The son of a former New Jersey mayor has been charged in connection with the death of a Hofstra University graduate who prosecutors say was stabbed 15 times in the chest in a luxury Manhattan apartment last month and then buried in a shallow grave in New Jersey.
Max Gemma, 29, of Oceanport, was arrested Tuesday after turning himself in to police.
The son of former Oceanport mayor Gordon Gemma appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court to plead not guilty to charges of hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence in the death of 26-year-old Joey Comunale, of Stamford, Connecticut.
Comunale's body was found in a shallow grave behind an old police station in New Jersey Nov. 16. James Rackover, 25, and Lawrence Dilione, 28, were arrested shortly afterward in his death. Though police initially charged them with murder, prosecutors have so far only charged them with concealment of a corpse, tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution in the criminal complaint, pending further investigation.
Prosecutors said Tuesday they believe Gemma was in the apartment where Comunale died and that Gemma changed his clothing and hid evidence.
But Gemma's lawyers said there was no evidence or witness testimony to support the claims.
A charge of tampering with evidence "should involve more than changing his clothes. And we think it's something else," his attorney Mark Bederow said outside court.
Bederow declined to specify the relationship among the three men.
Gemma posted the $100,000 cash bond late Tuesday afternoon and left court in a waiting car without speaking to reporters. His father also declined to comment.
Gemma is due back in court on Jan. 17. He works in software sales, according to his attorney in court, and is free to return to work until the next court date.
Police have said Comunale was stabbed to death in some sort of dispute after he, Rackover, Dilione and three women returned from the Gilded Lily nightclub on 14th Street late Saturday, Nov. 12, or early Sunday, Nov. 13.
According to a criminal complaint, an informant told authorities Rackover was seen late Saturday leaving his apartment building and putting a large duffel bag into the trunk of a black Mercedes with tinted windows that was registered to Rackover's father. Records show the car leaving Manhattan and traveling through the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey, the criminal complaint says.
Dilione allegedly admitted he and Rackover dumped Comunale's body and told them where to find it. The young man had been stabbed more than a dozen times in the chest; his legs were burned and a gas canister was discovered nearby, the criminal complaint says.
Bloody clothing, sheets and towels were found in Rackover's apartment during the course of an investigation, prosecutors said. The black vehicle that Rackover had been seen driving was later returned to Manhattan, left in a parking garage on East 58th Street, and a cadaver dog made a positive alert for a body or bodily fluids in the trunk area, the complaint says.
Shortly after Comunale's body was found, his father, Pat, who had reported him missing, described him as "one of a kind."
"This is not something that happens to kids like this," Pat Comunale said of his son, who was an avid hockey player. "He didn't deserve this. He didn't go looking for trouble. It wasn't right. This is not right."