Forensic Files - Going for Broke   View more episodes

Aired at 10:30 PM on Tuesday, Jul 06, 2010 (7/6/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:01Money for himself as a stockbroker, not all of his clients liked the way he did it.
00:00:07Zina shirl says she gave michael $20,000 but told him to invest only in stocks that she chose.
00:00:16>> Iim, and I said, "this is the deal.
00:00:18You do not touch it.
00:00:19This is whatever I -- you do " " >> Narrator: Almost immediately, zina realized michael was buying and selling stocks in her account without her permission.
00:00:32>> I had a bill from the company that I owed them almost like $8,000 or $10,000 for commission, buying, and selling.
00:00:43So I wen company, and i said, "mike, look, this is wr >> Narrator: In the brokerage business, that's called "churning the account" -- buying and selling stocks in a customer's portfolio for the sole purpose of ge commissions.
00:00:59Other clients allege that michael prom a year in order to get their business, a practice that's illegal in many states.
00:01:09Michael -- he crossed a lot of bridges.
00:01:14A lot of illegal things was done.
00:01:18>> Narrator: Investigators also learned that michael didn't always pick good stocks.
00:01:23For example, he bought shares in texas air for many of his clients at $48 per share.
00:01:29In a matter of weeks, it fell to $15.
00:01:33>> I would say most of the people we had talked to that had lost money were really not that upset that michael had disappeared or that he had been murdered.
00:01:46We even had several people that said they wish they could have done it.
00:01:52>> Narrator: On the night michael was reported missing, his wife said he called her around 8:30.
00:01:58He said he was with a client and was working late.
00:02:02She also said michael asked her for his supervisor's home telephone number.
00:02:09>> In phone calls to his wife that night, he spoke russian, which she considered unusual.
00:02:14Michael did not like to speak russian in front of american clients.
00:02:17He considered it rude.
00:02:18>> He would only speak russian in front of some other russian.
00:02:21She just assumed that whoever he was with was some other russian.
00:02:29>> Narrator: Later, michael called his boss at home with an unusual request.
00:02:35>> He was asking for money -- $200,000 that he said he needed to raise for a client that night.
00:02:42This, of course, put everyone on their guard because, to get a call from a broker at night seeking $200,000 is highly unusual.
00:02:49>> Narrator: Michael said his client was leaving town early the next day and needed the money immediately.
00:02:56Naturally, michael's boss said no.
00:02:59>> He just said, "it's not that we're unwilling to come up with the $200,000, but we certainly aren't gonna be able to come up " >> Narrator: And michael's boss said that he made a strange reference to a boat.
00:03:15>> What he said was, "didn't you tell me that your father gave you $200,000 to buy a boat -- to " well, his supervisor hadn't told him anything like that.
00:03:26And his supervis concluded, and later told the police, that he suspected that michael was trying to send an alarm of some kind by reminding him of a conversation that had >> Narrator: The medical examiner believes that michael was killed later that night.
00:03:42>> It's difficult to be precise, but because he wasn't completely frozen, I didn't think he'd been out there longer.
00:03:50>> Narrator: Police found michael's torso, his legs, and a piece of on the tarp with the torso, black hair.
00:04:02>> It was very f of a crimped appearance to it that was not indicative of a >> Narrator: Microscopic examination revealed it was a dog hair.
00:04:14The medulla, or central core ofairs, can help identify the breed.
00:04:20In this case, analysts determined the hair was from a bernese mountain dog, which is tricolored and usually very large.
00:04:29The only other evidence thee that l to the garbage dump.
00:04:38It looked as if a car had hit it to force it open.
00:04:42>> There was some brownish paintby a >> Narrator: And there was a small plastic looked like a piece of the car's ess told police that he saw michael's blackes-benz in the lake parking lot next to a small, brown vehicle similar in color that the car possibly could have been a it looked consistent with a mazda 626.
00:05:21>> Narrator: This narrowed the list of suspects considerably.
00:05:25They were looking for someone driving a brown mazda, who had a on sweeper, and you'll dump your old broom.
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00:08:37>> Narrator: While investigating the murder of stockbroker michael prozumenshikov, investigators learned he had many disgruntled customers.
00:08:47He had also been soliciting investors to build a resort in reno, nevada, to be managed by a " >> quite a bit of money that investors put into this scheme.
00:09:01And it ended up that act the address for omni financial was in the middle of the desert.
00:09:06It was an old, deserted, shabby motel, vacant -- is really what the address was where this resort was supposed to be.
00:09:15>> Narrator: The investment was a scam, and this created even more >> authorities believe that money was probably the motive for michael prozumenshikov's murder.
00:09:26>> Narrator: News of michael prozumenshikov generated a number of potential leads, including one from employees of a local car wash.
00:09:37They said they had an odd encounter with a customer the morning after michael's body was found.
00:09:45>> A customer requested we get some hunting blood out of his trunk, which got us thinking a little bit -- little, you know, little strange.
