Staten Island Relief Centers Plagued by Looters, Organizers Say

By Nicholas Rizzi on January 30, 2013 9:09am 

STATEN ISLAND — Relief camps and centers set up to help victims of Superstorm Sandy have had to deal with looters snatching supplies, organizers said.

On Saturday, two Staten Island men were arrested and charged with carrying off crates of bottled water from a staging area used for relief efforts by the Christian Pentecostal Church, police said.

But organizers said similar incidents have been happening around the borough since the storm hit Oct. 29.

Pastor John Rocco Carlo, of The Christian Pentecostal Church on Richmond Road, said thieves have hit the staging area set up in the parking lot six or seven times since November, grabbing anything that could be resold.

“This is not just a couple of guys that needed some food," he said. "They weren't taking food. They were taking other, non-perishable, things. This is about people who want to sell stuff.”

He said members of his church have chased looters from their grounds several times, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“They're audacious,” he said. “It’s like a roach. You chase it and it comes back later.”

Police arrested Edwin Rios, 48, of Arden Heights, and William Banks, 43, of St. George, for allegedly stealing 35 cases of water from the church, but Carlo said he’s not sure they were the only ones taking from the church.

Carlo, a retired NYPD captain with 28 years on the job, said that every time he witnessed a theft it appeared to be a different looter. He said he suspects it's not a string of unrelated incidents, but possibly an organized gang of thieves.

“This is not just the same two guys,” he said. “This is just a group or a gang, not only here, but probably going to different places.”

Carlo said the looters were smart and organized, and parked a van with blacked-out windows on a side street near the church for an easier getaway.

"That's why I'm thinking it's a gang," he said. "They were smart. They weren't kids."

The Grasmere church isn’t the only relief center in the borough that’s complained of looters stealing supplies.

Organizers at the Cedar Grove Community Hub said that since they set up, supplies have been stolen.

“That’s been going on since the get-go,” said hub organizer Donna Graziano.

The thieves have swiped virtually any supply they can grab from her tent camp — not just food and water, Graziano said.

“Whatever they can," she said. “They sell sheets. It makes no sense.”

At the Occupy Sandy Center on Olympia Boulevard, coordinators said that because they are indoors at St. Mary Margaret Church, they have not had to deal with looting.

However, Goldi Guerra, a coordinator at the Midland Beach site, said that sometimes people visit the free store daily to refill on the same supplies.

“I feel like a lot of our stuff has made its way into convenience stores,” he said. “I see a lot of people come in and fill up minivans and leave. It’s like a daily occurrence.”

Neighborhoods in Staten Island were decimated after the storm. Of 43 deaths attributed to the storm in New York City, 23 were on Staten Island.

However, in the days immediately following the storm, looters began taking advantage of damaged homes and the loss of power.

By Nov. 2, 13 people had been arrested in Staten Island in connection to looting, according to the Richmond County District Attorneys Office.

An NYPD spokesman said they had not received reports of looting.

Carlo said the looters are tarnishing the good work volunteers have done around the borough.

“We've seen the best in people, we've seen a lot of nice people,” he said.

“It’s a shame you have this small percentage of creeps that have stained it.”

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