A man who once served as a press secretary to Mayor Giuliani was strangled to death in his Greenwich Village home Monday night as an apparent tryst turned fatal, police said.
The body of Martín Barreto, 49, was found lying naked on the bed of his eighth floor apartment in the Albert building at 23 E. 10th St., near University Place. He died of "asphyxia due to compression of the neck" and his death has been ruled a homicide, the medical examiner's office said yesterday.
No arrests have been made. Police were looking for two people who they believe entered his apartment Monday evening based on interviews with a doorman at the building, sources said. There were no signs of a break-in, and the door was locked when police entered the home. An open condom wrapper and lubricant were found near the body, the sources said.
Friends and former colleagues characterized the murder as a shocking end for a man described as generous and caring who was not known to go looking for trouble. Barreto served as an assistant press secretary and the point person for Hispanic affairs at City Hall between 1994 and 1996 and then as the spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs through 1997.
He left the Giuliani administration to oversee public relations and media efforts for IBM in Latin America and later founded his own communications firm, Barreto and Brightwell Associates. The co-founder and executive vice president of the company, Roxanna Brightwell, did not return calls yesterday.
"We're all so shocked," a former communications director for Mr. Giuliani, Christyne Nicholas, said. "He was someone that really loved life and lived it to the fullest."
Ms. Nicholas, who is now the president of NYC & Company, said Barreto was "very enthusiastic and very passionate," and that even after leaving City Hall he often dropped by or offered help on issues such as immigration. She said Barreto was known for always being impeccably dressed, to the point where colleagues joked to him, "No one's going to believe you're on city salary."
A spokeswoman for Mr. Giuliani, Sunny Mindel, said the former mayor "extends his heartfelt sympathies to Martín's family and friends during this very difficult time."
Police responded to the scene at 9:30 p.m. Monday, and Barreto was pronounced dead at the apartment. A female friend who lives in the Albert told police she and Barreto planned to meet for a drink in the evening, sources said. When he didn't show up and failed to respond to repeated text messages, she returned and knocked several times on his door, which was locked. She then notified the doorman and called the police, the sources said.
Barreto lived with relatives who were traveling in Mexico, the police said. A pre-war building at the corner of East 10th Street and University Place, the Albert was once the home of the writer Thomas Wolfe, and residents said F. Scott Fitzgerald also lived there.
The building is equipped with several surveillance cameras, and residents said the tapes were given to police.
"It had to be somebody who knew him," a longtime resident, Vickery Eckhoft, said, citing the security of the building. Other residents offered a similar speculation.
Friends said they were surprised by the apparent circumstances of Barreto's death.
"It seems so out of character for him to get into that kind of situation," a public relations executive in Virginia who worked with Barreto when the two served on the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in the early 1990s, Carol Castaneda, said. Ms. Castaneda said she last spoke to Barreto a couple of years ago.
"He's a bit of a prude in some ways, so this is very shocking," she said, describing him as "a conservative kind of guy."
Another former colleague at the association, Zita Arocha, said Barreto was "a very passionate man" but that he had "an explosive personality at times." Ms. Arocha, now a journalism professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, served as the executive director of the Hispanic journalist association from 1994 to 1997. She described an incident in which she says Barreto began screaming at her in front of a group as they were planning an annual scholarship banquet at the Plaza Hotel. Ms. Arocha said they later made amends. While Barreto could be a "very nice and charming man," she said he was not the easiest person to get along with.
Ms. Nicholas and others said that although Barreto could be very passionate, they did not see the side of him that Ms. Arocha described.
Barreto began his career as a journalist for CBS News and later moved to the corporate communications division of WCBS Newsradio 88. He graduated from Brown University and earned a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, according to his company's Web site.