A JUSTICE STORY: Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi spent a week debating how to sentence a Queens nightclub owner who was acquitted of killing two associates on a Teaneck street but convicted of drug conspiracy and lying to police.
“You are two very, very different people,” DeAvila-Silebi, the presiding Superior Court judge in Bergen County, told Nicholas Kiriakakis on Friday.
“Such potential — the education, family, morals, teaching,” she said. “That someone with such great potential can be here before me on these types of charges — it has been troubling me for days.
“I could not get that out of my brain,” said Silebi, a former Bergen County prosecutor known for being fair but firm.
“It was very clear to me that your family is a lovely family,” she told Kiriakakas. “I saw the love and the passion your uncle has for you. He made a joke about how everyone in your family is named Nick, and that told me you are obviously loved. I read every single letter from your family.
“You have parents who love, adore and cherish you.”
Then DeAvila-Silebi delivered the bottom line: a 13-year prison sentence, with no parole eligibility for at least 6½ years.
”They are not at fault for this. They did everything they could to raise you to be a fine Kiriakakis man,” she told him. “This is all on you.
“It is very clear to me that you are in dire need of self-reflection.”
Jurors in December found Kiriakakis, 29, not guilty of the February 2010 hit on both men as they sat in an SUV on Oakdene Avenue. They convicted him, however, of conspiracy and hindering apprehension.
Kiriakakis would have faced a potential life sentence if convicted of the murders. But there were no eyewitnesses, no recovered weapon and no other evidence that placed him at the scene.
Prosecutors said Kiriakakis plotted to buy cocaine with counterfeit money and then sell it for cash to help satisfy creditors after he and some partners ended up more than $1 million in the hole after investing in what became a failed nightclub.
However, after taking tens of thousands of dollars from the two men, he was unable to get the drugs, they said — so he killed them.
Kiriakakis’s defense lawyer showed evidence that the lenders were already afraid of someone else and that one of them applied for a $6.5 million life insurance policy the very day he was killed. He emphasized that Kiriakakis and the victims were small-time criminals “swimming with sharks,” and that the executions were obviously done by someone with experience at it.
DeAvila-Silebi said she was troubled by the disappearance of the cash Kiriakakis received from the two victims.
“Where is the money? We never heard during the trial where the money went,” the judge said, fining Kiriakakis $150,000 — the maximum allowed under the law.
DeAvila-Silebi spoke at a drug court graduation Thursday, something she does every year – which she said contrasted with Friday’s sentencing.
Unlike many former users who beamed with pride Thursday after cleaning up their lives, Kiriakakis came from a life privilege that afforded advantages they lacked, DeAvila-Silebi said.
“Many of them did not have a family to support them, and it was hard for them,” the judge said, noting what drugs do to a community, “destroying and ravaging people of all ages, all walks of life.
“You should cherish forever that you have always had this beautiful family to support you,” she told him.
That Kiriakakis instead used his family’s support and influence to try and beat the rap angered DeAvila-Silebi.
Prosecutors said Kiriakakis lured the two men to Oakdene Avenue in Teaneck, where his uncle owns property. DeAvila-Silebi said he then got his uncle to provide a phony alibi – which he recanted when called to the stand to testify in the trial.
“You put your uncle in jeopardy — threw him under the bus – and he would have been charged, as well,” the judge said. “But he didn’t do that because he is a man of moral character. Your uncle did the right thing when it was very difficult to do, and you brought dishonor to someone completely innocent.
“This is a different kind of lying,” she said. “Cool, calm and collected – a manipulative kind of lying. You had no remorse.”
Earlier, Kiriakakis told the judge: “I have learned my lesson, and I am not going to mess around anymore. I just want to start my life the way it was before this all started.”
But she said she saw no proof of that.
Even while being interviewed for his pre-sentence report, DeAvila-Silebi said, Kiriakakis behaved badly.
“You showed nothing but disrespect for the staff in Criminal Case Management, when they are there to help you!” she said.
“People will become what they think they will become. Your aspirations are what determine your future,” DeAvila-Silebi concluded.
“I have a dream that one day you will sit down with your parents, after self-reflection, and tell them the truth.”
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter