EXCLUSIVE: An Albanian immigrant from Garfield who went home and got a gun after a bar fight was sentenced to 13 years in state prison today for nearly killing the other man with a bullet in the chest.
Melsi Pajo came to the U.S. after winning a lottery in his native Albania, then worked two jobs and went to school at night on a green card to become an air-conditioning technician, Presiding Superior Court Liliana DeAvila-Silebi noted during today’s sentencing hearing in Hackensack.
He then “squandered away the American dream” by committing “a violent crime that is completely uncalled for,” she said.
“You are 28 years old,” the judge told Pajo through an interpreter. “Your family had hopes you would come here and live a better life.”
Pajo got into an argument with 29-year-old Lukasz Goralczyk after the two met at the Zoom Pub in Wallington the night of June 23, 2011.
Pajo, who’s been in the U.S. the past nine years, said he didn’t know Goralczyk. He admitted later calling friends to come get him, then went to his apartment to retrive a pistol.
As he approached the bar, Pajo told DeAvila-Silebi in April, he saw his victim and a group of friends coming toward him with two baseball bats.
So he aimed the unlicensed weapon directly at Goralczyk and fired once.
“He was scared,” defense attorney Nancy Lucianna said. “But it isn’t self-defense, because the use of force was excessive. There was one shot, not a hail of bullets.”
Goralczyk, who underwent emergency surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, still carries the bullet in his chest, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer said.
Pajo fled after the shooting, ditched the gun and went from one to another of several friends’ homes, hiding out.
He then drove to Florida, where he planned to hop a boat out of the country, authorities said.
Investigators from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office caught Pajo before that could happen, however.
A tipster told detectives that Christina Hamdan — one of four other people charged with hindering the investigation — drove Pajo to Jacksonville. Investigators tracked him to the Tampa area, where he was staying with friends from high school.
The detectives called in U.S. marshals, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
They then grabbed Pajo as he walked out of Frank & Freddy’s Pizza in Riverview, Fla., on July 25, 2011 — as CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report: Bergen detectives grab Garfield gunman on the run from attempted murder charges
He eventually cut a deal that led to the April plea and today’s sentence.
Lucianna called her client a man who made a terrible mistake in judgment. Grootenboer, in turn, called him “violent and dangerous.”
DeAvila-Silebi agreed, citing one prior conviction for an assault in Garfield and another for assaulting a fellow prisoner with a shiv while he was in jail for the first crime.
Under the No Early Release Act, Pajo must serve 85% of his sentence — a little more than 11 years — before he is eligible for parole.
He will then be deported, the judge said.
Meanwhile, he remains held in the Bergen County Jail pending his assignment to a state prison.
Also charged with Hamdan were Petrick Agascra, Ervin Keco and Eno Cami, as well as Blerim Kozici, who they said fled to his native Albania after the shooting and was arrested soon after he returned to the U.S.
Kozici was admitted to Pre-Trial Intervention. The other four took guilty pleas and received probation.