In May 2004, on a warm spring evening at the height of rush hour, 46-year-old Eduard Nektalov left his jewelry store in New York City’s Diamond District and walked up Sixth Avenue. As he approached Rockefeller Center, a man in a black T-shirt came up to him and shot him once in the back of the head and twice in the back. The father of two was rushed to the hospital but died 20 minutes later. Among the witnesses: actresses Candice Bergen and Lorraine Bracco.
One year earlier, Nektalov had been indicted for fraud and money laundering in what was then called Operation Meltdown. Police alleged he bought gold from Colombian drug dealers. After his murder, press accounts speculated that he may have been killed because he was considering cooperating in the case.
As it turned out, this was only somewhat true.
The man who shot Nektalov was later identified as Carlos Fortier, who died in jail of AIDS a year after the murder. Fortier was said to have done the hit for just $10,000 on behalf of a man named Hector Rivera.
But Rivera was responsible for a lot more.
“He was like the godfather of 47th Street,” said a police officer who worked on the case. “Nothing illegal went down without him knowing it.”
Scott Hartman, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted Rivera, said at his trial that Rivera was “sort of an underworld boss of 47th Street.
“When a diamond dealer needed to collect a debt and legitimate means had failed, he called the defendant, Hector Rivera. Whether showing up on someone’s doorstep, arranging a robbery, or even planning a kidnapping, the defendant and his henchmen did whatever it took to make sure that they collected on the debts.”
In fact, Hartman said, the murder of Nektalov stemmed from a challenge to Rivera’s authority.
In 2001, Roni Amrussi, who worked for Rivera, tried to sell Nektalov some stolen diamond earrings. But Nektalov recognized the pair of earrings as stolen from him in Florida and demanded them back. Amrussi referred him to Rivera, who told Nektalov to back off. But the dispute didn’t end. Amrussi was later brutally beaten on 47th Street in the middle of the day. Rivera saw this as a provocation and vowed revenge.
“That assault hurt the defendant’s reputation as a tough guy, as an enforcer, on 47th Street,” said the other assistant U.S. attorney at the trial, Jordan Estes. “The defendant couldn’t let that stand. He needed his reputation back. He needed revenge.”
When Nektalov was indicted, Rivera saw his opportunity, Estes said, as he could kill Nektalov and the drug cartel would be blamed. However, there was one stipulation.
“He said [the murder] had to happen on 47th Street,” said Estes. “You know why it had to happen there: For the show of it, so that everyone in the Diamond District would know that the defendant was not to be messed with, that if you came after him or his associates, you could pay the ultimate price.”
It took 11 years for Rivera to be charged with the crime. In 2009, an informant told authorities that a man named Lixander Morales had arranged the murder. Morales was already in jail for another crime. To use a word we hear a lot on the news these days, Morales “flipped” and offered to testify against his ex-boss.
On top of that, in 2007, Amrussi, along with another diamond dealer and Rivera, were arrested for conspiracy to rob a Federal Express truck full of diamonds. Amrussi eventually agreed to testify against Rivera in exchange for a reduced sentence.
During the six-day trial in November 2017, Rivera’s defense team tried to poke holes in the credibility of the cooperating witnesses. Regardless, the jury deliberated for only a few hours before finding Rivera guilty. In May, he was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder-for-hire, murder-for-hire conspiracy, and use of a firearm resulting in death. He had already been sentenced to 30 years in jail for his role in leading the 2007 hijacking and other thefts.
Nektalov’s niece later told the New York Post the news brought her little solace.
“That [Nektalov] had to die for something so small—the price that they killed him for, this whole situation, was so minute,” she said. “It was really just a shame. I think it was more ego related—a bunch of male egos—than anything else.”
(Image via: Wikipedia)