00:09:55>> Narrator: They said it wa brown mazda, and they gave police the license number -- the car was registered to zachary persitz, a 39-year-old russian émigré who worked as a dam inspector for the state of minnesota.
00:10:14He was a friend of michael's.
00:10:16>> When he first met michael, he was more established than got into the brokerage business, and michael's earnings eclipsed those of za they didn't know each other in the old country.
00:10:27Their wives were friends.
00:10:28>> Narrator: Persitz was married, had two children, and was well known and respected within the russian immigrant community.
00:10:39Very intelligent.
00:10:42I remember zachary's a good artist.
00:10:47In the world.
00:10:48He wouldn't hu a flea.
00:10:51great neighbor, kept to himself, never bothered anybody.
00:10:56Michael were more than just friends.
00:10:59Michael was perss financial advisor.
00:11:02Their relationship was rocky at best.
00:11:05Investigators discovered that persitz gave michael $150,000 to invest, but there were more losses than profits.
00:11:14Discovered his stock portfolio was worth less than $30,000.
00:11:22were suitable for a guy that invested every nickel he had with michael.
00:11:30>> Narrator: When questioned by police, persitz denied any involvement in michael's murder, and he willingly took a lie-detector test arranged by investigator and cocounsel had developed a suspicion that ..
00:11:51And had zachary tell them that he hadn't done it.
00:11:55And he passed.
00:11:56>> Narrator: And forensic origin of the blood in persitz's trunk.
00:12:04At the time, dna testing wasn't as sophisticated as it is today.
00:12:08>> Back then, the dna testing procedures required dna to be what's called high molecular weight.
00:12:15We needed dna that hadn't gone through any degradation processes at all.
00:12:19>> Narrator: But investigators did find some suspicious damage to perstiz's car.
00:12:25It had damage to the front right end.
00:12:28The paint was scraped, and the bumper was broken.
00:12:32The scratches on the bumper had what appeared to be tiny specks of orange paint, which were removed with a small probe.
00:12:40>> The samples that we're talking about are perhaps the size of a period or a small dot with a pencil.
00:12:47So we're talking microscopic-sized chips of paint.
00:12:51>> Narrator: The paint sample was compared to the paint from the broken gate using a process called a solubility analysis.
00:12:59>> Chemical solubility tests are a seriesreagents, solvents, or reagents that may cause color reactions or cause it to dissolve or swell or do something -- a color change.
00:13:12And if they are similar, that means that the paints could have had a common source.
00:13:17>> Narrator: The test showed that the paint on perstiz's bumper could have come from the gate, but the sample was too small to be conclusive.
00:13:26But the piece of broken bumper found near the gate was of more value.
00:13:32The forensic analysis revealed it could only have come from one source.
00:13:38>> It was just a perfect match.
00:13:40They were unevenly cracked, so the odds of the pieces that they recovered from the compost site being a perfect, even match to zachary's car -- the odds of ..
00:13:55So amazing that they just said, "this had to have come from " >> Narrator: And investigators learned that persitz owned a dog with long black hair, which proved to be microscopically similar to the single dog hair found with michael's body.
00:14:16Finally investigators sprayed the inside of persitz's car with luminol.
00:14:22It revealed evidence of a gunshot.
00:14:25>> It looked like stars.
00:14:27There were hundreds of spots on the roof of the headliner of the car, which would have been consistent with the high-velocity mist if someone gets shot in the head.
00:18:06>> Narrator: Prosecutors believed that zachary persitz was enraged by the way his frieichael prozumenshikov handled his money.
00:18:15He watched his $150,000 dwindle to less than $30,000.
00:18:21>> He came upon hard times.
00:18:23He was not gonna be able to pay the tuition for private school.
00:18:27He was not gonna be able to make his mortgage payments.
00:18:31And that's where the dynamics of to stand the pressure of seeing all of his dreams vanish.
00:18:44>> Narrator: At the same time, zach was living quite well on the commissions generated from a the stock transactions.
00:18:56>> Zachary's wife oftentimes would compare their lifestyle to michael's lifestyle, sayinghoe.
00:19:04Why don't we have a big house?
00:19:06" and on and on.
00:19:11>> Narrator: Prosecutors believed persitz wanted revenge.
00:19:16The evidence suggests persitz set up a meeting with michael in the parking lot at lake minnetonka.
00:19:28Once there, persitz threatened michael with a gun and demanded his money back with interest.
00:19:35So michael called his boss at home, asking him for $200,000.
00:19:40But his boss refused.
00:19:43[ Dial tone ] Persitz handcuffed michael to the steering wheel of his car and ordered michael to drive to ..
00:20:05Anthen killed him.
00:20:07[ Gunshot ] the trunk and drove to the away.
00:20:20Persitz broke through the gate small piece behind.
00:20:27After dismembering michael's body, persitz wrapped the torso in a tarp.
00:20:33Unbeknownst to him, a single black hair from his pet dog was on the tarp.
00:20:41The rest of michael's body and the gun have never been recovered.
00:20:46This homicide and not get caught 'cause he had it all planned out, and he didn't realize how tough it is to hide trace evidence, forensic evidence.
