Two indicted in Ozone Pk. Jewish cemetery vandalism

By John Tozzi

The pair is accused of causing more than $2,000 in damage in connection with spray-painting tag names on a grave site, other cemetery property and a post office wall between August 2004 and February 2005, the DA's office said.Rafael Santiago, an 18-year-old Woodhaven resident, was indicted Jan. 4 in connection with allegedly painting the tag name “Scaf” on a mausoleum in Bayside Cemetery and a wall of the caretaker's building in the adjoining Acacia Cemetery in Ozone Park, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on three counts of criminal mischief and three counts of making graffiti.The DA also charged Michael Scotti, 25 of Woodhaven, with one count of criminal mischief and one count of making graffiti, on allegations that he and Santiago sprayed their tag names on a wall of the Richmond Hill Post Office at 122-01 Jamaica Ave., between November 2004 and February 2005. Scotti, who allegedly used the tag name “Pase,” faces up to four years in prison if convicted.Santiago's attorney said his client pleaded not guilty and questioned whether a police search of his home was properly conducted.”They entered into his home to use the computer, apparently pursuant to a search warrant, but I haven't received a copy of the search warrant,” Richard Gutierrez said in a phone interview. “We are preparing to litigate the issues concerning the search that was conducted in his home.”Santiago was released on his own recognizance and ordered to return to court Feb. 28, the DA's office said. Scotti posted $5,000 bail and was due back in court this week. Scotti's attorney could not be reached for comment.The case is being prosecuted by the DA's gang violence and hate crimes bureau. A spokeswoman for the DA's office said prosecutors were still investigating whether the graffiti was gang-related or constituted a hate crime.The Bayside and Acacia cemeteries are adjacent but run by separate Jewish congregations. Along with a third cemetery, Mokom Sholom, they are bounded by 80th Street to the west, Liberty Avenue to the north, 84th Street to the east and Pitkin Avenue to the south.”The desecration of sacred ground is a particularly serious crime, one that is an insult to the people buried there and our entire community,” Brown said in a statement.The Jan. 11 announcement came amid calls from city politicians for a stricter crackdown on graffiti and just a week after the 30-count indictment of a Manhattan man, allegedly the graffiti tagger known as “Kiko,” who was charged with vandalizing property in Astoria and Long Island City.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.

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