A former New York City detective and four other men were arrested Thursday on charges they ran a "sophisticated" burglary ring that stole $10 million in cash and goods from commercial businesses and homes mainly on Long Island, authorities said.
Among the burglaries were the theft of 45,000 pairs of upscale sunglasses valued at $3 million from an otherwise unidentified Plainview company, and $2 million in cash from the Nassau County office of an unnamed plastic surgeon, officials said.
The ring members used both traditional burglary tools such as sledgehammers, blowtorches and wire-cutters, as well as more advanced technological methods, including cellphone jammers and police scanners, officials said.
The five, who were arrested by FBI agents and Nassau and New York City police, were identified as Rafael Astacio, 41, of Copiague, an NYPD detective at the time of the burglaries; Nikitas Margiellos, 40, of West Babylon, identified by authorities as the ringleader; Victor Arias, 37, of Copiague; Leonard Repka, 50, of Lindenhurst; and Michael Figueroa, 52, of Mount Vernon.
In a federal indictment, they were charged with conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen property.
In addition, Astacio was charged with unlawfully accessing an FBI database to obtain information on a potential victim, the indictment said.
Astacio already had been facing a separate burglary charge in Suffolk County. Police said he took part in a June 2012 theft from a Lindenhurst home. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, which is still pending.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone said in court papers that Astacio in 2007 tipped off two witnesses, who are now cooperating with authorities, about the possibility of robbing a Maspeth home and sharing the cash proceeds with him. As a detective, Astacio had shortly before raided the home and "recovered a significant amount of cash," Caffarone wrote. The two cooperating witnesses committed the robbery but did not find any cash, Caffarone added.
Astacio's lawyer, Peter Brill of Manhattan, however, said Thursday that Astacio had not participated in any robbery attempt then, but had merely mentioned that he had raided the home, to other players at a poker game.
A New York City police spokesman said Thursday that Astacio was terminated from the department Tuesday.
But defense attorney Brill said he understood that a police hearing officer had recommended Astacio be fired and lose his pension, but the final determination was still up to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Brill said his client had not yet had 20 years on the force, so the department could eliminate his pension.
"The defendants were part of a sophisticated burglary crew that victimized Long Island businesses and residents for more than three years," Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. "The defendant Astacio's actions make it clear that he was a police officer in name only, having sold his badge and honor in exchange for his share of their ill-gotten gains."
At the suspect's arraignment, prosecutor Caffarone said the crew operated brazenly. At one point, they were aware they were under suspicion but continued to commit burglaries, he said. They even detected a tracking device attached to one of their cars but brought it into a police station, he said.
All five pleaded not guilty at arraignment before U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco in Central Islip.
Astacio and Margiellos were released on $3 million bond and ordered confined to home detention. Figueroa was released on $250,000 bond and Repka on $100,000. Arias was held because he could not come up with a bail package.
Astacio's lawyer Brill said his client would fight the charges. Margiellos' attorney declined to comment, as did attorneys for the other three.
Arias, Figueroa, Margiellos and Repka each face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted, officials said, while Astacio faces up to 17 years in prison.
With Nicole Fuller, Anthony M. DeStefano and Gary Dymski