Police: Bail reform, COVID19 lead to city burglary rash

Three burglaries this week are part of a dozen reported to city police this month, and five of the six men charged in the cases were immediately released as required under the new state bail laws, according to the department.

The Cortland County Sheriff’s Office also reported an arrest for a home burglary this month, while State Police arrested a couple for making a home out of another man’s empty house in Willet. In the State Police case, the man was also charged with threatening a police officer with a compound bow and remanded to the Cortland County Jail to await his court hearing. But both the woman in the Willet case and the man arrested by the Sheriff’s Office were released according to the new bail statutes enacted in January. 

For city police, the new bail laws, COVID-19 and unoccupied, but furnished, student housing has created a perfect storm of burglaries.

“We’re taking new burglary complaints almost every day,” said Lt. Michael Strangeway of the Cortland Police Department.

And while city officers made arrests in three cases, police believe the charged men are continuing to commit burglaries once they are released from custody on an appearance ticket for city court. 

“The evidence we have is they are actively engaging in break-ins,” Strangeway said.

When the Sheriff’s Office made an arrest Friday in their Taylor home burglary case, they arrested the same man the department charged on April 10 with passing fake $100 bills and possessing narcotics. He was initially remanded to Cortland County Jail on $3 bail and then released, according to County records.

“A combination of factors seems to have led us to where we are now,” stated Strangeway in a press release this afternoon. “Student housing has been left partially vacant and businesses are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic..In addition, state-legislated bail reform measures currently mandate the release of defendants charged with offenses related to burglary second or third.”

The charge of second-degree burglary includes burglary of a dwelling and third degree burglary includes unlawfully entering any building for the purpose of committing a crime inside, according to the state penal law.

City police are asking residents to keep doors and windows locked and to regularly check on properties that are not occupied, including businesses closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you hear or see anything suspicious, call the police,” Strangeway stated. “A number of the reported break-ins are occurring in broad daylight.”

Students targeted

One of those broad daylight burglaries occurred about 10 a.m. April 19 at student housing at 51 Groton Ave., according to city police.

An alert officer dressed in plain clothes was in the area and noticed two men, carrying several backpacks, hurry into an apartment, according to the release. Police surrounded the home and contacted the tenant, who was not at home, Strangeway stated. The tenant gave the officers permission to enter and they discovered two city men — Todd M. Brady, 30, and Nicholas J. Baldassarre, 28 — hiding in the residence’s attic, he stated. Police also found their backpacks, laden with stolen items from the apartment house, the release notes. As the investigation continued, police discovered a third city man — Andrew J. Fiorentini, 37 — was also involved and arrested him, according to the department.

“All three men have lengthy criminal histories,” said Strangeway, “that include numerous arrests and/or convictions for burglary.”

According to The Cortland Voice archives, Brady and Fiorentini were arrested together for burglarizing student housing in June by city police. In October 2018 Fiorentini was also arrested for burglarizing a student’s home, while in June of that year he was arrested for possessing stolen property and squatting in student housing on Clayton Avenue.  Baldassare was arrested on burglary, criminal contempt and criminal obstruction of breathing in May of 2018 after he unlawfully entered an Elm Street residence of a woman with an order of protection against him and choked her, according to the archives.

Brady is also implicated in another burglary this week of student housing at 28 Owego Street, according to today’s news release. That residence was burglarized twice this week, Strangeway stated.

On Saturday, tenants called police after they discovered someone had been in their apartment while they were away, he said. Todd Brady’s cell phone was found in their apartment and the tenants do not know Brady, Strangeway said. The phone was discovered six days after Brady was released from custody, according to the release.

Just three days later, police were again called to the residence after the students returned home to find a stranger inside, Strangeway said. The residents discovered the man in the middle of the morning, call police for help at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, the release notes. Responding officers found Kyle J. Cobb, 34-year-old homeless man, hiding on the enclosed back porch of the residence, Strangeway stated. Cobb had stolen property from inside the home, the release noted.

Cobb was arrested and released the same day, in accordance with the bail reform laws.

Unguarded possessions

Thieves are being lured to student housing that was left furnished by students who left for Spring Break and then did not return due to the COVID19 pandemic.

“I think that all of the residential burglaries have been student housing,” Strangeway said. “It’s created a similar situation that we have over the Winter Break. Many of these students have returned and collected their possessions, but many others have not.”

In the summer, when students usually pack up their belongings before leaving, burglaries are not as much of an issue, he said. Instead, officers respond more often to cases of homeless individuals squatting in an unoccupied residence, but not stealing anything from it, Strangeway said.

“We’ve got kind of an unpredictable mix of students that aren’t here and students who are,” he said, urging student landlords to check on their properties regularly.

Closed businesses vulnerable

But student housing isn’t the only property type to suffer burglaries — closed businesses have reported break-ins as well.

Shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday, city officers were called to Wilbert Funeral Services at 11 Salisbury St. after several power tools and a vehicle were discovered stolen from the business, the release states. Surveillance cameras and other clues led police to 21 Cleveland St., the home of 25-year-old Skylar Kenyon, Strangeway stated. Officers found most of the funeral home’s stolen tools at the residence, but officers also discovered more stolen items from a different burglary that had not yet been reported, he said. Kenyon was arrested.

The additional stolen items, which included tools as well, were traced to a building at 138 Elm St. that is under renovation, Strangeway said. The building had been broken into and looted of tools and merchandise worth thousands of dollars, he said. A camera surveillance system was also taken in a likely attempt to hide the thieves’ identities, Strangeway said.

“Nicholas J. Baldassarre, 28, of 6 Elm St.,  Cortland is a person of interest relative to that crime,” Strangeway stated.

While police continue to investigate, Strangeway urged business owners to regularly check their workplaces.

 “If you have a business, even if its closed, check on your property anyway,” he said, adding that certain investigation techniques are time sensitive and cannot be utilized if the burglary goes unreported for days. “The sooner we can find out about it, the better.”

But even if arrest are made, the charged will likely be given an appearance ticket — at least until July.

Bail changes

As part of the April budget signed into law, an amendment to bail reform will allow judges to place cash bail on burglaries of a dwelling and other offenses barred from bail in January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Judges will also be able to consider a defendants legal history and status once again, according to the center.

The charges that are bail eligible again “… include second-degree burglary where an individual is charged with entering the living area of a home, certain sex trafficking offenses, and promoting an obscene sexual performance of a child,” according to the center. “They also include some crimes involving assault, including vehicular assault, and all charges alleged to have caused the death of a person.”

But these changes do not take effect until the summer.

“As of July, burglary second will again be a bail eligible offense,” Strangeway said. “But that’s not going to take effect until July. That’s three months.”

Charges

The charges levied against the accused are:

  • Second-degree burglary, grand larceny, and fourth-degree conspiracy, felonies, as well as misdemeanor petit larceny for Baldassarre, Brady and Fiorentini for the April 19 Groton Avenue burglary case
  • Second-degree burglary, a felony, and the misdemeanors petit larceny and possession of burglar’s tools for Kyle J. Cobb for the Tuesday burglary case on Owego Street
  • Fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a misdemeanor, for Skylar Kenyon for the funeral home and Elm Street burglary cases

All of the defendants were released on appearance tickets to appear at 9 a.m. on June 19 in City Court.