From the outside, it must have seemed like 42-year-old Ira Bernstein had it all. A successful podiatrist in the suburbs of New York, he was a fixture in the local community and counted Rockland County’s law enforcement officers among his friends and patients. Though he was in the middle of a separation with his wife, Susan Bernstein, he had a new girlfriend named Kelly Gribeluk, who was seven years his junior.
Behind the scenes, though, Ira was hurting financially from malpractice suits, and if his divorce settlement went the wrong way, it could have left him broke. That is when he and Gribeluk decided to hire a hitman to kill his wife and beat up two insurance agents who were investigating fraud allegations against him. Fortunately for Susan and the insurance agents, Gribeluk trusted the wrong man to get the job done.
Ira and Susan Bernstein met at Penn State in the 1990s. She went on to study education, and he later received a doctorate in podiatry, according to “Murder For Hire,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. They were married in 2002, and the early years of their marriage were happy. Together, they had two daughters and a son, whom Susan looked after as a stay-at-home mom. As Ira’s podiatry practice blossomed, he invested in real estate, buying a number of nearby properties.
Ira’s clients included members of the Ramapo Police Department, and both he and his wife had friends on the force.
"Bernstein was our PBA doctor, and we all went to him," Detective Pete Louzan told the Ramapo Daily Voice. "He was a very personable guy, and his office was located right across the street from the department."
A decade into their marriage, the Bernsteins started to grow apart and fought constantly. Susan claimed their marriage was marred by domestic violence, reported ABC News. She later testified that "Ira used threats, intimidation, put-downs, name-calling, mind games and humiliation on a daily basis."
As their marriage deteriorated, Ira began seeing Kelly Gribeluk, one of his patients. At 21, Gribeluk had joined into the Satmar sect of Hasidim, which practices a strict form of Orthodox Judaism, and was married with three sons by 27. She later sought a divorce and custody of her three sons, claiming abuse, while her ex-husband alleged she had an affair with his 19-year-old nephew, reported The Jewish Week. She lost her custody battle in 2014, according to the Rockland County Times.
Ira and Gribeluk bonded over their failed relationships. He would later tell “Dateline,” “She completely understood me,” while she spoke of their “chemistry” and said, “I really, truly loved him,” according to People magazine. In 2014, Susan Bernstein filed for divorce. They suspended the proceedings in 2016 when Ira agreed to sign over four of his lucrative rental properties over to her, according to the Ramapo Daily Voice.
An expensive divorce settlement wasn’t Ira Bernstein’s only financial problem at the time. That same year, he was ordered to cough up $775,000 after being sued by a woman who claimed she couldn’t stand without pain following foot operation he performed, according to The Journal News. In 2015, another former patient was awarded $1.4 million dollars in damages for an additional botched foot procedure. On top of these troubles, he was also being investigated for insurance fraud.
In the spring of 2016, Gribeluk waltzed into the office of luxury car dealer Marckensy Louissaint, a friend who had lent a sympathetic ear during her divorce. Thinking he had underworld connections, she asked him to help “get rid of” her new boyfriend’s wife. Louissaint told “Murder For Hire” that when he asked what she meant, Gribeluk replied, “Take her out of the picture.” Instead, he went to the police.
Ramapo police detectives asked Louissaint to play along with Gribeluk’s request and see where it went. They installed a hidden camera in his car, where he would meet with her during a month-long investigation. Without discussing terms and exchanging money, the police would have no case against her, and Gribeluk needed to be explicit about the hit. She later said the murder had to “look like an accident,” perhaps a fatal car crash. On recordings of her conversations with Louissaint, she repeatedly referenced her boyfriend.
“[H]e’s in such conflict,” Gribeluk was recorded saying. “The guy can’t sleep. He can’t eat. It’s a hard enough decision emotionally that his kids will be without a mom. … So it’s like, he knows what he’s gotta do, but it’s killing him.”
When Ira Bernstein’s friends in the Ramapo Police Department learned he might be involved in a murder-for-hire plot, they were shocked. But as the case progressed, it became obvious he was the one calling the shots.
“He’s the boss,” Gribeluk was heard saying on tape.
Ira and Gribeluk eventually negotiated down the price of the hit, from $200,000 dollars to $100,000, according to The Journal News. Eventually, Ira insisted on meeting with Louissaint in person. When asked how soon he would like the hit to happen, a hidden video camera captured the podiatrist telling Louissaint, “We were thinking ASAP.”
Before green-lighting the murder of the mother of his three children, Ira had another request. Using Gribeluk as his intermediary, he asked Louissaint to intimidate and assault two United Healthcare insurance investigators, according to NBC News 4 New York. The two were allegedly about to recommend the Rockland County District Attorney's Office open an investigation into Ira for insurance fraud. Police then approached the men and, working with a make-up artist, created photographs that showed them beaten and bloodied.
When Louissaint next met with Ira, he was shown photographs of the insurance investigators with their faces covered in blood. Talk soon turned to the murder of Susan Bernstein. Ira said Gribeluk would reach out to Louissaint when the time was right.
“If she gives you the OK, then it came from me,” he is seen saying on surveillance camera footage obtained by “Murder For Hire.”
A few days later, Gribeluk asked Louissaint to meet her in a Walmart parking lot. She stood outside Louissaint’s car, held up her cellphone and said, “OK, the answer is this.” In an audio recording, Louissaint reads the screen of her phone, which contains the text, “Yes.” Gribeluk then got in to Louissaint’s car to discuss Susan Bernstein’s schedule and his payment for killing her. Authorities had the evidence they needed to prove conspiracy to commit murder.
On the night of March 2, 2016, police took Ira and Gribeluk into custody. They were charged with felony counts of second-degree conspiracy, second-degree solicitation and fourth-degree conspiracy and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree solicitation, according to The Journal News. In video footage of Ira’s interrogation by police, he appears to be more concerned about publicity and the future of his career than his family.
Ramapo Police Detective Tom Hatch told “Murder For Hire” that when Susan Bernstein was informed about the murder plot, she said, “Actually, I’m not shocked.”
Kelly Gribeluk pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy in September 2016, according to The Journal News. Ira Bernstein struck a deal months later, pleading guilty to one felony count of second-degree conspiracy involving the plot to kill his wife and two misdemeanor counts of fifth-degree conspiracy for the assault on the insurance investigators, according to The Journal News. He would later plead guilty to grand larceny in the third degree, charges related to insurance fraud committed through his medical practice, according to the Rockland County Times.
Ira and Gribeluk were sentenced in May 2017. Ira was given 15 years in prison, with parole available after five, while Gribeluk received a 12-year sentence, with parole after four, according to The Journal News. In January 2018, Ira sought to have his guilty plea and sentence vacated, claiming Gribeluk coerced him into pleading guilty to benefit her own sentencing deal with prosecutors, according to News 12 Hudson Valley. A judge rejected his appeal in April 2018, according to The Journal News.
Since the conviction of her ex-husband, Susan Bernstein has campaigned for tougher penalties against those found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the State of New York. Currently classified as a nonviolent crime, sentences can be for as little as one year, while lawmakers hope to make it a violent felony, with a sentencing range of five to 25 years, according to The Journal News.
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