RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — They allegedly wore masks and brandished handguns and knives.
On Monday, charges were levied in a string of violent armed robberies on Long Island. Homeowners and store owners said there is relief now that five people have been put behind bars.
District Attorney Thomas Spota said from December until their arrests on Feb. 29, the suspects sported semiautomatic handguns and wielded knives in the robberies of a pharmacy, a church, a jewelry store, a restaurant, two delicatessens and a convenience store.
1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera with District Attorney Thomas Spota
“Imagine putting a gun to your head,” bakery owner Chris Martin told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan, when asked about the fear he and members of his community experienced prior to the arrests.
For nearly three months residents and merchants were terrorized, Spota said. The accused thugs often struck in the evening, smashing security cameras and grabbing the discs — in an attempt to leave no evidence behind.
They moved fluidly through Bay Shore, Huntington Station, Brentwood and Central Islip, armed with guns, knives, and rope, wearing masks and curly black wigs. They allegedly tied up and pistol-whipped their victims. With guns to their victims’ heads, the roving band of thugs threatened to kill merchants if safes weren’t opened on the spot, said victim Duvilia Argueta of A & D Jewelers.
“Of yes, my god,” Argueta said when asked if she was threatened.
“It was escalating, the violence was clearly escalating,” Spota said.
In one case, Spota said the wife of a jewelry store owner was pistol-whipped and the suspects threatened to kill her husband and children if she didn’t turn over the keys to the safe.
Police said the suspects — identified as Mario Rodriguez-Chincilla, Wilmer Velasquez-Cruz, Carlos Velasquez, Edwin Acosta-Martinez and Jonathan Portillo — eventually made critical mistakes, like pawning $200,000 worth of stolen jewelry, bragging and leaving behind some surveillance video. They were soon being tailed by cops from one precinct to the next.
“The criminal intelligence division noticed a pattern,” Spota said.
On Monday, the suspects, who range in age from 16 to 27, faced a judge and pleaded their innocence, but were held on extremely high bail — or no bail at all. They were charged with multiple counts of armed robbery. Each robbery carries a 25-year prison sentence.
The youth pastor who was bound and gagged inside his own church said the community feels some relief.
“They point the gun at my face, tied me up and they took everything. As a youth pastor, the good thing is justice is done,” said the pastor, who asked not to be identified.
District Attorney Spota credited a new policy of precincts sharing intelligence for cracking the case.
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