Investigation: Sikh in prison due to payoff?
NEW YORK (WABC) -- A volatile case is underway in a Queens courtroom amid allegations of witness tampering, payoffs and perjury.
It all involves battling factions within the Sikh community and a murder case where a man has already spent 10 years in prison.
This is a "Law and Order" episode in the making; allegations of secret payoffs, threats, tapes, and right in the middle of it all, a former homicide cop-turned private investigator who says he won't stop until he gets an innocent man out of prison.
On the surface, it seemed like a vicious fight between two feuding factions at a Sikh temple in Queens last April, but the ramifications of that violence have now exposed a much deeper division, one that's now sparked new allegations in an old murder case.
"Show of hands, who gave money," Eyewitness News Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace asked.
All of the people in the room raised their hands.
"And you all understood this money was supposed to go to pay off witnesses?" Wallace asked.
"Yes," they answered.
These members of The Labana sect and others are now swearing under oath that the leader of their temple, Raghubir Singh, collected money to pay off two key prosecution witnesses in a murder case against Tejpal Singh, the son of Ragubir's rival.
The now 37-year-old was convicted in 2002 of gunning down another Sikh during a drive-by murder on a Richmond Hill street, and sentenced to life.
"Mostly like 10 to 20 people pay him every month," Wallace said.
"Yes," a member said.
"So you met in this house, here and you all gave money," Wallace said.
"He was collecting thousands of dollars a month," a member said.
Raghubir Singh refused to do an interview with Eyewitness News.
He told Wallace by phone he denies everything, including the more sensational charge by these men that some of the money they gave would also be used to influence the DA's office to convict Tejpal.
"That's [what] he say(s), all the meeting he say(s) he wants to pay some money to the district attorney," a member said.
"To pay money to the district attorney," Wallace said.
"That's what he say," the member stated.
The DA's office denies there was any influence, but has consented to an unusual hearing that's taking place in a third floor courtroom in Kew Gardens.
The Labana men who say they gave money to their leader to pay off prosecution witnesses are testifying and so is one of those men who supposedly got money to say Tejpal was the shooter.
Rocky Singh denies getting a payoff, but can't deny a tape just produced by the defense where Rocky can be heard offering to recant his original testimony against Tejpal for half a million dollars.
"This has been known to the DA's office for a long time and they chose to close their eyes to it," said Eddie Dowd, a retired Queens Homicide detective.
Retired Queens Homicide detective Eddie Dowd has worked as a private investigator on the Tejpal case for 8 years, interviewing witnesses in the car involved in the drive-by murder-they all say Tejpal wasn't with them.
"We firmly believe they have the wrong person in jail," Dowd said, "This is probably the only time in my career that I can tell you this is the wrong guy, and they know it."
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