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Dinner to honor those who caught suspects in Falls temple vandalism

The police officers and prosecutors involved in the investigation and arrest of four teenagers accused of vandalizing a city synagogue will be honored by the Friends of Temple Beth Israel at the group's annual dinner May 9.

"The outstanding police and legal work done in this case deserves recognition," said Lawrence Wolfgang, president of Temple Beth Israel.

The organization periodically honors members of the community at its annual dinners.

"This year it became obvious that we pick the individuals who worked so diligently to solve this crime," said Wolfgang's brother, Jerald I., co-chairman of the dinner.

The arrests followed a reign of vandalism that had plagued the synagogue at 905 College Ave. for six months.

The incidents crossed the line into a hate crime in January, when the words "Kill the Jews" were spelled out in duct tape on the temple front door.

That's when the FBI joined the investigation.

In previous incidents, light fixtures were smashed, broken beer bottles and cigarette butts were strewn about the property, and the building was pelted with eggs.

Two young Niagara Falls men, Shawn M. Blount and John DiGregorio, both 18, have been indicted by a grand jury and are facing trial. Two juveniles, including the alleged 14-year-old ringleader, appeared in Family Court.

The Friends of Temple Beth Israel will honor 10 members of the law-and-order team that worked on the case.

They are:

*Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein.

*John R. Chella, Niagara Falls superintendent of police.

*Ernie Palmer, Falls police chief of detectives.

*Capt. John DeMarco, Niagara Falls Police Department.

*Shawn J. Larrabee, city police detective.

*Steven Halter, FBI special agent.

*Michael A. Messina, Niagara County sheriff's investigator assigned to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

*Matthew J. Murphy III, Niagara County district attorney.

*Caroline Wojtaszek, Niagara County assistant district attorney.

*Erin DeLabio, Niagara County assistant attorney.

Up to 300 people are expected to attend the dinner in the Days Inn, 443 Main St. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., with dinner starting at 7. A lucky ticket draw for a $1,000 prize will be held at 8:30. Reservations may be made by calling 285-9894.

Meanwhile, the litter has been removed from the synagogue and most of the vandalism repaired. Members of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Niagara University plan to repaint the front door.

The synagogue president hopes the ugly episode is behind them. "The community has responded in a way that clearly says this should not and cannot happen to any group, church or synagogue," Lawrence Wolfgang said.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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