Thursday, March 12, 2009

Custodian Sentenced to One Year for Torah Theft

By Conor Greene

A former live-in custodian at the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills will serve one year in prison after admitting to stealing eight torahs worth more than $100,000 last summer.

Eric Giraldo, 24, who formerly lived in the temple at 71-25 Main Street, was sentenced to one year in jail by Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt. He pleaded guilty last month to third-degree attempted grand larceny, and is also barred from visiting the temple for the next eight years.

The eight torahs and their sterling silver adornments were discovered missing during Saturday services on August 16, much to the shock of about 60 congregation members in attendance that morning. Since the torahs were stored in a locked ark, staff members immediately suspected it was an inside job.

On September 4, Giraldo was arrested after admitting to taking the Torahs and hiding them at the home of a friend, 28-year-old Alan Lozano of 165-08 Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows. Lozano pleaded guilty last month to petit larceny and was sentenced to 40 days of community service. Giraldo was initially charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property and faced up to 15 years in prison.

Authorities say he planned to sell the Torahs, which eventually were returned to the congregation in time for the High Holy Days. “This case is particularly troublesome because a trusted employee with access to valuable and important materials chose to break that trust for possible financial gain,” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “The sentence is both justified and necessary.”

The Torahs are scrolls of parchment containing the first five books of Moses. They are handwritten and can take more than a year to complete, according to Herman Saltzman, who chairs the temple’s Pews and Memorials Committee. Since many Torahs carry personal significance for its owner, the congregation was hit especially hard by this theft, said Saltzman, who called it “a violation.”

The investigation was conducted by Detective Henry Szachacz of the 107th Precinct.

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