On Sept. 25, 2015, Mineola resident Joe Mariani received news that his brother, John Mariani, had been shot and killed in a botched robbery in Medellin, Colombia.
Five years later, Joe Mariani got a measure of closure when the second person involved in the killing was recently convicted.
But Mariani said he still needs to clear his brother’s name from the negative publicity that followed his death.
“He’d give you his right hand. He’d give you his shirt. He helped everybody,” Mariani said of his brother, a Floral Park resident.
John Mariani had been vacationing in Colombia with a friend. He was attacked while they were on their way to a restaurant in Medellin.
John Mariani and his friend had just stepped out of a cab in front of a restaurant, authorities said. As his friend was paying the cab driver, two men pulled up on a motorcycle. One of the men got off and held a gun to Mariani’s abdomen, according to police. Assuming that he wanted money, Mariani reached for his wallet, which was in his shirt pocket, authorities said. The man panicked and shot Mariani. He then took the fake Rolex watch off of the victim’s wrist and fled on the motorcycle driven by a second unknown subject.
This was the only information that the family had upon receiving news of John Mariani’s death, Joe Mariani said.
The family soon, he said, started getting calls from the media, seeking more details on the story. Reporters insisted that the victim fought back against his assailant, Mariani said.
“I know my brother,” Mariani stated. “He wouldn’t resist.”
“Everything [they were saying] was negative,” he added. “And I’m saying, ‘Listen, my brother’s just got killed.’”
Finally, Mariani said, he had had enough. He told the reporters he was not answering any further questions.
“My brother is first generation. He has three other brothers. We live in Floral Park. Worked hard all his life. Just retired. And he has never done anything illegal in his life. . . . He’s a lovable guy. Everybody loved my brother. He was funny. He just had the personality that everybody wanted to be around,” Mariani said he told the media simply.
Mariani said that after his brother’s shooting reporters began calling “everybody named Mariani” and showing up at the house on a regular basis.
“They were all trying to find something sensational,” he said. “That went on for three days. Meanwhile, we’re trying to deal with how we’re gonna get my brother back [from Colombia].”
Mariani said it took two and a half weeks to get his brother’s body back to New York. The funeral lasted two days. Mariani remembered that the line was “out the door” for two days straight.
The family was in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, Mariani said. It was through an FBI agent at the embassy that they learned the details of Joe Mariani’s death.
There was video footage of the shooting, they were told, but Joe Mariani’s killer had been wearing a hood that obscured his face.
The authorities could not make out the number on the cab in the video. The footage was sent to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., to be enhanced in order to make out the cab number.
There were only a few witnesses, Mariani said, and they were not able to provide authorities with any identifying information.
A young man working at a Domino’s across the street from where the shooting occurred had witnessed the event and ran over to help.
“He held my brother in his arms and . . . he said, ‘Let’s not wait for the ambulance. It’s never gonna happen.’ So he stopped a car in the middle of the street, I believe it was just an ordinary car. . . and he drove all the way to the hospital with my brother.”
The man stayed with Mariani’s brother until he died, Mariani said.
“To me, he was the hero,” stated Mariani. “He took all that time when he didn’t have to. He could’ve walked away like everybody else.”
The FBI told Mariani that they could not get involved in the investigation unless the Colombian authorities invited them to do so, Mariani said.
Meanwhile, he remembered, everyone in the family was calling the FBI seeking more information. Mariani eventually appointed himself liaison and handled all further communication with the FBI.
“So for three and a half years, it was just back and forth with me and the FBI,” Mariani said. It took six months just to get the video of the shooting enhanced, he said.
In January 2019, Mariani got a call from the embassy, he said. He was told that the authorities had two suspects for the murder of his brother in custody.
They had already been in jail for a robbery and gunfight that took place between the two suspects and the police, said Mariani. The gun that one suspect had used in the gunfight matched the bullet that killed Mariani’s brother. The suspect denied that he had had the gun in his possession at the time of the murder.
The suspect’s girlfriend, Mariani said, told the police that the suspect had confessed to her that he killed John Mariani. She refused to testify against the suspect.
Authorities eventually found the motorcycle that the man who shot John Mariani had been riding, and traced it back to the suspect that they had in custody.
The suspect pled guilty to both the robbery and shootout with the police and the murder of John Mariani, Joe Mariani said. He was sentenced to 16 years for each crime.
Mariani told the FBI agent that he was in contact with regarding the case that he still had questions that he wanted answered. He said that the FBI agent told him to come to Colombia and they could sit down and talk.
When Mariani refused, the FBI agent offered to meet him in New York.
In April 2019, the FBI agent and the Colombian agent in charge of the investigation met Mariani at the 3rd precinct station in Mineola.
“I asked him every question,” Mariani said.
“I asked them, what was going on in the minds of these two kids?” recalls Mariani. “They said look they were just. . .kids, from the wrong side of the tracks, trying to make a buck. He panicked . . . That’s the bottom line, Joe. It hurts, but that’s what happened.”
Later that year, the second suspect, long believed to be the man who had stayed on the motorcycle, pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 16 more years, in addition to the 16-year sentence that he was serving for his previous crime.
“So I got my closure,” Mariani said. “We got the two guys . . . All because the FBI, the grunts, down at the bottom, who do their job . . . did all [they could].”
Mariani commented that people often asked him throughout the course of the investigation why he bothered to stay involved in the case.
“Look up ‘John Mariani killed in Colombia,’” Mariani would answer. “Look at the picture they put of him. . . it’s like the discrimination is all over.”
“He’s my brother, we’re all going to miss him,” Mariani added. “And I’m not going to have people go on the computer, look up my brother’s name, and see half a story. Now it’s complete.”
“And me, I’m happy,” he said. “Justice was served . . . I could have just sat back . . . [but] I was persistent. I worked [for] four and a half years. And they were willing to work with me.”