By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Manhattan resident Maria Cruz, 35, was reported missing by her Maspeth relatives on April 18, 2003 after the Filipino native failed to pick up her siblings at Kennedy Airport.
Cruz, a Barclays' financial analyst, was last seen at mass five days earlier at St. Malachy's Church on 49th Street in Manhattan, according to a Web site set up by her family.
Police found Cruz's remains Feb. 18 in a suitcase buried under a concrete platform in the Newark, N.J. garage of Dean Faiello, 44. Faiello was arrested in October 2002 and charged by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer with unlicensed practice of medicine at his business, SkinOvations, in Manhattan, according to a news release from Spitzer's office.
Faiello, with whom Cruz had scheduled an appointment to treat a condition known as “black tongue” at an apartment on West 16th Street in Manhattan, was wanted for questioning in the woman's disappearance, said Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
Cruz's aunt Helen Navarro said her niece was being treated for an uncomfortable growth on her tongue and that the family was “devastated” at her death.
“The soul of Maria is in rest and peace now,” she said. “We wanted closure. It's sad the closure was like that.”
A memorial mass was held for Cruz at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home Sunday and a funeral was held Monday. Navarro said her niece would be cremated and the ashes sent to the Philippines with her parents, who flew in on Saturday.
Faiello “claimed to have certification and expertise in laser hair removal, collagen treatments, acupuncture and tattoo removal,” the attorney general's 2002 news release said. “The investigation by the State Education Department found that he was unlicensed in any medical profession.”
Faiello pleaded guilty in June 2003 and was scheduled to be sentenced in December, said Spitzer spokesman Paul Larrabee.
But “he fled between the time he pled guilty and the time he was (to be) sentenced,” Larrabee said.
Browne said police believed Faiello had fled to Costa Rica after selling his house on May 28, 2003. He had a concrete platform built in his garage the day before he sold the house, Browne said.
Police were looking to extradite Faiello, but the Essex County, N.J. medical examiner had not officially determined the cause of Cruz's death, Browne said.
Although some news reports said Cruz's remains had been identified through her breast implants, Browne believed she was actually identified through dental records.
He also said “as far as we know, her implant surgery was unconnected with (Faiello).”
Before Cruz's body was identified, her cousin Myra Navarro held out hope she was still alive.
“I'm still hoping it's not her and that she's out there somewhere,” she said last Thursday. “I can't believe this is what may have happened to her.”
Myra Navarro said Cruz came to the United States 12 years ago to get her master's degree in finance at Fordham University. Cruz's Aunt Helen said she was a straight-A student there and had one exam left to take before becoming a certified financial analyst.
“She's very independent,” said Helen Navarro, describing how Cruz had not returned to the Philippines in 11 years and lived by herself in an apartment on 50th Street in Manhattan.
She said Cruz's uncle had posted fliers with Maria's picture and description on them ever since she disappeared.
“He never stopped posting every Sunday,” she said. “Now he will stop.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.