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East Hampton man charged with burglarizing East End homes

Justin T. Bennett, 35, of East Hampton, is

Justin T. Bennett, 35, of East Hampton, is escorted into East Hampton Town Justice Court by East Hampton Town Police. (Oct. 25, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

An East Hampton man who prosecutors said admitted to stealing jewelry and other valuables from more than two dozen houses on the East End to feed his heroin addiction was arraigned Thursday on burglary charges.

Justin T. Bennett, 35, of Fort Pond Boulevard, who stood with his hands cuffed behind his back, did not speak during the brief court appearance before Suffolk County Court Judge Richard Ambro in Riverhead.

A Legal Aid attorney, appointed to represent Bennett, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The burglaries were committed between January and October in East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor, authorities said. No one was home during the burglaries, which netted more than $126,000 for Bennett.

Suffolk prosecutor Michelle Chiuchiolo said some of the houses were left unlocked. Bennett found keys for other locked homes hidden under rocks and barbecue grills in their yards and let himself in.

Bennett was arrested Oct. 24 after he entered an unlocked house, not realizing the homeowner was inside, Chiuchiolo said. She said the homeowner saw Bennett walk out the front door.

"He claimed he was looking for his lost dog," Chiuchiolo said of the conversation between the homeowner and Bennett.

Nothing was stolen, but the homeowner called police later that same day, she said.

Bennett sold the jewelry, including wedding bands and family heirlooms, at two pawnshops in Queens, Chiuchiolo said. Then he used the money to buy heroin, she said.

After his arrest, Bennett took police to each of the 25 houses he was charged with burglarizing and showed them how he entered the premises and what he stole from each house, prosecutors said.

Bennett was arraigned Thursday on 25 counts of second-degree burglary, one count of second-degree attempted burglary and one count of third-degree burglary.

He faces up to 15 year in prison on each of the burglary charge.

His attorney said Bennett, who has been in jail since his arrest, won't be able to afford bail, which the judge set at $200,000 cash or $400,000 bond.

He is scheduled to return to court Dec. 6.

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