"People seldom change. Only their masks do. It is only our perception of them and the perception they have of themselves that actually change."
- Shannon L. Alder
It was the 2nd of March 2016. A Wednesday. Ira Bernstein was taken into custody. It was a case that shocked the residents of Rockland County, New York, United States. Ira was a well known member of the community but it transpired he wasn't quite the man he portrayed himself to be.
Ira Bernstein was a married man and a father of three children: two daughters and one son. Ira met his wife, Susan Bernstein, at Penn States in the 1990s. Ira received a doctorate in podiatry and Susan did a Masters in education.
Ira and Susan Bernstein
They married in 2002 and Susan decided to be a stay at home mother. Ira's podiatry practice was so successful that he opened multiple practices and invested heavily in real estate. They lived a lavish lifestyle. Their property had a tennis court, a lake, a boat and swimming pool. And as such, people in the area, knew Ira and Susan well.
The Bernstein House
But over time, their marriage began to deteriorate. Ira was under a lot of pressure. They were both spending more money than what they were making. Ira had an affair but they agreed to stay married. Even though they agreed to stay married, they fought all the time. And eventually Susan had enough. She filed a Restraining Order. The Restraining Order was later withdrawn. Ira and Susan continued to live together.
Ira met Kelly Gribeluk through work and she was one of his patients. Kelly was a divorced mother of three. She lost custody of her children. Her ex husband claimed that she had an affair with a nineteen year old. Things were good between Ira and Kelly and she even began working at one of his practices. But at home, with his wife Susan, there were still arguments all the time. The relationship was toxic.
In 2014, Susan Bernstein filed for divorce. Ira agreed to sign over some of the rental properties to her. But that was just one of many problems Ira faced when it came to money. Two of his patients claimed that they could no longer stand or put pressure on their feet due to pain after they had been operated on by Ira. He was ordered to pay one of them almost US$800,000 and the other was awarded US$1.4 million. He was also being investigated for Insurance fraud. There were entries in his books for operations and surgeries which did not look like they had taken place. He really could not afford an expensive divorce.
So to avoid losing money, Ira and Kelly devised a plan and Kelly knew exactly who to ask for help. Kelly went to a car dealership to meet car dealer Marckensy Louissaint. She knew him because she bought a car from him previously and he told her if she ever needed any help with her own divorce or any help at all, to just reach out to him. And she did. But he wasn't expecting what Kelly was about to ask him to do.
Kelly asked Marckensy for help to get rid of her boyfriend's wife. He told her he didn't know what she meant and she said "Take her out of the picture."
Marckensy notified the police and they asked him to wear a wire. If they were to arrest Kelly, they needed more. Marckensy agreed.
Police installed a hidden camera in Marckensy's car. Police needed proof. They needed to make sure that Kelly wanted Susan dead and wanted to hire Marckensy to do it. In order to prove it, they needed Marckensy and Kelly to agree to the terms of the hit and money exchanged.
Kelly and Marckensy met and discussed what Kelly wanted him to do. She wanted the murder to “look like an accident.” She suggested that it could be a fatal car crash. The price Marckensy initially charged was $200,000 but they negotiated it down to $100,000.
Police had enough information and details to charge Kelly but they wanted more. When Kelly met Marckensy, she told him that Ira was the boss. So if he was involved , the police wanted enough to charge him too.
Ira met Marckensy in his car. Marckensy asked him how soon he would like it to happen and Ira said:
“We were thinking ASAP.”
But before they decided to give the go ahead to murder Susan, Kelly asked Marckensy to intimidate and assault two United Healthcare insurance investigators. They were investigating alleged fraud crimes that Ira had committed and were about to recommend a more extensive investigation for insurance fraud.
Ira Bernstein in Marckensy's car
Marckensy agreed. Police notified the insurance investigators of the plot against them and asked them to assist in the investigation. Using makeup, police made the investigators look as if they had been attacked. They looked beaten and bloodied. Police took photos of the two men and gave them to Marckensy.
Marckensy showed Kelly and Ira the photos. Kelly was concerned that something was a little off and asked Marckensy if they were being set up. He told her she wasn't. Ira told him that Kelly would be in touch when it was time to deal with Susan:
"If she gives the OK, then it came from me."
Kelly eventually gave the go ahead for Susan's murder. She met Marckensy in a Walmart parking lot and showed him the screen on her phone. She said:
“OK, the answer is this.”
Marckensy read the text message on her phone. It read:
Kelly got into Marckensy's car to talk about Susan's routine and his payment.
Police had everything they needed and on the 2nd of March 2016, Kelly and Ira were taken into custody. They were charged with felony counts of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree solicitation and fourth-degree conspiracy and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree solicitation.
They both claimed that they did not want to go through with Susan's murder but said that Marckensy would not let them back out. He threatened to feed them to alligators if they didn't pay up. They felt they had no option but to agree.
Ira admitted that he had spoken about it with Kelly but claimed it was more of a fantasy and he didn't actually want Susan dead. Kelly said that she did want Susan dead but changed her mind and wanted to call it off.
While awaiting Trial, Ira got the money together in order to bail himself out. Kelly did not manage to do the same and she was waiting for the Trial in prison for four months. She told police that it had been Ira's idea to kill Susan. She simply helped him find someone to do it.
But when Kelly got out on bail, she moved in with Ira and refused to say anything further.
Despite their denials, the evidence against Kelly and Ira was overwhelming. The entire thing had been caught on tape. Kelly Gribeluk pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy in September 2016. Ira Bernstein pleaded guilty to one felony count of second-degree conspiracy involving the plot to kill his wife and two misdemeanor counts of fifth-degree conspiracy for the assault on the insurance investigators and grand larceny in the third degree relation to insurance fraud he committed at work.
Ira was sentenced to 15 years in prison, he is eligible for parole after 5 years and Kelly was sentenced to 12 years and she is eligible for parole after 4 years.
In January 2018, Ira sought to have his guilty plea and sentence vacated. He claimed that Kelly forced him to plead guilty as she told him she would not be truthful at Trial. She asked him to plead guilty so that she could get her plea deal. He claimed he did not want to have Susan killed and that it was Kelly who had masterminded the entire thing.
A judge rejected his appeal in April 2018.
Susan Bernstein told the Court:
“Ira’s viciousness has changed everything. Our attitudes, feelings, beliefs, behaviors, ways of coping, sleep, eating and trust in relationships.”
When addressing Kelly, she said:
“She has no soul. Kelly’s actions ruined my life.”
Susan is now calling for a change in state law. Instead of it being classified as a nonviolent crime carrying a sentence of one to eight-and-one-quarter years to a maximum of 25 years, she wants it classified as a violent felony and that would mean the sentencing would range from 5 years to 25 years.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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