A massive cover up in Pravin’s death, say two renowned private investigators.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: The tragic death of Pravin Varughese is a story that has been closely followed by The American Bazaar. After the Southern Illinois University student was found dead under unusual circumstances in February of 2014, numerous allegations have surfaced accusing the Carbondale Police Department of trying to cover up Pravin’s murder.
Pravin’s mother Lovely Varughese has since embarked on a quest to get justice for her son’s murder, and her crusade for the truth eventually led her to the ArchAngels of Justice, a team of two former law enforcement officials – Ira Robins and Salvatore Rastrelli – who have served as investigators for a combined total of over 80 years.
The duo describes their mantra as threefold: expose corruption where they find it, educate people to prevent them from being victimized by the very system responsible for protecting them, and “to plant the seeds of change that will stop the corruption before it starts.”
They travel the country investigating cases on a pro bono basis, and while most of their expenditures come out of pocket, they do appreciate donations on their GoFundMe page.
In an interview to The American Bazaar, Robins goes into the mystery surrounding Varughese’s death and what they hope will happen next. Excerpts from the interview:
To provide a bit of context, could you tell me about you and your partner’s backgrounds?
His name is Salvatore Rastrelli and he was a deputy sheriff in Martin County, Florida, for more than 25 years. He’s an expert on crime scene investigation, tactical enforcement, use of force, and underwater recovery. He’s got several degrees and he’s probably in the top one percent of all police officers in the country education and credential-wise. Sal’s also been doing primary investigations and consulting work since he left the job. So, he’s probably got 31 to 33 years worth of experience.
And I was a police officer in Wisconsin for fourteen-and-a-half years and didn’t like the way I and a lot of others were treated, so I left the department and sued them for a lot of money in 1981. My experience goes back — I started out as a railroad detective in Chicago, then I was a house detective in Milwaukee for a year, then I was a police officer for 14-and-a-half years, then a private investigator for about 17 years and have been going all over the country doing consulting work ever since. Both Sal and I qualify and testify as expert witnesses. Sal does all the up-to-date work with forensics etcetera while I go after the system, going after police-types — I know how to do that since I’ve been doing it so long.
How did you find out about the predicament facing Pravin’s family?
Well, they contacted us. We started a blog, then we went to Facebook and we got some views there, then we started a YouTube channel about two months ago and it started taking off. We have about 20,000 views on the videos posted about these cases and people are sending us new ones. We’ve got well in excess of 150 cases pending. The people send us all the information, all the documents, all the photographs, and that’s all reviewed (Sal does most of that work) and we find out what went wrong. A lot of cases we haven’t outright solved, but we can force the government to act more properly, or act better and do the right thing, which they’re not doing. And what happens is when we find out they did something wrong, the higher-ups in the government just support what the lower-rankers did and it just perpetuates the wrongdoings
For readers who are unfamiliar with your YouTube videos, what exactly is it that you’ve accused the Carbondale police of?
In Pravin’s case, first of all, the Illinois state trooper just did a pathetic job. He did not search the area after a man had just assaulted somebody and took off. And he didn’t bother to notify the dispatcher or to call and report it, and he just went on. And Pravin was lying there in the woods! If they had gotten some officers down there and searched the area they would have found Pravin lying there, unconscious. The medical examiner who did the second autopsy (the first guy was terrible) indicated that Pravin would have been alive for six to 28 hours, and that’s why he got that hypothermia.
Second of all, the guy who got into a fight with Pravin in the woods; his name’s Gaege Bethune, he told the Illinois state trooper one story then he told a bunch of his friends other stories that indicated he hit Pravin with a bat. Then he told the Carbondale police a story that was a third story. And obviously this poor Pravin and his family have been so mistreated by the way the authorities have responded on this.
