The Bronx District Attorney’s office is grilling a spotlight-loving private eye they believe tampered with witnesses to a murder that may have four years later led to the revenge killing of his client’s own mother, the Daily News has learned.
Prosecutors are demanding cop-turned-private investigator Manuel Gomez hand over all video, audio and notes from interviews with witnesses he conducted defending Brian Solano, the accused triggerman in the 2014 killing of Willie Lora, the brother of a high-ranking Trinitarios gang member.
“The whole subject of this hearing is misconduct either by or at the behest of Mr. Solano in tampering with witnesses,” Bronx Assistant District Attorney Christine Scaccia said during a Dec. 17 court appearance, transcripts show. “It is our position that Mr. Gomez assisted him in those endeavors,” she said.
Solano, 25, spent three years on Rikers Island and a brief stint in an upstate prison while awaiting trial. But a judge ordered him released without bail in October 2017 after Gomez found witnesses who claimed police coerced them to finger Solano as Lora’s killer.
In November, Solano’s mother, Wendy Martinez, was shot dead through her apartment door peephole, police said. There have been no arrests.
“Everyone knew that retribution was coming for what (Solano) was accused of,” one police source said at the time of Martinez’s death. “It was just a matter of time — but no one thought that the mom would get hit.”
As the Lora murder trial finally approaches, the Bronx DA has subpoenaed Gomez, demanding he turn over all documentation of witnesses who claim Solano’s innocence, the Daily News has learned.
During the Dec. 17 hearing in Solano’s case, Gomez’s attorney David Narain provided the court with video interviews, text messages and written statements from witnesses. Narain didn’t hand over any written or recorded statements between Gomez and Solano, claiming they are “privileged material.”
But Scaccia said in court that is not good enough since there are “a number of telephone calls in evidence between Mr. Solano and Mr. Gomez regarding locating witnesses.” Scaccia also demanded the unedited videos since there appeared to be gaps in recordings.
“I believe there is more than what is turned over,” Scaccia said. “I do believe that there had to be notes or conversations that were had between Investigator Gomez and Barbara Diaz, who is the defendant’s grandmother and who was instrumental in making a lot of the arrangements.”
Gomez’s investigative tactics were called into question last year after he was accused by a Queens judge of coercing a witness of a gang slaying into not testifying. In a bombshell court filing, Judge Kenneth Holder said Gomez “made false assertions” when grilling Erika King about her claims that suspect Ajaya Neale killed a reputed Bloods member in 2014.
Neale, 30, was charged with murder, weapons possession and reckless endangerment for the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Joel Rashko at a baseball game in Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans on May 10, 2014.
King, the prosecution’s star witness, backtracked her testimony after Gomez — hired by Neale’s family to find witnesses for his defense — told her another man was the shooter and had fled the country, according to Holder.
“Mr. Gomez’s intent was to eliminate (King) as the sole identifying witness and derail the trial,” Holder wrote.
The private investigator also helped get charges dismissed against Pedro Hernandez, the Bronx teen who became a poster boy for bail reform after spending more than a year on Rikers Island on a gun charge because he couldn’t pay bail.
And Gomez found almost two dozen people who claimed they were falsely arrested by NYPD Detective David Terrell – but all of the cases filed against the detective except one have since been dropped, mostly for lack of evidence.
Repeated requests to both Narian, Gomez and the Bronx District Attorney’s office for comment on the Solano case were not returned.
“So the mouth is suddenly quiet,” attorney Eric Sanders, who is representing Terrell, said of Gomez. “Now hopefully Gomez will slither away off to jail for the damage he’s caused to Detective Terrell and others.”