Saturday, November 17, 2018

48 Hours 11/17 on CBS



Saturday, Nov. 17, 10:00 PM

(L-R) Joey Comunale and Elisa Libretto; Joey and Pat Comunale.

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Within hours of learning Joey Comunale was missing, his close friends went into overdrive scouring social media to find him. Using information they found on Instagram, Facebook and elsewhere, they traced the final steps their friend took that night – steps that ultimately led to his death.

Erin Moriarty and 48 HOURS explore the last night of Comunale’s life; the race to find him; the case against two young men, one of them the surrogate son of a so-called “Jeweler to the Stars,” for brutally murdering him; and the case against a third for covering it up, in “What Happened in Apartment 4C?” to be broadcast Saturday, Nov. 17 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

It is a story of wealth, privilege, and an early morning after-party at an upscale apartment that went terribly wrong. When it was over, a promising son was dead, his body dumped from a window, driven to Oceanport, N.J., and left in a hole in the ground in a wooded area behind a florist shop. The night left a family shattered and many wondering how a good person with a bright future ends up murdered in an upscale New York City apartment building.

Comunale was out with friends at the New York City club the Gilded Lily on the night of Nov. 12, 2016. Hours later, Comunale accepted an invite to party at a Sutton Place apartment with some men and women he had just met. That was the last time his friends saw him alive. Comunale’s father, Pat, grew worried when he could not reach his only son later that same day and began calling Joey’s friends. 

I called everyone in my phone,” says friend Steve Naso, who got a call from Comunale. “We go and we just start looking for him.”

Comunale’s friends began to scour social media looking for any signs of him or the people he was with that night. 

You’re in a panic, and you’re trying to find your friend,” says Max Branchinelli.

Branchinelli focused on Instagram’s location function. There, among the pictures posted from the Gilded Lily that night, he spotted a woman, which led to a phone number and to the Grand Sutton, an upscale building in Manhattan. Comunale, Branchinelli learned, had gone to a party at James Rackover’s apartment at the Grand Sutton. Rackover, an aspiring model, is the surrogate son of “Jeweler to the Stars” Jeffrey Rackover, whose clients included J. Lo and even President Trump and first lady Melania Trump.

The search led friends to Larry Dilione, who had been with Comunale at the Grand Sutton. Ten hours after he realized his son was missing, Comunale called Dilione, who told him that the last he saw his son, the two of them were walking three women out of the party and to an Uber. Dilione also provided some information that made no sense to either Comunale or Branchinelli.

Comunale filed a missing person’s report in Stamford, Conn., where his son lived and gave police Dilione’s number. When police called, Dilione gave them the names and numbers of Rackover and Max Gemma, whose father was once the mayor of Oceanport, N.J. 

Twenty-five hours after his son went missing, Comunale traveled to the 17th precinct in New York City. After he told them everything he knew – and shared what his son’s friends had found – Comunale and NYPD Detective Yeoman Castro visited the Grand Sutton, where they viewed the building’s surveillance tape. There they saw Comunale’s son walking out of the building with Dilione and the three women. On the video, Comunale and Dilione then go back in the building.

During the visit, Comunale went outside to make a phone call. While there, he saw a porter bringing garbage to the curb.

And I ran back inside, and I said to the police, ‘Don’t let that garbage go. Make sure you search all the bags,’” Comunale tells Moriarty. “I just kind of had a sense that, if these guys are lying, there could be something in the garbage.”

His hunch was right. Inside the bags were his son’s bloody pants, his shirt, his driver’s license and a special chain he had given his son.

I said to myself, ‘I don’t think he walked out of the building alive,’” Comunale tells Moriarty.
What happened in the apartment that night?

Police eventually charged Rackover and Dilione with brutally murdering Comunale and other crimes. Gemma has been charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence.

Moriarty and 48 HOURS report on his final hours through interviews with Comunale’s father, his friends, and the first television interview with Comunale’s girlfriend, Elisa Libretto, who dated him on and off for five years.

48 HOURS is in the courtroom when a jury decides Rackover’s fate. Dilione and Gemma have yet to be tried.

48 HOURS: “What Happened in Apartment 4C?” is the second part of a Saturday night double feature. At 9:00 PM, 48 HOURS has the final chapter in the investigation into the alleged murder-for-hire plot launched by two Houston doctors, and their relationship with a former U.S. Army soldier who pretended to take a hit job, in an updated edition of “Operation Murder.” Valerie McDaniel, a veterinarian, and Leon Jacob, a surgeon, quickly fell in love and even talked of marriage. Jacob was an up-and-coming doctor. She was newly single after getting a divorce from her ex-husband, Marion “Mack” McDaniel. But there were some problems. The McDaniels were in the midst of an ugly custody battle, while Jacob was facing felony charges for stalking an ex-girlfriend. If found guilty on those charges, it could have upended his medical career. 

Houston Police say that’s when Jacob sought the help of Moataz Azzeh, someone he thought was a hit man, to eliminate the problems. Instead, Azzeh would go on to help the Houston Police undercover agents with the case, which included staging the deaths of the intended targets. “Operation Murder” explores the case against McDaniel and Jacob, and the elaborate sting operation the Houston Police Department used to arrest the couple. The updated broadcast includes Jacob’s trial and the jury’s decision.

48 HOURS: “Operation Murder” is produced by Susan Mallie, Judy Rybak, Ryan Smith and Claire St. Amant. Jason Schmidt, Marcus Balsam, Michael Vele and David Spungen are the editors. Anthony Batson is the senior broadcast producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.

48 HOURS: “What Happened in Apartment 4C?” is produced by Paul LaRosa and Elena DiFiore. Murray Weiss and Marc Goldbaum are the development producers. Doreen Schechter, Richard Barber and Ken Blum are the editors. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.

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