Felony charges have been added against two of the six town employees who police believe stole food and clothing from the Harrison Food Pantry.
Florence D’Imperio, 90, and Joseph Arcara, 54, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all charges including third degree burglary — a class D felony — and previous charges of petit larceny. A misdemeanor official misconduct charge was also added against Florence D'Imperio.
No charges were added against Jack Arcara, 48, Adam Straface, 26, William D’Imperio, 60, and Sherry Toplyn, 58, all of whom pleaded not guilty to petit larceny.
Judge Ronald Bianchi accepted the pleas. All six of the employees have obtained council.
The Harrison Police Department released a statement Tuesday saying the felony charges were added after "careful review of overwhelming and compelling evidence".
Police said they are still reviewing the case, opening the door for further charges. Harrison Village Attorney Robert Paladino said Tuesday that police have had "months" of video evidence to look through, confirming for the first time just how much of the alleged criminal actions were caught on tape.
All six employees were allowed to enter through the back employee entrance to town hall before Tuesday's court appearance, avoiding television camera crews waiting in front of the building. Paladino said that the town allowed the suspects to use the back entrance on the advice of the district attorney.
"We knew it was extremely busy," Paladino said. "The DA had advised us that they wanted to handle all of them at once and they wanted to handle them as the first case of the day."
The suspects passed through security after entering the building, Paladino said, adding that the back door has been used at times for high-profile cases. "It was really (more) to accommodate the DA than ourselves," he said.
Toplyn arrived at the back entrance at about 9:15 a.m., she did not comment as she quickly passed two reporters on her way in. After leaving court Jack Arcara quickly entered a four-door vehicle behind the building and left the scene.
The other suspects entered through the back door as well, but were not seen.
Florence D’Imperio served as Harrison Meals on Wheels Treasurer and was the Harrison Citizen of the Year in 2001. William D’Imperio is a supervisor in the Harrison Parks Department and worked with Joe and Jack Arcara as well as Straface. Toplyn had organized and operated a new program at the for the last six months.
Since their arrests on Feb. 15 Toplyn and Florence D’Imperio have resigned from their positions. Their official resignation will go before the Harrison Town Board on Thursday, Paladino said.
The town has suspended Joseph Arcara, Jack Arcara, William D’Imperio and Straface without pay. They could face termination if found guilty, but Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh said the town will wait until the legal process plays out before making a decision.
The arrest of the six employees has brought widespread negative publicity to Harrison, as news of a former Citizen of the Year facing criminal charges has spread to a national level. News crews from several New York City stations were parked in front of town hall for most of Tuesday morning.
"People are embarrassed by what's happened," Paladino said. "This is certainly not something anyone expects to see."
In a statement last week Walsh said that there is a "stunning amount of misinformation circulating" and asked residents to avoid speculation until the case goes to court.
With the six employees holding obvious ties to the community, some have questioned the town's ability to handle the situation without bias, something Paladino said he doesn't expect to be a problem.
"This town board has been steadfast in its willingness to address hard issues and to treat people fairly," he said. "There should be no suggestion that anyone would receive special treatment—anyone in this case or any other matter that comes before the town board."
In addition to the felony charges, Florence D’Imperio faces eight previous counts of petit larceny and Joseph Arcara faces six counts. Toplyn and Jack Arcara face five counts of petit larceny, William D’Imperio faces two counts and Straface faces a single count.
All six of the employees originally turned themselves in to police after the investigation and have been released without bail. Arrest reports show that the alleged thefts took place from Dec. 20, 2010 to Jan. 26, 2011.
Joseph Arcara and Straface were both listed as committing thefts on Dec. 20, 2010. During an interview with police Straface admitted that he and Joseph Arcara stole multiple food and clothing items from the food pantry on that date, according to his arrest report.
Straface gave police a gray long-sleeved Andy Warhol shirt and a pair of Ralph Lauren cargo shorts, according to his arrest report. While interviewing Toplyn police seized a handbag that they say she used to conceal a pair of women's shoes she took from the pantry.
The other alleged thefts took place at different dates and times, according to the arrest reports.
The misdemeanor larceny charges could carry up to a year in prison if the six are convicted. Florence D’Imperio and Joseph Arcara could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the felony burglary charge.
The case was adjourned until April 12.