Members of the 19th Precinct’s grand-larceny unit were trolling East 86th Street in search of action on Feb. 13 when they spotted a security guard from Circuit City running down the block behind a Ford Expedition and frantically trying to write down its license number. The electronics store, a favorite place for those who commit grand larcenies, was well known to the cops.
“It was obvious something had just gone down at Circuit City,” said Police Officer Sal Catapano, “so I put [the guard] in the car and we follow the Expedition. We hit the siren.”
Respect for the law isn’t what it once was. Rather than pull over, the driver of the vehicle, who was heading west on 86th Street toward Third Avenue, crossed the double yellow line into oncoming eastbound traffic before turning right on Third Avenue and cruising through a red light.
“While he’s doing that, he’s changing from lane to lane,” Officer Catapano said. “Obviously, we’re hitting the siren and lights and he’s trying to get away from us.”
If this were a movie, the chase would undoubtedly have continued indefinitely, wending its way through some of the city’s more picturesque neighborhoods, scattering pedestrians and motorists with happy abandon before the perp’s vehicle exploded in a cinematic fireball.
Unfortunately, this is New York, where it’s hard to exceed five miles per hour (gridlock being what it is), so the perp decided to pick up some time by making a right on 93rd Street, where he fared even worse. His vehicle came to a complete and utter stop.
“He’s stuck in traffic,” the cop said, “so we order him through the P.A. to put his hands up so we can see him.” Uncharacteristically, at that point the crook complied.
Once the frisking and handcuffing formalities were complete, the alleged thief volunteered his version of events. According to police reports and Officer Catapano, he explained that he’d purchased, not stolen, several items at the store in question, but had run into some sort of misunderstanding with the staff over his credit rating. The fault, he continued, lay not with him but with Circuit City for not informing him earlier that his transaction was problematic. Rather than argue the finer points of compound interest, he decided to leave the scene.
“He’s trying to play it off as he’s actually trying to buy the stuff,” said Officer Catapano, who added that, to prove his credit-worthiness and all around wholesomeness (the car chase notwithstanding), the thief immediately provided the cops with his name.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t his real name, but that of a guy whose wallet he’d allegedly stolen on Feb. 8 and whose credit cards and driver’s license he was using as his own.
The officers took the suspect back to the station house and called the wallet’s rightful owner, who told them how it had come to be in the suspect’s possession. The victim, an employee of Chase Manhattan, said he’d just emerged from Penn Station when he made the mistake of asking a man for directions, specifically whether he knew which subway to take to Greenwich Village.
“So the perpetrator gave him directions and follows him,” Officer Catapano alleged. “[The victim] thinks maybe he’s going in the same direction. When he takes out his wallet to pay for a token-there was a little confusion, he didn’t know whether he was bumped-the wallet falls, the perp picks it up and runs. He chases after him, he loses him. At that point, he calls his wife and cancels all his credit cards.”
But, apparently, not fast enough. The next day, Feb. 9, the wallet thief went to Hertz and rented himself a new set of wheels-yes, a Ford Expedition, the suspect’s getaway vehicle. When he visited Circuit City a few days later, his ambition wasn’t just to load up on merchandise but to establish a line of credit, police said.
“He attempts to open up a Circuit City charge,” Officer Catapano said. “It was amazing. He actually looked like the man. He resembled the person he pickpocketed.”
While applying for a Circuit City card, he also did some shopping, according to Officer Catapano. “He purchases a TV, a $1,500 gift certificate, a CD and various other items-over three grand worth of stuff,” said the officer.
Everything seemed to be proceeding smoothly-an employee was about to load the thief’s car with the loot-when a problem arose. “When the security guard and the sales clerk take another look at his license and realize it’s not him, he denies buying anything,” Officer Catapano said. “‘I didn’t buy a TV’-which he just did. So he runs out of the store and into the car. That’s when we come into the picture and he takes off.”
The alleged thief, a 33-year-old resident of 890 Columbus Avenue-make that “supposedly” a resident of that address, cautioned Officer Catapano-was charged with forgery, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.