Was Sunny Sheu, Foe Of Judicial Corruption, Murdered?
In the two-minute video, Sheu expresses his fear for his life as a result of his investigation into Judge Golia's personal finances.
[Black Star News Investigates]
Activist Dead Weeks After Posting Video About His Fears
Part One of a Series
Since his death last summer, associates of Sun Ming Sheu, an activist fighting alleged judicial corruption in New York, remain convinced that he was murdered and that police aren't investigating his death because of a coverup.
They point to the alleged kidnapping and death threats by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers Sheu reported to the FBI, the highly suspicious circumstances of Sheu’s injury, the contradictions in the official reports of his death, and most conspicuously, the lack of any investigation by law enforcement, even after the manner of Sheu’s death was ruled "undetermined" by the Medical Examiner, making an investigation legally mandatory.
They also cite a motive- the silencing of Sheu three days after he declared that he had discovered proof of felonies by a New York State Supreme Court Judge.
Perhaps the most ominous evidence of foul play, the associates say, is the video Sunny Sheu made
weeks before his death - now posted on Youtube - in which he predicts his own murder and names the parties he feels will be responsible; parties including a sitting State Supreme Court Judge and two detectives of the Queens District Attorney office whom he had claimed "kidnapped" and threatened him months prior.
Sheu’s associates also question why NYPD officers removed Sheu's body from the Queens hospital, at 5 AM, hours after his death, and transferred it to the Medical Examiner, who was provided with a letter stating that "no criminality" was involved, all without even a cursory investigation.
At the same time, the precinct involved in the removal, the 109, insisted that Sheu had suffered "no head trauma", a position contradicted by the Medical Examiner, who concluded that Sheu died of
Darkening the story further is the improper treatment of Mr. Sheu’s body by the New York Queens Hospital and their false statements regarding his injuries. (The role of the New York Hospital of Queens in the disposition of Sheu’s body will be elucidated in part two of this series.)
Add the epilogue of the NYPD's refusal to release relevant documents requested by this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Laws (FOIA)- and all the components of a deeply disturbing mystery are in place.
Whatever the direct cause of Sunny Sheu’s tragic death, this is a story of grave national concern; it demonstrates from beginning to end the systemic failure of our government to protect the rights, and even the life, of a resident of the United States who had been threatened by government officials.
I first met Sun Ming "Sunny" Sheu, an immigrant from Taiwan, when he asked me to write a story about his ten-year struggle with corruption at every level of New York government. Mr. Sheu was a small, wiry man, with a mischievous sense of humor who could express fierce outrage one moment and chuckle at the absurdity of it all the next. Though his English was rudimentary, he radiated intelligence, and humble self-assurance. He felt that fighting for one’s rights was a patriotic duty, a privilege of living in America that was to some degree its own reward.
Sheu’s problem centered around his residential property, a simple two story house in Flushing, which he said had been wrongfully wrested from him by a mortgage company with the aide of a judge, Joseph Golia of State Supreme Court in Queens. He claimed Golia was "corrupt" and had consistently ruled against him and in favor of the bank, to wrongfully ensure that he never recovered his property.
Judge Golia, through his law clerk Mitchell Kaufmann, today declined to comment or to be interviewed for this report. "The judge will not sit for an interview with you," Kaufmann said, adding that Judge Golia also would not respond even if the questions were submitted in writing and by email message.
Sheu’s story of his struggle with Judge Golia was so compelling that The Black Star News covered it in depth, in a three-part series entitled "Junk Justice", which ran beginning in July 2009. The articles, which provide a detailed account of Sheu’s struggle with mortgage fraud and alleged court corruption can be found online. What follows is a condensed and cursory version of the pertinent events.
The Background Story
Sheu's ordeal began over 10 years ago when a bank representative knocked on his door and said he was there to inspect the house for its new owner. The problem was that Sheu had never sold the house. It turns out that someone had forged critical documents and used them to illegally sell the property.
