Pushia Held Without Bail On Murder Charge

Lawyer Says Man Suspected Of Life Insurance Scheme Had Been A Beneficiary On Policies Of Two Who Died Naturally

April 29, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

The defense attorney for a Baltimore pastor accused of hiring a hit man to kill a blind and mentally disabled man for life insurance money said at least two other disabled people whose policies listed the suspect as a beneficiary had died, though their deaths were the result of natural causes and the policies had been canceled before their deaths.

The attorney made his remarks shortly after Kevin Jerome Pushia, 32, was ordered held without bond in a court appearance Tuesday.

Pushia, of the 4500 block of Parkside Place, has been charged with nine counts, including first-degree murder, in the death of Lemuel Wallace, who lived in a Pikesville group home affiliated with the Arc of Baltimore. Wallace was found shot to death in Leakin Park in February.

Pushia worked for four months as an operations manager at the home where Wallace lived. Police detectives said Pushia told them he paid someone $50,000 to have Wallace killed.

A second man, James Omar Clea, was arrested Saturday in South Carolina and is accused of introducing Pushia to the alleged hit man.

Police said an investigation continues into whether Pushia is responsible for or was orchestrating other deaths. Authorities would not comment on defense attorney Russell Neverdon's claim that Pushia was not involved with the deaths of two others whose policies at one time listed Pushia as a beneficiary.

"There has been no harm, or attempts to bring about harm" to others, Neverdon said.

Steve Morgan, executive director for the Arc of Baltimore, said his organization is cooperating with police to determine whether those who died were residents of Arc group homes.

"We are giving police the names of any and all people Kevin Pushia may have come in contact with, as well as anybody that has passed away recently," Morgan said. "We consider that an important part of our ongoing efforts to allay any fears our clients or families or staff members may have."

Pushia appeared in Baltimore District Court on Tuesday afternoon via a television monitor. Neverdon argued that Pushia should be released on bail, noting that he had no prior criminal record and has strong ties to the community.

In addition to his involvement in the ministry since his teens, police are investigating information that Pushia might have worked at as many as four area homes that serve adults with disabilities. Detectives planned to interview officials at a Hunt Valley-based network of group homes where Pushia worked for 13 years as an overnight caretaker.

Pushia cared for two foster children who were removed from his home two weeks ago, according to state Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Nancy Lineman. Pushia became a foster parent through a private agency after his application with Baltimore City had been denied, she said.

A former recruitment director for the Arc of Baltimore also said she had raised questions about Pushia's hiring. Ronda Evans said Pushia was rushed through the hiring process after his application was hand-delivered to her by a supervisor. Though Pushia cleared a background check, Evans said, she had concerns about his experience and saw that Pushia had several civil matters in the local court system that raised red flags.

Morgan, executive director of the Arc, said the organization has "clear standards" and several layers of screening for potential employees.

"Certainly, there are times when we need to fill positions as expeditiously as possible, but we never bypass or shortcut those pre-employment requirements," Morgan said, adding that Pushia's hiring "followed the normal path."

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