UPDATE 3/13/15: Elehecer Balaguer turned himself in this morning and admitted under oath that he was the person shining a laser out of a Bronx apartment, not Frank Egan, as first reported on Talk of the Sound.\
BRONX, NY -- Elehecer "Eddie" Balaguer, a convicted felon, has admitted to the Bronx District Attorney, through his lawyer, that he was the person who aimed a green laser device into the cockpit of at least four planes as they approached New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Another man, residing at the same Coddington Avenue apartment, was falsely arrested Monday and charged with felony assault and reckless endangerment.
Balaguer has agreed to surrender to authorities tomorrow.
Frank Egan, 36, was arrested for the actions of Balaguer after a New York City Police helicopter went aloft to locate the source of the laser. As the helicopter mimicked a night approach by an aircraft into LaGuardia Airport, it was attacked by the same laser device. The pilot was temporarily blinded but was able to identify the apartment to officers on the ground who were dispatched to the scene.
The story received widespread media attention after Egan, now known to be innocent, was arrested and effectively tried and convicted by the media.
After police were able to determine the location of the source of the laser beam, an apartment in the Schuylerville section of the Bronx, Balaguer told police that it was Egan who owned the laser device and had aimed the light into the cockpits of the aircraft. Balaguer is the boyfriend of Egan’s sister and lives with the family at the apartment. Egan's sister appears to have gone along with the ruse out of fear that her boyfriend would receive a long prison sentence given his criminal history.
Based on Balaguer's false statements to police, Egan was arrested, held overnight and then arraigned Tuesday night in Bronx Criminal Court on two counts of felony assault and four counts of reckless endangerment. He was held on $15,000 bond over $5,000 cash. He was not released from custody until late Wednesday night.
Egan told his lawyer Francis O'Reilly that while in police custody at the 45th Precinct in the Bronx he overheard a New York City police officer make a series of phone calls to the media claiming that Egan had admitted to being the perpetrator of the laser attaack. The officer told reports that Egan admitted to owning the laser-pointer seized by police. The officer went on to tell reports that Egan admitted shining the laster into the cockpits of aircraft including a New York City police helicopter. These claims were false.
New York City Police and much of the local media in New York, taking their cues from this office reported his version of events and misreported the facts of the case. Egan did not own a laser, he never admitted to owning the laser or using the laser that evening, according to sources close to the case.
Egan, who has no prior criminal record, works at the Enchanted Flowers Boutique at 426 Pelham Road in New Rochelle, NY.
Elehecer Balaguer, his sister’s boyfriend is another story. Balaguer has been arrested numerous times and had felony convictions for assault and drug charges including posession and sale of heroin and methadone.
Balaguer, 54, was convicted on a charge of Assault in the 2nd Degree, a class D Felony, in 2000. He served 2 years in New York State prison then was released on parole. Balaguer was convicted on a charge of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 4th Degree, a class C felony, in 2006. He served 3 and a half years in prison then was released on parole which ended in 2012.
The New York Daily News was one one many media outlets that got the story wrong. The paper reported that a police source told them Egan admitted to the crime.
"He gave it right up and that was it,” the paper reported a police source saying. This same source claimed that Egan stated that he bought the laser at a Florida shop for $50. These claims and others were false.
Al Baker And Winnie Hu wrote an article for The New York Times quoting an anonymous police source and wrote:
"Officials said that in cases like this one, such tidy investigative work was rare and making arrests was a frustratingly difficult feat."
By the end of the week, the Paper of Record was singing a different tune. Benjamin Mueller wrote in The Times:
"After being charged this week with injuring several pilots by shining a laser beam at their planes, Frank J. Egan was held up as a pest, his arrest an example of pinpoint investigative work leading the authorities to a typically elusive target. Four days later, the case against him appeared to unravel."
After the police officer called the press, Egan was led out of the 45th Precinct in the Bronx for a "perp walk". Egan denied any knowledge of the incident.
“I didn't do it. It wasn't me,” said Egan. “I was asleep in bed.”
Telephone records and text messages provided to the Bronx District Attorney corroborated Egan’s account that he was with his girlfriend in New Rochelle that evening, drove home and went to bed.
More than a few folks have a lot of explaining to do.
UPDATE: Elehecer Balaguer has given a sworn statement to the Bronx District Attorney's office admitting her, not Frank Egan, pointed the laser at aircraft earlier this week. Balaguer testified in open court that he was the culprit. He was taken into custody for having failed to appear in court for an unrelated marijuana-possession charge. Balaguer will be questioned by the FBI and is expected to be arrested.
Balaguer and Egan will be back in court on April 17th. Charges against Egan are expected to be dropped at that time.
"He is a nice, gentle man who did nothing wrong," said O'Reilly. "Frank is pleased with how things are going."
"He went through three days of hell." said lawyer Frank J. Corigliano, O'Reilly's law partner.
The media has started to backpeddle:
NEW YORK POST: Housemate pointed laser at planes, not accused man: lawyer
ASSOCIATED PRESS/ABC NEWS: NYC Man Says He, Not Arrested Friend, Aimed Laser at Copter
NEW YORK TIMES: Neighbor Takes Blame for Shining Laser at Planes in Bronx