By Olivia Scheck and Ben Fractenberg
MANHATTAN — Police are questioning a prime suspect in connection with the Upper East Side groping spree that claimed at least ten victims, NYPD offficials confirmed Tuesday.
The department received a tip from an Upper East Side building superintendent who said he recognized the man in photos circulated by police as someone who worked at a café in his building, police sources told DNAinfo.
Officers then picked the 18-year-old suspect up at his home in Corona, Queens on Tuesday morning and brought him in for witness identification line-ups, sources said. Police are checking to see if there have been similar incidents on the subway lines he rides and in his neighborhood of Corona.
Though police have not yet identified the suspect, mulitple reports named him as Jose Alfredo Perez Hernandez.
Workers at Antonucci, an Italian restaurant at 170 East 81st St., near Third Avenue, said that Hernandez was a dishwasher there until two or three weeks ago — which was around the time police started circulating the surveillance video images.
A hostess, who declined to give her name, told DNAinfo she didn't know the reason he stopped working at the restuarant and was in disbelief about the groping allegations. If he had done anything like that with the waitresses, "We wouldn't have stood for it," she said.
A pint-sized groper, who stands between 4-foot-11 and 5-foot-3, has been tormenting women on the Upper East Side since May, grabbing their breasts, buttocks and crotches mostly inside subway stations, according to police.
Hernandez reportedly stands 5-foot-2.
“He was a very sweet kid," the restaurant's owner, Francesco Antonucci, told the New York Times. "He was like the mascot of the staff. He was the youngest, littlest.”
Hernandez worked in his cafe for six months before quitting, Antonucci told the paper.
Although he and his employees had recognized him in televsion broadcasts of the police's surveillance footage, Antonucci did not immediately call the police because he thought he had little information to share, he told the Times.
“We didn’t have his phone number, his address — we didn’t feel we had enough information,” Antonucci told the paper, adding that other workers said that Hernandez had left New York.
He aslo doubted the diswasher, who he called "a calm, little guy," was responsible for the spree of sexual assaults.
Kitchen worker Diego Sanchez told the Daily News, "Last Sunday he told me he was looking for a lawyer. He was worried since the first pictures showed up in the streets."
Another co-worker, who declined to give his name, told the paper that Hernandez couldn't be responsible for the sexual assaults because they were at a bar together when the last reported attack occurred.
"He was in Queens with me," the man said. "He would go to bars and he was respectful."
In at least one incident, the groper attempted to rape his victim, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in press conference earlier this month.
Detectives suspected that the groper might work in a kitchen because of the odd hours that the attacks occurred, Kelly also noted.
"I am glad that the NYPD appears to have caught the groper," City Councilman Jessica Lappin said in a statement. "Let’s hope this pint-sized pervert is off the streets for good."