Tag Archives: Kuti Zeevi

Meet Tom Kiely: Westport’s New Operations Director

A few weeks after popular Westport jeweler Kuti Zeevi was murdered in a 2011 robbery at his Compo Shopping Center store, the hunt for his killer grew cold.

But State Police detective Tom Kiely had a hunch. What if the murderer was not from the area?

Using only records from a burner phone — whose number Zeevi had written on a blotter, when he received calls from it — Kiely worked doggedly to detect patterns.

There were weeks when the phone was unused. He traced activity right before and after that time to airports. Working with US Customs and Border Protection officials, Kiely narrowed a list of possible suspects from 170 to just a few — and then to only Andrew Levene.

Sure enough, he was in Spain. Three days later Levene was arrested, and charged with murder and the theft of $300,000 in diamonds from Zeevi’s jewelry store.

Soon after — while awaiting extradition to the US — he killed himself in prison.

Kiely’s detective work earned him awards from the Connecticut State Police and US Department of Justice.

That was just one of countless cases — including Sandy Hook Elementary School — that Kiely handled during his 21 years with the State Police.

Now he’s a month into his new challenge: operations director for the town of Westport.

After 2 decades of dealing with people in the worst moments of their lives, he’s eager to help them handle less crucial issues, in a supportive and well-run community.

Tom Kiely, in his Town Hall office. On the wall: a State Police memento, and a painting of the construction of the I-95 Saugatuck River bridge. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Kiely retired in 2021, and “pumped the brakes.” When his first daughter was born, he enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad. (His wife works in brand management, for skincare products.)

Now — after the birth of their second child 2 months ago — it’s time to get back to a paying job.

A friend told Kiely that Westport was looking for an operations director. After three rounds of interviews, he was hired this fall.

“It’s a natural progression,” he says of his new position. “I spent 21 years in public service, at the state level. Now I’m more localized. It’s hands-on work. I can really get things done.”

Growing up in Shelton, and attending St. Joseph High School, Kiely spent time in Westport. “We’d put the top of the Jeep Wrangler down, and head to Compo,” he says. “It was great.”

He attended Plymouth State University expecting to be a meteorologist. But physics and calculus were not his strong suit. He switched majors, to public management.

After graduation, Kiely nearly accepted a sales job with Pfizer. Yet — with a father who was a retired Trumbull police chief, and a grandfather who’d been a Bridgeport police captain — he also applied to the State Police Academy.

That acceptance came through. Kiely began on patrol with Troop G in Bridgeport, made detective at 26, spent most of his career with the Western District Major Crimes Unit, then finished in a supervisory role.

His first month in Town Hall has been “drinking from a fire hose,” Kiely says. He’s met with department heads and directors, learning who does what here (and how).

Now he’s ready for specific assignments from 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker. He looks forward to working with, for example, the Downtown Improvement Plan Committee, Transit District and Sustainable Westport.

Tom Kiely is learning all about Westport — and quickly.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Kiely admits. “But town employees, residents –everyone — has been fantastic, and very welcoming.”

The resident issues he’s dealt with so far — paving, lawn damages and the like — are minor, compared to murders and robberies. But, Kiely knows, they’re important to people when they happen.

“This job is results-driven,” he says. “I think I have the ability to communicate with people, and help them talk and work together to solve problems.”

Part of the operations director’s job is to solve big problems — say, the aftermaths of hurricanes and blizzards.

With the State Police, Kiely constantly dealt with crises. That experience should serve him will whenever he needs it. Of course, he hopes those events are few and far between.

Meanwhile, he is settling easily in to his new role. Already, he’s discovered the double espressos at GG & Joe’s.

(“06880” keeps an eye on town happenings — and the folks who make them happen. Please click here to support your hyper-local blog.)

