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Mugging Suspect Who Targeted Asians Wanted Cash for Drugs, Sources Say

By  Jeff Mays and Murray Weiss | January 29, 2013 1:07pm | Updated on January 29, 2013 3:36pm

HARLEM — Cops have arrested a suspect in the beatings and robberies of eight people of Asian descent in East Harlem — and sources said he wanted the cash to buy drugs.

Jason Commisso, 34, was captured Monday about 11 p.m. on a southbound bus traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike in Gloucester County, according to Lt. Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police.

Police said Commisso is suspected in eight violent robberies in which he followed people of Asian descent into elevators and punched and beat them, mostly in the face, before robbing them of their purses, wallets or electronics.

He allegedly mugged the victims because he needed money to buy crack, sources said.

New Jersey troopers, working with the NYPD, spotted the bus carrying Commisso Monday night near exit 2 on the turnpike, near Moorestown, Jones said. They pulled the bus over and found Commisso sleeping in the back, and they arrested him without incident, sources said.

He is being held at the state police barracks in Moorestown and has been charged as a fugitive from justice, Jones and sources said. Commisso is being held without bail pending extradition.

"We can breathe easier now," said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has worked to make the community aware of the attacks. "These brutal robberies have shaken all of us in the community."

In the latest attack on Saturday, just before a rally about the incidents, a 57-year-old Asian man suffered a broken nose after he was followed into the elevator of his apartment building on East 97th Street and beaten and robbed.

In other incidents, a 64-year-old man's nose was broken on Monday, Jan. 21 before the mugger made off with his wallet, police said.

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the alleged mugger struck twice, robbing a 46-year-old man after punching him in the face and striking a 62-year-old man in the face before stealing his cell phone and wallet in an elevator.

On Thursday, the mugger repeatedly punched a 47-year-old woman before fleeing with her purse, cops said.

Her stolen credit card was used at a McDonald's at 1872 Third Ave. about 40 minutes later, according to police who released a video.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly called the attacks "vicious" and cited Commisso's long arrest record. Police flooded the zone with more cops, some of whom spoke Cantonese and Mandarin.

The attacks come as the Asian population in East Harlem is on the rise, increasing by almost 4,000 people since the 2000 Census.

Kelly said it wasn't clear if the attacks qualified as a hate crime but the Hate Crimes Unit is helping to investigate the case.

Mark-Viverito called on the Manhattan district attorney's office to prosecute the case to the "fullest extent of the law in order to send a message that these acts of violence will not be tolerated."