00:20:56It's always gonna be there.
00:20:58>> Narrator: Zachary persitz pled not guilty by reason of the jury, however, rejected that and found him guilty of first-degree murder.
00:21:10He was sentenced to life in prison.
00:21:14For michael prozumenshikov, the american dream had turned into a tragedy.
00:21:24No doubt who was responsible.
00:21:28>> The forensic evidence was the case.
00:21:32The investigators did an overwhelming job.
00:21:38>> The old expression is, "if you think you know how to commit the perfect crime, there are 50 ways to [bleep] it up.
00:21:45And you're a genius if you can " [ chuckles ] --Captions by VITAC-- >> Narrator: A wealthy socialite died after falling down stairs.
00:21:59Was it an accident or was it murder?
00:22:03The laws of physics and an accident reconstructionist provided the answer.
00:22:35The lucas family was well-known in tyler, te the family patriarch, baker lucas, owned a successfulresidential-home sales.
00:22:48>> He owned a lot of real estate property.
00:22:49He had a large real estate business, and he was so they did ask him to run for the position of mayor.
00:22:57He accepted, and he was our mayor from 1970 to 1978.
00:23:01>> Narrator: The famildonated generously to charity and was so active socially that bette lucas was known as the first lady of tyler.
00:23:11>> She was quite social.
00:23:12She liked parties.
00:23:14Belonged to a garden club and literary club and symphony league when it began.
00:23:19She was one of the first members, I'm sure, that was in it.
00:23:22>> Narrator: But the family fortunes changed dramatically in 1985 when baker lucas was killed in an automobile accident.
00:23:30>> It was a very traumatic time for her because for bette lucas, her husband was her life.
00:23:36He was her connection to everything in tyler.
00:23:39>> He waited on her hand and foot, and she very much loved him.
00:23:44She was gonna be by herself, and that was a real blow because they'd been together all these years.
00:23:51>> Narrator: Steven, the lucas' son, took over the family business, but things were never the same.
00:23:58>> In fairness to steve, his father was such a charismatic, well-liked person that it would be very difficult for him to step fully into his father's shoes.
00:24:07I think that probably this is something that was not lost on him, and he attempted to manage the business, but not as well as baker had.
00:24:16>> Narrator: Three years later, there was more bad news for the bette lucas fell down a flight of stairs in her home and was rushed to the hospital.
00:24:25Sadly, she never regained consciousness.
00:24:28>> She was in on life support for at least a day.
00:24:31She was taken off that, and she died, and she was buried the next day.
00:24:35It happened very quickly.
00:24:36Even those people who were close to her did not find out about the funeral till the last minute.
00:24:42>> Narrator: At the time, no one saw the need for an autopsy.
00:24:47>> Nobody would have expected her to die like that.
00:24:50We'd had plans on what we were gonna do in the rest home when we got to the rest home together.
00:24:55An was such -- just unbelievable that she would be gone.
00:24:58>> Narrator: Two people witnessed bette lucas' fall -- her son, steve, and his 20-year-old daughter, stephanie.
00:25:08Steve said his mother, a frail woman, started to carry a vcr up the stairs.
00:25:13He said he tried to carry it for her, but she wouldn't let him.
00:25:16>> This was one of the early VCRs, AND IT WAS LARGE AND VERY Heavy.
00:25:2132 Pounds is just tremendously heavier than what we normally think of now as a vcr.
00:25:28>> Narrator: At the top of the stairs, steve said he made one last attempt to carry it.
00:25:34>> And in the process of him trying to take that from her, she jerked away, and the motion of her jerking away propelled her over the staircase banister.
00:25:47>> Narrator: She landed on the lower flight of stairs and slid to the bottom.
00:25:53The vcr left a dent in the molding, and the painting on the wall was askew.
00:26:00But after bette's funeral, the ambulance crew told police t steve lucas behaved suspiciously when they arrived at bette lucas' home.
00:26:09>> They said that steven lucas was standing outside.
00:26:12He was not even in there with his mother when they rolled up.
00:26:16So, miss lucas was laying there on the floor dying, if you will, all alone.
00:26:22We received several anonymous calls at the police department telling us that we needed to investigate the death of bette lucas -- that it really was not an accident and that perhaps it was a homicide.
00:26:33>> Narrator: So investigators decided to look further into bette lucas' death.
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00:29:22>> Narrator: Bette lucas, the millionaire socialite of tyler, texas, was dead after a fall down a flight of stairs.
00:29:30Her son, steve, described the everyone in the community it.
00:29:38>> A call came in telling the sheriff's department that they really look at the case, because this person, who was a friend of the lucas family's, thought that steve had killed his mother.
00:29:47>> Narrator: Since there had been no autopsy, investigators petitioned the court for permission to exhume bette's body.
00:29:55>> The fact that they brought her back out of the ground --oo.
00:30:01But we were happy that they did if they were gonna find proof of what had happened.
00:30:07>> I think the town very quickly one camp thought that steve was