Liberian Couple Claiming Misidentification in Robbery Case to be Released After Bail is Reduced
By Sam Newhouse - Metro US
A Liberian immigrant couple charged with extorting money from an elderly woman in March will be in court Thursday for a bail hearing, but supporters say it’s a case of mistaken identity.
Friends of Vickson and Lorpu Korlewala intend to fill the courtroom at the hearing to show their support, and some will wear shirts printed with photos of Vickson Korlewala next to the surveillance photo of the suspect.
“The picture they presented is not consistent with what Mr. Korlewala looks like,” said Voffee Jabateh, CEO of the African Cultural Alliance of North America in Southwest Philadelphia and a friend of Korlewala’s, of a police photo released of the suspect. “What other evidence does the D.A. have that can prove Mr. Korlewala is the culprit here?”
At Thursday’s bail hearing for the husband and wife, defense lawyer Kevin Mincey said he will seek to have their $1 million bail reduced.
“A million dollars combined for two people who’ve never been arrested before, and when you look at the photos it’s clearly not the same person — it’s excessive,” Mincey said. “As far as the allegations, I can deal with that. But we just want to get them out of jail.”
The Korlewalas are charged with robbery and simple assault for the March 31 incident in which they allegedly forced an 80-year-old woman to withdraw $8,000 from her bank account.
They also face a second set of charges of theft and conspiracy, which may be for a Feb. 1 incident in which a 92-year-old woman was forced to withdraw $1,200 that police had linked to Korlewala, the Daily News reported.
Bail was set at $250,000 for each charge, totaling $1 million, Mincey said.
Vickson, 57, who friends say is diabetic, and Lorpu, 51, have been in prison since April 2. They have four children, one of whom is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, friends say. Vickson is the CEO of Ecopower Liberia, according to his LinkedIn page, and a chemist who works on environmental technology, friends said.
“Mr. Korlewala has not lived a life of crime. None of us know him to be a criminal,” Jabateh said.
“We don’t want to jump to conclusions and tell the DA, ‘You wrong.’ What we want to know is, ‘What evidence you got that this your man?’ And if the DA can begin to put out that information, the tension will come down,” Jabateh said. “We all want a safe community. If this is not the right person, then we are giving the right person a chance to escape.”
The DA’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 30 supporters and friends of the family plan to attend the hearing, many of them will be carrying signs that said “Mistaken Identity” with a picture of Vickson Korlewala – a chemist who has never previously been arrested — next to a picture of the suspect in this crime (above). They also wore T-shirts with the same image printed on it. Supporters say the pictures show two different men.
Vickson, 57, and Lorpu, 51, are charged with robbery and simple assault for allegedly forcing an 80-year-old woman to go to a Citizen’s Bank branch and withdraw $8,000 on March 31.
Vickson is a chemist who develops environmental technology, and Lorfu owns a hair braiding salon. Both are active members of the Liberian immigrant community.
The reduced bail is reportedly due to prosecutors dropping charges of a second, Feb. 1 robbery against the Korlewalas.
Prosecutors have also dropped plans to hold an investigatory grand jury, and instead will schedule a preliminary hearing at which a judge which will decide whether sufficient evidence exists to hold charges against the Korlewalas for trial.
That hearing is scheduled May 5.