Two thieves presenting themselves as police officers approach the door to an establishment holding valuables and, using a ruse, convince the man behind the counter to let down his defenses. They order him to step out from behind the counter. Just as he realizes that the men aren't really the police, they drop their official demeanor: “This is a stickup, motherf--ker!” they say, then bind the shocked man and make off with a haul of valuables.
Sound vaguely familiar?
It might ring a bell, and not just because of the case with which I am involved.
I've spoken to more than my share of thieves over the past 15 years, and the ploy isn't all that uncommon. They'll tell you that using a ruse to make one's way past perimeter security for a heist is easier than trying to beat an elaborate alarm system. Moreover, co-opting the authority of a police officer puts the innocent victim back on his heels, and more willing to acquiesce to unusual demands. Done correctly, it's a recipe for a major score. But if you fail, you face a bevy of weighty charges, as Ismael Igartua and Jose Rodriguez are learning the hard way.
The aforementioned heist took place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on June 6, 2020. The two thieves, one sporting a jacket that appeared to have an NYPD insignia and the other flashing a detective's badge, told the owner of Samaa K Jewelry that they were there to examine his gun permit. In addition to police paraphernalia, the crooked duo wore masks and gloves--two typical tools of the common thief now rendered required day-wear by the COVID-19 pandemic. So the owner was willing to oblige.
Stephen Rex Brown of the New York Daily News reported that the men explained firearms "were at heightened risk of being stolen due to looting around the city during protests over the police killing of George Floyd. The store owner unloaded his .38 revolver and handed it over to the bandits. After acting as if they were looking up gun registration info, the robbers reloaded the gun and asked the store owner to step out from behind the counter, according to a complaint."
Fortunately, an alert--and authentic--NYPD officer spotted the pair in their very suspect police gear and apprehended them. Messrs. Igartua and Rodriguez, both 59, were caught with $165,000 in jewels and firearms. The pair are being charged by federal prosecutors for their crimes. They face stiff sentences if convicted. And they should; they not only victimized an innocent businessman, but the took advantage of the two concurrent traumas that are causing so much stress to the people of New York City and the nation as a whole to do so.
The U.S. Department of Justice stated that the men are each charged with one count of robbery conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of robbery, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of brandishing a firearm, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison