Friend: Strangled prostitute had VA clients

The best friend, who did not want to be identified because she fears for her safety, said she has been interviewed by state police numerous times. She said Rasa had told her she had prostitution clients working at Building 29 at the VA hospital.

Rasa's boyfriend, Claudio Cedillo, 44, of Garrison, said he dropped her off at the hospital last Tuesday night, though he was not aware she was a prostitute. She told him she was meeting a "friend."

They shared this information with state police, who have yet to make an arrest in the slaying.

"We're still working on the investigation," Senior Investigator Brian Hoff of the state police in Cortlandt said yesterday.

Rasa, a 39-year-old mother of three, had a warm personality and sense of humor that endeared her to many, but she also had a history of substance abuse that would often plague her, friends said.

"She'd keep you laughing and joking," said William Boone, site manager of the Jan Peek House, a homeless shelter in Peekskill where Rasa stayed for several months a few years ago. "She left here clean and sober, then she was out. But a few months later, you could tell she had slipped."

The best friend, a recovering drug addict who works in the peer volunteer division of a Peekskill health-care program specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, said she met Rasa about 20 years ago when both were drug addicts.

The woman, who said she became best friends with Rasa, said Rasa would stay with her several nights a week and with her boyfriend in Garrison at other times.

"She wasn't just a drug addict and prostitute - she was a human being," the friend said. "She was just a real, real good person."

The friend said she last saw Rasa on Wednesday when she came by to drop off a basket full of belongings.

"She said she would be back to straighten up her stuff later," the woman said. "I never saw her again."

On Friday, she tried to call Rasa several times but couldn't get through. The friend also said Rasa nearly always traveled with a crack pipe, stored inside a cigar tube, tied around her neck. But police told the friend that when they found Rasa's body, they did not find the crack pipe, she said.

Cedillo said he had been living with Rasa on and off for three years. Cedillo, who speaks little English and was interviewed by The Journal News in Spanish, said he would often drive Rasa to meet male friends in Peekskill and Montrose.

On March 24, after driving her to a friend's house in Peekskill, Cedillo drove her to the VA hospital to meet another male friend, he said.

He offered to wait, but she told him she would stay overnight, Cedillo said. He said he tried calling her later but could not get through.

Cedillo, who said he also has been interviewed by police, said he is in disbelief.

"She's dead. I don't know what to do," he said. "I can't accept it. I'm waiting for her call. I'm still waiting for her call."

A spokeswoman for the VA hospital declined to comment on allegations that an employee was involved with Rasa.

"The VA is fully cooperating with the New York state police investigation," said Nancy Winter, the spokeswoman. "The allegation has not been shared with the VA by New York state police."

As state police continued their investigation yesterday, New York State Crime Stoppers offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Rasa's death.

Anyone with information on Rasa's death can call Crime Stoppers at 866-313-8477. The program allows a caller to avoid giving his or her name, even after a conviction is made and the reward money paid.

The Clark Funeral Home in Yorktown is handling arrangements, which are private

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