By Patrick Markey
As many as five Irish immigrants are among the victims of a vicious rapist who has preyed on New York’s immigrant neighborhoods for the last 18 months.
Queens detectives have launched an intensive manhunt for the cabbie they believe is responsible for at least six sexual attacks since July 1999.
Police said the suspect, Cesar Vicuna, a 28-year-old illegal immigrant from Ecuador, worked as a livery cab driver in Queens and they believe he has used his job as an opportunity to prey on vulnerable women. All the victims were attacked in the early morning hours after trying to catch a taxi ride home. Two managed to escape during the attempted rapes.
"His method of operation is that between 2:30 and 4:30 a .m. he picks up young females looking for a ride home. He takes them to a secluded area and sexual assaults them," Capt. Vincent Ferrara, head of the Queens major crimes unit, said.
The latest attack took place on August 6, police said. In that attack, a 25-year-old Irish woman was assaulted in the vicinity of Roosevelt and Woodside avenues. The victim managed to give police a description of a large black vehicle with a license plate which read in part T321.
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Another woman was attacked after coming out of a 61st Street bar, where many of the gypsy cabs wait for clients. The third Woodside attack took place in October when an Irish woman was assaulted near 43rd Street and 31st Avenue, police said.
In some cases the assailant beat or choked his victims and in some of the incidents alcohol played a role in the assaults, Capt. Ferrara added.
"In some of the cases the women had been drinking. They didn’t have all their faculties. Some of them fell asleep in the taxi and when they woke up he was in the back seat attacking them," the police captain said.
Four of the attacks took place last year and two women were attacked this year. Three of the attacks took place in or originated around Woodside, two attacks were in Astoria and another victim was attacked in Elmhurst. One of the attacks began with a ride from Manhattan.
Since police began canvassing the area last week detectives have learned that more Irish women may have been attacked, but could have returned to Ireland without telling anyone about the incident, a police source told the Echo.
Police said Vicuna already has a sexual assault conviction from 1994. According to the Queens district attorney’s office, he pleaded guilty to a sexual abuse charge and was released with a sentence of three years probation.
Vicuna’s last known address was in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush section, but he has proved difficult to track because he has no formal identification or passport, police said. Detectives managed to capture a car Vicuna had been using last year, but they believe he may now be freelancing rather than working for a taxi service.
Detectives also said Vicuna may have left the country last year for a short while, but they believe he is now back in the United States.
"We feel he is still in the country. We believe he is still local," said one police official familiar with the investigation.
Detectives have used DNA to link the first four attacks and four victims have also identified Vicuna from photo lineups. DNA tests from the latest two attacks are still pending.
Police have urged local woman to avoid returning home alone late at night and asked that they only use a known livery cab service. Vicuna is described as 5′ 7" and weighs about 175 pounds. Anyone with information about the attacks or Vicuna should call the confidential police hotline at (212) 577-TIPS.