Crime Blotter

There have been a great many questions about how New York City’s smokers will cope with the new $7-a-pack price tag for cigarettes. Will they resort to the patch, quit the habit altogether, or travel to such distant lands as New Jersey or Indian reservations to get their fix? An unkown perp demonstrated on July 25 that there is one more alternative which has not been so liberally discussed: The tax can also be handily avoided if you choose to steal your cigarette supply.

Around 3:05 a.m., the suspect visited the Gristede’s at 1150 Madison Avenue, which was closed for the night. Removing the supermarket’s cylinder lock from the front door, he then broke the glass cabinet where the cigarettes are kept and removed approximately 10 cartons valued at $750. He apparently had no interest in anything besides the tobacco, ignoring the rest of the store’s merchandise and even passing over the cash registers.

After helping himself, the perp fled the scene-possibly (according to eyewitness accounts) in a red S.U.V. with a word emblazoned on its side that will undoubtedly seem apropos to all who continue to defy the Surgeon General’s warning, believing that smoking is a sublime experience and that doing it in an unfettered fashion is a God-given right. The word on the side of the van was “Liberty.”

Alerting All Plumbers!

A rash of auto thefts is afoot in the 19th Precinct. But the vehicles being stolen aren’t such Upper East Side signature cars as the Mercedes, BMW or Range Rover. Instead, the perps are stealing plumbing-supply trucks. Since July 2, a total of seven-all Ford vans and trucks-have been hijacked.

The first theft to be reported was that of a 1988 vehicle with the words “D.G. Michael” written in blue lettering on its side. It was removed from in front of 212 East 63rd Street. The next incident occurred six days later, when perps stole a van belonging to Satellite Plumbing that had been parked in front of 201 East 62nd Street-one block further south than the first incident. The truck was later recovered in Brooklyn’s 79th Precinct.

Indeed, all of the incidents happened in the East 60’s except one, which occurred on Madison Avenue and 74th Street on July 15. On that date, as well as on July 10, the thieves were especially busy, stealing two vans per day.

The most recent heist occurred on July 19, when a 2002 Ford Econoline van with the words “Ideal Plumbing” scrawled on its side was taken from 69th Street and Lexington Avenue. It was later recovered in the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

In one of these incidents, an eyewitness told the cops that he saw a man enter the vehicle and drive off westbound on East 69th Street. In the case of the Ideal Plumbing van stolen on July 19, the police suspect that the abandoned van was washed before the crooks ditched it-apparently less a gesture of courtesy than an attempt to eliminate fingerprints.

The police believe that the thieves are targeting the plumbing industry for the tools of its trade, especially pipes, which the vans are often transporting. All of the vehicles had been stripped of their equipment by the time they were recovered. “Have you seen the price of copper lately?” one cop asked.

Beer on the House

Frequently, before holding up a deli, a perp will approach the counter with some nominal purchase in hand. They’re hoping to fool store workers into thinking they’re legitimate customers when, in reality, they’re casing the joint before carrying out the robbery.

However, the merchandise that one boisterous thief brought up to the counter of a store at 1370 First Avenue on July 22 was not simply an aid for carrying off the heist-it was the raison d’être for the crime itself. Though the item in question was nothing more than a bottle of beer, it should be noted that it was a bottle of premium imported beer.

At 7:15, the perp walked up to the deli counter with a 12-ounce bottle of Heineken and requested the cashier to open it for him. The store employee asked him to pay for it first. The suggestion apparently rubbed the customer the wrong way: He produced a heavy swing chain and hit the counter with it, causing damage to the counter and making the employee fear for his life, the employee later told police. “That’s for the beer,” the perp announced.

A witness, having been informed by the cashier of what had transpired, got in his car and followed the suspect to 73rd Street and Second Avenue, where he spotted some cops and pointed out the beer thief. The officers placed the suspect, a 26-year-old East 22nd Street resident, under arrest for robbery.

Very Distant Relative

An 88-year-old East 64th Street resident received a call at 11:30 a.m. on July 22 from a young man who, according to the police report she later filed, said he was her “grandson-in-law.” He told her that he needed $3,000 in a hurry. The good woman said she’d go to the bank and get him the money. Without haste, she made good on her word.

However, when it came time to pick up the cash, the person who showed up wasn’t her relative, but a stranger. He explained that her grandson-in-law couldn’t make it and that he’d been sent in his place. So the octogenarian, taking him at his word, handed over the money, after which the man departed.

When the lady later asked her grandson-in-law whether he’d received the money, he told her that he’d never called her to ask for any and had no idea who the guy was.

Ralph Gardner Jr. can be reached at rgard135@aol.com.

Crime Blotter