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Profile of Defreitas: Suspect’s roots never took hold here

by Alfon­so A. Castil­lo
NEWSDAY
[1]

Since being laid off from his job as a car­go work­er sev­er­al years ago, Rus­sell Defre­itas has lived a meek exis­tence — at times sleep­ing in trains and try­ing to eke out a liv­ing run­ning two-bit scams, sell­ing incense on street cor­ners and col­lect­ing wel­fare, acquain­tances said.

For the past sev­er­al years, Defre­itas, 63, who once wowed jazz con­nois­seurs with his sax­o­phone prowess, had been unable to scrape togeth­er enough mon­ey to put down any real roots, or even track down his estranged daugh­ter, those who knew him said yes­ter­day.

He was­n’t the type of per­son, they said, who could have pulled off a ter­ror plot to blow up a fuel pipeline at Kennedy Air­port.

“This is a guy — his car would­n’t start, and I’d have to start his car,” said Trevor Watts, a for­mer neigh­bor in Brook­lyn.

“He was a trick­ster,” said Watts. “But he out-tricked him­self this time.”

Defre­itas’ rel­a­tives could not be reached yes­ter­day. His court-appoint­ed attor­ney, Andrew Carter, did not return a call for com­ment.

Friends said Defre­itas came to New York from his native George­town, Guyana, more than 25 years ago. He once lived in Rock­away with his wife and at least one daugh­ter, but has been estranged from them for sev­er­al years, they said.

Defre­itas was hired by a car­go trans­porta­tion com­pa­ny at Kennedy Air­port, Watts said. Doc­u­ments show he was employed as a “trainee super­vi­sor” in 2001 with Ever­green Eagle, a sub­sidiary of Ore­gon-based Ever­green Inter­na­tion­al Avi­a­tion. Offi­cials there declined to com­ment.

Defre­itas’ father was a well-known big band leader in Guyana, said one for­mer acquain­tance liv­ing in Queens, who knew Defre­itas from when both lived in George­town. Defre­itas some­times moon­light­ed play­ing sax at jazz clubs.

“Peo­ple who vis­it­ed night­clubs heard him play, they said he was damn good,” said the man, 73 — a retired truck dri­ver who asked that he not be named.

At his core, how­ev­er, Defre­itas was a hap­less hus­tler, always look­ing for an angle, said Watts, who first met the ter­ror sus­pect more than 10 years ago when they lived across the street from each oth­er on Albany Avenue in Brook­lyn. He lat­er moved to a place on North Con­duit Boule­vard in Jamaica that was “falling apart.”

After injur­ing his back in a car acci­dent with a gyp­sy cab, Defre­itas wore a back brace and col­lect­ed wel­fare ben­e­fits, Watts said. Before long, he was unem­ployed and home­less, and came to Watts look­ing for some help about six years ago.

“He had no place to go. He had just come back from Guyana and was sleep­ing on the train,” said Watts, who agreed to let Defre­itas store a trunk full of clothes and receive his mail at Watts’ home.

Defre­itas had alien­at­ed one of his broth­ers in a dis­pute over a refrig­er­a­tor that Defre­itas gave him, and lat­er asked for it back, Watts said. That broth­er has since died. Defre­itas also told Watts he want­ed to use the Inter­net to track down his estranged daugh­ter, but could­n’t afford to do so.

Acquain­tances said that in recent years Defre­itas made much of his mon­ey ship­ping junk appli­ances, car parts and any­thing else he could get his hands on to Guyana, where he would sell them. He also some­times sold books and incense on Jamaica street cor­ners, his retired truck-dri­ver coun­try­man said.

Three years ago, Watts said he got a phone call from Defre­itas ask­ing whether any mail had come for him.

“That was the last I heard of him — until yes­ter­day,” said Watts, who learned Sat­ur­day that his for­mer friend had been arrest­ed at a Brook­lyn din­er.

“When I heard ... I thought, ‘Who was he try­ing to hus­tle a din­ner out of?’ ” Watts said.