Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Anti-Lopez committee co-founder arrested for ‘menacing’ former ally

By Lincoln Anderson

Foes of Councilmember Margarita Lopez may not have inflicted any damage on the East Side councilmember’s campaign for borough president yet, but they may be doing so to themselves. A leader of the Committee to Defeat Margarita Lopez 2005 is accusing a former member of recently attacking him with a cane and a switchblade.

Former Democratic District Leader Roberto Caballero claims Israel Perez confronted him and Roberto Napoleon, Baruch Houses’ tenants association president, on Sept. 22, shortly before 10 a.m. in front of 100 Columbia St. in the Baruch Houses. Allegedly angry that Napoleon had rejected Perez’s written request to rescind Perez’s resignation as vice president of the Baruch tenants association, and demanding that Caballero resign as an executive member of the T.A., Perez, according to Caballero, struck Caballero on the shoulder with his cane. Caballero claims he then grabbed Perez’s cane, flinging it aside, at which Perez pulled a 5-in. switchblade out of his pocket and slashed Caballero three times, on his wrist, shoulder and stomach.

According to a police complaint filed by Caballero, Perez, “while pointing a knife” at Caballero, “stated in substance”— “I’m going to kill you.”

The police report, however, classifies the incident as a misdemeanor and does not mention anything about assault. The charges in the police report are menacing, criminal possession of a weapon and harassment.

Napoleon said it was a “sloppy” police report taken by a civilian at the Housing Police station house on Avenue C.

Last Friday, Caballero showed a small, fine scar on the inside of his wrist where he said Perez cut him. “I have photographs,” he noted, adding Perez drew blood. He has obtained an order of protection against Perez.

Perez denies the incident occurred.

“It’s a joke. I did not see Caballero that day,” Perez said. “I did not assault him. I think this is nothing but a lie. This is very serious charges and they gonna pay for it. I did not see Roberto Caballero since Sept. 18” at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Baruch Houses’ opening — “and I was 50 ft. away.” Perez was arrested later that day and held 15 hours at the P.S.A. 4 stationhouse on Avenue C and at Central Booking.

Perez claims he has eight witnesses who can place him elsewhere in the complex — talking with friends at 90 Baruch Drive — from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the day of the alleged incident.

Caballero says he has eight witnesses, as well.

Perez says he’s never wielded a cane or knife against anybody — “even to combat crime.”

But Napoleon said, “[Perez] started striking him with the cane, Roberto grabbed it away, and then he came back with something shiny in his hand. He hit Roberto with it three times... I asked Roberto, ‘Are you O.K.?’ He said. ‘I got a few scratches.’ ”

Perez says Caballero — and T.A. president Napoleon — are out to get him because he blew the whistle on Caballero’s alleged plans to convert the public housing complex’s community center into an after-hours social club. Caballero chairs the advisory committee that oversees the community center. In the past, Perez fought a similar battle with Napoleon over the use of the community center.

“I won that war before and they are trying again,” Perez said.

Perez also doesn’t think Caballero should be involved with the tenants association since Caballero doesn’t live in Baruch, but in nearby Masaryk Towers. Perez charges Caballero is trying to keep his political base by maintaining a foothold in Baruch.

Caballero says accusations of his trying to create a club in the community center are “totally unfounded.” He says the Housing Authority plans to invest $235,000 to “bring the room up to code, because it’s not accessible to people who are disabled.” He said Assemblymember Steve Sanders has committed to paying for 14 new computers for the center. Caballero says that, according to Baruch’s bylaws, as chairperson of a standing committee, he’s automatically a member of the executive committee of the T.A.

Napoleon said the center in the past was only used by seniors to play dominos and drink coffee. If there was any alcohol there in the past, Napoleon said, “I don’t see [that].”

Perez says he quit the Baruch T.A. in July “because of the pack of lies.” He accused Caballero of leading an effort to write a letter backing developer Gregg Singer’s mega-dormitory project on E. Ninth St. on the former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural center site.

“I’m against selling support,” Perez said.

Caballero said it’s true the T.A. wrote a letter of support for Singer, but that they received nothing in return.

Fourteen years ago, Napoleon and Perez scuffled, landing Perez in the hospital. Perez says the argument then was over Baruch security. But Napoleon said Perez was upset about losing the election for T.A. president to Napoleon, who has been T.A. president the last 30 years.

“He’s run five times against me,” Napoleon said. “I appointed him to be vice president. I gave him chances — I’m not going to give him any more. God knows, I tried all my best to work with this guy.”

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