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Two ‘career burglars’ are charged in five-week Erie County spree

A pair of “career burglars” conducted a five-week string of overnight break-ins that targeted mostly mom-and-pop businesses in the Southtowns, police said.

But early Friday, when Adam Fruchtel, 29, of Lockport, and Kevin Carney, 30, of West Seneca, stopped at Steveo’s Tacos on Erie Road in Derby, Town of Evans police were ready.

“Officer Kenneth Kloss was on business patrol when he noticed something suspicious, a picnic table up against the building,” Evans Police Chief Ernest P. Masullo said at a news conference Tuesday at Police Headquarters in Angola.

“They went around the back and noticed a window was broken and entry had been made. They immediately got on the radio. Within minutes, the two fled our jurisdiction into the Town of Hamburg, where a number of police cars were being dispatched to the area.”

Town of Hamburg Police Officer Anthony J. Venditti noticed the suspects’ vehicle on Route 5 and began to follow it, but it sped up and turned into a subdivision in Lake View. The suspects were apprehended at about 4 a.m. – Carney was tracked by police dogs to a wooded area, while Fruchtel was arrested in the vehicle.

Minutes earlier, Evans police on patrol noticed that a window had been broken at a business in Derby and sent out a radio alert.

“We didn’t know when they were coming, but our guys were vigilant and we hit the jackpot,” Masullo said.

Police believe that the two men are responsible for at least 11 burglaries since Feb. 15 in Hamburg, both town and village, the Town of Eden and the Town of Orchard Park.

Three of the break-ins occurred in one small strip plaza in Orchard Park, where thieves took thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise from Urban Valet and Chayban Custom Tailoring. The plaza is located on North Buffalo Road just outside the Village of Orchard Park, said Orchard Park Police Chief Mark F. Pacholec.

“They worked their way down and caused thousands of dollars in damage,” Pacholec said. “Urban Valet was also burglarized by the same suspects Feb. 16. We are looking at them for other burglaries.”

Fruchtel was arrested on burglary charges in Orchard Park in 2010 as part of a multiple-jurisdiction investigation, Pacholec said.

Both suspects have lengthy criminal records, Masullo said. Fruchtel’s dates from 2008 for burglaries in West Seneca, Lackawanna and Buffalo. Carney’s criminal record dates from 2001.

Police believe the two men, based on their mode of operation, also may be responsible for burglaries in Amherst.

“These guys were hitting traditional mom-and-pop stores,” said Town of Hamburg Police Capt. Kevin A. Trask. “The reason I think is that these stores have less-stringent cash-drop policies. So generally they had more cash on hand.

“They would smash out the front window, and then they would hide and wait. Either the police would come or they didn’t, and after 10 minutes, they would go in.”

Over the five weeks, the burglars at first got better but then became sloppy and even cocky, police said.

“They were casual drug users,” Trask said. “They’re not exactly what you would call junkies. This looks like more of a case of career burglars. Fruchtel was on parole. I think this is the only thing he knew how to do, and he continued to do it.”

The two remain jailed without bail, with their cases heading directly to an Erie County grand jury, Masullo said.

“Working together solves crimes,” Masullo said of the coordinated police effort. “We kept in constant touch with each other.”

Masullo was joined by representatives from five law enforcement agencies at Tuesday’s news conference.

Also on hand were Pacholec, Trask, Town of Hamburg Police Chief Gregory G. Wickett, Village of Hamburg Police Capt. Michael C. Melisz, Eden Police Chief Michael J. Felschow and Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick J. McMaster.