Five men were charged Monday with a string of violent armed robberies in western Suffolk County -- arrests that Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said was the result of a change in police philosophy.
The case crossed precinct lines, Spota said, and was solved only because investigators shared information. In this case, the defendants are accused of robbing businesses in Huntington Station, Central Islip, Babylon, Brentwood and Bay Shore -- territory that covers three precincts. The men wore masks and brandished handguns and knives while holding up various businesses, sometimes pistol-whipping their victims, said Spota.
He said the arrests were an early example of the Suffolk County Police Department's better use of criminal intelligence. "For many years, I have been espousing intelligence-driven policing," Spota said. "This is an example of its success."
Police leaders now review crime reports every day from the precincts, allowing them to identify patterns and inform patrol officers of them. In this case, Spota said, an officer noticed the same 2000 Ford Mustang used in several of the seven crimes.
Charged with multiple counts of first-degree robbery are Walter Velasquez Cruz, 27, of Brentwood; Carlos Velasquez, 17, of Bay Shore; Jonathan Portillo, 16, of Brentwood; Mario Rodriguez Chinchilla, 23, of Huntington Station; and Edwin Acosta Martinez, 23, of Huntington Station. If convicted, they face 25 years in prison for each robbery.
Suffolk County Judge Stephen Braslow ordered all but Rodriguez be held on high cash bail. He kept Rodriguez, who was free on bail while awaiting sentencing for an attempted burglary, in jail with no bail.
"We noticed the crimes were escalating in violence" from when they started in December until the last on Feb. 28, Spota said.
In one statement, Rodriguez said he hit a woman with a gun when she wouldn't open the safe fast enough at a restaurant in Brentwood.
In another, Carlos Velasquez described a robbery at Universal Church in Brentwood as doing some "work," saying, "When we rob a place, we call it 'work.' "
He was also charged with three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Police found three handguns at his home during a search, prosecutors said.
Spota said the defendants are gang members, but the defendants have denied that accusation in statements to police.