Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Zarinsky

Let's Make A Deal

Zarinsky was not pleased.

Vanguard Group brass found an account balance of $8,500. Over an 18-month period, from April 1998 through May 1999, someone had withdrawn $112,500.

And it wasn't Zarinsky who had done the withdrawing.

According to Tony Esposito, a public relations spokesman and inspector for the U.S. Postal Service, "Initially this guy calls up and says, 'I'm a victim of identity theft...' An inspector starts to take down the information, not knowing who Robert Zarinsky was..., 'How can we get in touch with you?' He (Zarinsky) says, 'Well, I'm serving 98 years in prison.'"

US Postal Inspector's badge
US Postal Inspector's badge

A veteran inspector was put on the case Joseph Jakubiec.

"We had to treat the complaint whether he was in prison or not..." said Jakubiec. "And with all cases like this you follow the paper trail."

Jakubiec contacted the Vanguard Group, who sent him the cancelled checks and information on where they were cashed. Everything pointed to Acme Check Cashing on Route 27 in Rahway; the facility was equipped with regiscope, a camera that captures snapshots of everyone who cashes a check.

There on film was the man posing as Robert Zarinsky.

"The picture looked like something was wrong with his eye, and speaking to the people at Acme they said it looked like he'd had cataract surgery."

Jakubiec contacted area eye surgeons and the man was identified. His name was Peter Sapsa; Zarinsky's brother-in-law, Judith's husband.

Jakubiec got an arrest warrant for Peter Sapsa, while Judith Sapsa was also brought in; on suspicion of embezzlement charges.

Peter Sapsa caved under grilling by postal authorities. He confessed to everything. He had gone down to see his daughter in Matawan and pinched Zarinsky's mutual fund checkbook. He started filling in the zeros, forged his brother-in-law's name; then he drove over to that storefront check-cashing joint with the bulletproof windows.

He needed money badly. He was sick. A heart transplant was penciled in on some future calendar. The disability he collected from his job as a supermarket clerk barely paid his health premium. His wife was a diabetic, she had never worked. The medical bills were mounting. It was Judith Sapsa who had rationalized, remembering something her mother had said. If you ever need money...your brother will help you.

"Bob" as she referred to him, had already served 25 years for the 1969 murder of 17-year-old Rosemary Calandriello, of Atlantic Highlands, whose body had never been found.

Judith Sapsa, who hadn't visited her brother in prison in more than 10 years, went to him and asked for his help.

He declined.

The rest was on the crime blotter.

Peter Sapsa was charged with tampering, while Judith Sapsa remained under investigation. It was wire fraud, four times over. Federal theft charges were pending. Husband and wife were staring at five years in prison without parole.

Then Jakubiec got a call from Judith Sapsa's attorney, A. Kenneth Weiner of East Brunswick.

"He (Weiner) said, Hey, Joey, I have an unbelievable story for you," said Jakubiec. "I can't talk to you on the phone about it, but it may help my client. Why don't we sit down and talk?"

Judith Sapsa had decided it was time to co-operate, time to come clean. She told Weiner that she wanted a deal, an exchange; leniency for information. There were things she knew, things she could tell them about her brother.

And this is what she told:

Her brother, and her now 61-year-old cousin, Theodore Schiffer, had killed a patrolman in Rahway, N.J. Charles Bernoski. Bernoski, 30, and a married father of five with a sixth child on the way, had been shot to death while investigating a burglary at the Miller Pontiac/Cadillac dealership on St. George Avenue in Rahway on November 28, 1958.

Rahway Police Department patch
Rahway Police Department patch

No charges had ever been filed.

According to the Spectator-Leader, Sapsa reportedly said, "on the night of the murder, when she was 16 years old, Zarinsky and Schiffer came to the family's house on Bower Street in Linden with an (Aunt Irene). Zarinsky was shot in the hip and Schiffer was shot in the chest...Zarinsky said a police officer had shot Schiffer, and he had gotten angry and shot the police officer.

"...she then watched as her mother (Veronica Zarinsky) removed the bullets from Zarinsky and Schiffer under the light of one kitchen lamp, using tongue depressors and tweezers and no medication."

Veronica Zarinsky then swore the family to secrecy.

"No one ever said anything again in the family about the surgery," said Weiner, according to the Spectator-Leader. "The day after it happened, Judy remembers her father reading (in) the paper that the cop died. He regurgitated - threw up. That was it."

Zarinsky and Schiffer were then sent to Carbondale, Pa., "...until the 'heat' died down."

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