Burglar preys on Miami Beach houses of worship

| December 16, 2009

A burglar has holy targets for his unholy acts.

Targeting synagogues, churches and a Jehovah's Witnesses hall in Miami Beach, the man steals expensive audio equipment and cash from collection boxes, police say.

“He's preying on good places that people consider a place they can relax and worship and pray,'' said Officer Deborah Doty, a Miami Beach police spokeswoman. “He's preying on their weakness.''

Authorities think the well-groomed man is responsible for burglaries at six houses of worship from Oct. 25 to Dec. 3. The stolen goods total in the thousands of dollars.

“He blends right in with worshipers,'' Doty said. “You'll see him put on a yarmulke.''

In some cases, he has entered through unlocked doors; in others, he has broken windows and busted doors off of their frames. Surveillance video caught him getting picked up by a cab following one burglary.

At a Brazilian church at 2816 Sheridan Ave. in Miami Beach, the man stole a $3,500 sound mixer.

Police say St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 3716 Garden Ave., was hit twice. In one instance, a sound board was taken; the other time, a laptop computer. Police are not sure whether the laptop theft was committed by the same person.

At Temple Emanu-El, 1701 Washington Ave., a man marched past daytime security to steal $1,500 worth of sound equipment on Thanksgiving weekend, said Rabbi Myron S. Geller.

“He had a good line. He claimed to be having an appointment with me and was let in,'' Geller said. The rabbi, who was out of town, returned to find speakers, amplifiers and a guitar missing from the synagogue.

A security camera at the synagogue caught footage of the thief, from which police have pulled a grainy photo to use for fliers distributed to Miami Beach houses of worship.

“We've had a conversation about checking more closely about people who are not known to the security staff, but we're not turning the synagogue into an armed fortress,'' said Geller, who leads a congregation of 200 families.

At Congregation Adas Dej Mikva, 225 37th St., the man used a hammer to try and bust padlocks on two charity boxes.

He was unsuccessful, but did steal a flat-screen TV, credit card and might have taken cash. It was the second time in less than a month the temple was burglarized — the first time the collection boxes were emptied.

At the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, 300 W. 40th St., a man stole thousands of dollars worth of speakers, microphones, amplifiers and tape and CD players in mid-November, said elder Willy Tatum.

“Our theory is somebody got in while the doors were open for a meeting, hid in another room and stole everything when people left,'' said Tatum, of the 700-member center.

“Nobody knows everybody. It'd be easy to walk in with a group and walk out.''

The recent incidents are not the first time houses of worship have been burglarized or robbed this year.

On Aug. 24, a masked robber barged into a meeting at Liberty City's Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church with a gun in hand, forced the pastor and ushers to empty their pockets and made off with the pastor's car. A week later, the church was hit with a burglar who took a desktop computer, a monitor, a keyboard and a fax machine.

The man in the Miami Beach burglaries is said to be around six feet tall and 250 to 300 pounds, with short dark hair and was clean shaven with a “fat face.''

Anyone with information is asked to call Miami Beach police at 305-673-7901.



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Category: Church Security, Synagogue/Jewish Security

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