder of Lawrence Dilione.
James Rackover has been arrested at least eight times in Florida. NYPD police officers arrested him for the murder of Lawrence Dilione.
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Courtesy of Broward County Sheriff's Office

SUTTON PLACE — One of the men charged in connection with the murder of a Hofstra graduate in Sutton Place has a history of violating court orders, including removing a court-ordered ankle bracelet while on probation and fleeing from authorities for a month, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors shared the new information as part of their request to a judge to increase the bail against James Rackover, 25, while he is awaiting trial on charges related to the killing of Joseph Comunale in November. Rackover is being held on $300,000 cash bail, $1 million bond.

Rackover, who hails from Florida, was on probation in that state in 2009 for a juvenile trespassing charge when he fired a gun in violation of his parole, prosecutors said.

Details were fuzzy on what exactly happened with the gun. According to his lawyer, Maurice Sercarz, Rackover was working on a fishing boat whose captain kept a firearm aboard. When Rackover tried to remove the gun from the boat in order to comply with his probation, which forbade him from being near firearms, the gun accidentally discharged.

But according to prosecutors, who cited statements Rackover made to his probation officer at the time, the gun belonged to Rackover's father and Rackover discharged it inside his home, sending a bullet flying into a neighbor’s apartment.

Some time after that, Rackover removed his electronic ankle monitor and went on the lam, disappearing for a month before authorities caught up with him. Rackover, who had a suspended sentence from the trespassing conviction, ended up spending a number of months in prison, though Sercarz and prosecutors are not sure exactly how much time he served.

Rackover, along with co-defendant Lawrence Dilione, is facing felony charges of disposing of a body and hindering prosecution after investigators accused the men of burying Comunale’s body in a shallow grave in New Jersey. Comunale, 26, disappeared after a night of partying at Rackover’s apartment, and Rackover and Comunale were arrested several days later.

No one has been charged with killing Comunale, who authorities say was stabbed about 15 times and whose body was found partially burned and buried behind a florist shop in Oceanport, New Jersey.

Dilione is currently out on bail.

Manhattan prosecutors argued in their motion to Judge Charles Solomon that Rackover’s history of fleeing from authorities makes him a flight risk now. Prosecutors would not make the motion public or say how much bail they are asking for, as all motions in the case have been sealed at the request of the District Attorney’s office.

But Sercarz, who in December successfully got Rackover’s bail reduced from the earlier $1 million cash bail, $3 million bond, said his client is a changed man who no longer presents a flight risk.

“I acknowledge he made mistakes as a youth, but his life has changed a great deal since then,” Sercarz said, adding that he is continuing to fight for the bail to be lowered even further. “The person who engaged in that act is no longer the person you have before the court.”

For example, Secarz said, NYPD detectives began calling Rackover the day after Comunale disappeared after the party at Rackover’s East 58th Street apartment on Nov. 13. But despite the potentially serious charges he faced, Rackover didn't run, Sercarz said.

“He complied with every directive from police, and he comported himself exactly as you would want someone to comport themselves with full knowledge that police were searching his apartment,” he said. “He knew exactly what was going on, and to me that counts for a lot more than his behavior in Florida seven years ago.”

Solomon did not make a decision on Tuesday, pushing the hearing back until Feb. 21 in order to allow the prosecution to read several motions filed by Sercarz. But he did not sound convinced of Rackover’s change in character.

“If I had known about what happened in Florida I would not have set the bail I set,” he told Sercarz.

Rackover’s past is somewhat murky. He was initially reported to be the son of celebrity jeweler Jeffrey Rackover, whose clients include President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, but in the days and weeks following the younger Rackover’s arrest, their ties became less clear.

James Rackover, originally named James Beaudoin, had appeared in the jeweler’s life several years prior and changed his name in an effort to get a fresh start, according to friends of the jeweler and court documents.

The elder Rackover told some friends that James had appeared on his doorstep saying he was the son of a woman with whom Rackover had an affair years ago in Florida, but other friends of the jeweler said they were told they had met at a gym.

Regardless, Jeffrey Rackover appeared to dote on the younger man, lavishing him with clothes, vacations, a job and his apartment at 419 E. 59th St. Following the arrest, he cut all ties with him, according to sources.