Brooklyn, NY – A Brooklyn police officer cut his estranged wife off from his death-benefit policy just months before he died, leaving the cash to his police lieutenant girlfriend instead.
New York Police Department Community Affairs Officer Mike Smith, 48, and his wife, Elizabeth Morehouse, separated in 2014, but the couple never formally divorced, the New York Post reported.
“We remained friends, and both loved our daughter,” Morehouse said.
Officer Smith and his Russian-born girlfriend, New York Police Lieutenant Zoya Golubeva, 37, were living together at his Manhattan Beach apartment when their on-and-off relationship came to an abrupt end on March 7, 2017.
Lt. Golubeva told Officer Smith she was leaving him, and she and her parents began packing up her belongings, the New York Post reported.
Officer Smith wrote her a brief note and placed it in her hand before he walked towards the front door.
“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” the note said.
He then stepped into the apartment foyer, just feet away from Lt. Golubeva and her parents, and shot himself in the forehead.
According to an autopsy report, a photo of Lt. Golubeva was found lying next to Officer Smith’s body.
Eleven months before his death, Officer Smith, a 23-year veteran of the department, had changed beneficiary on his pension fund from Morehouse to Lt. Golubeva.
“That money should go to my daughter – he’s her father,” Morehouse said of Officer Smith’s $810,000 death benefit. She said she was aware that her estranged husband had made the change, because she had opened the officer’s mail after he moved out.
Officer Smith named Morehouse as beneficiary of his $250,000 life insurance policy. He had no other assets and didn’t leave a will.
Officers are not legally required to tell their spouse when they change beneficiaries, former New York City Employees’ Retirement System executive director John Murphy told the New York Post.
“This kind of thing has gone on forever,” Murphy explained. “They fall in love with someone else and want to leave the money to them.”
According to the New York Post, Morehouse can seek to collect up to a third of Officer Smith’s pension benefits under state law, regardless of the officer’s wishes.
She said she planned to file a claim in the amount of $270,000, but that Lt. Golubeva can contest it.
Officer Smith’s family claimed that, shortly after Officer Smith’s death, Lt. Golubeva told them that she felt the money should go to Officer Smith’s 14-year-old daughter.
“She called it ‘blood money,’ and didn’t want any of it,” Officer Smith’s sister, Kathleen Carrano told the New York Post.
The lieutenant and her family had often socialized with Officer Smith’s siblings, but no one has heard from her since shortly after his suicide, Carrano said.
Officer Smith’s family said that Lt. Golubeva has not indicated she would turn any of the money over, and claimed she also has not responded to their repeated requests that she return some Korean War medals that had been awarded to Officer Smith’s late father.
“They’re really significant to our family,” Carrano said. “I don’t know what meaning they would have for her.”
Officer Smith had filed for retirement just days before his death, and was looking forward to getting a dog and spending time at the beach, she added.
He had also helped fellow officers struggling with suicide in the past, Morehouse told the New York Post.
When asked whether she planned to keep the war medals and Officer Smith’s retirement benefits, Lt. Golubeva said, “I’ll have to get back to you,” and disconnected the call, according to the New York Post.