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Swastika Vandal Knew Neighbors Were Jewish 'Because of the Way They Spoke'

By Nicholas Rizzi | October 20, 2017 5:56pm | Updated on October 22, 2017 9:05pm
 James Rizzo, 37, of Rossville, was charged with a hate crime after he painted a giant swastika and Anti-Semitic slur on his neighbor's garage door, prosecutors said.
James Rizzo, 37, of Rossville, was charged with a hate crime after he painted a giant swastika and Anti-Semitic slur on his neighbor's garage door, prosecutors said.
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Staten Island Advance/Mira Wassef

STATEN ISLAND — The man who painted a giant swastika and an anti-Semitic slur on his neighbor's garage door said he knew his victims were Jewish "because of the way they spoke," prosecutors said at his arraignment Friday.

James Rizzo, 37, was charged with two counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime and aggravated harassment for the graffiti and fessed up to the crime to officers, according to his criminal complaint.

"I painted the swastika and the word 'k--e' on my neighbor's garage door," Rizzo told officers. "I knew my neighbors were Jewish because of the way they spoke."

DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

Rizzo, who remained mostly silent during the proceedings and was dressed in a dirt-stained hoodie, was held on $10,000 cash bail.

The son of the Jewish woman who lives in the home first found the graffiti covering the Wirt Avenue garage door at about 5 a.m. Tuesday and the family later called the police.

"This is terrible," the woman, Debra Calabrese, told DNAinfo New York prior to Rizzo's arrest. "Everybody is upset. I've never seen anything like this around here."

Rizzo, who lives several doors down from Calabrese, was caught on surveillance camera painting the graffiti and was arrested in front of his home on Thursday, authorities said.

Calabrese originally planned to leave the graffiti up so people don't "just forget about this," but the 123rd Precinct tweeted that a local group painted over it on Thursday.

Rizzo was previously arrested for attempted murder in 1997 after he beat and stabbed a man before being convicted of burglary in 1998, authorities said. He spent five years behind bars for that charge and was released in 2003.

He was most recently arrested in 2006 for drunk driving, police said.

Rizzo's lawyer said at his arraignment that he has mental health issues but refused a psychological examination. His mother refused to comment outside of court.

Rizzo was held on $10,000 bail.