Sheu alerted all relevant authorities; including the police, the bank that held the mortgage, and the title insurer of the property. Eventually the parties involved in forging the documents were prosecuted, pleaded guilty to forgery, and went to jail.
Sheu hoped that with all the evidence in his favor, the matter would be quickly resolved--it was actually only the beginning of his nightmare.
But Centex Home Equity, the bank that held the original mortgage, acted as if the fraudulent sale had been legitimate, ignoring all the documentation submitted by Sheu regarding the fraud, including the police report he'd filed.
Centex filed a lawsuit on December 12, 2001, against Sheu in State Supreme Court, in Queens County. The bank wanted a default judgment on the property and foreclosure, claiming that the “new owners” were delinquent on mortgage payments. In reality, of course, there was never any legal “new owner”.
The Centex case against Sheu went before Judge Golia, in Queens County. Sheu said he was stunned when Judge Golia also ignored the obvious fact that the “sale” had been fraudulent, which would obviate the claim against him. Instead of immediately restoring Sheu’s rightful ownership, he said, Golia allowed the lawsuit to proceed, eventually leading to the foreclosure of Shue’s home.
Worse yet, the judge let the case drag out for 10 years, with numerous postponements, in essence milking Sheu of all his resources. At some point, Sheu could no longer afford attorney fees and he had to represent himself.
Clearly, simple discovery— examination of documents by the court- would have proven the fraud in the alleged property sale, but Golia never allowed this fundamental judicial procedure to take place, despite Sheu's numerous appeals, he said.
For 10 grueling years, Sheu said, he was consistently denied the opportunity to present evidentiary documentation proving that the fraud had taken place and that Centex had no right to foreclose on his home.
Sheu's home was first foreclosed on January 28, 2005 and Centex "bought" the property for $1,000 from Amy Cheng, a pseudonymous fraudster involved in the fictitious sale. "How can you buy property from someone who does not exist?” Sheu had asked me, when I first started writing about his case.
Sheu also wrote Centex executive, Gerry King and New York State Chief Administrative Judge --now Chief Judge-- Jonathan Lippman, complaining about Judge Golia's conduct and accusing the judge of “discrimination” and “bias.”
Sheu demanded that Golia recuse himself from the case; the judge refused.
Sheu was persistent, writing to numerous elected public officials and filing an appeal against the foreclosure. Aware that he had notified various elected officials about what he claimed were the "biased" rulings, Sheu said, Judge Golia eventually reversed his own earlier decision and the initial foreclosure was rescinded, records showed.
Still, the judge refused to restore ownership of the property to Sheu.
Golia was so adamant to deprive him of justice, Sheu contended, that he came up with a remarkable decision. Golia now ruled that even though Sheu's home had been illegally sold years earlier, since Centex had already paid off the mortgage, the bank now owned the property under a doctrine known as "Equitable Subrogation."
"How can equitable subrogation apply to stolen property?” Sheu said, in an interview with The Black Star News, referring to the fraudulent sale. "This means if I have a lot of money, like Centex, I can pay off anybody's mortgage anywhere without their permission and then take possession of their home and kick them out?"
Sheu continued to spar with Judge Golia. Finally, early in 2010, his property was foreclosed on again, this time conclusively.
Alleged Intimidation and Retribution against Sheu
As Sheu realized that he could not expect a fair disposition of the case by Golia, he advised the judge that he would expose the judicial charade to the media.
Shortly thereafter, Sheu reported, he was contacted by Jason Garlick, an Assistant District Attorney at the Queens County DA’s office who had prosecuted the fraud case against the people who illegally "sold" Sheu's property. Sheu told me that Garlick urged him not to contact the media. "How could he have known my plans," to contact the media? asked Shue, “Only Judge Golia could have informed him".
