Two weeks after eight Torahs were stolen from the ark of the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, police arrested the custodian and an accomplice and recovered the Torahs intact, as well their silver adornments.
“We will make every effort to have the Torahs returned before the High Holy Days,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “We are having them photographed and identified and offering the defense counsel or their investigators an opportunity to examine them.”
Herman Saltzman, chairman of the congregation’s Pews and Memorial Committee, said everyone knew the theft had to be an inside job because there had not been a break-in when the theft was discovered at the start of the Torah service on Aug. 9.
The door to the main sanctuary was locked, the ark alarm was on and the two padlocks on the iron gate in front of the ark had not been tampered with. In addition, the keys to the locks were in their rightful place in the office.
“It had to be someone with access to the keys,” Saltzman said. “That meant [suspicion focused on] the three or four custodians and the office staff.”
The arrested custodian, 23-year-old Eric Giraldo of Kew Gardens, Queens, had worked for the 300-family congregation for about four years, Saltzman said. Brown said it is believed that Giraldo took the Torahs and convinced a friend, Alan Lozano, 28, also of Kew Gardens, to store them in his closet until he could sell them.
All of the Torahs were marked and registered to hamper their resale, but Brown said he believes Giraldo was more interested in selling the silver. “But he didn’t have the ability to sell it quickly, so he stored it,” he said.
“The 107 Precinct detectives and our office were very much on top of this and everyone recognized the fact that this had to be an inside job,” Brown sad. “And so the custodian was confronted and the next thing you know he gives up when it is pointed out that he is one of the few who had access. Cops went to his friend’s house and were able to recover them in the closet.”
Saltzman said the congregation is “joyful” that the theft has been solved and the Torahs recovered.
Both Giraldo and Lozano were arrested and charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property valued in excess of $100,000. Bail was set at $25,000 for Giraldo and $10,000 for Lozano. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.