Crooks target local businesses

February 2, 2007
By

PETE STIDMAN

Just before 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, a would-be robber at Fiore’s Italian Bakery on South Street was foiled. There were no heroics involved.

Witnesses attribute the thwarting of the crime to a customer chatting obliviously on a cell phone. Apparently, the action made the man who had just flashed a gun at the cashier nervous. Instead of a doing a heist, he laid money on the counter for his coffee and fled. He is now wanted by the police.

Shop owners in Boston’s Latin Quarter haven’t been quite so lucky. Their brand of crook uses the cloak of night.

“Radios, alarms, speakers. They took their time,” Eduardo Vasallo, otherwise known as Mr. V of Mr. V’s Auto Parts on Centre Street in Hyde Square, said at a meeting of the Hyde/Jackson Business Association (HJBA). “My guy found it when he went to open the store at 9:30 in the morning. They even screwed off the speakers on display.”

Vasallo said he counts his losses at $6,500, and he’s anxious to discover who absconded with his merchandise on Dec. 26. The police conducted a thorough investigation, collecting fingerprints and blood drops that were likely splattered by the thief. He or she must have cut a hand or arm after smashing the front door’s window and reaching in to turn the latch, they concluded.

A DNA match might be found with other blood samples collected across the street at the Rent-A-Center. The fourth time the Rent-A-Center was robbed this year, a police detective arrived within minutes and nabbed a young man on his way out. It seemed he also cut himself in a similar smash and grab maneuver.

Other break-ins occurred, according to members of the HJBA, at Fernandez Beauty Shop, In Trust Mortgage (twice), Fernandez Travel and the Nextel/Sprint store.

Two months ago two employees of the local florist, Petal & Leaf, were robbed at gunpoint. One young man was forced to the floor while another employee emptied the cashbox of $160 and handed it to the gunman.

“There’s not a hell of a lot you can do about it, you know?” said owner Cat Thompson, who wasn’t in the shop at the time. “It seems risky, holding people up with a gun. We’re not a real big cash business.”

E-13 police were unable to produce police reports of these and other area business and home break-ins in the area before press time, but Community Service Officer Carlos Lara said there has been a significant increase over the last year in both home and business break-ins.

This, and reports of individuals fencing stolen goods door-to-door down Centre Street and in Egleston Square, have prompted a “Keep It Safe” campaign from Hyde Jackson Square Main Streets and the HJBA to stop shop workers from buying stolen goods.

“It’s one-stop shopping in JP,” said Capt. Kelley McCormick of E-13 at the HJBA meeting Jan. 25. “It gives the drug addicts a place to steal some stuff, raise some money by selling it and buy drugs, all in our area. This is all feeding on itself. Three bad months and we could be looking at a long-term disaster for the neighborhood. People at this table know which business owners are buying stolen goods. My experience is that kind of store destroys everything around it.”

Other than that, he and Lara suggested using rolling security grates, alarm systems and security cameras. Keeping tabs on problem employees wouldn’t be a bad idea either, he said, because some of the recent robbers appear to have known just where to look for valuables.

The HJBA generally agreed with the captain’s sentiments.

“We don’t want to do business in the middle of a crime environment,” said HJBA member Tony Barros, who also works in the mayor’s office. “With more crime, we’re going to get more drugs, then we’re going to get hold-ups.”

The association is reaching out to all area businesses and handing out flyers that warn against buying stolen goods. The captain asked anyone spotting someone selling stolen goods on the street to call the police.

“I suggest you don’t buy anything, and call us,” said McCormick. “If we get a phone call saying some guy’s selling stolen stuff, that gives us a right to make a stop.”