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Queens pols seek tough penalities for looters

A damaged flag stand among the remnants of the boardwalk on Rockaway Beach. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
TimesLedger Newspapers

With reports of looting still circulating after Hurricane Sandy, many legislators at the city and state level are calling for stricter penalties for those who steal during states of emergency.

City Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and James Oddo (R-Staten Island), who is also the Council minority leader, drafted legislation targeting looting that was introduced in the Council early January.

“People who commit crimes in disaster areas are downright despicable and deserve to face the stiffest penalties under the law,” Ulrich said.

Many storm victims spoke of looting in the immediate aftermath of the storm, with some incidents resulting in high profile arrests.

There is no legislation introduced addressing looting at the state level, but state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said he is working on drafting legislation that would levy tougher punishments for people who loot or commit a crime during a blackout.

“I agree that this is a direction we should move in,” he said, referring to Ulrich’s bill.

Ulrich and Oddo’s bill would throw a $50,000 civil penalty at anyone convicted of property crimes or fraud in areas under a mandatory evacuation order. The penalty would come on top of already existing criminal penalties.

The concept gained the supported of Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who advocated for it from City Hall Monday.

“Such crimes are even worse because they divert critical resources from helping victims recover from disasters,” she said. “These acts must therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness and result in significant penalties,” she said.

Oddo said the bill may not deter hardened criminals. “But it might deter those who are tempted to commit crimes of opportunity in neighborhoods that have been evacuated when a dangerous storm is on the way,” he said.

Two days after Hurricane Sandy, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced that more than a dozen people were charged with burglary for looting Far Rockaway businesses, including a Radio Shack and a liquor store.

“The Queens district attorney’s office, the New York City Police Department and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have zero tolerance for looters who would exploit a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy for their own personal gain,” he said.

And looting appears to be ongoing in some storm-ravaged neighborhoods. Breezy Point experienced a jump in burglaries over the Thanksgiving holiday, and a Rockaways restaurant, the Bungalow, was robbed of more than $10,000 in rebuilding supplies in mid-January.

In addition the 100th Precinct, which covers parts of the Rockaways, reported 15 burglaries so far in 2013 as opposed to just three reported in the same time period in 2012.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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