Roundup: Hideaway Trees, Snow, Greens Farms Church …

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SIR Development’s Rob Haroun responds to yesterday’s photo of trees that were recently cut on Hideaway Lane, off Hillspoint Road. He says:

“The 7 or 8 trees, most of which are on town property as shown in the Google Earth photo and acknowledged by the Westport tree warden, were all posted for removal. No one objected.

“After the requisite period of time and with permission from the tree warden, the trees were removed, some by the town. This was due to the extreme hazard to walkers and vehicles and the lack of maintenance over many years both by the town and the prior owner of 149 Hillspoint.

“The Google Earth photo (below) shows how the trees in the background leaned perilously over Hillspoint Road. Even though most of them were town trees, the tree warden requires replacement trees, from the town-approved list, which will be planted in the fall.

“Additionally, the ‘after’ photo (below) was not taken from the same vantage point as the Google Earth photo, as it does not show the remaining trees on both the left and right sides of Hideaway Lane.”

(Photo courtesy of Google Earth)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

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It was just a dusting. But this morning’s early, gentle snowfall gave a bit of a boost to the feeling of Christmas.

With so many Westporters hunkered down — quarantining, awaiting test results, anxious — this wintry weather may not be all that we asked for.

But it’s just what we need.

Harvest Commons, earlier today. (Photo/Peter Swift)

Meanwhile, look closely at Pam Kesselman’s photo:

(Photo/Pam Kessselman)

There are 2 hearts.

Coincidence? Or the magic of Christmas?

Who cares?! Enjoy!

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It’s hardly a surprise that Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario — Staples High School’s 2 Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers — have images in this year’s “Year in Pictures” supplement.

Tyler’s was taken on July 12 in Herat, Afghanistan.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for New York Times)

Tyler says: “This photograph was taken at a checkpoint where Afghan police were inspecting vehicles arriving from nearby Taliban controlled villages. As cars were stopped and checked I turned and saw that a family who was fleeing that area was packed into a car with a girl looking out the back window, back toward where they had come from. I could see the concern in her face and to me that’s what stood out about this moment.

“Although only one person is seen in this photograph, her face says everything about what was soon to come. You can always tell what’s coming by the mood of the population. There was an urgency among the people that was obvious. This is when it became clear to me that there would be no turning back the events that followed.”

Lynsey’s photo was shot on October 26 in Paliau, South Sudan.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for New York times)

She says: “I was traveling with UNICEF through this very flooded area of South Sudan. It was the first time people had been given masks and they were trying them on. There is so much flooding, malaria, hunger. Covid is not first and foremost on peoples’ minds.”

Congratulations to Tyler and Lynsey, on their superb images. Let’s hope they’ll be able to capture more pleasant and peaceful scenes for the 2022 Year in Pictures.

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If you’re heading to tonight’s Christmas Eve services at Greens Farms Church: you’ll need to register in advance (click here). COVID restrictions will keep each service — at 4:30, 6 and 9 p.m. — below the 180-seat meetinghouse capacity.

Each service will last about 30 minutes, and include opportunities for participation by children. All services feature candlelight, too.

Masks are required in the meetinghouse. Congregants are asked to arrive early, for check-in.

Greens Farms Congregational Church (Photo/Candace Dohn Banks)

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Dozens of Westporters took time from hectic last-minute shopping yesterday, to contribute toys, books, coats and fundsto OneWestport’s collection. All donations will be given to Person to Person, the Fairfield County organization serving needing families.

James Dobin-Smith — founder of Staples High School’s OneWestport Club — says, “We were overwhelmed by how many people showed up. A 1st grader named George Gitto used the allowance he had saved up for months to buy picture books to donate from Barnes & Noble. We even got a cash donation from England!

“Thank you, everyone. We can’t wait to deliver the gifts on Christmas Eve!”

Congratulations to club members Dobin Smith, Caroline Caggiano, Isabelle Ormsby, Ian Patton, Cooper Sadler and Melanie Stanger.

