Bank heist ruined preschool next door – QNS.com

Bank heist ruined preschool next door

As police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continue to investigate the bank robbery at a Howard Beach Sovereign Bank branch that occurred over Easter weekend, neighborhood residents remain shocked - and intensely curious - about the incident’s resemblance to scenes from bank caper movies.
According to police reports, the thieves entered the Angels on the Bay Preschool Evaluation Center, which sits next door to the bank, and knocked down a wall adjoining the bank’s vault. After reaching the bank vault, the thieves broke into customer safe deposit boxes and made off with vault cash and the boxes’ contents. Police believe the robbers also attempted to obliterate evidence by shooting fire extinguishers inside the office and plugging a bathroom sink to create flooding.
Recent movies, such as the “Inside Man” and “The Bank Job,” depict robbers that break into bank vaults and safety deposit boxes and elude detection by digging tunnels or boring into walls.
“I always thought the neighborhood was pretty safe,” remarked Yong Park, a bank patron who works at a nearby bagel store, “but the more I hear about it, it seems like a movie story.” He added that he was not worried about his account since the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures all bank deposits up to $10,000.
A spokesperson for Sovereign Bank, Michael Armstrong, said the break-in was the first incidence of theft at the branch which had opened in the fall of 2006. He also confirmed that the thieves did not steal any customer account information and Sovereign Bank has notified customers with compromised safety deposit boxes to that effect.
Bank employees discovered the theft on the morning of March 24, but were prevented from entering the premises by police detectives and the FBI until later that night, Armstrong said, and the branch wasn’t able to reopen until two days later.
Although customers at Sovereign Bank can now resume their activities, families visiting the Angels on the Bay Preschool Center are not so fortunate. Officials at HeartShare Human Services of New York, the parent company of the Preschool Center, said that the Howard Beach office sustained heavy damage during the bank robbery.
The thieves’ demolition and subsequent flooding wrecked floors, furniture, computers and even some program records. Cleanup crews had to remove all of the Center’s carpet and replace wall sections as high as two feet from the ground, due to the extensive water damage.
“Everything was saturated,” said Nick Demeo, Jr., a member of the cleanup crew, “and we’re trying to save anything that’s salvageable.” Since the office also works with children regularly, he noted, the cleanup work will also require inspecting for possible mold growths.
As of Monday, March 31, HeartShare officials did not know when the Center would reopen.
“The site is a disaster,” said Carol Verdi, Vice President of Education Services, in a statement. “We feel violated about what happened here. There are no words to express the sadness I felt seeing historical photos of the children we have helped over the years laying on the floor, destroyed by water and being walked on. We also have to start over in collecting raffle and auction items donated by our parents and staff for our May fundraising dinner.”
Anyone who would like to donate raffle items should contact HeartShare at 718-422-4200.

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