Pastor, NYPD detective crack church theft in Flushing

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Updated Friday, Jan. 15, at 12:59 p.m.

A quick-thinking pastor and a local police detective worked together to solve a theft of donated funds in a Flushing church.

The theft took place after a worker processing weekly donations at St. Andrew Avellino Catholic Church, located at 35-60 158th St., left the funds unattended for a short period of time on Dec. 15, 2015, according to 109th Precinct Commanding Officer Thomas Conforti. He retold the story during Wednesday’s 109th Precinct Community Council meeting in Flushing.

The commander said the suspect walked into the room during this time and went straight to the money after realizing that no one else was around, making off with approximately $6,000 in cash and personal checks.

Conforti said one of the most shocking aspects of the crime is that it took place in a church known to be generous to the whole community. The house of worship regularly shelters homeless individuals and provides hot meals to those in need.

“Unfortunately, on this day a month ago, someone decided to violate that generosity in the sanctity of a religious institution,” he said.

A video surveillance system installed in the church captured the whole incident on tape, including a shot in which the suspect could clearly be seen. A screenshot featuring the suspect was provided to all officers in the area and Fr. Joseph Holcomb, the church’s pastor, circulated the image in posters all around the church.

Holcomb was looking out a church window on Jan. 2 when he saw a man ripping these posters down and recognized him as the featured thief.

The pastor immediately called Detective Kevin O’Donnell of the 109th Precinct Community Affairs Unit, who happened to be in the vicinity a mere five blocks away. O’Donnell successfully apprehended the man shortly afterwards.

Holcomb said that he was simply following the citywide anti-crime mantra: “If you see something, say something.”

“It’s been my mantra,” Holcomb said, “and luckily I saw something and I was able to say something, simple as that.”

Upon his arrest, police discovered that the suspect had an arrest history that included more than 50 previous incidents.

Both Holcomb and O’Donnell were later recognized by the NYPD for their involvement in solving the case. The pastor received the Citizen Appreciation award and O’Donnell was named “Cop of the Month” along with two officers who solved a case of a serial groper in Flushing.

More from Around New York