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Video: Allegedly framed by her ex, she sat in jail

TODAY contributor
updated 7/28/2011 8:50:08 AM ET 2011-07-28T12:50:08

Pulled over by New York City police and ordered to step out of her car, Seemona Sumasar was in handcuffs before she knew it. The police were shouting: “You know you did it!’’

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There was just one problem, she says: She had no idea what “it’’ was. It turned out to be the beginning of an odyssey straight out of a crime thriller or “Law and Order’’ episode.

Sumasar, 36, served seven months in prison, the victim of what prosecutors say was an elaborate plot by her former boyfriend, Jerry Ramrattan, to frame her for bogus armed robberies. In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Thursday, she detailed a revenge scheme that was set in motion after Ramrattan allegedly raped her in March 2009 and she went to the authorities.

When she tried to explain to police at the time that she had been set up by Ramrattan for the phony robberies because she wouldn’t drop the rape charge against him, her pleas fell on deaf ears, she said.

“I think they just thought I was just trying to blame it on [Ramrattan] — that I really did it and that I was just being a drama queen,’’ she said. “It was just totally ignored. They looked at me like I was crazy.’’

Video: Allegedly framed by her ex, she sat in jail (on this page)

Ramrattan is now in jail while awaiting trial on charges of rape, perjury, conspiracy and tampering with a witness. As for Sumasar, as a result of her ordeal, she has lost the restaurant she owned, her home was foreclosed on, and the single mother was separated from her teenage daughter during her seven-month stint in prison.

Little wonder, then, that when Lauer asked Sumasar if she has faith that Ramrattan will be convicted, she replied: “How could I? I have been sitting in jail for seven months, and I’ve been telling them who was behind it from day one. No one listened.’’

Ramrattan has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

“Jerry is not guilty of raping Seemona Sumasar,’’ Ramrattan’s attorney told NBC News. “He is innocent of those charges. While he was fighting the rape charges, his money disappeared from his account, and we believe that we are able to show Seemona is the one who took those funds. Other people were looking to have Seemona arrested because they had financial problems with Seemona. They had a beef with her. They were the ones that indicated they would get her back for what she did to them.’’

‘He seemed like a good person’
Sumasar began dating Ramrattan five years ago, and even though she said he exhibited a pattern of lying, she considered him harmless and even let him live with her in her house in Queens, N.Y. “He seemed like a generally good person,’’ she told NBC News. “Never did I ever think that he was capable of anything like this.’’

But on March 8, 2009, Ramrattan taped her mouth, cornered her, and raped her, Sumasar claims. Ramrattan was released on bail for the rape charge, and that’s when things started to become sinister, she says.

Jerry Ramrattan, whom prosecutors say framed Seemona Sumasar for a series of bogus armed robberies, is currently in jail, awaiting trial on charges of rape, perjury, conspiracy and tampering with a witness.

“I couldn’t go anywhere alone,’’ she told Lauer. “I couldn’t leave the restaurant late at night. I had to be very careful because soon after he got released, I’d get visits. Friends of his, people that we both know, would visit me at my restaurant asking me to drop charges against him.’’

Then came the surreal night when she was pulled over by police, cuffed and taken into custody without having a clue as to what she did wrong.

“They arrested me, [and] they didn’t say anything,’’ Sumasar said. “Nothing was explained at all. They just asked me to step out of the car, and they needed to take me for some questioning, and that was it.’’

Sumasar was charged with carrying out a series of armed robberies, and there were witness statements and supposed proof that her car was the getaway vehicle. Mystified at the charges, she immediately suspected Ramrattan as the cause. 

“I knew [it was him] from the day I was arrested, because there was no other reason that I would be sitting there,’’ she told Lauer. “I didn’t do anything to be sitting there.’’

‘Tunnel vision’
“This was no brilliant plan,’’ said Sumasar’s attorney, Nick Brustin, who appeared alongside her on TODAY. “This was a man who was being prosecuted for raping her, who had a history of impersonating police officers, which they knew about, and from the first day, Seemona was telling them, ‘This guy did this.’

“We see this all the time in cases where people are wrongfully convicted,” Brustin added. “The police have tunnel vision, the prosecutors have tunnel vision — once they lock on, it’s very tough to get them off it. If they had looked at all, they would have seen this couldn’t be true.’’

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In September 2009, Ramrattan began placing clues that would add up to look like a series of robberies by Sumasar, prosecutors say. He persuaded several individuals to pose as phony robbery victims, coaching them on what to say to police. He showed them photos of Sumasar and her Jeep Grand Cherokee so that they could pick her out of a police lineup and identify her car as the getaway vehicle.

After multiple people claimed they had been robbed at gunpoint by an Indian woman driving a Cherokee, Sumasar was arrested and held on $1 million bail. There was video of her at a casino during one of the alleged robberies that showed she could not have done it, but she said it was ignored. Meanwhile, she awaited a trial where at which she could have been sentenced to up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

The scheme unravels
After sitting in a jail cell for seven months, Sumasar caught a pivotal break in December 2010.

An informant tipped off police that Ramrattan had concocted the elaborate plot, and provided a number for his cell phone. Police then found multiple calls from Ramrattan’s phone to the false witnesses. The witnesses confessed to lying and were charged with perjury. They now are cooperating with authorities.

“One of the glaring lessons of this is that a reliance only on witness testimony can be very, very dangerous in a criminal case,’’ said New York Times reporter Dan Bilefsky, who has written about the case. “Witnesses can lie. Witnesses can concoct elaborate stories. Even police can be duped.’’

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After seven months in prison, Sumasar was released in December 2010 and reunited with her daughter, who is now 13. “I was so happy, so excited, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but be angry,’’ she told NBC News.

Now she is trying to rebuild her life after losing her business and her home during her Kafkaesque trip through the justice system.

“We’re planning on filing civil rights claims probably in the fall,’’ her attorney said. “We’re looking at the case very carefully now, and we’re going to do our very best to help her get her life back together.’’

She now also has a story straight out of a one-hour police drama to tell.

“It is unreal,” she told NBC News. “You do not think that things like this happen in real life.’’

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