Newburgh neighbors stunned as cops see enough hate to kill in terror fiends
BY Carrie Melago, Alison Gendar, Joe Kemp and Matt Lysiak | DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS | May 22, 2009, 4:00
Three did prison time for drug dealing - and the fourth is a mentally ill Haitian immigrant found too insane to be deported.
Prosecutors described the men as bloodthirsty wanna-be terrorists who crossed the line from minor crime to big trouble when they were caught planting what they thought were explosives at two Bronx synagogues.
The awful details of the group's year-long plotting were captured by hidden cameras and microphones, prosecutors said.
James Cromitie, 44, David Williams, 28, and Onta Williams, 32, all served time for drug dealing, converting to Islam in prison. Cromitie had as many as 27 convictions.
He even made the stunning admission in court that he had smoked pot before the bust.
The fourth man, Laguerre Payen, 27, had served 15 months for assault and was supposed to be deported to Haiti. But an immigration judge stayed the order because Payen, a paranoid schizophrenic, was judged insane.
"Waiting for him to be sane enough to boot out of the country? That logic is what's insane," said a law enforcement source.
Payen lived in a filthy crack den where a friend Thursday said he saw bottles of urine.
The other three routinely hung out on Cromitie's porch in upstate Newburgh, across the street from David Williams' house, drinking and barbecuing.
They also routinely gathered at a Denny's restaurant, talking and eating dishes of rice and beans, said neighbors.
The assistant imam at the mainstream Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, where the four worshiped sporadically, said they frequently had to be corrected in their understanding of the Koran.
One pal said Cromitie, the accused ringleader, brought up 9/11 just two weeks ago over beers on his creaky porch in a rundown section of Newburgh.
"James was disgusted by the death and carnage of 9/11. He said, 'Only an idiot believes peace can be achieved through violence,'" said neighbor Ricky Jewel.
"Now I look at that smile, and I don't know if he's grinning or plotting."
Prosecutors said Cromitie claimed his father was Afghan, but cops now believe it was a lie to boost his "terror creds."
Cromitie and his stepson, a seventh-grader, played baseball with the neighborhood kids hours before his arrest Wednesday. Cromitie also was known for helping elderly people in his housing development.
Cromitie, a high school dropout whose most recent arrest was for selling drugs near a New York City school, lived with his girlfriend, Kathleen Baynes, whom he met when she worked at a homeless shelter in upstate Chester.