LOCKPORT – Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour was there when a team of investigators kicked down the door at a North Tonawanda address last month and found more stolen goods than they could have imagined.
“It was unbelievable, like the pot at the end of the rainbow,” said Voutour. “There were drawers and drawers of things in this house in North Tonawanda. I believe they had so much stuff they didn’t have an opportunity to pawn it yet.”
Cash, prescription drugs, stolen guns, jewelry, portable electronics and other items that can be easily fenced were found. Many items were heirlooms that had been handed down from previous generations.
Thursday morning, authorities announced the arrests of four men in a string of 33 daytime burglaries – and one armed robbery – that stretched across Erie, Niagara, Genesee and Wyoming counties.
The alleged ringleaders were identified as John A. Battaglia and James M. Baglio. Their accomplices were Kyle L. Wade and Matthew J. Ratel, according to reports released at a multi-agency news conference on Thursday involving the Genesee, Erie and Niagara county Sheriff’s Offices, State Police and Lancaster and Lewiston police. The suspects’ ages and addresses have not been released at this time.
Combined, the men face 135 charges related to the break-ins and robbery. Further charges may be lodged in the ongoing investigation.
The probe includes three burglaries in Niagara County, 21 in Erie County and 10 in Genesee County.
Most of the burglaries were reported between August and October, but Lancaster Police Capt. William Karn said some cases go back as far as January, when Battaglia and Baglio worked as painters in the Lancaster area. He said the two were questioned previously, but there had not been enough evidence to arrest them.
It took hundreds of hours of investigation to link all the multiple burglaries.
Erie County Sheriff’s Detective Capt. Gregory Savage said after they saw the evidence, they were able to link the items to burglaries in Erie County.
Voutour and Savage said it was likely that the burglaries were drug-related and the men were looking to pawn them for quick cash.
“Kind of the happy ending to this is that some of these items are heirlooms,” Voutour said. “These were items that had been passed down from generation to generation, which really upset some homeowners. We will be able to return a lot of that to them.”
Additional stolen property was found in the Town of Alexander, according to Voutour. Battaglia and Baglio reportedly had met when they were working together in Genesee County, officials said.
The Erie County Legislature on Thursday afternoon passed a revised pawn shop law that requires a two-week holding period for all goods. Often, stolen items sold to pawn shops get melted down literally before the people walk out the door, Savage said, so there is no chance of recovering them.
“There’s a small number of places buying used jewelry and they are making a lot of money off the victimization and misery of other people,” Savage said.
State Police Maj. Steven A. Nigrelli called the robberies a “crime of opportunity.” Potential burglars will drive down a street and look for garbage cans that haven’t been brought up or where there’s no vehicle in the driveway.
“These crimes happened in three counties and 15 townships. We met on Oct. 14 (at State Police headquarters in Batavia) and nearly every agency was represented,” Nigrelli said. “It’s refreshing to see people open up their case files and share what they have. That’s how connections are made. Criminals don’t pay attention to jurisdictional boundaries.”
New Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org