Co-defendant admits tampering, will testify against Williams

Thursday, April 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A one-time college basketball player will testify against Jayson Williams under a plea bargain in the case of a limousine driver shot to death inside the former NBA All-Star's estate.

Kent Culuko, 29, pleaded guilty Thursday in Superior Court in Flemington to tampering with evidence and witnesses. He agreed to testify against Williams and co-defendant John Gordnick, 44, and could avoid serving any time in jail under provision of a state law for first-time offenders.

Williams is charged with manslaughter in the Feb. 14 death of limo driver Costas Christofi. Prosecutors say the co-defendants, both friends of Williams, tampered with evidence to make it look as if the victim, not the former New Jersey Net, fired the gun.

Neither Acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Stephen Lember nor Culuko's attorney, John Lacey, immediately returned phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Prosecutors said Williams was recklessly handling a 12-gauge shotgun when it went off, hitting Christofi in the chest.

According to court documents, Williams, Culuko and Gordnick then tried to replace Williams' fingerprints on the gun with Christofi's and conceal clothing Williams wore during the shooting, hoping to make police think it was a suicide.

Williams, who retired from the Nets in 2000, remains free on $270,000 bail.

Culuko and Gordnick were charged with evidence tampering, conspiracy to obstruct the administration of law and two counts of hindering another's apprehension. If convicted on all charges, Culuko could have faced 18 years in prison.

Christofi, 55, was apparently invited on a tour of Williams' mansion in Alexandria Township after picking up the former NBA player's friends at a Harlem Globetrotters game in Bethlehem, Pa., prosecutors said.

Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Williams, said she could not immediately comment on Culuko's guilty plea. Williams' criminal attorney, Joseph Hayden, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Culuko was an all-Colonial Athletic Conference choice in 1994 with James Madison, and is the school's career leader in games played, minutes played and 3-pointers.