Gristedes Owner Offers $5,000 Reward For Capture Of Ice Cream Thieves
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Police were searching Friday for a team that apparently has been stealing freezers' worth of ice cream from big grocery stores.
As CBS2's Dave Carlin reported, police accuse the man and woman of emptying entire freezers of their ice cream, and then reselling the melting merchandise to local bodegas.
Now, John Catsimatidis – the billionaire owner of the Gristedes grocery store chain, which the suspects struck – is offering up a reward of $5,000.
Catsimatidis said the criminals hit various markets – both his Gristedes markets and his competitors all around Manhattan. CVS and Duane Reade stores have also had their freezers cleaned out.
"Our Upper East Side stores, Upper West Side stores, we lost it in Battery Park City, and it's time these guys got captured," Catsimatidis said.
Police said the crooks most often go for the 14-ounce cartons of Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's, selling for $5.99 each. They fill up a bag with as much product as they can and they just run out the front door, police said.
Police said the alleged thieves are pros. One or two grab the goods while others keep store managers and security guards occupied.
"They just distract the manager and ask him, 'I can't reach breadcrumbs on the top shelf,' and it gets him from the front of the store," Catsimatidis said.
Two suspects – a man and a woman – were thwarted at the Gristedes store on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea. But they got away. Manager Robert Montalvo told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond he knew they could not eat all the ice cream they were about to haul away in shopping carts.
"It was two shopping carts of ice cream. It was almost 90 pints of ice cream," Montalvo said. "Almost $400 or $500 in ice cream."
Montalvo stopped the couple as they were making their way out of the store.
"He tried to justify that he bought it in another store," Montalvo said. "I said, 'Really? You bought it in another store? So why are you walking out with it from here?'"
The duo dropped the ice cream but got away on foot, Diamond reported.
Chelsea grocery store customers were appalled and disgusted.
"It's just despicable," said Jennifer Falk of Chelsea. "I hope to get them quick."
"It's going to hurt the store, really," said Kamau Jackson of Chelsea. "It's also going to cause the prices to go up."
Police said the stolen ice cream is quickly resold to small local stores for as low as 10 cents on the dollar.
Ice cream thefts so far this year account for about 250 cases of product with 130 arrests.
Catsimatidis, who is also a onetime mayoral candidate, thinks bodega owners might do the right thing and help him.
"If the bodega owner wants to collect $5,000, maybe he can work out a deal with Police Department," Catsimatidis said. "But he's a bad guy too for buying it."
Already, the chain stores are responding by hiding special markings on ice cream containers, so as to help police track them to the small resale markets and stop the slick trick from spreading.
Meanwhile, shoppers are warned to check for freezer burn and other evidence that ice cream was stolen. If it melted in transit, the ice cream could contain harmful bacteria.
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