Podiatrist, girlfriend conspire to kill doctor's wife, vow to reunite after prison
10/31/2017 3:29 pm PDT
There are divorces -- and then there are wars. For New York Doctor Ira Bernstein and his wife, it was definitely the latter.
And the battle of the money got a whole lot more complicated when a very pretty brunette worked her way into the picture.
It's a twisted turned toxic love triangle, featuring a bitter wife who loved money, a beautiful scheming girlfriend who loved someone else's husband, and a wealthy foot doctor who was about to step in it, big time.
Almost everyone in Rockland County, New York knows Ira Bernstein. He was a big shot in town who amassed a small fortune as a real estate tycoon. He was also the local podiatrist. The good doctor even treated the entire fleet of feet at the Ramapo Police Department.
"Detective Fitzgerald and myself were both his patients," said Ramapo Police Det. Peter Louzan.
Dr. Bernstein was as well-known for his "War of the Roses" with his wife as he was for his healing hands.
"Susan Bernstein would threaten to have Ira arrested while they were married. There's audio tape to support that," said Dr. Bernstein's defense attorney Jeffrey Millman.
"Don't bother coming back you are going to [----] jail and [----] court."
"You wanna yell at me? I'll just hang up on you, you're crazy."
"You are done."
In the battle over the family fortune, the Bernsteins stay married but began living separate lives.
Police say it didn't take long for the foot doctor to develop a fetish for a sexy ex-mortician named Kelly Gribeluk. The 35-year-old beauty had just come out of her own nasty divorce and even uglier custody dispute. A little TLC from Ira was a prescription for romance.
"Kelly and Ira met originally when Kelly was a patient of Ira's," said Gribeluk's defense attorney Jonathan Ripps.
Kelly was known as a model citizen in Rockland County, but cops did know her name. She had been involved in a tragic death. Kelly had been in a fatal car accident before, where she was driving.
"She was driving. She struck a pedestrian and was not charged with a crime," said Rockland County Assistant District Attorney Richard Moran.
Cops tell Crime Watch Daily that Kelly Gribeluk fell hard for the wealthy podiatrist and eventually took a job at one of his medical centers. In fact, she's even seen driving around town in his Maserati.
"She loved Ira Bernstein," said Det. Louzan.
When the wife gets wind of her husband's sexy, young girlfriend, she files for divorce.
"You are off with your girlfriend in the Bahamas!"
"I'm with my mom in Florida."
But they decide to stay married for the love of money.
"As Susan Bernstein would put it, Ira didn't want to divide up his empire," said Moran.
"I think he felt it was unfair and he expressed that to his girlfriend Kelly as well," said Det. Louzan.
Ira Bernstein was now becoming more and more frustrated, and Kelly didn't like seeing the love of her life so upset.
"I think she wanted to please Ira and had this vision of her and Ira living together with a lot of money," said Louzan.
So detectives believe Kelly Gribeluk hatched an evil plan to get rid of the one thing standing in the way of their happily-ever-after: Ira's wife.
"She comes from little means, she stood to gain fancy cars, big houses and the stature to be with a doctor," said Det. Robert Fitzgerald.
All Kelly needed was a hit man to arrange the murder. So she went shopping for the hit man. Police say Kelly was determined to get the job done, claiming she propositioned three different people. They all say no. And then Kelly runs into an old buddy.
"While Kelly was shopping for a car at BMW in Rockland County she started a conversation with Marckensy Louissaint. Car salesman by day. According to Kelly, he was a hit man by night," said Millman.
Marckensy Louissaint had once sold Kelly a car.
"Marckensy was asked if he knew anybody that can help take out the client's boyfriend's wife," said Det. Fitzgerald.
Marckensy and Kelly begin covert meetings at a parking lot right across from one of Dr. Iran Bernstein's offices, and the police station, hatching a plan to take Ira's wife out.
What Kelly Gribeluk doesn't know is Marckensy's car has a special feature: it's secretly wired with cameras.
"I think she was very determined," said Jonathan Ripps.
They even devise a despicable and eerily familiar plan for how to off Susan.
