#BethlehemYMCA #Theft #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — The Bethlehem Police Department has been working with multiple agencies to investigate whether a recently-arrested 50-year-old robber had any accomplices, and if there is any potential that he has committed similar crimes beyond New York state and even abroad.
George Piha, who is still being held in Albany County Jail, was taken into custody recently for stealing from lockers at the Bethlehem YMCA. He was discovered to have several disguises, lock picking paraphernalia and guidebooks, and over $10,000 in electronic devices. He also had numerous cut-up credit cards, which are believed to have been stolen from the YMCA lockers. Police have found that Apple and Microsoft products were “purchased using credit cards Piha allegedly stole from lockers in West Seneca and Gates, the western counties of Erie and Monroe, respectively.”
“Currently, he is charged with two felony counts of tampering with physical evidence, and that relates to the cutting up of credit cards that he had just stolen from the [Bethlehem] YMCA. They weren’t even reported stolen yet,” said Bethlehem Police Commander Adam Hornick. “He’s also charged with two counts of criminal possession of stolen property for having those credit cards.” Piha was also committed identity fraud when he used those credit cards to buy electronic products. The police was able to track those items by their serial numbers “and show they were purchased under fraudulent pretenses in Erie, Monroe and Ontario counties.”
For now, he is known for committing crimes across six counties in New York state (Onondaga, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Oneida, Monroe, Erie and Ontario). Police are actively investigating leads to determine if he has done the same in the neighboring state of Massachusetts.
“It’s our job to actually look at these and we’re speculating that there may be more involved,” Hornick said. “It’s just getting the information out to other police agencies and getting them to say, ‘Oh, we have cases that relate to that. Is it potentially related to this investigation?’ So, that’s what our department has been working on.”
Due to the wide scale nature of his crimes, his case is handled by multiple agencies, which include police departments from Guilderland, East Greenbush, Ontario County, and Seneca County. Bethlehem police also had a search warrant in New York City recently to investigate an alleged home address Piha gave them, which proved to be false.
Furthermore, they are looking into the possibility that “proceeds [from his crimes] are being sent overseas,” given his proven tendency to travel and personal background.
Piha is a naturalized American citizen who was originally born in Romania and then relocated here. However, it’s not known fully when he did move to the country. He does maintain dual citizenship between both countries though.
A Spotlight News article titled “Romanian man arrested for stealing from lockers at Bethlehem YMCA,” published on July 30, has notoriously received heavy criticism from locals who attacked the headline for negatively highlighting the robber’s nationality. Notably, one commenter wrote, “This is utterly ridiculous. What a bigoted, horrifying headline.” Another wrote “Did my slightly prejudiced father write this headline? What does his ethnicity have to do with anything?”
“With every press release that our police department does, the biggest thing that people ask is, ‘Where is this person from? Do they live in the community? Are they from outside the community?’ And you’ll notice that every press release, that every police department does, identifies the individual’s name and where they’re from,” Commander Hornick said in response to the inciendiary commentary. “So, what’s the difference in saying a 50-year-old man from Romania or a 50-year-old man from Delmar? It’s identified for the purpose of their address and in this case, Piha gave us an address in New York City that we’ve proven that he does not live at, and has not lived at.
“At this point, we have no address for him. But obviously, he’s not homeless and the last we know, he did travel to the United States recently from Romania, and that is where he was originally born. It’s not disseminated for the purpose of his nationality. I mean, it’s unfortunate that people have tried to look at it from that angle, instead of looking at what the news is really about.”
He further said that “if people read all our other press releases (in fact, every press release, so it’s not just us), then they’ll see it lists the person’s name, age and where they’re from.”
When it comes to committing a series of crimes across New York state, the Bethlehem Police Department acknowledges that Bethlehem is along the Thruway, hence making it and nearby areas (like Albany and Saratoga) vulnerable to traveling criminals like Piha, according to Hornick. The commander added that if such criminals are from New York City, for example, they would not want to commit crimes down there since they know that they would be easily identifiable after doing so.
Therefore, upstate New York is inviting to them because “if their faces show up on camera, we would not know who they are. So then, it’s the networking between police agencies and sharing and comparing information that help us do our job.”
In regards to Piha’s case, “crime knows no boundaries, crime doesn’t follow the boundaries of geography,” Hornick concluded. Piha was arraigned in Bethlehem Town Court and remanded to Albany County jail without bail.
Anyone with information concerning Piha should contact Bethlehem Police at (518) 439-9973.