Mohegan Sun robbery trial begins

Sharnon I. Lee lost $2,000 playing Spanish 21 on the same day in August of 2010 that he is accused of robbing a man at knifepoint in the Indian Summer parking garage at Mohegan Sun.

His alleged victim, Queens businessman Haridas Paul, had better luck at the gaming tables that day. He played Four Card Poker and walked out of the Uncasville casino with about $18,000 in cash.

Lee, 37, of Norwalk, is accused of following Paul out of the casino, confronting him as he climbed into his BMW sport utility vehicle, holding a sharp object to the back of his head and demanding money. Paul said he gave Lee $3,800 and his cellphone.

At Lee’s trial this week in New London Superior Court, prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla elicited testimony from Paul, who described the robbery but was unable to positively identify Lee as the perpetrator. Paul said he never got a good look at the robber’s face.

Tytla called on Mohegan Tribal Police Officer Elaine J. Faulise to narrate several video clips provided by the casino’s surveillance department that show a suspect — whom the state contends is Lee — following Paul out of the casino, taking a separate elevator to the second floor of the parking garage and walking toward the area where Paul was parked. The surveillance films show the same man minutes later riding the elevator up to the sixth floor, where he got into his Nissan Altima and left. Surveillance staff and police identified Lee as the suspect from the license plate of his car.

The casino had surveillance cameras in the elevator lobbies and in several locations within the garage, but the robbery itself was not captured, a fact that defense attorney Philip Russell of Greenwich noted. Russell objected several times when Faulise described Paul as the “victim” of the robbery, saying “victim” implies a crime has occurred. Faulise switched to calling Lee a “suspect.”

Russell also brought to the jury’s attention the fact that Paul cashed out his winnings at three separate cashier cages that August day and that the casino surveillance department later noted in a report that Paul appeared to be attempting to avoid generation of a Currency Transaction Report. Federal law requires financial institutions to report transactions involving $10,000 or more, and individuals, including gamblers, are not allowed to “structure” or break up their transactions to avoid the reporting requirement.

When the trial resumes Friday, Tytla is expected to call two state police detectives who interviewed Lee on Aug. 25 when he appeared in court in Bridgeport on an unrelated domestic violence charge that was eventually dismissed.

During the interview, Lee denied the robbery but admitted to major crime squad detectives Dean Peluso and John Jette that he was at the casino the day the robbery occurred. When the detectives told Lee they had recovered the stolen cellphone near Lee’s mother’s home in Bridgeport, he stopped talking and said he needed a lawyer, according to testimony. The troopers then asked if he would provide a written statement of the information he had already provided. Lee declined.

The defense had attempted to suppress the testimony of the two troopers, saying the troopers had confronted Lee in an intimidating setting, failed to read Lee his rights or tell him he was free to leave. Russell also contended the detectives continued to talk to Lee after he said he needed a lawyer.

Judge Kevin P. McMahon listened to testimony from the two detectives and Lee outside of the jury’s presence, then ruled there was no violation of Lee’s constitutional rights and that the detectives would be allowed to testify in front of the jury.

Tytla had argued that it was a low-key interview, noting that Lee himself said he knew his rights, and that “nothing suppressable” occurred after Lee said he wanted an attorney. At Russell’s request, the judge agreed to withhold from the jury the fact that the interview took place in a courthouse where Lee had a scheduled court appearance.

The two detectives are expected to testify when the trial resumes on Friday.

k.florin@theday.com

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