The former personal assistant of a young tech entrepreneur who was found decapitated and dismembered in his Manhattan apartment was arrested on Friday and charged with murder, the police said.
The entrepreneur, Fahim Saleh, 33, was discovered dead on Tuesday afternoon by his cousin inside his $2.25 million condo in a luxury building on the Lower East Side, the police said. The cousin had gone to check in on him after not hearing from him for about a day.
Mr. Saleh’s head and limbs had been removed, and parts of his body had been placed in large plastic bags designed for construction debris. An electric saw was still plugged in nearby.
The former assistant, Tyrese Devon Haspil, 21, had worked for Mr. Saleh since he was 16, officials with knowledge of the investigation said.
“Mr. Haspil was Mr. Saleh’s executive assistant and handled his finances and personal matters, and it is also believed that he owed the victim a significant amount of money,” the chief of detectives, Rodney K. Harrison, said at a brief news conference on Friday afternoon.
Detectives believe that the motive for the killing stemmed from Mr. Saleh having discovered that Mr. Haspil had stolen roughly $90,000 from him, two officials familiar with the investigation said.
Mr. Saleh fired Mr. Haspil, but did not report the theft and even offered to set up what amounted to a repayment plan so he could return the money, the officials said.
One of the officials said Mr. Saleh had paid Mr. Haspil so well that he had been able to pay off the debts of several family members.
Mr. Haspil was arrested on Friday at 8:45 a.m. in the lobby of an apartment building on Crosby Street in SoHo, where he had been staying with a female friend, the official said. New York detectives and federal agents from a U.S. Marshals Service regional fugitive task force took him into custody.
Investigators have concluded that Mr. Saleh was killed on Monday afternoon, the day before his body was found, a fourth official with knowledge of the investigation said.
After the murder, the killer used a credit card to pay for a car to a Home Depot, on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, and to buy cleaning supplies, the fourth official said. He returned to Mr. Saleh’s apartment the next day to dismember the body and clean up the crime scene.
On the day of the murder, detectives believe that the killer — dressed in a black three-piece suit, wearing a black mask and latex gloves, and carrying a duffel bag — followed Mr. Saleh off an elevator that opened up in his apartment, law enforcement officials said. As the two men left the elevator, the killer used a Taser to immobilize Mr. Saleh and then stabbed him to death.
Security video taken from inside the elevator showed that the killer later used a portable vacuum cleaner, perhaps in an effort to remove the particles left behind when the Taser was fired, the officials said. He also used the vacuum inside the apartment.
Mr. Saleh died from multiple stab wounds to his neck and torso, the New York City medical examiner’s office determined on Thursday.
Initially, a law enforcement official had described the killing as a “hit” and said it looked “like a professional job.” But now some investigators theorize that the killer may have tried to make the grisly murder look like a professional assassination to give the appearance that it might be linked to an international business deal gone sour. Mr. Saleh was involved with companies in Nigeria, Colombia and Bangladesh.
But what one investigator characterized as “several rookie mistakes” — including buying the Taser online with his own credit card and signing for the package when it arrived in June — quickly led the police to Mr. Haspil, two of the officials said.
Detectives investigating the murder believe the killer’s work dismembering the body was interrupted when Mr. Saleh’s cousin buzzed from the building’s lobby, the officials said, prompting him to flee through the apartment’s back door and into a stairwell before the cousin arrived. Officials had said earlier that Mr. Saleh was discovered by his sister, not his cousin.
Mr. Saleh’s family said in a statement on Wednesday that the gruesome killing was so shocking it was unfathomable.
“Fahim is more than what you are reading,” the family said. “He is so much more. His brilliant and innovative mind took everyone who was a part of his world on a journey and he made sure never to leave anyone behind.”
Mr. Saleh was born in Saudi Arabia to Bangladeshi parents who eventually settled near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a small city on the Hudson River.
After graduating from Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., in 2009, he built an app called PrankDial that allowed users to send prerecorded prank calls. Mr. Saleh said he eventually built PrankDial into a $10 million business.
Mr. Saleh went on to found Pathao, a motorcycle ride-sharing start-up in Bangladesh. He left that company in 2018 to begin a similar venture in Nigeria, an app known as Gokada.
At the time of his death, Mr. Saleh was the chief executive of Gokada and oversaw a shift in its business during a turbulent time. In February, Nigerian officials began enforcing a ban on motorcycle taxis in major commercial and residential parts of the country’s largest city, Lagos.
Gokada was forced to halt its ride-hailing business and laid workers off, but Mr. Saleh pivoted the company to focus on food and parcel delivery and business logistics.
“Fahim’s passion for Nigeria and its youth was immeasurable,” Gokada said in a statement. “He believed young Nigerians were extremely bright and talented individuals who would flourish if just given the right opportunity.”
Mr. Saleh was also the founding partner in a Manhattan-based venture capital fund, Adventure Capital, that invested in similar transit start-ups in Colombia and Bangladesh.
Nicole Hong contributed reporting.