Then, Sheu said, on January 14th, 2009, when he emerged from the Queens court house after filing papers in connection with his case, he was met by two detectives from the Queens County District Attorney’s office, he said. According to Sheu, the men “showed their guns and badges”, forced him into an unmarked car and drove him to the DA's office, where they entered through a back door. There, said Sheu, in a locked room, the officers berated, intimidated and threatened him, accusing him of harassing Judge Golia. He claimed one officer pounded on a desk and told him repeatedly that the house he was fighting for didn't belong to him.
Sheu also reported that the Detectives warned that if he went to the press or authorities, "you live in a dangerous neighborhood with gangs, and anything could happen to you". Understandably, Sheu took this as a direct threat against his life.
Sheu says that he was released after two hours, badly shaken and frightened for his life.
When contacted by this newspaper when the series of article about Sheu's case ran beginning in July, 2009, a spokesperson from the Queens DA's office, Kevin Ryan, confirmed that Sheu had indeed been taken by two detectives from the D.A.'s office on the date in question, and that he had been "cooperative and willingly agreed" to accompany them, which Shue denied. Ryan never divulged the names of the detectives and the party who ordered the detention; he also didn't respond to a question about whether Judge Golia had filed a report about Sheu.
At this time, Sheu became so concerned for his safety that he contacted FBI agent Rachel Rojas of the New York Bureau, who started monitoring the case, and Sheu also had a personal meeting with Rojas,accompanied by several of his associates.
Sheu followed up the meeting with a letter to Rojas, detailing the threats against his life and asking for witness protection.
In her responding letter, Rojas simply told Sheu to "be careful", an admonition Sheu found to be small comfort. When contacted by this newspaper, while Sheu was still alive, agent Rojas declined to comment; she also did not respond to a phone message from The Black Star News after Sheu's death.
With this tepid response from the FBI, Sheu said he realized that he was basically on his own. Sheu, a man of considerable education and discernment, wondered if Golia’s alleged blatant disregard of law in his own case indicated a more general propensity for alleged corruption. Could he find evidence of other alleged improprieties by Golia?
Sheu Investigates Judge Golia
With this in mind, Sheu set out to investigate the personal financial disclosure filings of the Judge Golia, which are public records, available by request from the Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) Ethics Committee. These filings detail the financial assets of all public officials, as a means of curtailing potential conflicts of interest.
Sheu searched the internet for documentation of Golia’s real estate holdings, hoping to find concealed assets that had not been declared on his financial disclosure form. If he could prove financial impropriety by Golia, Sheu reasoned, perhaps he could get Golia removed from the bench and finally receive a fair hearing for his case from another judge.
Sheu, who was a computer expert, searched the internet for evidence of properties he concluded were owned by Golia. Armed with a list of these properties, Sheu then went to the OCA Ethics Department to obtain Golia’s financial disclosure forms.
According to Sheu, he discovered major discrepancies between Golia’s actual properties and the ones declared on his financial disclosure forms, including a million dollar beach house on Breezy Point on Long Island, which was described in a local magazine as belonging to the judge, and which is publicly listed as being owned by the Golia family.
Sheu’s complaint included the following allegations, that Judge Golia:
“..Failed to disclose fully his liabilities for 2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2008, in that he:
- failed to disclose a mortgage held by HSBC under his wife “Roslaie Grecco” against the property
- failed to disclose a mortgage held by HSBC of “Joseph Golia and Rosalie Golia
- failed to disclose “Rosalie Grecco” employment/ income/ property
- failed to disclose “Hampton West” beach House (Breezy Point)
- interest conflict, own Flushing Bank stock (Flushing Financial Corp) and using connections” to get $750,000.000 in lower rate and mortgage more than the property market value, as NYC Dept. of Finance record, 2007 property market about $220,000.00.”
This Newspaper could not get Judge Golia to address these allegations that Sheu submitted to OCA since he declined to be interviewed.
Yet Janice Howard, director of the OCA Ethics Department, did ask for an amended financial disclosure statement from Golia.