OneWestport Club members with donations (from left): Melanie Stanger (with the two stuffed animals) and Ian Patton, Isabelle Ormsby, Cooper Sadler & me. Caroline Caggiano also volunteered but isn’t pictured.

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Remember Carlson & Gailmor?

Probably not. But read on.

More than 55 years after graduating from Staples, Rob Carlson still writes and records music. He’s better than ever. And he’s doing it with great local talent.

His latest effort was assembled over the last 3 years. With some new and some new recordings of older songs, it’s called simply “Rob Carlson.” It’s typically eclectic: folk, rock, jazz, pop, Americana, R&B, comedy and reggae.

COVID enabled Rob to record with other non-gigging greats like Westport session guitarist Jeff Southworth, jazz keyboardist Chris Coogan, and old friends like Jon Gailmor.

Yes — the legendary Carlson & Gailmor duo, whose long-out-of-print Polydor record is one of the all-time, hard-to-believe-it-never-made-it great records — is back together for a bit.

“Rob Carlson” is on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming services. The CD or tracks can be bought at Rob’s Online Store, or downloaded from Bandcamp.com. Find out more about the songs and artists by clicking here.

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This month, the Greens Farms Garden Club’s annual wreath-making workshop and lunch was special. They surprised long-time member Mary Lou McGuire with a Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut life membership.

She was cited for her many years of service, depth of experience, and breadth of talents in chairing and serving on almost all positions in the club.

All wreaths made by club members were donated to local non-profit groups.

Greens Farms Garden Club past [resident Ann Watkins, current president Kathy Mitchell, and Mary Lou McGuire

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Friends and relatives of Kuti Zeeva gathered last Sunday for a memorial soccer game, at PJ Romano Field.

Zeevi — a stalwart member of the Late Knights men’s soccer team, and a popular jeweler in town — was killed 10 years ago this month, in a robbery at his Compo Shopping Center store.

Regular and former players joined younger ones — including Kuti’s 10-year-old grandson — for soccer and stories. He lives on in the hearts of many. (Hat tip: Alex Anvari)

Celebrating Kuti Zeevi’s life last Sunday.

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo offers a bit of needed whimsy. It’s on Ferry Lane East, off South Compo.

(Photo/JD Dworkow)

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And finally … if you never heard Carlson & Gailmor sing together in their all-too-brief heyday time together after Staples, you missed some beautiful music.

Here — thanks to the magic of the interwebs — they live again.

Photo Challenge #192

Nearly 7 years after his death, Kuti Zeevi is remembered well.

His family, friends and customers still grieve for the Israeli-born business owner and avid soccer player, killed during a robbery of his jewelry store on East Main Street.

And when last week’s Photo Challenge showed a plaque citing his generosity, kindness, openness, passion, liveliness, devotion and caring, “06880” readers quickly recognized “Kuti’s Way.”

It’s at the east end of Compo Shopping Center, next to Cohen’s Fashion Optical and the steps leading up to where he sold diamonds and other jewels.

Matt Murray, Fred Cantor, Jamie Walsh, Vanessa Bradford, Jessica Bram, Bobbie Herman, Michael Calise, Mary Ann Batsell and John Pollak all knew where to find Kuti: near his store.

And in our hearts.

Here’s this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

2 Athletes, 3 Benches, Unlimited Love

Preston Hirten died 3 years ago, on a place he loved: the soccer field. The former Staples star was just starting his junior year at the University of Mary Washington, when a previously unknown heart ailment ended his all-too-short life.

The college players came by bus from Virginia for Preston’s service. His 2006 Staples teammates, and the 2009 Mary Washington team, grieved together.

The following summer — to honor Preston’s memory, and reunite in a less awful time — the ’06 Wreckers invited the UMW players back to Westport. There were cookouts, a mini-soccer tournament, and plenty of stories. It was a tough time for the Hirten family, but they were heartened by so much support.

Last weekend marked the 3rd annual Preston Hirten event. The soccer tournament grew to over 100 players on 13 teams, including former opponents of Preston’s, and 2 girls squads. Preston’s young cousins “played for Preston,” too.

Just a few of the many Staples and Mary Washington players who “played for Preston” on Saturday.

As they move on with their lives, Preston’s high school and college friends — from as far away as California — took time to honor and remember him. A special Westport tradition has been born.

Before the tournament, Preston’s family unveiled two benches they donated to Wakeman Park. Each bears a different inscription. Taken together, they proclaim the measure of a talented, passionate,  and very compassionate, young man.

But those were not the only benches dedicated this weekend.

On Sunday evening at Long Lots School, Kuti Zeevi’s teammates and many friends did something similar — without knowing about the other unveiling.

Kuti — the popular jeweler killed last December during a robbery — was several decades older than Preston. But he too loved soccer, and played for over 20 years with a Westport men’s team called the Late Knights.

Theirs was a more casual, pick-up style of soccer than Preston’s, but they too developed a feeling of family. (They took a couple of memorable overseas trips, too.)

Preston Hirten and Kuti Zeevi did not know each other. But the 2 Westporters were united by a love of their sport, and the love of their teammates.

Now — with the dedication of benches, on two of their favorite fields — both will be remembered forever.

1st Selectman Speaks About Levene Suicide

Andrew R. Levene — the 41-year-old man arrested earlier this week for the alleged murder of Westport jeweler Kuti Zeevi — committed suicide today in a Madrid jail cell.

First selectman Gordon Joseloff said:

“The suicide of the man accused in the Westport murder is a tragedy for all concerned.

Andrew R. Levene

“Not only has the suspect taken the life of a beloved Westport resident and caused immeasurable pain to the Zeevi family and friends here, he has now inflicted the same pain on his own family, also innocents in this tragedy. It is a cowardly confirmation of his guilt.

“The death of the accused murder suspect by his own hands will not diminish the extraordinary efforts demonstrated by Westport police, state and federal authorities, and Spanish police in tracking him down.

“Hours and hours of police work culminating in the arrest should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of committing a similar heinous crime that they will be caught – no matter how difficult and distant the trail.”

Suspect Arrested In Zeevi Murder

Here is an announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s office:

United States Attorney David B. Fein, Westport Police Chief Dale E. Call, Colonel Danny R. Stebbins of the Connecticut State Police, Kimberly K. Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Marshal Joseph P. Faughnan today announced that ANDREW ROBERT LEVENE, also known as “Robert Thomas,” 41, was arrested yesterday in Spain on federal murder, robbery and firearm charges.

Kuti Zeevi (Photo courtesy of WestportNow.com)

According to a federal criminal complaint filed in the District of Connecticut, it is alleged that on the evening of December 8, 2011,  LEVENE met with the owner of YZ Manufacturers, LLC, (“Y.Z. Jewelers”) in Westport, Conn., pretending he was going to complete the purchase of several large diamonds he had arranged to buy earlier that month.  Instead, LEVENE shot and killed the owner of Y.Z. Jewelers, shot and wounded the owner’s associate, stole approximately $300,000 in diamonds, and later fled the United States to Europe.

“I want to commend the Westport Police, Connecticut State Police, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, and law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, New York and Spain for their expert, coordinated investigation that has led to the apprehension of this defendant,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein.

“We are proud of the efforts of law enforcement officials on the local, state, federal and international level who all contributed to the investigation and apprehension of this suspect,” stated Westport Police Chief Call.  “We hope that it brings some peace of mind to the victims’ families.”

According to court documents, it is alleged that in early December 2011, LEVENE contacted the owner of Y.Z. Jewelers, a diamond dealership located at 431 Post Road East in Westport, and asked the owner to locate several diamonds that were between two and three karats in size and valued between $45,000 and $75,000.  On the evening of December 7, 2011, the owner of Y.Z. Jewelers and an associate met LEVENE at the dealership.  LEVENE examined the diamonds but told the owner he would have to “sleep on it.”

It is further alleged that, on the morning of December 8, 2011, the owner of Y.Z. Jewelers called his associate to inform him that he had scheduled a meeting with LEVENE for later that evening and asked his associate to bring to Westport the diamonds previously viewed, as well as additional diamonds.  When the associate arrived at the dealership that evening, the owner and LEVENE were already in the store.  The owner then showed LEVENE six diamonds with a total value of approximately $300,000.  After looking at the diamonds and conversing for several minutes, LEVENE took out a gun and shot the owner and his associate.  LEVENE then took the diamonds and let himself out of the store.

After LEVENE left the store, the associate placed a 9-1-1 emergency call.  The owner of Y.Z. Jewelers was transported to Norwalk Hospital where he was pronounced dead.  His associate also was transported to Norwalk Hospital for treatment.

On December 11, 2011, LEVENE allegedly flew from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

LEVENE was arrested on January 23 by Spanish National Police.

The criminal complaint charges LEVENE with one count of interference with commerce through robbery, one count of federal murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of causing death through the use of a firearm.

U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being investigated by the Westport Police Department, Connecticut State Police Detectives of the Western District Major Crime Squad, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Marshals Service.  The investigation has been assisted by the State’s Attorney’s Office for the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk, the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit, the Pennsylvania State Police, the New York Police Department, Interpol Spain and Interpol, United States National Central Bureau in Washington, D.C.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tracy Lee Dayton and Vanessa Richards.

Joy Amid Sorrow

Westport rejoices with Nava Zeevi and her family on the birth of her grandson.

The boy — weighing 6 pounds, 14 ounces — was born at 6 this morning to Neer Zeevi and his wife Liora, of New London.

Kuti Zeevi — Neer’s father, Nava’s husband, and the infant’s grandfather — was killed Thursday night in a robbery at Kuti’s jewelry business above Compo Shopping Center.

He was buried Sunday afternoon, less than 48 hours before what would have been his first grandchild was born.

Remembering Kuti Zeevi

Fred Cantor was a long-time friend of Kuti Zeevi, the Westport jeweler killed during a robbery last night. For many years Fred and Kuti played soccer with the Late Knights, a group of local men who enjoyed both the game, and socializing together afterward. 

Fred remembers the Israeli-born business owner, soccer player and Westporter:

Many years ago someone told me you can learn a lot about a person by how willing he is to pass the ball and share it with teammates.

Kuti was always looking to pass to an open teammate, and it was indeed just one indication of his great generosity — both on and off the field.

Kuti Zeevi (Photo courtesy of WestportNow.com)

Kuti was part of the mini-UN weekend soccer group that has been a fixture in Westport for decades. His passion for soccer was second to none, and it was exceeded only by his passion for his family. He was a loving husband, father and son who epitomized “family values” before that term ever became part of our landscape.

Several years ago Kuti and his loving wife, Nava, suffered the loss of their daughter Tali to leukemia.  While nothing could possibly make up for that tragic loss, Kuti’s soccer teammates tried to offer some level of comfort by staging a soccer tournament to raise money for leukemia research in Tali’s memory.

Kuti, in his selfless fashion, expressed how grateful he was to all of us for organizing the event.

Even though he had some major injuries in his later years, they never dampened his enthusiasm for playing soccer and for competing.  Even when he could no longer run much, he loved to play goalie and wouldn’t hesitate to throw his body on the ground, outstretched, in an attempt to make a save.

There was still a boyish spirit that remained inside him — one that I thought would never succumb to old age — and that was only snuffed out by a murderer’s bullet.

We will all miss Kuti’s smile, and his laugh, and his joy for the game.

And our hearts and thoughts are with Nava.

(A funeral service will be held this Sunday, Dec. 11, 1:30 p.m. at Temple Israel.)

Kuti Zeevi, on a trip to England with the Late Knights soccer team in 1999. He's in the middle of the back row.