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Suffolk cops looking for more elderly victims in Greenlawn hate crime case

Authorities are investigating whether other elderly people were targeted by a man and woman accused of a hate crime for burglarizing a 92-year-old woman's Greenlawn apartment, Suffolk police said Wednesday.

Police responded to a 911 call on Monday reporting that two people pretending to be collecting church donations got inside the victim's apartment and stole cash and other items.

Heather Marchese, 23, and Sean DiStefano, 24, were arrested at the Paumanack Village apartment complex later that day. They pleaded not guilty Tuesday in First District Court in Central Islip to a felony charge of second-degree burglary as a hate crime, police said.

Det. Sgt. James Brierton, commander of the hate crimes unit, said authorities believe there could be other victims in the 125-unit, affordable-housing complex for people 62 and older.

"We believe they may have been knocking on other doors," he said Wednesday.

Brierton said Marchese and DiStefano were familiar with the ages of the residents at Paumanack Village. The hate crime charge is based on targeting people older than 60.

Police said the pair, using leaflets taken from a local church as props, persuaded the victim to donate $20. They left, but returned on the ruse of having left the leaflets in the apartment.

When they left the second time, the woman noticed that $75 in cash, an iPad and two chargers had been stolen, police said.

DiStefano, of Shoreham, was being held Wednesday night in the Suffolk County Jail on $75,000 bond or $25,000 cash bail. Marchese, who police said is homeless, was being held on $40,000 bond or $20,000 cash.

Bohemia attorney Harry Tilis, representing DiStefano, questioned the severity of the charge Wednesday. "There is nothing in the paperwork we received that supported the view that this is a hate crime," he said.

Marchese's lawyer could not be reached. Anyone who believes they may have been victimized is asked to call Suffolk County Hate Crimes at 631-852-6323.

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