Rockland podiatrist wants guilty plea vacated in murder-for-hire case

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ROCKLAND -

A former Rockland County podiatrist already sentenced for trying to have his wife killed wants his guilty plea thrown out.

Ira Bernstein and his girlfriend Kelly Gribeluk were sentenced back in May for the murder-for-hire plot involving a hitman. Bernstein's attorney Jeff Millman said Friday that it was "not a voluntary plea." 

"It was a plea based on fear that he had no choice at this point," he said. 

Bernstein is pointing the finger at his girlfriend, saying she forced him to plead guilty to conspiring to kill his wife. He has filed paperwork to vacate his plea.

The Rockland podiatrist was sentenced to five to 15 years. 

Gribeluk, who is also is prison, was offered a sentencing deal if she worked with the Rockland District Attorney's Office as a cooperating witness.

Court documents say Bernstein didn't actually want to have his wife killed, and Gribeluk organized the whole plan. The papers also say Gribeluk told police that if she backed out, the "hitman" threatened to kill her, Bernstein, and both of their children.

Bernstein's attorney says that information wasn't given right away to authorities. But Gribeluk was still kept on as a witness. In order to protect her plea deal, the court papers say she told Bernstein she was going to lie during the trial.

Millman says Gribeluk told Bernstein to plead guilty so they wouldn't risk getting the maximum sentence. 

The Rockland District Attorney's Office says "the motion is without merit" and it will fight any effort to vacate the plea. Bernstein is now asking the judge to give him a trial, even if it means risking losing and facing re-sentencing.

The papers were filed before the judge who sentenced both Bernstein and Gribeluk. He will decide whether the plea should be vacated.

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