By law, the amended disclosure form is the final opportunity for a public official to “come clean” about any errors or omissions on their original disclosure. The amended form is required to be submitted within two weeks of notice, but Sheu had to wait three months to receive the document from the judge.
Golia’s Amended Financial Form
Finally, on June 23rd, 2010, Sheu was personally handed the amended disclosure form by Janice Howard at the Ethics Committee office. Sheu discovered that even the amended disclosure form still neglected to mention the beach house as well any of the other properties Sheu believed were owned by Golia.
The only asset Golia included on the amended disclosure form that had not been cited on the original was a “vacant lot” in Queens that Golia claimed was worth less than $1,000, and therefore did not require reporting.
When Sheu received the amended form at the Ethics Committee office, he was accompanied by two associates, one of whom recorded Sheu’s reaction to reading the amended form. On the recording, Sheu can be heard exclaiming "Now I’ve got him!...I’ve got enough evidence to put Golia in Jail."
Three days later, Sunny Sheu was dead. His associates don't believe it was a coincidence.
Sheu’s futile efforts to protect his life
The most terrifying aspect of Sunny Sheu’s ordeal is that for two years after he was allegedly threatened by the detectives from the Queens D.A.'s office, he could not find a government official or agency willing or able to investigate these alleged threats, or to offer him protection.
Sheu, an optimistic and philosophical man, often compared the United States with his original home in communist China. He told his associates and others that while in China whistleblowers were usually killed or imprisoned, he was certain that in the United States of America those pursuing justice would ultimately prevail.
With this philosophy, Sheu was confident that if his story were known by the press and authorities, no one would dare harm him. That is why he came to The Black Star News, which covered his story in depth.
On numerous occasions, in the presence of colleagues at this newspaper, I urged him to always be accompanied by a friend if he could and to inform associates of his movements. "Even when you go out to the corner store to buy a can of soda, go with a friend," I told him. Still, I optimistically believed that no harm could befall him after this newspaper had publicized his case widely.
After reporting Golia’s alleged ommissions on the financial disclosure forms to the OCA, Sheu attempted with new urgency to alert all appropriate individuals and agencies to his plight.
Among those he contacted directly were: State Senator John Sampson; State Senator Eric Adams; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; The Senate Judicial Ethics Committee; Presiding Judge Jonathan Lippman; Administrative Judge Anne Pfau; The Office of Court Administration Ethics Committee; The FBI; The Department of Justice; The Queens DA; the NYPD; the CCRB, and; then Governor David Paterson, among others.
Sheu said none of these individuals or agencies lifted a finger to help protect or defend him, or to investigate his allegations.
Finding government agencies and officials maddeningly unresponsive, Sheu again turned to the press. Apart from The Black Star News, no news organization would report or look into his claims of governmental threats against his life. Part two of this series will discuss the details of how some of these media outlets, including a major television station, declined to report the story.
Sheu’s video foretelling his death
It was on April 9, 2010, that Sheu recorded his video statement, which was later posted on YouTube. In the two-minute video, Sheu expresses his fear for his life as a result of his investigation into Judge Golia's personal finances.
"I have filed a complaint to the FBI and the New York State Unified Court Disciplinary Committee about Judge Golia[‘s] [falsification of] his financial disclosure statement," Sheu, who spoke halting English, says.
"And I have submit[ed] evidence to the FBI. Recently [the] FBI returned [to] me cop[ies] of evidence that I sent to the FBI and today, April 9, [the] Unified Court Disciplinary Committee director Janice Howard called and [said] that judge Joseph Golia already amend[ed] his financial disclosure statement, which means my evidence is true."
Sheu’s concluding statement is chilling: "I make this video for my safety….If anything wrong goes to me it should come from Judge Golia and his people [sic].."
Little did he know that he had less than three months to live.
Note: The next installment will include a detailed examination of the circumstances surrounding Sheu's death and The Black Star News' futile attempts to get relevant information from law enforcement including through FOIA
"Speaking Truth To Empower."