Fireman fakes 911 calls to steal FDNY cash: DA

Photo courtesy Department of Investigation
By Phil Corso

Firehouses from Glen Oaks and Astoria were two of five spots throughout the city to be ransacked for cash by a renegade firefighter making phony 911 calls as distractions, the city Department of Investigation said.

Joseph Keene, 34, used his cellphone to make the fake calls prompting fire officials’ response so that he could gain exclusive access to firehouses and steal money from other firefighters’ property inside, a DOI report said.

The Hicksville, L.I., native pocketed nearly $2,000 in cash after wiping out two firehouses in Staten Island and one each from Glen Oaks and Astoria, investigators said. He also stole money from a Fire Department facility on Randalls Island, the report said.

“It is surprising that a firefighter would both call in fake 911 calls and steal money from colleagues,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. “To do so at this time, when there is a heightened need and demand for units to be responding to legitimate calls to people in need is especially outrageous.”

The DOI and city Police Department approached the six-year firefighter last Thursday, when he admitted to using fake calls to steal from his colleagues, both departments said. He was assigned to a firehouse in the Bronx at the time of his arrest and was suspended without pay for 30 days, the FDNY said.

Keene, who made $76,488 in 2012, was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court last week on felony charges of falsely reporting an incident, grand larceny, burglary and a petit larceny charge and was released on $5,000 bond. He faces up to 15 years in prison, the Queens district attorney’s office said.

In his first stint, the DOI said Keene reported the smell of gasoline near Forrest and Veltman avenues in Staten Island, springing Ladder 83 of Engine 163 into action and leaving the 875 Jewett Ave. firehouse vacant. Keene admittedly made his way into the firehouse and stole between $150 and $200 in cash, the DOI report said.

Nine days later, the DOI said Keene reported a sparking transformer near Victory Boulevard and Forrest Avenue in Staten Island, where Ladder 80 of Engine 157, at 1573 Castleton Ave., responded. Soon after making the phony call, Keene made his way into the firehouse and stole between $400 and $500, the DOI said.

His third and most bountiful theft occurred June 11, when Keene reported a gas odor at Jamaica Avenue and Little Neck Parkway before making his way into Engine 251, at 254-20 Union Tpke. in Glen Oaks, the DOI said. There, he stole about $1,200 and was caught in act on surveillance footage, the report said.

Keene’s last two acts occurred July 17, the report said, when he started his day stealing between $40 and $60 from the employee locker area at the FDNY facility on Randalls Island. That same day, he stole about $100 from the 42-06 Astoria Blvd. firehouse belonging to Engine 263 while units were responding to a fire in the Bronx, the DOI said.

“This individual is not representative of the members of the New York City Fire Department, who serve the city with such distinction,” Hearn said.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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