Six Months Jail Time For Thief Caught in the Act

Joseph R. Spezzano ducks his head as he gets into a Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff's vehicle for the county jail, where he will spend the next six months. T.E. McMorrow

     A thief who was foiled last week in an attempt to steal an expensive camera pleaded guilty today in East Hampton Justice Court and was sentenced to six months in the county jail.

     An assistant district attorney had labeled the man, Joseph R. Spezzano, 35, of Mastic, a "career criminal" at his arraignment, telling the court he had been convicted of four felonies, including one violent crime.

     "You know, sir, you spend more time in jail than out," East Hampton Justice Lisa R. Rana told him today after he admitted to a misdemeanor charge of possession of stolen property.

     A charge of petty larceny was dropped in exchange for the guilty plea. Maggie Bopp, the assistant D.A., had made the defendant what was essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer: Plead guilty to the one charge and serve six months, or go to trial on the two counts. After conferring in a courthouse holding cell with his Legal Aid lawyer, Sheila Mullaly, he opted for the jail term.

     Justice Rana leaned down from the bench to speak to Mr. Spezzano before he was led away. "If I see you in this court again," she warned him, he could expect more jail time.

     She asked about the incident. "What were you doing?"

     "I don't know," he answered.

     David E. Rattray of Cranberry Hole Road, Amagansett, the editor of The East Hampton Star, had been awakened at about 2 a.m. on March 12 by his dog's barking. Thinking the dog wanted to go out, he opened his front door and saw, at the end of the driveway, a light on in his pickup truck and someone inside it.

     "I started shouting at the person to get out of my truck," Mr. Rattray later told police. The intruder ran toward the end of the driveway and jumped into a waiting car, a late-model Chevrolet Cruze.

     The car took off, headed west, but Mr. Rattray got a look at the license plate and was able to see its first three letters. He called East Hampton Town police immediately, giving them that information and adding that his Panasonic Lumix camera was missing from the console of the unlocked truck and that the Chevvy was headed west.

     East Hampton Village officers pulled the car over not long after, on Main Street near the Star office. Mr. Rattray was brought to the scene and identified Mr. Spezzano as the man who had been rummaging through his truck. He had particularly noted his "oversized jacket" and "dark-colored pants," he told police. 

     Back at headquarters, Mr. Spezzano told police he had left his grandmother's house in Mastic Beach "with my friends Jessica, Anthony, and Steven. Anthony was driving. We were headed to Montauk."

     Their late-night journey had a few detours, according to his statement: a stop at a 7-Eleven in East Quogue, then another, this time unplanned, on Montauk Highway in Southampton, where Southampton Town police gave Anthony, the driver, a speeding ticket.

     Then came a detour, which Mr. Spezzano did not explain, other than to say that "we turned on a dirt road and drove to the end. We drove on the back roads for a minute. I had to take a piss, so I asked Anthony to pull over." The driver shut off the engine and the headlights as Mr. Spezzano got out of the car, he said. "I walked into a driveway and seen a white pickup truck. I looked in and saw a camera sitting on the driver's seat. I opened the side door and grabbed the camera."

     He put it in his jacket pocket, he said. Police found it on the floor of the Cruze, however. "It must have fallen out," Mr. Spezzano told them.

     He went to great lengths in his statement to absolve his friends of involvement in the crime. "Nobody had any idea what I did," he stated.

     Commenting on the incident last week, Captain Chris Anderson of the town police said residents had to learn to lock their houses and their cars. The face of crime in East Hampton has changed, he said. "It used to be, if there was a crime, you could check your list of 10 or 12 guys who were out. Those days are over."

     Workers are coming from farther and farther west, said the captain, as are visitors looking to party, especially heading out to Montauk. And those among them with a criminal inclination are now returning for what appears easy pickings, he said. All of it is making the job of the police that much harder.