Crime Blotter

Con Artists Caught Red-Handed;

Arrest Causes ‘Allergic Reaction’

In much the same way that the bird-watchers in Central Park get palpitations at the sight of a Connecticut warbler or a Louisiana waterthrush, so the cops have trouble containing their excitement when they happen upon a con game in progress, as the 19th Precinct’s grand-larceny unit did on May 17.

It was around 10:30 a.m., and the unit was “driving around looking for bad guys,” as its supervisor, Sergeant Benny Carbone, put it. The team pulled over to the curb so that one of its members, plainclothes officer Neil Hicks, could go perp-hunting on foot. He spotted a suspicious-looking couple standing in front of a bank at 79th Street and Third Avenue.

The cop watched as a man in his 60’s and a woman in her 50’s (rather old for crooks-though being con artists, age works to their advantage) followed a woman, whom the police described as middle-aged and Chinese, into the bank.

After watching the woman make a large deposit and then walk out, the male approached her and struck up a conversation. His accomplice, pretending to be a passer-by, joined them and, shortly thereafter, all three retired to a Starbucks at 82nd Street and Second Avenue.

Officer Hicks followed them into the coffee shop-whether or not he ordered a latte, and whether or not the expense would have been covered by the NYPD, is not known-and was able to overhear their conversation, thus confirming his suspicions.

“Neil comes back outside and radios me,” said Sgt. Carbone. Officer Hicks reported, “They’re cutting the deal; they’re trying to persuade her to go for the deal.” At that point, the female member of the team departed. The sergeant suspects she got spooked, perhaps realizing she’d seen Officer Hicks one too many times over the previous few minutes.

“Neil grabs her,” Sgt. Carbone explained. “We grab the male. The Chinese woman said, ‘Yeah, they’re trying to con me, but I caught on at the end.'”

The cops also recovered a bag containing the tools of the con artists’ trade: forged stock certificates, bank receipts and a fake money roll. The con woman suffered an “allergic reaction” to her arrest and was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for treatment. “All of a sudden she had a heart condition and started throwing up because she was caught red-handed,” Sgt. Carbone said, not sounding overly sympathetic.

Her co-worker turned out to be more cooperative, according to the police, even revealing that the couple had dropped off a second team of con artists before they went to work themselves. “They meet later and split the money they made that day,” Sgt. Carbone explained. The other team, which wasn’t operating in the 19th Precinct, was not pursued or arrested.

Subsequent investigation revealed that this wasn’t the first arrest for either the man or the woman now being held in the grand-larceny unit’s custody. “The female perp had a lot of grand-larceny con-game collars,” Sgt. Carbone said. “And the male had a forgery arrest.”

Several days after the arrest, he still sounded jubilant. “This is an unbelievable collar, because it’s observation,” Sgt. Carbone explained. “You’ve got to get close to these people; you never get close to these people.”

Missing Mapplethorpe

Say what you will about the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is being inaccessible, as an April 27 incident proved. The victim, an East 76th Street resident, reported to the police that a $20,000 Mapplethorpe photo was stolen by his movers, or perhaps by someone else, while he was relocating.

The photo’s owner, a 49-year-old gentleman, told the cops that he’d seen the picture go into the moving truck around 8:30 in the morning, but that he never saw it come out. By the time the vehicle reached its 76th Street destination and he realized his property was missing, his movers had already departed.

Bank Robber Busted

The secret to arresting bank robbers-at least one of the secrets-is showing up while their crime is still in progress. Or, short of that, showing up as quickly as possible thereafter, as the cops did after a bank holdup on May 10.

At 7:19 p.m., a short, 36-year-old man wearing glasses and a hat and carrying a box visited the Commerce Bank at 1091 Third Avenue. Instead of inquiring about interest rates, however, he passed a note to a teller “demanding money or people will die,” the police later reported.

The note apparently did the trick: A teller gave him money, and the crook departed. But the police responded to the scene so swiftly that they discovered a fellow fitting the bank robber’s description just a block away on Second Avenue, between 63rd and 64th streets. A show-up (where the cops bring the victim to wherever the perp is being held) was conducted for the teller, who positively identified him as her assailant.

The perp’s car was also found in the vicinity, as was the box he was carrying. It contained the money he’d just stolen, which was now coated with exploded red dye. (Banks have funny money available for just such occasions, to make it easier for investigators to track down both the thieves and the currency.) The suspect, a Bronx resident, was charged with robbery.

Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at Crime Blotter