"What about like a hit-and-run like when she is getting out of her car? Or like, claim an accident, somebody backed up into her and the guy stays and says 'I didn't see her.' You know, claim an accident so there's no investigation."
"The original plot was to try to be in a car accident, where she gets run off the road or struck," said Det. Louzan. "And have the other driver that struck her stay on the scene and have the police take an accident report and no one's the wiser."
"It has to be an accident. It can't be a robbery, they can't figure out there a camera in the car. It's got to be real clean."
After nearly a dozen meetings, the car salesman makes Kelly an offer she can't refuse.
"Money is not the issue."
"It actually started off at $200,000, came quickly down to $100,000 for the price on Susan Bernstein's head," said Det. Fitzgerald.
But where would a single mom come up with that kind of money? Turns out it was what the doctor ordered.
Kelly Gribeluk, the girlfriend of wealthy New York podiatrist Ira Bernstein, is proposing a devilish deal to luxury car salesman Marckensy Louissaint.
"She is losing it. She just won't let go. She won't divorce him."
But it's not to buy a new car -- it's to take her lover's estranged wife out.
"If we had to shoot her, would that be OK?"
"The only foolproof way to make sure that happens, we could disable the car."
The murder for hire seemed to be the sole sadistic idea of the jealous girlfriend. But it turns out Kelly was just following the doctor's orders. Dr. Ira Bernstein prescribed the lethal hit and run that was supposed to kill his wife Susan.
"He got in the car with a hit man and started talking about how he wanted his wife killed, and just as importantly to him was that he not be investigated and not get caught," said Assistant Rockland County D.A. Richard Moran.
"The way I do things the lesser you two know, the better."
What was the motivation for having Susan Bernstein killed?
"Money. Plain and simple, money," said Moran.
To his neighbors in Rockland, New York the doc was a medical genius, but behind the surgical mask cops claim he was a greedy monster willing to do anything to save his fortune.
"He was a local doctor, ostensibly successful at his practice, but when you took a closer look at his books, it became clear that there were a lot of improprieties," said Moran.
In fact, two insurance adjusters actually launched an extensive investigation into Bernstein's medical practice. Cops claim something fishy was indeed going on with the foot doctor.
"Billing for patients that actually weren't in the office. Billing for procedures that didn't take place, things of that nature," said Moran.
"I think he always went for more money, I think that's why he got involved with the insurance fraud," said Det. Peter Louzan.
Some media reports suggest Susan Bernstein found out about her husband's shady business and began blackmailing him unless he signed over half his multimillion-dollar fortune to her in a divorce.
"Don't bother coming back, you are going to [----] jail and [----] court."
"When he saw that that was being taken away from him by his ex-wife, I think it drove him over the edge," said Louzan.
Detectives believe Ira Bernstein began using his pretty young mistress Kelly Gribeluk as a puppet to do his dirty work while he pulled the strings safely from his operating room.
"Kelly was a pawn, in my opinion," said Moran. "Kelly Gribeluk was Ira Bernstein's way of getting out of his marriage with every penny that he had before Susan died."
"He's not comfortable giving the 50 but he will give everything when it's done."
"Everything is done by Kelly. Kelly is the person he puts out front so if anything goes wrong, Kelly is going to be the one that goes down. He's being smart that way," said Ramapo Police Det. Robert Fitzgerald.
The $100,000 hit on Susan Bernstein seems to be a go. Then suddenly Kelly tells Marckensy that the podiatrist may be having a change of heart.
"What if he decides not to do it?"
"Then I'm not going to go ahead and take the money."
Cops tell Crime Watch Daily the doctor didn't have a change of heart -- he was starting to smell a rat, wondering if Marckensy was really an undercover cop.
"I think they both were suspicious," said Gribeluk's defense attorney Jonathan Ripps.
All of a sudden there's a new twist in the deadly deal.
"Out of nowhere it was like 'Hey, we need two insurance investigators beat up, now,'" said Det. Fitzgerald.
