A Patchogue man pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to an indictment charging him with repeatedly burglarizing and finally torching the home of a New York State trooper serving overseas with the Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing.
Harry Fleischmann Jr., 33, of Clinton Avenue, was a convicted burglar on parole when he went on a crime spree that included ransacking and destroying the East Patchogue home of Trooper Eric Carver, who is on a yearlong tour of duty in Africa.
Fleischmann is "a person who in my view has absolutely no redeeming value whatsoever," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said at a news conference after the arraignment.
In court, Assistant District Attorney Peter Timmons said Fleischmann stole a vehicle on Dec. 20 from Carver's neighbor, Karen Stiriz, who was taking care of Carver's Lake Drive home while he was away. The keys to Carver's house were in the vehicle marked with the address, Timmons said.
Fleischmann burglarized the house on Dec. 26, taking a credit card, and then returned the next day, Timmons said. This time, he said Fleischmann found Carver's off-duty 9-mm pistol, the keys to Carver's sport-utility vehicle and some gasoline in a shed. He splashed the gasoline throughout the house and lit it on fire, Timmons said.
Fleischmann is charged with second-degree burglary and third-degree arson, and could face a maximum of 25 years to life in prison because of his extensive felony record. He likely faces other charges as well, for a series of burglaries he committed throughout Suffolk County, Timmons said.
Suffolk County Court Judge John Iliou ordered Fleischmann held on bail of $500,000 cash or $1-million bond.
Spota said the police department's Pattern Crimes Unit linked Fleischmann to other burglaries that occurred both last year and earlier in January.
Those burglaries, Spota said, included gas stations in East Patchogue, Brookhaven, Islandia and Rocky Point, as well as that of a car wash in Medford and liquor store in Bayport.
Carver's neighbors have set a goal of raising $75,000 to help the trooper and reservist get back on his feet.
Fundraising efforts earlier this month raised more than $20,000 toward that goal.
The day of the fire, Debbie Roach, who heads the neighborhood watch in the development where Carver's house stood, said she noticed smoke coming from the home -- and said she and her neighbors were in tears as the house burned. "Everybody was just standing there crying," Roach, 41, told Newsday earlier this month. "I was there until midnight. As soon as they were done, my husband and others boarded up the house."
Carver has served 10 tours with the Westhampton Beach-based Air National Guard, including three tours in Kuwait, three in Turkey, two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. A master sergeant and aircraft mechanic who works on communication and navigation systems on HC-130 Hercules airplanes and HH-60 Sikorsky helicopters, he has been in Africa since September. He is due to return to the states next month.
In addition to working as a trooper and a reservist, Carver is a past president of the Swan Lake Park Civic Association.
"Honestly, Eric is a phenomenal person," Karen Stiriz, who is also the civic association treasurer, said earlier this month. "He goes out and helps everybody in the community and this is our chance to pay him back."
As Roach told Newsday: "He already does a lot for his community and now he's serving his country. I hope he comes home to a better home, a home that's fixed."
Distributed by MCT Information Services