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Cops: Two charged in Riverhead graffiti spree

Bob Spiotta, executive director of the Suffolk Theater, stood in front of his newly-refurbished 600-seat art deco cultural center Thursday -- the biggest and newest showplace on the East End -- spraying Windex on the graffiti that two Coram youths had sprawled on the glass in the middle of the night.

"Perhaps it was a frustrated artist," he joked, as the white marks quickly came off on his paper towels, leaving the glass cleaner than other panels in front of the old movie house.

He wasn't the only downtown Riverhead businessman doing a cleanup. At least seven Main Street buildings in downtown Riverhead had the same kind of graffiti scrawled on them before town police -- which have beefed up patrols of the downtown area -- responded to an early-morning 911 call about two youths running across a rooftop, a call which led to their arrests.

Among the other places vandalized were the historic Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, the Summer Wind Square mixed-use housing and retail project, and the newly opened Blue Duck Bakery. While some of the markings could easily be removed, others will require a more expensive cleanup. Damage costs are still being calculated, officials said.

"They got my front door. It will have to be repainted," said Vince Tria, treasurer of the Vail-Leavitt. "They broke the rail, too."

In court Thursday afternoon, Riverhead Town Justice Allen M. Smith set $1,000 bail for each man, identified by police as Christopher J. Berg, 18, of 61 Chardonnay Dr. in Coram, and Mark H. Cannon, 20, of 7 Wellsley Ct. in Coram. At the judge's instruction, neither spoke about the incident as they were being arraigned.

In early January, in response to a fatal hit-and-run and an unrelated robbery in the Main Street area, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter ordered the police department to put two officers on foot patrol in the business district 16 hours a day, doubling the police coverage. He said that, with the Suffolk Theater soon opening -- its ribbon-cutting was March -- increased patrols and other security measures would be implemented by town police to deal with the additional people expected to come to Main Street this year.

Two police officers in a patrol car, Allan Schulte and Tim Murphy, responded to the 911 call at 1:37 a.m. Thursday and spotted a parked auto on West Main Street, then located the two men who were found to have cans of spray paint and markers. Each was charged with seven counts of making graffiti, trespass and possession of a graffiti instrument. In addition, Berg was charged with petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

"They did an excellent job," Riverhead Police Chief David J. Hegermiller said. "It's very rare you come up with graffiti arrests."

Riverhead officials have been trying for decades to reverse the loss of businesses and the closed stores in the downtown business area. In the past few years, those efforts have been working, and the Suffolk Theater was hailed as the cornerstone of that effort.

Walter said he could not understand why people would come to his town to deface private businesses.

"It's absolutely offensive that somebody would sit back and think it's OK to deface somebody else's property," Walter said. "I will never understand that."

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