Kelly offers Marckensy $5,000 more to have the two insurance adjusters investigating Dr. Bernstein's practice roughed up. If the doctor is satisfied with the results, he will move forward with Susan's murder.
"We believed that this was a test," said Moran. "If he was a police officer it wasn't going to happen, and if he was not a police officer then he would get these two people beat up and put out of work to the point they couldn't continue their investigation into him at that time."
And just a few days later Marckensy requests an appointment with the doctor, saying he wants to personally show the doctor he's executed his orders. Dr. Bernstein is clearly paranoid he's being watched.
"He got inside, he was just saying 'Listen, I'm just scared, I'm nervous about it,'" said Fitzgerald.
And then something happens that gives the podiatrist a severe case of cold feet.
"Not only does he think he sees a camera, he actually does see the camera," said Fitzgerald.
It's right there, buried in the back seat.
"It was a great shot, he points right at it, he goes 'What is that?'" said Fitzgerald.
This is the moment that a murder-for-hire case almost went sideways. A wealthy doctor looks straight into the hidden camera filming him as he sets up the calculated killing of his estranged wife.
"He just wants to know the main thing is he's not the number one suspect and I'm going to be number two."
To prove Marckensy is the real deal and not a police informant, Gribeluk and Bernstein first ask the salesman to rough up two insurance adjusters who had been investigating Bernstein's podiatry business for fraud. A few days later Marckensy delivers chilling photos. He was satisfied with the beating that these two insurance investigators received, and he did pay the money.
Here's where the podiatrist and his girlfriend take the bait. The pictures are fake.
"We took numerous pictures, hundreds of pictures, just so we can get one of each person being beat up that looked more realistic," said Ramapo Police Det. Robert Fitzgerald.
So who ratted out the foot doc and his girlfriend's murder-for-hire plot? Was Marckensy Louissaint a legitimate hit man?
"He's not a hit man. He's a good man," said Det. Fitzgerald.
A good man who blew the whistle.
Marckensy Louissaint tells Crime Watch Daily that Kelly Gribeluk came into the luxury car dealership and asked if he knew anyone who could kill her boyfriend's wife.
"She was very clear and blunt about it," Louissaint tells Crime Watch Daily. "When I look at her facial expression and I know she was serious."
"He was the fourth person that they had contacted to kill Susan Bernstein and he's the only one that went to the police. The only one," said A.D.A. Richard Moran. "They were going to keep hunting until they found somebody who was going to do it."
The Ramapo Police asked the car salesman to close the biggest deal of his life, getting both Kelly and Ira to map out their murder-for-hire plot on camera. At one point the doctor actually sees the hidden camera. Marckensy reassures Bernstein and Gribeluk that he's simply a salesman with a tricked-out car.
"He says 'Well, that's what my kids, they plug into for their headset,' so the doctor kept looking at it and he stared back and he says 'I don't want to end up on television,'" said Fitzgerald.
That camera Bernstein discovered in Marckensy's back seat was actually set by the cops to catch the deal of death on tape.
"I'm not being serious until I see money in my hand."
"Give me a day to work on it."
The recordings gave the Ramapo Police all the evidence they needed to arrest Kelly Gribeluk for conspiracy to murder Ira Bernstein's wife, but cops sit tight until they've got enough to nail the doctor too.
But the foot doctor had wisely tiptoed around Marckensy. He never verbally gives the final go-ahead.
"Up until that moment it was Kelly Gribeluk who was the mouthpiece for the conspiracy on Ira's behalf," said Moran. "We did have, prior to that, her meeting with him and video and photographs of that. But it wasn't enough to actually charge him."
So when Marckensy shows Bernstein the pictures of the two busted-up insurance adjusters, police ask him to set the final trap.
"You want this done by the weekend?"
"Give or take, I mean, it doesn't have to be done this weekend, but you know..."
"OK. My guy definitely could get it done."
"Marckensy says, 'Listen, I need to know we need to have some sort of conclusion here -- either I'm out or -- you know, but it's your decision, it has to be your decision,'" said Fitzgerald.
Cops say that's when the good doctor shoots himself in the foot.
