By Bill Parry
Officers from the 114th Precinct arrested an Astoria man last Friday morning in connection with a series of homophobic graffiti, often referring to former President Obama on building, signs and garages across the neighborhood starting in December.
Yaacov Shemesh, 53, a resident of Newtown Avenue near 23rd Street, was arrested and charged with multiple counts in each of 22 incidents, including criminal mischief, aggravated harassment, making graffiti and criminal mischief with the intent to damage property, according to the Queens DA’s office.
“The man pictured is now apprehended,” Deputy Inspector Peter Fortune, the commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, posted on Twitter. “Great job by POs Kenefick & Lichte, keep up your hard work and dedication to make Astoria safe.”
The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force had been investigating the vandalism for months. But it was two cops from the 114th who recognized the suspect from posters and busted Shemesh June 2, when he was unable to produce identification after he was stopped crossing 27th Road just after 1 a.m.
Shemesh later admitted “it was me who made the political graffiti” and he identified himself in the surveillance videos, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Queens DA.
“We thank the 114th Precinct for their diligent work investigating this repeated act of hateful defacement of property and apprehending the perpetrator,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “There is no place in Astoria for these types of bigoted and prejudicial crimes. As hate crimes are increasing across our city, we stand together in support of respect and tolerance.”
The suspect appeared on surveillance video while spray painting the word “FAGS” on the glass door of 27-16 18th St., according to the NYPD. The same man is suspected of tagging the Pistilli Towers building at 31-19 Newtown Ave. that houses the district offices of state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) several times during his spree.
“The acts of senseless vandalism our community was forced to endure in recent months were outrageous and unacceptable,” Gianaris said. The Hate Crimes Task Force executed a search warrant issued by Queens Criminal Court Judge Bruna DiBiase at Shemesh’s home and found many of the clothes he wore in the surveillance videos along with gloves and a can of black spray paint, according to the criminal report.
“Hateful, anti-gay graffiti had been polluting our neighborhood for months,” Simotas said. Every time this garbage appeared on Astoria walls and structures it disturbed the peace and sense of safety that people have come to expect in Astoria. I never doubted that the NYPD would catch the perpetrator, which they’ve now done.”
Shemesh was due back in court June 21.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr