HELL'S KITCHEN — A pair of quick-thinking waitresses caught a serial thief in the act — and cornered him until police arrived to arrest him, the servers and the NYPD said.
Police had looked for Shaun Riley, 47, for months before he turned up at Pigalle on Eighth Avenue on the evening of June 8, carrying a bag of McDonald's food and asking to be seated at a table near an 81-year-old woman dining with her husband, police and staff said.
From the moment Riley walked in, waitress Mariatou Jenkins kept her eye on him, suspicious that he had asked for only a glass of water and claimed to be waiting for a friend, she said.
"He seemed annoyed and disrespectful, so I stood by the water station, watching him," said Jenkins, a Bronx resident in her 30s who has worked at the restaurant for nearly a decade. "If he wasn't rude, I wouldn't catch him."
As Jenkins watched, Riley stealthily reached behind his chair and into a purse the elderly woman had set on the ground beside her chair, police said. He then pulled out her wallet, all without even turning around, Jenkins and police said.
He might have thought for an instant that he'd gotten away with it, but then Jenkins raced over.
"I jumped on him, I screamed, 'Put it back,'" Jenkins recalled. "He threw the wallet on the floor and started to 'help' the lady look for the wallet. It was incredible."
Riley tried to leave, but Jenkins wouldn't have it, police and restaurant staff said.
Jenkins pushed Riley back into his chair and called over her friend and fellow waitress Octavia Dinea — who immediately recognized Riley as a man who had swiped cash from a table she was serving in April 2013, she said.
"He threatened to punch her," said Jenkins, who is known by patrons as Ceesay. "I said, 'If you get up, I'm going to hit you in the head with a candle.' I don't know where I got the strength."
Restaurant staff brought Riley to Pigalle's lounge, where they held him until officers from the Midtown North Precinct arrived to arrest him.
Riley had dozens of prior arrests dating back to 1983 and police believe he was involved in seven other thefts in the area over the past year in which items were taken from purses or bags, the NYPD said.
He was charged with two counts of grand larceny, one for the June 8 incident and another for a previous theft, police said.
Riley was also charged with criminal possession of stolen property, after staff at the restaurant found four stolen credit cards inside Riley's McDonald's bag, which they turned over to police, the NYPD said.
He is being held on $50,000 bail, records show.
Riley's lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Lucille Thomas, Pigalle's general manager, said she was glad her staff helped catch a thief.
"I'm very proud of them — this is what we want our employees to do," she said. "The whole restaurant was excited."
Jenkins, who is originally from Gambia, said she was raised with a strong moral compass and knew to call out people when they did something wrong.
"Even if he had a weapon, I don't care," she said. "I'm not scared. I'd rather die with my dignity doing the right thing than be a coward. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."