"And he makes the mistake, he says 'If it comes from Kelly, it came from me,'" said Fitzgerald.
Cops tell Crime Watch Daily that Kelly showed up a few days later and simply typed the word "yes" into her phone.
"It was very important. There was a few critical moments, and that was one of them," said Det. Louzan.
With that, the detectives swoop in and nab the doctor and his mistress, interrogating both at the same time in separate rooms.
Ira Bernstein and his girlfriend Kelly Gribeluk are in police custody, accused of conspiring to hire a hit man to kill the foot doctor's wife. But who will go down for the crime?
It was enough for prosecutors to charge the would-be killer lovebirds with conspiracy to commit murder. But cops still needed Gribeluk to cooperate to point the finger at the foot doctor as the real mastermind behind the scheme. So cops put together their own elaborate plan to get Gribeluk to rat out her lover.
When Gribeluk was arrested, the police put Marckensy Louissaint in a holding cell so she could see him. Gribeluk has no idea the car salesman she hired as a hit man is really a police informant.
"Our plan was to go have her walk past and see him and say 'Oh my gosh, they have the hit man, it's over," said Det. Fitzgerald.
What's the look on her face?
"She basically changed color, and I believe she had the -- excuse me for saying -- she had peed herself," said Louissaint.
Gribeluk and Bernstein are put in separate interrogation rooms for the game of Good Cop-Bad Cop, continually pitting one against the other.
Detectives expect Bernstein and Gribeluk to blame each other. But that's not who they point the finger at.
Gribeluk backs up the doctor's story, claiming they never intended to follow through with the hit. But she tells detectives the hit man wouldn't take no for an answer. He even threatened to feed them to alligators if they didn't pay up.
A terrifying threat for sure, but there are two major flaws with that story: First, where are you going to find alligators in Ramapo, New York? But the bigger issue: Marckensy Louissaint wasn't really a hit man.
"Marckensy Louissaint isn't even in trouble, because there is more to this. Marckensy is with us."
Still cops can't get Gribeluk or Bernstein to crack. After that the doctor posts bail. It turns to be the break cops are looking for.
"They both went to jail for a few days and Dr. Bernstein bailed himself out, and Kelly stayed in prison," said Det. Louzan.
Detectives tell his mistress that her lover is bailing out on her while she rots behind bars.
"He's free. He can always go back to his big house with his wife, but you, you're disposable."
But after four months sitting in a jail cell, the stewing mistress suddenly has a change of heart.
Detective: "Your relationship with him is over. It's done. He's separating himself from you right now, he's putting this all on you."
"Ira Bernstein, in her mind, left her in jail while he was out and I don't think she at that time felt the need to protect him anymore," said Richard Moran.
Gribeluk finally flips, confirming it was Ira Bernstein's idea to kill his wife -- she just helped execute the plan.
So the case was closed, right? Not so fast.
The prosecution's key witness is finally let out of jail, and you'll never believe where she ends up. They move in together. Kelly Gribeluk ran straight back into the arms of Dr. Ira Bernstein.
"I believe that night they actually moved in together," said Moran.
"Yes. He never held that against her," said attorney Jeffrey Millman.
But sleeping with the enemy left the podiatrist without a legal leg to stand on.
"While Kelly and Ira are living together, she became less and less cooperative the closer we got," said Moran. "On the other hand, it greatly helped the prosecution in this case because it made it impossible for Ira Bernstein to point the finger at Kelly Gribeluk at trial."
Ira Bernstein decided to plead guilty and received a five-to-15-year prison sentence. Kelly Gribeluk got four to 12 years in exchange for her testimony.
How was Susan Bernstein during this investigation?
"She didn't know anything about it," said Det. Fitzgerald. "They both told us that she said, she paused, and then said 'I'm not surprised.'"
What is a surprise? Through it all the Bernsteins are still legally married.
Believe it or not, Kelly Gribeluk could be eligible for parole as early next year. Her attorney tells Crime Watch Daily that the doctor and his lover's relationship is stronger now than when it was when they first got arrested, and that they plan to reunite when they are both free.