And then they claimed it was a suicide. They claim that they can’t pinpoint the cause of death so it’s not a murder. Well, in Pravin’s case and at least three others that we have now, there’s clear evidence that they’re absolutely murders. And that [the Carbondale Police Department] doesn’t want to claim they’re murders because the whole regional area is supported by the Southern Illinois University of Carbondale and they don’t want to lose their revenue from people not wanting to send their kids there. So they cover these things up. It’s absolutely hideous.
In Pravin’s case, it might not be first-degree, intentional murder, but when somebody beats somebody up badly enough that the person’s laying in the woods unconscious, and eventually dies from that beating — whether it’s with fists or whether it’s a baseball bat — that’s murder, or manslaughter, reckless homicide by reckless conduct, something as such, and [Bethune] should be charged with it. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.
The state attorney doesn’t want to do anything about it and he’s trying to protect the interests of the state and the interests of the county. The [first] medical examiner and the ex-pathologist who did the autopsy claim that there were no injuries on the body and that he had hypothermia. Well, the [second] medical examiner in Chicago said that there were three major injuries to his head from blunt trauma, and his eye was badly damaged, and he looked to have tried some sort of defensive move.
The state attorney, if you look at the Jackson County website, says he defends the country against any civil actions. If there’s a civil lawsuit, it’s up to him to defend the county. What you’ve got here is a state attorney not charging this guy because he doesn’t want to show that his pathologist and his coroner have falsified everything and are incompetent. It’s a conflict of interest position.
They’re absolutely out of line. There should be special prosecutors, one handling the criminal cases and one handling the civil cases. The state attorney is a graduate of the Southern Illinois University, his daughter is going there, and at the same time he’s a former U.S. attorney so he thinks he’s bulletproof because he used to be a federal prosecutor. He thinks he can do anything.
In your opinion, what would the ideal outcome be after all of your efforts on Pravin’s case?
They have got to charge this guy, Bethune. I don’t think they have a choice. By not charging him, the Varughese family doesn’t get closure — they feel they’ve been screwed. As well as other families in Carbondale.
So, that is what you are working toward as of now?
We’re in the process of creating a major affidavit about this case and other cases, too, that are going to put the facts out there. Everything we state will have an exhibit attached to it and we’re going to seek federal and state investigations. I personally would like to see State Attorney Michael Carr, the medical examiner, and the coroner all get charged with some sort of misconduct or obstruction of justice involving the murder. The community is entitled to better than what they’re getting from these bums.
Has the community become involved in the case?
Oh, yes. We get hundreds of hundreds of emails every day. People want to help here, people want to do this. People from the media check in on us and ask us how it’s going and where we are now.
What do you think of Pravin’s mother’s efforts to get some semblance of justice on behalf of her son?
I think for the last year she’s been frustrated, because we all know what happened there, there’s no doubt about it. To be jerked around, mistreated — they’ve been given different locations of where it happened (it was over here, now it was over there) — they’ve been lied to. The family knows that story is wrong and to know that this state attorney has lies repeatedly — it’s terrible.
As a former police officer yourself, what do you think are the leading factors that cause institutional corruption within the justice system?
It’s no longer justice. It’s “just us.” They believe that they, in their “quest to fight crime,” can do anything they want. There are definitely issues all around the country. There are people getting out of prison because prosecutors withheld evidence and information. You don’t see anything about that in the papers. There’s no action taken against these guys. There’s all kinds of things like that and they can do whatever they want. They could beat us if they wanted to and get away with it. And they can pretend to launch an Internal Affairs investigation, but the only thing Internal Affairs does is try to figure out how to best cover it up. Unless they don’t like the cop, in which case they do everything they can to disgrace him. And I saw that myself when I was on the police force — it was done to me! As soon as you blow the whistle, as soon as you complain about it, you’re no longer one of them.
Do you have any plans to expand your operation in the future?
Right now, we’re just overwhelmed with cases. You don’t do these in just a few minutes, it takes 50 to 100 hours to go through everything on these pieces and review and put in the notes. We would like to see if we could get a reality television show so we could tell the whole world what’s going on. We believe it’d be a really good thing to do so we’re going to try and get one.