Man sought for impersonating a priest to burglarize an Oakland Gardens church in broad daylight on Sunday: NYPD

Cops are looking for this suspect, who pretended to be a priest from overseas to gain entry to the rectory of American Martyrs RC Church in Oakland Gardens, where he allegedly stole $900 in cash from a real priest.
Photo courtesy of the NYPD

Police from the 111th Precinct in Bayside are looking for a bald-headed burglar who pretended to be a priest to gain entry to the rectory at American Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Oakland Gardens.

Photo courtesy of the NYPD

The burglar stole $900 in cash from a real man of the cloth on Sunday afternoon. The well-dressed suspect could be seen on surveillance footage engaging the real priest in polite conversation as he followed him into the church rectory at 73-43 Bell Blvd. just after 12:15 p.m. on Mar. 3.

After the crook gained access to the rectory, next to the church on Utopia Turnpike, the imposter removed the $900 in cash from the unlocked bedroom of the 63-year-old priest, police said. The phony clergyman fled the scene in a dark-colored sedan heading southbound on Bell Boulevard away from Utopia Turnpike towards the Grand Central Parkway. The priest at American Martyrs Church did not sustain any injuries as a result of the incident.

John Quaglione, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees Queens churches, said they are familiar with the fake priest.

“This same man also attempted to rob St. Thomas Aquinas in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn on October 1st,” Quaglione said. “He also said that he was a visiting priest who left his keys in the rectory. The sacristan called the pastor who informed him that he had no visitors, so they told him to wait, and the guy left.”

Quaglione added that the same man made similar attempts in Texas and California.

“We are glad that no one was hurt in either incident in our Diocese,” Quaglione said. “There was a pastor’s meeting yesterday [Tuesday] where it was announced, and the photos were shown to the pastors. An alert is going out today to all clergy regarding this incident with the photo. We have been in contact with both the NYPD and the FBI regarding this.”

The same man was spotted in Suffolk County on Friday, March 1, according to Quaglione.

“He arrived at the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityvile’s Mother House during a shift change and said he was a priest and said he wanted to go to the chapel and pray while he was waiting for a friend,” Quaglione said. “Once he got past reception he did go to one of the units in the building and knocked on a Sister’s door who, not recognizing him, immediately slammed the door.”

He said the Suffolk County police were called and responded and they reviewed surveillance video that showed the suspect leaving the building about an hour after he arrived.

“No one was threatened and nothing was stolen,” he said.

The NYPD released surveillance images of the suspect on Tuesday and described him as having a light complexion, between 40 to 55 years old and around 190 pounds standing at approximately 5’9” tall, with a bald head and a goatee beard. He was last seen wearing a blue suit, a blue dress shirt, and black shoes.

A reward of up to $3,500 is being offered for information that leads to his arrest.

Anyone with information in regard to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, or on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) @NYPDTips. All calls and messages are kept confidential.

Through Mar. 3, the 111th Precinct has reported 41 burglaries so far in 2024, 27 fewer than the 68 reported at the same point last year, a decline of 39.7%, according to the most recent CompStat report.