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St. Mel's usher is shy hero

A second suspect in the brazen Christmas Day robbery at St. Mel's Roman Catholic Church located at 26-01 154th Street in Flushing, Dennis Almodovar, 24, was taken into custody on Wednesday, December 27.
He was arraigned Friday, December 29 in Queens Criminal Court on charges of third-degree burglary, third-degree grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.
The cash portion of the $20,000 to $30,000 heist, which came to just under $6,000 has been recovered. The checks are non-negotiable and can be replaced.
This second arrest seemed to support to the suspicions of parishioners that the robbery was an inside job, with the thieves having intimate knowledge about St. Mel's safe, layout and schedule. Almodovar, the second suspect, is a half-brother of Leny Cancel, a former custodian at the church.
This arrest follows the Tuesday, December 26 arrest of Daniel Morales, 26, of Brooklyn, who was also charged in relation to the offense. According to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Morales was arraigned on Wednesday in Criminal Court in Kew Gardens and is being held on $50,000 bail.
&#8220The crimes of which the two defendants are accused were both brazen and heartless. The victims in this case were not just St. Mel's and its parishioners who opened up their hearts and wallets during this holiday season but the countless needy families who were the intended beneficiaries of their generosity,” Brown said.
According to Brown, the stolen money was turned over to an assistant district attorney and a detective assigned to the 109th Precinct by the attorney representing Mr. Almodovar.
For most of the parishioners, the shock of the crime has been replaced by relief that the criminals have been caught, and gratitude for a church usher whose quick thinking lead to the arrests.
The usher, who requested anonymity, told The Queens Courier that he had stopped one of the robbers and asked him what he was doing. According to the usher, the robber had a bright smile, shook the usher's hand and wished him Merry Christmas. He admitted that he was almost taken in by him.
The usher then asked the man what he was doing and the suspect told the usher he was programming the elevator. &#8220We did get a new elevator installed a few weeks ago . . . it was plausible. And they knew Father's name and how to pronounce it, and that's a difficult name,” the usher said.
According DA Brown, the usher observed the pair leaving the walk-in safe area of St. Mel's with Morales allegedly carrying a grey lock box which contained the cash and checks.
Asked what made him suspicious the usher said, &#8220It was Christmas Day - who works then? I've spent my life in the high-tech field and I know it doesn't take 50 lbs. of equipment to program an elevator. Besides, I'm a New Yorker, we're hard to fool.”
The usher bristled at the suggestion that he is a hero, &#8220The people in Iraq are heroes,” he said modestly.
Continuing, the usher said he followed the thief, but stayed back a bit. He watched as the robber paused. Then a car pulled up and he observed Morales struggling towards car with the moneybox. It appeared to look like the kind of equipment box the usher had seen other workers use, which again reassured him.
In the end, he attributes his decision to take the Vermont license plate number of the white Lincoln Navigator, which the suspect loaded the moneybox into, to a lifetime in sales and marketing, learning to read people. &#8220I'm able to hear what the other person is saying.”
The most likely connection to the alleged robbery suspects is through two former custodians. One, Jose Marrero, lost his job after he shot himself in the leg in October. He is currently in jail on Riker's Island and whom, according to published reports, police now suspect was trying to cover up an earlier robbery.
His assistant Leny Cancel had apparently hoped to take over after Marrero's departure. However, he was let go a couple of weeks ago. Leny Cancel's half-brother is Almodovar, who was arrested in the current robbery.
Marianne Geraghty, a parishioner at St. Mel's, said it was particularly hurtful that the people who were welcomed into the parish community have turned around and done this. The shameless burglary did bring the community together. She attends mass at 7:30 a.m. every day and she and the others who do likewise take their religion seriously. &#8220They are praying for the robbers as they are grounded in their faith and think it's sad these robbers had to violate this holy place on the holiest of days,” she said.
The community has rallied around St. Mel's which was established in 1941, and several people came forward to replace the lost money which was subsequently returned.
Flushing Savings Bank donated $5,000, half for the church and half for the needy children who faced the loss of their Christmas donation. Henry Braum, senior vice president of Flushing Savings Bank, when asked if St. Mel's would have to give money back now the stolen money had been recovered said, &#8220Absolutely not.”
&#8220This outcome is not random,” Geraghty said. &#8220It came about through good police work, and the concern of the community at large. Our usher is a hero.”

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