Fourteen months after the accused of stealing donated goods from the local food pantry drew scorn from the Harrison community and beyond, one of the suspects has been found not guilty of his alleged role in the thefts.
Adam Straface embraced family members in the second row of the Harrison courtroom moments after Judge Nelson Canter read the non-jury decision Tuesday—finding the 27-year-old not guilty of petit larceny. Each of the other suspects in the case to that charge last year.
Straface and Joseph Arcara had been from the pantry on Dec. 20, 2010. That incident was caught on tape during a Harrison Police investigation and shown during the trial. Straface also admitted to police that he took the clothing, but that he was given permission from people he viewed as superiors.
During about four hours of testimony Straface's attorney Russell Smith argued successfully that the former town employee had been told by Florence D'Imperio and William D'Imperio that taking food and clothes was allowed. Straface testified that at the time he had been taking instruction from each as a department of public works employee working at the pantry.
Both Florence and William D'Imperio pleaded guilty to petit larceny last year.
Nina Marraccini, the town's director of community services, testified that she was the only person allowed to give away goods from the pantry and that she had not done so in Straface's case. Canter said he found that testimony credible, but that Straface was honest when he told police that others had given him permission.
During his interview with police on Feb. 15, 2011, which was played in court, one of Straface's first statements was that William and Florence D'Imperio had given him permission to take food and clothing from the pantry on Crotona Avenue.
During the Dec. 20, 2010, incident, Straface testified he didn't know why he was being taken to the food pantry and that work at the location was part of his job. Since Straface was considered a subordinate on the DPW staff, his defense argued that taking the shirt and shorts was not a crime because the defendant believed in good faith that what he was doing was allowed.
Canter agreed, taking 10 minutes of deliberation before delivering the not guilty verdict.
"He had an honest and good faith belief that he was not committing a crime," Smith said moments after the decision. "Apparently the judge agreed."
Assistant District Attorney Cindy Adimari, who prosecuted the case, did not comment.
The case caught regional and sometimes national attention when Straface, Joseph Arcara, Jack Arcara, Florence D’Imperio, William D’Imperio and Sherry Toplyn on Feb. 15, 2011.
Each of the other suspects pleaded guilty to petit larceny—a misdemeanor—and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine. All of them initially faced more than one count of petit larceny, Florence D'Imperio and Jack Arcara .
All of the suspects , resigned or from their full or part time jobs with the town of Harrison shortly after their arrests.
Straface was charged with a single count of petit larceny. .
Smith said his client will now go on with his life, free of a criminal record, putting the incident behind him.
"Obviously everything was a little bit in limbo for him," he said. "This has been an incredibly stressful time in his life."